Thursday, March 31, 2005

And now presenting... "Moderate, Pluralist Islam"

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

The "Center for Islamic Pluralism" was founded on March 25th by neo-con Stephen Schwartz, and others.

From Pipe's weblog:

Stephen Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism, is as of today, also the director of the Center on Islamic Pluralism, a Muslim anti-Islamist organization with which I am connected

A few articles on Schwartz's background:

Exposing "terror experts"

Neo-conservatism and Stephen Schwartz

Understanding Stephen Schwartz

Another of this groups founders is:

Nawab Agha of the American Islamic Congress -

And another is Zuhdi Jasser: chairman, American Islamic Forum for Democracy

Others listed as founders (feel free to look up these characters, and what they are about, and please leave any info. you find in the comments section below):

Kemal Silay, CIP president: professor of Ottoman and modern Turkish culture at Indiana University.

Ahmed Subhy Mansour: former professor, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, author of Penalty of Apostasy:
A Study of Islamic Law, and members of the group "free muslims."

Salim Mansur: professor of political science, University of Western Ontario, and columnist, Toronto Sun.

Khaleel Mohammed, assistant professor of religious studies at San Diego State University, and member of the group called "free muslims."

Tashbih Sayyed: publisher, Muslim World Today.

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

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

The Lotus Blossoms v.2

In the Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace

In the last week or two, there’s been a fair amount of synchronicity going on: the kind where you have an idea playing on your mind and that same idea keeps jumping up over and over in everyday life. The focal point of this preoccupation has been agnosticism, and even atheism. It’s not that I feel any doubt about God’s Reality – the light burning inside me is too bright to ignore, even with my back to it and my sight dulled by a hundred demons and distractions. No, my reflections have centred more on the cultures of irreligion and the beauty that exists there.

I believe the Mercy of Allah extends into every nook and cranny of humanity, even into the seediest hang outs and the most disturbed minds. As it says on the tombstone of the bipolar poet Sylvia Plath, ‘Even in the fiercest flames, the lotus blossoms.’ And it’s not just the lives of the deserving poor and the unwittingly oppressed I’m on about; it also the stories of people like Jean Genet, thief and homosexual prostitute; the world of punk Muslims celebrated by Muhammad Knight; and the unruly meanderings of the infamous and never-to-be-famous non-conforming non-entities who see themselves primarily as survivors in this often perplexing journey towards the grave.

And I wonder, surely God’s love is not reserved solely for those who pray a lot and fill their lives with good deeds? Just as there are those who bang their head on the floor and feed their egos with their piety and charitable acts, so I surmise there are people who draw God’s light into their lives without offering so much as a word of thanks, but rather refresh their souls with an ethic which is very close to who and where they are. And when I was younger, it was this sense that drew me to people who are amoral and decadent and irreligious perhaps because the beauty in these dark places shines that much brighter with the contrast.

Make no mistake, I feel no sympathy, nor any sense of the touch of the hand of God, in the lives of those who draw their strength through exercising power over others, whether it be over their sexual partners, or children, or their employees or juniors, or in high politics. It is not the exploiters or abusers or monkeys sitting on top rock I empathise with - no way! It’s the anti-heroes – the tramps, the travellers, the illegal aliens, the drug abusers, the petty criminals, the prostitutes, the hash-headed hippies, the benefit scroungers, the unwanted flotsam and jetsam of life.

What has honed this no doubt romantic fascination with subcultures is the darkly comic thriller Buffalo Soldiers, directed by Gregor Jordan and starring Joaquin Phoenix. Set in a US Army base in West Germany during the weeks surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, Phoenix plays Ray Ellwood, a battery clerk come drug pushing thief, with Ed Harris as the ineffectual base commander and the perfect foil for the street wise, lovable rogue Ellwood. To be honest, I can't remember when I last fell so completely in love with a film, and I find myself rewatching it and keenly anticipating the magical lines and delicious twists in the outrageous plot.

Celebrating subcultures is important because it allows difficult issues to be explored and dirty washing to be aired without a sense of disgrace. Thankfully, there are signs that British Muslims are alerting themselves to this moral sensibility. Last week, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, recently the centre of controversy over a play depicting scenes of sexual abuse in a Gudwara, is to show Bells, written by Anglo-Pakistani writer Yasmin Whittaker-Khan. Bells deals with Muslim women trapped in the sex trade, including British Asian sex clubs known as mujras.

So little is known about this issue that Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain claimed he had never heard of mujras before this play's script was previewed in the press. Neither had I. Let's hope this work of drama opens the doors to other Muslim worlds we need to hear more about.

Allah knows better.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why Do They Hate Us This Month?

Here are some of the facts from this month which might (or might not) help Americans in answering the ever-vexing question, "Why do they hate us?" You be the judge.

· Despite the awareness of widespread U.S. torture of detainees in Iraq being pretty commonplace, a soldier who tried to report the torture of detainees was found to be “insane” by his commanding officer and forced against his will to leave Iraq for “rehabilitation.” Seems reminiscent of other societies and how they dealt with their “social deviants” and others who would speak up, doesn’t it?

· Torture has been now described as “one of the most important secret weapons in the war on terror” and therefore “extraordinary rendition,” or basically the outsourcing of torture to countries where inconveniences such as the illegality of torture and the affirmation of due process and civil liberties are either non-existent or simply irrelevant, is totally justified. The only difficulty we’re having is getting the right people “rendered”…apparently, a lot of folks have been sent to the gulags “by mistake.”

· A 45-day jail sentence, as well as $12,000 in docked pay, was what Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville received after he pled guilty to “having two Iraqis thrown at gunpoint into the Tigris in Samarra,” one of the two Iraqis known to have died. After his indictment, Saville stated that he would have preferred “non-judicial” punishment and that his actions made him concerned about “putting fellow troops in increased danger by inciting insurgent Iraqis, who portrayed the incidents as war crimes.” Who says that military men don’t care about people, their dignity, and their lives? And throwing prisoners into the river and killing them is considered war crimes…how the Iraqis employ such devious propaganda!

· Paul Wolfowitz, neo-con architect of the Iraq war and supporter of “shock and awe” treatment for the recalcitrant Iraqis, has been nominated by Pres. Bush to the presidency of the World Bank. It seems as if the worldwide uproar over the World Bank/IMF Washington Consensus that enforces a disastrous neoliberal agenda on the world’s governments and peoples has made Bush realize there needs to be a change. Instead of neoliberal-led development, we shall now have the “neocon” version. Perhaps “shock and awe” may be the way to eliminate global poverty as well…

· The list of known prisoner deaths under the U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq seems to be expanding on a daily basis. Army and Navy investigators have definitively concluded that at least 26 prisoners have died in possible cases of criminal homicides, with a total of 108 deaths under American custody. The utter lack of transparency at many of these sites in Iraq and Afghanistan will guarantee that the number of unknown Afghan and Iraqi prisoners killed remains, well, unknown. And the latest news is that the 17 G.I.’s implicated in some of these prisoners’ deaths will not be tried by the Pentagon. Lest the skeptics out there forget, this is an important reminder about how our President is determined to “bring justice to them,” i.e. the wrongdoers (at least the darker-skinned and foreign-looking ones, and whether they’ve done anything wrong is irrelevant).

· More and more details emerge of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American soldiers. One of the more sordid revelations was that the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have included children. One incident reveals that in order to “break” an Iraqi general, his child was tortured right in front of his eyes. And we have known that the U.S. has had a policy of detaining and torturing women and children related to men who they suspect are involved in the resistance in Iraq. And most recently, we learn of video footage of U.S. military abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo that may parallel that of the horror of Abu Ghraib. Torture of children, new Abu Ghraibs…thank God we have an independent and vigilant U.S. media which focuses on these things. If you’ve missed this stuff, you must be reading or watching foreign, biased media or something!

· Some claim that neo-liberalism and the Washington Consensus has the power to eliminate poverty as-we-know-it. The Indian government has succumbed to this belief. In order to comply with World Trade Organization requirements, India will halt its production of affordable generic drugs, drugs which save the lives of literally millions of AIDS patients throughout the world. Neo-liberalism must have the answer as to how destitute, seriously ill patients will now afford the prohibitively expensive drugs offered by the Western pharmaceutical companies…we’re just not looking hard enough for the answer.

