Muslim blogs

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Thu, 27/11/2014 - 21:40

Let us give thanks for blessings we behold,
Blessings transcending wealth –silver and gold.
Let us remember those who’ve lost their way,
Let us remember solemnly to pray.

And as we fall down humbly on our knees,
Let us give thanks for hearts that aren’t diseased.
For thankfulness is a sign of hearts’ health,
And graciousness the source of all true wealth.

So thank our Lord for food, for drink, for bed,
For peace of mind and clarity of head.
So thank our Lord for blessing us to pray,
And work so others know a brighter day.

Let’s ask our Lord to end Ebola’s scourge,
And from our lands all bloodshed will He purge.
And ask our Lord to strengthen our spines,
To stand for the defense of Palestine.

Let’s thank our Lord if we can stand and fight,
For truth, for justice, knowing wrong from right.
Let’s thank our Lord for happiness, not fun,
Let’s thank our Lord if pens become our guns.

Pick up your pen and speak the word of truth,
And let your words ring out they’ll be your proof.
When truth is strong its voice can’t be ignored,
The pen always has more might than the sword.

So thank the Lord if your truth’s not denied,
So thank the Lord when your will is applied,
So thank the Lord if you can stand for right,
And thank the Lord for guiding to His Light.

Imam Zaid Shakir

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ferguson: Why Race Still Matters

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 26/11/2014 - 16:53

Ferguson: While Race Still Matters

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Note: This essay was first posted in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In the aftermath of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Brown, a decision I totally expected, I am reposting it with the addition of a paragraph mentioning the police slaying of two Ohio youths, both African Americans, who have been fatally shot by police since Brown’s killing in Ferguson. At the end of the day, until we see all humans as truly equal, gross disparities in law enforcement, as well as in other facets of life in this country, will continue.

In his Time Magazine essay discussing the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Rand Paul focuses on the militarizing of our police. He also mentions the malicious role that race plays in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems, a courageous stance for an American politician. Paul, however, misses a critical point. He says that as a youth if he were told by policeman to get out of the street, he would likely have “smarted off” without the expectation of being shot.

The point is that an average young white kid today can still smart off to the police, militarized or not, and not expect to be shot, or even arrested for that matter. For the average black kid, the chance of being shot during an encounter with law enforcement, while not high, is always present, and the chance of getting arrested is astronomical. Thus, race and not the militarizing of the police in America is a more reasonable starting point for tackling the issue of the abuses African Americans face when dealing with the law enforcement and criminal justice systems in this country.

To further develop this point, consider the following. When Oscar Grant was shot, lying face-down and handcuffed on a Bart platform in Oakland, California, the policeman who shot him was not in an armored personnel carrier, nor militarized in any other way. He was on foot. The gang of policemen who rolled up on Amadou Djiallo in New York City, and proceeded to pump 41 bullets into him, were not wearing flak jackets and night vision goggles, they were in plainclothes. The policemen who gathered outside of the elderly Kenneth Chamberlain’s apartment, hurling racial insults at him and demeaning his military service, before finally kicking in his door, “tazing” and then fatally shooting him, were not militarized in any particular way. The policemen who fatally shot two unarmed teenagers, Papo Post, an African American, and Miguel Arroyo, a Puerto Rican, in my hometown, New Britain, Connecticut, did so in the 1970s before militarized police forces were even being discussed.

We can add to this list the fatal police shooting of 22 year-old John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart store while walking with a toy rifle, taken from the shelf of the store, and 12 year-old Tamir Rice, recently slain by police in a Cleveland, Ohio park while in possession of a toy pistol. A full list of such incidents would be exhaustive. There are likely few people in America who seriously believe that these two individuals would have been shot by police if they were doing whatever they were doing had they been white. It is unlikely that anyone would have even called the police in the first place had they not been African American.

While it is indeed true that militarized police forces are on the rise in this country, and the implications of this development for civil liberties are chilling, police shootings of unarmed white citizens are not rising correspondingly. Hence, if we want to meaningfully examine the ongoing incidences of members of minority communities who are being gunned down by law enforcement officers in this country, we must factor the issue of race into the analysis. By so doing, we can see that we are not in a post-racial America, as many claim. Rather, we are in an America where masses of poor black folks are being ushered into jail cells and shot in the streets like dogs in numbers reminiscent of the days of slavery and Jim Crow.

In conclusion, while it is certainly true that there have been incredible gains for African Americans in this country, issues such as the disproportionate searches, arrests and shootings of black youths, which are harsh realities not just in Ferguson, but throughout the nation, point to the deceptive nature of those gains. The country certainly passed a racial milestone when it elected a black President, however, the conversation around race and the ramifications of failed race relations, in law enforcement as well as in other areas of American life, must be ongoing and part of a wider search for solutions that will contribute to ending glaring racial disparities in this country. To avoid the hard conversations related to these issues, and to continue to delay the search for the strategies needed to change the attitudes informing racist behavior is a disservice to all Americans, especially our minority youth.

Categories: Muslim blogs

This Prayer is Like A Good Investment

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 25/11/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Mike

By Bilal Elsakka

Why is it easy for us to wake up extra early for work, but hard for us to wake up extra early for prayer in the masjid (mosque)?

Why is it so easy to watch a movie for two hours, but so hard to pray two rak`at (units of Islamic prayer) before Fajr (pre-dawn prayer)?

Why is it that we get excited when going to a friend’s house, but feel lethargic when encouraged to go to Allah’s subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) house when He created that friend we love so much?

Bismillah (In the name of God)

Dear brothers, sisters, and respected elders,

I post this with pure intentions and an optimistic attitude regarding our attendance (of our youth especially) in the masjid at Fajr time. A few sayings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace and blessings be upon him) are listed below regarding the importance of praying `Isha (late evening prayer) and, in particular, Fajr in the masjid (mosque). This is a beneficial reminder for myself a dozen times before it is for a single other person. That being said, I humbly request you, the reader, to invest a few short minutes to read a few potentially life-changing sentences.

`Uthman ibn `Affan radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) reported, “I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying: ‘One who performs `Isha’ prayer in congregation is as if he has performed prayer for half of the night. And one who performs the Fajr prayer in congregation is as if he has performed prayer the whole night.’” [Muslim]

`Uthman ibn `Affan (ra) narrated that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying: “He who attends `Isha’ in congregation is as if he has performed prayer for half of the night; and he who attends the `Isha’ and Fajr prayers in congregation is as if he has performed prayer for the whole night.” [Tirmidhi]

“If they knew the merits of prayer after nightfall (`Isha’) and the morning (Fajr) prayer, they would come to them even if they had to crawl to do so.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

“No prayer is more burdensome to the hypocrites than the Fajr prayer and the `Isha’ prayer; and if they knew their merits, they would come to them even if they had to crawl to do so.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Any businessman would tell us that this is a good investment—a good deal. Let us think about it: praying `Isha’ and Fajr in congregation in the masjid, which takes comparatively little time, earns the reward of having prayed the entire night—the entire night! Could we ask for a better deal?! Fortunately for all of us, this sale is offered every night and every morning. May Allah (swt) guide us all to take full advantage of it.

May Allah (swt) guide us to pray Fajr and `Isha’ in the masjid at least once a week. May Allah (swt) guide us to consistently encourage others to pray Fajr and `Isha’ in the masjid. May Allah (swt) give us the best relationships with each of our parents. May Allah (swt) bless us with a good understanding of Islam. May Allah (swt) give us the best character, like that of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ a mercy sent to all of mankind. And last, but definitely not least, may Allah (swt) gather us together in firdaus-al-a`la’ (the highest rank in paradise).

Categories: Muslim blogs

Hispanic Muslims Demonstrate Unity

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 20/11/2014 - 13:00

Photos by Anwar Alomaisi

By Nivia Martinez        

The revival of Islam came about in the Arabian Peninsula, but today we can find a Muslim practicing Islam, reading the Qur’an and living a lifestyle of peace in every corner of the world. Those who were not raised Muslim sometimes think they have to make a choice whether or not to continue acknowledging their cultural heritage once they become a Muslim. The beauty of Islam is that it does not ask an individual to destroy his or her individuality. We can still follow the customs and traditions we were raised with, as long as they are in accordance with Islam.

Today we see Islam on every continent. Within the U.S. there are communities that have shattered the idea that Islam is exclusively for people from Africa, the Middle East or Asia. In reality, the Muslim community is inclusive of everyone. Its diversity is something to be valued and embraced as a means to unify. It is a reminder that though we came from a singular being, Adam (may peace be upon him), we have taken on a wide variety of political lines, customs and beliefs. Yet, thanks to God, we are united as one body and can pray side by side with an individual from a different background that we may never find in our own cultural enclave.

