Friday, December 31, 2004

Which way will it go in 2005

Last few days I have wondered what the future holds for the American muslims. Will they be further marginalized and targetted by the administration while non-muslim americans look the other way. According to a survey by Cornell this doesn't seem too far fetched. Or will the strength of democracy and human rights overpower the frenzied witch-hunts against anything islamic.

Recently involuntary fingerprinting of muslims returning from Toronto made last page news in newspapers in the boonies. CAIR and ACLU joined hands and protested. Some government hack will make an appearance somewhere and talk equality and human rights of muslims and all will be forgotten until the next injustice against muslims. But there's no realistic hope that any feathers will be ruffled. One would live in a fools paradise to expect a similar shakeup of the immigration when chinese woman was beaten up at the border.

Many of the terrorism cases (lackawanna, detroit...) that were initiated with great publicity fizzled without a whimper of protests from most Americans. Being completely wrong didn't faze the administration which subsequently made "arrangements" for the victims to voluntarily leave the US.

On the positive side, many editorials are taking a stand against the use of torture and mockery of Geneva conventions by Gonzales.

So, which way will it go ?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Miracles – Large and Small

When I first met Raheem Khalef in October or November 2003, we sat across from each other at a desk at Family House up the street from Children's Hospital in Oakland, California. Each of us had a phone and we were involved in a conference call with a Arabic/English translator. Raheem wanted to thank me for the gifts that I had delivered for his son, Saleh, who lay in the PICU as a result of the horrific injuries he received from a small bomb that he had inadvertently picked up while en route to school in southern Iraq. When the bomb exploded, it killed Saleh's older brother, Dia, Saleh, against all odds, survived and ultimately ended up in Oakland. But that's another blog entry.

I'd followed Saleh nearly from the start, from the days in PICU when we didn't know from one day to the next if he'd even be alive, to his transfer to the Rehab Unit, to the point when Saleh and his father moved to an apartment in Oakland, and ultimately were granted asylum.

I eagerly followed the news stories that came out periodically. The biggest was a three-day spread in the San Francisco Chronicle and on the corresponding late news in October 2004 of Saleh and Raheem one year later. The big news at that point was that Raheem and Saleh were being allowed to stay and Raheem had a job and a driver's license.

I hightailed it over to the apartment and was met by Raheem, whose first words to me were, "Why don't you ever phone??!!??" as we laughed and hugged each other. I promised not to be such a stranger. I marveled at how fluent Saleh had become in English. I congratulated Raheem on the job, the license, the car! Raheem showed me a photo of his wife, Hadia, and his 3-month-old son, Ali, who had been born while Raheem was here in California with Saleh.

A month later, I heard an update on Saleh's story: His mother, Hadia, his two younger sisters, Zahra and Marwa, and the baby, Ali, had been granted asylum and would be joining Raheem and Saleh in California within months.

This evening, I met Hadia, Zahra, Marwa and Ali!

Having caught the story on the evening news, I threw some holiday cookies onto a plate, called Raheem and immediately headed over to their apartment, eager to meet the woman for whom Raheem and Saleh had pined over the past 15 months. I got there about the same time as Raheem and his friend, Ahmed, returned from a trip to Wal-Mart for clothes and toys for the children.

After exchanging a big hug with Raheem, I was ushered into the apartment and welcomed by Hadia. The girls were a bit shy at first – wondering no doubt who that woman was, chattering away in a language that they could not yet comprehend.

I held baby Ali. A chubby 6-month-old with huge dark eyes and a captivating smile. The girls, Zahra, 5, and Marwa, 3, have the same luminous eyes as their brothers. They both have captivating smiles. After a while, as my strangeness began to wear off and the girls began to overcome their initial shyness, we began to get to know each other a bit. They showed me the new dolls they had gotten. I learned their names and told them mine. At one point, Zahra came over and we sat on the sofa together, she leaning against me and me with an arm around her. There's something special about having a small child cuddle up to you.

We didn't talk much. I watched Raheem hold his son. I watched Saleh chase and tease his sisters. I learned two more words of Arabic. I promised to return soon and often.

As I walked to my car in the pouring rain, I knew that the sun was still shining in a small apartment in Oakland.

Click here to read the story and see the pictures

compassionless conserver II

"Mr. President, the tsunamis death-toll is not topping 120,000."
"Riddle me this squire... is Tony blair e-lected or is it a family thing with him?"
"What do you mean sir?"
"I mean is he ro-yal?"
"I don't believe so sir."
"That's too bad, send him a cookies and cream edition bible and put it through the Hancock-o-matic as well."
"Ehhhhm.... Sir... about the aid?"
"Did Maldives send aid when the killers struck?"
"Good point Sir."
"I'm asking you a question private."
"Oh... sorry sir... I'll have to check."
"You do that... I must be wise about how I spend my newly earned political capital."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

compassionless conserver...

"Mr. President, the tsunami death toll now exceeds 80,000!"
"Yea... but riddle me this... how many are Christians??? What... like five of them?"
"But Mr. President..."
"No butts private."
"But Mr. President... they could become Christians..."
"Hmm.... what would the most compassionate conserving president that has ever graced this oblongish office do? .... I've got it!!! EDIBLE BIBLES!!!!!!!"
"Eureka Mr. President! Read a page, eat a page!"
"And drop off a few cookies and cream bibles for me to inspect you hear? Glass of milk as well."

Ar Rahman

Salaam - usually on Wednesday's I will, inshallah, post cartoons - but given the tragedy in South East Asia - I felt a few verses from the Quran may help us remember.

These are the beginning few ayats from Sura Ar Rahman, Arberry translation.

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

The All-Merciful (Al Rahman) has taught the Quran

Hu created the human (insan)

And Hu has taught him expression (albayan)

The sun and the moon follow a calculated course

and the stars and the trees bow themselves;

and heaven --- Hu raised it up, and set the Balance (almeezan)

Transgress not in the Balance,

and weigh with justice, and skimp not in the Balance.

And earth --- Hu set it down for all beings,

therein fruits, and palm-trees with sheaths,

and grain in the blade, and fragrant herbs.

O which of your Lord's (Rabb) bounties will you and you deny?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Conservative students, liberal profs

Kris Wampler was one of three students who sued the University of North Carolina over a requirement that incoming students read the Quran before coming to campus. Read on...

Monday, December 27, 2004

Muslims & the Empire

Salaams folks

My name is Farid Esack. I live in South Africa and teach at Xavier University in Ohio. I am currently working on issues of Islam and HIV/AIDS, a progressive Islamic response to the empire and an introduction to Contemporary Islam. I shall be blogging once a month on a range of issues. Perhaps testing out ideas that I am preparing for publication.


farid esack

Shortly after the events of 11th September 2001, I had a chat with an African American Muslim woman at an inter-faith gathering. She lamented the disunity of the local (i.e., USA) Muslim community, “Brother”, she said, “if only we could be as united as the Jews, then we can be a guide and leader to the entire world Muslim community in the war on terror and to bring enlightenment to the Muslims.” “Gosh!”, I thought to myself, “on the margins of society because you are black, because you are Muslim and because you are a women, and still you have internalized the discourse of the empire!”

