Monday, January 30, 2006

Secret of the tragedy of Karbala

From Allama Iqbal's epic poem "The Mystries of Selflessness" (Rumuz-i Bekhudi)
translated by A.J. Arberry.

Whoever makes bond with the One
has been delivered from the yoke
of every idol.

Unto Love belongs the true believer, and Love unto him.
Love makes all things possible to us.

Reason is ruthless; Love is even more,
purer, and nimbler, and more unafraid.

Lost in the maze of cause and effect
is reason;

Love strikes boldly in the field
of action.

Crafty reason sets a snare;
Love overthrows the prey with strong right arm.

Reason is rich in fear and doubt; but Love
has firm resolve, faith indissouluble.

Reason constructs, to make a wilderness;
Love lays wide waste, to build all up anew.

Reason is cheap, and plentiful as air;
Love is most scarce to find, and of great price.

Reason stands firm upon phenomena,
But Love is naked of material robes.

Reason says, "Thrust thyself into the fore";
Love answers, "Try thy heart, and prove thyself."

Reason by acquisition is informed
Of other; Love is born of inward grace

And makes account with Self.

Reason declares, "Be happy, and be prosperous";
Love replies,"Become a servant, that you may be free."

Freedom brings full contentment to Love's soul,
Freedom, the driver of Love's riding-beast.

Have you not heard what things in time of war
Love wrought with lustful Reason?

I would speak of the great leader of all men who love
Truly the Lord, that upright cypress-tree
Of the Apostle's garden, Ali's son,

Whose father led the sacrificial feast
That he might prove a mighty offering;
And for the price of the best of men
The Last of the Apostles gave his back
To ride upon, a camel passing fair.

Crimsoned his blood the cheek of jealous Love
(Which theme adorns my verse in beauty bold)
Who is the sublime in our Community

As Say, the Lord is God exalts the Book
Moses and Pharoh, Shabber and Yazid-
From Life spring these conflicting potencies;

Truth lives in Shabbir's strength;
Untruth is that fierce, final anguish of regretful death.

And when the Caliphate first snapped its thread
From the Qur'an, in Freedom's throat was poured
A fatal poison; like a rain-charged cloud

The effulgence of the best of peoples rose
out of the West, to spill on Kerbela,

And in that soil, that was before, a desert,
Sowed, as he died, a field of tulip-blood.

There, till the Resurrection, tyranny
Was evermore cutoff; a garden fair
Immortalizes where his lifeblood surged.

For Truth alone his blood dripped to dust,
Wherefore he has become edifice
Of faith in God's pure Unity.

Indeed had his ambition been for earthly rule,
Not so provisioned would he have set forth
On his last journey, having enemies
Innumerable as the desert sands,
Equal his friends in number to God's Name.

The mystery that was epitomezed
In Abraham and Ishmael through his life
And death stood forth at last in full revealed.

Firm as a mountain-chain was his resolve,
Impetuous, unwavering to its goal.

The Sword is for the glory of the Faith
And is unsheathed but to defend the Law.

The Muslim, servant unto God alone,
Before no Pharaoh cast down his head.
His blood interpreted these mysteries,
And waked our slumbering Community.

He drew the sword There is -none other god-
And shed the blood of them that saved the lie;
Inscribing in the wilderness -save God-

He wrote for all to read the exordium
Of our salvation.

From Husain we learned the riddle of the Book,
and at his flame kindled our torches.

Vanished now from ken Damascus' might, the splendour of Baghdad,
Granada's majesty, all lost to mind;

Yet still the strings he smote within our soul
Vibrate, still ever new our faith abides
In his Allahu Akbar.

Gentle breeze, thou messenger of them that are afar,
Bear these my tears to splash on his holy dust.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hamas Win

This weekend I spent a bit of time, which is more than I usually spend, watching the TV, because of the Hamas win in the Palestinian elections. I saw a press conference with Hamas leadership, and then I watched a three-person panel of two PLO (Fath) people and one Hamas person. This was quite interesting. (The panel was on Al Jazeera, the press conference was on Al Alam, which is an Arabic-language news station funded by Iran.)