· World Water Day was celebrated in March. The World Health Organization estimates that over 1.1 billion people have no safe water and 2.4 billion have no sanitation, leading to over 3 million deaths per year. Who are the idiots that claim that safe drinking water and a healthy living environment are universal human rights!

· The Israel-Palestine situation, that one, no two, no three thousand (God knows how long that problem has been going on) year old conflict has produced some “interesting” statistics this month. According to the Bank of Israel, the Arab poverty rate is triple the Jewish rate: 46.2% of Arab households lived in poverty in 2003, compared with 14.6% of Jewish households. From the Palestinian Central Statistical Bureau we learn that 3,861 Palestinian women lost a son or daughter in the four years of the Intifada and 66 Palestinian women were forced to give birth at Israeli checkpoints, resulting in 38 deaths. And finally, we learn of the blasphemy committed by an IDF officer who admits to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that Israeli settlers actually commit violent acts against Palestinians…perhaps the treatment meted out to that strange American soldier accusing his colleagues of torture and abuse can apply here, too: call this guy “insane” and send him for rehabilitation and re-education.

· From “civilized” and liberal, human rights- and minority-friendly Europe we get a report from the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights which states that 1,565 threats and acts of violence against mainly Muslim and Jewish victims were registered in 2004, compared with 833 the previous year. Progress, indeed.

· In the Congo, we learn of the high price Congolese must pay to noble U.N. peacekeepers attempting to bring peace and civilization to constant inter-tribal warfare in Africa: offer their daughters’ bodies for sex, and if their lucky, receive a buck in return from the thoughtful peacekeepers.

· Finally, there is the story of the Algerian woman Hassiba Belbachir. She was leaving the United States, was detained and brought “into custody” in Chicago. A couple of days later, she is “found” dead and officials claim she committed suicide. Others who know how American prisons and detention centers in the U.S. and in other countries (do Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay ring a bell?) operate suspect a different story in this situation. How many Abu Ghraibs and Hassiba Belbachirs will it take to make us outraged and sleepless at these horrors? But that’s why we have Jerry Springer and Fox News right, so that we can have a good night sleep?

“Why do they hate us?” An absurd question, isn’t it, after seeing all of these facts documenting our benevolence?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Flowering Death Valley

Hu brings forth the living out of that which is dead, and brings forth dead out of that which is living, and revives the earth after it is dead; even so you shall be brought forth
(Qur'an 30:19)

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Hassiba Belbachir - the story of any woman ...

A few nights ago, a dear old friend from Chicago called and told me about Hassiba Belbachir. And she has been with me ever since.

It was the night before her Janaza, and my friend, who is one of the leaders of the Muslim community there, was in the midst of calling other Imams and community leaders to let them know of her death.

Hassiba died in custody at the McHenry county jail on March 17th, 2005.

Hassiba was an Algerian national who had been living in the U.S. She was detained a week earlier, while enroute to Spain, by US Immigration officials and was returned to the U.S. where she was being held in custody. The story from the officials is that she committed suicide. Her family does not believe this and the community is demanding a full investigation.

The media reports do not say what it is that her family fears.

They don’t need to.

We know what they fear. It is a fear that we all share.

We are living in this moment in history in which our collective fears, that were once the stuff of nightmares, are now increasingly embodied and familiar. Between the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we move forward believing that it will always be someone else, somewhere else. We hold onto this belief desperately clinging to the comfort it provides us.

We tell ourselves that Hassiba was an illegal immigrant. We tell ourselves whatever we need to, so that we can feel distant from her life and her death. So that we can feel that it could not have been us.

This is a common strategy. Women have been doing this for centuries when confronted with the reality of violence against women. We create elaborate justifications that make the violence seem "logical", i.e. containable. We tell ourselves that she should not have been wearing that outfit, walking that street, married to that guy, born to that man, ….

But what women’s movements around the world have also learned, is that the first step in mobilizing a resistance to the pervasive violence against women in society, is to understand that no one is safe. And to accept, at a visceral level, that what happens to any woman, could happen to any woman. To me. To my sister.

Hassiba Belbachir was our sister.

And yes we mourn. And yes, we pray.

We pray for her soul, we pray for the mercy of Allah, and we pray for justice.

And then, we organize.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Elk-Aida Connection: Liberate Alaska!

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

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Idries Shah

In 1991, during my second year at University and during the months following my conversion to Islam, I discovered the works of Idries Shah. It was not an easy time in my life– I was being yarked between MSA Wahhabis on the one hand and a devotee of Ghulam Parwez on the other, at the same time as trying to figure out why my first attempts at salah led to sexual arousal. In the midst of this surreal confusion, Shah’s works were simultaneously a respite and a brick to the head. My third year dissertation attempted to analyse the wider cultural significance of Shah’s writings, an intention hinted at by Shah and implicit in the widespread popularity and availability of his writings.

Shah is a writer who rarely inspires lukewarm, cautious opinion. To some, Shah was a populist and a fake, an academic non-entity who not only regurgitated readily available Sufi texts for new age hippies and human potential capitalists, but also cynically ingratiated himself on the good and the great, sometimes – in the case of poet Robert Graves, to their detriment. To his devotees, who still hang on his every written word, Shah was the teacher of the age, a guru of monumental proportions. Perhaps the most sensible assessment of him comes from the British ethnologist Ron Geaves, who acknowledges Shah as a Sufi who ‘epitomised the Malamati tradition’ (Geaves, 2000, p.169) in his rejection of all esotericism and outward shows of religion.

Speaking as someone who sees the Sufi traditions as encapsulating the greatest spiritual truth, I would argue Shah’s spiritual validity and legacy can only be understood by those ‘from the inside’; scholars and journalists are not Sufis. But even here, distinguishing the genuine article from the wannabes and cult leaders is no mean feat - so who do you ask? Surely Shah’s body of work is too elaborate and articulate to be entirely bogus. In the end, I can only report what impact Shah and his associates have had on my own sensibilities and leave others to read his work and make their own judgements.

On my first reading of Idries Shah’s writings, I think it’s fair to say my response simply reflected my state of mind at the time. Thus, insanity and rubbish thinking prevailed! Somehow, from something Shah said – perhaps in his book which seems to deliberately target weak-minded emotionalists (People of the Secret) – I came to fear that Sufis might be lurking anywhere, indistinguishable from ordinary people, but able to read my mind (and thus see my darkest secrets). I therefore began to treat every passing stranger as a potential Sufi and a trespasser on my feeble psyche. I even wrote to Shah but got no reply – though I’m sure my correspondence must have been a source of considerable humour to his secretary.

I date my second reading of Shah as A.J. (Anno Joel), that is, after my son was diagnosed as having autism. I had embarked on a career as his teacher and carer, and then as a teacher-proper, so that for the first time in my life, my focus was wholly on something other than myself. In retrospect, I now realise age 18-32 represents an era when I was utterly wrapped up in me me me. In this post-self-obsession context, Shah became an illusion-stripper, a bullshit detector par excellence. It is no surprise to me that his works pop up on reading lists for business courses – if nothing else Idries Shah was an astute social psychologist.

It’s odd that Shah’s profile isn’t more visible in progressive Muslim discourse, which seems as comfortable with Western culture (if not the Pax Americana) as Shah was. The close links between Western academia and progressive Islam is probably one reason why Shah’s name rarely crops up - in Western universities, Shah largely remains a persona non grata, his name to be mentioned only in a tone of extreme caution. But I also suspect his low profile in progressive circles is down to Shah’s acknowledgement that Malamati Sufism and the traditional Islam of the five schools of law (four plus Shi’i) are all roads to the same destination.

Indeed, I date my third and most recent reading of Shah to just before the turn of the millennium, when I experienced a regrettably brief foray into traditional Hanafi Islam. To understand why, I am forced to step beyond Shah’s own literary astringents and into the works of writers published by Octagon Press, which Shah established. There - in the writings of psychologist Robert Ornstein - is a concept of consciousness which subsequently became central to my whole understanding of Muslim praxis.

