Friday, December 30, 2005

Wild Horses of Newbury, and year's end.

“Have you not seen how to Allah bow all who are in the heavens, and all who are in the earth, the sun and the moon, the stars and the mountains, the trees and the animals, and many of humankind (nas)” (Qur’an 22:18)

A beautiful short video on how two wild horses appear, as two ancient oak trees are prepared to be chainsawed down. However, I was not too keen on part of the narration about "old England glory worshiping trees...etc." But this five minute video is still very beautiful, something to learn from, inshallah... so check it out!

click here to view

Today (December 29th) is also the anniversary of The Wounded Knee Massacare. On this date, in 1890, in a matter of an hour, over 150 Native Americans were killed including many women and children. The event is especially significant, and worthwhile for Muslims to remember because this was not only a matter of taking Indian land, but about religious repression.

White officials became alarmed at the religious fervor and activism and in December 1890 banned the Ghost Dance on Lakota reservations. When the rites continued, officials called in troops to Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota.

Native Americans were not allowed to practise their religion until very recently. It was only in 1978 that Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act which stated:

[I]t shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites."

While significant, the act has failed to protect many of the areas of North America that are sacred to Native Americans. Some of these areas are rich in natural resources, and, in the name of "progress" and "development" they have been badly damaged.

Groups such as Sacred Land Project, and Honor the Earth are involved in advocating for protection of such sites. However, their struggle should not be considered as a "special interest religious group." This is fundamentally about taking urgent actions to save what we have left of our beautiful earth...

And as we end the year, Bolivia, a majority indigenous country in South America, has elected its first indigenous president: Evo Morales - his words are worth reading and pondering over - as change is in the air... as we move on to 2006...

What happened these past days in Bolivia was a great revolt by those who have been oppressed for more than 500 years. The will of the people was imposed this September and October, and has begun to overcome the empire's cannons. We have lived for so many years through the confrontation of two cultures: the culture of life represented by the indigenous people, and the culture of death represented by West. When we the indigenous people ­ together with the workers and even the businessmen of our country ­ fight for life and justice, the State responds with its "democratic rule of law."

When we speak of the "defense of humanity," as we do at this event, I think that this only happens by eliminating neoliberalism and imperialism. But I think that in this we are not so alone, because we see, every day that anti-imperialist thinking is spreading, especially after Bush's bloody "intervention" policy in Iraq. Our way of organizing and uniting against the system, against the empire's aggression towards our people, is spreading, as are the strategies for creating and strengthening the power of the people.

I believe only in the power of the people. That was my experience in my own region, a single province ­ the importance of local power. And now, with all that has happened in Bolivia, I have seen the importance of the power of a whole people, of a whole nation. For those of us who believe it important to defend humanity, the best contribution we can make is to help create that popular power. This happens when we check our personal interests with those of the group. Sometimes, we commit to the social movements in order to win power. We need to be led by the people, not use or manipulate them.

click here to read entire speech:

Monday, December 26, 2005

Window Lickers, Autists and White Privilege

I am a 40-something European, middle class, graduate professional convert to Islam, a parent of a child with autism, and a UK citizen. I am also a student of the social sciences, and it is in this capacity that I am writing this piece, a postcolonial analysis of the concept of ‘white privilege’. This concept was central to a recent blog on Sunni Sister, and whilst I agree with some of the points put forward in the same piece, I intend to contest the concept itself as ultimately flawed.

To begin with, social labels such as ‘white’ and ‘black’ have their origins in the knowledge systems crucial to subjugating the peoples conquered by Empire. To employ the term risks reproducing the assumptions inherent to these knowledge systems, whereby each group is defined as ‘other’ according to essential differences. In contemporary social sciences, the term ‘ethnicity’ is more often preferred.

Ethnicity takes into account local complexities and cultures. For example, rather than describing Muslims in my home town of Huddersfield as ‘South Asian’, I would prefer to describe them as belonging to the Mirpuri Pakistani diaspora. This takes into account the cultural specifities of the region from which most local Muslims originate, as well as their transnational and hybrid status.

In the past, civil rights campaigners employed a strategic essentialism to define themselves as ‘black’. The aim of such strategic labelling was to unite disparate groups in a common cause, which included building pride in a common identity against an Imperialist, racist hegemony. In the UK, many Muslims now similarly employ their faith strategically, in the face of a rising tide of Islamophobia.

But strategic essentialism is not a two way signpost. In using the term ‘white privilege’, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), Italians and even Arabs are essentialised as a single group, without their consent. Moreover, this essentialism is founded on the assumption that such identities are the cause of ‘privilege’, rather than class, gender or the desire to participate in hegemonic power structures.

The term ‘privilege’ is equally open to criticism. The assumption here is that ‘white’ people have access to 'the good life', and ‘black’ people do not. The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes this understanding of social justice as bogus. It implies a scramble to be ‘like the folks on the hill’, which is nothing short of a fight to participate in an Empire currently reeking havoc on planet Earth and its peoples.