Fath is trying its damnedest to paint Hamas as silly and non-serious. The two Fath people on the panel sounded unbelievably condescending as they talked about how Hamas could not possibly fix all the issues facing Palestine while at the same time they admitted that Fath had a "problem with corruption" (which they managed to make sound something cosmetic like wearing the wrong color tie). They made it sound as if Hamas were Aymen Nour or some other johnny-come-lately doing the elections as a sort of lark, instead of a social/political/ideological movement decades old that has had grassroots support from Palestinians not just because it confronts Israel but because it has helped them with social services like clinics.

Yasser Abed Rabboh, who was one of the panelists, and is looking rather youthful compared to the other old guard PLO people, took the cake when he condescendingly suggested that Hamas concern itself with "domestic" issues leaving Fath to deal with the peace process and foreign relations, and "ask" Fath members to take over the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Interior (which to me, is a domestic ministry itself, but what do I know).

The press conference was interesting too if only to drive home the point that Hamas are not a bunch of firebrand screamers but savvy politicians. The Hamas spokesman came across as firm, not crazy, when he spoke of the necessity to reclaim Jerusalem, somehow without calling for Israel's destruction or saying anything definitive about Israel one way or the other. He also pointed out that if the West were to withhold aid, then Hamas would do without it. (Later I heard, from Internet rather than media sources, that Hamas is already planning to get aid from Iran if the West boycotts it. This would not be a good plan from the Western standpoint, so if anyone in the West were to listen to me, I would advise that they not take the absolutist attitude on this issue before at least trying to work with the new, democratically elected Palestinian leadership, whether they would have preferred them to win or not.)

It will be interesting to see what will happen next. I have rather muted hopes for anything positive to come out of this - based on my own pessimistic views - but am praying that I will be wrong. (Briefly, those views are that a) Israel/the west will never allow Hamas to actually do anything positive because that would be the greatest threat of all, the threat of a good example of an alternative to Western models, and b) I do not have really high hopes for religious-based political movements in the long run as I think when they are in power they tend to become really reactionary, and focus on scapegoating of certain powerless minorities, and public enforcement of private morality issues, and usually try to limit women's role in open society, and thus end up not being particularly good for solving their societies' problems. Again, I'd love to be proved wrong on both of these points.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006


On his return journey from his last hajj, our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah gave a khutba that included the following declaration:

Man Kuntu Mowlahu fa haza Aliyun Mowlahu

He of whomever I am the Mowla, Ali is his Mowla

This day is observed and celebrated by Shi'as everywhere. And as an Imami (Twelver) Shi'a myself, I recognize the signifcance of this day. However, I also feel that the day has lost some of its meaning because of the polarizations between the Shi'a and Sunni schools of Islam. As a result, the day can become an exercise in self-righteousnes - "see... we (Shi'as) are the right ones - and they are wrong."

Now, having said this, I don't think that dialogue, and having brotherly and sisterly relations between our respective communities means that we have to give up our differences, or schools of Islam. We can respectfully agree to disagree, and move on to some other unresolvable topic.

But the day is an important one, and by reducing it to a "see, we are right" day - we are losing an opportunity to further our understanding of the words of the Prophet.

I'd like to present a couple of different interpertations that readers of this blog might consider:

Maulana Rumi in the Mathnawi (Nicholson translation, pg. 509) says:

For this reason the Prophet, who labored with the utmost zeal (in devotion) applied the name "protector" (mawla) to himself and to Ali

He said, "My cousin Ali is the protector and friend of every one who is under my protection."

Who is the "protector"? He that sets you free and removes the fetters of servitude from your feet

Since prophethood is the guide to freedom, freedom is bestowed on true believers by the prophets.

Rejoice, O community of true believers: show yourselves to be "free" as the cypress and lily.

But, like the garden, at every moment give unspoken thanks to the Water.

The cypresses and green orchard mutely thank the water (that nourishes them) and show (silent) gratitude for the justice of Spring

Allama Mutahhari discusses the above in greater detail in his discourse on spiritual freedom:

If you plant a tree under a roof, you are depriving it of free space above to attain its full growth. Thus every living being needs freedom for its growth and evolution. What is this freedom? It is the absence of barriers. Free persons are those who fight against all obstacles set in their way of growth and perfection. They do not submit to obstacles.