And so we – the Muslims who are inhabitants of the empire – presented as ‘the West’ - are landed with this responsibility to civilize our co-religionist who inhabit the dark lands of suicide bombings wearing dishcloths as substitutes for proper head gear…

Underpinning much of the discourse on “Islam and the West” is a belief that there are some essential “cultural” characteristics of the two civilizations which are radically at odds with each other. What, in this view, prevent the Muslim world from improving its lot along the lines of the advanced Western industrial nations is the intrinsic anti-democratic, anti-rational, anti-freedom, and misogynist impulses of Islam. (All the while we ignore the mirror images of the same “traditional and moral Islamic” values” that characterizes Vatican traditionalism, USA Christian conservatism and ACDP moralism here in South Africa.)

Omitted in this analysis is any attribution of responsibility to the political machinations and economic robbery of the Western powers, at least since the 18th century, when Muslim-ruled India and Egypt began to face their direct wrath and violence. The way that these two centers of Muslim culture and power, in addition to the lands of the Ottoman Empire, were besieged by the West, the subsequent socio-economic regression and the repression of successive local political experiments with democracy and popular sovereignty are common cause.

Any discussion of Islam that fails to identify the West’s culpability in perpetuating neo-colonialism and authoritarianism in many countries in the Muslim world (and, of course, much beyond) throughout the 20th century up till today can be rather misleading. Chris Harman, in his essay The Prophet and the Proletariat, documents how the, “oil wealth of the Arabian peninsula is in the hands of Western multinationals, which share some of it with a narrow stratum of local rulers while the mass of the population live in poverty. (Black Economic Empowerment, here we come!) The IMF and the World Bank still dictate economic programs to countries such as Egypt and Algeria, much as Lord Cromer did when he ran Egypt for its British and French debtors in the 1880s.” One could add to this the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq and the crucial U.S. support that undemocratic and authoritarian regimes such as the ones in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan rely upon to stay in power. The 'resistance to democracy' in the Arab world even today, as scholars such as Shahid Alam have pointed out, “does not come from their population. It comes from neo-colonial surrogates - brutal military dictatorships and absolutist monarchies - imposed by a United States determined to safeguard oil and Israel.”

The contours of this discussion do not even begin to address the problematic and narrow comprehension we are compelled to accept of concepts such as “freedoms” and “democracy.” That road would lead us to interrogate what Anouar Majid identifies as a “liberal discourse where the individual was constructed as a bundle of rights and the new society was seen as an arithmetic sum of individual aims.” An examination of the nature of these virtues as they are practiced today would reveal their non-application in much of the socio-economic realm and their ability to bound social inquiry and debate within very narrow parameters. Freedom, for the majority of working people in the so-called developed world, becomes something to be experienced solely on the market with our cash, our freedom to choose between McDonald’s or Burger King, Ford or Toyota, and so on. Are we ever allowed to ask for freedom from the dehumanizing institutions of the market such as corporate private tyranny with its dominance over all facets of human life, for freedom from market effects such as poverty, unemployment, lack of access to health care? Can the term democracy extend beyond a formal political category employed at home to dupe the masses in believing there is substantive participation where there is none, and used abroad as a pretext for maintaining and expanding the power and wealth of elites?

Of course, these questions touch upon only one feature of the troublesome talk of the West’s “greatness.” What is absent from, yet so profoundly important for, analysis on these issues is the re-calibration of a progress narrative that fails to discern its winners and losers. While there were significant and influential sectors of European society supporting Enlightenment values and making important social, political, and economic concessions to their toiling classes, these same European elites drew the sharpest edges of their swords and weapons to brutalize non-white peoples of the world, preventing them from experiencing even a modicum of the “freedom” and “democracy” with which the West was beginning to flirt. It is claimed that incessantly harping upon the past is like beating a dead horse, and this will do us no good today. The point of raising awareness of a history of injustices is so that the collective conscience of the present can take concrete steps to remedy that past. And if the belief is “that was then, and this is now,” and that sordid historical period has no bearing on the present dire straits of the majority of the world, then there still do remain a couple of explanations to fall back on, albeit all of them being racist to the core, attributing “differences” to either cultural or mental/psychological deficiencies or to biological/genetic inferiority.

Muslims in the West struggling to articulate and actualize progressive values in our communities need to be keenly aware of our own location vis-à-vis the global Muslim community. We are but one small segment, albeit a highly privileged one, of the world’s Muslim population. We must not replicate the habits of an Empire that arrogates to itself the right to re-write Islamic education of Muslim countries, stage-manage their elections, and formulate their laws and economic policy without ever interrogating the appetite and greed of the monster whose appeasement determines our survival or destruction.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Happy Boxing Day!

I always assumed Boxing Day was marketing slang for the one and only day English retailers un-clenched their stingy buttocks for 12 glorious hours to offer massive discounts... boy was I mistaken... apparently the term Boxing Day dates back to an Dickensesque era when the gap between rich & poor was the difference between being drawn by a carriage and having your foot smashed by one's oak-wheel... The good ole' days when a tuxedo clad stately clubbed one's forehead for not raising one's hat.

Turns out, Boxing Day originates from the more-fortunate 'boxing up' their superfluous gifts and handing them out to those less fortunate...

...But what did peasants do with sturgeon-eggs and elephant rifles... Burgundy safari-suits... jewel encrusted piss pots...? Pink Marzipan lingerie? Guess they all make fine gifts to thy lord... the following Christmas...

More on Boxing Day here...

HIV and AIDS: Positive Muslims

The posts on Muslims in London (My trip to the UK and London is a dump for Muslims) raised important questions about the kind of activism we need, given the conditions Muslims live under these days in the US , Canada, UK, and Europe... An important point was made about living and breathing the lives of our communities - and not making loud noises from an ivory tower somewhere.

Ninhajaba commented:

Its time for our community spokespersons (self-appointed or other) to step out of the ivory towers and come take a look at how folks are really living. And then begin the dialogue on Activism that focuses on uplifting Muslims in need, as opposed to all the "we is just like yall" shuckin' and jivin' that seems to have invaded so many Muslim circles, regardless of their interpretations of Islam.

One of my first involvement in "social work" was working with People With AIDS in San Francisco. At the time most people, including activists, still considered AIDS a gay white man's disease, and the training I received reflected some of this misperception. I was trained as an "Emotional Support Volunteer" for the Shanti Project - that gave me an understanding of HIV and AIDS, the stigma, the medications, and most importantly, helped me work through my own prejuduices.

I worked with two men - both of whom were in advanced stages - and passed away within a year. Being an emotional support volunteer within the context of the Shanti Project was different than being a therapist - my role was to "be there" - to listen - and be available for all the range of emotions that come up when one knows that life is terminal. This role gave me a glimpse of the "inside" that is just not available to many Social Workers or therapists (or even close friends and family) unless one has had a very long term relationship. Imagine all of life, and relationships, and the emotions involved becoming compressed to just a year - or sometimes less. And then add the stigma, and then add to this the politics of AIDS - the denial, and the sometimes shunning from family and friends. You get the idea? Maybe...

I'd like to introduce the readers of this blog to Positive Muslims - a South African organization that works and advocates for Muslims with AIDS.

(Abu Dharr - a contributor to this blog - interned with this organization, and has promised a blog entry on his experience, and on the politics of AIDS in South Africa within the next two days (he has a deadline for Tuesday midnight :-)).