The global North, numerically in the minority, currently produces the largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as consuming a grossly disproportionate fraction of global resources. It sells most of the guns, which along with its trade policies are responsible for most of the world’s poverty. Today, around 50 000 adults and children will die from hunger and preventable diseases. In the global North, as many if not more will die from obesity.

Yet the way in which the term ‘white privilege’ is currently employed places the concept at the very heart of a greedy, violent, amoral empire. Like so much imperial discourse, it does not locate itself in any specific place, nor does it limits its scope, but presents itself as universally true. Racism, while it might have imperialism at its heart, manifests itself in vastly different ways around the world.

I have little personal experience of racism, and never as a ‘white’ person other than online name calling, which off itself has little impact on my life. Indeed, I would argue ‘black-on-white racism’ is a myth of representation in Britain. In the UK, the mainstream media can still headline on an ‘Asian’ gang roaming the streets beating up ‘white people’, whilst the routine violence of Nazi racist thugs is rarely reported in the same sensational way, if at all.

People like me can join the rat race when we want. Few non-disabled ethnically European people like myself are likely to face discrimination in jobs, education or in the provision of public services. People of non-European ethnic origin, by contrast, are protected by some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in Europe, and rightly so. The law recognises these groups are less likely to be in positions of power – and that is the key issue.

My personal experience of prejudice is as a parent of a child with autism. This might seem an odd comparison to make, racism and autism, but bare with me on this one. Rather than reinforcing prejudice as inevitable by locating it in an essential identity, I want you to reconsider how you understand prejudice – whatever your own experiences. Changing how people think, and then changing the world, is - I would suggest - the key to conquering racism.

People with autism face prejudice every day. Despite huge advances in provision in recent years, people who are not viable economic units within this consumer capitalist society continue to be marginalised. Educational and social services are legally required to provide for children and adults with autism, but with funds limited by 'priorities' (such as the occupation of Iraq, etc.), the majority of people with autism still do not have their special needs met.

Unemployment amongst adults with autism stands at 90%, and adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (who experience no delay in language development, and have a 'normal' IQ) fair little better. The provision of alternative occupational services remains patchy and poor. We treat other ‘useless’ groups, such as the elderly, with little more compassion. Most people with Alzheimer’s who cannot be taken care of by relatives live in care homes managed by nurses, but staffed largely by the underclass.

In regard to people with autism, this state of affairs is now being challenged more vigorously, not thanks to the increasingly over-professionalized charities, but by people with autism themselves. This is what is significant to my concerns about ‘White privilege’, which turns its back on ethnic minority experiences of discrimination, and instead points its accusing finger towards ‘white’ people to explain the world. The result can only be more hatred.

I desire a society which puts the mercy of the Prophet Muhammad (aws) at its heart, the man who said humans were given victory to protect the weak and vulnerable. I do not believe such a society can come about by simply rushing to join the ranks of the selfish and powerful, or by blaming them for being their victims. Muslims must seek to transform the societies in which we live so that compassion is at the heart of all government thinking, social policy and individual human actions.

This is not to deny justice, which is also a key Muslim concept. People who commit acts of overt racism must be held culpable. However, the racism inherent in society – the ‘institutional’ racism, the ‘polite’ racism - requires a different approach. I see little point in blaming the polite, middle class folks who flee from my local park whenever I bring my boisterous, noisy 13 year old autistic son there. I could be easily standing in their shoes. We live in the same neighbourhood.

Their prejudice is rooted in history, ignorance, and the arrogance accrued to them by their class status. It is better to challenge this ignorance, and confront bad attitudes with knowledge and experience. For many people, children like my son are ‘other’, and faced with ‘difference’, the human response is to be afraid. Knowing my son is only one step – many ‘professionals’ who work with children with autism are no less bigoted.

Teaching these folks to understanding why they respond as they do requires teaching them about the forgotten history of people with learning disabilities. It means acknowledging learning disabled people are grossly misrepresented in the media as objects of pity, and are routinely the butt of jokes on comedy shows. It means overturning the idea that its already to call somone a ‘cretin’ as a friendly insult. It means teaching them that ‘normal’ people and people with autism can actually do things together that are useful and fun. Sound familiar?

I do realise your gut instinct may be to see comparing an 'autist' to a black person in terms of social processes as offensive. That’s nothing knew to me. When the UK passed the Disability Discrimination Act, physically disabled campaigners agreed to marginalise the learning disabled. Whilst acknowledging the historical basis for their own discrimination, they didn’t want to be compared to 'window lickers'.

In short, white privilege is a bad idea. It assumes an identity that doesn’t exist, and proffers a simplistic explanation for the causes of racism and social injustice. It fails to locate prejudice in history, and equates social justice with having a piece of the pie. It excludes other groups who are victims of discrimination, instead of making common cause with the most vulnerable amonsgt them – some of whom, of course, may be white.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Giving = Communism

A few days back, the ACLU released a bunch of FBI documents they got through the Freedom of Information Act. A lot of interesting stuff you can check out by clicking here.