Dr. Tahir-Ul-Qadri gives another interesting, and intriguing understanding of the declaration:

Therefore, the first man of political legacy was Abū Bakr as-Siddīq (رضي الله عنه), the first man of spiritual legacy was ‘Alī al-Murtadā (عليه السلام), and the first men of intellectual and practical legacy were the Companions (رضي الله عنه). So all these legatees were independently appointed within their own orbits of influence and had no clash or contradiction with one another.

I am sure that both Sunnis and Shi'as will find plenty to disagree over in the above articles. So, my intention here is not to create a firestorm of opposing comments -if you want, read both the articles linked above, you just might find something interesting in either or both.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Coming Soon... The World Social Forum

The sixth annual World Social Forum is being held in Caracas (Venezuela) Bamako (Mali) and Karachi (Pakistan).

The Forum is what it says it is: a Forum for literally thousands of groups devoted to social justice from around the world.

Inshallah, I will be heading out to the one in Caracas in just a few days - where over a hundred thousand activists are expected to gather primarily from Las Americas and Europe. Check out Hot Coals beginning this Saturday for live reports from the WSF.

I'll try to give a Muslim interest spin to the reports - but one that is broad in scope. After all Muslims have similar concerns with the rest of the planet, including the war, corporate globalization, the ruining of our environment, corporatization of food and water... and more.

Check out some recent articles on the Forum:

Threats and Challenges

Global Protest with a Caribbean Twist

Some Hard Questions about the WSF

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Time to Break The Silence

Martin Luther King jr.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr's birthday will be observed, in the United States, on January 16th.

On April 4th 1967 (exactly one year before he was assasinated) King delivered the following words on the US war on Vietnam:

Exceprts from Beyond Vietnam: A time to break the silence

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

click here to read entire speech

click here to listen on ihsan podcast or click for web streaming

A couple of relevant links/blogs

Sunni Sister's blog on Martin Luther King

Izzy Mo on Racism Today

The Third Resurrection Blog: A Black American Orthodox Muslim Blog

Saturday, January 14, 2006

the illuminating moon

Blessed is the One Who has set in heaven great constellations, and has set among them a lamp, and an illuminating moon (Quran 25.61)

Zaytuna section on Sacred Astronomy

Muslims and Astronomy

Mayan Astronomy

Friday, January 13, 2006


The Qur'an
was not revealed to Muhammad
in a single day

the foundations of a house
have to be dug out
and constructed with thought and care

but when the house is half built
should I knock it down
and begin again?

Yes, the rebellious mob before Aaron
were smashed to smithereens
the people of Noah drowned under the deluge

mockers and the whimsical
joined together in graves smaller than matchboxes
infested with scorpions

By day, Al-Bari' calls us to walk gently on the earth
and whenever the fool speaks
answer in peace

by night, to prostrate ourselves in aversion of hell

and be generous to the needy
and invoke no imagined deity
and refrain from killing and adultery

repenting and doing good
telling the truth
avoiding the bacchanalian mob

and remembering that living a lie
is like slow poison
to the soul

99 Names of Allah

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Happy Eid Mubarak!

Place the rest of my life in the hajj and the 'umra seeking Your face, O Lord of the worlds! And may Allah bless Muhammad and his Household, the good, the pure, and peace be upon him and them always and forever! (Imam Zain-Al-Abideen)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Discussing Eid al-Adha

I’ve never really ‘done’ Eid al-Adha. This is one Muslim festival I have problems engaging fully with. I’m vegetarian, and putting aside the short periods where I ate meat to be a ‘proper’ Muslim, and the dark years in the 1990s when I didn’t believe in or care much about anything, I have been a plastic shoe wearing vegetarian since 1981.

Nevertheless, I intend to keep the days in my own way. For the special meal, I will be cooking an East African beanie korma, much beloved by my good friend Jo, and for my daughters and possibly Julie I will be making a warm, homely tarragon flavoured pea and potato soup, from my own recipe, insha Allah! And in this meat-free environment, I will contemplating my understanding of this Eid.

What does Eid al-Adha mean to me? The idea of having a faith so absolute that one is prepared to casually snuff your own son no doubt appeals to a certain mindset, with its connotations of unquestioning faith and superiority of revealed commands over human will and morality. Not me! Time to revisit the story, I think, care of my newly acquired ‘Stories of the Qur’an’ by Mohammad Hifzur Rehman Seoharvi.

