Abdul Sattar Edhi transcended ethnic division and selective compassion with huge personal will leaving behind a vast untarnished public legacy
As far back as many can remember there have been few consistencies in Pakistan, and fewer still to be proud of. Amid perpetual inter-ethnic strife, military coups and political scandals, an unlikely protagonist has left an indelible mark on the chaotic palimpsest of Pakistani history. Abdul Sattar Edhi, a humanitarian responsible for the world’s largest private welfare organisation and dubbed the “world’s richest poor man”, passed away earlier this month to both national and international esteem that is unlikely to be seen again in Pakistan. Endowed with veneration by civil society, Edhi did, in many ways die as he lived – as a transcendental figure of stark simplicity.
Details of his life are recalled with proud reverie by almost all Pakistanis: that he only owned two pairs of clothes; that he slept in a dingy and bare windowless room in Karachi; that his family had to hide a TV as they knew he considered such items an unjustified excess; that he denied his son a bicycle until the day every child in his cramped residential block had possession of one. Remarkably, by the time of his death, Edhi had created an organisation that constituted a lifeline to the destitute throughout Pakistan. Not only has the Edhi Foundation established the largest volunteer fleet of ambulances in the world, it has also rescued 35,000 abandoned babies, housed 50,000 orphans and set up countless homes to care for individuals with mental health needs.
Born in pre-partition Gujerat (1928), Edhi relocated to Pakistan in 1947 during the bloodshed of partition and his early experiences were central to an evolving philosophy of humanity based on inclusivity and justice. Hailing from the ethnic Memon community that rapidly established successful business and military links in the young nation, Edhi began work at a Memon dispensary that primarily served the interests of this influential merchant class. He was appalled by the discrimination he witnessed against non-Memons, establishing his own dispensary in 1951 at only 23, and dismissing the ethnic chauvinism of his own community with characteristic prescience: “humanitarian work loses its significance when you discriminate between the needy.”
As nationalism and state formation became increasingly associated with ideas of wealth accumulation, power and personal security, for many Pakistanis these ideals could only be realised through frameworks of ethnic division. Edhi however, held little conviction in identity politics and routinely dismissed notions of clan loyalty – and by extension, exclusion of the ‘other’. When asked by members of the religious establishment why his charity’s ambulances were treating minorities he replied curtly, “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”
An almost messianic need to advocate for the marginalised and down-trodden allowed him to evade the religious fatalism that told us disasters were “meant to be”. Neither was he foolish enough to see poverty as virtuous in and of itself as other famous humanitarians have. Instead, the need for a robust welfare state to buffer the extreme hardships people had to bear became imperative.
Edhi’s personal will appeared, at times, almost superhuman: as a child, he was deeply affected by the experiences of neglect his mother experienced following a stroke, so years later he stood on a street corner in Karachi begging for money to buy an old ambulance. When his grandson was burnt alive in one of his shelters on Eid day by an unstable patient, he received the news while on a helicopter above a train wreck in Rawalpindi, but felt he had to continue working – holding his grief until days later when he returned home. He also ensured no harm came to the perpetrator, driven by a deep regard for those with afflictions of the mind. “The only time I entered a fight was when somebody teased a mentally handicapped person,” he once remarked. “I grew up feeling deeply about them”.
In a sign of the respect that he commanded in a society beset with intolerance, Edhi’s charity addressed taboos that even today are hard to openly discuss in Pakistan. In a remarkable indication of the vision he upheld, the foundation refused to endorse the pervasive moral and sexual regulation of women. Despite cultural norms and patriarchy often exerting an iron grip over feminine expression and reproductive autonomy, the Edhi Foundation housed victims of domestic violence, survivors of honour-based violence and the offspring of such women banished to the periphery. Edhi rejected judgements that perpetuated gender discourses, simply acknowledging the rawness of human fallibility while refusing to endorse grand moralising narratives of individual agency.
In many ways, it is these dichotomies that marked him out in a society littered with ostentatious corruption and incompetence. Where many sought security in gated communities, he sought a life among the everyday melee of bare existence; where the influential planned careful appearances, he was always personally accessible in his charity’s headquarters; where many strove to preserve privilege, he strove to dignify the quiet and daily suffering; where business elites flirted with charity in attempts to absolve sin, he rejected tainted money for the rupees of ordinary men; and where many marked the nation with self-interest, he marked it with overwhelming tenderness. At times he appeared to be the only person advocating the founding principles of an inclusive Pakistan, going even further than the “one nation, one culture, one language” vision espoused by Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. There were to be no geographical or ethnic barriers to humanitarianism. As he delicately stated, “The five basic tenets of Islam continue onto the sixth for me. [Humanitarianism] That it is not proclaimed as obligatory has deeper meaning; as right or wrong are left to human initiatives, its importance would be lost if forced.”
Edhi’s legacy is one of noble transcendence, beyond borders, beyond privilege and beyond political loyalties. In a stroke of great irony, his state funeral was conducted to reverberations of all of these. Having scant time for politicians and statesmen in life, in death we have seen and will continue to see these very figures fall over themselves to take ownership of his legacy. With Karachi National Stadium lined with generals, politicians and religious elites for the occasion, the funeral was closed to the public – the very people Edhi had devoted 60 years of his life to. As the great humanitarian’s body was lowered into the grave he prepared himself 25 years earlier, one gets the acute sense that Pakistan’s greatest son had already left his reply to these people: “I will go to the heaven where the poor and miserable people live.”
The popular defeat of an attempted coup in Turkey is a victory for democracy, yet mainstream western media coverage was biased at best
The failed coup attempt in Turkey over the weekend impressively demonstrated the victory of people power and democratic will over the machinations of the armed forces. Yet it is difficult to understand why major media outlets in the west avoided any mention of this important aspect of the event as the crisis unfolded, preferring instead to highlight deep divisions in Turkish society and the authoritarianism of its president.
