Saturday, April 30, 2005


assalamu alaykum.

the following article was submitted to MWU! by my allegedly good self and at the invitation of the editors. for reasons beyond anyone's understanding, it was not published.

am i upset? not really. a few other places published it. and MWU's refusal to publish it confirms that they will only publish articles on the issue of women-led prayers if it agrees with their position.

MWU! has the right to refuse any article for publication. they are not obliged to publish all submissions. it is their prerogative. after all, MWU! has its own agenda.

what interested me is that i have submitted articles to MWU! that are far more controversial than this one. i have written 2 articles about prostitution. i have written an article about depression which asked some very difficult questions (such as whether a person unable to marry because of suffering from schizophrenia can lawfully visit a sex worker). MWU! editors have had to tone down some of my articles in case they are too hot to handle.

anyway, i would like readers of this magnificent blog to read it. feel free to hurl compliments, abuse and lots of nihari shurba in my direction.

ma salama


Honest Thoughts on Allegedly Feminist Friday

So a university professor of Islamic Studies who just happens to be female decides that she will give a sermon and lead a small group of Muslims in a prayer service in New York. So what? What’s all the fuss about? It’s a free country, after all.

(Well, it was until a bunch of idiots decided to fly a plane into a pair of skyscrapers in the same city.)

For average Americans or Australians or Europeans, Muslim or non-Muslim, watching or reading or hearing about Feminist Friday at that Anglican Church in New York (and the following fracas with the 10 or so demonstrators outside, according to the al-Jazeera report), the first paragraph of this article probably represent the first thoughts that came to mind.

Many would compare it to the debate over female priests in the Anglican Church. Others will have recalled Barbara Streisand dressed up as a rabbinical scholar in that movie which was so forgettable that I cannot recall its name (it definitely was NOT the equally forgettable movie called Meet the Fockers!).

What follows in the next few paragraphs is my attempt to understand my own feelings toward the event. I have spent hours arguing and debating the issue on the internet. Many will have been offended by my posts on the issue on this website. And others on more “orthodox” websites will be wondering why I still bother to stand on my cyber-milk-cart and shout like Abdul Rahim Greene here.

Smelly Kebabs

Some months back, on this website, someone published an article on the ‘smelly kebabs’ of the Zaytuna Institute. In relation to that article, I can make my first real confession. If Islam were Turkish cuisine, I would much prefer the smell and taste of Zaytuna kebabs over the slush of 'progressive' salad.

And for all of you who think you are progressive, listen up. I believe Zaytuna is the epitome of genuinely progressive Islam. Why? Because they seek and find progress WITHIN their tradition. They are happy to engage with other traditions. And they appreciate that many traditions share common features.

But what is the point of trying to get beyond ‘traditional’ Islam when you have not bothered to master that tradition? If you try to walk forward without knowing where you came from, you probably don’t know where you are going. So you might as well walk off the edge of a cliff without a parachute.

It’s easy to take elements of different trendy vegetarian ideas, put them together into some kind of ideological salad, add a bit of media-frenzy dressing and start munching. It may taste fresh, but it won’t necessarily be good for you.

Which leads me to acknowledge my own biases.


I believe it is essential that all you boys and girls out there in the Islamic cyber-State know where I am coming from. I make my prejudices public and resent those (progressive or otherwise) commentators on this issue who claim to be totally objective.

So let me start with a few confessions.

I am Muslim. I am a male. I live in Sydney, Australia. I practise law.

Is that it? No, there’s more.

In matters of fiqh (personal religious law), I follow the school of the ahnaaf (often incorrectly referred to as the ‘hanafi’ school). Most of my teachers were from the deoband tradition of North Indian hanafi sunni Islam, though I have been known to shed a tear or two whilst watching videos of Dr Tahir al-Qadri (from the allegedly competing barelwi tradition) speaking in his gorgeous Urdu on the status of our Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him).

I believe in what is popularly known as “traditional” Islam. That does not mean that I agree with everything that every traditional scholar or writer has ever written or stated. For instance, like many followers of the orthodox naqshbandi tradition, I have serious problems with some “haqqani” elders. Especially after one of them decided to go to the US State Department and call most North American groups (including presumably the Zaytuna Institute) supporters of extremism and terrorism.

I have also had no problems in questioning some criticisms of Maulana Farid Esack made by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter). And I told Shaykh Tim this when he visited Sydney last year.

But by and large, I regard traditional Islam as the most suitable and progressive form of Islam, flexible enough to be just as much at home in a deobandi madressa (or a barelwi one for that matter) in Karachi as in a halaqa of Young Muslims of Australia (http://www.yma.org.au/).

OK, those are my cards on the table. What does that make me think of Professor Amina Wudud Muhsin and the allegedly first mixed congregational prayer to be led by a woman?

The First Time …

MWU! and other organisers of the event told us that this would be the first time in history that a woman would be leading the salat al-jumuah (Friday congregational prayer) and delivering a khutbah (sermon that forms part of the prayer) in over 1,400 years of Islamic history. They waxed lyrical about the whole ‘first time’, until at one stage I thought it was Roberta Flack who would be leading the prayer.

Really? Are you sure this was the first time? I certainly wasn’t. I thought I had better check things out.

In the West, when you see something weird, you predict that it will probably have something to do with the United States. “Only in America!”, we often here. In the Muslim world, the weird things often seem to happen in Turkey. So asking Turks was a good start.

I rang my mate Alf, a Turkish Aussie who has sat with numerous Turkish scholars (including my own late teacher). Alf asked around a few of the hocas in Sydney. He then came back to me.

“Irfan, these guys who claim it is the first time in history are spinning sh#t. One hoca [Turkish for “imam”] told me these stunts were happening in Turkey 20 years ago! And also, there was that thing in South Africa that the funny dude was talking about”.

The thing in South Africa? That funny dude? I guessed Alf was talking about Maulana Farid Esack. I looked up the index of his book “On Being A Muslim” (which I reviewed on this very website) and found references to both Amina Wudud and Shamima Shaikh (may God have mercy on her) having something to do with mixed congregational prayers.Then someone sent me something about mosques in China built specially for women. Women giving khutba on Fridays and leading prayers. Admittedly blokes probably weren’t on the invitation list there.

Ok, I know some of you will be saying that these other incidents did not contain all the same features as the recent service led by Professor Wudud. But I think it was a bit misleading for the organisers to claim they were making history.

Sharia Arguments

I am no scholar of sharia (Islamic legal traditions). I have no ijaza (permission to teach) from another expert also possessing ijaza as part of a chain (sanad) of ijaza going all the way back to the Messenger of God (peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family). I also have not graduated from any Islamic or other university [in sharia]. Nor have I studied Islamic Studies at a western university or other institution.

As such, I cannot comment on whether Professor Wudud’s arguments have some basis within sharia. Many of those making outlandish comments and giving blank cheque fatwas on behalf of either side of the argument should have the guts to make the same admissions.

I have seen elsewhere that Imam Ibn Rushd, an expert on comparative systems of understanding sharia in the sunni school, has cited the opinion of the famous Imam Tabari which lends support to the recent service led by Professor Wudud. And many have pointed to this opinion.

Imam Tabari was well-known in his time. He was also well-respected. If he had openly expressed such an opinion, we might safely presume that somewhere some woman in his community led the Friday prayers. This further undermines the “we were first” claims.

Some have been arguing that sharia is sexist and that women were rarely allowed to be scholars. What, then, have we to say about Imam Shafei (God have mercy on him) who admitted having been taught by over 20 female scholars? And what do we make of our spiritual mother Aisha (God be pleased with her) who taught us so much about the more private aspects of sharia and who is regarded (at least in the sunni school) as one of the greatest hadith scholars and jurists of her time?

But even if I were to agree that the entire evolution of sharia kept women out of the scholarly loop, does it make sense for me to look within that same tradition for an opinion supporting my case? And an opinion from a male?

It’s a bit like the late Ahmed Deedat (God have mercy on him) disputing the authenticity of the New Testament, but then using the same inauthentic document to prove his case against the crucifixion.

Minority Opinions

Legally, one thing is certain. If you stray from the mainstream, you are swimming in dangerous waters. This applies to any legal tradition, whether common law or continental law or sharia law.

In Nigeria, Amina Lawal was the victim of a magistrate with little knowledge of sharia trying and sentencing her in accordance with a minority and largely discredited opinion of the Maliki school of law.

Minority opinions are dangerous because they have rarely been tested and applied. This in itself does not make them wrong. It also does not make them completely without basis. You cannot say the recent Friday service was without basis when someone of the calibre of Imam Tabari was prepared to stick his scholarly neck out over one millennium ago and support the idea.

Minority opinions can be dangerous. And when used to support noble intentions and agendas, they can cause more damage than good to the cause they are being used to serve. Which leads me to my main point.

Amina Is Not Helping Amina

I have no doubts about the sincerity of the organisers of the recent Friday service, their supporters and all those who agree with Professor Wudud’s position.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) once said: “The best of you is he who is best to his wife”. He also said: “Paradise is under your mother’s feet”.Yet look at how our communities across the world treat their wives, sisters, mothers, aunts. Anyone who claims Muslims respect human rights must be joking. How can you claim to respect human rights when you discriminate against over 50% of your community? I’ve heard of oppressing minorities, but this is gender apartheid and it is just ridiculous.