But here are a few excerpts from their web site:

From HIV/AIDS and Islam

Is HIV a threat to Muslim communities?

Every single country in the world has been affected by HIV, including Muslim countries.
The United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that since the start of the global HIV pandemic around 29.4 million people have been infected with HIV. Although many Muslim countries claim that they have not been affected by HIV, this is not true. HIV infections have been reported in every single Muslim country. According to UNAIDS there are an estimated 300 000 people living with HIV in North Africa and the Middle East. Anyone can become infected by HIV, including Muslims.

From Responses

The Muslim community, although not openly hostile to the issue of HIV/AIDS, has been very complacent and slow to respond to the needs of Muslims living with HIV/AIDS. According to Fahmeeda Miller, an AIDS activist who is also HIV positive, Muslim organisations that she contacted appeared to have been more concerned about how one became HIV positive as opposed to asking how they were able to assist those who are living with HIV/AIDS. This has led many Muslims, including Fahmeeda Miller at certain stages, to become very despondent.

The alienation of people living with HIV/AIDS is not only limited to the Muslim community. It extends to black communities such as in KwaZulu Natal where Gugu Dlamini an AIDS activists, was murdered for talking about her experiences as an HIV positive person.

And from Theology of Compassion

As Muslims we must ask how can we can contain the beast and how can we limit the damage that it wreaks upon is. When we come across those who have been touched by it; we need to embody the compassion that we expect from Allah. “And humankind have been created frail” says the Qur’an. This is why everyone of us is utterly, utterly dependent on the grace and mercy of Allah. It is not our deeds that will save us – that may help – it is ultimately the boundless grace of Allah.

When each one of us is so equally dependent on that grace – we need to go slowly in our handing out of labels of “innocent” and “guilty”, “worthy of compassion” and “unworthy of compassion.” My bother, son or father who is on umrah can be infected with HIV by the blade that is used to shave his hair. Will we ask him to wear a label – “touched but innocent” around his neck when it comes to light that he is HIV+, will we leave his food at his bedroom door so that we can not be touched; will we say that the word condom must never be used...?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bring 'em home, Rummy, Bring 'em home!

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StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Khalil Bendib is a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

"Only the saying, ' Peace!' 'Peace!'

Last night I asked my daughter, "Bring me a comforting book--Agatha Christie or something." That good girl, she handed me the Qur'an. (Yusuf Ali translation). I opened right to this:

"A Reward for the Deeds of their past (Life).

No frivolity will they
Hear therein, nor any
Taint of ill--

Only the saying,
'Peace!' 'Peace!' "

Surat al-Waqi'ah, 56:24-26.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Scattered Thoughts, Not Unrelated

Developing the nervous habits of totalitarianism
Don't say this, don't say that, you mean it well, but it might not be safe . . .

"For evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good people to do nothing."

The Civil Liberties Union is suing: Prisoners at Guantanamo
Seen by FBI, 24 hours chained in a fetal position with no food, no water
No bathroom, of course . . . is it torture yet, or are we still saying, "abuse"?

Developing the nervous habits of totalitarianism
I see how it worked, now, with the Nazis. "Why did ordinary Germans let it happen?" we used to wonder.

Too much to lose. "My career is just starting! This could ruin my future!"
"I'm doing good here in my job. If I lose my job, who'll teach these children?
"I can't offend the Government, I'd be deported." "If I lose my job, who'll support my family?"
"I can't risk going to prison, I have claustrophobia."

I don't despise those Germans anymore. Of course Nelson Mandela didn't say these things.
He went to prison for 25 years. Can we be Nelson Mandela? Or maybe just a bit of him? Or not?

Lunch last week with a Vietnamese friend, a Lao friend. "The U.S. dropped more bombs on Laos than
they dropped in World War II. Laos is a poor country. But people can't grow food because the fields
are full of cluster bombs. I saw a special--people missing arms, legs, eyes . . . I cried."
Thus spoke the Lao friend. "And now we're doing it in Iraq." This from the Vietnamese friend.

From public radio, a nationwide study. People can't afford housing. For a one-bedroom apartment
You have to make $15.00 an hour. Minimum wage is $5.15.

Perhaps this system will crumble from its own rottenness, this system of greed and lies.
Perhaps the Democrats will find their guts. Or maybe the Tooth Fairy will come and save us.
But it's safer to talk about sexism and homophobia than to talk about imperialist oppression,
At least for Muslims. Or is it perfectly safe and I'm just paranoid?

For the lighties and toppies (young and old South Africans), I have to say I find
"The Scatterlings of Africa" by Juluka a lot more inspiring than the bombastic blitherings of
'America, love it or leave it'. I stand with the good people, whoever they are. The people who
speak truth, not spin; who fight through the clouds of half-truths; who seek the peace.
The people who just want to farm their fields. The people who say, "Why? Why?"

Our old friend just left for Najaf, returning home after 20 years. The chances of his being dead in the
latest attack (60 killed), are minimal I suppose. Wahabis on the one side, empire on the other
Is there no third choice?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Activism as a Spiritual Practice?

With all the quandary that surfaced before and after the launching of PMU, especially in the manners the difference were expressed in some of the exchanges, I can’t help but smile a little to the irony that even the ‘progressive’ Muslims are not immune to the very same mess that other ‘not-so-progressive’ Muslims enjoy—namely, power-struggle, name-calling, taking things out of context, or just trying to win the argument even if you don’t make sense anymore (even to yourself).

Being engaged in social activism triggers lots of pleasant and unpleasant feelings and brings up various issues within ourselves. Although social issues are discussed at the intellectual level, I believe that what really moves and drives us to engage in activism is what we feel and hold within--in our hearts and in our body. Whether it is a compassion for the oppressed or the anger towards the oppression or desire for justice or love of service—or just the excitement of being in politics, we all have our tangible inner experiences that motivates us to be engaged in social activism.

For that reason, I think it is just as important to pay attention to how we ‘feel’ about a certain issue as we engage in activism as what we ‘think’ about it. Although we’d like to think that we are rational/logical beings, the truth is that we are also emotional beings. And when we aren’t aware of our emotions or ignore/dismiss them, that part of us has a tendency to take over the control without our awareness or consciousness.

As I learn more about Sufism, my appreciation deepens for what it teaches me in cultivating presence and inner reflection. Ideally, as Muslims, everything we do is supposed to be for the sake of God, or for Allah’s pleasure. But what does it really mean? As I examine my ego closely and honestly, I find that it is very difficult to do things just to please God. My ego tricks me into thinking that I’m doing something for Allah’s sake, but upon further reflection (or years later when I know myself better) I realize that I was only pleasing my nafs.

Activism brings out ‘great’ stuff within me like anger, judgment, self-righteousness, hopelessness etc. just to name a few. After all, I’m the one who has to flip the channel every time George Bush comes on TV--I really can’t stomach the guy. I’m the one who thinks, "GEE, how could ANYBODY be a Republican?" And every time I do this, I’m faced with my ego’s trick for self-aggrandizement, contemptuousness, pride, superiority, judgement and the list goes on.

