Friday, September 30, 2005


Since most people here are writing so much serious spiritual stuff, I thought I would bring you all back to Planet Earth (or Planet Irf, as I like to call it) and inject some realism and humour.

Ramadan is a month of the lunar calendar generally used by Muslims across the world. I say “generally used” because I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it. But then, I am not the only one.

The lunar calendar is determined by the fluctuations of the crescent. The moon itself stays the same (well, I hope it does!). What changes is how we see it in the sky.

Now you can always see it using the naked eye. Or, if you like, you can take advantage of astronomical calculations. So which one should we choose?

I don’t know the answer to that. I leave it upto the great imams and scholars of Australia and across the world to determine the question. I just want some certainty and clarity. And thanks to those same imams, I get no clarity at all.

What I do get is a situation where different mosques start and finish Ramadan on different days. Some imams insist you have to see the moon with the naked eye. Some imams say that you have to see the moon in your country using the naked eye. Some say you have to see it in your region of the world. Some imams say you can use astronomical calculations. Some imams say you can use a combination.

Now imagine you were a non-Muslim employer. You employ 10 Muslims in your office. One says to you: “El-Bosso! Ya’ni I need to take tomorrow off for za Eid day. It iz za end of Ramadawn.”

Being a nice sensitive new-age employer that you are, you let him off. “Mate, Mohammed, you take the day off. No problems. But don’t bring in a WorkCover medical certificate like you did last year!”

But then, 10 minutes later, your secretary comes in. She is from Malaysia. She says: “Mr Boss, insya’Allah I wanth tho thake day afther thumorro off. Is Hari Raya, andh I needh whole dhay to cook 5 billion sathays for all my sthupid in-laws!”

Naturally, you would presume that Hari Raya is some kind of Hindu festival. After all, the “Moslems” are having their festival tomorrow. Wierder things have happened, but you doubt Hindus and Muslims would celebrate the same festival on the same day.

So you say to your secretary: “Sure, Siti Yasmin! But make sure you bring in a few satays for the office!”

“Insya’Allah, I will. I wouldh have broughth you some thoday buth I am fasthing insy’Allah.”

Now you are really confused. What the hell is Siti Yasmin fasting for? Why of course! She wears that funny hat on her head … what do they call it? … toodong or something? Maybe she is one of them Moslems also. But why is she celebrating one day after Mohammed?

Finally, that overweight Indian dude from the legal department comes in. He’s a bit of a smart-ass and generally likes to take as many days off as he can.

“Mate, I need 3 days off. You know how it is. Christmas and $h!t like that”.

“Irfan, you sleazy b@st@rd! Why do you need three days off for Christmas? And since when was Christmas in November??” you ask him.

“Mate, you see, Mohammed is having me over for a big Lebbo barbecue tomorrow. Then the day after, I’m off to Siti Yasmin’s for a few hundred Satay sticks. Then the day after that, I reckon our imam will have finally seen the moon in the sky so we can celebrate our Christmas!”

“But Irfan, you lazy piece of Indian ghee! Who will attend that hearing in the Industrial Commission tomorrow?”

“Mate, I’ll send my Barrister friend Bilal.”

“No worries, Irfan. But I want you to take care of it.”

So there you have it. Three staff, including your PA, out of the office. But what makes it worse is that at 6pm, just as you are about to leave the office, you get a call transferred to your office. It’s the Barrister, Bilal.

“Mate, Bilal here. Listen, I can’t do that hearing tomorrow. My wife’s Lebanese and we have to visit her parents tomorrow for Eid. Then the day after, we have to visit her sister’s in-laws who are Malay. And the day after that, I’m going to cousin Irfan’s for some ghee-filled biryani. Any chance I can flick the brief to another Barrister? We’ve got this really cool girl who has just started. Her name’s Aneesa and she’s … woops … she won’t be able to make it either. Or maybe she can. Depends on what particular school of jurisprudence her imam follows!”

Seriously, our imams have no idea how hard it is to run a business when everyone seems to be having religious festivals on different days of the week. This whole moon-sighting debate has just gone too far, and is making the rest of us non-imams look like a bunch of lunar-tics.

Had many of our imams had real jobs, they would understand how damned-hard it is to just get a day off. The months leading upto Christmas are often flat out. Everyone wants everything done before the holidays. There is pressure from bosses, creditors, suppliers, debtors, clients, customers and everyone else in the supply and demand chain.

