Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Luis Posada, a known terrorist, seeks political asylum in the United States of America

Luis Posada Carriles, ... gave an interview to the 'New York Times' newspaper (July 12th-13th, 1998), where he admitted to planning a series of bombings in Cuba. Carriles never mentioned his drug smuggling, nor the fact that he helped carry out murder by blowing a Cuban Airliner out of the sky in 1976, killing all 73 aboard. He escaped from prison in Venezuela, where he was being held on those changes, to next turn up coordinating Contra resupply flights in and out of the El Salvadoran airbase at Ilopango.

Cartoon by Khalil Bendib, a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Recognition of Israel & The Wisdom of Saladdin

In 1948, Israel declared its existence as an independent state. Thousands of Palestinians were made homeless and refugees in a land where they had lived for centuries. Foreign Jewish refugees built homes on the ruins of Palestinian villages.

Many Muslim and Christian countries were understandably upset at the treatment being meted out to Palestinians and Christians. Their frustration was made worse by the frequent stereotyping of the Palestinians as a nation of terrorists.

For years, Muslim countries (with a few exceptions such as Turkey and Egypt) refused to recognise Israel’s existence. They clung to the views of Jewish thinkers who felt that the creation of a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah was blasphemous. Among these Jewish thinkers was our very own Sir Isaac Isaacs, Australia’s first Australian-born Governor-General.

Palestinians had almost become accustomed to living in exile and in denial. But wiser heads prevailed, and the golden handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin secured at least some form of self-rule for Palestinians. Had the handshake on the White House lawn not taken place, one could safely speculate that the Palestinian cause would not have gained the international respectability and goodwill it now enjoys.

And so we see Palestine recognising Israel’s right to exist. When will Muslim nations follow suit? And should they?

Much Muslim rhetoric on Israel focuses on the Crusades and the liberation wars led by the Kurdish general Salah ad-Din Ayyubi, known in the West as Saladdin. It was Saladdin who won back Jerusalem. It was also Saladdin who made important compromises and who attempted to reach a negotiated settlement at all stages of the conflict.

Saladdin’s pragmatism was perhaps his best feat. The movie Kingdom of Heaven accurately portrays Saladdin as a tolerant and politically astute figure, an embodiment of the famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “War is strategy and little else”.

There was no question in Saladdin’s mind about questioning the moral right of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem to exist. Saladdin sent emissaries regularly to Jerusalem as part of his negotiations. Other Muslim kingdoms entered into alliances with Jerusalem. Virtually all sent ambassadors.

The Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, in his masterpiece The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, speaks about the confidence of these diplomats who looked down upon the European residents of Jerusalem as barbaric and superstitious.

At one point Maalouf mentions an incident when a Muslim diplomat is spending time with European Christian friends. The time for prayer comes, and the diplomat asks for the direction to Mecca. When the Europeans cannot tell him, the diplomat scolds them for being so uncouth as to not know the direction of prayer. To pray five times a day was, in those days, regarded as the act of civilised and cultured people.

Saladdin was also famous for offering the Jerusalem king his medical team. Saladdin had a team of surgeons and physicians led by the famous Andalusian Shaykh Musa bin Maymoun. Saladdin met Shaykh Musa in Cairo where the Shaykh was a prominent religious figure. Saladdin was impressed with Shaykh Musa’s erudition and his reputation as a leading physician in the Islamic world. Shaykh Musa unhesitatingly accepted Saladdin’s invitation to lead his medical team.

And who was Shaykh Musa? He was the chief rabbi of Cairo’s Jewish community. He is regarded as the greatest Jewish religious figure after the Prophet Moses himself. Saladdin was happy to appoint Moses Maimonides as his chief physician notwithstanding the fact that Maimonides was the author of a famous book declaring Judaism to be superior to Islam.

What does all this have to do with Muslim recognition of Israel? Muslim leaders have to convince their people that the struggle for Palestine is not a struggle against all Jews. Just as Saladdin’s struggle to liberate Jerusalem was not a war against all Christians.

Muslim nations also need to accept that their continued non-recognition of Israel is pointless. Why refuse to recognise Israel when the biggest losers in its creation, the Palestinians, have recognised Israel?

To keep harping on about Israel not having a moral right to exist is pointless. Israel exists, whether Muslims accept it or not. Muslims have to come to terms with the fact that they cannot destroy Israel. Just as some of Israel’s supporters need to understand that they will never win the war on terror if they perceive it as a war on Islam.

A civilisational war between Jews and Muslims may be the goal of extremists on both sides. But neither side would win, although losses on both sides would be enormous. If Muslim countries wish to support their Palestinian brethren, they should give serious consideration to at least formally recognising Israel’s existence.

Some Muslims will object to dealing with Ariel Sharon due to his hardline views and his involvement in war crimes in Lebanon. But Pakistan was still prepared to talk to India even when it was ruled by the Hindu-chauvinist BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Pakistan gained important concessions from India on behalf of Kashmiris who were reunited with families across the Line of Control.

There is no benefit for Palestinians by Muslim countries continuing to reject Israel’s right to exist. It is as futile as refusing to accept Spain’s right to exist because of the Inquisition and expulsion of millions of Andalusian Muslims. Recognition of Israel has to be put on the Muslim agenda. The sooner this is done, the better.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer.)

© Irfan Yusuf, 2005.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The FBI "witch-hunt" in Lodi, California

By Veena Dubal and Sunaina Maira

On June 7th 2005, national and international media
attention focused on the small, agricultural town of Lodi,
located approximately forty miles south of Sacramento.
The FBI arrested and detained two individuals, both
Pakistani-Americans, who they suspected had al-Qaeda
affiliations. The investigation was presented as a
“terrorism case” by the government and news sources. The
initial affidavit released to the media said that
U.S.-born Hamid Hayat, had attended a terror-training camp
in Pakistan along with “hundreds” of other terrorists, and
returned to the US intending to “attack . . . hospitals
and large food stores.” This kind of detail resulted in a
flood of sensationalized media coverage, portraying
23-year old Hamid as a prospective mass murder and his
father, Umer Hayat, a 47-year old ice cream truck driver,
as the financial supporter and mastermind of an alleged
“Lodi terrorist cell”.

Neither allegation, however, was in the affidavit filed
with a federal court in Sacramento the same day. The FBI
retracted their affidavit alleging Hamid’s plot to attack
domestic targets and began downplaying the seriousness of
the presumed threat the men posed. Both Hamid and Umer
were ultimately charged only with lying to federal
investigators about Hamid’s visit to Pakistan in 2003.

Three other Muslim men from Lodi, among them two
respected imams, were also detained on suspected visa
violations. One of the imams had actually been the target
of FBI surveillance beginning three years ago when a
secret court used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act (FISA) to approve wiretapping of Mohammed Adil Khan.

While the Justice Department has maintained that it was
not deliberately trying to precipitate an anti-Muslim
witch hunt, the difference between the two affidavits –
the one released to the media and the one filed in court –
as well as recent FBI activity in Lodi, speak a different
story. None of the five men have been charged with
carrying out or planning to commit any act of violence.

The many inconsistencies in the case and the hysteria it
stoked coincided very neatly with Bush’s campaign to renew
and expand the 2001 Patriot Act, which can only be
justified if there was an ongoing “terrorist threat” and
the public continues to fear that there are Muslim or Arab
terrorists in their midst.

On June 14, we traveled up to Lodi to assess the impact
of the arrests and surveillance of the local South Asian
community, which is estimated to consist of over 2500
Pakistanis, some of whom have been living in the town for
three generations. Basim Elkarra, Executive Director of
the Sacramento office of CAIR (Council on American
Islamic Relations) has been diligently organizing in
response to the arrests and interrogations of local
Pakistanis by FBI agents swarming into town and warned us
prior to our arrival about the extent of surveillance and
the fear the community felt. But no amount of warning
could have prepared us for the state of near siege in the
town. As soon as we stepped out of our car in Lodi, we
were made aware of the FBI’s presence. Not only is the
entire Muslim community being surveilled by the FBI, which
had interviewed many of its members, sometimes without an
attorney present, in the days following the arrest – so
are the attorneys and activists who are making sure that
constitutional rights are upheld. During our brief visit
with Mr. Elkarra and civil rights attorneys from the ACLU,
a man with a large afro-wig in a blue SUV circled us and
took photos. When we tried to approach him, he fled, only
to return later to take more photographs. His conspicuous
appearance made us realize the extent to which the FBI
harassment is not at all a secret investigation: it is an
overt act of intimidation of the community at large.