But it was this particular comment by an FBI agent that caught my eye:

“the Catholic Workers advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology.” In another document, an agent writes, “Based on the author’s interpretation of comments made by various CWG protestors, CWG also advocates a communist distribution of resources.”

Well, it so happens, that along with being a (non-moderate) Muslim (howz that for an adjectivized Islam?) I happen to have lived and worked with Catholic Workers for a number of years. Here in Oakland, and in El Paso, TX/Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (this one not specifically Catholic Worker, but close enough).

You can learn all about the history of Catholic Workers here.

However, I think what is going on here is more like this:

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop (died Aug. 27th, 1999)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dr. Zehra Attari

Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raji'oon

At a Wednesday morning press conference, the family of Dr. Zehra Attari thanked everyone for their support during the investigation.

“It was 43 of the most awful days, not knowing where your mother is,” said Attari’s daughter, Ruby, during the press conference.

“They positively identified the body as that of Dr. Attari,” stated family spokesman Ed Vasquez.

Dr. Attari worked with low income children and residents of East Oakland.

"I would say that if I had any wish that would come from this tragedy, it would be that someone will carry on her work in the community in Oakland, with children. She was a real humanitarian in what she was doing.” - Susan Heeley, Alameda.

You may express your condolences to the family of Dr. Attari by signing a guestbook here

A Muslim Christmas

Since turning Muslim some 15-odd years ago, my two non-disabled children have grown up aware of both my Islam and school-assembly Christianity, but neither have embraced anything more than a desire to fit in with their friends. Meanwhile, my din has ricocheted from Salafism to near extinction through an increasingly progressive ahl as-Sunnah wa Jamaat to its present Ibn Arabiesque pietism. Consistent through this, however, has been my wife and children’s celebration of Christmas, through which my own way weaves and wonders and reflects.

Now the kids are all teenagers, my participation in the family yuletide festivities is marginal and perfunctory. The closest I come to inculcating myself with the contemporary spirit of Christmas is by shopping – buying presents for my wife, a lapsed Catholic whose birthday falls perilously close to the 25th, and for my autistic son, Joel, whose awareness of Christmas has blossomed in the last few years.

Shopping for Joel usually involves a trip to nearby Leeds, and this year was no different. Even though I disapprove of consumerism, I enjoy city centres in the days leading up to Christmas. Perhaps the mesmerising buzz of humanity packed shoulder to shoulder evokes something of the spirit of Hajj in these secular folk, with the homeless Big Issue vendors in Santa hats standing patiently like unseen angels while punters throng past in search of the latest bargain gift. Perhaps not.

After Leeds I take a train to Dewsbury, a once thriving centre of the woollen mill industry and the home of ‘shoddy’ cloth, and then a short taxi ride to Darul Kutub. This is where I shop for my own present on behalf of my nominally Christian spouse, which is then delivered to her to be blessed with holy wrapping paper and gift tag in preparation for the Noël ritual present opening.

Tucked around the corner from the European HQ for Tablighi-i-Jamaat, set flatly on the small flood plain surrounding the nearby Calder, Darul Kutub is a culture away from the homogenous city stores where the human soul struggles to breath under the hegemonic weight of acquisitive anxiety.

Yet in spite of its proximity to Tablighi's Western heart, or perhaps in keeping with it, Darul Kutub’s floor space is extremely modest, its cross-wooded window frontage no different from the many out-of-town family retailers struggling to hold back the rush of car-crazed, logo-centric shoppers to the malls.

Perhaps its very humility explains why crossing the threshold of Darul Kutub is a truly Narnian experience. It’s corner door is a veritable portal to a tiny cloister chock with resinous perfumes, robes, colours, Qur’ans, topies, children’s books, and wondrous discoveries –a new series of children’s board games about mosques and Hajj and other Islamic themes, and a two volume collection of Quran stories which I purchased. I was the only customer present in the half hour I was there, though the time flashed past in what seemed like a transforming moment.

My attachment to local Muslim communities is largely romantic. I know a great deal about British South Asian Muslim life from academic research – Anwar, Geaves, Werbner - but my deeply ingrained liberal humanism would never allow me to integrate into a community where hierarchical religious norms are so strong. I therefore always remain the apologetic cultural tourist, and coming out of the shop, I greet every bearded man with an as-salaamu alaykum all the way through Saville Town until I crossed back over the Calder into Dewsbury’s town centre.

I grew up with a Christmas always dominated by my mother’s memory of my father ‘disappearing’ one Christmas day, allegedly to see the woman who became his third wife. I was three at the time, but still recall discovering the empty garage and my mother's anguish. Every Christmas afternoon from then on was dominated by her black depression. I have only been able to shake that feeling off since I stopped celebrating Christmas proper. Christmas is a nice idea that never happened to me.