Rather than taking the tale literally, I want to explore the story's wider meaning. In my own interpretation, the story of Ibrahim and Isma’il is one of series of narratives surrounding the Prophetic life of Ibrahim, where the common theme is discussion. The first is the discussion between Ibrahim and his father, where Ibrahim is forced to go his own way in order to remain true to his belief in tawhid.

However, such differences were not a matter of animosity, for Ibrahim was “tender hearted, forebearing” (9:114). Indeed, the idea of quiet reasoning continues in the second discussion, with King Namrud. Here, the King attempts to assert God-like qualities, such as being able to take life; but his reasoning is undermined when asked if he was able to make the sun rise in the West.

The theme of discussion continues in the story of the aborted sacrifice of Isma'il. On receiving the revelation calling on him to sacrifice his son, Ibrahim does not leap up and begin sharpening his knife grimly, but first tells his son of the dreams. Only with his son’s consent does he try to enact the sacrifice. His son complies not from fear of or devotion to his father, but from an understanding of tawhid.

Tawhid is at the heart of Ibrahim’s prophetic mission. But even this fundamental understanding is not imposed upon him by a shot of revelation, but instead comes about through a debate with himself, in which he compares the impermanence of the world, including the setting sun, with his own religious feelings of awe and humility at the heart of his God-consciousness.

I do not believe it is necessary to participate in blood sacrifice in order to comply with the will of Allah, at Eid or on any other day. I could never knowingly take the life of an animal, either for food or clothing, in a state of taqwa. This would contradict my belief that Raheem (Mercy) is at the very heart of such awareness. But I will never demand that such practices be abolished.

I simply invite other God-conscious Muslims to a peaceful discussion of the issue. Better still, and perhaps more fitting for this special time, I invite you to consider the issues put forward by vegetarians and vegans, and like Ibrahim (aws), undergo an honest debate with yourself.

Allah knows better.


The Muslim Vegetarian[This is a link to my webpage on animal welfare]

See also:
Islamic Concern
Christian Vegetarians
Jewish Vegetarianism
Active Slaughter
Vegetarian Society
Vegetarian Shoes
Vegan Society
Animal Lib
Ask Carla
Peter Singer

Thoughts from the Eid Graveyard

Today, I decided to go home. It was an interesting experience. Quite a few people had already arrived. There were flowers everywhere, and plenty of marble and tiles. It’s a huge house I’ll be sharing with thousands of others. Each of us will have a small unit, barely wide enough to lay down in. Yep, our very own piece of Rookwood.


I know there are millions who choose not to believe in God. But you’d be crazy not to believe in death. Media moguls may be able to evade taxes, but death overtakes us all.

So when a friend called me this morning to tell me her father had passed away, I sensed that I’d be visiting Rookwood Cemetry fairly soon.

Rookwood Necropolis is one of the heartlands of Australian multiculturalism. If we can’t seem to get along in real life, in death the various faiths and cultures lay side-by-side in peace and quiet. In death, all conflicts are brought to an end and all guns are silenced.

I arrived at the Muslim section of the cemetery at exactly 4pm, the time given for burial. A whole bunch of people were leaving another burial. I presumed they were there for someone else’s funeral. I was wrong.

Islam has a very simple approach to death. When a person dies, you bury them as soon as possible. No point waiting around. Say a small and simple prayer in congregation and follow it up with a burial.

I managed to reach the relevant grave. It was already a covered mound of dirt with a small sign stating the deceased’s name, date of death and age. Perhaps over the next few weeks, the grave will be embellished with a marble frame and a headstone. A simple garland of flowers was placed at the foot of the mound.

I said a short prayer (an all-purpose prayer known as the “Fatiha”) and recited some verses of the Qur’an before blowing a soft breath in the general direction of the deceased. Now that I think about it, I should also have said an additional greeting upon entering the cemetery. “Peace be with you, inhabitants of the graves. You have preceded us and we will be following you shortly!”

On my way back to the car, I noticed quite a large crowd had gathered and were walking toward various graves. Two women wearing headscarves were seated at a grave and were reading the Arabic text of the Qur’an. From the design of their scarves, I could tell they were Turkish.

I walked past graves of all sizes, colours and types. Some graves were just mounds of dirt. Others had a marble frame around the mound whilst others had the mound covered in a slab of marble. Some graves had flowers growing out of them whilst others didn’t.