Ornstein wrote about the brain, merging neuropsychological modular theory with role theory from social psychology, in order to suggest that people are rarely holistic units, but function instead as a distinct set of selves, each bound to a particular protocol of behaviours and attitudes. In one example, Ornstein cites the true story of a man standing on the edge of a mountain road surrounded by a crowd, about to jump to his death. A traffic cop pulls up, indifferent to the bustle, and loudly demands an illegally parked car be moved immediately. The man about to jump unthinkingly returns to move it, where he is arrested by police already on the scene.

Ornstein suggests that humans also possess a ‘central operator’ which is able to control the multitude of selves, but this capacity is weak in most people. The development of this central operator is part of the ‘evolution of consciousness’ which is also the title of one of Ornstein’s books. Surely, I thought, this ‘central operator’ is the tool for realising taqwa, or God-consciousness, and thereby ensuring every aspect of life is subject to God’s will. But how was this to be realised in practice? Simply claiming to be doing something in God’s name, or to be acting in the ‘spirit of Islam’, have never been sufficient for me to ensure Yakoub the teacher and Yakoub the father and Yakoub the neighbour were all Yakoub the Muslim.

It seemed to me, and it still seems to me, that the only way to ensure Yakoub the person who is conscious of Allah and submitting to The One, and Yakoub the central controller, are one and the same, is to practice Shariah Islam, with every aspect of the Sunnah in situ. In my hanafi phase, I particular focused on the prayers of the Prophet (aws), which include du’a for every event from travel to sex, as a way of tying remembrance of God to action in every part of my life. Every act was begun and ended with a prayer or a bismillah, and where time was ‘spare’, I remembered Allah through dhikr. The impact on my life was incredible. For the first time in my life, I began to experience a genuine sense of peace.

It didn’t last, of course. There was a personal calamity, in that I had to temporarily leave teaching and educate my son at home again, but the true fragility of my faith-based approach stemmed from unresolved issues and hidden demons: I was never comfortable with what I understood to be Islam’s teachings on homosexuality; I was also troubled by traditional Muslim apologetics posing as a commitment to gender justice. Moreover, I felt I had not fully explored the philosophical teachings of Islam, to the extent that I found my faith frequently open to doubt. And there were also negative aspects of my life that conveniently remained untouched by Mr. Central-Controller Taqwa.

The philosopher Shabbir Akhtar once urged Muslims “to leave, if temporarily, the House of Islam, to venture through the alien world of rejection and rival patterns of religious conviction; to venture beyond dogma and unargued assumptions, in the larger attempt to become acquainted not only with the a prior theologies of scripture but also with the sometimes recalcitrant realities of a world and human nature under their usual tuition." This, I hope, is what I have been doing and what I am doing now, trying hard not to get lost on the way.

The time for return, insha Allah, is coming.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

many clouds, one sky

More and more I read either that Islam is unchanging and inflexable or that Islam can adapt itself to any situation and as Sheikh Muzaffer Ashki al Jerrahi says, "Islam is like clear water poured into different vessels. It takes the color and shape of each vessel." Which one is it? Does the answer need to be simple? Lately I wonder if both are true.
There is an Indian Islam, a Persian Islam, an Arab Islam, a Chinese Islam a Turkish Islam etc. etc. and yet Islam is beyond these cultures, geographical locations and concepts. Prayer is directed at Mecca and all are pointing towards this point no matter where we are. In Chicago I might pray in the student center at my college in a small dark room, in Pakistan I might pray at Faisal Masjid, in the summer I might pray outside, in the winter I might pray with a light blanket on my shoulders, I might wear a shuar kamiz, a t-shirt, jeans, a suit, a sweater, a jacket or pajamas. I am still praying-I am still standing naked before Allah.
Exclusiveness is alien to Islam and no one can own it to the exclusion of others.
Our prophets and messengers were sent to all nations and to all people.
Islam is THE religion not A religion. It is submission to the source of all being.
There is many and there is one. There is an openness and expansiveness in Islam that cannot be contained and it is a straight path.

The sky is full of clouds of different shape and color. Some floating high and billowy while others are low and nearly translucent. No one can own the sky. The sky is open to all equally and given their location and time, clouds do not all look alike.
I am still struggling with these issues and don't claim to have any answers or to have said anything unique. I am young and always learning.
To me Islam is openness, expansiveness, a bottomless ocean with countless landscape to explore.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

American Beauty

This short essay is an attempt to elucidate on a concept in social theory in a way which makes sense to people who are not social science students. Tackling this concept has led me to think about progressive Muslim discourse – most notably, the writings associated with the Muslim Wake Up website, the Progressive Muslim Union of North America and their allies - in a new way. There is an assumption I am opposed to MWU/PMU, which is erroneous. However, in the months following the foundation of PMU, I felt myself following a very different road to the one currently being pitched by the Fateh/Nassef collective. I hope this post will go some way to explaining my concerns.

The concept from social theory which interests me is ‘embodiment’. I’m fairly sure I am not the only one who finds this concept difficult to explain or understand. Personally, I blame the gender theorist Judith Butler, whose writings first brought this concept to my attention. Like that other notable social theorist Homi Bhabha, Ms Butler has a way of putting things that might have taxed the king of obscure sociological terminology, Talcott Parson, were he still with us. Sadly, I have yet to find a modern day C Wright Mills, who famously ‘translated’ several pages of Parson’s verbiage into a single, short paragraph of intelligible prose. But there are a few books introducing gender theory which try to make Butler’s babble comprehensible to mere mortals like myself.

What makes Butler different from Parsons, who was basically a misogynistic social conservative hiding behind sententious theories, is that her ideas are ground breaking and counter-intuitive. Like string theorists, those physicists who claim our Universe is a slice of bread inside some huge cosmic loaf, Butler challenges us to think about everyday reality in a completely different way. So what does she actually say? Well, I can’t claim to be an expert – I haven’t even finished my PGCert in Social Sciences yet, but this is what she seems to be saying to me.

Most people look at their bodies and say things like, ‘I’m going bald’ or ‘my breasts look like a couple of used tea-bags’. However, Butler would argue that even the most empirical statements about your body are not facts at all. They are expressions of social meaning. In fact, bodies are ‘socially constructed’. You thought you had an arm – you are wrong. That arm is only ever understood in terms of how society has taught you how to see arms. And Butler has a point. You only have to glance at the media, especially women’s media, to see that social meaning is crucial to how we make sense of our physicality, from our eyelashes to our toenails and everything in between.

When I first heard this idea, I thought, ‘Come on, Judy, this is going a bit far, isn’t it?’ I was reminded of the story of the philosopher who once claimed the entire world was an illusion which only existed in God’s mind. An opponent of this view responded by kicking the nearest wall, and pointing to the pain in his foot. Of course, one could claim the pain was an illusion, too, but we are talking social theory here, and kicking the wall would seem to be a valid response to Butler’s arguments, albeit a rather inarticulate one. Surely, it seemed to me, there are facets of our physicality, or at least our personal understanding of it, that are largely outside of the social domain.

Thankfully, a thinker came to my rescue in the person of Bob Connell, a gender theorist who is considered one of the world’s leading experts on masculinities. Bob, who is an Australian, had been studying male sexuality when he came across a heterosexual man who starting exploring gay sex after his girlfriend poked her finger up his bum! Hang about - thought Bob (who isn’t the squeamish type) - this man actually changed his understanding of his own sexuality on the basis of a physical experience. Of course, thought Bob, the way we directly experience of our own bodies is also important to the way we make sense of them. Judy forgot that – we are not simply social entities floating around in the ether.

Embodiment is important in thinking about a topic that has recently raised its head on this blog and elsewhere, the issue of colour. In researching this topic, I was reminded of the various ways some people in the developing world try to mimic Westerners, to the extent that they actually have their physical appearance altered. In the Philippines, plastic surgery to get rid of that ‘oriental’ look is all the rage amongst those that can afford it. In Ladakh in Northern India, and in other places around the world, people purchase powder that ‘whitens’ their skin. And in China, very short people are actually having their legs lengthened to conform to the Western norm.

Why do people want to do these things to themselves? Well, there is another social concept about to pop up here – cultural imperialism. From Hollywood to Humbees, the world is awash with America’s greatest export - its culture. And it is an export backed up by a politically regime doctrinally aligned with the Project for the New American Century, which tells us that the USA won the cold war and now has a duty to act as global policeman so that the American economic and political vision can become universal. This is the America the world sees, love Bush or hate him. The surgery, the whitener, those Chinese legs braces – all this is because people want to look American. They want to look like the people they believe now rule the world.