One of the attorneys we spoke to noted that the
community feels “terrorized.” Residents believe that they
are being interrogated by the FBI and placed under
automatic suspicion because they are Muslim.. Pakistanis
who attended the “Know Your Rights” workshops held by CAIR
in Stockton, Lodi, and Pleasanton were all subject to
obvious FBI surveillance. One Muslim mother told an
attorney that her young child was followed from her home
to an ice cream store by an FBI car. Others complained
that they were taken out of their places of employment by
the FBI for questioning and then could not return because
their co-workers became suspicious of them. The most
shocking of these reports was that of an incident where
the FBI stormed the Hayat home, when only women and
children were present, by ramming down the front door and
putting a gun to a woman’s head. When her eleven-year old
daughter passed out, she was denied medical attention, a
gross violation of human rights that outraged even the
local emergency care personnel.

After handing out “Know Your Rights” fliers to community
members who have been repeatedly questioned, we went to
visit the Lodi mosque that is under FBI scrutiny. The
mosque is a small, humble structure – a former Jehovah’s
Witness church – next to the cannery where Pakistani men
have worked as fruit packers, in some cases for more than
thirty years. South Asian and Latino children were
playing basketball together across from the mosque while
older South Asian men sat on the grass, presumably
relaxing after a long day’s work. Most of the Muslims who
attend this mosque speak Pashtu and are from the Northwest
Frontier area of Pakistan. Some have family that had been
in the area since as early as 1908, working on the
railroads. They told us that the FBI began coming to Lodi
immediately after September 11th, making “friends” with
mosque members. The men all seemed undaunted by the FBI
siege. However, it was clear within minutes that beneath
the welcoming, calm exterior, was a harassed,
interrogated, and scared community. One man described to
us, without looking around, exactly where each federal
agent’s car was parked; we saw the three large,
black-tinted SUVs just yards from the mosque and the
courts where the young boys were playing. Another
middle-aged man said calmly, “Let them come ask us
questions; we have nothing to hide.” While this
resilience was encouraging, we were reminded by another
Pakistani man who had already been questioned several
times that while he did not mind speaking to the FBI, it
was frightening for his wife and children. In addition,
this has led to a racist backlash by some Lodi residents
agitated by the lurid media reports about Islamic
terrorists and sleeper cells.

The government’s investigation in Lodi has been conducted
in a way that does not respect the legal rights and
dignity of the Muslim community: individuals have been
systematically discouraged from exercising their right to
an attorney and have been disallowed access to attorneys;
there has been at least one detention of an individual who
was not read his Miranda warnings; and women and children
have been intimidated and denied medical care. Perhaps
equally disturbing, however, is that the general public
has been given new reason to fear South Asians and Muslims
as presumed terrorists. A community that has made this area home for over one hundred years has been
investigated, intimidated, and cast under a shroud of
suspicion, all within days.

Veena Dubal is a JD/PhD student at the University of
California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall, and Sunaina Maira is
an Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the
University of California at Davis. Both are volunteers
with the SF Bay Area organization, ASATA – Alliance of
South Asians Taking Action.

See previous coverage of Lodi on Ihsan:

Lodi California

Civil Rights Now!

Friday, June 24, 2005

On old loves and the stupid things they do …

I must confess that I was a very loyal teenage fan of Bono, [I literally have every single cd they ever produced and have seen them in concert 3 times. Twice in one summer!] I couldn’t even count the many nights of lonely teenage angst in which I found comfort in the soaring and liberatory sounds of classic U2 anthems. I remember that particular feeling of loading into my walkman the Joshua Tree tape, putting on the headphones in my dark room and letting the musical intro to the first track build in my ears. By the time Bono’s voice broke in with the first lyrics of "where the streets have no name", my heart would already have been transported. sigh.

Many years have passed since I was that girl. And Bono is no longer just that guy with the relentless passionate voice. Over the last several years, I've been following this whole discourse around debt relief and the millennium jubilee thing closely. I must confess further, that late one night in the dark hours before Fajr, I signed on to the http://www.makepovertyhistory.ca site. But no, I do not own and will not wear the trendy white wristband, which are apparently being manufactured by forced prison labour in China. And yes the stark ads with the famous people snapping their fingers to indicate the monotony of continuous child deaths from hunger are indeed, compelling and powerful.

But the more I read about this project and the global spectacle it is creating, the more I understand that this project is rooted firmly in the discourse of charity. And like Naomi Klein and others have so eloquently pointed out, the South does not need charity. It needs liberation from the neo-liberal economic regime that is systematically stealing its wealth and starving its people.

But it is so very much less threatening and less destabilizing to argue for charity, it confirms all of the feelings of largesse and superiority that the North and Northerners need to feel. It is far more substantial and far more unsettling to that same segment of the planet, if a movement is constructed around the idea of northern responsibility and complicity in the starvation of the children of the Global South.

The unasked question, which is the massive white elephant in the room, is "why are the children dying?"

And the answer is ultimately, because "we" in the North, are starving them. We are consuming more than our fair share and leaving a stinky rotting footprint on the earth. And there is a very real and very explicit economic system that is structured in such a way as to maintain and entrench this disparity and that allows the North to continue on its mad consumerist rampage.

What we need is a social movement here in the North, that doesn’t restrict its focus on what percentage of what budget number our governments are willing to "donate". But rather, we need a social movement that will focus on challenging our complicity in the systematic theft of the wealth of the Global South. Yes, give the aid. 0.7% sure. But beyond that remove the strings of neo-liberal restructuring that the aid will be linked to. Cancel the debt. Not just the interest on the debt. Cancel the whole freaking debt.

And then let’s begin a discussion about reparations for all that was stolen, confiscated and destroyed during the various colonial occupations.

And I don’t just mean the art.

A friend of mine sent this quote to me today:

"We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population ...our real task in the coming period is to...maintain this position of disparity.

We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization." - George Kennan, Head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff - 24 February 1948, Document PPS23

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Muslims are blogging everywhere! Blog Reading Made Easy: A tutorial

From photography, to artwork, to social and cultural activism - Muslims bloggers seem to be everywhere these days, representing a wide diversity of views on just about everything. No gatekeepers of opinion can hold back this flood of views and perspectives.

You got something to say? Just sign up for a blogger account, start writing - if you are consistent, and write daily, or atleast a few times a week, you’ll soon be getting all kinds of visitors from everywhere.

However, the decentralization of blogs is also a weakness, in order to check out a blog you need to either visit the bloggers’ website, or try to figure out how to operate one of those RSS readers. As a result, many blogs go unread, because folks just don’t find it convinient to click through their list of bloggers (usually a blogroll on their own, or someone else’s blog).

BUT help is on the way --- if you follow the simple instructions given below - you’ll be able to enjoy 30+ Muslim, and Muslim relevant blogs in just a few minutes. And you won’t have to visit each of the bloggers website to see if they’ve written something new. All you need is the opensource web browser Firefox and the extension Sage.

The 30+ list of bloggers are by no means exhaustive, there are many many more out there... But this will give you a starting point - and you can then add whatever blogs you choose! (If you wanna see your blog included in this list --- just drop a comment --- with your blog url...)

Yes, You FOX Newsies ---You are not being paranoid! Muslims, are everywhere!

First (Step 1) download this OPML file (right click - "download or save link as").

This OPML is a listing/directory of 30+ Muslim blogs, save it somewhere on your desktop.

For those of you familiar with OPML, no need to read further, just import it to your RSS reader - and start enjoying the growing Muslim World of bloggers.

(For the latte sipping Harvard/Ivy Leaguy type Neo-Orientalists (Muslim and not-Muslim) academics who have their microscopes attuned on Muslims these days... You can even do your Phd thieses on "How To Read The Muslim Blog (Mind)" -)

Rest of you, read on...

Step 2 - Download and install the open source web browser Firefox (“Better than Internet Explorer by leaps and bounds” )

Step 3 - Go to the “Sage Extensions for Firefox” website --- and click on “install now” --- you will probably have restart Firefox to complete installation.