Democracy is the backbone of a free society and replacing a democratically elected government by a military dictatorship cannot be an acceptable alternative. The present Turkish government, despite its shortcomings, is democratically elected. Some sections of the military tried to overthrow the government, and, with it, the people’s right to choose a government. It is a testament to the immense bravery shown by the Turkish people, who came out against the attempted coup, that a major disaster has been averted in a country at the centre of key affairs in world politics. Yet, observing the reportage of leading western media outlets, and the reaction (or lack of) from key western governments, does not reflect this reality.
The role of western governments in supporting and opposing military or civilian dictatorships in the world is extremely questionable. The way the so-called champions of democracy supported General Sisi, who overthrew the first democratically elected Egyptian president in living memory through a coup, is the perfect example of how western superpowers decide which regime to support and which to overthrow according to their vested interests. Unsurprisingly, western governments, such as the US and the UK, remained silent when events in Turkey began to unfold. It would not be until the success of the coup came into question several hours later that statements from western authorities in support of the elected government and Turkish democracy began to pour in. Just two months ago our own foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, won the ‘most offensive Erdogan poem competition’, so it is hardly surprising that there was no immediate support from our government for the democracy in Turkey. Did they want to see whether the coup attempt was successful so that they would extend their support towards an acquiescent military dictator, rather than working with an elected leadership that does not hesitate to speak up against western double standards?
Meanwhile, reputable mainstream media outlets like BBC, CNN and Sky News are expected to show a minimum level of neutrality in their reportage. Yet, following their live coverage of the attempted coup revealed that they rather found it the best opportunity to criticise the leadership of Turkey. There was little effort from all three channels to inform their audiences of the latest updates of a very fluid situation. This discrepancy in reporting was thrown into particular relief when comparing with the live coverage broadcast on Al Jazeera, who were constantly updating the news bulletin with the fast-changing developments in Turkey. When Al Jazeera was reporting the coup plotters’ failure to keep hold of the state television station TRT, the BBC and Sky News continued to report that the coupists had declared the takeover of the country and TRT was under their control. CNN went one step further, broadcasting in bold the headline ‘Martial Law in Turkey’. Long after Al Jazeera reported the retreat of soldiers from Istanbul airport, these channels continued broadcasting anti-Erdogan rhetoric by different commentators, rather than reporting these crucial updates. Al Jazeera interviewed one Turkish leader after another, including former President Abdullah Gul and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, but the other three channels continued their commentaries against Erdogan. Indeed they even suggested that there was every possibility the coup would be successful because the president only had access to ‘FaceTime’ to address the nation.
What these outlets failed to acknowledge and report, due to their seemingly blind opposition to the Turkish leadership, is that the president is popular in his country and won his seat by popular vote. Turks came out on the streets in large numbers very late at night after being asked to do so by their leader, protesting peacefully and fearlessly in the face of tanks. Crucially, while the three big media outlets continued their running commentary on Erdogan’s failings and unpopularity among sections of Turkish society, they failed to broadcast that these very opponents, including Turkish opposition leaders, also strongly came out against the coup.
In a country that suffered for years under military dictatorship, Turks knew what was at stake and, in an impressive united movement, rejected the coup that was attempting to destabilise their hard fought democracy. Nonetheless, even when it was clear that the coup had failed, the three leading channels continued commenting on how ‘deeply divided’ the country was rather than admitting that the whole country was united against the coup plotters, and an extraordinary display of people power had saved their democracy. The unity of the otherwise deeply divided political parties showed in the extraordinary parliament session on Saturday exemplified the unity of the nation, but that aspect was hardly reported on.
The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, commented that President Erdogan is a ‘political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey’s secular heritage’. This narrative has been the overwhelming theme in the coverage of most western media outlets. This continued on Sunday morning’s political coverage where the only concern showed by the BBC presenters and commentators was how authoritarian President Erdogan would become after the coup attempt failed.
Why did these outlets choose to cover the incident from such a narrow perspective, failing to appreciate the sacrifice of the Turkish people in saving their democracy? Mr Erdogan’s faith and Islamist ideology is frequently linked with the criticisms towards him, while the secularist coup plotters were not condemned. My own research into religion in the media has revealed how British media outlets represents Islam and Muslims from an ethnocentric perspective, considering secular values as the only acceptable way of life. It is not unlikely that the religious practice and political ideology of the Turkish leadership played an underlying role in the coverage of the attempted military coup in Turkey.
The BBC license fee payers have the right to receive impartial coverage of a major world event like this. CNN and Sky News also have responsibilities towards their audiences. This was not the time to only scrutinise the flaws of a democratically elected leader of a country, but to accurately report the events unfolding so that viewers are properly informed. In the battle against ISIS and the efforts to address the refugee crisis, stability in Turkey is paramount. Unfortunately, these outlets preferred to position themselves ideologically rather than impartially in their coverage.
The attempted coup in Turkey was a clear attack on democracy that was defeated by the united will of the Turkish people. The skewed coverage by the leading lights of western media is therefore a troubling manifestation of their professed commitment to democracy. It begs the question: is democracy only acceptable when it espouses leadership the west agrees with?Image from: http://bit.ly/2aigrTN
While Fiji is undergoing a process of healing, acceptance and solace, in post-Brexit Britain, fear, alienation and racial exclusivity dominates
Where to begin? I am a British Sikh, a Londoner by birth, a petite mature woman who wishes she was 5’2’’, and yes, I have all this pent-up aggression that expresses itself in constant apologies to anybody who steps in my path, treads on my toe, or otherwise makes my life a misery.
On the night of the historic Brexit vote, I had managed to slip into an unusually peaceful slumber on the sofa, television remote in hand. I may have been dreaming of Jeremy Vine and his valiant efforts to appear enthusiastic about the ridiculously ill-conceived barometer thingymajig on BBC, or wondering why I was being robbed of Robert Peston as BBC political editor. Maybe, I just wanted it all over, and couldn’t handle The Clash’s “Should I stay or should I go” on endless loop in my head.