How graves are kept and maintained is an area of some theological controversy amongst Muslim religious jurists. I guess ordinary mourners just do whatever makes them feel comfortable and helps their grieving process.

One gravestone even had a map of Cyprus on it, signifying that the person buried was a staunchly Cypriot Muslim. Another gravestone described the deceased as “Bapak” (Malay for father), and the name of the deceased had typically Malay abbreviations of Arabic names.

People of all ages were buried there. Quite a few had reached death after spending less years than my 36 in this world. Others weren’t much older. I guess I’d better start pulling my spiritual socks up.

Muslims of all nationalities, ethnicities and sects are buried in the Muslim section. Today was a special day for Muslims to visit their deceased loved ones as it is the day before the biggest and most important feast of the year – the Eid al-Adha or “Feast of the Sacrifice”.

The two Eid’s (the other labelled “Eid al-Fitr” and held to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan) are traditionally times when family and loved ones get together. Even the deceased are included in the festivities, a reminder to those celebrating that death brings an end to all celebration as well as all sorrow.

Tomorrow, thousands will gather at the mosques across Sydney, Melbourne and other cities across the world to celebrate the Eid. I am not sure how my friend will celebrate. She will probably still be mourning. I’ll have to figure out what would be the least insensitive way to wish her a happy Eid.

Death is a sobering thought. After spending hardly 30 minutes surrounded by death, I couldn’t help but think about my own life. When the destination is kept at the front of your mind, the journey itself takes on a whole new meaning.

(Readers are requested to recite fatiha for Mr Abraham Elkhatib and for their own deceased relatives.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Journey of Discovery (part II)

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Part II of Vibes, taken from Na'eem Jeenah (a fellow blogger) and the late Shamima Shaikh's wonderful book: Journey of Discovery - A South African Hajj.

Vibes (part II )

There occurred only one interruption in my intense state; this was as the time for the wukuf ended, just before sunset. I was standing alone in my intense state of communion with my Creator when suddenly some 40 men surrounded me and began a communal supplication that shattered my private and peaceful hymns of praise. This act struck me as singularly inappropriate at a time when hujjaj were spending their last personal moments with The Lord in this unique place. And strangely, some of the men involved were clearly unfamiliar with Urdu - the language of the supplication. They committed the last moments they had left in this blessed place to listening to and acknowledging a strangers' prayers that they did not even understand.

The Third instance occurred on our last day in Makkah. The congregational Jumu'ah was to be my final prayer at the Haram and my farewell to the Ka'bah. Somehow, I reached the Haram a little later than I would have liked, and found that there was space available only on the roof. I was surprised that the roof was fairly empty, until a few minutes after I seated myself and felt the sun beating down on my head. Hats, scarves and umbrellas did not help the other hujjaj. Wearing a hat because I had been bald recently, I walked to the front, which was devoid of shade from pillars or walls. Since most people disliked this full sunlight, there were not many people in the front row and I had an unobstructed view of the the Ka'bah!

I sat there for the next hour and a half, through an Arabic sermon that I could barely make sense of, and after the prayer I lifted my hands to Allah. It was amazing that simply gazing on the Ka'bah could effect me so deeply. I forgot the desert sun and the people around me and - for the last time - filled my senses, my mind and my heart with the sight of this shrine to Allah. And Allah gave me brief access to His Grace, I pray I will again experience that feeling of closeness with my Creator.

In thinking back to these moments I remember - as I and Shamima did many times during the Hajj - one of the comments of Amina Wadud. "Don't have expectations about what you want to achieve from the Hajj,' Amina had said. 'If you do, you might find what you are searching for, but you may never find what Allah wants to show and give you.' These were wise words to those going for Hajj from one who has not made the journey.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Journey of Discovery (part I)

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The article below is taken from Na'eem Jeenah (a fellow blogger) and the late Shamima Shaikh's wonderful book: Journey of Discovery - A South African Hajj.

The Vibes

Before our departure, a few people told us of their experience of certain special 'vibes' on Hajj. At certain moments they had been filled with intense feelings of spirituality or overcome by strong and inexplicable emotions. Although we intended that the Hajj would be an exceptional experience, we were not convinced about this. Our journey to the Holiest of lands would be spent enjoyable fulfilling our duty and perhaps realizing a particular closeness to our Creator. I think I got more than I had bargained for - on three separate occasions.