So on Christmas morning, after presents are opened and pleasantries exchanged, the tribe will depart for Nanny Sheila’s, leaving me quite content to my own company. I can read my Qur’an stories, perhaps revisiting the tale of Isa (aws) from a Muslim perspective; I can eat a vegetarian dinner; maybe there might be something worth watching on TV, though I doubt it. But at least there will be no bone dry turkey, no enforced jollity, no more following a Christian festival very few British people genuinely believe in anymore.

Jesus, I suspect, would have approved.

The Qur'anic Christmas

I am no theologian, but like most Indian Muslim kids, I have learnt how to read the Qur’an in Arabic. My main teachers were my sister in Sydney and a ‘maulana’ (religious teacher) in Karachi.

The maulana had a very simple approach to teaching the Qur’an. Basically he had three sticks. One was long and thin, the use of which created a stinging sensation. The second was short and thick, to generate pain. The third was long and thick which he used as a walking stick to support his heavy-set frame.

I spent some six months learning to read the Qur’an in a small mosque school (known as a ‘madressa’) in Karachi. The mosque was called Jami al-Falah (where ‘Jami’ meant ‘place for congregational prayer’ and ‘al-Falah’ meant ‘divine felicity’).

It all sounds very exotic, doesn’t it? In fact, the mosque was named after the street it is located on — al-Falah Road.

Studying here didn’t bring much divine felicity. If anything, it brought lots of pain and misery to this seven year-old from Sydney.

My mother beseeched the maulana on my behalf: ‘Please, Maulana Sahib! My son is from Australia. He has very thin skin. Go soft on him.’

The maulana was characteristically fierce in his response. ‘Even if Bhutto sent his son to learn the Qur’an from me, I’d hit him and his father as well!’

Mum didn’t make similar submissions to my elder sister when assigning her the task of teaching me the Qur’an. My sister tended to make use of much softer wooden kitchen spoons, which would frequently break.

(And of course, what I am conveniently leaving out of the whole picture is the quite legitimate disciplinary concerns which made the use of such utensils necessary.)

At age 14, I was given my first translation of the Qur’an in English. It was a very old translation first published in Lahore in Pakistan during the 1930s. The translator was an Indian chap who rose to the highest posts in the Indian Civil Service that formed the administrative bedrock of the British Raj. His name was Abdullah Yusuf Ali, and his is perhaps the most popular and widely used translation.

I was 15 when I donated a copy of his translation to my school library. Some readers may not regard this event as all that significant; but mine was the first Qur’an to grace the shelves of the library of St Andrews Cathedral School, Sydney.

It was at school that I discovered the story of the Qur’anic Jesus. And since we are approaching Christmas, I would like to share that story with you using the translation of the late Mr Ali. I wish to apologise in advance to any readers who find the story too boringly familiar. I also apologise for the King James style language used by Ali.

The story can be found in a chapter of the Qur’an named ‘Maryam’ (which is Arabic for ‘Mary’). It begins with the usual supplication that commences all but one chapter of the Qur’an: ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious and Most Merciful’. This supplication is used not only when commencing a reading of the Qur’an, but precedes virtually all the daily actions of a Muslim, both mundane and devotional.

The chapter then goes into how John the Baptist appeared on the scene. John (named ’Yahiya’ in classical Arabic) was born to Zachariah, and both father and son are revered as prophets.

Once John has been mentioned, Mary is introduced. She is described as withdrawing from her family ‘to a place in the East’. She locks herself away from the rest of society, and yet a man mysteriously appears in her private chamber. The following dialogue ensues:

MARY: ‘I seek refuge from thee to God Most Gracious: come not near if thou dost fear God.’

MAN: ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from the Lord, to announce to thee the gift of a holy son.’

MARY: ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’

MAN: ‘So it will be: Thy Lord saith: “that is easy for Me: and We wish to appoint him as a sign unto men and as a Mercy from Us”. It is a matter so decreed.’

The man, of course, was an angel. Christ was conceived miraculously. Once born, Mary took her son back to her family. Her father was a respected Rabbi and Mary was always known for her modesty and chastity. One can only imagine how embarrassed she must have felt when she came holding a baby in her arms.

Making things even more uncomfortable was that Mary had made a vow not to speak to any man for a fixed period of time. When she was first publicly accused of sexual impropriety, she pointed to the baby Jesus.

The Qur’an thus describes the first miracle of Christ — his speaking from the cradle in defence of his mother. His exact words were:

I am indeed a servant of God: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet. And he hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life again!

I’m not sure if Joseph or the Three Wise Men appear in the Qur’anic account. But a number of his miracles are mentioned. These include healing lepers and restoring life to the dead. Also mentioned are the ascension of Christ, and the sayings of the Prophet make specific mention of Christ’s return to earth to establish the kingdom of God toward the end of time.

Each year, I celebrate Christmas with my best mate from school. He still sings for the St Andrews choir. Some years back, I introduced him to a Japanese friend of mine. They instantly clicked. I was best man at their wedding. It was a truly Australian event — an Anglican boy marrying a Buddhist girl with a Muslim best man and with all this taking place at St Andrews Cathedral!