I awoke to the inevitable – because let’s face it, when everybody expects a certain outcome, it never happens… Sitiveni Rabuka had been appointed leader of Fiji’s main opposition party. Rabuka had been the frontman for the country’s 1987 coup, told by God to get rid of the Labour Party that had recently won a general election and to make Fiji a Christian country. No need for that, we should have told him, because practically every Fijian is Christian and goes to church on Sunday. It’s already Christian. But Rabuka wasn’t talking about religion so much as race. Those pesky Indian vulagi (visitors) who had called Fiji home for close to a century were overstepping their bounds and becoming elected national officials. How dare they?
“How dare they!” was precisely the refrain of the Out campaign in Britain – to whose victory I also awoke – and of the small majority of its citizens for whom breaking with Europe mattered largely as an expression of nascent nationalism. The Lion roars again! When I ventured out into the cold grimy light of a typical London summer’s day after the vote, and regardless of the fact that I knew non-white British nationals had also supported Brexit (the irony of immigrants hating immigrants!), I didn’t have lions on the mind so much as rivers of blood. (Remember Enoch Powell, erstwhile British racist MP, and that rousing speech? Neither do I, but if you’re of immigrant stock, you get told about it pretty early in life).
So, where was I? Yes, grimy light of day, we are Brexiting, rivers, blood… and then POW! Somebody spat in my face. In my home town. In the streets where I was born, and where I have lived on-and-off my entire life.
All 5’1” of my petite frame rose up and raged against my attacker.
Just as quickly, though, I shut the hell up. I have lost my home. I have lost my home. I have lost my home…
I, who by some sleight of birth year, managed to not experience the racism that dogged the rest of my family, and who couldn’t really ever feel that home was anywhere but London or the UK, was finally, traumatically, homeless. It’s difficult to overstate the dislocation, the fear, the sense of indictment you feel gathering pace against your very existence and presence in the place you call home.
Ironically, a research colleague was at that moment experiencing the opposite: a homecoming of spiritual proportions in Israel. We couldn’t get to grips with the chasm between us, between the intensity of homeliness they felt and the intensity of homelessness I felt. Our email conversations during this time became desultory, our mutual empathy buried beneath the urgency of the feelings that engulfed us in our separate worlds. Our friendship hurtled towards its endgame.
In the meantime, more prosaic racial biases were occupying my attention and time. Not only did the country want us out – or at least, no more of us in – but my own neighbours were trying to get a car parking zone (CPZ) law passed because of a lack of car parking spaces for residents. And for some reason, they chose to identify a local mosque and a local college as the culprits for this loss of residential comfort. Because, hey, who should have to walk beyond their front door to get into their air-conditioned car, right? What my “neighbours” forgot to mention in their rousing submission and argument for CPZ was the traffic caused by the local church and the local school. No, it must be the Muslims and the minority-prolific college students taking away our land, not the Christians or overwhelmingly white kids and their parents.
And then I realised, I had gotten used to this insipid kind of racism. I mayn’t have had a turban knocked off my head, or been beaten up, but I have internalised the quiet racism that surrounds me. It is integral to my sense of the world and of my place in it, even if I often like to think that I am just one human among billions.
We are countering the decision in favour of CPZ in our area (the manner in which it was arrived at has multiple flaws besides the clear racism), and calling our neighbours and councillors to account for this. And I am doing so in tandem with dealing with the fear that is growing like a seed inside me: that I must find another place to call home. (But where? Immigration laws everywhere are scary as hell now.)
Some days are worse than others. The CPZ argument requires stating the bleeding obvious; the fear has to be overcome on a daily basis, and the loss of a good friend is unfathomable every minute of every day.
But then Fiji, which people have been referring to anecdotally as coup-coup land for so long now that it’s come to sound like a tired cliché, comes to my rescue. Because on Saturday 9th July, the people of a province called Rewa presented a whale’s tooth to the descendants of Indian indentured labourers, and recognised them as natives of the province and, therefore, as an inherent part of Fiji. In a country known for ethnic schism and ethnic coups – though my ethnographic research finds proof of peace in the feud, especially in times of ethnic crisis – in Fiji, this was a historic day. While Indians might be constitutionally Fijian, their acceptance as people of Fiji and their own sense of belonging was finally given emotional legitimacy by the powers that matter most to them – not the state, or the constitution, but the indigenous people of Fiji.
I can’t help but feel a complex array of emotions. Here I sit, mired in homelessness in the western world, this bastion of democracy and stability; while on the other side of the world, Indians in Fiji are rightly enjoying a long overdue sense of homeliness.Image from: http://bit.ly/1DiWAx9
The ideologue who once influenced David Cameron’s ideas and Tory policy is seeing his political fortunes fade as anti-intellectualism takes hold of Britain
When Michael Gove threw his hat into the ring to become leader of the Conservative party, and potentially Britain’s next prime minister, I felt reminded of a moment of profound anger. Upon commemorating the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, the then education secretary Michael Gove, a staunch royalist, suggested that the public present the monarch with a new royal yacht, which was estimated to cost upwards of £60million at a time of ubiquitous austerity. Commenting on a letter written by Gove to ministerial colleagues, the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour explained that Gove seems to have thought lavish spending and public celebrations could lift the people’s spirits. This manoeuvre cast the Scotsman at once as a reverent traditionalist and a forcefully idealistic, if not swashbuckling politician, whose intrepidity would allow him a great deal of personal freedom. However, at the same time, he failed to answer how to square his extraordinarily insensitive proposal with the feelings of those hardest hit by the financial crisis.