How often do you see Punjabi Muslim men being gang-raped or shot or stoned for talking to a female? How often do you see a middle class Karachi kid being whipped for sneaking out of a video-hire place with pornographic DVD’s? Why do prostitutes in Dhaka get punished and ostracised but not their clients?

I have heard of Amina Lawal. Where is Ahmed or Muhammad or Tariq or Irfan Lawal?

When it comes to human rights, we have reached crisis point. When we Muslim men mistreat our wives and our mothers, we are clearly not the best among men. And we are certainly not deserving of the paradise that lies under the feet of our mothers.

This, I believe, was the real motivation of Professor Wudud and those behind her (both at the Friday service and otherwise). Their intentions are noble and necessary. But the prayer service itself was not.

Yes, we sitting in our middle class homes in air-conditioned comfort eating micro-waved meals and typing words on the latest computers as we illegally download songs from LimeWire, we might think our well-intentioned acts reach out and touch the lives of millions.

But how many of us have been to Muslim societies and Muslim countries and really understood the core of the problem? Are Muslim women oppressed because they may or may not be allowed to lead congregational prayers?

The causes for women’s oppression are many and varied. Muslims are not a monolith. Our understanding of Islam and what it has to say about gender relations is conditioned by our cultures, our climate, our history, our interactions with non-Muslim cultures, our exposure to mass media etc.

Liturgy and procedures of ibada (formal worship) are not necessarily the only cause. And not all Muslim women necessarily feel oppressed by our traditional liturgy.

And our solutions may not suit all Muslim communities. In South Africa, many Muslim women are struggling just to get into the mosque. In most mosques in Sydney, women are given the smallest and smelliest places for prayer. In some mosques, cars are parked in nicer spots than the places where women are expected to worship their Creator.

Did traditional Islam lock these women out of the mosque or confine them to such small and smelly spots? Did traditional Islam empower village elders to gang-rape women? Did traditional Islam allow a lowly Nigerian magistrate to wrongly sentence a woman to death?

Muslim women in Aceh trying to re-build their lives destroyed by the tsunami probably could not care less about events in New York. Muslim women in Pakistan in hiding from honour-killing male relatives won’t feel any less insecure thanks to Professor Wudud being an Imam. Amina Wudud has not helped Amina Lawal.

Yes, we are told. This is all true. But the Friday prayer of Professor Wudud was a start in the process of liberation. Really?

Are we to presume it is only mad mullahs who are offended by this event? I don’t think so. Many Muslim women are speaking out against the prayer, and they do so for a variety of reasons. Writers here might express disdain for those reasons. But the onus is on those introducing this practice to convince their sceptical critics.

How to Lose Friends & Infuriate People

And why shouldn’t the critics be sceptical? Many Muslim women find it offensive that one woman feels she can re-invent the salat/nemaz/ritual worship wheel. They also feel offended that those involved are taking credit for liberating Muslim women whilst the reality on the ground is so stark.

You cannot expect to be able to liberate women by offending them and their sensibilities. You cannot expect to implement change by belittling people’s beliefs and core practices. Unless, of course, if you want to look like Hizbut Tahrir or al-Muhajiroun, trying to convince people to adopt Islam by telling them their entire system is evil and should be crushed.

Changing established rules of fiqh to get a good write-up in the NYT is not my idea of a sound prescription for reform of any legal system. Do-it-yourself sharia for publicity should be left to the experts, along with flying jets into skyscrapers.

Then again, in a community with as little intellectual vigour as ours, you could come up with a most eminently sensible view and have scholarly views and sources to back up your argument, and people will still call you nasty things. Look at poor Dr Ramadan and his view on the suspension of capital punishment in Muslim countries. Even those claiming to follow his grandfather are opposing him.

So I guess a good way to lose friends in our society is to speak your mind. It infuriates people and gives them the sh#ts. I may not agree with Professor Wudud, but I am sure both of us sleep very comfortably at night.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Muslims Must Speak Out

assalamu alaykum.

the following article appeared in the Opinion section of the Sydney Morning Herald. it was written in response to some despicable remarks made by a young local shaykh. the shaykh stated on national TV that a woman who dresses in a certain way is eligible to be raped.

ma salama


Muslims must speak out, or be condemned for their silence
Date: April 28 2005

A leader's controversial comments on rape do not reflect the view of the majority, writes Irfan Yusef.

Muslim websites in Sydney and Melbourne have been running hot in the wake of comments made some weeks ago by Sheik Faiz Mohamad, a graduate of Islamic law and lecturer at an Islamic centre in south-western Sydney.

Faiz's comments, that women largely bear responsibility for rape if they make themselves an object of sexual desire, have upset many in a religious community that is still haunted by images and stories of Bosnian refugees being gang-raped during the recent war. The fear is that as Australians outside the Muslim community become aware of his comments, a wider backlash will result.

Faiz has been described in some circles as a cleric. Yet Islam knows no priestly or clerical class. The word sheik literally means old man. In a religious context, sheiks are little more than religious lawyers, similar in status to rabbis in the Jewish tradition.

Faiz studied Islamic law in Saudi Arabia and is a follower of one of a number of fringe "salafi" groups. Salafi groups are regarded as heterodox, removing texts from their historical context and turning a religion whose name literally means peace into a violent political ideology. They are rejected by even the Saudi religious establishment.

I prefer the wisdom of Turkish sufis to the fires of hatred that al-Qaeda wannabes like to fuel. The beliefs of mainstream Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds are more reflected by whirling dervishes than rants of a small minority of hate-filled youngsters. This is especially the case with local Arabic, Turkish and Indian subcontinent communities, which are dominant among Australian Muslims.

In a public address last month, Faiz is reported to have said there is a victim of rape somewhere in the world every minute, and that the woman is usually to blame. "She displayed her beauty to the entire world. She degraded herself by being an object of sexual desire and thus becoming vulnerable to a man who looks at her for gratification of his sexual urge."

Not surprisingly, most in the Muslim community feel revulsion at his comments. Yet there has been little significant response from Muslim community leaders, when condemnation of Faiz's comments should have been swift.

In NSW, three umbrella Islamic councils compete to represent the Muslim communities across all cultural and language groups and have spent thousands of dollars fighting in the Supreme Court for governance of the Muslim community.

Muslims are not the only religious community suffering a crisis of leadership. I am yet to meet a Sydney Anglican who is completely happy with their church, and many Catholics are not exactly jumping for joy at the choice of a new pope.

However, most - if not all - cardinals, archbishops and rabbis at least speak English and don't need interpreters everywhere they go, so they are in tune with the thinking and mores of the wider community. With Muslims, it seems that language ability and understanding the local culture are the last criteria you need to satisfy to become a community leader.

This is why your average, anonymous Aussie Mossie (as local Muslims often refer to themselves) such as myself has to speak out. If we don't, people pretending to speak on our behalf will continue to say stupid things, and we will be the ones who have to bear the abuse of fellow Australians via the radio shock jocks and the broader community.

Yet Muslim community leaders sit back and do next to nothing or, worse, try to defend the indefensible comments of the likes of Faiz.

Meanwhile, your average Muslim will be too busy organising his or her business, or career; most Muslims are too busy getting on with life to worry about what some religious crackpot is saying.

So let me state for the record what I think most Muslims believe. Like other Australians, most Muslims believe rape is a crime; that rapists should and must be punished. Women and men are subject to sexual assault regardless of what they wear. And sadly, idiots of all religious denominations sometimes claim that women could avoid being raped by dressing more modestly, but I am yet to read any scripture or learn of a religion that justifies rape.

Muslims have to speak out. We cannot afford to rely on our non-English-speaking imams and feuding leaders to make incoherent noises while we are busy getting on with our lives.

In the present environment, where shock jocks and columnists are quoting our incompetent leadership, our silence will be treated as an admission of guilt.

More than 90 per cent of programs broadcast on Sydney Muslim radio stations are in Arabic, not English. Yet I doubt any of them will say a word about Faiz.

And if they do, it will be in a language most Muslims, indeed most Australians, will not understand.

Irfan Yusef is a Sydney lawyer.

A Conversation with Arab-American Artist Khalil Bendib

Khalil Bendib's cartoons appear on this blog - see side bar for all the ones that have appeared so far... in this interview, Khalil talks about his being a Green Party member, and how this relates to Islam, and being a Muslim. Enjoy!

By Khurshid Khoja

Recently, the Algerian-American political cartoonist, fine artist, and co-host of “Voices of the Middle East and North Africa” on KPFA Radio 94.1 FM, Khalil Bendib sat down with the Green News to talk about his work, his activism, and why he decided to go Green. We started our conversation by asking “Why did you become a Green activist?”

KB: I’m a political artist more than I am an activist. I’m an activist in my own way, through my communication skills, whether it’s the cartoons, the public speeches or the radio program—I’m a commentator, I try to effect change and influence people that way. If you go to my website [www.bendib.com], you’ll see that my slogan is “The Pen is Funnier than the Sword”—which I really believe. I’m committed to non-violent change.