And while I am celebrating Christmas, my Kiwi Muslim friend will be sorting a selection of books I mailed to her in time for Christmas. She never met her Muslim father, but her Catholic upbringing did little to contradict her Muslim heritage.

Christmas is a special time in many Muslim countries. The Palestinian West Bank town of Bayt Lahm (Bethlehem) plays host to thousands of pilgrims each year. In Pakistan, the government-owned TV stations play Christmas programs on Christmas eve. Christmas day is a public holiday in Pakistan and numerous other Muslim-majority States.

This year, Christmas falls almost exactly between the two large Islamic feast days of Eidul Fitri and Eidul Adha. Yet regardless of the timing of these feasts, which varies each year in accordance with a lunar calendar, Christmas is an inherently special occasion for believers of Jesus from all faiths.

I’d like to think it isn’t just the Qur’anic nativity scene that unites Christians and Muslims. I hope that we can go beyond the paradigm of civilisational clash and recognise that, in essence, we have the same spiritual heritage. On that note, I’d like to wish everyone reading this all the very best for Christmas.

(First published in New Matilda on 21 December 2005)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

White Privilege

Read all about it:

being white, being muslim, being a white muslim.... and privilege.

Sunni Sister writes about it all:

Click here to read White Privilege, White Muslim

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Muslim woman needs a liberal feminist, like a fish needs a bicycle

Second-wave feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, in a classic moment of 2 dimensional political analysis offered the following quote in reference to Hugh Hefner, "He's such a jerk. He's so pathetic. ... Now's he's going around with four young women in their 20s instead of just one. It's sort of Moslem, actually." [Published in the New York Observer]

Charming, Gloria. So "Moslem" is the benchmark of all things misogynist?

This construction of Islam as the convenient foil to feminism [read western feminism] is getting really tired and old. Surely, Gloria must have some clue as to how completely problematic it is to use Muslim women as a prop in this way only to make a point. And surely, someone in her circle might be able to let her know the ramifications of this type of thing. Not only is she erasing the space from which feminist Muslims speak, she is also serving to construct a dichotomy in which any place that is "not Muslim" is good and egalitarian and anything that is "Muslim" is misogynist and savage. This is a familiar imperial trope that serves to over simplify the struggles of Muslim women and erase the complexities of the struggles of all other women.

Baby, you still have a long way to go.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Rand Report Birthday - The neo-colonial project.

In the year 2004, two Rand Reports were published outlining a divide and conquer policy for the United States' so-called "war on terror" (or, as many have accurately called it: a war on Muslims, and Islam).

The first Rand Report neatly divided up Muslims into four categories:

Support the modernists first.

Support the traditionalists against the fundamentalists

Confront and oppose the fundamentalists.

Selectively support secularists.

This Rand Report (I) was widely publicized due to certain "progressive" and "moderate" Muslim groups that appeared to exactly follow its recommendations - as they engaged in wild media publicity stunts slamming/attacking existing Muslim groups, and traditions.

And an April 25th, 2005 article in US News and World Report confirmed that tens of millions of $$$ were being poured into a "religion building" project.

After repeated missteps since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has embarked on a campaign of political warfare unmatched since the height of the Cold War. From military psychological-operations teams and CIA covert operatives to openly funded media and think tanks, Washington is plowing tens of millions of dollars into a campaign to influence not only Muslim societies but Islam itself.

A second Rand Report was released on December 13th 2004. This Report is, in someways, even more insidious and goes deeper into exploiting the diversity, divisions, complexities within Muslim communities. While many Muslims quickly understood the implications of Rand Report (I) especially with regards to the "reform Islam" agenda; the implications of Rand Report (II) has not been as widely discussed.

A primary objective of Rand Report II was to:

...identify the key cleavages and fault lines among sectarian, ethnic, regional, and national lines and to assess how these cleavages generate challenges and opportunities for the United States.

The key "cleavages" identified includes "Shi'a Sunni" divisions and "Arab non-Arab" Muslims.

A recent article in the American Conservative magazine discussed exploiting Shi'a Sunni divisions in greater detail, and gives some insight about the mind of those conducting the "war on terror."

The United States did not create the Sunni-Shi’ite split in Islamism, just as it did not create the earlier Sino-Soviet split in communism. It can, however, put itself in a position to take advantage of the divide as it very likely will develop, as it did with the analogous split during the Cold War.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali's recent article, marking the birthday of Rand Report (II) has pointed out the neo-orientalist agenda behind both Rand Reports, and does an excellent job of analysing the imperialist aims of belitteling Islam.