Still unbeknownst to many, there is a Latin Muslim community thriving within the US and growing day-by-day in Latin America. The phenomenon of the growing and diverse Latin Muslim community received exposure in the 50th Annual Hispanic Day Parade in NYC, which gathered 18 Latin American countries in a single event. This annual gathering is one of the most colorful scenes in NYC, as it features the folkloric culture of every Latin American country. The themes are played in music, dance and costumes. The Hispanic Parade committee that organizes the event allows each group that participates to demonstrate their unique character.

Our goal in participating in this parade was to demonstrate that within the mostly Christian Hispanic community, there exists a diverse Hispanic Muslim community from countries such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. We wanted to show that we are just as proud of our heritage and that our faith does not separate us from our roots. It in fact brings us closer to these roots as it is a community-oriented way of life, which praises fellowship among humanity. Hispanic Muslims still share the same passion and love for their family as the rest of the Latin community throughout the world. Islam does not restrict anyone from participating in such events and marching peacefully with our Christian friends that share our cultural heritage. What mattered most in our participation is that it was a public venue with thousands of spectators who have probably never witnessed Muslims gathered in one of the largest parades in NYC. Our participation demonstrated that we are not closed off from society, and that our beliefs do not separate us. It unifies us all.

Our theme of unity was displayed through a colorful float which consisted of an arch displaying the words “Un Creador, Una Familia, Una Planeta” (One Creator, One Family, One Planet), with a globe underneath. On the back panel of the float we displayed the message “Somos Musulmanes Hispanos” (We are Hispanic Muslims). The headscarves on the women, men donning long beards and thobes (traditional Arab garment for men), and the Latin American flags we held were the real symbols of who we are. Our float was designed to give a message of unity and to show Islam in a positive light.

In preparing for this event, many of us wondered how the crowd would react to our participation. As this is a day when thousands of people are gathered with a sense of pride and happiness to see their country being represented, I knew that the overall happy nature of the event would be reflected in the spectators’ view of us. As we passed them in our float, there were flags waving back at us, shouting the name of their country at us, and some glaring while taking a moment to read the message on our float. The NYPD officers that were guarding the event were mostly serious in their gestures. On the other hand, I noticed a few officers crack soft smiles and one that snapped a picture as he stood in front of a divider.

There was one particular spectator that showed his enthusiasm when he saw us passing by throwing his fist in the air followed by a kiss on his knuckles, in what I see as a symbol of solidarity with the struggle many Muslims are facing. Further on, a man waving his flag yelled, “Alhamdulillah,” a common Arabic phrase meaning “All praise be to God.” A man and a woman from Colombia who were there to march with a different group decided to jump in along with us instead and even asked a fellow participant for his Palestinian flag. These two proceeded to walk among us and wave the Palestine flag to the crowd. These situations were unexpected, but it made me feel as if though the struggle we are facing is not as deep as some of us may think.

What I learned from this event is the impact a positive message has on the way people view us. When we show the world a positive message, the only thing that we can get in return is even more love and positivity. This is extremely valuable in a time when hateful speech towards Islam is louder than the kind, rational voice of Islam. It helps to discourage listeners of hateful speech towards Muslims from accepting this rejection and hatred. On the contrary, justifying our beliefs through endless debates creates a notion that it is okay to use a person’s faith to understand why bad things happen. It creates an atmosphere in which it is okay to generalize and categorize people by the actions of a smaller group. It promotes bigotry and justifies hostility among people. What we do not see in the media are the people who support us, empathize with our struggle and want to see the Muslim community demonstrate even more acts of peace that refute what the media says. The media does not showcase individuals that want to march with us and show their solidarity by waving their fists in the air when they see us striving. These people do exist and will continue to stand with us as long as we continue to show our gratitude and desire for peace.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Take your needs to the One who has no needs

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 19/11/2014 - 13:00

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

Photo: Daniel Dennis

There was a realization that came to me when I was young and only just starting my journey towards God subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). It may seem obvious to some, but this one realization changed my outlook and relationship with those around me for the better. On one day, I was very frustrated. I wanted someone to talk to. Actually, I felt like I needed someone to talk to. None of my friends were answering their phones, and my family seemed distracted at home. I was starting to feel irritated.

And then it hit me: people cannot be there for you all the time.

This is not because people are bad. Actually, I believe that most people are good. But all people have their own needs. And because we all have needs, we necessarily all have limits. A person may want to be there for you, but sometimes they just cannot. Sometimes, they are dealing with their own issues. Sometimes they are juggling too many things for you to be their sole focus. Sometimes they may not know how to help.

Not Allah (swt). He is al-Ghani. He is Needless. He is Rich. He is Self-Sufficient. And so, He is Limitless.

What a liberating thought.

Al-Ghani and you

There are two things we have to realize about Allah al-Ghani: the first is that we are human and we have needs, yet our ultimate and true need is Allah (swt). The second is that He does not need us, nor anything for that matter. He is completely independent and self-sufficient. He has no dependency. Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an:

“O mankind, you are those in need of Allah, while Allah is the Free of need (al-Ghani), the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 35:15)

In truth, we all need Allah (swt). Some of us may realize it and some may not. If we do not, we may seek to assuage the calling of our soul with quick fixes. But just like we cannot quench our thirst by eating dry foods, we can never fulfill our needs by ignoring the very thing we do need. Quick fixes may provide a temporary distraction, but the need will always remain. As Ibn al-Qayyim said: “In the heart there is a void that cannot be filled except by His love, turning to Him, always remembering Him, and being sincere to Him. Were a person to be given the entire world and everything in it, that would never fill the void.”

And this may be our ultimate problem. We do not realize that we need Him, or how much we need Him. And so we attempt to fill that void with things that were never meant to fill it.

Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), we are told in the Qur’an, helps two women get water from the well. Someone else would feel proud that they just helped someone who was in need. But Moses (as) understood something. He sat down in the shade and said:

“My Lord, indeed I am, for whatever good You would send down to me, in need.” (Qur’an, 28:24)

He knew that he was impoverished before Allah (swt), even when he had helped someone else in need.

The second part to understanding Allah al-Ghani is to realize that nothing that we do benefits or hurts Allah (swt). Our prayers do not give Him anything, nor do our sins hurt Him. We do these things out of love and reverence; and because He has commanded them of us, we know that they are good for us. He is Needless and yet He understands our needs. So He gives us the antidote to our illness. He teaches us the best way to fulfill the needs of our heart, body and soul. Allah (swt) says in a hadith qudsi (a sacred narration):

“[…] O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and you will not attain benefiting Me so as to benefit Me. O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all as pious as the most pious heart of any individual amongst you, then this would not increase My Kingdom an iota. O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all as wicked as the most wicked heart of any individual amongst you, then this would not decrease My Kingdom an iota. O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all to stand together in one place and ask of Me, and I were to give everyone what he requested, then that would not decrease what I Possess, except what is decreased of the ocean when a needle is dipped into it. O My servants, it is but your deeds that I account for you, and then recompense you for. So he who finds good, let him praise Allah, and he who finds other than that, let him blame no one but himself.” (Muslim)

This is why Allah (swt) forgives over and over, because our sins do not harm Him, but they harm us. And this is why He accepts even the smallest of deeds, because how big or small they are does not affect Him positively or negatively. The deeds help us. And Allah (swt) can give us anything and everything because He does not need any of it. Ultimately, we are the ones in need. And so we take our needs to the only One who has none.

You and Others

The realization I spoke about above helped me in my relationship with others. It may seem counterintuitive; how can the realization that people cannot be there for you improve your relationship with them? Because with this realization, we cease to project our unrealistic expectations onto them, and therefore prevent ourselves from being disappointed as a result of those failed expectations. God (swt) gave us people as gifts, but they were not meant to fulfill every need. So when we find that those we love cannot give us something, it is time to direct that need to al-Ghani Himself, and be forgiving and understanding of their situation.

And something amazing happens here. Because He is also al-Mughni (the Enricher), He can enrich you. He enriches you to a point where you can love people while ultimately your dependency is on Him. Al-Ghazali states that a person who has “no neediness save for God the most high, he will be called ‘rich’ [ghani].”

Connect to His Names

1—Realize that you need Him, and cannot do anything without His help

This will enhance your worship. When we understand that, for example, prayer is to fulfill a certain need of our soul, we can make more of a conscious effort to improve and beautify our prayer, and use it to connect to the Most High. Moreover, our du`a’ (supplication) also has more meaning when we realize that we are the ones truly in need.

2—Understand that people have needs, because only He is free of needs.

This will ensure that your ultimate dependency is not on people, and that you will not have unrealistic expectations. When we feel that others have let us down, we can direct ourselves to the One who has no needs.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Suppleness of the Muslim State

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 18/11/2014 - 13:00

Photo: jpellgen

By Salman Khan

In his 1972 book, The Politics of Heroin, Alfred McCoy coined the phrase the “suppleness of the state.” He discussed the history of heroin discovery, production, and existence until today. Among the many discoveries he made was that the CIA actually had a heavy hand in the production and distribution of heroin throughout the world. Interestingly, he found that the CIA’s complicity in the global drug trafficking ring actually worked against many other US policies and organizations. For example, 10%-15% of lower ranking US Army men serving in Vietnam were heroin users as a result. This affected morale and actually harmed the US military. Additionally, organizations that sought to stop the spread of drug trafficking worked in direct contradiction to the CIA. This is what McCoy meant in his phrase the “suppleness of the state;” there were so many different parts of the state that in many instances they worked in contradiction of each other, instead of in benefit of the overall state.