But don’t expect imams or community leaders to understand this. When they are not hosting Mr Ruddock for lunch, they are too busy arranging for Aussie kids to attend some radical university in Saudi Arabia where they can get a pilot’s license. Or they are too occupied sorting out which accounting standards they will breach in preparing the halal meat certification section of their mosque society’s annual report.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005


Then, Allah sent to him (Prophet Muhammed) the Book as a light whose flames cannot be extinguished, a lamp whose gleam does not die, a sea whose depth cannot be sounded, a way whose direction does not mislead, a ray whose light does not darken... (Imam Ali)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

American Television - Can you see me now?

Ok. I admit it. I watch too much television. I am not like those who claim to be above the box. No, not me. I’m quite the connoisseur of popular media. And when pressed, I’ll say it is not for fun, it is research. But just between you and me, well ….

Tonight I caught the series premier of the new ABC show, "Commander in Chief". The story centres around Gina Davis’ character who through the sudden death of the President finds herself being the first woman to sit in the Oval Office.

Now I’m a big fan of anything that showcases strong women. And this woman is clearly out to flex her muscles. So how does the fantasized first woman leader of the "free world" [cough] prove her mettle?

By swooping down and saving a poor Muslim woman.

It’s obvious, don’t you see? Who else could serve as the perfect foil for a powerful white American woman, except a poor oppressed Muslim woman from Africa?

As the first act of her Presidency, Mackenzie Allen, mobilizes the combined armed forces of the United States to rescue a Nigerian woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning.

The fact that women in the real world are subject to horrific injustice is not in question. And clearly this fictionalized Muslim woman is known to us in the names of many women, like Bariya Magizu, who have faced such horrific punishments.

But what I find problematic is the polarity that is being constructed between the powerful white American woman who can have it all and the disempowered Muslim African woman who can have nothing.

And like all of these iconic representations of the perpetually persecuted Muslim woman, they accompany the twin construction of the unrelentingly oppressive Muslim man. [At one point in the show, the soon to be President is told that they can not have a woman president because Muslim nations would never take her leadership.]

And of course, the Muslim woman, is not meant to have any agency or identity in this plot. For if she did, then perhaps she would not be shown as being completely alone, with her only hope being a benevolent American president. Instead, she might have been shown with her family and with local women’s activists who were organizing a campaign for her freedom and with local lawyers working night and day to secure her freedom.

No, no, none of that. We can’t have the complex messy reality interfere with our fantasies of the new White [wo]Man’s Burden – saving Muslim women from Muslim men.

As they say, check your local listings.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Tempest in Canada

Itrath Syed (author of this article) was interviewed by the Redeye Co-op Radio, regarding the debate over the use of the Arbitration Act for Muslims in Canada.

This interview is now available on the Ihsan Podcast, or you can click here to listen (web streaming).

Or, click here to listen/subscribe to the ihsan podcast on itunes

For the past year or so there has been an on-going raging debate in Canada which has become known as a debate over "Shariah" in Canada.

That is only the first of many inaccuracies.

The nuts and bolts of the issue is that there exists, in the Canadian province of Ontario, legislation that allows communities to conduct legal arbitrations. Many First Nations communities, as well as some groups in the Jewish, Christian and Ismaili communities have been conducting arbitrations within this system for many years.

The uproar in Canada has been specifically about the possible usage of the Arbitration Act by the larger Muslim community.

This week, the Premier of Ontario, has declared that the proposal made by one group in the Muslim community will be rejected and that other faith-based arbitration will also be re-examined.

I remain opposed to the proposal as it stood, because of what I perceive to be critical problematics with the logistics of the proposal and with the idea of binding arbitration itself. As well, there were many issues that were left gapingly undefined in the proposal and in the subsequent recommendations of the Boyd commission.

However, in Canada, we never really got a chance to discuss the logistics of the proposal or to really engage with ways to fix the existing problems. Though many other groups within the Muslim community, like CAIR-CAN, did make detailed submissions about improving the transparency, accountability and consistency of the process.

The issue has been that the groups in Canada [including some groups within the Muslim community] that have campaigned against this proposal have been very fixated and invested in keeping the debate away from the logistics. The opposition to this proposal has chosen to structure itself around hyperbolic racist arguments. Many of us in the Muslim community in Canada have been appalled and disgusted by the racism that the opponents to arbitration have willfully employed.

The main arguments of their opposition, in my analysis, have rested on three main points.

First: Muslim women are, as a group, too uneducated, weak and unempowered to protect themselves. Apparently we need others to protect us and tell us what is good for us because we can’t figure it out for ourselves. This of course, is the new "White Man’s Burden", - saving brown women from brown men.