This is not to say that action should not be taken against the acts of oppression. However, I think activism can provide a fertile ground for spiritual practice, as it sure triggers lots of stuff. If we pay close attention to our feelings, reactions and triggers while we engage in activism and do what it takes to ‘polish our mirror’, it would not only benefit ourselves but also the work we do. At the least, we would be engaging in it more effectively. If we can tackle our tricky nafs and polish that nasty gunk off our mirror, may be we will be able to see things better and more clearly. We may just be able to respond (rather than react) to that maddening email from a totally different space within. And God willing, we may be able to come from a place of understanding, acceptance and respect—and maybe even love (OK, that may be a bit too much to ask for but you know what I mean.) At any rate, I think it might help us clear our intentions for engaging in activism and enable us to ‘surrender’ our nafs so we can do it a little more purely for the sake of God to the best of our understanding and ability.

Trip to UK part I


Recently, I had my first opportunity to visit the UK. The major part of my stay was in London, and most of my interaction was with Muslims. Since I've lived in the U.S. for most of my life, I was able to make some rudimentary observations and comparisons. Two aspects of my visit really struck me, one of which I'll address here and the other one I'll address later.

Muslims in the UK seemed much more open and confident about their Islamic identity than Muslims in the U.S. Perhaps more than that, Muslims, along with others, seemed to take pride in their "non-gora" status ("gora" is a South Asian term describing the "white man"; it can be used condescendingly, but need not be). Riding on the tube in London, seeing the "subjects" of all nationalities of the old British Empire all gathered in London, and realizing that they were re-claiming their space as equals, was a beautiful experience.

Of course, the point is not to present the UK is the modern paragon of racial equality. What seemed more important to me was the facility with which Muslims have entered all areas of social life, but have at the same time maintained a very strong Islamic identity, a lasting affinity with the culture and language of their parents or grandparents, and a commitment to never let off the hook any abuses or discrimination they suffer due to the system. Of these qualities, the language element was most surprising, although I'd heard anecdotal stories about it from other family members earlier in my life. Second and third generation South Asian Muslims were speaking fluent Urdu, or Punjabi or even dialects of Punjabi! It was a contrast with my experience in the U.S., where it's neither encouraged nor is it too fashionable to be too fluent in these languages of the Orient. In addition, the dividing line that separates American-born desis (a term for South Asians) from desis who come from Pakistan or India as students or workers in the US (who are condescendingly characterized as "FOB"-fresh off the boat) is to a great extent blurred in the UK.

My cousin Saleem and I chatted about this in London. He said something which seemed quite profound. He said, "In the UK, Muslims don't take crap from either their parents OR from the system (or from the "gora"). In the US, it seems like Muslims only do the former." We had also come to realize how much class background played a role in this. A majority of the South Asian Muslims who migrated to the UK peformed working class jobs. This is in contrast to a majority of South Asian Muslims who came to the US in the 1960s and 1970s as middle class professionals. Many of the South Asian migrants in the UK experienced racist and class oppression, and organized and fought back. Their children organized and fought back even harder, to the level where Saleem's point comes home ("they will not take crap from the system now"). The middle class hang-ups of many Muslim families in the U.S., associated with how we can present ourselves as "one of them" (them being White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans), never afflicted UK Muslims, thankfully.

I was told to be very careful at the airport in London because I fit the "profile." So it was a relief that BOTH at immigration as well as at customs, I was being profiled by two young women in hijab, respectively! Many Muslims in the U.S. like to talk about where else do Muslims have as much freedom as they do in the U.S. This claim was held well before 9/11. After 9/11 and the curtailment of civil liberties, one would think only the most foolish would persist with this line of argument. But judging from how much one STILL hears this mantra from American Muslim "intellectuals" . . . well, I'll let you be the judge! I think Muslim professionals in the US accumulating mucho dinero all their lives need to take a trip away from the "homeland" before they make such presumptuous remarks. The UK and South Africa would be good destinations for starters.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Remembering Mevlana...

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Rumi's urs (Sheb-i-Arus) is usually observed on the night of December 17th. A few words from the mathnawi to remember him... (Nicholson's translation Mathnawi, Book I: 1510-1513 )

...If we come to ignorance, that is His prison, and if we come to knowledge, that is His palace

And if we come to sleep, we are His intoxicated ones; and if to wakefulness, we are in His hands;

And if we weep, we are a cloud laden with bounty dispensed by Him;

And if we laugh, at that time we are His lightening;

And if we come to wrate and war, it is the reflection of His Might;

And if to peace and forgiveness, it is the reflection of His Love...

The ceremony of turning (Sema) in the Mevlevi tradition - performed on this night - comes to a close with a recitiation from the Quran:

Walillahi almashriqu waalmaghribu faaynama tuwalloo fathamma wajhu Allahi inna Allaha wasiAAun AAaleemun

To Allah belongs the East and the West
And weresoever you turn,
there is the Face of Allah;
Allah is All-embracing, All-knowing (2:115, Arberry translation)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Message from the Iraqi resistance

On the Information Clearinghouse website I frequent, I found this message from the media platoon of the Islamic Jihad Army. This group claims to be resisting the US occupation.

This message is different from the previous Osama or Zarqawi tapes. The speaker is quite articulate and the message is neither threatening nor damning the non-muslims, and is in english.

You may watch the video or just read the transcript.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Meaning of War

(This poem, intended for Ihsan, got mistakenly posted on another blog by peace4all - I'm forwarding it here - Altaf)


Thought I might share this poem my 12 year old daughter wrote recently........peace

The meaning of War

By: Suhayla

When will this war end
Has it really even begun
Would there of been a finish
If there never was a start

Can you really tell me the explanation of this war
Was it because of saddam, bin laden, or neither nor
Could it just of been
Just because
Did Bush want to have it, just to have some fun

Was this the point of the war
To send troops over there
To torture people who had nothing to do with it and that weren’t treated fair
And the troops tortured them without a single care
But when you hear that one of them dies you kinda think it’s fair

It’s not their fault if one of our people die
What, you want us to fight them
And them not even touch a fly

If you really had common sense, then I think you should know
In a war, when it starts, you can’t just expect to go
And your opponents fighting against you
Not to put up an equal fight

What if you’d done nothing
And some people come bomb your home
Now you’re sitting outside, huddled all alone

Listening to people screaming, crying, and fighting
Listening to gun shots in the air
Now another one is firing

What would you do if it were your country and your national home
Now you must just sit there, watching it get destroyed

Do you still think that they really are the ones,
Who came over and killed everybody else
They didn’t wreck our whole country
And ruin the lives of all the little ones
I think we should be the very greatful ones

So they got saddam and ruined the whole country
So what are they still doing taking over families

I don’t know about you, but it makes me really sick
Seeing a soldier sleeping in a bed
Where a poor kid once did

Now the soldiers don’t seem as bad off to me,
As the kid that once lived
In the tiny little house that used to be called his

But now where has he gone
The soldiers have taken his house
Has he died or has he vanished,
And if he has, will the soldiers now also claim his house

Now that you have heard this
Is this really the meaning of war?

a short poem i wrote in south africa

Sometimes the valves of my heart

open and close like sea plants

And in this spot I long to dig

A well as mysterious as zam zam

Show me the meaning of empty

Beyond a mere splintered heart

The empty that comes

From burning down this wall

Between lover and beloved

And if I ever become a shell

Smash it to pieces

In the beauty that knows no other beauty

(Writing from Islamabad, Pakistan, but more on that later)

Smoking and Me

Twenty years ago on this day, and few weeks after my 18th birthday, I lit my first cigarette. I proudly called myself an occasional smoker until realization one day that each day had become an occasion. I have been a smoker since then.