Step 4 - Next, from your Firefox “Tools Menu” click on Sage

Step 5 - Sage should appear on the left hand side of Firefox - Click on Options and click on OPML export/import

The image “http://almusawwir.org/sageoption.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Step 7 - Select “Import OPML”

The image “http://almusawwir.org/sageimportopml.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Step 8 - Browse to the muslimblogs.opml file you downloaded earlier, and follow instructions to import the file into Sage.

The image “http://almusawwir.org/sageinstallopml.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Step 9 - Click on OPML Import - Muslim Blogs - and you’ll see a list of 30+ Muslim blogs

Step 10 - Click on “Check feeds” and voila ---

Step 11 Click on a feed and read the blogs --- some of the feeds may only have a headline, and if you wanna read more just click on the heading - and it’ll take you to the web site -- where you can read and comment to your heart’s content (bloggers have their own rules, ideas about the kind of comments they’ll tolerate --- so be respectful!)

The image “http://almusawwir.org/sagemuslimblogs.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Step 12 Enjoy! And if you have questions --- just lemme know in the comments section! And stay tuned to this blog for updates to the Muslim Blogs OPML file - if you wanna see your blog included in the next directory update --- juse leave your blog in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

On Becoming a Muslim Anarchist

At my mosque - I say ‘my’ mosque, but to be honest I haven’t seen the inside of the place for a year or so - there are a gaggle of Tablighi puritans who like to keep me company whenever I feel inclined to show my face there. I’ve sat in on several of their meetings, where there was much talk of hell from the reformed gangster turned guru who presides over this particular cult cell. Last time I was amongst them, I admit I was a hungry man desperate for spiritual food, and so gladly scoffed up their rude spiritual hash, despite its lack of essential nutrients and its at times bitter taste. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I was looking for something more nourishing and wholesome.

Then one Friday, I arrived early for Jummah and encountered a small, elderly Indian man on the mosque steps whom I had never met or indeed noticed before. He gently mocked the Tablighi bro' who was washing the steps, laughing as he explained how "these fundamentalists" were so ignorant. I could see the young Tablighi brother boiling with anger at this old man's comments, but both principle and no doubt social sanction prevented him from expressing his belligerence openly. Deciding he had cleansed the mosque entrance to Allah’s satisfaction, he thus quickly departed and left me to the elder brother’s more illuminating company.

My elderly friend turned out to me something of a scholar, or at least so he told me. He had studied under some of the great scholars back in India, he said, but today there were few to compete with these formidable spirits. There was something about his lightness of being, and the glint in his eye, that made me think he was a devotee of Tassawuf. Then he did something which scared me half to death. He wrapped his arm tightly around the back of my neck, pulled my ear right up to his mouth, and whispered insistently:

“Listen to me! Whatever path you take, you must believe it with all your heart. It is no good to simply follow others, do you hear? Do what you think is true!"

I have tried to follow the old man’s words, but my worry has always been that I would fall into the vortex of self-worship, or devotion to huwā (whim), and thus commit the grave sin of shirk. Yet the more I tried to find something to follow that seemed true and right, the more transient and uncertain I found the belief system. Should I be Sunni or Shi’a? Should I be progressive or traditional? Should I be Salafi or Hanafi? I didn't understand where I was going wrong. Then a phrase I read, or perhaps a passing thought, reminded me that, when I became a Muslim, I had cut myself off from my previous beliefs. I now realise that was a mistake, and almost certainly the cause of my aimless wondering.

Prior to my conversion, I had always considered myself an Anarchist - although one that believed in a spiritual reality. My anarchism was founded on a mistrust of all forms of coerced authority, however tacit, and like Emma Goldman, I believed that through education people can learn to live in peace and co-operate freely and equitably. I have seen power and authority abused in so many contexts over the years– in schools, special education, psychiatry, by Landlords, and of course by governments. And religious leaders. I am now convinced more than ever that power, above all else, is the evil that corrupts otherwise good and well meaning people through forcing them to compromise with what they know is wrong.

Thanks be to God, I now realise Anarchism is the hermeneutic through which I must approach and realise the truth. In Islam, the only submission that I can live by is that which is embraced with the spirit of freedom and with my heart full of joy. And so in the Name of Allah, I testify that there is no god but God and Muhammad (aws) is God's prophet and messenger; and in seeking to establish a peaceful and loving relationship with The One through revelation, reason and God's signs, I hereby refuse to compromise with any form of institutional power, be it judicial, religious, social, corporate or political, insha Allah.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

How an Aussie Sheik disarmed his critics

(This article was published in the Canberra Times on 21 June 2005. It can be read also at ...
Click here

How Sheik al-Hilali has disarmed critics
Irfan Yusuf.
Tuesday, 21 June 2005

SHEIK Taj el-Din al-Hilali is a controversial figure at the best of times. He arrived in Australia to take up the position of Imam (resident scholar) at the main Lakemba mosque to replace another who had been removed under controversial circumstances. Since then, he has been frequently quoted making unfortunate (and at times, downright offensive) comments.

Around 20 years ago, in a speech at Sydney University, Sheik al-Hilali was quoted as saying that Jews controlled the world using pornography and corruption. I was at that seminar. The speech was in Arabic with simultaneous translation using overheads. No cameras were present. I was so upset at this that I complained to the organisers.

Then, hardly five months after the event, I saw on TV news reports a senior and respected Jewish community leader holding a video cassette in his hand. One of Sheik al-Hilali's enemies with close links to the Saudi Embassy had secretly videoed the entire speech.

Sheik al-Hilali and his employer (the Lebanese Moslems Association) were forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees to stop his deportation. Eventually, someone in Acting PM Paul Keating's office suggested a position be created for the Sheik. Hence the new title, Mufti of Australia.

What is a Mufti? Is he an Archbishop or Governor General of Australian Muslims as has been suggested by his former adviser, Keysar Trad? The position of "mufti" has rarely existed in Muslim minority communities. Britain does not have a Mufti. The United States has a Council of Imams, most of whom speak fluent English and are native Americans.

The mufti's role has tended to be that of a Queens Counsel. In complex or novel legal questions, you go to the mufti for legal advice. The mufti gives you an opinion which is authoritative but not binding. That advice is known as a "fatwa".

The real position of legal authority in traditional Muslim societies rests with the Qadi (Chief Justice), not the mufti. Indeed, many Muslim communities have multiple muftis to handle the large workload. In Pakistan, there is a mufti in each city for each school of thought.

The position of mufti was hastily created for Sheik al-Hilali by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. It appears not much thought went into the process. To this day, it is unclear as to exactly what the mufti's role is. Is it to tell us when we have sighted the moon correctly to identify the start of the new lunar month? Is it to provide advice on how to reach the pearly gates of Paradise? Or is it to comment on the latest Israeli incursion into Lebanon?

Sheik al-Hilali's inability to speak and communicate in English has been a huge problem, and an enormous source of embarrassment for Aussie Mossies. It is, therefore, little wonder that the Sheik is misunderstood even by his own community.

So who is to blame for this dysfunctional leadership situation? Firstly, before anyone points the finger at the Sheik, we need to understand his situation. The Sheik entered a divided congregation of highly traumatised Lebanese migrants with fresh memories of a war zone. Lebanese Muslim migration to Australia is unique in that most Lebanese Muslims have tended to come from uneducated village environments. Most are unskilled and have little English language abilities.

The Sheik has had to be all things for all these people. He has had to handle their social, economic and family crises. His time is so occupied with these matters that he has not had much chance handling the bigger issues.

When the Government and the Wood family approached the Sheik to help secure Mr Wood's release, some accused him of seeking publicity. But the sheik is an old man with a serious heart condition and a community at loggerheads. He had every reason to stay in Australia. Instead, he dropped everything and risked his life to enter a war zone. At the very least, he was able to arrange delivery of much-needed medication to Douglas Wood.

Sheik al-Hilali has many critics among Australian Muslims. I am one of them. But on this occasion, I would have to agree with the assessments of John Howard, Alexander Downer and the Wood family. Regardless of how influential a role the sheik played in the end, his very presence in Iraq speaks volumes for his commitment to his adopted country.

Mainstream Muslim Australians need to find time from managing major banks and telecommunications companies and commercial law firms and government departments to participate in community management.

We sit back on our laurels and do nothing. And we get the result predicted by the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago: "You will get the leaders you deserve from amongst yourselves".