Second: The Canadian Muslim community as a whole, is something that all "real" Canadians should be frightened of. Apparently we are not happy Canadians, interested in accessing provisions in Canadian Law. No, no, no. We are the fifth column in the clash of civilizations and our real intent is to destroy all things good and groovy about Canada. They include obviously, Democracy, Pluralism, Women’s Equality, and of course, Maple Syrup and Hockey, too. Clearly, the entire Nation must rise and defend against this assault.

Third: Muslims are dead or are living in some kind of alternate reality outside of history and time, with no individual or collective agency. We are unable to interpret and apply our beliefs to this current reality, because, well, we exist outside of it. Apparently the entire massive contemporary discourse of engagement by Muslims with our legal tradition, much of it by women interested in women’s rights under the law, simply doesn’t exist. Poof. We have not had a new idea in the last few millennia. We are asleep or dead or just too stupid to have thunk anything new.

While many in the opposition are rejoicing over this last ruling, they might take a moment or two to think about what has really succeeded. I believe we have seen the success of a new era of anti-Muslim racism and fear. The discourse has entrenched and inscribed new and frightening levels of racism into our political fabric, which we have seen documented in the media across the country.

And that is the terrifying legacy of this debate. And all of us, regardless of how we felt about the arbitration proposal, will have to reap what the opposition has sown.

And may God have mercy on us all.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Me, Jane and Farid Esack

Some years back, Farid Esack visited Australia as a guest of the al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development, a Zaytuna-wannabe thinktank based in Sydney.

Maulana Esack was the first international guest to be invited by the Centre, though I doubt they would now wish to be associated with him. Indeed, when their second guest (Imam Zaid Shakir) arrived as second international guest, I remember sitting on a bus and asking one of the al-Ghazzali dudes about the Esack tour. He was most circumspect and seemed reluctant to talk too much about it.

I, however, am proud to wear on my lapel that I am a huge fan of Maulana Esack. Yes, I know he may be a pin-up boy for the “progressive Muslim” movement. I also know that my teachers were Deobandis and I am a huge fan of “traditional Islam”. Yes, Maulana Esack may preach a form of Islamic “liberation theology” that some followers of Tim Winter find somewhat unpalatable. But I can say with great confidence that Maulana Esack was one of the people who helped me rescue my faith.

In March 2002, I was diagnosed with a number of illnesses. I was forced to take time off work and to close my thriving and growing legal practice. My Rumi syndrome journey began. And the first casualty was my faith.

After a period of hospitalisation, I spent 1 month isolated from all but the World Cup soccer. Being isolated from Muslims was extremely difficult. Thankfully, a close friend from Nigeria was back in Australia with his wife. They welcomed me into their fold.

However, my intellectual and spiritual journal could not be quenched by the rational waters of B Aisha Lemu and her offspring. The stuff I used to read seemed so familiar and insufficient. Then one day I was at the library and came across a book with a simple title.

“On Being A Muslim – finding a religious path in the world today”.

Wow. Nice title. And as I was to soon find out … very interesting author!

When I started reading Maulana Esack’s book, it became obvious to me that the Maulana’s life was just one Rumi syndrome after another. And like me, he found that so many of his closest friends and useful helpers were not people you’d usually see describing themselves as “practising Muslims”.

Maulana Esack grew up in a poor neighbourhood in the deep south of South Africa. His mother struggled to keep the family going. While many Muslims were busy growing fat on the apartheid, the Esack household could only turn to kind-hearted Catholics and other Islamically-behaved non-Muslims for assistance.

I could relate to this. Many Muslims would have made a scandal about my illness. Many had already created scandal about the closing of my legal practice and the sudden end to what seemed like a promising political ascent. I felt unable to turn to the “practising Muslims” (I prefer to call them cultural or ghetto Muslims), as their version of Islam allowed them to spread innuendo behind my back and chew my dead flesh.

But most importantly, Maulana Esack taught me that being a real practising Muslim is not just a matter of repeating formulae or dressing a certain way. Islam was in fact a state of mind, an attitude that often placed you at loggerheads with the Muslim ghetto.

Some Muslims think that only they know what is good for Islam. You often hear them using conspiratorial language about non-Muslims. They often believe in promoting the lie that all Muslim are united, and are offended when I criticise the wrong attitudes and action of Muslim leaders in the mainstream media.