Being a healthy kid and an avid runner/swimmer, I wasn’t plagued with the common problems exhibited by other smokers my age. In fact I was physically more fit than most non-smokers. I took great pride racing my non-smoking friends up twenty flights of stairs and I could still participate and win long distance races followed by a leisurely smoke when I finished college.

I ignored parental advice against this habit. The girl who mattered most to me in the world (and still does), for reasons of her own didn’t have an opinion. She later became my fiancée and has been my wife for 13 ½ years. She did have an opinion a year into the marriage, but I didn’t want to give up something that I truly relished and enjoyed. Her protests however were few and far between due to a known ‘stubborn as mule’ nature of mine. And I never contemplated quitting.

For reasons, I am not going to list here I realized this weekend that I am truly fortunate to enjoy good health despite abusing my lungs for two decades with 20+ shots of nicotine each day. And like all decisions in my life, I decided impulsively to give it up. I want to be the gambler who quit when he was ahead. But being a cautious optimist, my strategy was to cut down to four cigarettes a day, and wean myself off slowly.

Today is Day 3 and I am still on track.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Statement on Death Penalty Case in Iran

Intro: I heard today on a Progressive Muslim mailing list about this case. A young girl, Leyla M, diagnosed with a mental age of 8 although she is currently 19, has been sentenced to death for sexual lewdness committed while a child (according to Amnesty International she says her mother sold her into prostitution from age 8). For more info check out Amnesty International UK's webpage - this case is on its front page right now. http://www.amnesty.org.uk

Begin text of letter:

Your Excellency:

As a practicing Muslim, with a lay person's understanding of Islamic law, I am very upset that Leyla M has been sentenced to death for offences committed when she was a child and given that she is mentally disabled.

It has been the case historically that people with diminished mental abilities are not punished for their actions under Sharia law as they do not have "rushd" or "balagha" mentally.

In the interests both of justice and mercy (for which you will have to answer to God on the Day of Judgment) I strongly urge the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran to carry out an urgent review of her case, and I call on the Iranian Supreme Court to ensure that Article 41 of the draft law on the Establishment of Children's Courts has been implemented, which requires social workers and psychiatrists to examine defendants such as Leyla M.

I also want to strongly stress that given that Iran is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political rights, this death sentence on crimes committed while she was a child would violate it.

I have read that Amnesty International has recorded 10 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990, three of them in 2004, and call on the Iranian authorities to immediately halt further executions of child offenders, a practice which violates the spirit and letter of Islamic Law.

Anna Ghonim
Cairo, Egypt

To anyone interested in contacting the Iranian authorities, here are the addresses listed on the Amnesty International UK Website.

Please, those of you with Shia background or Farsi language skills, consider writing a similar appeal to the Iranian authorities.

Appeal Address

Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed 'AliKhamenei
The Presidency,
Palestine Avenue,
Azerbaijan Intersection,
Tehran,Islamic Republic of Iran

Fax: 00 98 21 649 5880 (please mark 'For the attention of the Office of His Excellency, Ayatollah al Udhma Khamenei, Qom)

Email: (on the subject line write: For the attention of the Officeof His Excellency Ayatollah al Udhma Khamenei, Qom)
[Salutation:Your Excellency]
Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice,Park-e Shahr,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Email: irjpr@iranjudiciary.org (mark 'Please forward to HE AyatollahShahroudi')[Salutation: Your Excellency]

Please send copies of your appeals to:
His Excellency Mr Morteza Sarmadi,
Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran,
16 Prince's Gate,LondonSW7 1PTFax: 020 7589 4440
Article 90 Commission Chairperson,
Article 90 Commission (Komisyon-e Asl-e Navad)
Majles-e Shura-ye Eslami,
Imam Khomeini Avenue,
Tehran,Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: 00 98 21 646 1746 (can be difficult to reach, please be patient)


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ever been a Muslim?

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

StudioBendib, All rights reserved. For more
Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Khalil Bendib is a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

Chance Encounters

"Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious." Noble Qur'ân 16:125

On Friday, one of the Sisters at the masjid mentioned that she was thinking of getting a Christmas tree this year. I said that I didn't see anything wrong with that, not really. It's not about being Christian. It's about a season of togetherness and reaching out to the people around us. And it really makes the place smell incredibly good.

It made me think about my own childhood. My mom, a lapsed Jew, and me, growing up in the Unitarian traditions of tolerance and exploration of the faiths of others. We always had a Christmas tree, although we laughingly called it a Chanukah Bush and put a Star of David on the top, cut from cardboard and carefully covered with tinfoil.

We were about as secular as it got. It wasn't about midnight mass or the miraculous birth of Jesus, although I knew about that part of it, sort of. Our traditions were about Santa Claus coming up the front walk because we didn't have a fireplace, let alone a chimney. It was about leaving cookies for Santa and a carrot or two for Rudolph. Mom always made sure there were oatmeal cookies and tangerines in my stocking so that I'd get something nutritious first thing on Christmas morning.

To this day, whenever I smell evergreen trees, it sends me back to those warm and wonderful days of my youth and the laughter. Always the laughter.

Now, of course, I'm a Muslim and we don't have Christmas. We have the warmth and community of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and sometimes it falls in December. That's when the rest of the world thinks Ramadan is our "Winter Holiday".

As my friend Saheed and I were leaving the masjid following Juma'ah prayers last Friday, we were approached by an older man who smiled and asked us if we wouldn't mind his being stupid and asking when Ramadan was and if it was sort of the Muslim Christmas.

I gently explained that Ramadan had ended nearly a month previously and because Muslims follow a true lunar calendar, each year Ramadan falls ten days earlier, so that next year, it would begin in early October. This led into a discussion about the building that houses our masjid. He had heard that it had been built by the daughter of some very rich man who used it for a party house. I told him that I didn't know about that, but I did know that it used to be a Masonic Temple.

I urged him to feel free to visit our Center and see what a beautiful space we have been blessed with. We parted with smiles and I feel good, knowing that someone now has a better understanding of who we are as Muslims.

Monday, December 13, 2004

It was I who armed le Musselman!
I who lead you--
I who fed you--
I who burned--
flames of red-orange,
teeter totter fair glory fair dictators,
...let the umma rejoice le Musselman's sacred voice.

Islamotrivia, part 1

Salam all,

You know how sometimes you start to wonder about something very, very trivial? Well, the other day I was watching a TV show about a hospital (I really don't know what it was, sorry) and at one point a character said to another one, "Sometimes, the mountain comes to Mohammed." I have heard variants on this expression in America but never in a Muslim country (I think the full expression/proverb is "if you can't bring Mohammed to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammad"). So, what the heck is its origin? Yes, I know I could use Google. But how about you all post suggestions and I will come back and clue you all in later as to the answer.

And I think trivia should be a regular category on Ihsan. As we progressive types always tend to take ourselves a lot too seriously.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Quran - Ayats and translations...