And this is where the discourse of MWU/PMU comes in.

You see, some Muslims outside the USA have been asserting that MWU/PMU is effectively ‘Americanizing’ Islam. And they see that as a threat. After all, if American hegemony is so powerful that people feel the need to physically alter their appearances, then what is to stop an American version of Islam becoming the presiding one? Oddly enough, American progressive Muslims don’t entirely deny this Americanization claim, but rather argue that cultural variety is intrinsic to Islam. But this would seem to be a rather disingenuous and insular response, given that events in America, like Amina Wadud’s mixed-gender Jumma, are now being discussed around the world. The issues of cultural imperialism are either downplayed, or ignored entirely.

Prior to 2001, when I use to frequent the more conservative British Muslim chatrooms and forums, I was extremely disturbed by the crisis in confidence that many young Muslims were experiencing in regard to their faith. It’s not that they thought Islam an old fashioned or backward faith; rather, they felt like victims, born onto the losers side, subjected to prejudice in education and jobs at home in Britain, whilst in the wider world – in Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia – Muslims were the victims of grave injustices, with crimes against them either ignored or even sanctioned by Britain and the USA.

Today, I sense a new confidence amongst British Muslims. There is a growing belief in our ability to bring about political change at home, and a new confidence in Sharia Islam as an alternative to the rapacious and puritanical Salafis and Wahhabis. Islam in the West, not Westernized Islam, is beginning to look plausible. There are campaigns for places of worship in schools and workplaces. Issues, such as the validity of some of the hadith about women, are being discussed openly and intelligently. It’s a far cry from the frenzied, reactionary and fearful tone of discourse that was prevalent just a few years ago.

Europe and the USA are vastly different religious landscapes. Whatever blind statistics about faith membership and belief in a deity might lead you to believe, religious commentators like Karen Armstrong are absolutely right in stating that most Europeans are simply not interested in religion. There is surely a moral imperative for Muslims to challenge this, but the colonial history of Europe has left a wall of racism which prevents Muslims from penetrating the European spiritual torpor. The last thing we need on this new frontier, in my view, is a gum-chewing, Disneyfied Muslim faith further undermining the confidence of those who see no contradiction in cherishing traditions and questioning them.

This does not mean I am opposed to progression within Islam, or indeed ‘airing dirty laundry’. Rather, in consolidating its ideological norms, I am concerned MWU/PMU will lead some Muslims to think they need an entirely new wardrobe, an Islam tailored to fit comfortably inside New York's hip, secular, metropolitan values. This will then became part and parcel of the American cultural export that has seen white skin, straight eyes and tall stature become the ideal of human beauty for millions. No discussion, no thinking, just mimicry. And surely, if there is a fault with some ‘traditional’ Muslims, it is that they have forgotten that ours is a religion for ‘people who think’.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Mom, Dad, May I Please Think For Myself?

This is my first piece of work for Ihsan and I honestly hope it's some good.

Just now, I had a 'civilized disagreement' with my mother, who wants me to take up some sort of art course for my two week break from school. While I have nothing against artistic endeavours and while I think it would be great if I did something productive in these fifteen days, arts is not my field. Painting, drawing, making flowers out of clay, etc etc, these are great talents but they're not the way I channel my creativity. I like writing more.

But she wanted me to do it and when I suggested that I take a course which I really find interesting myself and which can actually help polish whatever little skill I do have, she put on a disappointed expression and turned away.

Okay, I'm sorry, but I don't like those things. I know you do, which is why you still make flowers out of beads and wire and it's gorgeous but it's just not what I like to do. Why is it such a big deal if I choose what activity to pursue?

Taking this onto a larger scale, often my dad and my elder sisters like to gang up on me and tell me that my more progressive values regarding women's liberation and homosexuality are very wrong. They won't discuss it with me so that I can try to see what they're trying to say. They just say I'm wrong. On the rare discussions that do take place, they end up with, 'You're just a kid and you don't know anything'. Well, thank you very much but since you've given me a good upbringing and embedded your fine moral values and clear ideas of right and wrong into my mind, will you now please trust me to use that morality and those principles and make my own choices?

I'm trying to be the good little girl who does whatever her parents say and yet be true to myself. The way they act sometimes, I feel like they won't let me be the latter in peace. So in retaliation, I won't be the former.

Sigh. Does anyone see us going around in circles? Because I'm getting dizzy.

'Jinni to Lead Mixed-Species Prayer'

[TGP News] Yakoub Ghoora

Muslim Wake Up, the controversial progressive Muslim website that recently announced its intention to host a mixed-gender congregational prayer led by Amina Wadud, has said it now intends to host a Friday Jumma led by Suleiman Mostashifa, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Death Valley University. Mostashifa is a Jinni who has recently been liaising with Tarek Fateh of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America, on an interspecies project to analyse the asbab al-wurud (the historical circumstances) of hadith.

"We're expecting trouble again!" Ahmed Nassef, the director of Muslim Wake Up, told TGP News, "And we will almost certainly have to change venue at the last minute. There's a serious risk members of our congregation will resort to violence against innocent demonstrators, especially if they are children wearing jilbab. But we are certain the event will be welcomed by 68% of American Muslims worldwide."

The mixed-species Jumma has already drawn criticisms from leading Muslim scholars, including the 92 year old Yusuf Markaz Barid, a graduate of Al-Azhar who has written extensively on the sex lives of Jinn.

"This is a devilish act of heresy likely to bring about the end of the world." Markaz Barid screeched at his home in Qatar, adding that Jinn were mostly, "devious magicians who lure men into salacious restaurants."

Professor Mostashifa, who is already a controversial figure after suggesting the Qur'an sanctioned American cultural imperialism, was more circumspect in his appraisal of the event. "I have been studying this problem for over twenty years, and I believe that this Jumma will be an important step forward for fanatics on both sides of the species divide."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Iman Muhanna

Three months ago today, on December 17th, 2004, Iman Muhanna, a six month pregnant Muslim woman was found murdered in her home in New Orleans, LA. She was stabbed 33 times, no one has been apprehended.

So far, very little attention has been given to this case: a Technorarti search results in only four (4) blog entries. On the other hand, a similar search on the Amina Wadud controversy results in 96 such entries. The Living Tradition blog correctly points out that, while we argue over Wadud, significant concerns get sidelined in all of the hoopla.

From the Muslim American Society's website:

Iman was a mother of two children and a teacher at the Muslim Academy in New Orleans. She was greatly loved by her family and the Muslim community, whom she had served faithfully. She is a sister-in-law of the renowned Palestinian activist Dr. Abdulhaleem Al-Ashqar.

The MAS has begun a nationwide campaign, and is calling for assistance from the public and the media.

If you would like to assist, please contact MAS Freedom at (202) 496-1288 or freedom@masnet.org If you have any information regarding the case, please contact MAS Freedom Foundation or the New Orleans Police Department. All information will remain strictly confidential. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the New Orleans Sheriff's Office Investigation Bureau at (504) 364-5300 or Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111. Callers to Crimestoppers do not have to give their names to be eligible for a reward of as much as $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of a suspect.

Letting Go - Your Kids Making Choices

Salam all,

So you know, if you hang out in Muslim spaces on the internet, that one of the hot topics is what girls wear on their heads (or don't). Boy, are people interested in this. Boy, do people get hot under the collar about it. The girls are pulled back and forth by pundits making points out of them.

To conservatives, they are never doing enough. "Girls in the Middle East (where I live) are trying to have it both ways by wearing some sort of thing over their head along with heavy makeup, skin tight jeans, high heels and chiffon blouses. They use the scarf to show piety while they don't even pray. They wear makeup and the scarf! They wear the scarf while dancing!" etc.

To liberals, they are doing way too much. "Girls in the Middle East follow Amr Khaled! This shows they are being led by the nose by Salafis! Girls choose the Hijab and then it's socially impossible for them to take it off! Girls are being pressured! Girls are not really making their own choice!"