Versions of these Muslims existed in South Africa in Maulana Esack’s time. They criticised him for being involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, arguing that Muslims were benefiting from the oppression of the black majority and that this was therefore good for Islam.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from Maulana Esack’s book was that the best things for Islam are things which are inherently true and just and right. And more often than not, in today’s corrupt world, these are things which go against the interests of ghetto Islam.

I have now met Maulana Esack on two occasions of his visiting Australia. On the second occasion, I had him autograph a copy of his introductory book on the Qur’an. He wrote an awesome message about us being fellow strugglers. I treasured that book, and kept it in my pile of 50 books I have to read before I die.

Struggle for what is right became my yardstick for measuring a Muslim’s worth. So when I met one of my post-illness anchors, the humble Sayyida Jane, I could recognise in her the qualities of what I might call an Esackian Muslim.

Jane was a researcher who refused to work in the interests of multinationals. She would rather work behind a bar than support oppression. During my pre-illness period, I would have dismissed this as trendy lefty nonsense. But now I could recognise her wisdom.

Jane asked me to recommend a good Muslim author so that she could rediscover her Muslim roots. I immediately thought of Maulana Esack. I promised her I would bring her a book of his next time we met.

A few days later, I was rushing to meet Jane before she started her bar shift. I grabbed the Farid Esack book to give to her. I intended giving her the book that inspired me so much. Jane was going through her own Rumi syndrome, and I wanted to give her something in addition to her Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama.

When I handed her the book, she looked at it and said “Wow, thet’s fentestuk” in a thick South Pacific accent. She then read the hand-written note from Maulana Esack and planted a big fat kiss on my cheek. "Thenk Yoh! Thus uz sich a spishul guft!!"

I then proceeded to tell her about the book. She opened the book and looked a little confused.

“But I thought this book was about the Qur’an,” she said.

“No, it’s about how to be a Muslim in the modern world.”

“No, it’s an introduction to the Qur’an”.

I grabbed the book off her and realised she was right. I had given her the wrong book! And I have given her my cherished copy that Maulana Esack had signed himself!

Still, I may be of Indian descent but I couldn’t be an Indian giver. Jane still has the book, and she says she started reading it after buying a CD of Qur’an recitation. She really enjoys Maulana Esack’s writing style, and loves his good humour and his approach to gender issues.

So Maulana Esack has made a huge contribution to the lives of a lapsed lawyer and a Bani Alawi ex-barmaid. God-knows how many other people’s lives he has touched. And so, dear readers. Do yourselves a favour and grab one of his books. Let him touch your life also.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Loser Brother Anthem?

Could this be a LB anthem, maybe the? It clearly has some resonance.


Cat Stevens - Another Saturday Night

Another saturday night and I ain't got nobody
I've got some money 'cause I just got paid
Now how I wish I had someone to talk to
I'm in an awful way.

I got in town a month ago
I seen a lot of girls since then,
If I could meet 'em I could get 'em
But as yet I haven't met 'em
Thats how I'm in the state I'm in.


Another fella told me
He had a sister who looked just fine
Instead of bein' my deliverance
She had a strange resemblance
To a cat named Frankenstein.


Its hard on a fella
When he don't know his way around
If I don't find me a honey
To help me spend my money
I'm gonna have to blow this town.

Another saturday night and I ain't got nobody
I've got some money 'cause I just got paid
How I wish I had someone to talk to
I'm in an awful, ooh, I'm in an awful way,
He's in an awful way, I'm in an awful way,
I'm in an awful way, He's in an awful way.

Stop The War Now!

Click here to listen to George Galloway speak in San Francisco (web streaming)

or click here to listen on itunes (ihsan podcast)

Live (online) broadcast of rally on KPFA

International ANSWER Coalition

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


O Allah, bless Muhammad and his Household

Make me one of those who supplicate You with sincerity in ease,

With the supplication of those who supplicate You with sincerity in distress!

Verily You are Praiseworthy, Glorious. (Imam Zain-Al-Abideen (as))

Rita, according to reports, is the third most intense hurricane on record - and is moving towards Texas. About 1.5 million have been evacuated from Galveston/Houston area.

Some relevant links - check 'em out.

Sleepwalking - an excellent article on climate change

KPFT - Radio For Peace Houston, Texas - listen online live coverage

Houston Chronicle

A Heavy Truth Blog

Casa Juan Diego - Houston Catholic Worker

Katrina Files

Common Ground Solidarity in New Orleans

Muslim American Society

36 Years With & Without Imran

Today is the 36th anniversary of my appearance on the planet. So please, dear readers, allow me some indulgence to vent my spleen.