December 13th marks the first anniversary of the Rand Corporation report “The Muslim World After 9/11” that suggests exploitation of Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world. This was the second Rand report about Islam and Muslims in 2004. The first report was Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies. The Rand reports are the latest in a long series of policy papers dedicated to further the military, economic, and cultural onslaught of the West on the Muslim World. Dig a little into the reports and it won’t take long to find the real objectives. Writers of these reports are neo-Orientalists with clear intention to belittle Islam and its adherents to achieve ambitions of the empire like the Orientalists of the 19th century who co-operated hand-in-hand with the imperialistic aims of the European colonial powers.

The Bush administration, and the neo-cons have been greatly weakened because of the invasion of Iraq. And the notions of "progressive Islam" "moderate Islam" "reform Islam" etc. etc. have found little or no support/resonance within Muslim communities. Indeed, if anything, amongst many Sunni Muslim communities, there is a resurgence of "classical Islam" as represented by institutions such as Zaytuna.

A similar trend can be seen amongst Shi'a Muslims with a growing number of websites now offering courses on traditional fiqh.

(I'll discuss some of the implications of this trend in a later blog entry, inshallah).

Yet, the danger that divisions, and complexities within Muslim communities will be exploited by nefarious elements remains. And it behooves Muslims to become familiar with both Rand Reports, discuss the implications, and take corrective measures so that while we may have internal debates - we be mindful of our own conduct and not allow these debates to be used for divide and conquer US policies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Redemption: An interview with Stan Tookie Williams

Listen to on the Ihsan Podcast, or click here for web streaming

read also on Hot Coals:

a quest for redemption



Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un

Stan Tookie Williams was executed on December 13th, 2005, at 12:35 A.M.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Prayer for those in Iraq

As we wait, both for news about the CPT activists taken hostage in Iraq and for peace and justice for the people of Iraq, which at times seem so far away ...

From Sahifa al-Kamilah, the Supplications of Imam Ali-ibn al-Husayn

His Supplication in Distress and Seeking Release

My God, let not my enemy gloat over me and torment not my dear kinsman or friend through me!

My God, of Thy glances, give me one glance, and thereby remove from me that by which Thou hast afflicted me and return me to the best of Thy customs with me! Respond to my supplication and the supplication of him who devotes his supplication sincerely to Thee, for my power has become frail, my stratagems few, my situation severe, and I despair of what is with Thy creatures, so nothing remains for me but hope in Thee!

My God, surely Thy power to remove that in which I dwell is like Thy power in that with which Thou hast afflicted me! And surely the remembrance of Thy acts of kindliness comforts me and hope in Thy showing favour and Thy bounty strengthens me, for I have not been without Thy favour ever since Thou created me.

And Thou, my God, art my place of flight, my asylum, my protector, my defender,

the loving toward me, the compassionate, and the guarantor of my provision. In Thy decree lay what has settled upon me and in Thy knowledge that to which I have come home.

So, my Patron and Master, place within that which Thou hast ordained, decreed, and made unavoidable for me, my well-being and that wherein lies my soundness and my deliverance from that in which I am!

I hope for none to repel this other than Thee, and I rely in it only upon Thee.

O Possessor of majesty and munificence, be with my best opinion of Thee!281

Have mercy upon my frailty and the paucity of my stratagems, remove my distress, grant my supplication, ease me from my stumble, and show kindness to me in that and to everyone who supplicates Thee! My Master, Thou hast commanded me to supplicate and undertaken to respond,282 and Thy promise is the truth in which there is no failing, nor any change.283

So bless Muhammad, Thy prophet and servant, and the pure, the Folk of his House, and help me, surely Thou art the help of him who has no help and the stronghold of him who has no stronghold, while I am the distressed the response to whom and the removal of evil from whom Thou hast made obligatory!284

So respond to me, remove my concern, relieve my gloom, return my state to the best it has been, and repay me not according to what I deserve, but according to Thy mercy which embracest all things,285 O Possessor of majesty and munificence! Bless Muhammad and the Household of Muhammad, hear, and respond, O All-mighty!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Muslims in NZ, Australia and across the world must act to secure the release of Christian Peacemakers

Australian Muslims are all too familiar with the gut-wrenching experience of watching a fellow Australian being paraded on amateur video and used as a pawn by terrorists. Iraqi terrorists from a shadowy group known as the “Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq” held Mr Wood directly hostage for 47 days, issuing threats and impossible deadlines and releasing videos of the captured Australian.

They also indirectly held Mr Wood’s family and the nation hostage. The Wood family were forced to employ measures which, at the time, they must have thought of as desperate.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on May 8 2005 that members of the Wood family travelled to the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque to speak with the controversial Sydney Sheik Tajeddine el-Hilaly, whose various titles include “Mufti of Australia and New Zealand”.

Following the recording of a plea to the hostages in Arabic, Sheik Hilaly surprised media present by announcing he would personally fly to Iraq in an attempt to speak with the captors and secure Mr Wood’s release.

Sheik Hilaly was touched by the plight of Mr Wood, with whom the Sheik shared a common age and heart condition. Notwithstanding the Sheik’s precarious health situation, he literally risked his life to travel to Iraq to save the life of a fellow Australian and a fellow human being.