The author is a Sydney employment and industrial lawyer and a former legal adviser to the Islamic Council of NSW. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

Sunday, June 19, 2005

United States' Media Propaganda!

The Only Reliable Source (TM)

Abu Gharib, Abu Gulad and Abu America

Cartoon by Khalil Bendib, a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Off To The Progressive Sin Bin!

Around 2 years ago, I was kicked out of a yahoogroup moderated by various Canadian unrecontructed Marxists masquerading as Islamic activists. It was a so-called 'progressive muslim' yahoogroup led by Tarek Fattah, one of the world's biggest fans of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (yes, even bigger than his comrade Tariq Ali!).

In those days, I had just started writing for MuslimWakeUp!, and was encouraged in my controversy-spraying by my good brother Ahmed Nassef. I have never met Ahmed, and he has never met me. But in our e-mail exchanges, it seemed we clicked almost immediately.

Ahmed encouraged me to explore tough issues. I thought I would get tougher, seeing of I could out-hot him. I succeeded.

I submitted an article which I entitled "God's Own Whores". Ahmed had to edit and tone it down to "God's Whores". He also toned down other submissions but kept sending me responses he had received from readers.

Those were my progressive heydays. I was like the pinup boy of the Muslim Left. And what made me even ideologically sexier is that I was a social conservative!

Now, of course, MWU has moved onto bigger and sexier things. And my socially conservative views have proven to be too radical once again. So recently, when I tried submitting something to MWU on their comments board, I received the following response ...

Comment Submission Error
Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:
You are not allowed to post comments.

I guess my pinups are now being used at Progressive Muslim Meet-ups to play "pin the tail on the traditional Islam donkey". Or perhaps they wish to cook my flesh and make smelly kebabs out of it. Either way, it all makes for a few good chuckles.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Iraq - Time To Milk The COW

Japan and Iraq have little in common culturally or geographically. But it is hard to resist the temptation of finding commonalities between the experiences of these 2 nations.

In the early part of the 20th century, Japan soundly defeated Russia in battle. It was a huge blow for Russian military pride and a boon for emerging Asian nationalist movements.

But this boon soon turned to disaster as Japanese military might was unleashed against its neighbours. Following Pearl Harbour, the United States took on the Japanese military machine. After a set of military setbacks (in which ANZAC’s played a major role), the US finally dropped 2 massive atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tokyo and other Japanese cities were carpet-bombed in similar style to raids on German cities.

Japan was occupied by American troops who showed much the same disdain that US troops do today in Iraq. One can only guess how many Abu Ghraib prisons existed across Japan after the end of the Second World War.

Japanese Americans were also mistreated and were unjustly detained in much the same way as American Muslims are being detained in the name of fighting terror.

The United States was forced to spend billions of dollars on maintaining order and rebuilding Japan. The Japanese people, notwithstanding their understandable resentment toward the American troops, speared to take the American occupation as an opportunity to improve their own situation.

Within 30 years, Japan was again posing a threat to the United States and its western allies. But this was the benign threat of Japanese economic power. Japanese motor vehicle manufacturers were threatening American companies such as Ford and Chrysler. Japanese electronics and white goods were taking over American markets. Fearsome names like Hirohito were replaced with benign labels such as Toyota and Mitsubishi.

Iraqis today are facing the same situation that the Japanese people faced some 60 years ago. Iraq was a major military power, armed by its western allies. Iraq’s role in direct military conflict with Iran and Kuwait (and its indirect dabbling in Lebanon) led to its military defeat in 1990 and the imposition of crippling economic sanctions. Iraq was bombed into the Stone Age by President Bush Snr, and is now being rebuilt after a second wave of destruction by President Bush Jnr.

Like many Australians, I opposed the decision to go to war. I found Saddam Hussein extremely distasteful, but I believed the war was unnecessary. However, the war has happened and Saddam Hussein is in Iraqi custody awaiting trial. Iraqis have elected a government which is not exactly to the liking of the United States and its Coalition Of the Willing (COW).

Yet now the Iraqis have an excellent chance to milk the COW for all it is worth. American tax payers are pouring in billions of dollars into Iraq’s reconstruction. True, the private business interests of neo-Conservative politicians and apparatchiks will be direct beneficiaries. But that was the case in Japan also. And Japanese companies ended up buying out these American business interests, in many cases for a song.

Australia and other COW members now have obligations under international law to rebuild and restore order to Iraq. What COW tooketh away, it must now giveth back. And this is a golden opportunity for Iraq.

The Iraqi government know this. As do ordinary Iraqis, many of whom suffered at the hands of the brutal Ba’athist regime. Iraqis resent the continued occupation, but also see enormous potential to develop their economy. For this reason, it is not surprising to learn that the only people Iraqis hate more than the COW forces are the insurgents and criminals responsible for the killing of Margaret Hassan and the kidnapping of Douglas Wood.

Islamophobic hate mongers are attempting to create links between Iraqi Islam and the small band of (largely foreign) extremists responsible for suicide bombings that have killed more Iraqis than COW troops. Yet the new Islamist Iraqi government has been at the forefront of fighting the dissidents.

Contrary to popular opinion, Islamists are not content with blowing themselves up to reach 72 fictitious heavenly damsels. Islamist governments are more worried about making hard cash and building strong economies.

It is not only in the interests of the COW that Iraq re-build itself and become an economic and cultural powerhouse it once was. It is also in the interest of Iraqis themselves. Critics of the Iraq war and its occupation should stop carping at the sidelines and encourage Iraqis to milk this COW for all it’s worth.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and is completing his Masters of Laws in public international law at the Australian National University.)

© Irfan Yusuf, 2005

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Civil Rights Now! Updates

The Lodi affair is bringing together individuals and groups to build a common strategy against the attacks on civil rights in the United States. A bit over a week ago, five individuals were arrested in Lodi supposedly on “terrorism” charges — Now, it turns out, three are detained on immigration charges, and the other two for making “false statements” to the FBI.

The California Civil Rights Alliance held a spirited townhall meeting at the Islamic Center of Greater Sacramento, on Tuesday June 14th.

The speakers included Peter Camejo, Green Party activist, and Vice-Presidential Candidate with Ralph Nader (2004) along with a host of civil rights activists:

Jim Gonzales of Southern Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition, James Schwab – Director Associate Students of the UC DAVIS Office of External Affairs, and Dr. Agha Saeed – National Chair, American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT).

The focus was on the Lodi affair, but also on the broader concerns regarding the impact of the Patriot Act, and the US military attacks and invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The event pulled together a diverse audience of some 150 people - including members of the Islamic Center, Green Party activists, and members/leadership of the Muslim community in the Sacramento/Central Valley area.

A number of individuals in the audience felt that we need to come together not only as communities of Muslims, but also as Americans who are witnessing an administration (Bush and company) that seems to have no respect for the constitution.

A representative from the Muslim civil rights organization CAIR also spoke, and he gave an update on the activism in Lodi. CAIR has been organizing "know your rights" workshops in Lodi, that have been attended by hundreds of Muslim community members. A special concern is that many in the immigrant communities are not aware of their rights, and as a result, the FBI can violate the constitutional guarantees with impunity.

CAIR-SV officials say they have received numerous reports of
intimidating tactics used recently by some FBI agents. Reports of
inappropriate conduct by law enforcement officials include threats of
arrest or deportation used to coerce cooperation, unnecessary use of
force, denial of medical treatment, and constant FBI surveillance of
regular mosque attendees.

One person said FBI agents told him they would arrest him for
"jaywalking" unless he agreed to be interviewed. Another said he was
told not to retain an attorney. Two local Muslims told CAIR-SV they felt
compelled to quit their jobs after agents "humiliated" them at work.
Others complained of lie detector sessions in which they were accused of
lying after answering the same question asked in a variety of ways.
Specific to the case, a number of questions have been raised - in particular the fact that *two* affidavits were issues: one for the media, and another for the judge. Furthermore, there are questions about if due process was followed with regards to the arrest, and the supposed "confession."

Johnny L. Griffin III, who represents Umer Hayat, told the press, “Notwithstanding the alarming statement made in the affidavit, the government has only charged each of the defendants with one count of making a false statement to a federal agent. They are not charged in this complaint with committing any terrorist acts, and they are not charged in this complaint with supporting any terrorist acts.”