There are so many translations/interpertations available in English these days - I thought it'd be useful to compare the various popular translations around, and note the subtle, and not so subtle differences. The ayat I've chosen for this entry is from the 29th Chapter - The Spider (29:69)

Waallatheena jahadoo feena lanahdiyannahum subulana wa-inna Allaha lamaAAa almuhsineena

We shall guide those who strive in Our cause to the paths leading straight to Us. Surely God is with those who do good. (Ahmed Ali)

But those who struggle in Our cause, surely We shall guide them in Our ways; and God is with the good-doers. (Arberry)

But as for those who strive hard in Our cause - We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead onto Us: for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good. (Asad)

Those who struggle for Us - We shall guide them on Our paths, and Allah is with those who do what is beautiful. (Chittick/Murata - from Vision of Islam)

As for those who struggle for Our sake, We will guide them in Our ways. For God is with those who do good. (Cleary)

As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good. (Pickthal)

And (as for) those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them in Our ways; and Allah is most surely with the doers of good. (Shakir)

And those who strive in Our (cause),- We will certainly guide them to our Paths: For verily Allah is with those who do right. (Yusufali)

Afghanistan - the Good War? Why???

Lately I have noticed that there are some things in the American discourse that seem to shut out a particular view as being "beyond the pale" taking it for granted that everyone else will agree with this assumption. (Darn. That does not sound coherent.)

I am aware that this is not new. For example, Chomsky documented since the 60s that the US discourse re: Vietnam never, ever discussed the US actions as an "invasion of South Vietnam" although there is no dictionary definition of "invasion" on the planet that would absolve the U.S. of precisely that action.

Lately a particular issue has been bothering me. It concerns the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan right after the September 11 attacks. At the time the U.S. was preparing to bomb, I was in the U.S. for a conference, reading newspapers as fast as I could. I distinctly remember that the Taleban made an offer to the U.S. to turn over Osama Bin Laden and that I was profoundly relieved that obviously, we could get him tried for the crimes without having to bomb a country and kill a lot of innocent people. But the next day or the day following, the U.S. started bombing the Hell out of Afghanistan, killing thousands, and shortly after that their mission morphed from "getting Osama" to "overthrowing the Taleban regime".

Now, not so very many years later, I feel like these memories are either a hallucination, or everyone in the left-liberal U.S. spectrum has serious amnesia, because I keep hearing about the fact that though we can argue the war in Iraq was a bad idea, NO ONE can possibly question that the US HAD to bomb Afghanistan; it just had no choice.

Also I hear that the bombing of Afghanistan was a complete military success, which bothers me yet again, because a) if the point of it was to "get Osama," he was not gotten, and b) if the point was to overthrow the Taleban, well, they were momentarily overthrown, replaced with warlords of less theocratic tendencies but capable of just as much oppression, and now the Taleban are still a political force to be reckoned with in Afghani politics. It seems like it was a colossal failure, both from the military standpoint, and from the moral one.

If this understanding of mine is wrong and I am missing some self-evident point that is so obvious it is never voiced, I wish someone would clue me in! As usual, I am "confused in Cairo."

Friday, December 10, 2004

$156M awarded in teen's killing

From CNN

"Three Islamic charities and an alleged fund-raiser for the Palestinian militant group Hamas were ordered Wednesday to pay $156 million to the parents of an American teenager killed by terrorists outside Jerusalem."

Full story at http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/12/08/islamic.charities.suit.ap/index.html

Its a sad day for justice in the US. These charities have their funds frozen for their alleged support of Hamas under a federal indictment. They are yet to be proven guilty of the alleged support, but are required to pay millions that they don't have to the family of the victim. One could wonder how the courts would deal with lawsuits from palestinians against jewish charities whose funds are used to build settlements on stolen lands. Or a lawsuit against Caterpillar which made the bulldozer that crushed Rachel Corrie to death.

More on Productivity

Yes, making 'productivity' the highest goal creates a situation in which fewer people are doing more work for the same pay at the social expense of unemployment, lifestyle deterioration (for those who retain their jobs) and customer safety and satisfaction.

Another problem with 'productivity' is the fact that the more useless plastic crap you produce, the more you use up resources and create polution, waste, landfills, etc. And while some of the stuff that's produced is actually useful, a lot of it can only be shoved down people's throats because million dollar advertising budgets convince them they need to have it, often by making them feel they'll be inadequate human beings if they don't. This situation produces pain and suffering in many who can't afford the 'desirable' products and obnoxious egotism in many who can, while perpetuating a system of false values: that people are to be valued not for their courage or intelligence or kindness or perseverance, but for what they own however it was acquired.

There's a quote from a famous American Indian chief (sorry, not sure who) to the affect that, 'Only when the last buffalo is dead and the land and water are destroyed will people discover that you can't eat money.' This belief that money is more important than God, people, animals or the earth is all around us, but I've seen two really glaring examples of it that will stick with me for life.

In the 1980's I was a court reporter, working for a while in probate court, which handled guardianships. A guardian was requesting to resign her conservatorship of a person whose funds had run out. "What I liked was handling the money," she said. "After all, we all know that money is more interesting than people." Everybody in the courtroom was dumbstruck, but I had a strong sense from the looks on people's faces that we were gobsmacked for two different reasons. The judge, the court clerk, one lawyer and I looked at each other like, "Is she nuts? We don't think that!" But a couple of the other lawyers had looks on their faces that said, "Well yes, that's true, but you're not supposed to say it!"

The second one is even worse. A few years ago I heard someone on public radio say, "We must do something about the enormous death rate in Africa, because if these people are dead, they can't buy our products." Yes, I really heard that. 'Uthu billahi min ash-shaitan ir-rajim! Is it really possible to turn this situation around? Can we try? Please?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Around the blog world...

Lots of interesting things going around the blogsphere - Check out this blog entry by Ninhajaba on the divine feminine in Islam, a couple of excerpts:

One of the things that has been on my mind a lot is the differences between how the heroins of Islam are treated in literature and in popular Muslim culture. One of the things that I find most interesting is that almost every female heroine in Islam is praised for the very characteristic that could bring her dishonor and/or death today, rebelliousness.

With the exception of Zulaikha, all of these women are praised for either outright rebellion against tyranny (always male) and/or undergoing extreme hardship for the sake of Allah (swt). Women undergoing similar struggles, that is attempting to reclaim true Islam, today are gossiped about, discredited, shamed or threatened into silence when they attempt to follow similar paths. What happened? We see in so many traditions of the Prophet (saawaws) and his ahl al bayt (as) that racism, clacissim, ageism and tribalism were amongst the primary evils that they came to combat.

Read more here

Something you might hear on the wind . . .

This song came to me around 1993. Verses 2, 3 and 4 are straight-up ahadith except for the pearl image, which is from a parable of Prophet Isa in the Bible (r.a.a.). A song with no music is a little awkward, but I'm putting it up here because it's what I want to say to you.