As recovery plan, Gove’s push for a publicly funded, and ultimately unnecessary, give-away for Britain’s most privileged household was economically naïve, politically untenable and socially reckless. Coupled with a tendency towards outdated political gestures and over-simplification, Gove’s idiosyncratic worldview re-emerged in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum. Ian Leslie, writing a rather favourable piece about Gove for the New Statesman in October 2015, quotes a source describing Gove as a “conviction politician” whose argumentative thrust derives from preconceived notions “about what works”, adding that “he isn’t that fussed about evidence”. Yet engaging with well-constructed, fact-based and robust arguments, as well as those who put them forward, is what constitutes an inquisitive and intellectual mind-set. Conversely, a refusal to do so is, by both definition and logic, anti-intellectual.
Interviewed by Faisal Islam of Sky News last month about the EU referendum, Gove dismissively proclaimed that “the British people have had enough of experts,” saying that they “get it consistently wrong”. Further challenged by the interviewer, Gove favoured his “faith in the British people to make the right decision” over the informed recommendations of those he had just summarily and unthinkingly disparaged. Despite his good education, and the fact that the New Statesman article describes him as a voracious reader – “his mental bandwidth is high” – Gove seems to refuse the difficult task of educating the people he politically represents in the basics of international relations and European affairs. In so doing, he contributes to ordinary people’s disenfranchisement at the same time as he claims to empower them by exiting the EU. Another journalist described Gove’s assertion as “amid a strong field of contenders, one of the most depressing moments in the interminable European Union referendum campaign”.
For me, it was the single most depressing moment, not only in the referendum campaign, but in my entire life as a politically-minded global citizen. Since the 1990s, Europe has ceased to be fragmented by a tightly-woven network of national borders and open gateways have fostered a climate of exchange, openness, intellectual endeavour and critical enquiry. However, the recent upsurge of right-wing populist parties across Europe, as well as the increasingly hostile turn in public discourse, is not only likely to consign porous borders and a climate of respect, reciprocity and mutuality to the dustbin of history, but it could also result in the break-up of one of the biggest peace projects in modern history.
Despite its often overly bureaucratic nature, the EU is nonetheless a worthwhile project, which, if politicians stopped their ransacking, could be developed into what Ulrike Guerot, a German political scientist, has tentatively called res publica eurpaea, or ‘European republic’. The EU is currently a supra-national union, asking its member-states to surrender parts of their national sovereignty. Among a plethora of ramifications, this process leaves voters with national parliaments whose powers are curbed and, more importantly, with a feeling of being disempowered. In this situation of perceived powerlessness, Guerot writes, the voters are not able to make their voices heard and their choices known: “The problem of not being able to choose European policies is that the real choice is between populisms and technocracy. And that is something that alienates people and ultimately reinforces populisms (of various kinds).” In a climate of alienation, populists and their reductive views will thrive easily, since they can prey on people’s fears in order to exploit them for political gains. This is exactly why the Leave campaign and Michael Gove’s anti-intellectualism, which he displays so proudly and blatantly, have been so successful.
The Leave campaign built its arguments around popular anti-EU stereotypes, used unverified facts and exploited the politics of fear. The much-referenced “unelected officials” of the EU are no strangers to Britain with its hereditary monarchy and House of Lords; the claim of £350million sent to Brussels every week was frequently subject to qualifications before and after 23 June; and the now infamous “Breaking Point”-poster rolled out by Nigel Farage was one of the most harrowing images of xenophobia seen in present-day Europe. Accordingly, it is now time to dispel these dangerous myths and to lift the right-wing smokescreen.
Writing more than 20 years ago, the literary historian and cultural critic Edward W. Said described the role of intellectuals in his book Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures as follows: “One task of the intellectual is the effort to break down the stereotypes and reductive categories that are so limiting to human thought and communication.” What British voters were able to witness in recent weeks was a re-emergence and consolidation of stereotypes, rather than their deconstruction. Jointly framed by simplifications and populist rhetoric, Gove’s support for the Leave campaign exacerbated existing divisions in British society, contributing to a rising culture of anti-intellectualism in the British public sphere. Had his leadership bid been successful, the finer and subtle distinctions of public discourse would have been likely to vanish, and this evolution of incendiary ideas could have further emboldened those who refuse to acknowledge the complexities of 21st-century politics.
Now that Gove has had to leave the Ministry of Justice in the wake of Theresa May’s access to the premiership, his vociferous role in the referendum campaign confirms that he is not the only public figure amplifying this anti-intellectualism trend – he is merely the most vocal one. Interestingly, however, it was Ted Heath, a Conservative like Gove, who took the United Kingdom into what was then called the European Community, or EC, in the early 1970s. In later decades, even hard-boiled Thatcherites like the late Geoffrey Howe correctly assessed the inexorable process of European integration. Echoing Harold Macmillan, Howe, formerly chancellor and foreign secretary under Thatcher, delivered a damning verdict of the Iron Lady’s nostalgia for Britain’s glamorous, but certainly not glorious, past in his famous resignation statement from November 1990: “As long ago as 1962, he [Macmillan] argued that we had to place and keep ourselves within the EC. He saw it as essential then, as it is today, not to cut ourselves off from the realities of power; not to retreat into a ghetto of sentimentality about our past and so diminish our own control over our own destiny in the future.”
In a bitterly ironic way, Leslie’s portrayal of Gove in the New Statesman emphasises the now-sacked justice secretary’s keen interest in “political biography”, but fails to translate this private interest into public action. If Gove really cared about Britain (as he claims he does), he would study how some key figures of his own party viewed the most pressing issues in British politics. But, as Leslie continues, Gove’s relationship with the Tory establishment is a complicated, at times ambivalent, one – even his party “isn’t sure if he is an asset or a liability”. Had he become prime minister, his firm belief in simple solutions would not only have turned him into a definitive liability for the Conservatives – rather, Britain is likely to have completely reverted to its once infamous status as the “sick man of Europe”.Image from: http://bit.ly/2a9nFJM
“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
After the recent discovery of Richard III’s remains, theatre director Rupert Goold breathes new life into the Shakespearean character with his own darker take
In 2012 a pile of bones was discovered under a Leicester car park by a group of researchers. DNA tests revealed these were the remains of Richard III, a king who ruled over England for a little over two years, more than 500 years ago. The media storm that ensued, and the respectful stately reburial he was given in the city’s cathedral, revealed just how fervent our obsession with royalty continues to be centuries later.