There are right wing groups and individuals in the United States who no longer care to believe in the basic concept of "innocent until proven guilty" - and have been quick to pronounce, not only the indiviuals arrested, but the entire community guilty. It is important to remember a few phrases from not so long ago:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Questions For Pervaiz Chacha

(The following article was penned in response to an official state visit by President Pervaiz Musharraf of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Australia. An edited version of the article was also published in the Australian Financial Review, an Australian newspaper the equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, on 16 June 2005 as an Op-Ed piece.)

In some parts of Pakistan, it is customary to refer to all men of one’s father’s age as “Chacha” or “Chachaji” (literally meaning “my dad’s brother” in Urdu and other languages spoken in Pakistan). In all parts of Pakistan, one must also show utmost respect to elders.

Now that President Musharraf of Pakistan is visiting Australia, I would like to ask some respectful questions to Pervaiz Chacha. I will try to be as respectful as possible.

Chacha Pervaiz, you will be aware of the negative press that Pakistan has received as a result of its implementation of a criminal code partially extracted from the ‘hudood’ laws of Islamic Sharia.

Under the code, female victims of rape are often faced with a death sentence, while male perpetrators are free to plunder the honour of more victims.

Also, under the code, religious minorities are persecuted and accused of blasphemy. Christian Pakistanis, some as young as 11, are placed on trial and face the death penalty for breaches of anti-blasphemy laws.

Over 50 years ago, the founder of Pakistan, “Qaid-i-Azam” (translated as “the Great Leader”) Muhammad Ali Jinnah, declared that all citizens of Pakistan were to be treated equally regardless of faith. Christian Pakistanis have made enormous contributions to the Pakistani nation, including in its second religion (cricket). I have lost count of how many times Yusuf Youhana has bailed out Pakistani teams from certain defeat.

You will be aware, Chacha Ji, that recently a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar by the name of Professor Tariq Ramadan has called upon all Islamic nations to implement a moratorium on all hudood-based criminal punishments. Professor Ramadan believes that God’s law is fast becoming the devil’s handiwork and an instrument for oppression. His call has been supported by Islamic scholars around the world including Australia and Pakistan.

When will your government implement the views of Professor Ramadan? When will you stop God’s law from being used as an instrument for the oppression of women, Christian minorities and other downtrodden Pakistanis?

Chachaji, Muslims across the Islamic world are crying out for liberty and democracy enjoyed by their relatives living in Western countries. When will you return Pakistan to full-fledged democracy?

Chachaji, I was born in Karachi. I arrived in Australia when I was hardly 6 months old. I have only ever held an Australian passport. I therefore am concerned with how Australians are treated overseas.

Pervaiz Chacha, when will your government come clean on why it detained and tortured an Australian citizen? Why did your government pass this Australian citizen onto American officials who then flew him to Egypt for more torture? How could you allow an Australian to be subjected to torture within your jurisdiction?

Chacha Ji, the Prophet Muhammad did not allow prisoners of war to even have their teeth pulled out. I am concerned that in this “war against terror”, prisoners from various parts of the world are being taken to countries such as Egypt, Syria and your own. They are tortured on behalf of the US government as part of a contracting-out arrangement known as “rendition”.

Tell me, Chacha, to what extent does Pakistan participate in rendition? Are there any further Australian citizens being made subject to this policy?

Apart from the torture of terror suspects, we see at village level innocent Muslim women subjected to the violence of honour killings. Women merely suspected of talking to a male stranger or committing some other cultural crime are tried by an all-male village council of elders and sentenced to death or to be gang-raped.

Numerous cases of these abuses have been documented. Custom-based violence was apparently stamped out from Muslim societies by the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago. Why has it returned to Pakistan? And what steps will your government take to ensure it is eliminated completely?

Chacha Ji, I was taught that Islam guarantees human rights and the dignity of the individual in much the same way as liberal democracy. I understand that you are here on an official state visit on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Yet the abuses of human rights and individual dignity (of which a sample have been cited above) continue to be perpetrated by police, security apparatchiks and government officials of a nation founded as an Islamic republic, a nation carved out for Islamic values. How can such a nation allow such crimes to be committed in its borders, against its own people and against people of my country Australia?

Uncle Pervaiz, my government also has its share of excesses. My government only selectively advocated for Australians caught up in trouble overseas. My government throws foreigners into prison camps in the middle of the desert. My government commits numerous crimes in the name of fighting terror.

My final question is to both Perzaiz Chacha and Uncle John Winston Howard (Australia's Prime Minister). Terror is an enemy of liberty, freedom and dignity. How can the pair of you possibly be claiming to be fighting terror when you are helping the cause of terrorists by compromising individual liberties and abusing human rights?

(The author is a Sydney lawyer whose ancestors are from Daryaganj in Delhi, the birthplace of Pervaiz Musharraf. He grew up in East Ryde in the heart of John Howard’s electorate. He can be contacted on irfsol@yahoo.com.au)

© I Yusuf 2005

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lodi, California

Salaam Alaikum!

By now just about everyone reading this blog (at least in the United States) is probably familiar with Lodi, California - a small town in what is known as Central Valley. After the initial arrest of five individuals, the town's Muslim population continues to be harassed by the FBI.

Following is the experience of Mr. James Schwab of the ACLU, and Director of Associate Students of the University of California at Davis Office of External Affairs. Mr. Schwab visited Lodi this past Friday evening:

Last night, Norb, Dean, and I headed down to Lodi, a recent hotspot in the "War on Terror". We went simply as a citizen, a lawyer, and a student.

On our long drive down a slow moving I-99 we kept in contact with our friend Basim Elkarra (Executive Director, CAIR, Sacramento). He was being pulled in many directions as he tried to calm the fears of a frightened community, keep track of who was being quesionted by the FBI, and teach the community there rights. He needed help.

When we arrived in Lodi we met Bashim at a local motel, a few blocks from "ground zero". Inside the room was Bashim and several, local, young males. They had been helping our friend with translation and outreach in the community.

As soon as we walked in, we were delegated different duties. Norb and I would stay and interview locals either with notes or a video camera. Dean would go with Bashim to the mosque so he could give a quick civil rights training and assure the community that help is on the way.

Bashim told me after the training, that he will never forget the look of relief and happiness on people's faces as Dean gave his presentation.

As for Norb and I, the first young lady we interviewed was related to, and lived in the same house as, the two gentleman originally arrested. She was visibly shaking as she told us the story of what happened this past Tuesday, three days after the original arrests.

The FBI had been closley watching the house even after the arrests, so they knew that only 3 women and 5 children were inside. On Tuesday they decided to execute a search warrant by ramming down the front door and secruing the house with dozens of well-armed agents. Guns were put to the women's heads. One passed out.

An ambulance was called to help her. When it arrived the agents would not let the EMT in. Only after the EMT refused to leave was he allowed in, but she was not allowed to be taken to the hospital.

There were no arrests just the seizure of tax and banking information. The next two young men were both working at a local packing plant when about 10 agents arrived.

In front of their co-workers they were both padded down and frisked. They were told that they had to come with the agents to answer a few questions, the young men complied. They took them in separate cars, one to his home for the interview, the other to the Lodi Police station. The one who was taken home, was interrogated for an hour about what he had done in Pakistan 4 years prior when he was 16.

After the questioning was done, the agent gave him his card and told him he would have to come up to Sacrmento for further questioning later in the week.

The other young man refused to be interviewed at home, so as to not upset his parents, thus he was taken to the local police station (where they have conducted a lot of the interviews). He went through a similar line of questioning about his activities in Pakistan 8 years prior when he was 10. During the interview they tried to make him admit to knowing and training with Al-Queda.

After several other similar interviews, Dean and Bashim returned. We began to stratgize about the rest of the evening. Norb stepped outside for some fresh air. With in a few minutes, I received a call from Norb that "they had arrived". "They" were the FBI who had parked two unmarked vehicles to the north and south of our hotel room. Three other unmarked vehicle had circled several times as well.

Our plan for the evening was to check out the local mosque, where more FBI agents were staked out and to meet up with two gentlemen who were wanted by the FBI for questioning. We had talked them and told them not to go and to wait for us.

As we left the room we could not help but take out our video camera. We walked right up to one of the FBI cars and taped him talking on his cell, he pretended we were not there. We then climbed into our vehicle and left for the mosque. Pulling out of the parking lot, we were followed by the two vehicles watching our room. Turning down the street on which the mosque sits, three other vehicles joined them. The camera is rolling this whole time.