Why did I become a Green? I don’t think I ever became a Green, I think I was always a Green, and wasn’t aware of it. The reason I feel that I was always a Green is because I was always a Muslim. So I feel very comfortable being a Green—I agree with the core Green values without exception. For example, gender equality is a core principle of the Green Party, and I believe it’s also a core principle of Islam.

Khalil notes that, contrary to what the popular stereotypes of Islam might suggest, when Islam was introduced it was a liberating force, rectifying rampant injustices against Arab women—such as female infanticide and the denial of inheritance and property rights to widows.

KB: Most people don’t know that part of Islam’s history, and they feel that there must be some incompatibility between the progressive agenda of the Greens and Islam—which is perceived as very conservative. But Islam was never a conservative force.

The Islam I was raised with taught the avoidance of extremes. Islam taught tolerance of other religions. I was also taught that [in Islam] values are what matter more than blind ritual. Even an atheist, who treats fellow living beings with respect, is closer to God than some guy who . . . is obsessed with the mere rituals of Islam. Adhering to the principles of Islam and actually treating fellow beings in a dignified manner—that’s a lot harder [than praying five times a day].

Khalil also notes that the Green Party has done more than other parties to defend the rights of Arab- and Muslim-Americans, and bring attention to our country’s less than constructive role in Iraq and Palestine.

KB: In this country, it’s hard for any political party to be completely fair when it comes to the Middle East, but the Green Party has done more than any other party. For example, during the 2000 (and 2004) election, I was already completely committed to the Green agenda—I had no idea that [Green Party Presidential Candidate] Ralph Nader would come out so strongly on Palestine, on Iraq and on Arab- and Muslim-American civil rights. Because of my ethnic background, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a huge issue for me—it hits me very hard on many different levels. Yet, even with the passion that I had for Palestinian rights, I was never a one issue guy, and I was committed to the entire Green Party platform.

Khalil admits “I voted for Democrats until I got tired.” He stopped voting for Democrats after the 1992 Presidential Elections brought the so-called “New” Democrats to power. Not without a hint of irony, he tells of how he lost hope when Jerry Brown, who was supposed to represent the progressive left Democrats, lost the Democratic Party nomination to Bill Clinton.

KB: Things just got more and more ridiculous within the Democratic Party after that. Since then, I’ve always voted for Greens [and Green Party candidates], period. Though I was so desperate to get a break from George Bush, I voted Nader/Camejo in the 2004 elections.

He smirks, “Of course, I had the luxury of being in California—I didn’t have to face any huge dilemmas.” Responding to the oft-leveled allegations that Greens were wasting their votes, Khalil says, “that’s a defeatist and undemocratic argument.”

KB: It’s the voice of fear. I understand it, because I’m fearful too. I’m full of fear right now. As a Muslim, Progressive, Arab-American, I have three strikes against me. So I understand that fear that says, “Let’s be pragmatic.” But, it’s very self-defeating, because after every election we’re in a worse predicament than we were in before. The choice is always between the lesser of two evils, each more and more intolerable, and it’s all because of this logic. We let the Democrats completely off the hook every time. The Democrats take [progressive voters] for granted, so for progressives to vote for Democrats right now is political suicide. It doesn’t make sense.

Khalil says that if you’re a progressive voter in our American two-party, winner-take-all-system, “It’s counter-intuitive to vote your own interest.”

KB: I’m just as scared [of the Bush Administration] as those who hold their noses and vote for Democrats, if not more. But I don’t let that fear completely overwhelm me.

Khalil’s cartoons can be found at www.bendib.com, while his fine art is on display at www.StudioBendib.com. Khalil co-hosts “Voices of the Middle East and North Africa” every other Wednesday at 7 PM on KPFA Free Speech Radio 94.1 FM.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Attack on Academic Freedom in America: What It Represents and What Needs to Be Done

The rapid escalation of the spurious attacks targeting academic freedom is a phenomenon to be taken very seriously. The manner in which various rightwing groups are implicating university departments and faculty in “undermining national security” and in some cases “promoting terror” is shameful and disgusting.

Attacks against Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado and Joseph Massad at Columbia University have been two of the most recent events in the series of well-funded attempts to wreak havoc upon one university department and professor after another. Defenders of academic and intellectual freedom have two important challenges, one immediate and the other long term.

The immediate objective is to potently combat the engineering of these farcical, but carefully calculated and potentially dangerous, offensives launched against professors who practice intellectual independence and honesty. The long term and most crucial objective for the protection and enhancement of academic freedom is to ensure that the culture and production of ideas in the academy do not remain aloof from the ideological and cultural life of society at large.

The assault on Middle Eastern studies departments in particular has accelerated with great venom. Notwithstanding the larger attack on the progressive victories in the academy such as the ethnic and women’s studies departments, rightwing pundits and their allies in government have taken exceptional note of the putative “takeover” of Middle Eastern studies in the United States by the “followers of Edward Said,” as rabid Zionist and anti-Arab commentators such as Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes would like to argue.

In many ways, there undoubtedly has been some progress at some universities with regard to questions of the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy toward that region. Edward Said’s contribution in exposing so starkly the historically cozy relationship between knowledge and power and the manner in which intellectuals and specialists dutifully participated in the expansion of Western colonial domination certainly presented a much-needed shot in the arm of Arabist and orientalist studies in the West. It created some space for intellectuals to re-examine the methodology and objectives that underlay their study of the Arab and the larger Islamicate world.

However, the major explanation behind the more critical and independent positions taken by some university departments on U.S. policy toward the Middle East lies in the blatant realities and consequences of such policy. It has become increasingly difficult to ignore both the ramifications of U.S. domination of the Middle East as well as the protest voiced by almost the entire world at American machinations.

Unquestionably, there persist a great many stubborn orientalists who want to retain and rejuvenate classical orientalism replete with its racist intellectual paradigms that provided ideological artillery for Western power. But there is the sheer conspicuousness of the human costs in Iraq during the decade-long economic sanctions and now under U.S. occupation that we simply cannot ignore. And then there is Palestine where the Israeli government only becomes more and more emboldened by U.S. support to grab more Palestinian lands, build more settlements, and perpetuate its brutal occupation.

With such a magnitude of misery and the discontent produced because of it, only outright falsification and cover-up can present a benign view of America’s role in the Middle East. Fortunately, there are academics who refuse to succumb to such overt chicanery.

On the other hand, we must also understand the persistent harassment of Middle Eastern studies departments in another context: the Middle East, lest we forget, is considered to be the “greatest material prize of world history” for U.S. elites and, therefore, maintaining the consent of the educated middle and upper classes is crucial for the continuation of a paradigm that perpetuates U.S. hegemony in the region.

It would be disastrous if a whole section of the young educated elite in this country escaped the indoctrination of the party line on U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, and began questioning the motivations and ethics of American actions such as the massive arms sales to “friendly” dictatorial regimes and the uninterrupted support to the state of Israel and its relentless colonization of Palestinian land and resources.

It is important to see how these current efforts to undermine intellectual independence in the university reflects the shallowness behind the rhetoric of the “free market of ideas” that is claimed to allow the unhindered exchange of ideas to compete on a supposedly equal playing field. Just as terms such as “democracy,” “freedom,” “liberation,” and “culture of life” have been bandied about precisely at the moments when they were most blatantly violated, the terms “academic freedom” and “free market of ideas” are flaunted only when it can be ensured that there will be close to complete uniformity of thought and markedly narrow parameters in which there is any debate.

It is especially instructive to see the way in which elite institutions and their carefully crafted ideological frameworks respond when presented with any challenge. When, for example, Boeing or Lockheed Martin are unable to handle the competition from a European company like Airbus, these American transnational corporations do not simply accept defeat in the mythical free and fair contest of international economics; on the contrary, they readily violate the rules of the free market by calling upon the state to bail them out, by demanding restrictions on their foreign competitors and by eliciting massive amounts of taxpayer subsidies to help them be more “competitive.”

One can observe exactly the same phenomenon in the approach of those on the Right who are calling for the U.S. government and Congress to crackdown on those university departments and professors presenting critical and dissenting views that are not in line with prevailing orthodoxy. If you cannot defeat them in the so-called free market of ideas, then call upon the state to help you wage your ideological battle! Of course, considering that the elite-oriented political economy grossly favors the ideas and intellectual paradigms of dominant state-corporate power sectors, with their heavy influence over academia, the partial success of beating back the interests of ultra-Zionism and big oil in certain Middle Eastern studies departments must be seen as nothing less than astonishing.

Indeed, we should be prepared for a sustained campaign from the managers of state-corporate ideology to throttle the further liberation of Middle Eastern, as well as other social science, ethnic and women’s studies departments from conventional doctrines that have advanced Empire quite auspiciously. The ideologues of power insist that university administrations and the faculty in the critical departments of the academia must assist or at least acquiesce in their neo-McCarthyist project.