In my experiences I have found that there exists a certain “suppleness of the state” in the Muslim community as well. In our organizations we all have noble objectives, yet due to unfortunate circumstances we compete with each other instead of collaborating. For example, you can find two or three masajid (mosques) in a close-knit area, each of which is in debt and in need of resources. Instead of pooling together and benefiting from one unified and financially stable masjid, the three masajid stay separated and broken. Not only is the community divided, but from a financial standpoint it just does not make sense. Regardless of the reasons, whether cultural, a result of bad history between the board members, or anything else, we should not work against the overall goals of our communities and ummah (global Muslim community).

Another example is with our Islamic schools and non-profit organizations. Many times there are similar organizations seeking the exact same goals, whether it is trying to build a community center, conduct da`wah (calling to Islam), or collect money for relief causes. This isn’t always a problem. If organizations are working towards similar goals, but are operationally different, or at least working together, then this is not an issue. There was ikhtilaaf (difference in opinion) among even the sahabah (companions of Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him), so we should not expect or call towards having one set way of doing things. The issue arises when organizations and individuals work against each other and harm each other.

As a community we have limited resources, so when multiple organizations working on similar projects, are all requesting the same resources (money, volunteers, etc.) and pulling them in ten different directions instead of a few—to do the exact same thing—we waste time, energy, and money. For example, some of our major Muslim non-profit organizations have administrative fees and marketing fees in the millions! Imagine how much money would be saved if they worked together. When we spread our resources thin, they are never enough. However, when we pool these resources together, we can accomplish a lot more. God knows best, but there seems to be an unnecessary “suppleness of the Muslim state” that works against the overarching goals of our community that needs to be addressed.

Categories: Muslim blogs

What is an Imam?

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 17/11/2014 - 13:00

Photo: G Cacakian

By Leila Adam

Being left without an imam (religious leader) at your local mosque makes you realise things that never occurred to you before. Exposure to new and different styles of leadership helps you to learn what will be good for your community and what will cause them to suffer. It’s a strange experience if a city has never been without spiritual leadership in living memory.

In that situation, one can really take off long-worn blinkers and realise the possibilities and profound nature of an imam’s position in the community. An imam carries the community on his back. At the very least, he keeps them safe from wolves and packs of marauding dogs – the troublemakers who fill the void when leadership is absent.

Yet his potential is vastly more than this. Like the pastor of a church, the principal of a school or the CEO of a company, he sets the tone for the whole community. He has the ability to sway them, to lift them to great heights of inspiration or send them crashing against one another in deadly waves of animosity. If he is bored, they will be bored; if he is pumped, they will be pumped; if he is elitist, they will be elitist. Whatever is deep inside his nature will manifest in the people. That’s an awesome and frightening responsibility.

When you see a sublime example of a good imam, who stands right there – as opposed to being a distant figure online – and inspires you, opening your heart, it’s exciting. ‘Could this really be possible?’ you ask yourself. ‘Could communities really be so fortunate as to be uplifted and inspired every week at jumu`ah (Friday congregational prayers), and perhaps even more often than that?’ ‘Could a local imam also be a team leader who helps people get up and do great things in their community; feeding the poor, consoling the wretched-hearted and turning neighbours into friends?’ ‘Is it really possible to stop isolated struggles and feel real community togetherness and fellowship, becoming a cog within a beautiful set of machinery that lights up the whole environment?’ What a wondrous possibility.

A fortunate community will have an imam who teaches them to love themselves and others, to the extent that they each go away and begin working in their own realms of light and benefit. A community that loses out on this blessing will keep going through the motions of daily prayers and weekly jumu`ah without ever being properly awakened from their state of slumber. Like every comfortable sleeper, they will not even want to be awakened. A community with very negative leadership will be driven to stir up trouble and throw dogma at one other, until the mosque becomes a place in which everybody watches his or her back for fear of criticism. After a while, they will tire of the effort and stop coming altogether – and so the mosque stands empty.

So when an imam departs, what does the future hold for the community left in flux? A time of change is, at the very least, an opportunity to figure out what is desirable, and then get up in the depths of night and pray for the best result, through Allah’s Grace and Mercy subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Skeleton Twins: Laughing From Rock Bottom

The Platform - Sun, 16/11/2014 - 14:46

The Skeleton Twins navigates the issues of depression and mental illness with an accessible combination of humour and sincerity


After ten years apart, estranged twins Maggie (Kristin Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) find themselves brought together by an unlikely common goal: suicide. The film opens with Maggie on the brink of an overdose, interrupted by a call from Los Angeles telling her that Milo has attempted to slash his wrists. Hilarious, eh? Admittedly not. But Craig Johnson’s darkly comedic take on some pretty hefty subject matter proves a hit, opening up the world of depression and mental illness in a way that is immediately accessible.

The events take place in the siblings’ hometown in New York state. Following his hospitalisation, Milo travels from L.A. to spend time recuperating with Maggie, only to find himself embroiled in the drama of her deeply unstable marriage. At the heart of it, both siblings are struggling with what Maggie describes as “feeling constantly disappointed with life”. Milo believes he “peaked in high school”, while Maggie finds herself stalling plans to start a family, turning instead to a string of affairs with French cooking connoisseurs and scuba-diving instructors. While her perpetually optimistic husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), remains completely oblivious to the plight of their marriage, Maggie finds solace in Milo and the two begin to regain the closeness of their childhood. Re-establishing a long lost sibling bond could have been a painfully formulaic watch, but the mutual understanding of each other’s flaws and instabilities provide the pair with a sincerity that transcends clichés.

The real strength of this film lies in the casting. Wiig and Hader’s chemistry is undeniable, supplying their on-screen relationship with the kind of brother-sister inside humour that they have established over years of collaborative work. But there’s an edge to their characters’ closeness too, and however hard they try to help each other up, it’s ultimately their shared insecurities that bring them right back down.

Luke Wilson’s portrayal of the endlessly good-natured Lance is also hard not to love. After all, who can resist a man who clears vast quantities of woodland with his bare hands and scales climbing walls in tight, functional trousers? But it’s his wholesome, big-hearted nature that makes him so wrong for Maggie, and this conflicting element runs quietly throughout. Even Billy (Boyd Hoybrook) is brilliantly cast as Maggie’s scuba instructor lover, excellently treading the line between the mysterious erotic stranger and a creepy outcast with the tendency to caress oxygen tubing.

Taking a comedic approach to mental health issues could have been a disaster, but here, Johnson really makes it work. The laughably dysfunctional relationships between the key characters and their strained attempts to restore order are far from neatly packaged, but, rather, they are left exposed and unresolved. Far from trivialising the issues, the use of comic actors in the main roles resists sentimentalising their problems, instead providing us with an everyday picture of what living with depression can mean. Some days are funny, and some are brutally sad. The climax of this tension arguably comes in Hader and Wiig’s expertly choreographed lip-synch of Starship’s hit ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’. Aside from the stark truth that this is one of the greatest power ballads ever written, this is also an undeniably uplifting scene: things have almost certainly hit rock bottom but there’s still laughs in there somewhere.

Leaving the key questions unanswered is what gives The Skeleton Twins its edge. The concluding scenes are slightly disappointing and display a predictability that is absent from the rest of the film, yet the major dilemmas facing the characters are still left largely unresolved. The result is a story that asks questions without offering any real answers, that allows us an insight into depression without trivialising or reducing it. At the heart of it, this film is about life not going quite the way you expected; where it will go from here, that is for us to conclude.

Image from:
Categories: Muslim blogs

Pope Francis Rocks Conservative Catholics

The Platform - Fri, 14/11/2014 - 15:20

Pope Francis agitates conservative U.S. Catholics with a presumed softer policy on homosexuality


That Pope Francis was determined to set out a very new kind of Papal stall became apparent very early on. Returning on “’Shepherd One’” (The Papal 747) from World Youth Day, Francis surprised reporters with an impromptu, stand-up press conference where he said:

”When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalised. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem… they’re our brothers.”

Commenting on the online blog Catholic Vote, Joshua Bowman wrote: “Some people with homosexual tendencies choose to accept the salvation of our Lord and maintain a life of chastity. This is the key to what Pope Francis is saying: people with homosexual desires who are able to exhibit this level of self-control should be welcomed as our brothers and given encouragement in their struggle. This is a very beautiful statement. However, it does not say anything about people who give in to carnal desires and live promiscuously — whether gay or straight.”

Not surprisingly, then, the Roman Catholic Church’s intractable homophobia got onto the agenda for an exceptional synod in the Vatican recently.