We arrive at the mosque and park. Bashim and two locals go inside for prayer and to find the two wanted gentlemen. Norb, Dean and I walk across the street to a park where we were told the FBI hangs out. The five vehicle that had followed us there were now constantly circling the block, briefly pulling over and then pulling away again. In the sky were two small single engine airplanes, which the local said had been up there on and off for the past 6 days. While the five veichle were circling we noticed about three more sitting in the parking lot of the park.

Bashim returned and informed us the two men were not at the mosque and that we should go to their family's house. We climbed back into the van and begin to drive over, the FBI in close behind. On the way over I talked with Bashim about how to mobilize the community. I had thought that if only we could get all the community leaders together...all the community leaders are currently sitting in jail. The FBI had taken the heart out of this community.

We arrived at the family's house and sat down to talk with 6 older gentlemen, relatives of the two men we were looking for. The relatives informed us that the two men had gone to the police station to meet with the FBI. We quickly got them to take Dean on as their attorney, pro bono of course, so we could try to get these men out.

We rushed over to the police station, but this time there was no FBI to be seen. It was about 10pm and the station was locked up, so we buzzed the front desk. We asked the dispatcher if the two young men were in there. She said no. We told her that we had been informed they had come down here, and
in fact there car was parked out front. She said there is no one here being questioned by the FBI. We then called the Special Agent who had been giving his card out all over town. He told us that they were inside the Lodi police station.

Again we buzzed the dispatcher and again she said there was no one there. We were about to get back into the car, when a Lodi police officer came out a side entrance and told us that yes the two men were inside and that we would be let in. Unfortunately, the FBI would not Dean to see the men as they had not requested to see a lawyer. At about 12:30am one of the men comes down, very surprised to see us.

As it turns out he was not being interrorgated, he had simply come with his relative who was being questioned. About a half hour later, after being interrogated for six hours and put under several lie detector tests, the man was released.

After a quick debriefing with the two gentlemen the locals went home and so did we. Everyday dozens of people are being questioned, harassed, and followed. They need our help.

James Schwab

Associate Students of the University of California at Davis
Office of External Affairs

Black Dogs

No, I am not talking about poodles that aren’t white. Nor is my subject those cute puppies you see in the pet store.

Whether we like it or not, many of us live with a black dog. It stays with us, barking at us around the clock, keeping us awake and causing maximum disturbance in our daily lives.

And when we go and ask our scholars, our ulama, our maulanas and shaykhs, all we hear is: “Your black dog is a sign of ungratefulness!”. Or we hear: “You have lost hope in the mercy of Allah and this is haraam!!”. Or we might even hear: “Astaghfirullah! Dogs in the house? You should not have dogs in the house. Didn’t your parents teach you that?”

And so we get no help from our leaders on coping with our black dog. We just return to our miserable existence, thinking that we must continue to feed the damn thing and give it shelter whilst it bites away at our soul.

Muslim communities commonly deny this black dog’s existence. Some think only those nasty kuffaar (i.e. persons who may not yet be calling themselves Muslim) or naughty lapsed Muslims live with the black dog.

This black dog is not an animal. The title ‘black dog’ was coined by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to describe an ailment that afflicted him for many years. It is an illness that has afflicted millions since the first families were formed from the seed of our Prophet and father Adam (peace be upon him). It has been recognised by physicians, witch-doctors, voodoo-freaks and associated medicine-men (though perhaps with different labels).

The ancient Greeks called it ‘melancholia’. You will even find references to it in classical books of prophetic medicine (‘tib an-nabawi’), together with various cures and formulae to ward it off.

Modern medicine calls it ‘depression’. In Australia, it afflicts one in five people at some stage of their lives. In the US and Europe, the proportion is higher. For many, the issue of living with depression is as simple as a regular visit to the shrink and popping some pills each night. But for the people of faith and spirituality, depression can pose some difficult questions for which there are no easy answers.

You’d think that spiritually profound faiths like Islam (as opposed to Islaam), which didn’t throw their gnostic traditions into the ‘bida’ rubbish heap, would have plenty to say on this subject. Well tasawwuf (or sufism, but I hate that word so don’t say it in front of me) does say plenty. Indeed, tasawwuf is often translated as ‘spiritual psychology’. It is an exact science, and it has helped so many find peace and solace when faced with depression.

The pride of the Kurdish nation, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, once wrote about his life: “Were it not for my taqwa (God-consciousness), the problems of my life would have led me to commit suicide years ago”. And the pride of all creation (peace and blessings of God be upon him) is believed to have had feelings of deep depression during the early period of revelation during a gap of some months between revelations. Some classical writers of sirah (biographical literature) tell is that at times he would feel like throwing himself from the mountain.

We know of the deep sadness (his students thought it was madness) Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi felt during the various absences of his somewhat eccentric mentor Shams-i-Tabrizi. We know that at the height of his career, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali just through away his professorship and went wandering.

Our traditions are full of examples of people who appear to lose and then recover their emotional balance as a result of a loss. And yet for some reason, “modern” depression gets treated as ungratefulness and lack of faith while “classical” depression is regarded as a part of prophecy.

And when Muslims, many of them young and/or new to the faith, find their emotional difficulties ignored or even denigrated, is it any wonder they shun the community and reach for the zoloft?

Seriously, I am not meaning to denigrate psychopharmacology. Nor do I suggest that the thousands of people who are on medication, and for whom it is a crucial part of the management of their condition, should throw out the pills and head for a zawiya or khanqah or ashram.

But in addition to medications and psychological treatment, support systems must be created in the community. We all need support in hard times. Even the Prophet Muhammad (peace of blessings of God be upon him), when praising his wife Lady Khadija, said words to the effect of: “She supported me when most were against me, she supported me with her love …”. May God bless this noble woman whose love and devotion to her husband formed a basis for his words and works that continue to provide solace to millions.

When we feel down and depressed and go to the mosque and find the imam cannot understand us, what do we do? When we want to ask the imam certain questions about our condition but are too scared he will tell others about our illness, what can we say? For instance:

1. Which imam can tell me at what stage depression must reach before performing salat/nemaz (otherwise compulsory five daily worship sessions) is no longer compulsory? This is also relevant to the thousands of mothers suffering from post-natal depression.
2. How do the rights and responsibilities of parties to a marriage change in the event one succumbs to a mental illness?
3. If a person begins to suffer from schizophrenia or serious bipolar disorder before marriage and is in a state where s/he is not allowed to marry, how should such a person’s emotional and sexual needs be met? For instance, is it forbidden for a male sufferer to, say, visit a prostitute? And if he does, is he accountable for his deed?

Many of you will be reading this and saying to yourself: “The answers to these questions are so damned obvious! Irf, stick to writing articles hacking into ex-Australian media moguls or praising the sexual exploits of your mughal ancestors”. Well if the answers are so damned obvious, how come I cannot find them in my copy of Behisht-i-Zewar (an old Indian hanafi law manual originally written for women) or Fatawa Rahimiyya (a collection of rulings originally published in an old Indian newspaper)?

Bodies like the Zaytuna Institute and others have done some excellent work on focussing upon the developing Islamic legal tradition that applies to Muslim minorities. But how about the ever-growing minority within these minorities? What about these suffering mental illness? Perhaps Shaykh Hamza (one fellow I have utmost respect for. How many imams do you know who actually have had exposure to mental illness and brain injuries in a professional capacity as a medical or nursing practitioner?) and his crew can look into this.

So there you have it. A religious tradition whose spiritual core (tasawwuf) is a tradition of psychology in its own right. And yet so many of its alleged practitioners and experts find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the everyday problems that beset the millions suffering from mental illness. It’s enough to make anyone depressed.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mukhtar Mai

From the Izzy Mo blog

Some of you may be familiar with a Sister named Mukhtar Mai. She is a Pakistani woman from the rural village of Meerwala. In June 2002, because of a rumor stating that her 14-year-old brother had been seen with a girl from a rival tribe, the tribal council of Meerwala called him before the tribal court to stand for his "dishonor" to the girl's family. Mukhtar Mai plead the case for her brother and they excused for him.