The likes of David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer, et al, will not be satisfied until the American academy is full of “embedded intellectuals,” as Prof. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley calls them. In the same way that embedded journalists in the war zones are spoon-fed state propaganda and obediently accept and report it, embedded intellectuals must be patriotic supporters of Empire who demonstrate an enthusiastic willingness to render whatever service(s) are required of them.

What we are witnessing today is a deep nostalgia for such “responsible” intellectuals in the tradition of the classical orientalists, and bitter condemnations of any sign of a more critical and independent academic culture. Under these conditions, the defense of academic freedom must be carried out vigorously and relentlessly. It requires the support of thousands of faculty members in the U.S. who may not necessarily (and probably don’t) agree with the particular views espoused, but who have at the very least a commitment to the right of independent inquiry and free speech in institutions of higher learning.

There is another segment of the U.S. whose support is vital in this situation: the general non-academia population. Here, there needs to be serious introspection at how a significant portion of the vibrant progressive and Left forces of the 1960s simply became sucked into the academy and, unfortunately, became too comfortable there. It was clearly an important victory that universities were compelled to offer courses and establish new programs in fields such as ethnic and women’s studies. For the first time, issues such as the genocide of the Native Americans and the history of the oppression of African-Americans and women could be explored and acknowledged in a meaningful way. But gradually it became clear that ruling elites discovered that by limiting their concessions to a few courses and departments here and there in the academy, they could, for the most part, isolate and separate the various progressive articulations and discourses developing within the academy from society at large.

The retreat of a significant section of the 1960s and 1970s Left into the academy has been, to some extent, at the cost of building wider politically progressive movements in society. The “latte class” is a reality, and so is its growing cultural and ideological distance from ordinary working Americans. It would be dishonest not to recognize that something as banal as language has been one of the mechanisms that has created a huge division between the academic Left and the general population.

Michael Albert recently made an interesting point when addressing the topic of language: “… I don’t think obscurity in left communication is so much a failing of writing and speaking style, as that it reflects the implicit view that revolution is to be comprehended and led by a small sector of professionals, not by a whole population, and that serious discussion is to occur only among that small highly privileged group, not the whole population.”

Prof. Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin recently stated in an interview about his book Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity that the greatest satisfaction he received after the book’s publication was that his father, a small-town Republican in North Dakota, had read the book, understood its underlying message, and actually liked some parts of it. In Jensen’s satisfaction lay, I think, a notion of outreach that academic intellectuals need to regard seriously.

Suspect Communities

Suspect Communities:
The Real ‘War on Terror’ in Europe

Saturday 21 May 2005 - Conference

Libeskind Building, London Metropolitan University, 166-222 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

The 'war on terror' promotes a culture of suspicion against migrant and Muslim communities. They are made insecure in the name of national security. New laws include: bans on organisations and on any 'association' with them; special detention powers; and everyday police activity such as stop-and-search.

As a basis for these measures, new laws have redefined ‘terrorism’ more broadly to include normal political activities and resistance against oppressive regimes abroad. The European Union has encouraged and even adopted such measures, to be implemented by member states.

In response to these threats, our conference aims:

1) to analyse how 'anti-terror' and 'security' measures treat communities as 'terrorist suspects';
2) to share experiences among lawyers, human rights activists and targeted communities;
3) to find ways of working together more effectively to resist the various intended and unintended consequences on communities throughout Europe.

The day will be divided into a series of six workshops, three running simultaneously in the morning and three in the afternoon. The workshops will be convened by leading experts and human rights activists, including; Adnan Siddiqui (Stop Political Terror), Bill Bowring (LondonMet, HRSJ), Fabio Marcelli (National Co-ordinator of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers - Italy), Francis Webber (Barrister - Two Garden Court Chambers), Geoffrey Bindman (Bindman & Partners), Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (Muslim Parliament), Harmit Atwal (Institute of Race Relations), Hikmet Tabak (former director of MED-TV), Imran Hussain (Stephen Lawrence’s solicitor), James Welch (Legal Director, Liberty), Julen Arzuaga (The International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples), Liz Fekete (Institute of Race Relations), Mark Muller (Chairman, Kurdish Human Rights Project), Mary Hickman (LondonMet, ISET), Masoud Zabeti (Anglo-Iranian Lawyers), Martin Mubanga (ex-Guantanamo detainee from UK), Öykü Didem Aydin (Turkish Lawyer), Paddy Hillyard (Queen’s University Belfast, author of ‘Suspect Communities: People Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain’), Tony Bunyan (Statewatch), Vainer Burani (Swiss Lawyer) and Wolfgang Kaleck (German Lawyer, Chairman of Republican Attorney and Lawyer Association), amongst others!

Workshop 1 - Terrorist Lists
Workshop 2 - Detention
Workshop 3 - Policing
Workshop 4 - Intelligence Agencies
Workshop 5 - Migration and Asylum
Workshop 6 - Post Cold War Global Politics

The event is co-sponsored by the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (EALDH), London Metropolitan University’s Human Rights & Social Justice Research Institute and the Institute for the Study of European Transformations, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), and the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

The event is also supported by The Green Party, Stop Political Terror, Voices, Justice and Peace in East London, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, Kurdish Federation UK, Sutton for Peace and Justice, Voices Refugee Forum, CARF, UK Zimbabwean Community Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers, Front for Rights and Freedom, Wolfe Tone Society, NO2ID, National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC).

Places for the conference are extremely limited. For further information and to reserve your ticket, please contact:
Ian Waller - Email: i.waller@londonmet.ac.uk

or Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7133 5095

Ticket prices vary between £70 for professionals, £40 for academics and £20 for activists, and are at the discretion of the conference organisers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Muslims United - April 30th March in London!

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Date: Saturday April 30th, 2005
Route: Marble Arch to Paddington Green Police Station
Assembly at 10:30 AM at Marble Arch, London W1
Speeches and talks at Marble Arch
End at 2 P.M.

This march is non-partisan and non-sectarian. Various organisations
have come together to undertake the largest Muslim Anti Terror Civil Rights March
on a Muslim unity platform. It is essential that the Muslim community sends a clear
message against the 'climate of fear' that has been created by these darconian laws
and disproportionate arrests targeted at a community which has made s signficant
contribution to this society.

As the extradition hearing of Babar Ahmad continues, join the biggest Muslim
unity anti-terror march Britain has witnessed!

Click here for more information!

And click here to download flyer (pdf)

Monday, April 25, 2005


My younger sister (she is 5 years older than me but younger than my eldest one) has always been a little eccentric. Even as a child, she used to watch World Championship Wrestling and would cheer Andre the Giant as he’d (pretend to) perform plastic surgery on someone’s face by smacking it against the floor. She was 9 years old at the time. She was most amused. She would laugh. I was 4 years old. I was most terrified. I would cry.

She also enjoyed watching the cartoon Fat Albert. She could really relate to it. So could I, but for different reasons. She related to his message that you should be proud of who you are, even if you are fat or can’t talk properly or have no face and a bad afro. She wore glasses and would be picked on at school.

That message of Fat Albert was too profound for a chubby 4 year old. But I could still relate to the show. Why? Because all the kids used to call me Fat Albert. And because I was not exactly skinny.

So it was with mixed feelings that, 32 years later, I accepted my sister’s invitation to see Uncle Rupert bin Murdoch’s latest cinematised version of Fat Albert. Her eccentric 10 year old son would also be joining us. I took my ipod along in case the movie was boring and I could always entertain myself with a cocktail of Shaykh Nuh Keller and AC/DC.

At the Movies

We visited Macquarie Centre and headed to the Greater Union Cinemas. My sister walked ahead of us all to quickly buy tickets before they sold out. She walked in long strides, like a woman on a mission. She was determined to see Fat Albert tonight. Not even Andre the Giant could have stopped her.

We sat in the cinema slurping on our frozen coke slurpees. Eventually the movie came on. And I could here that familiar sound that the kids at school used to mock me with:

“hey Hey HEY … it’s Faaat Albert!”

After 20 seconds, my sister and the rest of the cinema were clapping and singing away: “Na na na, gonna ava good time!” I realised my sister was not the only eccentric person in the cinema.

After 5 minutes, I realised I didn’t need the ipod. This is a truly captivating piece of kid’s cinema. And what makes it so good is that kids of all ages and sizes, including overweight grumpy cynical 36 year old lawyers, can enjoy it.

Fat Albert & His Gang

Fat Albert’s gang are a dysfunctional bunch of black kids hanging out in some junk yard in North Philadelphia. Somehow they manage to break out of a school girl’s TV set after Fat Albert notices she is crying. He pulls his head out of the TV, but gets stuck half-way. Eventually, he is pushed out as the girl looks on horrified. The whole gang follow.

This dysfunctional bunch each have something nasty school kids can poke fun at. One has a serious speech impediment. Another wears a balaclava to hide his face. But together, they rule their part of the junkyard. And the ground is not all that shakes when their leader Fat Albert appears.

Fat Albert & Love

The movie has numerous lessons. Perhaps the most touching lesson for me was seeing Fat Albert being able to attract the heart of the most popularly attractive girl who happens to be the foster-sister of the school girl. Fat Albert charmed her with good manners and a sweet demeanour. Watching him in all his clumsy fatness reminded me of my own childhood. Yet the prettiest girl overlooked all that and found a warm and kind-hearted man who treated her like a lady and not just a piece of meat. After their first date, he walked her home. At their front door, she said: “Albert, now we are BFF. Best friends forever!”. She kissed him on the cheek.