Richard has a tarnished reputation that has gone unchanged over the centuries, mainly due to Shakespeare’s play, but also as a result of Thomas More’s 16th-century biography of him. Shakespeare based his play on this factually inaccurate biography, which was essentially a character assassination to further legitimise the royal ascension of Richard’s slayers and successors, the Tudors.
Shakespeare’s Richard III has returned to the London stage at the Almeida Theatre with Ralph Fiennes in the lead role of the villainous king. The play opens with a moving tableau of the modern day unearthing of Richard’s grave. The stage, resembling an episode of CSI, is cordoned off as curious onlookers circulate the scene while salacious news reports describing the historical find plays in the background.
This production attempts to create an even nastier Richard than has ever been seen before, which Fiennes is perfect to play. This is apparent by the fact that, apart from the war scene at the end of the play, the recipients of Richard’s violent attacks are all women. First is Lady Anne, played by Joanna Vanderham, on whom Richard inflicts a heinous sexual assault when her venomous retorts prove a match for him. Then comes the turning point in the play, occurring in the second half, when we witness Richard carry out another sexual assault, but this time of a more violent nature against Queen Elizabeth, played by Aislin McGuckin, when she does not agree to marry her daughter (also his niece) to him.
These barbaric scenes are not in the original text but included by the director, Rupert Goold, in order to root the melodrama in something darker and more sinister. It certainly works as the violence towards female characters leaves audiences sitting uncomfortably in their seats for the duration of the play. There is a feeling that we, the audience, who laughed and chuckled at the gullibility of characters, especially women, are then taken in by Richard’s asides and have also been duped by him. Evil has caught us unaware, too, and leaves us unsettled. The audible laughter from the audience during the first half of the play becomes decidedly more nervous and hesitant, as we witness the sobering display of Richard’s army on the stage in the second half. Vanessa Redgrave reunites with her Coriolanus co-star, playing the role of the withered, deranged prophetess, Margaret. She is beguiling in her performance as the only character who truly manages to stand up to Richard.
However, there was a sense that something was missing when watching this play. Despite Goold’s attempts to root the production in darker matters through violence and the presence of armed soldiers, the mood of frivolous melodrama does not leave it. The brutal scenes towards women, apart from their sensationalist, shock factor quality fails to serve any other purpose. If you are primarily looking for escapism from theatre, then this will be a treat. But if you want something more – theatre that challenges and explores our political and social reality – which this play marginally attempts, then it won’t suffice. I left the theatre not fully convinced of the play’s merits, but the mighty acting skills of Fiennes and the brave performances of McGuckin and Redgrave make it worth a watch.
Richard III is showing at the Almeida Theatre until 6th August and there will be a live screening of the play in cinemas across the UK on Thursday 21st July. Tickets can be purchased through the Almeida Theatre website.Photo Credit: Marc Brenner
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
New documentary film following the lives of two of Mark Duggan’s best friends provides raw insight into life before and after he was shot dead by police
When director George Amponsah recently started screening his film The Hard Stop, he could not have anticipated how timely it would be. The stark video of Alton Sterling being pinned to the floor and shot dead by cops in Louisiana, and the very next day that of Philandro Castile dying in his car seat after suffering a similar fate, reignited #BlackLivesMatter protests across the United States and the world. Two days after Castile’s shooting, as #BlackLivesMatter protesters were bringing London’s Oxford Street to a halt, I was at the Frontline Club to watch this raw documentary about the killing of Mark Duggan, shot dead by police here in the UK in 2011.
The Hard Stop is named after the controversial tactic used by British police, where armed officers deliberately intercept a vehicle to confront a suspect. It was the tactic used when police officers shot dead Azelle Rodney in 2005. At the time, the Independent Police Complaints Commission recommended the Metropolitan Police review the use of this “high risk option”. By 2013, the police officer who shot Rodney was found to have had “no lawful justification” for the killing, but the Met had yet to review the hard stop tactic. There had been no review by the 4th August 2011 either, the day the hard stop was used on Mark Duggan.
This candid observational documentary follows two of Duggan’s childhood friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, in the aftermath of their “brother’s” death. We join them as Marcus is facing prison for, essentially, starting the riots that came in the wake of the killing. He is accused of instigating the first act of violence in Tottenham, the epicentre of civil unrest that soon engulfed the entire country. Footage of Tottenham ablaze, and of widespread looting, is criticised by Marcus in a rare glimpse of politics in the documentary: “We are supposed to be standing united against the government, against all the oppression they are putting us through, not destroying our local area.”
Later, as Kurtis and his girlfriend listen to the radio in their kitchen, there is another nod to politics as the news reports on how austerity is hitting the poorest hardest. Kurtis is unemployed and we follow his struggle to find work. It is his sincere attitude and cheeky sense of humour that break down barriers in this film. These universally relatable glimmers of humanity draw you in, and you might even notice how different life is for the Kurtis’ of this world, as he looks for work online by parking next to a Carphone Warehouse to use their Wi-Fi using an unidentifiable and very old mobile handset.
Moments of insight are scattered along the journey. Prominent race rights advocate Stafford Scott appears briefly. Scott was the co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign set up in the wake of the 1985 riots on the estate. Back then, it was Cynthia Jarrett who died after a police search of her home and PC Keith Blakelock who was shot dead in the subsequent unrest. Grainy footage shown from the 1985 riots looks otherwise identical to the scenes of 2011 and leaves you wondering how far things have really come. Scott gives his opinion that the following generations, like Mark, Kurtis and Marcus, need little reminder of the history they were born into, as negative experiences cement what they already know about the police and life on the Broadwater Farm Estate.