And Sheik Hilaly was not the only person involved in the effort. Australians from all walks of life came together and worked to secure Mr Wood’s release. Australian efforts included Foreign Minister Alexander Downer appealing on al-Jazeera Television for Mr Wood’s release.

The Wood family themselves worked closely with the Australian contingent, including Imam Hilaly. They produced a website with tributes to Mr Wood and with photos of him with his family. A number of advertisements were also placed in Iraqi newspapers calling on Iraqis to assist with Mr Wood’s release and pleading with the kidnappers to return him to his family.

Sheik Hilaly was provided with support and assistance by the Muslim peak body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) who worked closely with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) and Iraqi officials.

The kidnapping of New Zealand resident and Canadian citizen Harmeet Singh Sooden and other members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has some parallels to the treatment of Australian civilian hostage Douglas Wood.

New Zealand Muslims, like their Australian counterparts, cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of ideologically charged maniacs who attack the lives of innocent people and hold families and nations hostage. But like their Australian counterparts, New Zealand’s Muslim leaders may be able to take certain active steps.

The peak New Zealand Muslim body, known as the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), should work with AFIC and the Canadian Islamic Congress to secure the services of Sheik Hilaly or other suitable mediators in an effort to secure the release of Mr Sooden and other hostages.

Such efforts on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand Muslim communities are essential given the natural abhorrence Muslims have (or at least should have) toward terrorism. Moreover, the kidnap of members of the CPT movement does not in any way further the cause of Iraqi self determination.

The CPT movement were always known for their opposition to the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces. Their work has not been confined to Iraq. The CPT have played a major role over the years in protecting and campaigning for the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Occupied Territories, a cause close to the heart of Muslims in New Zealand and across the world.
Unlike other evangelical groups, CPT has shown enormous respect for the faiths and cultures of Muslim communities with whom they work. CPT works at a grassroots level, refusing to accept money from any government. Mr Sooden’s own devotion to the cause of justice was shown in his participation in numerous rallies in support of Palestinian rights in New Zealand.

In its press release dated December 5 2005 calling for the release of Mr Sooden and his colleagues, the Canadian Islamic Congress noted: “CPT members do not proselytize or ever attempt to "convert" those for whom they offer support. Rather, they are individually and collectively motivated by their faith to devote their lives to helping the oppressed, working for justice, and fighting against war by peacefully "getting in the way" of violence against the innocent.”

The press release goes onto acknowledge CPT members “took on their duties with one simple and courageous purpose: to bear witness to injustice and to sincerely work alongside the people of Iraq for justice and peace.”

New Zealand Muslim leaders, in conjunction with their Australian and Canadian counterparts, must take a leading role in assisting where possible to secure Mr Sooden’s release. They should use whatever influence and contacts they have in Iraq and the broader Arab and Muslim world to impress upon the hijackers that any harm done to CPT in effect harms work from which millions of Iraqis and other Arabs benefit. Not to mention the enormous grief such harm would bring to Mr Sooden’s family and millions of New Zealanders who stand with them.

A precedent has already been set by the Australian Muslim community in seeking the release of Australian hostage Douglas Wood. FIANZ can and must follow the lead of AFIC and other Australian Muslim peak bodies and offer whatever assistance they can.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and columnist for altmuslim.com. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rumi was no suicide bomber

I am Australian. My parents are from Delhi. My ancestry is Mughal. I am basically a Turko-Mongol. Or a Mongol-Turk. Depends on my mood.

My ancestors were not nice people. In fact, they were pretty damned awful. The Mongols turned war crimes and terrorism into an art form and a sport, all at once. They plundered cities, burnt buildings, massacred men and children and raped women before killing them.

Mongol atrocities make my hair stand on end when I read about them. They used to grab infants and babies by the feet and smash them against the wall to make their skulls crack open. They used to cut foetuses out of the wombs of mothers using swords. These were sick people.

When they reached Baghdad, it was the London or New York of its day. They just decimated the place. Baghdad was a city boasting thousands of libraries. Virtually all books were burnt. Jews and Muslims fled to India and other places.

The Mongols were my ancestors. Comparable to the Coalition forces in Iraq? Comparable to the Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza? Worse. Much worse.
My grandfather was a lawyer. He is one of my heroes, though I never met him.

Actually, my greatest hero (after the Prophet Muhammad) was also a lawyer. His name was Jalal ad-Din.

Jalal ad-Din was born in a place called Balkh, now in modern day Afghanistan on 30 September 1207. As a young boy, he was exposed to the horrors of the Mongol invasion. His parents fled with him to the safety of a city called Konya in what is now Turkey.

Jalal saw his family members and friends butchered as he was fleeing the Mongols. He was among a large group of asylum seekers that arrived in Konya, then the capital of the Seljuk Turkish Empire. Jalal’s father was a lawyer, and Jalal was trained to be a lawyer.