At that moment, I just had to send a text message to a certain person of the female persuasion that worked in a bar from time to time and that I was pursuing with some vigour. “Mamoo, put your phone away! Who are you texting now during the movie?”, my nephew asked. My sister laughed, this time at me!

Perhaps the most important lesson of the movie was at its end. Fat Albert had to leave as Bill Cosby warned him that his continued stay in the real world might see him turn into celluloid dust. Albert reluctantly went to tell his sweetheart. She became upset and asked herself: “Why is it that I meet someone who really loves me but then has to leave me? I should never love anyone”.

Fat Albert & Dhikr (Remembrance of God)

Fat Albert said something that reminded me of a verse in the Qur’an. He said that loving someone is inherently wonderful, even if the person is not physically with you.

“When you love someone, you think about them. And you know they are thinkin’ about you. Isn’t that wonderful, just knowin’ that? Don’t let fear stop you from lovin’ somebody.”

Applied to human relationships, it is an awesome message. Sometimes when I visit a certain bar in the inner-western suburbs of Sydney to see a friend of the female persuasion, she will say to me: “I’m so glad you are here. I was thinking about you just yesterday”. When she says that, Fat Irfan begins to feel like Fat Albert.

But applied to our relationship with our Creator, it is even more awesome. Because in God’s case, we know Fat Albert’s words are true. God promises us: “Remember Me and I will remember you”. That is God’s personal promise to each individual human being on this planet.

And we know God remembers us even without our remembering Him. God provides for us just as He provides for birds and other animals. He never burdens us with a burden that is unbearable. He has provided a cure for every disease. We have miracles all around us. Our lives in the womb and our emergence from the womb is miraculous.

Fat Albert & the Prophet of Mercy (peace be upon him)

God sent a Prophet of such extraordinary mercy and compassion. A perfect man who suffered like no man on this earth has suffered. That wonderful man who found time to weep for a fallen soldier that he described as one of his family, the soldier named Julaybib that suffered from facial disfigurement and had no family. God sent us a man who knew what it was like to be an orphan, who buried his own mother in the sand and who watched his own grandfather die, all this before even reaching adolescence.

Those Acehnese children suffering from the loss of their parents and loved ones in the tsunami can find comfort knowing that their Prophet also lived as an orphan. Those fathers who must suffer the pain of a divorced daughter returning home can find comfort in the fact that their Prophet experienced this pain twice. And those depressed people contemplating suicide will find comfort in reading about the Prophet’s feelings when the revelation stopped for a while and the Prophet felt like throwing himself from a cliff.

This Prophet of Mercy made time for a woman suffering from schizophrenia who would frequently grab him by the hand and take him to some place where he would listen to her babbling. He spoke with such compassion about a prostitute who was forgiven by God for showing mercy to a dog dying of thirst.

Such is the love of God that He reflected His love in the life of a human being. Indeed, in the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings we know of as prophets. And in hundreds of thousands of human beings (since the demise of the last prophet) that we know of as God’s friends (awliya).

Na na na, gonna hava good time

I could go on and on about this extraordinary love and remembrance that God favours us with. Imam Ghazali wrote over 4 volumes on it in his Ihya Uloom ad-Din (Revival of the Sciences of Faith & Religion). And without realising it, Uncle Rupert bin Murdoch has revived the same sciences by producing this wonderful rendition of my sister’s favourite cartoon character.

Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Tonight I found some of that property in a cinema in suburban Sydney. I don’t wish to be as fat as Fat Albert. But I hope that even after losing all this weight, I will remember his message about love not being hampered by fear.

“Oh you who believe! Fear God as He should be feared and do not die except in a state of Islam [peace through submission to God’s will]”. This fear is grounded in love. We fear God because we love Him and are afraid to offend Him. If I can remember this one message, I know that my life here and hereafter will be one where I’m “gonna hava good time”.

Sorry for the corny ending.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Free Press

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"Damn liberal media, always needs reminding to behave"

"And I always thought they wuz a FOX"

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

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com


My parents arrived in Australia during the mid-1960’s. My father had just won a scholarship to do his PhD at the Australian National University located in Canberra, Australia’s “bush capital”.

My mother was also offered a scholarship by the ANU to complete further studies in Urdu. She already held degrees in Urdu Literature from Aligarh and Punjab Universities, and ANU was prepared to foot the bill to turn her into a scholar.

My mum had other ideas. She had a baby daughter and another on the way. She preferred to look after her new family home so her husband could pursue his studies and a career in academia.

My mother’s Urdu was superb. Her English was another story. She struggled in Canberra, a small city with hardly any persons who spoke anything resembling Urdu. She struggled even to by bread from the corner store. Until, that is, she met Anne.

Anne was my mother’s age. Anne was not from the Indian sub-Continent. Anne was Jewish. And Anne was perhaps the first person to play a key role in my mother’s life in Australia.

Anne regarded my mother’s weakness (lack of English fluency) as a strength. Anne spoke a smattering of Hindi, having lived in India for a number of years. And she saw my mother wearing her sari and struggling to communicate.

“Assalamu alaykum!” shouted this light brown haired, white skinned woman. My mother turned around, and saw this ‘gori awrat’ (white woman) speaking in some kind of Hindi.

Anne and mum made a deal. If mum helped Anne with Urdu, Anne would assist mum with English and with getting around Canberra (my mum could not drive).

Anne’s friendship with mum flourished. They were like sisters. Ane convinced mum to learn how to drive. And mum convinced Anne to learn how to put on a sari properly.

More importantly, their friendship taught them that Jew and Muslim need not hate one another. Events overseas can and should stay overseas. Real friendship can survive war and politics.

For mum, Anne’s religious identity was not a big deal. And in India, it usually is not. Muslim and Jewish communities in Bombay and Poona lived side-by-side for centuries. Just as Muslims and Jews joined hands to defend Jerusalem from the Crusading invaders centuries before that.

Anne was present at hospital when mum gave birth to her second daughter. She was one of the first to hold the new baby. Anne helped mum adjust to the second baby who was hardly 12 months older than the first one. I can just imagine the scene of these 2 women holding a crying baby each and trying to rock them to sleep or feed them or change their nappies.

Some months later, my Dad finished his PhD. They returned to Pakistan. Anne was at the airport to see them off. My mother kept Anne’s address and phone number and promised to write.

I had not yet arrived on the scene at that time. So how did I find out about Anne? My 2nd sister, the one who had been held by Anne a few minutes after birth, was preparing for her wedding. Some 2 weeks before, I was at home when the phone rang. A lady spoke to me in Urdu. She told me her name was Anne and that she had just arrived from Israel where her son was working in a kibbutz. She said she was a friend of mum’s and insisted that I pass on her name and telephone number to mum.

Yeh, right. As if mum would keep Jewish friends.

Mum arrived home after a few hours. I gave her the message. She read it and was ready to burst into tears.

“Thumhe pata hai ke ye kon hay? Yeh mery saheli hay Canberra se. Meri bahan ki tara hai. Thumhare liye yeh khala ki thara han. Jis waqt thum payda bhi na huwe the!”

[Trans: Do you know who this person is? She is my close friend from Canberra. She is like a sister to me. And for you, she is like your aunt. Even if at the time, you were not even born!]

Mum rang Anne, and they agreed to meet the very next day for lunch at a kosher café named Aviv’s located at Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach. I drove mum there. And the first thing Anne said, standing outside this kosher restaurant in this very Jewish part of Sydney was “Assalamu alaykum!”.

I waited for mum, who claimed she would only be an hour or so. 4 hours later, they both emerged, in accordance with the principles of IST (Indian Standard Time). Mum called me over and said: “Anne khala ko salam karo!” [trans: give salams to your Aunty Anne!].

Mum had also made an executive decision to invite Anne to the wedding. Seating was limited, and I was forced to withdraw an invitation given to a friend. My protests were of no avail. “Thumhari yeh khala hay!” [trans: She is your aunty!]

Anne attended the wedding and gave her blessing to my sister and her husband. She had tears in her eyes. The last time she had seen my sister was as a baby hardly 6 months old.

My mother is deeply religious. Many religious people, for some reason, have a problem with Jewish people. But I have never heard my mother say anything bad about Jewish people. After seeing Anne, I could see why.

Through her conduct, her assistance and her love, Anne won a permanent place in my mother’s heart. She behaved like a true Jew, and won the heart of a vulnerable Muslim woman travelling in a strange land.

Imagine if more Muslims behaved like Anne. Imagine if we welcomed and befriended our neighbours. Imagine if we assisted people we saw in need. Imagine if we showed good conduct to all people.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) had a Jewish neighbour who always hurled a constant stream of abuse at him. One day, the Prophet noticed that the neighbour was not hurling abuse over their common wall. He made inquiries and found out the neighbour was ill. The Prophet visited the neighbour and inquired as to his health. In doing so, the Prophet won the heart of his Jewish neighbour.