Proposals for a wider acceptance of homosexuals – not homosexual practice, though – failed to get the two-third majority it needed to become a Roman Catholic basis for informing the church’s contact with homosexuals. The original proposition was that, “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy.” This was replaced with something very different: “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” Gay Catholics (an oxymoron to a very sizeable section of Christians of all denominations – though they may not admit it publicly), gay rights groups and allegedly the pope himself, felt let down.

It is important to note above the euphoria with which large sections of the Roman Catholic Church, especially among the younger adherents greeting the “Revival Pope”, that he has not suggested changing one iota of Catholic doctrine on abortion, contraception or homosexuality per se, but has now simply stated the obvious: that homosexuals should not be marginalised by the church. “God is not afraid of new things,” Pope Francis said during the conclusion to the synod. “That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

Cue the catatonic outrage from U.S. conservative Catholics. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput sums up the response by saying that under this pope, the Roman Catholic Church is ”a ship without a rudder” and that “the faithful are feeling a bit seasick.” He even went so far as to condemn the recent Vatican conference as producing “confusion of the devil”.

However, Pope Francis, who quickly established a reputation for humility, sincerity and even humour, should not be misunderstood. He is not planning any fundamental changes in doctrine; what he does want to encourage is a more humane and, dare we say, Christian, response from the Catholic hierarchy towards a number of topical issues, most controversially here, homosexuality.

“The conservatives had it all their own way for about 30 years, and now the shoe might be on the other foot,” quotes Rev. Paul Sullins in USA Today, a priest who teaches Sociology at the Catholic University of Washington, Washington DC. ”Now they feel on the outside a little bit, which is exactly how the progressives used to feel.”

Some believe that the pope is not getting a fair hearing, and that he is being quoted according to what people want to hear. Arina Grossu, a 31-year-old University of Notre Dame graduate suggests, “A lot of mainstream media reporting is based on what people hope Pope Francis is saying, instead of what he is actually saying.” The result, she concludes, “only adds to the noise and confusion.”

Perhaps not so confusing is the fact that Pope Francis has had meetings with leading Evangelical and Charismatic church leaders, including the high-profile billionaire Kenneth Copeland. Fears of a worrying rapprochement between the Evangelical movement and the Roman Catholic Church go back to the 80s. Long treated as apostates, and dubbed ”The Whore of Babylon” as described in the book of Revelation by traditional evangelical fundamentalists, it comes as a matter of grave concern to many that the Catholic Church should be co-operating with the Evangelical Church at all.

As the Evangelical/Charismatic/Pentecostal churches continue their fractious debate on homosexuality – highlighted recently by the ‘coming out’ of much sought-after worship leader, Vicky Beeching, as gay – more people than expected, perhaps, are not at all surprised to see the Roman Catholic Church’s global leader and alleged Vicar of Christ coming out himself! (In favour of a more homosexual-friendly approach, that is.)

Elizabeth Dias, writing in Time notes: “If there is a single takeaway, it may be this: Pope Francis showed the world that he is not afraid of making mistakes. He takes risks, and his commitment to listening allows a host of voices to rise and controversy to surface.”

Amen to that.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Brazil’s Re-elections: Chicken Pastries and Beagle Boys

The Platform - Thu, 13/11/2014 - 19:04

Brazil’s presidential election was a battlefield of puerile name-calling and regional division leaving a taste of bitterness across the country


“Let’s divide Brazil”, “let’s move to Miami” and “let’s demand an impeachment.” These were just some of the recurring statements circulated by voters of Dilma Rousseff’s opposition upon her re-election. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT) was re-elected with 51 per cent of the votes, whereas Áecio Neves’ Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) took just over 48 per cent.

This close-fought run-off transformed social media into an arena where voters from both parties engaged in a name-calling-fest. PSDB voters, often perceived as elitists, were called coxinhas (the name of a famous Brazilian chicken pastry) and reaças (an abbreviation of the word reactionary). Rosseff´s voters, the so-called communists, were named Petralhas, which translates as Disney’s DuckTales’ criminal characters, the Beagle Boys. In Portuguese the ‘pet’ of Petralhas sounds like PT, and this phonetic wordplay came in handy for the opposition in associating the Workers’ Party with numerous accusations of corruption since coming into power under former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 12 years ago.

In fact, if there was one unifying element in this deeply divided Brazil, it was the accusations of corruption faced by both sides of the divide. On the one hand, Neves was accused of building an airport on his family’s land, practicing nepotism by employing relatives, and of misogynist behaviour. On the other, Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobrás, has been investigating the involvement of PT politicians in an alleged bribery scheme.

The campaigns were not centred around proposing viable alternatives for the country’s future, as much as they were about bringing to the fore new scandals involving the opponent on a daily basis. All of them were conveniently fed by social media, with voters sharing news of scandals from both reliable and suspicious sources. This led to endless debates, and the deletion or blocking of friends and followers.

It’s been exactly 30 years since the civil rights movement, Diretas Já, when millions of Brazilians went to the streets to push for free elections. With that in mind, the name-calling, debates and division that have marked the presidential election this year can be seen as a tragicomic facet of democratic Brazil. The opposition has a fundamental obligation to place the government under scrutiny, but some discourses pertaining to the anti-government movement have the potential to jeopardise the very nature of the democratic system.

There have been some bitterly disappointed PSDB voters that have pressured for further investigation into Petrobrás’ bribery scandal, hoping it will lead to an impeachment. Other members of the opposition have gone as far as inciting military intervention.

At these times of inflation fears, there is also the anxiety that ‘communist’ President Rousseff, who was arrested and reportedly tortured during the military dictatorship (1964-1985), will align herself with countries like Venezuela and aggravate Brazil’s currently faltering economic situation. Opinions also diverge greatly on Bolsa Família, a ‘family allowance’ cash-transfer scheme. Seen by PT voters as a measure to tackle inequality and improve welfare, Bolsa Família is the target of criticism by the opposition. The counter-party claim that it is a populist strategy that has created a coddled and lazy generation.

Moreover, along with the social class divide, often split into categories from Class A to Class E, this continent-sized country has also seen its regional rifts exposed as an outcome of the close election. Overwhelmingly favoured by the business community, Neves had support in the more affluent south-eastern part of the country where São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are located. The poverty-stricken north and north-east regions, where a high proportion of the electorate are recipients of Bolsa Família, voted for Rousseff.

The historical stigma faced by northern and north-eastern people in the south was intensified after the election, as a chain of derogatory comments, abuse and suggestions to separate the north from the south took over the internet. This led some users to share information of places where you could go to denounce prejudice.

The accusation of Bolsa Família being used as a powerful weapon of political campaigning by PT was one of the stronger allegations emerging against the winning party. Another reaction to this tough-won election were allegations of manipulation of the voting system in a country where voting is compulsory and conducted through electronic machines.

The race was full of twists and turns, including the death of a presidential candidate, Eduardo Campus, in a plane crash in August, and the bitterness is still ongoing weeks after the election. Rousseff’s speech after her poll win demonstrated an awareness of the fragmented country she now leads and the need for unity. But can beagle boys and chicken pastries find room for consensus?

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Living with Depression and Islam

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 13/11/2014 - 13:00

Photo: midnightrook

By Anonymous

Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t.

The months, weeks and days pass with me wishing it’ll be the last, and yet there’s no end.

At nighttime I cry faintly into my pillow with tears streaming down my cheeks. I whimper in pain, attempting to suppress the sounds that leave my room; I don’t want my family to hear.

I whisper, “Oh Allah, I don’t want to live anymore. Oh Allah, please, I don’t want to live anymore.”

I feel broken. I feel alone. I feel empty inside. I am in pain and numb at the same time. Perhaps my pain is so much now that I can no longer distinguish it. It is a physical pain—a weight on my chest crushing my existence, crushing my hopes and dreams.

I pray five times a day, I make du`a’ (supplications), I say astaghfirullah (I ask forgiveness from Allah) throughout the day and read as much Qur’an as I can. But it’s hard. I have no motivation to keep going. I don’t know what I’m moving towards. My goals and hopes have all slowly faded away.

I am a façade of who I once was. I constantly lie about how I feel. I must keep up appearances. I smile and laugh when I must. I have to maintain relationships, or else the loneliness will only get worse. I would rather be in this dungeon that I’m in, alone; but my mind knows that the loneliness will only make it worse. I don’t want to unload the hurt I feel onto others. So, I fake a smile and try to converse with family and friends. It is tiring, but I do it. It is a part of living and for now I must live.

I don’t want to be a burden and I don’t want others to pity me.

I don’t pity myself. I am not ungrateful. I am thankful. I am thankful for all the blessings Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has bestowed upon me. I do not complain to others. I try to complain only to Allah (swt). Yaqub `alayhi assalam (peace be upon him) endured the pain of being separated from his beloved Yusuf (as) for many years. Maryam (as) lay beneath a palm tree while in the throes of labor, wishing Allah (swt) had taken her life and spared her from those moments of despair. Musa (as), a fugitive from the land of Pharaoh, found himself without family, wealth, or possessions—he had nothing. Poor and desperate, all he was able to cry was “My Lord, I am in need of any good that you send me.”