We had arrived in Madinah on a Thursday afternoon. The next day, as I prepared for Jummu'ah (Friday congregational prayer), I decided to forego the visit to the rawdah and the Prophet's(s) grave. After all, I would have had to go to the mosque very early on that day to get anywhere near that area and all I had was an hour before the Jumu'ah prayer. However, I intended to get as close as possible to the front to the mosque, even if it meant praying on the marble floor outside.

In the courtyard, I made my way slowly towards the front and center of the mosque. I came just inside it, to the Bab al-Jibril (door of the angel Gabriel), the door which traditionally is the preferred entrance to the Prophet's Mosque, especially when one is going to the rawdah and the Prophet's (s) grave. I sat there, prayed my Sunnah before the Jumu'ah congregational prayer, listened to the khutbah (sermon) and prayed my congregational prayer. This amounted to a special moment for me, possibly due to the selfish pride of managing to get as close to the front as I had or the fact that I spent close to two hours at the main door to the Mosque of the Prophet. I sat just a few meters away from what was centuries ago the house of the person who has been the model, the example, the spiritual, social and political Master of billions of people.

I experienced another spiritually uplifting moment at 'Arafah. Seeing millions of people covering those plains was impressive initself, but as people began their wukuf in the afternoon sunlight, as strongly spiritual atmosphere pervaded the air, or, perhaps, simply my being. The wukuf involves standing outside, with upraised hands, praying to the Creator for one's wishes, be they selfish, for society or for the world. A heartwarming sight at 'Arafah was the number of couples standing and praying together. Men who seemed to be conservative Muslims stood with their wives, the two praying quietly, sometimes with the man leading. The heat is virtually unbearable and many people, myself included, would stand in wukuf, then rest or sleep and then resume.

My own wukuf, both when I stood alone, and with Shamima was deeply satisfying. In these moments everything disappeared from my thoughts, from my vision and my hearing; I focused on communicating with The Unseen. With Shamima next to me an dour hands joined, that concentration was further enriched. It was a communication with Allah, made with another of His creatures, to whom I felt a profound closeness. There were unique and treasured moments.

return tomorrow, inshallah, for part II.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sharon, Arafat, Abramoff, and the media

No code of morals can justify the persecution of one people in an attempt to relieve the persecution of another. The cure for the eviction of Jews from Germany is not to be sought in the eviction of Arabs from their homeland; and the relief of Jewish distress may not be accomplished at the cost of inflicting a corresponding distress upon an innocent and peaceful population. (Lloyd George, British Prime Minister 1908-1915, wrote these words in 1938 - quoted in Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilization).
"Abramoff for example diverted money (“charity donations”) to Israeli settlers living illegally on Palestinian lands. His “customers” were told this money is intended for inner city poor Americans. Instead the money bought military hardware to help settlers terrorize native Palestinians. Ironically Native Americans were defrauded into funding oppression and colonization of other native people. Abramoff also used his influence with Congressman Bob Nye to get a government contract worth $3 million to an obscure Israeli security company and on and on."
By Mazin Qumsiyeh

More than a year ago many in the US media focused on how the passing of an ailing Arafat would become the key to unlock the deadlocked peace process (we now know this to be untrue or was vastly exaggerated). There was hardly any US coverage of the nature of his “mysterious illness” (to date there was no diagnosis). There was hardly any coverage the good wishes he received from leaders around the world. Nor was there balanced discussion of his history or even of his Israeli supporters or his Palestinian critics (only Israeli critics were highlighted). Now Sharon is ailing and the contrast in some coverage could not be any more dramatically different. The double standard goes deeper and perhaps relates to the wider problem of US foreign policy credibility around the world.

Arafat, while derided as an obstacle to peace and for cronyism, was imprisoned in his compound in Ramallah by Israeli forces that controlled even his access to food and water. Arafat was actually challenged by nearly half of the Palestinian people for moving away (starting in the 1970s and culminating in Oslo in the 1990s) from national liberation to unbalanced and unfair "negotiations" leading to agreements that failed to protect Palestinian human rights as codified by International law.