I am the youngest in the family. Being the youngest has its advantages and disadvantages. In my case, it is hard to know whether they cancel each other out.

One major disadvantage is that I am the only male kid. I am surrounded by two female siblings. But I am told that at one stage I had a brother.

Imran was 2 years old when he died. He had some kind of dehydration or pneumonia or something like that. Mum used to often talk about Imran, especially when I felt my sisters were teasing me and picking on me.

Imran died before I was born. But somehow Imran was always the benchmark. He was fair-skinned while I was darker. He was slim and handsome why I was chubby and not exactly a stunner. His hair was light brown while mine was jet-black.

If our ancestors had not left Ottoman Turkey (or wherever it is they left) and landed in India, one would say that Imran looked Albanian while I looked Kurdish.

I really miss having an elder brother. Today I apparently turn 36 and I am especially missing him.

The mythical Imran was the person I used to take all my problems to when I was young. I always imagined Imran to be this young baby-saint sitting in heaven passing my prayers directly to Allah. Imran was like a guardian-angel in human form.

I turn 36 today, and I feel no closer to wisdom. The only thing I am closer to is death. I surround myself with causes and client files and things to write about. And as usual, I surround myself with the problems and crises of others.

Yeh ilm ka sawda
Yeh risale
Yeh kitabe
Ek shukhs ki yado ko
Bhoolane ke liyeh hain

These are lines from an Urdu ghazal we listened to when we were young. They mean something like …

This exchange of knowledge
These journals
These books
Exist to enable me to take hold of the memories of a person
And extinguish them.

Most people here will probably not have reached 36 years yet. And those who have are probably fairly content with their marriages or relationships. My problem is that I have a 7 year love cycle.

Every 7 years or so, I meet someone with whom I accidentally or inadvertently fall in love. Often I deliberately have my defences up and actively try and avoid the emotion. On this occasion I put up defences so high that the Israeli army would want to model their Great Wall on it.

But someone jumped over the defences. And last night, I was told by another person that I had read the situation completely wrongly.

And how did I get it wrong? How’s this for female logic:

“Irf, you allowed yourself to fall for her.”

“Irf, you should have given her more time.”

“Irf, she couldn’t tell you to go away because she needed you.”

“Irf, she felt nothing for you.”

“Irf, she fell for you but she needed time to sort things out.”

“Irf, it’s not about you. It’s about her.”

“Irf, if you give her time, things might happen.”

“Irf, she doesn’t know what she feels. She can’t clarify it for you. Just accept that.”

“Irf, you are being selfish. She is depressed also.”

So what do I do? I am in the dark. I have no idea where I stand. I have a rope in front of me, and I am not sure whether to pull or place it round my neck.

Ramadan is coming. If I can make it through the next 2 weeks, I will feel its blessing again. Ramadan solves everything. This year I won’t feel on the fringes of Ramadan as I will be able to fast.

Maybe this Ramadan I will ask Allah to enable me to graduate from my Rumi syndrome. Or at least to help me realise that there is a tinge of saintliness in all this.

I wonder what Imran would advise me to do. He would probably look at me and giggle like Jane used to. He’ll remind me of the message of Ihya Uloom al-FatAlbert. Love is inherently good. When you love someone, it is the most magical feeling. But the one who deserves your love the most is your Creator who places the love in your heart.

“Remember Me and I will remember you.”

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Muslims Against Mumbo Jumbo

Just a quick post to announce a new blog: Muslims Against Mumbo Jumbo. The aim of this blog is to detail correspondence between myself and individuals, organisations and webmasters, primarily in the UK, who publish and propogate conspiracy theories involving freemasons, Zionist overlords and other secret organisations, and their supposed involvement in European history, the Iraq War, 9/11, 7/7 and the demise of contemporary Islam.

In recent months, a number of prominent British Muslims - including a chair of a Birmingham mosque and a leading Muslim barrister - are alleged to have made statements supporting conspiracy theories, consequently attributing to them a respectability and validity which they do not deserve. Such theories often offend not just the intellect, but also Christians and Jews, as well as bringing the Muslim community into disrepute.

If you come across a conspiracy theory story or website with a Muslim authorship, I would like to hear from you. Please send details directly to me, Yakoub Islam, at JCAYYI@btinternet[dot]com and I do my best to act on the information provided. The process will involve an initial investigation to ensure that statements alleged to have come from Muslim individuals or groups have indeed been authored by them, before attempting to challenge such theories with evidence to the contrary, insha Allah.