But under the un-Islamic tribal laws of her village, they ordered that she should be raped to restore the honor of the offended family. Four men took turns while raping her in front of a cheering village and she was left naked and thrown into the street with nothing but a shawl to cover her as she walked back to her village. Many times she had contemplated suicide but it was her family and friends that convinced not to take her life. But instead of giving up, she decided to fight back. Last year in 2004, about 150 women were raped under the order of the Panchiat court, a village system of law that goes against the secular laws of Pakistan and the divine laws of Islam.

Click here to read more information about the sister, and the case
A few months back the Pakistani "Sharia court" odered that the attackers should be tried and they were arrested. Now, the Lahore High Court - based on what appears to me, technicalities - has again
released the attackers,
and placed the sister's life in danger.


First, please remember this sister, and all others who might be in her situation - wherever they might be on this earth, in your duas - and pray for their safety, inshallah.

Second: call and/or write a polite but firm letter to the Pakistan Embassy (US info. given below) to express your concerns, and that the goverment will take measures to ensure sister Mai's safety.

In the United States:

His Excellency Mr. Jehangir Karamat

(202) 243-6500 Ext. 2000 & 2001, info@embassyofpakistan.org

And click here to view a school project started by Mukhtra Mai.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Loser Brothers

College is a test of sorts for Muslim youth. A time and place where one’s beliefs and ideals are challenged and tested, but there those amongst us who not only hold steadfast to our beliefs but revel in them – these then are the lives and tales of the Loser Brothers, those that have held fast to a strict code.

In the first installation we present a Top 10 list...
You know you’re a loser brother when:

  1. You’re siblings are cooler than you, including your baby brother who’s been in three more fights than you (you’ve never been in any fights).
  2. You make obscure references to Islamic history that no one follows…save other loser brothers.
  3. You’re favorite singer is that shared by your parents’ generation – Mohammad Rafi or Umm Khulthum.
  4. You think “clubbing” is a great way to eat a sandwich. You've never eaten one.
  5. While never, ever having been to a club you listen to “house” music, or what you call “chill” music.
  6. You realize you’re a loser.
  7. You have a lifetime subscription to Netflix.
  8. You’re past time is largely composed of watching movies and playing video games.
  9. When your video game CD died you preformed a jinaza for it
  10. You do things with guys that most other guys would do with girls, like:
In the weeks and months to come you shall learn more of the Loser Brothers.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The moon is the same moon

Know that (the world of) created beings is like pure and limpid water
in which the attributes of the Almighty are shining

Their knowledge and their justice and their clemency are
like a star of heaven (reflected) in running water.

Kings are the theatre for the manifestation of Allah's kingship;
the learned are the mirrors for Allah's wisdom.

Generations have passed away, and this is a new generation:
the moon is the same moon, the water is not the same water.

The justice is the same justice, and the learning is the same learning too;
but these generations and peoples have been changed.

Generations on generations have gone, O sire,
but these Ideas (Divine Attributes) are permanent and everlasting.

The water in this channel has been changed many times:
the reflection of the moon and of the stars remains unaltered.

Therefore its foundation is not in the running water; nay,
but in the regions of the breadth (wide expanse) of Heaven.

(Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi VI 3175, Nicholson translation)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Naqshi Boys Hit Sydney Harbour

On the evening of 3 June 2005, the waters of Sydney Harbour played host to a boatload of dervishes.

Actually, this article is not just about a sufi harbour cruise. You don’t believe me? Read on.

Some 10 years back, God blessed me with an opportunity to visit Canberra. Now normally I associate Canberra with excessive boredom. My father studied in Canberra, and as children we frequently had to endure boring trips where he would have reunions with his fellow academics. They would gas-bag for hours on end, boring us to tears with their exploits at various symposiums and who they met and what papers they had recently written.

Ironically, my 1995 trip to Canberra also involved an introduction to an academic. But this academic was no boring figure. This Professor was the leader of one of the largest Muslim movements in the Turkish-speaking world.

Professor Mahmud Esad Cosan (pronounced “Joshan”) taught history, literature and Islamic studies at Ankara University. He spoke fluent Turkish, Arabic and German. He was well-spoken, well travelled and very rich. He made much of his money from property developments, and his movement is the source of much of the “green money” that bankrolls moderate conservative parties currently ruling the Turkish roost.

Yet Professor Cosan was the complete opposite of all the professors I had met as a child. For a start, he made time for children and youth. One of the last public appearances he made before his death in a car accident was to go on a picnic with young people. He was seen jumping and running in a game of volleyball. He was seen laughing and joking and smiling with his running shoes on and his head uncovered.

My fondest memories of Professor Cosan were of him allowing his serious discourse to be disturbed by a young girl hardly 3 years old wanting to sit in his lap and recite a short surah. He would listen intently and then place a big kiss on her cheek before taking a toffee out of his pocket to present as a reward.

I am pleased to say that Professor Cosan, for reasons beyond anyone’s understanding, considered my not-so-good-self amongst his students. On the morning of 4 June 1998, I was getting ready to fly out of Sydney to visit a Brazilian girl I had met on the internet. She was a huge Rumi fan, and I had told her about my meetings with Professor Cosan who was also a huge Rumi fan.

On that morning, as I was making a life-changing journey, I whispered into the ear of one of my religious teachers that I wanted to declare my allegiance to Professor Cosan as my spiritual preceptor (murshid). Imam Muammer was pleased to hear of my decision. After the fajr (pre-dawn) prayer was completed, Imam Muammer asked Professor Cosan if he was prepared to accept me as a murid (student). Professor Cosan responded words to the following effect:

“You are already my student. You do not need any special ceremony. Muammer, show him how we do our wird and dhikr.”

When I started this article, I intended telling you all about us Naqshi boys hitting Sydney harbour on a ferry. Instead, I have gone onto a tangent about our Naqshbandi spiritual preceptor. So getting back to the topic …

Most of us there were of Turkish background. I am considered an honorary Turk, given that both my grandfathers had Turkish names and were of Mughal ancestry. Amongst our ranks were boys of all ages and sizes. We were joined by some 5 ‘hocas’ (pronounced ‘hojja’ and having the same meaning as the titles of imam or shaykh or mawlana). Each hoca was a young man of Turkish background. Our hocas had studied in different parts of the world, with one having 2 masters degrees and in the process of finishing his PhD at a university in Australia.

The program consisted of food, water and 8 “lucky-door” prizes. There was plenty of hommous, baklava and lots of other goodies to ruin my diet. But more delicious was the company.

I dunno what it is about sufis. They really are superb company. It doesn’t matter who they are or which tariqa they follow. I have never seen sufis do anything but smile and offer hospitality. And tonight was no exception.

I have no doubts I was the worst out of a very good lot. I kind-of felt left out. I was talking my usual nonsense, complaining and whinging about Muslims and how hopeless we are. And these brothers were just patiently listening and gently diverting my attention to the beautiful lights of Sydney harbour.

How do these brothers attain such peace? Are they, in reality, a bunch of rocket scientists?

These brothers all have troubled lives. They have divorces. Some have disabled children. Some have depressed and mentally ill family members. Some are out of jobs or have stresses of study and work. Yet whether I see them on a Naqshbandi harbour cruise or at the local kebab shop, they are composed and with faces beaming smiles.

I thought of all these things as I was being rocked by the harbour waves. Then I realised what it was.

These boys had made the same pledge that I had. They had allowed themselves to become students of the same shaykh, the same Professor Cosan. The only difference was that they had been true to their pledge. I had failed to be as true.

I travelled to Brazil, fell in love, was forced to fall out of love, carried on with my old ways, allowed myself to fall ill, failed to look after myself physically and spiritually and emotionally. I had missed countless prayers, had not kept up with my wird and my dhikr. I had used the inability of many of my Naqshi brothers to speak English (or perhaps my inability to speak Turkish) to keep away from their circles. I was the sheep that strayed away from the flock and was being devoured by the wolves of life.

But on this night, I had returned to the flock. Whilst gobbling down Turkish pastries and sweets, I had rediscovered the sweet spiritual presence of my shaykh in the company of his students. Amongst these well-dressed European dervishes in their smart leather jackets and nicely-trimmed beards, I once again felt like I had reached my spirit’s home.