For many in this country, places like the Broadwater Farm are the ones you avoid, the places that even police fear to go. But for those who live there, it is not just somewhere to tolerate, or survive. “This is my home,” Marcus says as he shows us the corridors where he learnt to ride his bike, “whenever I need to be safe I come here.” These moments of humanity are the most powerful in the film, like seeing Mark’s girlfriend Simone at home with the kids laughing about when they first started dating, or telling us that some days their oldest son Kimali does nothing but silently listen to Mark’s music all day – or later, hearing Mark’s young daughter crying to her mum: “I’m tired, I want to go and sleep with my daddy in heaven.”
For much of the film though, while the dark footage, harsh words and raging music reinforce the stark realities and the raw anger of day-to-day life for the two main characters, I can’t help but wonder if they potentially reinforce negative stereotypes, too. It’s hard to know whether director George Amonpash has peeled away enough of the misconceptions and misunderstandings to be able to change any minds with his work.
I ask Amonpash about this, and he admits that he is not sure. But he explains his experience of screening the film around the country, and of one particular occasion where a young white boy brought his father to the cinema to watch it. All “dad” had to say in the end was, “Wow – I had absolutely no idea.” As I am leaving the screening, a young international student who has just watched the film approaches me and says, “Can I ask you something? One thing I don’t get is, if they didn’t want all of this to happen to them, why did they do all the things they did in their lives?” Perhaps the documentary should have dug deeper to answer this. Or perhaps, the point of it is that you walk away asking this very question, because, ultimately, we must all take responsibility for both the question and the answer.
This film opens with the words of Martin Luther King that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The Hard Stop ends by not only giving a voice to the unheard, but capturing it in its rawest form. The importance of watching this film will only grow as we realise how much the reality it documents still has to change.
The Hard Stop is in UK cinemas from today, Friday 15th July 2016.Image from: https://www.intofilm.org/resources/1035
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.
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
Incessant denouncement of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership points to Westminster’s anxieties surrounding Chilcot
Tony Blair. How tragic that in 2016, in the midst of a post-referendum national crisis, the name of the former New Labour prime minister crawls out of the woodwork. Yet in this is also a strange prophetic harmony; that as a tense, broken Britain reels from the destruction wrought by one prime minister, another prime minister is resurrected for reckoning over his own destructive actions. And thus must it be, for Baghdad has imploded once more. Iraq – no stranger to the sound of death and the flow of blood – continues to shudder from over a decade of unprecedented chaos since the Britain-backed invasion of its borders in 2003.
The pale-faced former leader nods with jittery confidence in response to two words put to him on Sky News this past weekend: War. Criminal. He pauses before answering. “I’ve said many times over these past years that I’ll wait for the report, and then I will make my views known, and express myself fully and properly.” The timing of the Chilcot report could not be worse – yet, perhaps, could not be better for Blair. For the current Labour leader, who is set to “crucify” Blair over his position in the war on Iraq, has been thrust into a political war of his own party’s doing.
Jeremy Corbyn, the uncompromising, consistent and committed anti-war veteran MP, has proved jarring for political and media establishments since becoming leader of the Labour party last September. Elected with an unprecedented mandate, Corbyn has offered renewed hope to thousands of disillusioned voters who were ready to see a return to the soul of Old Labour: a party that fights for working-class Britain and financial equality. This has been of predictable discomfort to the Tories, who have spent a dirty year enforcing austerity while concealing their own tax havens in Panama. The time was prime for Labour to take to the podium as the alternative to a detached, damaging and unpopular Tory government.
Yet, it is Corbyn’s own Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that has thrown the majority of its weight against the elected leader in the name of “unelectability”. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, the son of Corbyn’s ideological lodestar Tony Benn no less, was sacked in the early hours of Sunday 26th June upon admitting to plotting a coup against Corbyn. What followed was orchestrated, synchronised and staggered resignations and a 172-40 vote of ‘no confidence’ from the PLP. The theatrics have sustained the news cycles of a ravenous and irresponsible media at a time when attention is desperately needed towards a government in disarray. Our Tory prime minister has failed and his political party has forced the nation into an uncertain future amid economic shock and global disgrace.
Throughout this battle, Corbyn’s genuine achievements have been overcast with seemingly blind dismissal. His leadership has seen Labour’s membership more than double. Internal threats against Corbyn and his democratic election – and threats, indeed, they are – have resulted in 60,000 new members joining the party in the space of a week. This alone is about half of the entire Tory membership and takes Labour to 450,000 members – far higher than its last peak of 405,000 members seen under Tony Blair. In a mere nine months as leader of Labour, with little establishment support from the outset, Corbyn has led his party to win every single by-election, in some instances, with vastly improved majorities. Labour also won every single mayoral contest, including Sadiq Khan’s celebrated London win, a result heavily influenced by Corbyn supporters. When pundits were expecting Labour to lose up to 150 council seats, Labour lost only 18 and made vast strides into councils otherwise not expected to perform well. And for all the criticism surrounding the EU referendum campaign, 63 per cent of Labour voters chose ‘Remain’ – a mere 1 per cent less than pro-EU SNP at 64 per cent and only 7 per cent less than the stubborn Europhile voters of the Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile a dismal 42 per cent of Conservatives voted to remain. That the PLP cites Corbyn’s ineffective campaign as cause for ‘no confidence’ is, therefore, deeply questionable.