It’s all about winning hearts. Anne behaved more like the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) than many Muslims do. May God bless her and lead her to Him.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A reactionary Islam is being perpetuated by progressive identity politics

I stand neither in support or condemnation of the decision by Amina Wadud to lead a mixed-gender Jummah salat earlier this year. This is not because I am being evasive or that I have no wish to hold an opinion. Rather, it reflects my mixed and often contradictory thinking with regards to the event. On the one hand, I feel an instinctive desire to support individuals who take decisions in good conscience (within the law of the land) that attract the opprobrium of the majority, and I believe Amina’s decision was made in good conscience and deeply unpopular with many Muslims. On the other hand, my fears regarding the media circus surrounding the whole shebang, which turned an avowedly local event into a global one, have not abated in the least. A firework has been thrown into the air and it seems little thought is being given to where it will land.

Some of the responses were not surprising. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, described by Mayor of London Ken Livingstone as ‘the leading progressive Muslim scholar in the world’, came out wholeheartedly against it, with Sayyed Tantawi of Al-Azhar not far behind, and for all the predictable reasons. In a society where the origins of male sexual desire is still frequently located in woman’s bodies, the idea of men praying behind a woman’s bottom was clearly an outrage. Not everyone agreed. Muhammad Abdel Ghani Shamaa, an advisor to the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf, issued a fatwa broadly supportive of the Wadud Jummah. But in a faith-culture which Seyyed Hossein Nasr once described as being ‘unapologetically patriarchal’, Wadud’s decision was bound to be interpreted as a gendered attack on Muslims, a treacherous assimilation of Empire’s long-standing lambaste against Islam as being inherently sexist. The result was just as New York head of Women in Islam Aisha al-Adawiya expected - a ‘backlash’.

The problem with backlashes is that they are an invitation to extremists to take the media limelight. Perhaps the most vitriolic, and arguably the most ludicrous, came from the Maldives, where the Chief Justice Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim claimed in an impromptu diatribe that God was male. Naturally, other more responsible scholars along with one or two children were quick to point out the theological difficulties in attributing the physical characteristics of God’s creatures to Allah. More worryingly was the Sheikh's claim that Wadud was tarnishing the Islamic faith and his call for her to be “dealt with”. This is a worrying development, more so given that critics of Wadud have already compared her to Salman Rushdie, who was similarly accused of betraying his own cultural tradition.

Yet, in the hullabaloo that followed events in New York, reactionary responses have been equally evident within the Muslim Wake Up/Progressive Muslim Union (MWU/PMU) camp. Though none have included direct threats, they are arguably as sinister in the way they are now increasingly co-opting tropes long employed by Orientalist intellectuals to debase Muslim scholarly traditions. One example of this development is an article entitled The ‘Non-Debate’ in the Muslim World by Farish A. Noor and Dyala Hamzah, utilising what I call the ‘Macaulay trope’, based on the notorious 1835 Minute on Education in which Lord Macaulay denounced the entire corpus of writings in Arabic as “less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England.” In Noor and Hamzah's case, the "non-debate" is actually the startling assertion that no debate is possible, on the grounds that almost every Muslim outside the MWU/PMU fold is intellectually incompetent. Thus, in a single sweep, Muslim scholarship around the world is reduced to dunderhead status.

The second trope, which features more widely, is the equivalization of the Empire’s cultural hegemony and a moral universalism. The trope is founded on the claim that human rights and other Empire values, which have their origins in the European enlightenment of the 18th century, are the inevitable consequence of ‘progress’, and thus superior to ‘traditional’ Muslim values and practices. Most recently, this trope has even utilised anthropology – a human science once deeply complicit in demeaning colonised civilizations – to give kudos to assertions of cultural supremacy. The claims that MWU/PMU are merely local expressions of Islam are now no longer tenable, as MWU’s editorial stance moves beyond association with the Empire’s dominant culture to a position of direct involvement with its hegemonic project. When the authors of such supremacist nonsense include an American marine who has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems only a matter of time before MWU/PMU becomes the American liberal Muslim dream-come-true envisaged by the Rand report.

Writers such as Fatima Mernissi have already written extensively on the consequences of colonial/imperial attacks on Muslim cultures – the result is a reactionary response, where woman become the focal point for enforcing cultural orthodoxy. Such a response, arguably enflamed by the Wadud Jummah, is now in full swing in Pakistan, which has recently witnessed attacks on female athletes organised by Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, and the introduction of a ‘Prohibition of Indecent Advertisements’ Bill aimed at banning female models from appearing in adverts. This backlash is further fuelled by the relationship between General Musharraf and George W. Bush - with Musharraf’s talk of Pakistan becoming a ‘modern, enlightened democracy’ frequently juxtaposed against Muslim laws that are unpopular with Western governments and human rights groups.

The use of Imperial tropes to make attacks on Islam is reminiscent of the politics Lord Cromer, who helped colonize Egypt under the banner of liberating its women despite being the cofounder and president of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage back home in the UK. MWU/PMU claim to be supporting the liberation of Muslim women in a country where they are already liberated, but one apparent result of their actions is that woman face greater oppression in a nation where they are already oppressed.

For more than a century now, progress in Islam has been dogged by reactionary intellectuals and the fall out surrounding them. Figures such as Qutb and Mawdudi may arguably have ushered in an era of Islamic revivalism, but they have carried with them the inevitable detritus of reactionary dialogue – intolerance and authoritarianism. Today, it is the so-called progressives who I fear are stoking the flames of reactionary conflict, in their perpetration of identity politics and in their wholesale failure to analyse and challenge the political and cultural landscape in which their own ideologies are being forged.

My hope is that insha Allah MWU/PMU will remember the words of Allah as they plan their future events: “And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss. He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance.” (3:103).

Since writing this, I have learned a mixed-gender Jummah has been led by Canadian journalist Raheel Raza. Read her khutba here.


When I was young and overweight, ammi-jaan (trans: mum who probably wanted to take my life if I did not stop nagging) used to cook all sorts of deep-fried stuff for my sehri (urdu for “massive feast designed to make you burp until iftar time”).

You’d think that with all this food and fruit (who needs paani (water) when you can eat paani-melon!), our chances of getting thirsty that day would be minimised. Nonense. William Dalrymple may admire Delhi for its tolerate sufism. But there is nothing tolerant about my Dilli-wali (“from Delhi”) mum feeding her poor son deep-fried foods that raised thirst and heartburn of daytime fasting to new heights!

An essential feature of this thirst-generator was the humble pakora. In case you have no idea what a pakora is, go google it yourself! I’ve just gotten over my addiction to pakoras and the very mention of these thirst-beasts is enough to make me want to stuff my mouth with a square metre of ice.

Pakoras can contain potato or other healthier and less-fattening vegetables. Anyone who has met me will know I ate lots of potato-filled pakoras as a child. But pakoras were useless without fruit chaat.

Drive along Cleveland Street in Surry Hills (Sydney, Australia, that huge piece of real estate somewhere south of Indonesia) and you will find numerous Indian “Chat Houses”. The first time I saw them, I thought it must be a Banglore-IT thing. You know, young hip Indians going to special internet cafes were all they do is chat to people. How wrong I was.

“Chat” is actually a mispronunciation of the famous sour fruit salad called “chaat”. And my mum must have been the chaat queen of the 20th century. The woman who got me almost addicted to that disgusting awful-tasting “paan” was going to have no problem convincing her “kaleje ka tukra” (piece of liver. Or was that kidney?) to put my kaleje at risk by eating this over-curried spicy fruit salad virtually fermented in lemon juice.

In fact, I developed a habit of using a pakora to scoop up the fruit chaat. The potatoes added some sweetness to the banana and mango and grape of the chaat. Potatoes making mangoes seem sweeter. Go figure.

After years of this Delhi delight, I have become a true pakora-holic. So if I am at the house of an Indian during Ramadan, I will insist on pakoras. And if you are Indian and still don’t know what pakoras are, forget about inviting me. And if you are standing next to me during tarawih and cannot understand what that stench is that accompanies my stomach movements, find another row (or preferably, another mosque!).

My next contribution is about the phenomenon of burping during tarawih whilst performing 20 rakaats at a snail’s pace behind a sub-continental imam.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Some Crazy Thoughts On Progressive Islam

These days, every Muslim with any public profile is tripping over him/herself to jump off any band wagon labelled ‘extremist’ islam or ‘islamism’ or other undesirable nametag.

This has led to the growth of a whole raft of groups struggling to monopolise on terms such as ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’.

The events of September 11, 2001 may have caused 4 domestic airplanes and a few buildings to collapse in the US. But in the Muslim world and in Muslim communities across the western world, that one terrorist attack caused a huge ideological earthquake whose aftershocks are still being felt.

And after all the allegedly sophisticated rhetoric and clumsy linguistic gymnastics that have gone into writing the first 3 paragraphs of this article, I would like to ask a simple question. What on earth is a ‘progressive’ Muslim?

Is a progressive Muslim someone who reads and/or writes for a particular online rag (e.g. MuslimWakeUp.com)? Or is it an unreconstructed Marxist ? Or is it a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party or the Pahlavi Shah’s entourage who fled to the West in their private jet when marshal law and/or the revolution finally arrived?