So I complain to Allah (swt) of the pain and sadness I cannot explain. I keep asking, most times not knowing what to say. Just hoping and praying and wishing for salvation from this suffering.

I don’t know how to explain depression. How do I explain it to family and friends? I heard someone once describe depression as an ever-lingering constant sadness, even when everything in your life is going well.

It is a total loss of pleasure.

Nothing gives me pleasure anymore.

I’m so tired, yet no amount of sleep nourishes me. Eating has become work. Brushing my teeth, answering phone calls, replying to emails; simply existing has become tiresome. I know my pain is not physical to others, but my pain is real. I feel it in every moment. When I sleep, when I eat, when I laugh, when I cry, when I speak. My pain is hidden beneath it all.

No one wishes to be around someone filled with such overwhelming sadness and gloom. No one wants to hear how my mind aches every day, that I have given up my hopes and dreams or that I wish Allah (swt) would take my life quickly and subtly. My heart hurts every day. I wish I could take a hold of the heart within me, and sever it from my being. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like this. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel dead inside.

I think of death all the time. It plays in the background now. I have never understood suicide. But now I do. I wonder about taking my life. Maybe overdose on my medications. But there’s never enough to overdose on. Psychiatrists know suicide is always an option for the depressed, so they are careful when they medicate. When I am driving, I imagine what would happen if I made a slight abrupt turn into a tree. But maybe I wouldn’t die. Maybe I would find myself paralyzed and that would be a worse existence, for then I’d still be alive, but now a physical burden to my family. But the truth is, I am still too scared of Allah (swt) and the Hellfire to ever commit such a sin. I know suicide is not an option. Faith has limited me to only entertaining such an end, but never to commit to it.

I would never wish what I feel upon another human being. I have no energy or zest for life, and no one cares. The two or three people that know cannot empathize. They only offer support when I reach out to them, but I don’t want to be a burden. Can’t they reach out to me? Can’t they ask how I’m doing? Can’t they tell when I say, “Alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah), I’m okay,” that I’m not okay? Can’t they put themselves in my shoes? I so desperately want someone to save me, yet I know only I can save myself. I can use the help of medication, of faith, of family, of friends, but only I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and hope to reach it one day.

But I could use some help.

People say: “Don’t worry, trust Allah.” “This is just a phase. You’ll get over this.” “Be thankful for your life. You’re not dying.”

But I feel like I am, why can’t they understand?

They may think depression is a first-world problem. Maybe it is; maybe not. I thought depression was something the weak-spirited suffered. I thought Allah (swt) was enough. I thought medications were simply a bandage. But I’ve realized, unfortunately too personally, that depression is not black and white. It is not something that one can wish away. It is a battle that only the strongest of will win. I know it will take me every fiber of my being to kill this silent lurking monster.

Even though no one sees the emotional pain and mental agony of depression; I am here to tell you, it is real. Whether it’s due to the loss of a loved one, a divorce, a bad test score or absolutely nothing you can put your finger on—it is real. And you cannot let it get worse. Whether you are the one suffering or someone around you is. We must notice the person who isn’t as cheery as they once were. We must notice the drastic behavior changes in the person we once knew. Notice physical changes: weight loss, weight gain, dark circles, lethargy, unexplained headaches, missed school days and work days.

Please, help someone around you who is suffering. Maybe they are suffering for unknown reasons; maybe it doesn’t make sense to you. Maybe they have been depressed for a couple of days or maybe they have been depressed for months. Whatever the case, if you can help- help.

We need to be there for our sister, our brother, our friend, our coworker, our daughter, our son, our student, our neighbor who is suffering. We need to help them. We must not let it get worse. We must not let them fall into an abyss of complete despair.

We must be forgiving for the missed phone calls and the broken promises and the little changes that make us question our relationship. Be forgiving. Be empathetic. Understand that in the fog of depression, human beings make bad decisions, say things they wish they hadn’t and do things they never would. The regret kills them from within. They are miserable, and they don’t know how to tell anyone. The smile they force hides a world of pain and despair. Notice the fake smile and the blank stares and ask, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just tired.” “Oh, I think I’m getting sick.” “Just a little stressed.” Don’t let these answers distract you. Say: “I’m here for you. If you’re going through anything at all, you can talk to me. Don’t forget that.”

Know that depression lies to the sufferer. It tells them: “You are worthless. The world would be better without you. You are a burden to your family. You are not smart enough. You are not religious enough. You are not beautiful/ handsome enough. You will never reach your goals. You are nothing and you are all alone.” This loneliness consumes the individual, completely paralyzing them.

Tell them they are not alone. Keep texting, keep calling, keep emailing. Just be there. Don’t let their indifference, or their excuses dissuade you. So many are suffering silently because they believe no one cares. But keep trying. It will make a difference. It will make all the difference. Everyone notices a broken leg but no one notices a broken spirit. Don’t be the person that lets months go by while a friend or an acquaintance falls deeper and deeper into his/ her depression.

And once they’ve revealed their “secret”, don’t leave them. Don’t forget them. Don’t let weeks pass by without checking up on them. And when you do reach out, don’t simply say: “It’s going to be okay. Just perk up. Be thankful. Don’t just sit around all day. Get out of bed. Call me whenever you need.” Though well-intentioned, this is not enough. Being there for a person who is depressed is mentally and emotionally draining. They will not call you. They will not be the first to reach out. They do not want to be a burden to you.

I do not want to be a burden to my family and friends. So I will not call and I may not reply until the third text. I know it’s selfish, but that’s what I need now. And I do not want someone to tell me to be thankful. I am already thankful. I pray to Allah (swt) every day, and spend hours thanking Him for what He has given me, in tears. And I ask Him to forgive me for feeling how I feel. I tell Him how hurt I am and how ungrateful I feel. I ask Him why I feel like this. I ask Him to help me. I know I can’t ask Him to take my life, so I ask Him what I’m allowed to: “Grant me life as long as it is good for me, and grant me death when it is better for me.” Always hoping the latter is what is better.

If we want to be pillars of support for those who are suffering, it will require effort. Over and over and over again.

I am writing this having suffered this overwhelming illness for about more than a year. I am okay today, so I am able to write this. Yesterday I was a mess, inconsolably crying filled with anxiety and despair. I am writing this because I want to tell you how I feel. And 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. And that you should see a psychiatrist, that you can take medication if that’s what you need right now, and that it is okay to tell the people who you love. And finally, always remember- even when people disappoint you, Allah (swt) will never. He is always there and He will always be there for you. If He has kept you breathing, He has a purpose for you, insha`Allah (by the will of God).

“…And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make for him a way out. And will provide for him from an unexpected source. And when someone puts all his trust in Allah, He will be enough for him.” [Qur’an, 65:2-3]

May Allah (swt) cure you all of your illnesses, your distresses, your pains and grant you the best of healing. Ameen.

An excellent video to better understand depression:

Categories: Muslim blogs

Building Masajid

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 12/11/2014 - 13:00

Photo: luvi

By Salman Khan

As a child, whenever you asked a Muslim what they wanted to do when they grew up, building a masjid (mosque) was always one of the responses. Interestingly, this trend continues even at the college level. The answer “I want to build a masjid” seems ubiquitous and a goal of almost every generation. Although I believe building a masjid is a noble goal, there are some unsettling views that underlie this mentality – the most troubling is the assumption that we need more masajid (mosques) at all.

Why is this troubling? A masjid should be built only if there is a need for it, i.e. there is no existing masjid within the surrounding area. Therefore, if our goal in building a masjid is not to fulfill a need but to reap the rewards that building it entails, then we have a misinformed intention. A masjid should serve as a community center where everyone can come together; it should function as a hub that is relevant to the community it serves. In most areas we do not need more structures; we need communities to fill those structures. We need to build masajid by building and strengthening the communities that already exist!

Many of our masajid are only filled during weekly Friday prayers. Aside from this they are abandoned. Interestingly, our communities often expand the masjid to accommodate more people during the Friday prayers, as if the Friday prayer were the only function of a masjid. Although this may be the main function today, we have to understand that the masjid should be so much more than this. The growing discussion regarding the need for a ‘third space’ where we can all come together and feel welcome outside of the home or masjid only occurs because of our dysfunctional masajid. Our masajid are not serving the interests or needs of our communities. They are not serving our youth, our elders, our sisters, our converts, our young professionals or our children. Instead, they are serving the parochial and outdated idea of what a masjid should be: a strictly religious center. We need masajid with more functionality – not more masajid without functionality beyond the basic obligatory prayers.