My question is: Do none of these people remember being young? The feeling of wanting to be different than your parents? The feeling of wanting to be accepted by your peers? Why is the scarf thing all that different than getting a perm was for me in the 80s?

It's hard to let our kids go. My husband is having a big problem with the idea of our 13 and 14 year old kids possibly attending college in the US or somewhere else outside Egypt. But he'll have to adapt. Because whether you want them to or not, your kids are biologically designed to drive you crazy once they hit the teenage years. It's God's revenge on us for what we did to our own parents.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Radical Feminist’s Palimpsest

I am writing this comment in response to the publication of two articles written by Mona Eltahawy on Muslim Wake Up. Both focus on Shabina Begum, the 16 year old school girl who recently secured a legal victory against Denbigh High School in Luton, UK, which had denied her the right to wear jilbab as an expression of her Muslim faith. Both stories distort the issues surrounding the case, by subsuming them under concerns specific to the Muslim communities in the United States. Indeed, so keen was Mona to make her own case that - in the second article - she resorted to presenting malicious rumour as fact. I believe this has implications for the reputation of Muslim Wake Up.

The first story focused on the issue of Muslim women being excessively judged by what they wear. While this might be a valid issue, Mona Eltahawy failed to balance her concerns against the context in which this court case took place. In 2004, the French government passed a law banning overt religious symbols in schools, but few were in any doubt that the principle aim of this legislation was to ban Muslim schoolgirls from wearing hijab. Indeed, laws specifically targeting hijab were soon being proposed in Belgium and Germany.

The origins of the European hijab controversy are complex, and take place on a bleak intersection where colonial history and post-9/11 Islamophobia collide. Most French Muslims have their origins in the Maghrib, with the first migrants coming mainly from Algeria, a French colony until 1962. French colonialism was unique in its drive to completely assimilate host cultures, and a comparable demand on migrants to conform to secular French cultural standards was the driving force behind the hijab law. In fact, even before the law was passed, wearing hijab had seen French Muslim women denied employment and even hospital treatment.

In this context, Muslim women in Britain launched the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab – an organisation that was instantly attacked on Muslim Wake Up, where it was misrepresented as a male inspired Salafi puppet show. In fact, the Prohijab group was founded entirely by Muslim women, and though it was probably closely backed by the Qaradawi loving Muslim Association of Britain, it was immediately supported by the majority of Muslims here, who were outraged at events in Europe and a growing tide of Islamophobic prejudice pouring out of the pages of the British media.

In Britain, what Muslim women choose to wear does matter – to Muslim women. The events in France and elsewhere marked out hijab in particular as a symbol of religious identity and pride, with even progressive middle class Muslims like Fareena Alam of Q-News sporting one. This is not to deny, of course, that British Muslim women are not the victims of the same prejudice that sees them labelled as irreligious if they dress in Western clothes. But in Britain, the kind of confrontational gender politics which is evident in the USA simply does not exist. Britain is a country notorious for its gradualist politics. The last time we had a popular revolution here was in 1381!

Sadly, Mona Eltahawy not only sought to ignore this context, but presented a distorted picture of how British Muslims have responded to Shabina Begum’s victory, by citing the views of the Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of Muslim Parliament in support of her case. Despite its grandiose name, the Muslim Parliament does not represent the vast majority of British Muslims or their views. The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group which represents the majority of British Muslim organisations, welcomed Shabina Begum’s victory. So did the popular MPACUK. Those who did express concerns – such as Fareena Alam of Q-News – maintained a moderate, discursive tone which was simply absent from Mona Eltahawy’s angry diatribes.

Sadly, what was completely absent from Mona’s quasi-feminist rhetoric was the voice of Shabina Begum herself. "I don't regret wearing the jilbab at all.” Shabina told the Guardian in an exclusive interview. “I'm happy that I did this. I feel that I have given hope and strength to other Muslim women.” Muslim women posting on the MPACUK forums agreed. They know that young Bangladeshi women like Shabina are becoming increasingly visible and vocal in Britain – and indeed, Bangladeshi women are now the fasting growing social group entering higher education. But simply ignoring Shabina wasn’t enough for Mona. She had to be silenced.

And so, in her second story, Mona claimed that Shabina was not speaking or acting for herself at all. Instead, she was a puppet, a political football being manipulated by Cherie Blair (her barrister and the Prime Minister’s wife) and the extremist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Sadly, Mona – who I understand lives in New York – had made the silly mistake of basing her story of what looked like a convincing source – the Member of Parliament (that’s the real one at Westminster) Khaled Mahmood.

Unfortunately for Mona, Khaled Mahmood – who gave this story to the rabidly xenophobic right wing rag, the London Evening Standard - is something of a pariah among British Muslim activists. Not only did he vote for the war in Afghanistan, and abstain on Iraq, but is widely regarded as an oily opportunist who is more in touch with crooked subcontinent politics than anything going on Britain. Indeed, one Guardian journalist described him as ‘the most stupid MP in Britain.’ Such is his sullied reputation that most of the British media, despite its Islamophobic tendencies, ignored the story completely.

Mona Eltahawy’s vitriolic nonsense raises two issues. One is the way in which some radical feminists attempt to present women as victims, rather than as active, cogent individuals trying to cope with the oppressive forces of patriarchy. Has Shabina Begum internalised patriarchal values? Perhaps she has – but simply using her as a palimpsest for espousing the genuine angst of American Muslimah denies her the right that so many Muslim women, and so many women around the world, are denied on a daily basis – the right to be heard.

The second is Elthaway’s abject failure to take on board one of the key findings of postcolonial feminism – women’s diversity. This is a crucial insight for Muslims fighting for gender justice within our communities, who are often accused of parodying a monolithic, universalist Western feminism and of thus being complicit in a cultural imperialism which seeks to deride Muslim culture as misogynistic. In this instance, Mona's lack of consideration for diversity led her to assume Britain is the USA, and the concerns of British and European Muslim women are the same as those in America. They are not.

Wake up, Mona!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

You and I - Haiti

By Dara O. Shayda Ihsan guest blogger, presently in Haiti.

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

Haitian peasants live in the outskirts of mountains, underneath the shadows of the villas and palaces of the rich who live abroad and who lock their barbed wired villas from outside! They live in shacks, single room, no windows, no sanitation, no electricity or running water. When it rains they drown in their own little room and when it dose not rain they succumb to thirst.

Of course ordinary people always believe it is someone else’s fault, but the Nation of Sufism beholds all this as a mirror that reflects what is inside our collective Self. There is no “I vs. them”; is ‘I’always on the clear and ‘them’ the criminals? No! We are all souls gushed forth from the same fountain and what crime one of us commits reflects the state of the rest, otherwise we all would have formed a solid line, a moveless stance, resist as one spiritual continuum against these brutalities.

Building this house upon the sorrows of
You & I
Sailing the ocean of love by the sighs of
You & I

Smoldering betwixt the flames of loss
You & I
Dancing to the duet of hope and despair
You & I

Crying for what we could have been
You & I
Dying from odious gusts of what is
You & I

Forgetting where truly we came from
You & I
Anxious to return to the Final Abode
You & I

‘I’ the problem in this equation of
You & I
‘You’ what matters here and now for
You & I

When the glances exchanged between
You & I
When the chasm partitioned between
You & I

Soberness the pain of afflictions for
You & I
Pass around the goblet of love between
You & I

Lets live these last few moments drunken
You & I
Lets leave the soberness of this life behind
You & I

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Buddha (Peace Be Upon Him)

At the moment I am enjoying an artistic rendition of the life of the Buddha (though highly fictionalized and dramatized) by Osamu Tezuka. It has sparked a newfound interest in the Buddha's place within Islam. Of course there is no place per se, though he is there as a spiritual fountain that cannot be ignored for so many in this world.
I have noticed that many Muslims, especially South Asian respect the Buddha as a spiritual source who, "did not ask for anyone to pray to him". Many have implied that he was the qutb of his time.
In his own way, in his own language and within his own context he is saying there is only one reality, in a sense "No God but God", instead stated as "No reality but the one reality". Is this not esentially the same?
Mindfulness is Conciousness of Allah.
Presence in the moment is Presence of Allah.
The Day of Judgement is every moment.
Recieving the atom's worth of good and evil one has committed is Karma.
The Buddha (Peace Be Upon Him) deserves this title. Allah most high sent prophets and messengers to "all nations" and the Buddha is an illuminated figure, much as Adam, Abraham and Jesus (Peace Be Upon Them All) were. Their stream is one, even though his is not from the "Abrahamic" traditions and his people are not considered "People of the Book". The truth cannot be owned. Allah is one and humankind is one.
I feel no ambiguity or any reservation is seeing the beauty and truth behind his message. This is not atheism. This is not nihilism. This is oneness that he pointed towards.
This is Allah.
How can the beautiful simplicity and truth be denied from his words?