Is a progressive Muslim someone who believes that sharia should recognise matrimony between same-sex couples? Or someone who wants to make wholesale changes to 14 centuries of liturgical consensus?

Many of the so-called progressive Muslims I see resemble little more than the infantile ranters of campus socialism. Which is scary, since campus socialist groups have an uncanny ability to splinter. And I would hate for people 2,000 years from now to be making a film about Muslims similar to the Life of Brian.

Brian: “The People’s Progressive Front of Islam? Who are they?”
Ahmed: “There he is over there!”
Everyone: “Splinter!!”

Unless progressive Muslims define exactly what it is that makes them progressive, they might soon end up hacking into each other. And their opponents may just sit back and watch the circus get progressively more entertaining.

A tragic outcome would be if all those progressive activists wasted their limited energies on factional war, leaving them with no energy to re-join the bigger struggle.

I personally find the adjective “progressive” quite offensive. Then again, what do you expect? I am, after all, an old-style social conservative. But beyond that, I seriously have problems with this label. It suggests that anyone who is not in the group is reactionary or entrenched in old thinking or old-fashioned.

Some progressives love having a go at people like the Zaytuna Institute crowd. An article appearing in MWU! entitled “Zaytuna’s Smelly Kebabs” comes to mind. But how regressive are the Zaytuna people? And why is it that many “conservative” Muslims in Australia think people like Hamza Yusuf are too “modern”?

Many progressives accuse ‘traditionalists’ of being locked in Islamic tradition, never reaching out to non-Muslim traditions. Yet I have rarely heard a lecture of Hamza Yusuf which does not refer to some linguist or philosopher or poet or writer from a non-Muslim tradition. And when Shaykh Nuh Keller is not comparing a sufi principle to some Tao or Buddhist concept, he loves talking about life as a commercial fisherman.

My own shaykh, the late Professor Mahmud Esad Cosan (pronounced ‘Joshan’) used to spend much of his time telling his students to go out and make some serious cash. He used to frequently tell us about his first property deal. We needed an interpreter to understand what he said. Though when he was in Germany, the youngsters used to relish his speeches given in fluent German.

If progress is about being prepared to borrow from other traditions, then traditional Islamic scholarship is perhaps the most progressive force in the Muslim world today. And this is not a recent phenomenon.

OK, that’s my thoughts for the day. Time to go and eat a doner kebab. Why? Because of all things, weight loss must be progressive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mawlid al-Nabi

"Allah and His Angels pray on and praise the Prophet. O believers! Send blessings to (and praise) him. And send to his utmost greetings." The Holy Qur'an: 33:56

Oh Allah! Make our Noble Chief Muhammad (aws) an intermediary for us, instil his love into the hearts of Thy chosen ones, place him among the people of the highest rank, and put his name on the lips of those who are in nearness to Thee.

Oh Allah! Purify my heart of hypocrisy, my actions of show, my tongue of falsehood, my eye of immorality, and Thou knowest well the faults committed by eyes and what is hidden in the hearts.

From Al Hizbul Azam (The Great Prayer Book of Islam)

Monday, April 18, 2005


assalamu alaykum.

muslims are a funny bunch. because we speak in all sorts of strange languages and dialects, our way of greeting each other is affected.

take south asians, for example. the typical pakistani girl wearing a dupatta over her shoulders will greet with "sla lekoom". the typical punjabi merchant in lahore will greet with "ass-slaam-laekoom".

then, across to turkiye, you might hear "selamunaleykooom". or if you manage to make it through to the Miniyeh (a village just outside of tripoli in lebanon where people are allegedly more inbred than in the rest of the country), you will hear "salem '3aleyqum".

here in australia (where i come from), young mossies (as we call ourselves) have combined all sorts of accents. and to make things worse, we have also managed to abbreviate the salam to 2 or even 1 syllables.

i have a south african friend in melbourne who greets me with something resembling "sai-km". a lebbo (as we call them) mate greets me with "shla' laykm".

these abbreviations spread like wildfire. eventually, mossies got sick of the spare 2nd syllable and settled for super-abbreviated salams.

residents of mosques in sydney would feel so good seeing a bunch of trendily-dressed youngsters (and in my case, a shabbily-dressed overweight oldster) enter Allah's house with smiles beaming from their faces. What nur al-huda (light of guidance) had brought za yooss (arabic for "the youth") to za mazjid (or gid for masri folk)?

but the good feelings would quickly be replaced by demons of bidah as these youngsters would address each other with "slang" and "schleh". Followed by responses of "wang" and "weh" respectively.

then one day, this noblest of all greetings was dealt a savage blow. a student of a famous american shaykh living in brisbane (the student. as if american shaykhs would live in brisbane!) joined forces with the writer to invent a new language based upon a famous pakistani uncle who often acted as master of ceremonies at community functions. this uncle spoke in a combination of urdu, punjabi and broad australian accents. "Ladoos and gentlemoon, plooz taak your soots".

the accent became known as "punjaboriginal", sounding like a combination of punjabi and indigenous aboriginal dialects. punjaboriginal even contained its own translation/abbreviation of salam. and what was this beautiful greeting? how did the practitioners of punjaboriginal greet each other?


and so, dear readers, i greet you with the noble universal greeting translated into punjaboriginal.


and how should you respond? walaykum what? forget the walaykums. just respond with ... wait for it ...

... e!

everytime this brisbane murid rings me, the first thing i hear is "e". a few moments later, i hear the "e" in a higher pitched voice.

"who was that?", i ask him.

"just my wife", he responds proudly.

hopefully my next contribution to this magnificent blog will prove much more beneficial.

ma salama (or should that be ma e?)

The finger problem

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Europe resurrects its Facist past

The United States, some years back, found its new bogeyman "Islam" to replace its former imaginary enemy "Communism." And now the European press appears to have finally (?) found a replacement for the Jewish people that they used to malign and attack. Anti-Islam/Muslimism appears to now have officially replaced anti-Jewish sentiments in Europe.

The roots of these attacks are the same: an inability to acknowledge and respect a diversity of people that might result in a Europe that is non-White and/or non-Christian.

The anti-Muslim/Islam cartoons of today are little different than the anti-Jewish cartoons that were published by the Nazis during WW II.

***The cartoon below shows a photograph of a Jew captioned "Satan." Streicher regularly used the old religious argument that the Jews were in league with the Devil. This issue appeared as the last German troops in Stalingrad surrendered.

Click for MPACUK's list of boycott items.

Boycott Israeli Goods

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Salaam all -

a couple of updates:

regarding the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, the latest news remains grim:

Relatives of the dead or missing waited at the site, refusing to leave.

"I will not go back without him," wailed a woman who apparently lost her husband. "Bring him to me, even if he is dead. I will not leave otherwise," she pleaded with rescuers.

The garment industry employs nearly 2 million Bangladeshis, most of them women, and is notorious for poor safety standards.

Garments account for two-thirds of Bangladesh's exports, earning more than $5 billion annually. (Additional reporting by Nizam Ahmed)

There is a new blog on the two teenage Muslim girls who were arrested in New york


A blog for justice for A and T, two jailed teenage girls whose rights are being abused and whose lives are being destroyed by the United States government.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

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Over 200 workers have been trapped in a nine storey garment factory that collapsed near Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 10th -hope is rapidly fading for their rescue. Early reports suggested the workers were mostly women, however later reports stated that because this was the night shift, the workers may be mostly men.

Bangladesh garment exports account for 2/3 of it's exports, and is worth $5 billion dollars annually. AND 80% of the workers are women between the ages of 14 and 25!

A news report pointed out that:

In Bangladesh, about 1.3 million jobs are directly dependent on export-oriented textile and garment industries producing goods for the European and North American markets. However, the wealth created by the garment sector, has had little effect on improving the lives of ordinary women workers and their families.

The workers, mostly female, work without a break during their shift. Too often the factory doors are locked. Sometimes guards with keys stand by the locked gate; other times no one able to unlock the iron grating is near. Many times the locked gate is the only entrance or exit to a factory. The workers, including children, are frequently locked into their work place at the beginning of the morning shift and not let out until the end of the workday, and in some cases not until the next day.

This situation is not at all unique to Bangladesh, similar conditions exist throughout East and South Asia, Latin America, and in many countries of Africa. Women are often the preferred workers in these industries because of perceptions of "docility" and "they don't complain as much."

In the United States, a similar garment factory fire nearly a century ago led to an outcry that finally led to reform especially in areas of health, safety, and child labor.

"It was the worst factory fire in the history of New York City. It occurred on 25 March 1911 in the Asch building at the northwest corner of Washington and Greene streets, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Company occupied the top three of ten floors; five hundred women were employed there, mostly Jewish immigrants between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three. To keep the women at their sewing machines the proprietors had locked the doors leading to the exits. Panicked workers rushed to the stairs, the freight elevator, and the fire escape.