The main demographic served in most instances is the middle-aged adult male. However, even within this demographic we find only a small minority actually affiliated with the masjid. The masjid is not, and should not be, a ground for politics or contests of religiosity. Rather, it should be a haven for everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, social class, madhab (Islamic school of thought), sect or religiosity. If it is to serve this wide array of individuals it needs to be dynamic in its approach. Our masajid need dynamism, effective programming and involved community members. We must understand that the masjid boards are not the main culprit in our dysfunctional communities. In many cases they may be doing the best job they can—they may not know how to diversify the functions beyond the strictly religious paradigm. Unfortunately, the community itself often turns its back on its own responsibility; quick to judge and yet unwilling to take action. Most masajid have less than 10% of their local community vote during elections, so how can we possibly complain when we watch from the sidelines as the masjid goes through continuous periods of stagnation and ineffectiveness? If we are serious advocates for change and improvement then we should not only attend our masajid more regularly, but we should vote during the elections. With such a small margin of the community voting, each vote has so much power. Get a few of your friends and family to help out and you can create some serious change.

What we need, then, is to develop the masajid we already have. We need to work towards molding each and every one of our masajid into perfect centers where individuals feel comfortable and spiritually welcome. We need to involve ourselves, invest our time and energy, and serve the community through effective programing and providing relevant services. When we say “I want to build a masjid, let us change our intention to mean building upon the foundations that already exist, not starting from scratch.

Categories: Muslim blogs

In Sickness and In Health

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 13:00

Photo: jacki-dee

By Izza Atiqa

One of the things I love most about my job is the people that I get to meet. I just started work a few months ago, and in the course of my day-to-day routine, I have met some people to whom my heart gravitates, just for the beauty of the person that they are. During my first few weeks of work, I met a Muslim brother who was suffering from multiple sclerosis. Despite it being a difficult condition to live with, he was independent, positive, and especially cheerful during the short 30-minute consult my colleague and I had with him. That day, he had intermittent muscle spasms that interrupted the treatment we were giving him, yet it did not disturb his calm and collected demeanor. I remember he was the first patient to say, “Jazak Allahu Khayran (may God reward you),” and I was so delighted at hearing someone make that simple du`a’ (supplication) for me.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting him again. This time, however, he seemed like his condition had worsened and now needed a care-person to assist him. I thought about him the entire day. I thought about all the other people I have met during the short time that I have been working. The one who was blind but who laughed and smiled as if she could see the world. The one who had Alzheimer’s, and kept repeating “thank you” because she didn’t know what else to say. And the ones with every debilitating condition possible, but still walking through every day of their lives with every bit of strength imaginable. I remember these people being so physically sick, but so content, so joyful, glowing with light from within. And I, unlike them, am physically able and blessed with perfect health, and yet spiritually weakened by the illnesses of my heart and my desires for the fleeting pursuits of this dunya, which is by definition the “lowest of all worlds”.

It was a beautiful Friday. I made a du`a’ for that man at every prayer, and all the times in between. Earlier that day, at Fajr, I had asked Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) to grant me a beneficial and meaningful day that would bring me the remembrance of Him. My request had been granted, because that short encounter led me into deep thought and reflection. I then understood why such people are so content. It was because their sickness is a constant reminder of the day that they will return to God. Because their physical handicap is a testament to how Allah (swt) is Ar-Razzaq, the only Provider for the things we often take for granted, such as our five senses. Because they have the hearts of true believers, remaining patient throughout their afflictions and knowing that their pain and suffering will only pave their way into jannah (paradise). As Prophet Muhammad ﷺ(peace be upon him) beautifully said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that,” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5641 – 5642). May Allah (swt) admit them to the shade of His mercy, return them to Him in the most beautiful way, and grant us all the spiritual purification that we are greatly in need of at this time.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Dizzying Joy of Fee-Free Education in the Czech Republic

The Platform - Thu, 06/11/2014 - 09:23

The profitable lie of the fee-paying education stunts personal, social and cultural growth


I am British and I got my BA in the UK.

When I applied to my present masters programme, the website listed fees of €2000 (£1600) – a lot, but tokenistic in comparison to the UK. When those numbers disappeared, my application was already in.

I arrived in Prague on September 20th. I matriculated at Charles University on October 1st. Today I got an email telling me that I’m here for free. No fees payable whatsoever. It isn’t a scholarship; it’s just how the system works. I almost fell off my chair.

Clearly I have a vested interest in free education – I am now a direct beneficiary of it – but that aside, the way I see it shaping the learning environment is strikingly positive. If ‘trickle-down theory’ works anywhere, it’s in education: from education, down into society, into the surrounding culture. Free education means freedom of social and cultural movement, which both individuals and societies need to move up in the world.

Prague gets this. Who precipitated the Velvet Revolution? Students, of course. Perhaps education equipped them for free thinking in a totalitarian regime.

My Head of School seems an unlikely hero of free thought; his pointy beard, ruddy cheeks and vivacious, kindly manner remind me more of Saint Nick than Socrates, but mixed with profound cosmopolitanism, shrewd politics, and a capacity for fury I haven’t seen but can sense, I’d be unsurprised to find a phoenix in his office.

I have been accused – and he has defended me – of coming here to exploit the system. As the UK allegedly fills up with Europeans stealing our jobs, scrounging our benefits, and clogging our NHS, I am here to scrounge myself a degree. This apparently universal tendency to dichotomise society into ‘us’ and ‘them’, or rather, ‘entitled’ and ‘foreign’, is interesting because it always presupposes the objective superiority of the native system. Why would ‘they’ come here, if ‘we’ didn’t do things better? In such a way, the mere presence of the alien justifies a nationalist ego, in turn justifying nationalist resentment.

But the UK university system is objectively better, isn’t it? We’ve got Cambridge! And we need to maintain that status – why else would we be paying £9000 per year? Good question.

Charles is ranked in the top 300 of 18,000 universities worldwide, which beats most UK universities hands-down. Charles is free, if you can pass the entrance tests. But still, topping the Times World University Rankings, there it is: Cambridge. For me, the crucial difference is to be found in the learning culture.

Františka, a Czech student on my programme, told me she’ll probably take three years to complete her masters, just so she can fit in all the classes of interest to her. She’s already 23, but for the first year of an MA here that’s younger than most.

Masters degrees in Europe usually take two years, but they are not the same workload at half the speed. They’re twice the work and more if you want it – extra classes, an extra year, an extra two years, from zero to polymath, as far as you want to go. Many of the classes Františka is taking won’t count towards her degree, because she’s not studying primarily for a degree; she’s studying to know stuff. The degree is a happy consequence. And where’s that terrible gnawing anxiety, tapering to existential panic as the end nears? Why isn’t Františka, right now, eating her own hands over personal viability on the job market?

It appears that in this environment, where education is not priced and is, therefore, not understood as a market product, the students haven’t internalised an idea of themselves as products, facing a binary future of success or failure. They remain young adult humans accruing cultural capital, but mainly studying simply to equip their minds. The pressures UK students associate with university – money, time, the future, and to a certain extent academic pressure – are all absent or considerably reduced. Czech students aren’t concerned whether their earning potential in a recession will prove equal to £30k of student debt. Moreover, as the UK watches an unprecedented proportion of the young people passing through its education system suffer with depression, anxiety or other mental ill-health, the light-touch Czech model strikes me as a much easier place to be happy.

Does the UK’s pressurised educational environment at least result in higher academic standards? This is debateable. Students who are paying for their time at university are predisposed to avoid wasting their time. Time is money. So they take safe bets. They don’t go off-piste, intellectually, so they never get to discover anything for themselves. It’s a dizzy joy missed, but it also constitutes a step never taken towards genuinely ground-breaking research. Fees are mentally hobbling in a way you don’t realise until you’re free of them. The freedom at Charles is breathtaking.

It’s not perfect. Every document has to be stamped by at least five different officials – no exceptions. Digitised documents are regarded with fear and confusion, as one would regard a child out of reach, with car keys. There’s a puzzling degree of arbitrary deference to men expected from women, which does concern me. And the faculty looks like the cast of Last of the Summer Wine.

But as a student, you don’t need to know where exactly you’re going before you’ve even started. If you make a wrong turn, you can just turn around, without being screwed, and you can follow your interests as far as you can run with them. For me, it’s deeply refreshing.

Some of the Czech students are less sold on the idea. Post-communist Prague, born in ‘89, shares some of the character of the millennial. There’s a feeling here of new social freedom: a culture come of age, living it up, still too young to be told. Capitalist logic is consumed and gladly proselytised as something young, free, maybe even slightly edgy. Some may see free education as a socialist relic, a useless breeding ground for fecklessness and economic irrelevance. As someone on my table murmured into their (subsidised) cafeteria soup, “people don’t value education if it’s free”.

A further cautionary tale exist in the university Apocrypha: one undergraduate circled the halls for ten years taking free classes, and nobody can tell me what happened to him, ultimately. But the warning is clear: beware your own complacency.

I entered university in the first year of ‘top-up fees’ in the UK, in 2006. It is sobering to realise nobody now studying in the UK will be able to recall a time before then, yet the difference to individuals’ understanding and experience of their own education is palpable.