Hadith Song

Those who understand feel the Truth like sunlight, those who understand breath the Truth like air
Those who understand swim in the wide sea of Unity
Together, thank God we are together
And the lovers of Reality are one, they are one - and the lovers of Reality are one

I am not contained in My heaven and my earth, I do not fit in to My heaven and my earth
But I am contained in the heart of My believing servant, I am contained in the heart of My believing servant
Nearer to you than you are to yourself, nearer to you than your jugular vein
And the servants of Reality are one, they are one - and the servants of Reality are one

If anyone mentions Me to himself I mention him to Myself - if you mention Me in an assembly I mention you in one better than that
If you move toward Me a handspan I move toward you an arm's length
If you move toward Me a handspan I move toward you an arm's length
And if you walk toward Me I run toward you, run toward you - If you walk toward Me I run toward you

I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known - I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known
If anyone discernes this pearl, they sell all they have to go and buy
To purchase the field where this treasure is buried, to purchase the field where this treasure is buried
And the field is the secret human heart, human heart - and the field is the secret human heart

Ya Hadi, Ya Allah, Ya Wadoud - Ya Hadi, Ya Allah, Ya Wadoud
Speaking every language and wearing every outward form - speaking every language and wearing every outward form
The lovers of Love answer yes to your inward calling, lovers of love answer yes to your secret call
Each breath we breath for You alone, You alone - each breath we breath for You alone . . . ya Allah

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Time Travel and the Judgement Day?

My 12-year-old son, Osama, is a voracious reader. Recently he saw the movie "The Time Machine" and expressed a wish to read the original H.G.Wells book, so I got it for him. He just finished reading it yesterday.

I asked him how he liked it and he said it was fun to read although the ending was "weird" (I think kids in general these days expect happy endings and the book ends with the Time Traveler disappearing with his machine, never to return, and the narrator wondering, so to speak, "when he went" and what happened to him but having no way of finding out).

Now you're probably wondering why I think this is a subject for Ihsan? Well, the reason is that my son told me "Actually, I don't believe that it could be possible to travel through time." I said, "Why? The theory of relativity says that Time is a dimension like the three spatial ones so theoretically one could go backwards and forwards in it," and he said "But the Day of Judgement is the END of time, and since it has a definite end, I think you could not go backwards and forwards in it like an ordinary dimension."

I had never thought about the concept of the Judgement Day juxtaposed with the concept of time travel - in fact, it raises all kinds of questions that I guess I normally don't ask, as the concept of the Judgement Day is really difficult for me to comprehend, given the fact that Time is a dimension. So, thoughts on this?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

How to Become a Muslim...

Five days before 9/11, Charles Vincent bought his first Koran. Six weeks later, while smoke was still pouring from the remains of the World Trade Center, he formally converted to Islam in the mosque attached to the Islamic Cultural Center on 96th Street and Third Avenue in New York City. A blond, blue-eyed 29-year-old from Torrance, California, he readily admits that he chose an unlikely moment to fall in love with the world’s most newsworthy religion. But in the three years since, his devotion to Islam has only deepened. Like a growing number of white Americans and Europeans, he has discovered that Islam is not just the religion of those "other" people.... read on...

Monday, December 06, 2004

The "Productivity" scam...

Working people are always being told to be more "productive" -and this word almost always means working more for less pay, and fewer and fewer hours spent with your family, friends, and to just enjoy what is around you....

Mulla Nasruddin says it like it is: :-)

"Nasrudin got a job at a busy granary, loading sacks onto trucks to be taken to market. The foreman, who was keeping an eye on the workers, soon came over to speak to him."Why is it that you carry only one sack at a time while the other workers all carry two?" asked the foreman. Nasrudin looked around and said, "I suppose that they are too lazy to make two trips the way I do."
Mulla sahib, as usual, knows more than he lets on - as this article points out:

Individual worker output collectively rose, from 2000 to 2003, by a full 12 percent. Definitely a bonus for Wall Street – but what about Main Street?

As the meticulous research of the Economic Policy Institute shows(Snapshot, 09/08/04), real family income fell, over the same period, by 3 percent. Contrast this with the economic period of 1947 – 1973 when productivity and real family income moved in tandem, both doubling over those years.

What does this suggest?

Americans are working harder and longer for less family income.

As companies downsize or fail to replace workers who leave or retire, fewer staff are left to handle the workload. In fear of losing their own jobs, they respond by accepting new duties and new responsibilities and the added work time that accompanies them.

Sounds familiar?  Next time the "big boss" comes down and talks to 

you about "productivity" --- don't get mad.

Just start quietly talking to your co-workers... organize

Progressive Islam: A view from October, 2001

In October of 2001, a few Muslims who had only known each other previously through e-mail and Islam discussion lists met in San Francisco, California, to discuss what Progressive Islam would mean. Leading up to this discussion, these same people -- Farid Esack, Anna Ghonim, and Javed Memon, with input from others -- had drafted a document representing the main threads of their idea of what this term would encompass. As the term has become a lot more popular and lots of documents have been produced since, I thought it might be interesting to go back and look at this one. So, here it is:

Begin text:

Progressive Islam

A Definition and Declaration

And we have created the world in truth, so that every soul shall earn its just recompense and that it not be oppressed


Throughout history the love for power, material wealth, dynastic rule and hypocrisy has been justified in the name of religion. And all along the element that exhorted people towards awareness, freedom and rebellion against these inhuman systems was also religion.

Ali Shariati,

Progressive Islam is that understanding of Islam and its sources which comes from and is shaped within a commitment to transform society from an unjust one where people are mere objects of exploitation by governments, socio-economic institutions and unequal relationships to a just one where they are the subjects of history, the shapers of their own destiny in the full awareness that all of humankind is in a state of returning to God and that the universe was created as a sign of God’s presence.

Progressive Islam Affirms

1. God as the Centre

The Transcendent, Allah, is the eternally Akbar (greater than). While we acknowledge that the entire creation is a reflection of God's presence and nature we also believe that God is beyond whatever is ascribed to God, beyond that community which unavoidably is imprisoned by the confines of language, class, gender and culture.

2. People as the Family of God

2.1 Each human being is a carrier of the spirit of God and compassion as an essential element in Allah’s dealings with us and as reflective of God’s will for humankind.

2.2 While all of us are the family of God, progressive Muslims assert a preferential option for what the Qur’an describes as “the mustad’afun fi’l-ard” i.e., those individuals and groups who, for no wilful reason of their own, find themselves socially and economically pushed to the edges of society in live in conditions of social, political and economic oppression.

2.3 We, progressive Muslims, affirm the value of diverse religious traditions and spiritual paths as ways of reaching the Transcendent and seek to make common cause with progressive tendencies within these traditions to work for a world wherein it is safe to be human.

2.4 The above notion of humankind and the preferential option of the marginalized commits us to finding an expression of Islam which places socio-economic, gender and environmental justice as its core.

2.5 While all of us have universal human rights elaborated – however inadequately - in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, each one of us also have responsibilities. These include our duties towards those individuals and communities who support and sustain us, and through whom we become persons, as well as to the earth, our only home and to all other living creatures that share this home with us.

3. Praxis as a Way to truth

3.1 We believe that Progressive Islam is an intrinsic part of our broader Islamic tradition, a part that is often subsumed by other tendencies that are alien to the spirit of early Islam. This broader tradition requires ongoing and critical re-thinking in the face of new insights into human nature, economic relationship and social structures in order that its progressive impulses can acquire a sharper focus rooted in Islam. Furthermore, we believe that we will find an ever-deepening appreciation of Islam and experience the presence of Allah in a combination of the following:

* Engaging and challenging all that which dehumanizes people, the family of Allah and reduce them to commodities and mere objects

* Careful Qur’anic reflection on that engagement and

* A commitment to spiritual practice for our own sustenance and the glory of Allah.