All investigations will be pursued with the upmost courtesy.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah Center in Algier's neighborhood of New Orleans, Lousiana is now a people's health clinic - with volunteers from all over providing important services to the area residents.

Malik Rahim
, a former Black Panther, and a Green Party candidate for city council has been instrumental in forming Common Ground,
a community-run organization offering temporary assistance and mutual aid to the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

Click here (web streaming) and listen to an interview with Malik Rahim, describing the first few days after the hurricane - this was recorded on September 7th, 2005. (Begins with anasheed).

(Or click here to listen/subscribe to the ihsan podcast on itunes)

See also Izzy Mo's blog for more information and first hand account of the floods.

Islamic Relief

Mercy USA

ICNA Relief

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Prayer for Sayyida Jane

A lone devotee in contemplation at the grave of Jane's ancestor

Tonight my friend Jane rang me. Or rather, she screamed and swore at me.

Jane was on the verge of suicide. She was promising to hang herself 4 or 5 times each day. That was how she felt. She was struggling to remove herself from her current situation.

Why does Jane want to kill herself? What is her situation? She is going through Rumi syndrome. I wrote about this in an earlier piece. She finds herself in a job that is below her dignity. She wants to get out. But she sees no way out.

Each time Jane tries to leave this situation, she finds herself dragged back in. Her family do not know what the situation is. She keeps running away from them and they are confused.

Jane leads a double life. One part of her life consists of her family and friends. The other consists of her “dark” side. And where do I fit into all this? I am aware of both. I stand at the junction.

Jane is stuck in a narcotic world. She knows this is not for her. But she is so depressed and distressed that she sees no way out. Her lifestyle enables her to work a minimal amount of time and make a fairly decent living. Enough so that she can think and sort herself out and make time for troubled siblings and friends.

But this world is actually making Jane more depressed. Living a double life is killing her. And I stand at the junction.

I know her in both worlds. I am perhaps the only person on this planet who does. But now I feel compelled to share it here.

Jane is of noble stock. Very noble. She is a Sayyida. Her ancestry goes directly back to the Beloved and Noble Messenger of God (peace and blessings of God be upon him and his noble household including my friend).

Jane is deeply spiritual. Much more spiritual than me. And much more patient. I have repeated many mistakes and have caused her accidental embarrassment on many occasions. And tonight she reminded me of this.

“Irf, you’re not the only one with problems! Stop being so selfish. You think you can get depressed. These days I wanna hang myself 4 times a day!”

She enclosed a few “f” words in between.

This is not the first time I have been told by a friend that she feels suicidal. On another occasion, another friend admitted her suicidal thoughts. And this week, a high-flying management consultant told me she was taking anti-depressants for clinical depression.

Perhaps depression isn’t a good word to describe it. Perhaps a better term is emotional quicksand. Jane feels sucked in by hopelessness. But if she goes and gets help, she will be OK. In fact, she will feel better.

I only spoke to Jane for a few minutes. She rang me on my mobile phone, and she used a public phone to call me. She only spoke for 4 minutes. I just listened to her rage and her despair. In the face of her quicksand, I had no right to speak. I only had the right to listen.

When Jane told me about her suicidal wish, I couldn’t help but think of her noble ancestor. We read in books of seerah that the Messenger of God often became so dejected when revelation did not arrive that he felt like throwing himself from a mountain. His heart was so compassionate that he used to grieve when people rejected his message.

Jane’s despair is perhaps a sign of her noble ancestry. Her anger was righteous. Yet again, I had tried to bombard my way into her troubled life when all she demanded of me was space to think and put the pieces together.

Sometimes friends cannot actively assist. Sometimes the best friends are just gatekeepers, standing at the door and letting visitors know that the occupant is busy and doesn’t wish to be disturbed. This was the role she set for me. I tried to go further, and she almost flipped.

So that is my crime. I must now do the time and keep away until further notice. But she continues to suffer. And she continues to want to hang herself 4 times a day.

And so, dear readers, I ask for you to pray for Jane. Pray that she find her way out of her narcotic situation. Ask God to guide her toward a solution, toward thinking outside the square of despair.

Please pray to God that Jane find her destiny and her happiness. Ask God to help her find her way out of her Rumi syndrome so that she can return to a normal existence. Ask God to remove her troubles and make her fears unrealised.