Most on the eighth and tenth floors escaped; dozens on the ninth floor died, unable to force open the locked door to the exit. The rear fire escape collapsed, killing many and eliminating an escape route for others still trapped. Some tried to slide down elevator cables but lost their grip; many more, their dresses on fire, jumped to their death from open windows."
But with globalization of the market, the primary source of North American and European garments are now from the global south "third world" where such working conditions continue to prevail - resulting in super cheap exploited labor, and huge profits for the "designer" and "branded" clothes many of us wear.

For most of us living in the US/Canada/Europe this is a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind." Even as we are in all likelihood wearing a sweater, shirt, sweat shirt, made in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico - next time take some time to read that label - and remember the faces of the (mostly) women workers.

Wanna do more? Check out some these web sites - they'll help get you started:

Global Exchange

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O You who have attained to faith! Do not devour one another's possessions wrongfully - not even by way of trade based on mutual agreement - and do not destroy one another. Allah is indeed a dispenser of grace (Rahim) unto you!
(Quran 4:29, Mohammed Asad interpertation/translation)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Enter Egypt Safely - God Willing

Salam all,
It has been a while since my last post, but I read the posts here every day and find them a great blessing in this time of confusion and fear. Three weeks ago, I had the great fortune to meet some friends from South Africa who were visiting Cairo (the Mother of the World, as she's known here) and we (me, an Egyptian, an Icelander, and two South Africans) prayed Goma'a (Juma'a for you non-Egyptians) in the beautiful and united Sultan Hassan mosque (by united I mean the prayer is all in one big partly open space, women on a raised platform behind the central fountain [sabeel]).

The imam used the "verse of light" in his prayer, which made me feel an even greater sense of blessing and connectedness. Another dear friend from South Africa provides the beautiful Arberry translation (but listen to the music of the Arabic as well):

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth;
the likeness of His Light is as a niche
wherein is a lamp
(the lamp in a glass,
the glass as it were a glittering star)
kindled from a Blessed Tree,
an olive that is neither of the East or the West
whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it;
Light upon Light;
(God guides to His Light whom He will.)
(And God strikes similtudes for men,
and God has knowledge of everything.)

We then wandered through Old Cairo, through the Musski to the Khan El Khalili and the Hussein Square where the mosque of the same name is, and had Egyptian pancakes (Fatir).

You probably already heard that the Musski was the site of a bombing a few days ago and that some tourists and some Egyptians were injured and killed there. This news struck me in a way that was almost surprising in its intensity; the wrongness of this was so strong. Particularly, this affected me because of the fact that in front of the Sultan Hassan complex is a sign. It's a recent sign that looks like the ones that give traffic directions, white print on a navy background. It said in Arabic, "Enter Egypt in Safety." This sounded like a verse, and stuck in my mind.

After the bombing, I asked my husband if he knew this verse. He told me it was from the Quran and tried to remember what verse. First he thought it was from the Moses story but then he remembered it was from Yusef (which is his very favorite chapter, incidentally) and I found it in the Yusef Ali edition. Near the end of the chapter, Yusef said this to his mother and father (but it is put in the plural, not the dual form, so it also refers to his perfidious brothers who had originally abandoned him in the well and whom he had forgiven).

The quotation is actually "Enter Egypt, God willing, in Safety." (Quran 12:99)

Egypt to me MEANS safety. It also means a place that God has blessed. In the bible as well it says "God blessed the people of Egypt." I pray that beautiful, blessed Old Cairo will stay a haven for everyone to find spiritual refuge and that the recent event was just a strange and terrible aberration. But I am troubled in spirit, as my understanding can make so little sense out of these strange and sudden happenings that seem to strike us in the heart of our happiness and our security.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

FOX TV: We Distort You Decide!

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News item: Iman Muhana

News item: Then they came for the children

News item: Hassiba Belbachir - the story of any woman


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

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Saturday, April 09, 2005


I know I haven't blogged in ages. This piece dates back originally to early October 2001, about a month or so following the events of 9/11. At a time when Muslim women were removing their hijab out of fear of harassment, a wonderful woman chose to make a statement. She began what became known as Scarves for Solidarity -- an effort for all women in the U.S. of all faiths to wear a headscarf for one day. Those that visited her website were invited to post a journal entry about their experiences wearing hijab. That day was October 8, 2001. This is a story about my experience the very first time I wore hijab.

Wearing Hijab

My experience began on Sunday, when I began my search for a hijab. I had heard of the Scarves for Solidarity campaign the day before and it struck me that this was something that I could do. I'd been feeling so very helpless in the face of all that had happened recently – and I live in an area with a large Muslim population.

I began my search in Berkeley at the sari shops and was able to find a scarf, but it wasn't really quite what I'd had in mind. Then, as I headed back to Oakland, I remembered the Public Market food court in Emeryville, and the Afghan restaurant, Pamir. It occurred to me that they could probably advise me about where, on a Sunday, I might find a hijab. Not only did the owner give me explicit directions to a place near my home, he seemed so very touched when I told him why. We spoke a bit about the world situation and he told me that he felt very lucky that his customers had been so supportive.

So I went to the market the owner had directed me to, only to find them closed up tight! Sigh. Not willing to go all the way to Fremont, I figured I would just have to make do with the scarf I had purchased earlier.

Later that evening, as I wandered off in search of dinner, I decided to take one final swing past the market, and to my surprise, the doors were now wide open. I parked and entered. A young Middle Eastern man at the counter asked if he could help me and I told him that I understood that I could purchase a hijab there. I ended up with a black one with nice lace trim. A two-piece under-cap and tube-like over-scarf that I now refer to as a "no-brainer" hijab, nearly impossible to get it on wrong.

During our transaction, our conversation turned to the reasons why I, an obviously white, middle-aged woman would wish to purchase such an item, and I explained about the Scarves for Solidarity effort. He met my eyes and said, merely, "Thank you."

We did share some humorous moments as he tried to show me how to wear this newly-purchased hijab; the under-cap going all askew as I tried to get the over-scarf into place. Eventually, I said I'd manage it at home in front of a mirror.

I then headed back to Pamir, in part to get dinner and in part to thank the owner. As I approached, I proudly held aloft my purchase, exclaiming, "I got it!"

He called his teenage daughter over and explained to her what I was planning to do. She was very thrilled and amazed that I would do such a thing. The owner also expressed a desire to actually see me wearing this hijab, so I told him that I would stop by for lunch the following day.

So that was Sunday. I felt that I had touched the lives of a number of people with the mere intent of this gesture.

On Monday, I wore the hijab all day and into the evening. It was the most amazing day! All of my experiences were positive and I managed to open dialogue with a number of people.

I began by wearing the hijab when I took my dog downstairs to run around out back. I ran into one of my neighbors and it struck me as funny – there was no reaction at all from him... nada... even though we spent some time chatting as we normally do when we meet. I decided not to bring it up if he didn't... and he didn't.

I realized that my usual attire of shorts and "Dyke March" t-shirt probably wasn't particularly appropriate, so I found myself dressed in my favorite long-sleeved green shirt and black jeans.

I went to Pamir for lunch. I did feel a bit self-conscious at first on the drive to Emeryville, but that feeling passed soon enough. As I headed for the counter, the owner spotted me and hit face lit up in a huge grin. He told me how nice I looked. He then called all the workers/family over to see me and asked me to explain the purpose of what I was doing.

Later, I went to Safeway in search of some halvah (go figure) and discovered that they didn't have any. Tahini, yes; halvah, no way. Sigh. So I headed over to the market where I had purchased my hijab, assuming that they would have some.

There are three businesses in a row: a halal meat market, a tiny grocery store, and a pizza restaurant. I began at the meat market and was sent next door. As I approached, the men gathered around the entrance parted respectfully to let me pass. Inside the store, it was quite narrow, and a man there stepped aside, saying, "Excuse me, Sister." There was no question in anyone's mind that I was an observant Muslim woman and deserving of respect. It was a very interesting feeling. I found what I wanted and brought it to the counter. The clerk recognized me and grinned! He seemed very pleased that I had managed to put on my hijab properly.

After returning home, I took my dog out again, and sat on the back stairs while she ran around. Shortly thereafter, my down-the-hall neighbor, Amina, came downstairs. Amina is originally from Somalia, but normally does not cover unless she is taking her father to the mosque. Her eyes got all big and she asked me what in the ... I explained the situation and I could tell she was moved by it. We sat and talked about being Muslim and being lesbian (she Muslim and I lesbian) and how we both understood what it's like to be part of an oppressed minority. She is very open-minded and shared some stories about when she was younger and living in L.A. She also offered me a copy of the Qur'an, should I be interested in reading it. I told her I would be very interested, but to please make sure that it wasn't just in Arabic. We shared a laugh over that.

As Amina and I sat on the steps talking, we were joined by another neighbor, Omar, a young Pakistani man who had recently moved in upstairs. He and I often discussed politics and the world situation when we met.

So, I learned a lot about Islam that day. I made a number of people feel respected and worthwhile. I made myself happy. I proved (again) my belief that the more we reach out to break down the barriers of "us" and "them", the less there are of "them" and the more there are of "us".

For whatever it's worth, I feel that I did some good in the world that day and I feel that my life is forever changed for the better because of it.

Bobbe Leviten © 2001; 2005