And he was no ordinary lawyer. Jalal had a phenomenal intellect. He was an awesome writer, a great judge and a brilliant teacher. He was perhaps the greatest lawyer of his time. He was a senior judge, a professor of law and had thousands of students. He also received a generous stipend from the state, a house and servants. Jalal lived the highlife.

Then at age 37, at the height of his career, Jalal met a man who … um … I’m not exactly sure what the man did. The man’s name was Shums. He was an asylum seeker from a place called Tabriz, a city also ravaged by the Mongols. Who knows what horrors Shums had seen. He was old and dishevelled. Most people in Konya looked upon Shums with disdain, especially when he made an appearance in the esteemed presence of Professor Jalal ad-Din.

The Professor didn’t see it that way. I believe one reason for this was that Professor Jalal ad-Din recognised the reasons behind the dishevelled appearance and the painful eyes. This man was a holocaust survivor, just as Jalal was.

But the people of that time were truly amazing. This man and Professor Jalal both had every reason to hate the Mongols. They had every reason to attack Mongol lands and terrorise the Mongol hordes. They even had the backing of powerful states.

These men had every reason to preach a theology of hatred. Instead, Professor Jalal learnt from Shums the message of divine love. That love was and is so powerful that to this day people of all faiths are benefiting from the message of Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi.

Yes, that Professor Jalal is none other than Rumi, the great Muslim mystical poet. He started out as an asylum seeker, rose to the top of the worldly ladder and then left it all behind temporarily to learn the message of divine love. Had he not joined the dishevelled Shums, he would have remained Professor Jalal.

But filled with divine love, he became the Mevlana, the spiritual leader of millions of people across the world. Now, almost 900 years after his birth, people are still discovering the Islam of surrendering to divine love through Rumi’s words.

Rumi returned from his spiritual retreats completely transformed. He taught and wrote with such force that his lengthy Mathnawi is often described as “the Persian Qur’an.”
Eventually the Mongols caught upto the region of Rum, the old Byzantine Roman heartland conquered by the Seljuks. One of Rumi’s students is believed to have set a noble example of kindness and generosity to the Mongol leader who felt inspired to adopt Islam. His entire army did the same. They settled down and intermarried with Turkish Muslims.

The ancestors of these converted Mongol Turks eventually came to India and conquered the place. Had they not been inspired to put down their weapons, the Mongols may have raped and pillaged as far as Paris or London. Instead, they founded one of the greatest and most tolerant Muslim civilisations India had ever witnessed.

So now, reader, you might be able to guess why Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi is my hero. He taught a message that was more powerful than all the suicide bombers and all the terrorist attacks in the world. He taught a message that defeated the enemies by transforming them into friends and brothers.

Rumi had every reason to hate the Mongols. They killed half his family. They almost killed his spiritual teacher Shums. But neither Shums nor his student were students of hatred, vengeance and violence. They were students of divine love.

If the Muslims of Rumi’s time could win over the Mongols, what is there to stop us living in the relative freedom of the West from winning over our countrymen and women? Filled with divine love, we can win over anyone with God’s permission.

Terror pushes the hearts away from God. Terror breeds hatred and more terror. But love is the divine magnet that drags people back to their Lord. Love turns your worst enemy into your bosom friend.

As Saul of Tarsus wrote in his letter to the people of Corinth:

If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a tinkling symbol. And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I dole out all my goods, and if I deliver my body that I may boast but have not love, nothing I am profited.

Love is long suffering, love is kind, it is not jealous, love does not boast, it is not inflated. It is not discourteous, it is not selfish, it is not irritable, it does not enumerate the evil.It does not rejoice over the wrong, but rejoices in the truth

It covers all things, it has faith for all things, it hopes in all things, it endures in all things.

Love never falls in ruins; but whether prophecies, they will be abolished; ortongues, they will cease; or knowledge, it will be superseded. For we know in part and we prophecy in part. But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will be superseded.

When I was an infant, I spoke as an infant, I reckoned as an infant; when I became [an adult], I abolished the things of the infant.

For now we see through a mirror in an enigma, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know as also I was fully known.

But now remains faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And as Mevlana wrote in his Diwan-i-Shums:

Love means to reach for the sky and with every breath to tear a thousand veils.Love means to step away from the ego, to open the eyes of inner vision and not to take this world so seriously.

Congratulations dear heart;You have joined the circle of lovers, tell me in your own words when did this throbbing begin?

“I was absorbed in my work in this world but I never lost my longing for home.One day, exhausted with no strength left, I was lifted suddenly by the grace of Love.To describe this mustery there are no words”

(translated by Maryam Mafi & Azima Melita Kolin)

Two men, one message. The time has come to use the weapons of divine love to win the hearts of our country men and women.

(This article is written for my noble sister Yasmin, may God lighten her burdens.)

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney-based lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University. He is a columnist for the Australian Islamic Review, Online Opinion and altmuslim.com. He is also 1 of 3 Muslim Ambassadors for the 2005 White Ribbon Day campaign in Australia.

© Irfan Yusuf