Join with me as I pray to God that her suicidal thoughts remain mere thoughts and quickly leave her mind. Pray that Jane find peace and tranquillity, and that she seek help (even if it be professional help) to get her through this difficult phase.

Jane is a direct descendant of Imam Ali (May God be pleased with him). For the sake of the honour of her ancestors, join me in asking God to provide her with inner strength. Ask God to save her from taking her own life and from bringing sorrow to herself and her family.

I will be praying for Jane on the 15th of Sha’ban and throughout Ramadan. I hope that I can greet her on Hari Raya and see her with a broad smile and a tranquil heart.

Dear Lord, for the sake of Jane’s noble ancestor, Your Noble Prophet, provide peace to Jane and all the Janes of this world. Amin.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam

Dave Chappelle has said, "I wish I had more hands, so I could give this four thumbs down!" There is nothing closer to the truth after painfully watching The Keeper.

Running late to the movies, I thought I would not be able to get a ticket. I wish I had bought it earlier. This would probably be true for any other movie - not for The Keeper. My friend and I arrived perfectly on time. Matter of fact, it seemed we were the only one's watching the movie. As walked into the theater there were two other people besides us. I later deduced the other two people in the theater were the director Kayvan Mashayekh and his friend. I had never before considered asking for my money back, so if anyone out there has his address please let me know as I would like to get my money back since I can't get my time back.

Now you may be asking yourselves, "Loser Brother, why do you dislike the movie so much?" I had really wanted to see the movie. As an Islamic history buff I looked very forward to the movie, and even convinced my friend to see it (he wanted to see "The Wedding Crashers," which in retrospect would have been the right move). I was totally let down. I wasn't expecting much, but "The Keeper" is probably the worst movie I've ever seen. What I've been amazed by is the response from Muslims on email lists and their praise for the film, which was initially one of the reasons I even went to see the movie; it seemed to me that I had hedged my bets. Boy was I wrong.

If there were one fault in the movie that leads to its downfall it has to be that the director simply went for too much. Too much Islamic history. Too much personal information about an Irani family. Too much focus on sets and scenery. It seems the director ignored perhaps the most important aspect of the movie – the acting. The acting was terrible! Instead of investing so heavily in costumes, and on-location filming, he would have been better off hiring some talented actors. The only exception to this is Vanessa Redgrave, who can also be seen in the various Harry Potter movies. I got through the movie by laughing at parts which I later learned were very serious issues. Kayvan, next time you make a movie please, please hire some real actors (and a get a better looking heroine).

The movie is very rough and unnecessary scene changes are a hallmark of the film. One aspect that I was particularly bothered by was the intermittent change of the narrator’s language. Initially, the narrator speaks in English, but the narrator then changes and so to changes to Farsi, and changes yet again to English. Why? I don’t know. The director should instead have stuck with one narrator and one language.

All and all the movie forces issues on to the audience in an incredibly contrived manner – there is no subtlety or nuance…we are instead bludgeoned by it as everything is explained in nauseating detail. We learn of the dying brother, the keeper of the family. We learn of the struggles of the Irani patriarch struggling to make it in Texas: The younger brother who is forced to rise to the challenge of being the keeper; The younger sister who seems to focus only on her music; and the disconnected mother. That would have been more than enough, were the issues properly developed. We are then forced to deal with the intricacies of Islamic history in Iran in equally choppy manner. Personally, I wish the director had focused more on this area. If that weren’t enough the director does a similar job with the life of Omar Khayyam as he does with the Irani family from Texas – a hodge podge of various issues with their only communality being that they come frame after frame.

Even now I continue to receive emails about how great this movie is. Before going I read the reviews and felt it was a safe bet – wrong. If you can avoid seeing this movie, do so. But, perhaps you’re out on a date – then this is the best movie to see since you’ll be the only two people in a dark room for hours, barring that the director doesn’t show up with a friend.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Islam and Social Justice

Salaam Alaikum,

At ISNA 2005, Farid Esack, and Ingrid Mattson (Vice-President, ISNA) gave an excellent panel on Islam and Social Justice:

"Islam, Activism, and Social Justice: Solidarity with the Mustadifin The primary goal of this session is to educate Muslims about the role Islam should play in their lives with regard to social justice activities."
This talk is now available on the Ihsan Podcast, or you can click here to listen (web streaming) direct mp3 audio link here.

Or, click here to listen/subscribe on itunes

And please do leave your thoughts regarding this panel in the comments section.