Sharon sat as a leader of the fourth or fifth strongest military power in the world (with extensive weapons of mass destruction and significant violations of International law). But Sharon was also responsible for massacres at Qibya in 1953, at Gaza in 1971, at Sabra and Shatila in 1982 (for details, see http://www.indictsharon.net/), and more recently for large scale demolition of Palestinian homes and for targeting civilians (see reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and Israeli Human Rights organizations like B’Tselem). He was even held “personally responsible” for Sabra and Shatila massacres by Israel’s own investigative commission. More recently legal proceedings were brought against him under Belgium’s Universal Jurisdiction laws and a huge pressure from Israeli and US governments were put on the judiciary in Belgium to drop the case.

Most of the world understood that the major obstacle to peace is Israeli colonization and oppression of a native Palestinians in contravention of International law and over 60 UN Security Council resolutions. Most of the world also recognizes that the support by the US government to Israel was critical in its evasion of International law (e.g. about the need to let Palestinian refugees return to their homes and lands). This support was buttressed by the influence of the Israeli lobby in DC and in some media outlets. Most of the world knows it is mere distractions and delays the approach of peace to personalize issues (around Arafat or Sharon), to focus on the violence of those resisting occupation and colonization (but not the violence of the occupier/colonizer), and to speak of unilateral “solutions” that involve walls and Bantustans as advancing peace. Such distractions were attempted in Apartheid South Africa and failed.

Yet, many in the US media persist in trying to use these fig leafs. It is not easy to understand who benefits from vilifying Arafat and making Sharon's policies of dictating unilateral “solutions” look good. Why would one discuss the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza without explaining that per International Law, Gaza remains occupied or that in exchange for withdrawing the 2% of total settlers (from Gaza), Sharon added 4% settlers in the West Bank? One can understand the media’s concern for the health of an Israeli Prime Minister but what should never be excused is shabby journalism and hypocrisy in covering illnesses of leaders like Arafat versus Sharon.

Perhaps other affairs gives more hints of these double standards. Going back, one could site the dubious reasons for invading Iraq while supporting Israel (Israel was and continue to be in violation of 10 times more UN resolutions than Iraq ever was). More recently the Abramoff affair may also shed some light (and may be the straw that breaks the camels’ back). Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding Native American tribes of million and directing the money through fake charities to gain political influence and to help his pet causes. But why is it that many in the US media (with few brave exceptions) failed to mention that his top “cause” and his passion was Israeli colonization of Palestinian lands. Abramoff for example diverted money (“charity donations”) to Israeli settlers living illegally on Palestinian lands. His “customers” were told this money is intended for inner city poor Americans. Instead the money bought military hardware to help settlers terrorize native Palestinians. Ironically Native Americans were defrauded into funding oppression and colonization of other native people. Abramoff also used his influence with Congressman Bob Nye to get a government contract worth $3 million to an obscure Israeli security company and on and on.

But why is this information not being highlighted or even mentioned on the pages of major newspapers or discussed in TV programs.

Could it be that this could harm the “special relationship” between the US and
Israeli governments that is so well guarded now and so detrimental to US public interests. After all, even if one accepts the ludicrous suggestion that Israel is a democracy, why should we give Israel (0.1% of the world population) more money and resources and vetoes at the UN Security council than Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Central America combined? Why should US taxpayers give more federal aid to Israel per capita than many states in the US? One can only be thankful that we have an international mainstream media, some courageous US media outlets that publish such information, and the Internet. Dare we hope that 2006 will be a pivotal year when the avalanche of information and public activism become so large that the fig leafs of misinformation, diversions and double-standards will be swept aside?

1) Contact media outlets

2) Abramoff links

Abramoff lobby "charity" sent money to West Bank Settlers
Money meant for the inner city went to fight the intifada. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7615249/site/newsweek/

Abramoff sent money to Israeli sniper school

Abramoff used Delay to fund anti-Intifada activists

Two former Abramoff Associates flee to Israel

Abramoff lobbied congrssman Robert Nye to award $3 million contract to Israeli company

Abramoff said of Congressman Delay “He’s a religious Christian, I’m a religious Jew. He’s very actively pro-Israel. I’m rabidly pro-Israel. We had a lot of mutual friends as well”

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Imam Jamil Al-Amin interview

Imam Jamil Al-Amin remains an important, if marginalized, voice for social activism amongst Muslims.

In this wide ranging interview by Fred Hampton Jr., the Imam discusses a variety of issues facing African Americans, and Muslims. Especially important are his comments about priorities, and the need for cultivating leadership that is not going to allow itself to be infiltrated (as in COINTELPRO) and will lead with an example of solidarity.