Education can be for its own sake; a means of sharing and enriching the complex web of society and culture through which all of us move and live. It is cultural currency. It is worth the time to make you a bigger, better, happier person, more connected to your world.

Introduce fees at any level, and you transform this from a qualitative interaction into a quantitative process. A social and cultural exchange becomes a numbers game. Everyone in it is dehumanised, particularly the young, and intellectual exploration is levered onto rail-tracks. Despite the argument, fees are not necessary to maintain a university’s standing on the world stage. I am living the proof.

It may be too late for the UK – instead of raising standards, fees have changed education qualitatively. The Czech Republic must not make the same mistake.

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Categories: Muslim blogs


Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 31/10/2014 - 12:00

Photo: Tormod Ulsberg

The 10th day of Muharram

This Monday (11/03) will insha’Allah mark the 10th day of Muharram, the day of `Ashura. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said about `Ashura:

صيام يوم عاشوراء، إني أحتسب على الله أن يكفر السنة التي قبله

“For fasting the day of `Ashura I hope Allah will expiate [sins] thereby for the year that came before it.” (Muslim)

The reason for fasting `Ashura is because this was the day that Allah saved Musa (`alayhi assalam) and the children of Israel from Pharoah, and the Jews at the time of the Prophet ﷺ would fast this day for this reason too (Bukhari).

Ibn `Abbas also quoted the Prophet ﷺ as saying, “If I live next year, I shall also fast on the 9th day,” (Musnad Ahmad). This is in order to distinguish the Muslim practices from the Jewish ones (Tirmidhi). An-Nawawi also mentioned that one of the reasons for fasting the 9th day is as a precaution because of the possibility of error when sighting the new moon. However, it is still permissible to only fast on the 10th day.

It should not be forced on one to fast it, because the Prophet ﷺ said: “Concerning the day of `Ashura, it is not obligatory upon you to fast on it as I do. Whoever wishes may fast and whoever does not wish to is not obliged to do so,” (Bukhari and Muslim). Although who of us doesn’t want all their minor sins expiated?

Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters all over the world. May Allah accept the fasts and du`a’ of all those who choose to fast. Ameen.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Prop 47 and Ending Mass Encarceration

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 30/10/2014 - 12:00

A sermon by Sheikh Suhail Mulla on ending mass encarceration and Prop 47 from an Islamic perspective.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Seven Deadly Films

The Platform - Wed, 29/10/2014 - 15:18

Seven sinful films of 2014 from around the world that you should probably avoid but that you probably shouldn’t


Good behaviour doesn’t seem to make for particularly good drama, at least not for some of the most interesting films previewed earlier this month at the BFI London Film Festival. Listed in order of transgression, the films contain depravities each unique in character which I elaborate on in greater detail so that you can ensure their exclusion from our social body.


1. Gluttony

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

The festival’s ‘Official Competition Winner – Best Film’ represents that rare thing: a truly original film, novelistic in its richness of character, cinematic in its scale and gripping in its plot, grimly working itself to final devastation. Starting with the minor drama of a middle-aged man trying to maintain the legal rights to his property against the claims of the rural town’s mayor, the scope stretches to both the wilds of nature and the nature of power in Russian society.

A washed-up whale skeleton appears, embodying the Leviathan of the title. It gives a pre-historic dimension to the Old Testament allegory of Leviathan that an Orthodox priest recounts. But it gives further layers to the meaning of the film. The philosopher Hobbes called for an all-powerful, absolute monarchy to act as a Leviathan keeping order amidst the chaos of 17th century England. A century ago, Russian revolutionary Trotsky criticised the Tsarist state as a bureaucratised Leviathan – a state that Trotsky was briefly to govern before the ever-expanding Soviet bureaucracy felled and then destroyed him. In the rural outpost shown here, little local Tsars feed their all-consuming appetites, as the ever-expanding, entrapping corruption of Putin-era Russia extracts a fatal price.

2. Envy

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)

On the other hand, bringing us to the all-American competitive fighting spirit, this true story was, for many, one of the best films of the festival. Steve Carrell plays the lonely dead-eyed heir of the Du Pont weapons dynasty, keen for a hobby, but without the discernable talent he envies in others. Channing Tatum achieves a breakout role playing Mark Schultz, an impoverished, monosyllabic wrestler enticed by Du Pont to his palatial Pennsylvania estate. The two form a co-dependent father/son relationship as they train the Foxcatcher team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. However, their bond is disrupted by Du Pont’s ulterior urge to involve Mark’s older, more successful brother. The series of murderous events this sets in motion leads to eventual mutual ruination.

3. Wrath

Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón)

My favourite film of the festival was a type of film not seen much since the 1960s: a portmanteau film, or collection of short stories. A grandmotherly chef instructs the waitress to poison the mayor who has arrived in their diner; a yuppie comes to regret a minor act of road rage against a ‘redneck’ trucker; a demolition expert queries a parking fine he believes to be unjust; a gardener takes the rap for a rich man’s son; the wife of a handsome prince discovers his infidelity during their first dance at their wedding ceremony. Each of the five stories of this Argentine film condenses the pleasures of comedy, action and satire in the swift workings of their plot mechanics, in a film held together by the uncontrollable consequences of anger.

4. Sloth

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

Sloth would be the ultimate sin for players in an ultra-competitive jazz band. The music is great, but what elevates this story of bright lights and stage success from musical cliché, is the straight brutality that turns the rehearsals for the jazz ensemble into nothing less than a military camp with added rhythms. The real sin here is ambition, the desire to overreach, to be the greatest in musical history. The stunning dialogue conveys all the hatred and competition underlying creativity, delivered with as much speed and energy as the finger-bleeding drum solos. We never quite know until the very final moments whether acceptance, success, despair or brutal enmity will win out.

5. Lust

Serena (Susanne Bier)

Susanne Bier’s latest film takes us to the expanses of Depression-era North Carolina, where eagles soar above the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains. A passionate partnership for Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, together again after American Hustle, proves to have both matrimonial and business benefits, as Lawrence’s character shocks the conservative town by advancing her husband’s railroad interests with cut-throat endeavour. When, however, tragedy hits the pregnant wife, and a woman returns with her husband’s illegitimate son, the passion turns cruelly fatal.

Honourable mention: Casa Grande (Fellipe Barbosa)

This Brazilian coming-of-age tale about a teenager discovering romance, the favelas, and how to dance to the rhythms of forrò, takes its title from a phrase that means ‘master’s house’. The film’s take on sex, class and family relations in modern Rio is incisive, funny and touching throughout.

6. Greed

Chasing Berlusconi (King Curling)

This tale of a fat Norwegian jockey trying to pay his way, keep his wife happy, avoid the police and manage the various disreputable types that populate the worlds of racing and of debt collection has nothing to do with Italian politics. Berlusconi is a prize-winning racehorse whose name conjures dreams of hitting the big time. Much else gets hit in this hilarious farce, but it is by no means the big time, as a vast cast of characters each expose their petty shortcomings and vain desperations.

Dishonourable mention: A Hard Day (Seong-hoon Kim)

A cop runs a man over and decides to place the body in his mother’s coffin, to be interred the following day – but the misdemeanour will not be buried with the funeral casket. Everyone is on the make in this noir-ish South Korean action drama that will shred your nerves to pieces.

7. Pride

French Riviera (André Techiné)

In another true story, this great thriller by André Techiné recounts a still unsolved mystery. A casino owner, played by Catherine Deneuve, sees her business on the French Riviera threatened by predatory rivals connected to the Calabrian Mafia. This is no gangster film, but a dense drama about the mysteries of human motivations. Her hotshot young lawyer, who has also bedded most of the town’s eligible young women, attracts the attentions of her vulnerable, beautiful daughter. When Deneuve casts the lawyer adrift, her daughter is left to pay the emotional price. Each of the three is suspicious of betrayal from one of the others, and each one pays a high price in seeking redress.


Maybe films do have an effect on the morals of society; after all we still seem to exalt those who find fame on the silver screen. We British call those heavenly bodies ‘stars’, the Italians go one better and call them ‘divas’, or deities, while the French probably get closest to the mark when they describe them as ‘sacred monsters’. In 1955, the pope saw fit to summon filmmakers to warn them of the profane enchantment of movies, and many have compared our visits to the cinema as modern, urban acts of ritual devotion.

With that in mind, let us leave you with a truly uplifting morality tale, A New Girlfriend (François Ozon), a film whose… well, to say much more would be to risk spoilers, so let’s just say, whose path to the righteousness of love in defiance of social convention may not be an orthodox one, but is no less effective for that.

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American Customs: What is Permissible?

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 29/10/2014 - 12:00

Originally posted in October 2009.

America was indeed built as a melting pot of different cultures. That being said, throughout our history there have become some universally accepted cultural practices. There is a famous and often misunderstood hadith (narration) which I would like to discuss as it has been understood by various scholars.