Corbyn’s effectiveness as leader is reflected in his record. The onslaught, one of the most deplorable internal revolts of recent times, is disingenuous in principle, undemocratic in nature and painfully untimely in context. The glaring dichotomy of Labour ranks is thus exposed: that of the PLP on one side, and the union and party members on the other. This coup effort has been a long time coming; Margaret Hodge was expected to instigate a ‘no confidence’ motion against Corbyn weeks before Brexit. The shrillest cries of Corbyn’s supposed unelectability comes from quarters that were the very architects of the New Labour car crash that saw 5 million voters desert Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn, overwhelmingly elected, must not stand down and must not be expected to. To do so would undermine the core democratic principles on which the Labour party functions. In the event of a leadership challenge, as now seems likely, the outcome must be fully respected and the party must work through the major breach of trust that the past fortnight has exposed. With his mandate and record of electability, it is no longer obscene to suggest that Corbyn can win the next general election, but this must be planned imminently with a party at harmony with itself and its leader. His leadership contenders will carry quite a different record, including Angela Eagle who voted in favour of Blair’s war in Iraq in 2003 under New Labour, a matter that will come to light when the Chilcot report is released.
Which returns us to the nub of the matter. As Alex Salmond has compellingly argued, the attempted political lynching of Corbyn at this moment indicates an effort to stifle the anti-war leader before he can take action on the findings of the long-awaited report. Chilcot must not be drowned in the din of political opportunism and an imbalanced media landscape. As one resigning prime minister is rightfully relegated to the disgraced records of history for failing a country, another disgraced prime minister must face his due reckoning before the jury and scribes of history. We await the verdict.
Since this article was published a few hours ago, Huffington Post UK has reported that at least 100,000 people have joined Labour since the EU referendum.Featured: http://bit.ly/29s54d6 Body: http://bit.ly/29wIqzs
Britain must gather broken promises left by Brexit campaign and find an inclusive new national politics
In his address to the European Parliament yesterday morning, one sensed Nigel Farage had reached his moment of supreme wizardry – a single man, an idea, ever fighting and finally triumphing over a vast and ruinous treachery. He was determined to mark the new relationship between Britain and Europe with all the subtlety of an exuberant latrine: “you have, by stealth, by deception, without ever telling the truth” lied to the “little people”, the “ordinary people”, the “oppressed”.
In many ways, the speech was a remarkable achievement in capturing the evolving political landscape. Where previously politics was derided as dingy and listless, now it offers humiliation, cruelty and insecurity. With an outgoing prime minister destined to be remembered as seeking to settle internal party disputes by gambling the future of the nation, it fell instead to Farage to clarify a vision of Britain outside of the EU.
By personifying Brussels as the agent of oppression against the voiceless and marginalised, UKIP has successfully offered conspiracy in the place of reality, distrust in the place of unity and exclusion in the place of community. That such conspiracist narratives have been seized by so many as a way of shaping and influencing politics will have grave consequences for years to come. The Farage vision is the one most clearly set out since the horrors of Brexit – and such artless narcissism should concern us immensely.
In particular, the exaggerated and misconstrued narratives of immigration will continue to, in the long term, have a profound impact. At the heart of leaflets telling Polish people to “go back home” or the firebombing of a halal butcher shop in Birmingham, is a belief that the “little people” can only make progress through a rejection of foreign imposed authority – and a cynicism that, through such violence, their aspirations can be recognised. This is the vision of a Little England that Brexit has woefully engineered.
One only had to watch the Leave press conference to realise how insurmountable the Brexit agenda will be, and all the terrible consequences the campaign has engendered. The muted display of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, reminiscent more of a death than a rebirth, revealed complete dismay at a result they did not anticipate. Almost immediately after the result, the façade of Leave slipped as the sheer scale of the campaign’s dishonesty came to light. Within hours, key figures had distanced themselves from the promises of £350 million a week for the NHS, admitted immigration from Europe will not be much changed and, most troublingly, revealed that Leave did not have a Brexit plan. Meanwhile, the economic impact was almost immediate – the world markets went into upheaval, the sterling dropped to a 31-year low and within the day 2 trillion dollars had been wiped off the world market.
Yet, seemingly learning nothing from a brazenly dishonest campaign, the prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson set out in an article another long list of empty promises he cannot keep. In a bid to reassure the Remain camp, Johnson promised unity among the four nations of Britain, even as Nicola Sturgeon established a second Scottish referendum is on the table. He promised that Britain remains a part of Europe, intense and intensifying cooperation with the EU will continue, the rights of Britons living on the continent and those seeking to travel and work there will be protected, and that free trade will remain unchanged. Yet none of these promises are now his to make.
Decisions will be made at the mercy of negotiations with the EU, and it is increasingly apparent that they will not favour Britain. Both the president of the European parliament and the president of the European Commission swiftly established that they have no interest in waiting – “this is not an amicable divorce” – while Germany has rejected the notion of early informal talks. “If you want to exist and leave this family, then you cannot expect all the obligations to drop away but privileges to continue to exist,” remarked German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday. Brussels has dismissed Johnson’s aspirations for continued access to the single market as a “pipe dream”. And as for Farage’s involvement, Jean-Claude Juncke’s response to the UKIP leader’s afore-mentioned tirade with a simple “why are you here?” spoke volumes.
Britain is already an outsider, and Europe, snubbed and angered that “a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party” feels it. The sight of MEPs jeering at the chief architect of Brexit in Brussels yesterday speaks volumes about our already diminished status in Europe. Our destiny as an ‘independent’ nation does not fill Europe with envy – a government and opposition in disarray, a rise in hate crime and a Leave campaign without a plan post-Brexit. Rising in parallel to hate crime is the sheer disconnect between a privileged political elite – in fact, a privileged, liberal London class – and those who have been dubbed as the “peripheries”. One can only hope that now the die is cast and the Pandora’s box of populist anger unleashed, our national political approach will have answers to address the rage. This does not feel like a country riding towards an ultimate goal, let alone galloping towards the rest of the world.
It is unclear whether any manoeuvre on the EU referendum result is conceivable, especially in light of the EU’s recent reaction to our folly. Indeed, a sincere acknowledgement of the abuse of democracy and the magnitude of deception from the Leave side of the campaign has yet to surface. Unless it does, we cannot move beyond the political instability we are facing and we will continue to scapegoat communities for political gain. This will, of course, threaten our own social and economic existence. At the same time, political parties and civil society groups must work hard on a post-Brexit plan, identifying the areas which will be most affected and lobbying on policies where it matters.