"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace."

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."

"He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye. "

"In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then beleive them to be true."

"Unity can only be manifested by the Binary. Unity itself and the idea of Unity are already two."

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Stop The Occupation ?!?!?!

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

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

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Friday, March 11, 2005

Commission for Africa’s report

Published 11 March 2005

Xamul aay na, laajtewul a ko raw.
Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse.
Igbo Proverb

Batta li a ifi ise agoura li arin egun.
With shoes, one can walk on thorns
Yoruba Proverb

The world is awash with wealth, and on a scale which has never been seen before in human history. Unlike the opulence of the past, which belonged to a handful of privileged individuals and elites, this wealth is shared by unprecedented numbers of ordinary people across the planet. Growth and globalisation have brought higher living standards to billions of men and women.

Yet it is not a wealth which everyone enjoys. In Africa millions of people live each day in abject poverty and squalor. Children are hungry, their bodies stunted and deformed by malnutrition. They cannot read or write. They are needlessly ill. They have to drink dirty water. Those living in Africa’s mushrooming shanty towns live by stinking rubbish tips and breathe polluted air.

We live in a world where new medicines and medical techniques have eradicated many of the diseases and ailments which plagued the rich world. Yet in Africa some four million children under the age of five die each year, two-thirds of them from illnesses which cost very little to treat: malaria is the biggest single killer of African children, and half those deaths could be avoided if their parents had access to diagnosis and drugs that cost not much more than US$1 a dose.

We live in a world where scientists can map the human genome and have developed the technology even to clone a human being. Yet in Africa we allow more than 250,000 women to die each year from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. We live in a world where the internet in the blink of an eye can transfer more information than any human brain could hold. Yet in Africa each day some 40 million children are not able to go school.

We live in a world which, faced by one of the most devastating diseases ever seen, AIDS, has developed the anti-retroviral drugs to control its advance. Yet in Africa, where 25 million people are infected, those drugs are not made generally available. That means two million people will die of AIDS this year. In Zambia, by 2010 every third child will be an orphan.

We live in a world where rich nations spend as much as the entire income of all the people in Africa subsidising the unnecessary production of unwanted food – to the tune of almost US$1 billion a day. While in Africa hunger is a key factor in more deaths than all the continent’s infectious diseases put together.

We live in a world where every cow in Europe has received almost US$2 a day in subsidies – double, grotesquely, the average income in Africa. And Japanese cows nearly US$4. The contrast between the lives led by those who live in rich countries and poor people in Africa is the greatest scandal of our age. To convey the enormity of that injustice we speak in millions – and yet we have to remember that behind each statistic lies a child who is precious and loved. Every day that child, and thousands like her, will struggle for breath – and for life – and tragically and painfully lose that fight.

Globalisation must also mean justice on a global scale. The people of the world have an instinctive urge to help those in distress. The response to the tsunami which devastated the rim of the Indian Ocean showed that. More than 300,000 died when the most devastating earthquake of modern times sent a gigantic wave across the seas, destroying everything in its path when it hit the shore. It was an event of peculiarly dramatic horror and the people of the world reacted with spontaneous donations of cash on a scale which had never before been seen.

There is a tsunami every month in Africa. But its deadly tide of disease and hunger steals silently and secretly across the continent. It is not dramatic, and it rarely makes the television news. Its victims die quietly, out of sight, hidden in their pitiful homes. But they perish in the same numbers.

The eyes of the world may be averted from their routine suffering, but the eyes of history are upon us. In years to come, future generations will look back, and wonder how could our world have known and failed to act?

Continue reading the rest of this section of the report

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Blessing in Disguise: a Jungian Reflection on Sunni-Shia Split

Recently, while I was reading up on the psychological interperation of fairy tales, I came accross an interesting paragraph that reflected on the "Sunni Shia split" from a perspective of Jungian psychology. The short paragraph shed a new light on the issue and enabled me to actually appreciate this problematic "split," and here, I will give some of my own reflections.

One of the central concepts in Jungian psychology is the idea of the conscious and the unconscious. By the conscious, Jung meant the realm of our psyche that we know and are aware of. Beneath it lays the world of unconscious, the area of our psyche that our conscious ego is not aware of and does not know. For example, our family or close friends often know things about our personality or our problems that we are not aware of or not able to see in ourselves. The area that we don’t see and know is our unconscious. Of-course, there are areas of our psyche that nobody knows, including ourselves. The unconscious speaks to us in various ways, through our dreams, or by what we call ‘Freudian slips’, through accidents and illnesses, and even through people we like and dislike.

Jung continued to say that just as each of us has these layers in our individual, personal psyche, the same thing can be said about a society, culture or civilization. What he meant was that in any society or a civilization, there is a conscious part and the unconscious part that the most members of the society share in a collective, universal way. Jung called these “collective” consciousness and “collective” unconscious, and distinguished them from the personal conscious and the unconscious. This collective unconscious finds a way to speak to us through fairytales and myths in a symbolic manner.

To give a specific example, Marie von Franz, who was one of the former students of C.G.Jung, states that in the West, the masculine or Father principle (as in God the Father) dominated the collective consciousness due to the influence of Christianity. Qualities like logical thinking, rationality, analytical ability, scientific thought were encouraged and valued in the West. While the feminine principle represented by feelings, emotionality, acceptance, sharing, cooperation, co-existence and preservation of nature--were pushed aside and mostly fell into the realm of the unconscious.

Jungians hold that the unconscious is such that when there is an imbalance in our psyche, it attempts to compensate for the loss one way or other (sometimes by creating a crisis if we refuse to listen to its warnings) to regain the much needed balance. In the Western society, the compensatory movement occurred in an underground, secretive ways, for example, through the worship of Black Madonna and through alchemy. From a Jungian point of view, the recent popularity of New Age movement or Native American spirituality in the U.S. may also be seen as a reflection of the need within our collective psyche to regain the connection with the feminine principle and the Mother Nature. As Jungians put it, it is a compensatory movement to balance the heavy reliance on the masculine principle within our collective consciousness.

Interestingly, von Franz applies the same concept to the Sunni and Shia issue in her book called Individuation in Fairytales (1977). She states:

"In the Islamic world there is a terrific split between the Sunnite and the Shiite movement. The latter has always endeavored to be on the compensatory side of the unconscious and thus counteract the petrification of the Sunnite movement, the orthodox school which kept to the literal interpretation of the Koran and its rules. Within the Shiite sects alchemical symbolism flourished. Eighty percent of the great Arabian alchemists belonged to the Shiites, and not to the Sunnite sect, which for us is very revealing because alchemical symbolism, and alchemy in general, was not only, as Jung points out, a subterranean compensatory movement in Christian Europe, but had exactly the same function within the Arabic civilization. There too it belonged to the subterranean, more mystical complementary movements which counteracted the petrification of collective consciousness in a very similar way as it afterwards did in the Middle Ages for us. Particularly in Persia, these Shiite and Ismalian sects flourished, as did alchemy. It was the country where there was the greatest development, and one sees this mirrored even in such simple material as fairytales.... (p. 58)."

One can argue about the accuracy of von Franz’s perspective on Sunni and Shia movements. However, what her statement indicates is a possibility that this Sunni-Shia split might actually have been beneficial to both Sunni and Shia schools. Although von Franz only discusses about the Sunni movement benefiting from the presence of more subterranean Shia movement, it is obvious that the situation goes both ways. Both Sunni and Shia schools benefit from each other’s presence as each keeps the other in check and compensate for the imbalance. In The Tao of Islam, Murata (1992) talks about a similar interaction and compensatory functions between the two basic theological perspectives in Islam, i.e.) the external, legalistic approach of Kalam and the internal, sapiential approach of Sufism.