See Planet Grenada's blog entry for more information on this Imam.

And the Imam Jamil web site.

Click here to listen/subscribe on the Ihsan podcast.

Click here to listen to web streaming.

You can write to the Imam here:

Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin
Georgia State Prison
100 Highway 147
Reidsville, Georgia 30499-9701

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

On Australia's Mosque Apartheid

As most Aussies busy themselves watching the latest Test Match between Australia and South Africa, members of the Australian government’s Muslim Community Reference Group are debating how to regulate Imams.

Yasser Soliman, a member of the group and former President of the Federation of Australian Muslim Students & Youth (FAMSY), has suggested some kind of accreditation system be set up.

The Federal Government is concerned about “radical” Imams misleading poor gullible youth into blowing themselves up in the hope of obtaining 72 virgins. Now I realise it is probably a bit hard finding 72 virgins in a place like Sydney (despite it being the second gay capital of the world), but I’d have to doubt any but the most desperate young Muslims would blow themselves up.

The problem is that there are some desperate young men. There are also some real wackos out there teaching what they regard as “authenticated” Islam (or as they would spell it, “Islaam”). The government knows this, and they are getting quite worried.

The situation in Australia is like that of most Western countries. The majority of Muslims are home-grown and young. But Muslim institutions are dominated by middle aged migrant men who insist that mosques be run as personal and family fiefdoms. All peak Muslim bodies are dominated by these men, few of whom can speak English and hardly any of whom understand politics and media in Australia.

Now, these very leaders who refused to engage with the mainstream are being forced to deal with some difficult national security issues. Since the London terror attacks of July 2005, the government and media have become almost paranoid about the possibility of home-grown terrorists.

In recent times, a number of young men in Sydney and Melbourne have been arrested and charges with various offences under anti-terror laws. Almost all these young men were born in Australia, and their alleged ring leader was a “radical” shaykh. At least he may have claimed to be a shaykh.

At present, just about anyone can claim to be an Imam, Shaykh, Maulana etc. In Sydney, we even have a chap who charges money for sharia classes, claiming to have studied with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and at the Islamic University of Madina. Despite numerous requests from persons of varying degrees of repute, he still has not shown us his qualifications.

Some years back, some friends and I wanted to test the waters of Muslim gullibility. We decided to send out an e-mail advising of the national tour of the allegedly famous “Shaykh Mohiyuddin Abdus Salam as-Sumbluq”. This Shaykh was apparently from Mali, spoke 6 languages and was an expert on various classical Islamic disciplines.

I started receiving phone calls and offers to host the Shaykh. Everyone was getting excited about the imminent arrival of this great master. Until I announced that the Shaykh would be accompanied by his wife. And her name?

Shaykha Aisha Sumsheila.

(In case anyone didn’t get it, “Sumbluq” is the Arabic mis-pronunciation of “some bloke” and “Sumsheila” is “some sheila” where sheila is an Australian slang for woman.)

But for the government, gullible youth and pseudo-shaykhs are no laughing matter. The government has set up a Muslim Community Reference Group to advise it on Muslim issues. The Group is dominated by the same migrant cliques and clans who have divided mosques along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Young Muslims feel little incentive to go to mosques where imams cannot speak their language or understand their problems. Imams are employed to perform cultural roles. And the culture is determined not by the Australian environment of young people but rather by the overseas environment of the particular sect or group of the mosque executive.

Imams themselves work under poor conditions. Most imams are paid poorly. For many years, the Imam employed by the Pakistani-dominated mosque at Rooty Hill in Western Sydney was provided with a house that looked like it had survived a tsunami.

Imams are expected to lead all the prayer services, deliver sermons, teach kids, perform marriage and funeral services, mediate family disputes and perform a range of social and pastoral roles forcing most to work a 36 hour day.

Imams are frequently told by ignorant executive members what to preach. I remember seeing one executive member criticising an Imam for expressing an opinion which allegedly contradicted a view expressed in an Indian book of scholarly opinions called “Fatawa Rahimiyya”.

So my suggestion is that before we set standards for imams, perhaps we should set some standards for mosque committees and for their managing societies. Perhaps get rid of the apartheid that currently infests so many mosques in Sydney and Melbourne. When the employers improve, perhaps so will the employees.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005