Anyway readers, it is now 2am. I guess I had better go to sleep now if I am to have any hope of insh'Allah rising for fajr to renew my pledge.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Thoughts On The World's Oldest Profession

(The following article is an adapted version of the original which was first published on June 25 2003 in the deliciously controversial MuslimWakeUp! ezine (www.muslimwakeup.com). It is listed as one of the "Editors' Picks". Iy was something I wrote whilst coming to terms with learning that one of my close friends had returned to the profession after promising never to go back. I am re-posting it after watching a disturbing documentary on child prostitution in Indonesia. That documentary was shown on Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) TV channel (http://news.sbs.com.au/dateline/index.php?page=archive&daysum=2005-06-01). What troubles me most is that many Muslims such as myself cast judgment on women and girls in the profession without seeking to understand the circumstances that lead them to make this choice - presuming they even have a choice!)

God's Whores?

Back in the days when I was young and innocent, my mother would regularly seat me in front of the VCR and force me to sit through a 3-hour Urdu/Hindi movie. It was her way of getting her ‘piyara beta’ (allegedly beloved son) to brush up on his language skills. It was also her attempt to immunize me from totally assimilating into local ways (which in my white Protestant sectarian retro-Aussie neighborhood meant ensuring I did not hate Catholics too much).

After 10 of these awful sessions, I knew the drill. I could predict the story, the actors, even the playback artists. I knew that Muhammad Rafi was dead, and that chances were his amazingly sweet and versatile voice would be replaced with that of Kishore Kumar, a gentleman mum often referred to as the dude with ‘avaare ki avaaz’ (the voice of a lecher). I could even measure how far the fist of the ‘ghunda’ (gangster) was from the victim’s face during a fight scene. And up which trees the orchestra was hiding when the couple were dancing and singing in the park.

But then one day mum showed me a movie whose story line still haunts me. It haunted her when she first read the novel as part of her undergraduate studies at Aligarh Muslim University. The story was yet another illustration of what an awful deal corrupt and violent men dish out to women. And that includes Muslim men.

Umrao Jan Ada is said to be a masterpiece of Urdu literature. It is set during the eve of the East India Company’s move out of Calcutta and across the rest of northern and central India. These were the last days of the decaying and decadent Mughal Empire. Yes, they were tolerant (apart from Aurangzeb who mercilessly massacred the followers of sufi-inspired Guru Nanak and pushed them beyond the fringes of the Indian Muslim community). Yes, they were cultured. Yes, they were rich. Yes, they were my ancestors.

And yes, they were decadent. Many a courtesan entered the Mughal court. Religion and religiosity did not seem to matter when it came to sexual pleasure. But I guess the Mughals were just following what everyone else did.

Visiting courtesans and prostitutes was a gentleman’s game. The great nawabs and princes would gather at the ‘mahkhana’ (glorified brothel) where they would marvel at the poetic skills, the linguistic masonry and the sheer intelligence of girls who were usually kidnapped from their families at a young age and trained by poets and musicians and other cultural technicians on the art of being a respectable courtesan.

Of course, my semi-drunken Mughal ancestors weren’t just interested in the great minds and sweet words of these highly cultured women. For a few bags of gold, they had access to other treasures. Although the men had to prove themselves worthy, and this was not just an issue of money.

Umrao Jan Ada has been cinematized in both Pakistan and India. Mum reckons the Pakistani version has better ghazals (lyrical songs), but the Indian one is more true to the novel. I beg to differ. But that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the character of Umrao Jan (her real name was Ameeran) is so typical of the hypocrisy many have toward women (and in some cases, men) who work. Yes, it is true that this is a most oppressive and exploitative industry. Yes, women are often physically and psychologically abused. But they are still women. They have made their choice. And some may not have even had a choice.

Umrao Jan was kidnapped in her early teens. She had just been engaged to a young chap. Her dad had an argument with someone who had Umrao Jan kidnapped and sold to a ‘randi’ (female pimp) to be raised as a ‘thawaa’if’ (courtesan). Umrao lived in this brothel environment for some 6 years, during which she was taught classical music, poetry, etiquette and other culturally seductive arts.

Eventually, Umrao was unleashed upon an unsuspecting community of male admirers who had never seen anything like her. She was a princess. And like all princesses, she attracted a prince. He wooed her, seduced her, promised her his heart and then dumped her when his mummy found him a more ‘decent’ girl (ironically one of Umrao Jan’s friends who grew up with her in the brothel but who never appeared as a courtesan).

The town where Umrao stayed was attacked by the British, and she joined a convoy of refugees. One night she found herself in a town that looked ever-so-familiar. Some of the refugees asked her to sing for them. She sang of the familiarity of the place. In the audience was a young handsome man whom she felt she had seen before.

After the performance, Umrao went walking and found a house she recognized and an old frail woman who she had seen many years ago. The old woman recognized Umrao as her own daughter. She told Umrao of her father’s death from the grief of her kidnapping. Then the young handsome man in the audience appeared. The old lady said to him: “Look, son! Your sister Ameeran has returned!”

The boy looked at her scornfully and said words that represent the attitudes many of us have. “She cannot be my sister. She is not Ameeran. Ameeran is dead. This woman is Umrao Jan. She is just a prostitute”.

Umrao Jan left after hearing these words. The Indian version of the movie ends by showing Umrao looking at herself in the mirror and touching the mirror. The novel doesn't say what happened to Umrao in the end, but some have suggested that she committed suicide.

So how should we see Umrao. How should we allegedly pious and spiritually astute people view someone like Umrao Jan? I guess the first step will be to declare that prostitution is haram (legally forbidden) and that prostitutes will go to hell. And that society should reject and shun prostitutes.

But let me ask all you mullahs and mullettes this. Why do prostitutes exist? Why is there a plentiful supply of sex-on-tap? Simply because there is plentiful demand. And who are the clients? Usually the respectable people, the judges and politicians and businessmen and lawyers and doctors. And priests and rabbis and maulanas also.

So why are the customers, the clients, the real reason for prostitution to exist let off the hook so easily? And why are the workers, the service providers, the women with often multiple mouths to feed condemned?

And why is it that a prostitute is so dirty and awful whilst a girl who sleeps with some dude she just met at a bar or club and who bought her a drink so clean and wholesome? It reminds me of this female stand-up comedian I once saw who had this to say: “I cannot understand you men. Like, I go to a bar. And I sit there and one of you comes and buys be a drink. And then he expects me to sleep with him. Now tell me this – which prostitute would sleep with you for four dollars and twenty five cents?”

Among those of you reading this will be people who claim to believe in Jesus (peace be upon God’s Noble Messiah). And some who even claim to be following him. Now I ask you this. Who was Jesus’ closest female companion? Who was the one who went to the Garden where his tomb was to rub herbs on his body in accordance with Jewish custom? Who was the one who spent so many hours and days with him? Who was the one who shared his own blessed mother’s name?
Jesus had two Mary’s in his life. One was his mother, the one who miraculously conceived him whilst she was still a virgin. The one about whom the Qur’an says that she was chosen over and above the women of all nations. And the other Mary?

She was a prostitute.

Real Islam, indeed real religion is designed to rid us of the pomposity and self-righteousness that plagues so much religiosity. The prophets of God sat with and made time for those whom society pushes away. Christ spent time with tax collectors, fishermen and prostitutes. Christ did not go to King Fahd of his day and seek a few measly riyals in return for loyalty.

We know that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was known to spend time with a woman in Madina who suffered from schizophrenia. He also had a close friend Julaybib who had no known ancestry and apparently suffered from some physical deformities. And he was so fond of a black woman whose name has not come down to us but whose place in paradise is assured since she spent so much effort sweeping the Prophet’s mosque. And where did the great sufis come from? They originated from those poor starving semi-naked People of the Bench (‘ashab as-suffah’), the equivalent of today’s street people.

We don’t look up to street people or schizophrenics or cleaners. We look up to scholars and philanthropists and martyrs. Yet the Prophet told us that a person from each of these honored categories will be amongst the first to be dragged into hell.

He also told us about the prostitute. The one who finished her shift and went to the well. She saw a dog that was dying of thirst. She took pity on it, dropped her shoe into the well and dragged it out full of water for the dog. For showing kindness to a dog, the prostitute earned God’s mercy and forgiveness.

During his recent tour to Sydney, Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller referred to this incident. And he made a comment to this effect: “How I wish I was that prostitute. We should all wish we could have been her. She understood the reality of things. May God give all of us the understanding possessed by this woman”.

Yes, God created whores too.