* Abstaining from all those practices which harms our spiritual lives and inflict wanton hurt on other sentient beings and threaten the future of the earth.

In other words, our struggle to experience a personally and socially meaningful Islam is rooted in praxis geared towards creating a more humane society as part of a sustainable eco-system in the service of the Transcendent.

3.2 We appreciate that as people committed to transforming our societies and communities, that we need to take due cognizance of where they are in terms of consciousness and awareness. This means that we shall at all times endeavour to address our communities with wisdom and in the ways that are the most suitable.

Progressive Islam Opposes

* The projection of an inevitable of Pax Americana and the unfettered march of globalization in the service of the market. While globalization has the potential to be harnessed for universal solidarity among the mustad’afun fi’l-ard, its use as the cornerstone of neo-colonialism and economic exploitation must be opposed to as part of the vision of a world socio-economic equality and justice

* The relentless promotion of corporate culture and consumerism which results in the exploitation of our natural environment, deforestation, the destruction of local communities and the eco-system and cruelty to animals.

* Racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of socio-economic injustices both within and outside of Muslim societies and communities. These injustices detract from the sacredness of all humankind imbued when Allah blew of his own spirit into the first created person.

* Intolerance and fascist tendencies which insist on and seeks to enforce a single and absolute appreciation of truth in all religious and cultural communities including Islam. While we have a special affinity with a particular expression of Islam which we identify as progressive, we acknowledge that others may have their own understanding of the Islamic tradition which differs from ours.

End text. Drafted by Farid Esack and modified with comments from Altaf Bhimji, Anna Ghonim and Javed Memon over a period of a couple of months in the summer and early fall of 2001.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Double-Thinking Democracy: America on the Spin Cycle

As a Muslim U.S. citizen who believes the Qur’anic injunction,“Be a witness against yourself,” should be applied both individually and collectively, I think It’s about time to resurrect a lyric from mathematician turned song writer, Tom Lehrer. The song is called, “Send the Marines,” and the part that’s been running through my mind lately refers to U.S. invasions:

For might makes right
Until they’ve seen the light
They’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected
Till somebody we like can be elected.

This seems to be what the U.S. is offering. We want to spread freedom and democracy, but if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Isn’t this a huge contradiction? The ‘freedom’ we’re spreading seems to be the freedom to agree with us. Under a thinly veiled threat of being considered enemies (and you know what we do to our enemies), nations must back our ‘war on terror’ whether or not they agree with all its goals and methods. As a side benefit for oppression, any government fighting a resistance movement (such as the Russians in Chechnya) can now invoke the war on terror to justify its every action—extraordinary and extra-judicial measures, martial law, anything goes. Our uncritical deification of “us” and demonization of “them” has fueled this tried and true technique of fascist governments: invoking war powers to tighten political control and silence opposition.

Other nations are also apparently required to adopt free market capitalism, which is considered indistinguishable from democracy, though I don’t know why. Every country is free to open their markets to us and buy our products, but not free to keep out products they don’t want, like the British with genetically modified food. And while no one else is supposed to have price supports and protectionism for particular industries, we still have them here. We like “the unseen hand of the market place” when it’s to our advantage; when it goes against us, we’re perfectly willing to invoke international agreements to protect our markets or to force our products down other people’s throats.

As far as democracy goes, I think it’s fabulous. One person, one vote, right? When I was a kid, people were still saying, “Anyone can grow up to be president,” and kids and some grown-ups even believe it. Now everybody over age five knows you have to be a multi-millionaire or mortgage your soul to multi-millionaires to have a shot at becoming a senator or congressman, never mind becoming president. Well, okay, it takes money to campaign and only rich people have money. So, do we at least get our pick of candidates from a broad spectrum of white, male millionaires? No, we get to choose between two white male graduates of the same university who are members of the same secret society. Would any reasonable person call this a democracy? (Or even a democratic republic?) While I don’t entirely subscribe to the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee theory, this is nobody’s idea of diversity. Is this the fabulous freedom we’re trying to export around the world?

The November 30th New York Times declared, “Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo,” but closer inspection reveals that “abuse” is an understatement. What the International Red Cross actually said was that some of the psychological and physical interrogation methods were “tantamount to torture.” The article describes practices at Camp Delta, the main prison facility, saying

"One regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels."

That’s not “tantamount to torture”, that’s torture. How about the following for a fine example of doublethink? (As I’ve said before, anybody who hasn’t yet read Orwell’s 1984, the source of this term, should run right out and get a copy.) According to the article, a memorandum from Bush’s legal team

"provides tightly constructed definitions of torture. For example, if an interrogator 'knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith,' it said. 'Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control.' "

Can’t you just see it? “Oh, woops, I wasn’t trying to hit your head with this board (even though I knew severe pain would result). My objective was just to toss it on the floor over there.” No wonder there’ve been so many suicide attempts at Guantanamo Bay.

Remember that most of these prisoners, who’ve been held for years now, have not been charged, given access to council, or come before any tribunal, let alone had anything like a fair trial. The most treasured rule of British and American common law is the rule of habeas corpus—literally, “produce the body”. People can’t be spirited away and held indefinitely in secret, but must be brought into the light and charged with whatever offenses they are accused of. This is supposed to be a hallmark of ‘civilized nations’. Remember, too, that many prisoners were turned in by people who may have had personal or political grudges against them and who gained financially through the bounties that were paid for each prisoner.

Many agree that we now have the most secretive U.S. administration in living memory, perhaps ever: unfriendly to the press, using federal security and local police to exclude non-supporters from public rallies, and working hard to curtail the Freedom of Information Act. This week, in a stunning display of either uncaring arrogance or historical and diplomatic amnesia, U.S. military leaders have named a new effort in Iraq “Operation Plymouth Rock”. They’ll certainly never convince Iraqis, U.S. citizens and allies, the Muslim world or the world in general that their goal isn’t conquest by naming an operation after the first beachhead of English colonizers.
Is this the freedom and justice we’ve been trying to export? Is this the liberty we’re trying to teach the world? Anyone who honestly seeks peace and justice must oppose oppression, double-dealing and mendacious ‘spin’ whether the culprits are seen as “them” or “us”—and whether they wear the mask of religion or the mask of democracy and freedom.

Falafel King

As we talked business the compassionate conserver explained how Ron Regan saved our butts from Jimmy Carter's idiocy in plucked the laggards off Unkie Sam's back and onto welfare-to-work, thus causing a trickle down... freeing up the gross-net-this-and-that...

...I didn't even need to hear the squire's opinion on defense... let alone hook nosed a-rabs...

...but he was hungry, "he's always hungry" he explained. He's 200lb though runs daily...

...words only have meaning to the hearing... he's deaf and hungry... strangely, he'll eat anything... anything except apples he explains... raw apples...

? How 'bout Falafel King on Archer Road???

! sure !!!

... Eating falafel and baklava and kefta and swigging an Egyptian can of mango juice and...get this... learning 'As-salamalakum' from Hassan the Lebanese owner...

... Today I punted the conserver into a warm culture... and he's always hungry, he'll soon be back...

--Great oaks from little acorns grow--