So it goes that this ying-yang type of split between Shia and Sunni schools may have actually helped to maintain a balance in the collective consciousness of both Shia and Sunni Muslims. The presence of different perspectives keeps our conscious attitudes from freezing into a rigid, inflexible, stale position (as it would if we only had one correct view or a perspective) and creates a dynamic movement due to the tension of so-called opposites. Each school of thought prevents each other from petrifying into a stiff, lifeless formality. It may just be that this ying-yang type of conflict has created enough tension to allow for a continuous movement, renewal and growth for each school of thought and for the collective consciousness of the Muslim ummah. From von Franz’s perspective, this ‘terrific split’ between the Sunni and Shia takes on a new light— what we often consider as a problem or at least a nuisance just may have been a blessing in disguise!

* Marie von Franz was one of the foremost students of C.G. Jung and is considered to be an authority on Jungian interpretation of dreams and fairy tales.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

It's ok 'cos we're all Americans now

I was surprised recently to read that the Executive Director of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America spoke at a policy conference of the North American Jewish organisation Hillel. I was even more suprised at what he said. And I was shocked that he then trumpeted the event as some kind of big move forward for American Muslims. I should confess that my experiences with Hillel members were at campuses in North America (during a speaking tour 2 years ago organised by the Vancouver-based Palestine Solidarity Group) when I spoke on Palestine and, more particularly, Israel as an Apartheid state.

At one Vancouver campus, they repeatedly tore down the posters so that by the time the event happened, it was dominated by about 80% Hillel supporters. At some other campuses they heckled, tried to disrupt and refused to listen. In Berkeley, members of Hillel joined a campaign to boycott a dinner organised by the Boalt Law Foundation. The dinner is the main annual fund-raising event to raise funds for disadvantaged students to study at Boalt Law School. The BLF's crime? They co-sponsored my lecture there. After much trauma for the BLF and Palestinians and Palestinian supporters at the university, a joint letter was issued. The complainants, including the Hillel members, could not even use the term "Palestinian students" in the letter; it had to be "students of Palestinian descent".

Last year, at a university in Vancouver, Hillel used racial profiling to forcefully prevent certain people from entering a hall where an Israeli official was speaking.

Perhaps the PMUNA rep didn't know, but at the same time that he was speaking at this conference, there was also a session addressed by a director of Aipac (which was a co-sponsor of the conference). And another parallel session called "Zionism vs.
Social Justice" examining "the points of friction between Zionism and a social justice based world view".

I wondered why a "progressive Muslim" would speak on "Muslim-Jewish Relations: From Confrontation to Understanding" at the conference of a pro-zionist (if not Zionist itself) organisation. Certainly, there might be elements in Hillel that are not zionist, but the organisational culture certainly seems to be. One of its main activities is its "Birthright Israel tour". You can bet they do NOT recognise the birthright of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands!

I suppose that by asking these questions, I have fallen into the trap that the PMUNA rep referred to in his lecture:

“American Jews and Muslims could find a common agenda on issues like social justice and education, but they can rarely get beyond a certain international conflict,” he said.

Maybe I should stop talking about a "certain international conflict" and rather think about issues like social justice and education. Except I find it very difficult to talk about social justice, education, racism, apartheid, justice, injustice, water, electricity, human dignity, food, children... without also thinking of this "certain international conflict". Perhaps I should attend a session on "Zionism vs. Social Justice" to understand what social justice issues Muslims and Zionists can work together on?

According to an article in the Jewish Journal, authored by its Zionist editor (oops, maybe I shouldnt use the "Z" word? Is that a bad thing?) the PMUNA speaker "focused on the issues that should unite moderates, liberals and progressives in our two communities"? Hey, I have Jewish friends and comrades but I don't know any Zionists that are "moderates", "liberals" or "progressives". If the PMUNA regards Hillel as any of those, then this is a sad day for the values of justice and truth that we all hold dear.

I'm sure that the speaker said some important things about Muslim-Jewish relationships in the US. But it needs to be remembered that that "certain international conflict" goes to the heart of the meaning of justice, racism, equality, dispossession, international law and freedom.

Engaging Jews is one thing; trying to "unite" with Zionists is something completely different.

In conclusion, let me give the last word on this to our PMUNA rep, with a quote from his response to my criticism: "In the fight to preserve cherished civil liberties, American Jews and American Muslims are natural allies... And at the risk of not sounding 'internationalist' enough, American Jews, Muslims, and Arabs are Americans first and foremost..."

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Osama Chronicles

Salam all

This is Anna in Cairo with a kid anecdote. It does pertain somewhat to Islam so bear with me...

My kids and I are traveling to the US this summer (inshallah) forthe first time for them in several years (since the summer of 1998 to be exact) and my younger son Osama (turning 13 next month) came to me yesterday saying "You know our trip to the US this summer? I thought of a problem." I said "what?" He said "What about mosques in the US?"

I said "Oh, they have mosques in every city and although you could very well pray in the house where we will be staying I will try to take you to some US mosques and you can see what they are like."

He was worried about the prayer times and the Qibla as well, so I told him there were internet sites for that. Then he asked about the mosques again, seeming to be kind of worried about whether they really were there. I told him "Yeah really, they have them everywhere - You can see if they will do the Khotba in english, which they do there you know."

He thought about this and said "How can that be?" I said "well most Muslims do not speak Arabic as a first language, you know, they are people from other countries like Indonesia or Pakistan and they memorize Arabic verses to pray but they understand the meaning of the Quran and stuff in their own language." He said "but you have to know Arabic to be a good Muslim." I said "No, actually you don't." We had a further discussion and it was kind of fun because he had never thought about the language issues before, having been raised for the past several years in an Arabic speakingMuslim country.

This experience caused me to remember, as I periodically do, that there are many times when we hold really offensive or wrong ideas simply because we lack context or experience. I wonder what Osama will think after he has spent three July weeks in the USA. Thoughts from those currently there on how I can mentally prepare him for the experience are most welcome. Keep in mind there is also my 14 year old who looks about 17, Yasser, who has the highest possible expectations of this visit, and I'm a bit worried he'll be disappointed.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Israeli Peace Plan

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

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

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Gender Inequality

Who's guilty of Gender Inequality?

Recently there have many articles about women rebelling in the mosques. Some are fighting for equality in the space while some want to get rid of segregation altogether. MWU is hilighting the case of Asra Nomani who's famed for her rebellion against the mosque in Morgontown, WVa. Everyone without exception points to the lack of women in leadership roles or participation in mosque affairs as an example of repression against women. And "gender inequality" accusations are hurled at muslim men and islam (the usual culprits). There is no doubt that problems exist and in the absence of a central authority each mosque will have to resolve the issues it faces.

There is no magic solution that will apply to all.

Anyway, my intent here is not to solve the problems in the various mosque, but state some of my observations with regards to gender.

A few facts first.

- In the United States with a population of 270 million, a shade more than 50% of them women, the number of women senators currently in office are 14 out of 100. To date only 33 women have served in the Senate.
[Source: www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/women_senators.htm ]

- In its 103 year Nobel history until 2004, only 12 women were awarded prizes in Sciences, 11 were award the peace prize and 9 won the award in litrature. I initially suspected that this may be due to the lack of women empowerment in the last century, so I checked the stats for the 21st century. In the 5 years from 2000-2004, there were only 3 women(Shirin Ebadi, Linda Buck and Wangari Maathai) among 64 total nobel laureates.
[Source: http://nobelprize.org/search/all_laureates_yd.html]

- While women currently make up half the workforce, only two Fortune 500 companies have women CEO. [Source: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenceo1.html]

- Only 5 percent of the jailbirds in the US are women. Although from a personal perspective 100% of the scumbags were men.
[Source : http://www.prisonactivist.org/]

By now, most of you may be ready to wallop me, so I will state my point here.

My point is that most statistics clearly show that women average better than men in every field. But in any arena, the top cream and the bottom scum is composed of disproportionately more men than women.

This fact raises a question. Why is this so? Is this really due to machinations of devious men in powerful places, or is this how Allah (swt) intended it?