This hadith is found in the authentic collection of Abu Dawood. “Whoever imitates or resembles a people is one of them.” Coming from a background of an Islamic state where the Muslims were the dominant majority, many scholars said that this means that Muslims must completely look and act different than disbelievers in every facet of life. In that context it makes sense. In our context here in the west in 2009 it is a mistaken interpretation. This is due to the well-known reality that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was an Arab and had many cultural norms including his dress and eating style that were known for Arabs in his time whether they were Polytheist, Jew, Christian or Muslim. So the hadith is true that the Prophet ﷺ imitated and resembled the Arabs of his time so indeed he was one of them. So general non-religious culture is definitely not what is prohibited by the hadith.

According to the commentary of many scholars, past and present, the hadith is warning Muslims from imitating the non-Muslims in practices which indicate their religious beliefs like wearing something with a cross on it or celebrating Christmas. Similarly we must not follow culture in matters which are prohibited in our religion like men wearing gold or women plucking their eyebrows.

So to be crystal clear I will make an analogy. What is the difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim doctor? They both wear similar clothes – maybe with a stethoscope around their necks. What makes them different is that the non-Muslim man may be wearing a cross or gold necklace whereas the Muslim will not be. The female Muslim doctor will be covering her hair while the non-Muslim won’t. The Muslim will take breaks for his or her obligatory prayers whereas the non-Muslim will not.

So let’s make a list of clothes, eating habits, and actions that are deemed permissible in the west by many scholars:

Wearing pants and shirts for men and women which do not reveal the `awrah (nakedness) as defined by our scholars. A dress might be best in concealing the beauty of a woman, but that doesn’t mean she cannot conceal her beauty with loose pants and a blouse. Men are not expected to wear hats whether in public or in the prayer. If a man is accustomed to wearing a hat and sees it as completion of common dress, then according to some scholars it would be makrooh (inadvisable) to come in the mosque without wearing it. Men may wear their pant leg below their ankles since this is not a sign of arrogance here.

There is nothing wrong with eating at a table with a spoon or fork. According to many scholars there is nothing wrong with eating the meat slaughtered by the people of the book. Others prohibited it based upon different principles. You may follow whichever you are convinced with, but you should not rebuke others for what they follow. Holidays and celebrations which do not represent religions and are not a gathering with worship overtones or un-Islamic activities are permissible. These are acceptable celebrations according to many great scholars: personal birthdays, marriage anniversaries, Independence Day, Mother’s or Father’s day on condition that we observe special love and respect for them every day, and Thanksgiving.

Things which would be forbidden are:

Wearing clothes which have a cross, Star of David, or other religious symbols of other faiths; wearing clothes which do not cover the `awrah; wearing clothes which represent immorality (i.e. Budweiser ad); wearing clothes with detailed pictures of living beings; women uncovering their hair or plucking their eyebrows; men wearing gold or silk; eating pork or foods fried or grilled without being cleaned after frying or grilling pork; eating or drinking with the left hand intentionally; shaking hands with a non-mahram (unrelated person of the opposite gender) in general (although with the condition of safety from desire some have allowed it); and celebrating Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s day, April Fool’s day or Halloween.

For anyone thinking that Halloween is just a harmless secular tradition for kids to have fun, please keep in mind the following:

The consensus of our scholars have prohibited taking part in the activities or selling the items specifically related to celebrating holidays representing religions other than Islam. This is due to the hadith we mentioned, “Whoever imitates or resembles a people is one of them,” (Bukhari).

Among these is Halloween which is an ancient polytheist pagan tradition of Europe that was switched to All Souls Day once Roman Catholicism had spread throughout Europe. It gained back its pagan roots with the capitalist venture of profit in those polytheist rituals. The current practices are almost identical to those done by the Polytheist originators of this holiday. If you are truly a follower of the Qur’an and Sunnah – not someone who follows their desires, or someone who simply wishes to fit in even when it compromises their religion – then read this thoroughly.

We must not take part in this celebration. Instead, we should try to organize mosque activities on this night, or try and go somewhere that doesn’t celebrate it, or at least just keep your lights off outside of your house.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Kobanê’s Liberation Is Near

The Platform - Tue, 28/10/2014 - 00:33

Despite Turkey and the international community, inhabitants of Kobanê maintain a strong and united voice of resistance that surpasses imposed borders


A few elderly women stand on a mountain, wearing traditional Kurdish clothes and the recognisable white headscarf. In front of them is a wire mesh fence. One woman holds a megaphone in her hands. You cannot see those beyond the fence, but it is obvious that it is a desperate attempt at communication. This weak, almost symbolic, fence happens to be the border between Turkey and Syria.

The black and white photograph has stuck with me since I saw it for the first time. It shows the reality of Kurdistan. A reality in which artificial borders have separated lovers, families, tribes and entire villages and cities. These borders go back to the end of World War I, when new techniques of colonial mapmaking changed political geographies and the understanding of statehood. For the lives of those inhabiting the region, this has meant nothing less than division, separation and, consequently, the loss of identity. The Turkish-Syrian border was drawn along railroad tracks, for instance. Colonial powers decided that the railroad tracks would suffice in the territorial delineation of the new nation states. So one day, inhabitants living on one side of the railroad found themselves part of what the Turks called Suruç, and those living on the other side became Syrian citizens of Ayn al-Arab, despite the fact that they were all Kurdish and all from the same city – Kobanê.

It is this city, as insignificant as colonial powers thought it would be, which is now occupying headlines all around the world. The Kurdish YPG and YPJ (People’s Protection Units) in Rojava, northern Syria, have been fighting against IS for more than two years now, while international powers are still debating how to approach the crisis and whether or not to support the Kurds. In the meantime, the Turkish military have positioned tanks at the Turkish-Syrian border and have watched from a distance as huge clouds of smoke rise from the city. Islamic State has been literally knocking on Turkey’s door, but no action has been taken to repel them as the weeks have gone by. Instead, Turkey’s AKP government, the Justice and Development Party, has denied any responsibility to support the Kurdish resistance. Statements from government officials predicted the fall of Kobanê, and made suggestions that there was no difference between the YPG/J and IS, so it has increasingly appeared as if Turkey has been counting on IS to eliminate any signs of Kurdish self-administration and autonomy in Rojava.



The Kurds in Rojava have managed to establish a semi-protected and autonomous region in the midst of the Syrian war. With three cantons, of which Kobanê is one, a radical democratic experiment was launched for the first time, based on gender equality, direct democratic principles and full representation of all societal groups organised in a council system. This project was ideologically attached to the concept of a democratic confederal system for the whole Middle East, first devised by Abduallah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who has lived on a prison island in Turkey since 1999. Kobanê for the Kurds, therefore, is not only a city that is under attack, but it stands symbolically for the possibility of Kurdish autonomy beyond the establishment of another nation state.

However, a Kurdish entity based on inclusive, gender-egalitarian, grassroots democratic principles right next to Turkey continues to be regarded as a direct threat to the integrity of the Turkish nation state. While the international community was expecting Turkey to take an active role in providing a humanitarian corridor and facilitating the transport of ammunition and weapons to Kobanê, all that the Turkish government did was to set conditions for their support there: the Kurds should join the Syrian-Arab opposition; the PYD, the political arm of the YPG/J, should distance itself from the PKK; the three cantons of Rojava should disintegrate; and finally, a buffer zone should be established in northern Syria, which would mean a Turkish occupation of Rojava. Despite the fact that these conditions are morally questionable, they are also unacceptable to Kurds. Once more, the Turkish state proved that even the idea of a Kurdish entity owning political rights inside or outside the Turkish borders will be directly targeted by oppressive actions. Thus, protests in solidarity with Kobanê in Turkey, especially in Kurdish cities like Diyarbakir and Mardin, were met with massive police violence, causing the death of 48 civilians.

Turkey, as a country with the highest Kurdish population, a violent history of ethnic conflict with the Kurds, and an ongoing, fragile peace process with the PKK, cannot just watch from a distance as a murderous group calling itself Islamic State attempts to massacre tens of thousands of Kurdish people across the border. It also cannot disassociate those living inside Turkey from the people resisting in Kobanê. When Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, stated that Diyarbakir has nothing to do with Kobanê, he was wrong. Resistance in Kobanê echoes across the border and is going to highly influence the development of the Kurdish question in Turkey. The recent events in and around Kobanê have shown that the artificial borders created by the Sykes Picot Agreement in 1916 are not functioning any more. Those who claim that Turkey has no responsibility are, therefore, not only sticking to a nation state paradigm that disregards the realities on the ground, but are also repeating Turkish state propaganda.

Every time Kobanê is mentioned in the news, I think of those women in the photograph using a megaphone to speak to their families across the border. The world has witnessed how the resistance of Kobanê has become a voice uniting those who have been separated by artificial borders. According to a Kurdish saying, you can brew a tea in Suruç and drink it in Kobanê. This is how attached the geography, people, culture and history of the region are to each other. This is also how close Kobanê’s liberation is today.

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