There is now an appetite for a newly inclusive and connected movement. In the absence of strong leadership and reassurance – while the Tories search for a new prime minister and the Parliamentary Labour Party has betrayed its own leader – a floundering Brexit dream is the most dangerous thing of all.Image from: http://dailym.ai/29cOnnO
The British Museum’s Sicily: culture and conquest exhibition reveals the historic story of a thriving and dynamic province
Syracuse was once described, by Cicero no less, as the greatest and most beautiful of all Greek cities. From Sicilian shores sprung mythology, its straits guarded by Scylla and home to Cyclops and Persephone; Muslim conquerors, here, established a silk trade; and Norman rule brought forth a ruler who was known simultaneously as Antichrist and ‘Wonder of the World’. Dubbed ‘Rome’s Granary’, Sicily became their first province and lay privy to the final battle of the Punic Wars. A distinctive triangular coastline, with a wealth of culture and conquest.
The British Museum has chosen this year to give some screen time to Sicily – to the drama and warfare, the constant change and multiple civilisations that created the Sicily we know today. Or rather, that we don’t know. Seen largely as a mass of tourist clichés off mainland Italy, much of the ethnic and cultural differences emerging in its convoluted history are little known in popular culture.
Set out in winding displays, much of the exhibition focuses on two eras: the period of Greek rule, from 734 BC, and the Norman conquest, from 1091. A comprehensive timeline starts your journey, and it is followed almost chronologically, with focus given to the Phoenician, Islamic, North African, Roman and modern Renaissance Italian reigns bridging and superseding the two main eras. This gives it something of a dynamic element, skipping between conquests and treasures. Although not a large exhibition, it has the feel of exclusive knowledge and forgotten treasures that only cool, darkened corridors of museums can give you. To traverse it is delightful, moving from civilisation to conquest, guided by captions and quotes painted on the walls.
The feel is also that of a miniature treasure island. Exquisite Renaissance artwork has been brought in from Palermo; from Agrigento we have marble figurines and horses, and a wealth of sculptures, Phoenician and Greek, marble and terracotta. Mythology is given centre stage – Ceres, Dionysus, ode to the cult of Demeter and Persephone. The thematic mix of civilisations is pushed through even in the exhibited treasures, including the jewellery on display, which indicates the mesh of cultures within Sicily. Gold pendants containing garnets only readily available in India and Afghanistan show Greek influence in Asia.
Most striking are the sections from Norman thrones and the Byzantine chapel of Roger, set alongside beautifully preserved tapestries and mosaics. Sicily’s reputation as a gateway of knowledge is indicated in forgotten Greek texts by Plato which survived in Arabic, and details on coins depicting hunting dogs and sheaves of wheat are an insight into the preoccupations of everyday Sicilian life. Most enjoyable is the overarching message: that Sicily was a picture of globalisation and multiculturalism.
There’s a gentle realisation as you near the end that you’ve travelled through Greek, Islamic, Roman and Norman rule and seen each build on the previous theme. There’s a realisation that the country was a crossroads of civilisations for over 3000 years, the majority of which, as seen through rose tinted glasses of museum exhibitions, accepted religious and ethnic differences to create an ever-growing multicultural patchwork. You reach the end bathed in love for your neighbour and despondent that this is a system difficult to emulate in a modern day world which professes devotion to multicultural living and illusion of tolerance, amid increasing marginalisation of refugee and migrant communities. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but despite expected religious tension and less mellow stories of Carthagian bloodshed on Roman soil, ancient Sicily’s unique tolerance and multiculturalism is beautifully encapsulated in the exhibit.
The Renaissance brought with it a reliance on Italian development and great deal of loss of identity for Sicily. There was a gradual loss of cultural distinction as the region increasingly looked to Europe for inspiration. Sicily’s intellectual contribution to Italy has, of course, continued, with many writers in particular originating from there, including Nobel winner Luigi Pirandello. The make-up and diversity of the population today reflects the successive invasions of different cultures and ethnic groups, yet it sadly now remains on the periphery of globalisation.
The exhibition ends with the illuminating rule of Frederick II, whose pursuit of truth based on science and reason rather than superstition was ground-breaking at the time. As his rule ended, so did much of the innovation and significant development of the previous millennia. And so, you are guided into a gift shop crowded with lemon shortbread and orange blossom aftershave, somewhat disappointed to end such a delightful journey through the rise of Sicily with what is once again a mass of tourist clichés.
The British Museum exhibition, Sicily: culture and conquest, continues until 14 August 2016.Photo Credit: The Bodlein Libraries, University of Oxford
Once again, the filthy scourge of suicide murder has reared its despicable head, this time in Istanbul, Turkey. Innocent people are once again the target of brainwashed homicidal lunatics, one of whom was captured on film dispatching himself to Hell, the destination our Prophet (peace upon him) has promised anyone who commits suicide.
This hellacious wave of demonic violence has become a pathetic norm in the Muslim world. As I mentioned recently, I will never tire of condemning it. We should, however, also condemn the so-called Ulama who first issued the fatwas allowing this heinous practice, which when it first appeared among the Muslim people, was universally condemned by the scholars.
Suicide is haram and its perpetrator is promised Hell. Murder is haram and its perpetrator is promised Hell. What else can we do, the angry critic of these words will ask? Others will add, they bomb and kill our innocent people. For starters we can pray, learn our religion and follow the prophetic discouragement about becoming angry, La Taghdab! Anger and rage are the product of an ideology. Restraint, forbearance, pardoning, educating and service are the products of a religion. Islam is a religion, not an ideology.
None of those people murdered in Istanbul has ever killed a Muslim. In all likelihood, most of the victims were themselves Muslims. Will the polemicists who attribute these crimes to Islam tweet that these murderers hate Islam? If they were to do so, they would be uttering a sad, ironic truth.
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.