In the animal kingdom we see the male species and the female species have different, but distinct division of functions. A lioness hunts and provides while the lion is the guardian. The ants have a heirarchical society which is led by a female. Among certain spiders, the females do everything to sustain and propagate their kinds while the males exist only to impregnate the females.

So are humans in their quest to create equality of functions going against nature? Did Allah(swt) intend men and women to be equal OR did he intend men and women to complement and complete one another? He made one more stronger and the other more compassionate. This is not to say that man cannot raise kids or the woman cannot go to war. Its my belief that Allah(swt) made them different to fulfill different roles. My wife concurs with me, so this validates my opinion. Atleast for me it does.

PS- Another notable fact is that 100 percent of the beauty pageant winners were women. Go figure!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Does technological progress imply advance in civilization?

I visited the Medieval Times (www.medievaltimes.com) in NJ for a show, and spent a few minutes in the little museum in their basement.

The artifacts on display were different contraptions used for torture during the Spanish Inquisition era. It boggled the mind to realize the thought that went in designing and building these specialized instruments of torture. There was something for everyone.

A device could apply painful and gradually increasing pressure on the jaws of a man to eventually cause fracture after couple of days. Another could kill the fetus and slowly torture a pregnant woman to death. None of these horrific instruments was second to any in its capability to inflict pain. According to the information on display, at the end of torture the victims were shoved in cages barely large enough for a grown person to sit in, and these cages were hung from poles on the streets as warning to the society. Usually death was painfully slow, but the humiliation didn't end there. They deserved and received no funeral. Their bodies rotted in the cages until the bones fell.

The audience reactions were varied. There were genuine gasps of horror amid smug comments from others about the progress of civilization so far. This particular comment triggered a strong feeling of revulsion in me against all those who believe that the world is so much better today.

Don't get me wrong. I cannot even begin to fathom the agony the victims of torture endured until their deaths which they must have begged for and welcomed. I am revolted by the ignorance that feeds the belief that the world is better today.

The popular perception today is that torture is an exception and something that doesn't happen as a rule. And only a few bad apples are involved. At the world level its the rogue nations that are engaged in torture. At a national level its a hobby of a few rogue individuals. If torture ever has to be acknowledged the efforts of all powers that be are directed more towards damage control. Society today has the need to feel good, civilized and compliant to the UN conventions against torture. But torture happens everywhere and its the poor and defenseless who are the victims. Just like the past! But unlike the past, its never public. The world is not better today. Its only more hypocritical, and that is hardly an advance of civilization. In fact it’s a loss of humanity in us.

It wasn't Genghis Khan alone whose marauding armies left no one survivors in their path. The 'Thunder Run' offensive to the Firdaus Square in Baghdad left no non-coalition man, woman or child standing in its wake. The 20th century witnessed two world wars and too many smaller ones to count that killed the most non-combatants ever in the history preceding it. As in the past, we still have one group of people fighting other. But we are a lot better at killing today, than 500 years ago. This, certainly due to the technological progress, is by no means a civilized achievement.

Lest someone get the impression, I am no anarchist. I am not anti-progress. In my view technology is a tool like a surgeon’s scalpel. As a tool it can be used to save and improve life or can be used to murder. It is my belief that we will see greater advances in science and technology that will improve the quality of life of future generations. But it is almost certain that we will also see more advanced weaponry that could destroy all life easier and quicker than ever before. Will humanity and the instinct for survival recognize such risks? Will there be a corrective plan in the progress? Or will we continue to race head-long towards the end?

And btw, the medieval times show was very entertaining.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Prime Target

Recently, I’ve been reading and listening to some of the profiling of potential terrorists in the UK and Europe, taking on board statements made by the British Home Office, plus a recent article written by the neo-Orientalist academic Oliver Roy. On the basis of the information available to me so far, I am starting to get a little paranoid. Are the British Security Services monitoring my activities? Or do these profiles cast such a wide net that suspicion must inevitable fall on more people than it is ever possible to police?

First of all, I’m obviously a suspect by dint of the fact I am Muslim. That accounts for around 1.59 million people in the UK today. Mind you, don’t think the government can’t keep an eye on all that lot. Today, a minister boldly proclaimed that police would be targeting Muslims for stop and search on the street, above and beyond any other group.

I’m still trying to figure out how that differs from searching black people ‘because they come from a violent culture’ or Irish ‘because the IRA are Irish’. No doubt, racists will be similarly targeting us for a good kicking now their style of thinking has official government approval.

How is this policy going to work, anyway? Will a cheerful bobby greet suspects with, ‘as-salaamu alaykum’ and see what kind of response they get? Or will women in hijabs and bearded men be singled out for intrusive body searches? That should be fun – imagine some 20-something copper trying to pat down a first generation Bangladeshi granny! The poor sod will get beaten senseless! Most likely, ‘Asians’ will face the closest scrutiny, but that’s pretty ineffectual policing, given that a quarter of British Muslims are not Asian. And in prime target London, that fraction is far higher.

I am a suspect, it seems, because potential terrorists are well educated, despite being blood curdling mindless fanatics. The trouble is, 15% of Muslims aged 15-30 in the UK have a degree, and given that the Muslim population here is younger than any other religious group, that must be rather a lot of people. Presumably Muslim degree certificates are now automatically copied and sent to MI5 headquarters. Converts are another group frequently mentioned in profile. That includes me again – plus most of the 64 000 other white British Muslims, not to mention the Afro-Caribbeans converts the police won’t notice because they’re not Asian.

Converts would seem to be a particular target for profilers for another reason. According to the best research on this group, most tend to embrace Islam partly as a result of disillusionment with mainstream non-Muslim culture. In short, they think British society stinks, but then quite a few non-Muslims hold that view. Nevertheless, this is one of the most frequently reoccurring themes in terrorist profiles – a dislike of the West, which apparently tends to express itself in radical Muslims as a desire to re-establish the Caliphate.

Just on the number of Salafi and Wahhabi Muslims I have heard express this view, this would seem to include rather more Muslims than any spook agency could ever hope to keep an eye on. Do these people have any idea what they are talking about?

Looking at Roy’s respected monograph alone, I am certainly worried. According to this scholar’s analysis, the political perspective of Muslim terrorists is comparable to the European radical anti-capitalist groups of the 1970s, such as Baader-Meinhof. Now, I have no plans to blow anything up, but I certainly share the basic political perspective of these groups – I could be classed as belonging to what people like Roy like to call ‘the far left’. It’s not a label I like – I am no blind follower of Marx or Trotsky. But such is the crude political analysis that these experts like to engage in.

The problem with Roy, of course, is that he’s French and obviously only has half the story when it comes to the UK – he even claims we forbid halal slaughter, which is utter twaddle. If he had any idea what was going on here, he’d know several leading British Muslim groups have links to the far-left as a result of the anti-war movement, particularly MPACUK - apparently one of Britain’s fasting growing political groups.

So perhaps I can relax in the happy knowledge that rubbish thinking rather than reason is informing this profiling, even among the so-called intellectuals. Or should I be scared because politicians might believe this claptrap? Or just confused?

I have to confess, my wife is more worried than I am. She is scared of the security forces smashing down our front door at 6am – it’s one of their favourite tactics, but it does get the neighbours talking .Thankfully, the Prevention of Terrorist Bill currently being rushed through parliament will mean I no longer have to fear for my porch decor. Once this bill is law, the police can simply knock nicely and tell me not to leave my house ever again. And if the bill stays as it is, that order will come directly from the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

The prospect of having me gagged in my own home must be rather tempting to Charley boy. Since 2001, I have lost count of the abrasive, satirical letters I have sent to members of the cabinet, lampooning them for their policy of near-random arrests of men with long beards, their automaton-like support for US foreign policy, their participation in the mass murder of half a million Iraqi children, and their numerous other crimes against fundamental principles of justice and humanity.

I’m sure my name must be scrawled on meglomaniac Tony’s toilet walls, next to some very rude words. There’s nothing like free speech, is there?

And indeed, in Britain today, there is nothing like it. There’s little serious opposition to Blair’s presidential dictatorship in parliament and precious few voices raised against him in the largely right-wing media the Labour party constantly pander to with their racist rhetoric on asylum seekers and migrant workers.

How long, then, before this government decide to go the whole hog and use this new law to silence what little, radical dissent still remains?