(begins with a brief song/nasheed)


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Competence and Morality

On my understanding of the Sufis, the path to fana’ (annihilation in Allah) begins with ensuring all actions are in accordance with the will of Allah. I’m always finding excuses for turning away from this path, a human folly ably allegorised by Farid Ud-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds.

There are innumerable desires and illusions that conspire to defeat my quest for islam, but I believe Allah has provided an important tool to defeat them, one which is also a byword of contemporary culture - competence. Competence – by my definition, at least - is about knowing how to get a job done.

Competence demands that a task be completed in accordance with objectively defined standards and/or aims. Competence is therefore measurable, if not always measured. At the simplest level, if an electrical appliance isn’t working, the best person to fix it is someone trained to fix electrical appliances.

Yet despite the obvious benefits to electrical appliances, not to mention the efforts by governments and others to measure competence when vetting potential employees or inspecting public works, the phenomenon of incompetence continues to pervade our society – from the highest echelons of government down to the DIY dunce.

The causes are easily observed – people aspire to positions they are not competent to do for reasons of social status, self-esteem and even self-delusion. Moreover, we frequently judge people as competent for all the wrong reasons – their social charm, their good looks, the ability to ‘work hard’, their gender, ethnicity, and so forth.

There are also people who claim the competences required to do their job are simply not measurable. Some teachers in England hold this view. This probably reflects the fact that Trade Unions were able to protect teachers from appraisal until relatively recently. A fool is a lonely figure. They seek refuge in numbers.

I find dealing with incompetent people extremely difficult. I get very angry. I am only too aware how incredibly damaging a few well placed incompetents can be. I was recently reminded of this when a local educational charity I am familiar with announced it was having ‘problems’ with its support network.

The real problem is that most parents have very little faith in this group, although it does do some things quite well.

For many years, the group was managed by a small group of closely knit friends who were personally ambitious Their groupthink and their personal ties prevented anyone who wasn't of a like mind from getting involved. Consequently, improvements to services tended to reflect their aspirations and were sometimes little more than cosmetic. There were other problems, too.

Key members of the group were too close to the service providers they were lobbying. This included a teacher who believed teaching was not a measurable competence. Thus in securing additional services provided from the Local Education Authority (LEA), the group failed to ensure newly appointed teachers would be properly accountable.

In short, our LEA developed a new service without a service manager. This effectively opened the door to applicants who, by any measure, should not be practicing independently.

For example, one of the new teachers presents external inspectors with bogus paperwork, which does not reflect what he actually does in his classroom. He gets away with this because no one else really knows what he is doing. He is an extremely manipulative individual. One parent volunteered to work with him because she genuinely feared for her child.

Parents new to the group quickly learn the committee is unwilling to pass on parents’ complaints, except in an extremely dilute form. One professional who remains at the centre of group works alongside some of the teachers who are the subject of continuing concerns. Clearly, this is not someone who is going to participate in getting rid of them.

Competence is, I believe, close to morality. The parent-professional who previously dominated the charity claimed to be a dervish (though he is not a Muslim), at the same time as having an adulterous affair with another member of the committee. He uses social charm and his hunger for 'hard work' to convince people he was the man for the job.

It didn't take me long to discover huge gaps in his knowledge. I was then quickly perceived as a threat and marginalised. I eventually resigned from the group. I gather this is what people call 'politics'.

The issue of competence is pertinent to religion in other ways. Idries Shah once asked why people don’t study religion with the same rigour as a student doctor studies medicine. Saving souls, after all, is no less important than saving lives. It’s a question, like my experience of ‘charity’, that spurs me on to further learning.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Domestic Crusaders


Tickets can be ordered online through Ticketmaster, or purchased at the door. The University Theatre is located on San Fernando Street at 5th in downtown San Jose, right next to the new library. Parking is free on weekends in the new city parking structure at thecorner of 4th and San Fernando. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students. For further information, call MOSAIC director Hyon Chu Yi at (408) 924-6245. Or visit the play's website:

For more info, visit

Co-sponsored by San Jose State University MOSAIC Cross
Cultural Center, the Center for Literary Arts, the
Before Columbus Foundation, the SJSU Department of TV,
Radio, Film and Theatre, and the Arts Council Silicon Valley, and EKTA


To honor the fourth anniversary of September 11, there will be two performances of The Domestic Crusaders, a full-length play by Muslim American writer Wajahat Ali.

This fully staged showcase production of The Domestic Crusaders is directed by author and theater scholar Carla Blank, and produced by the MacArthur "Genius" Grant Recipient and internationally prominent author, Ishmael Reed. Performed by members of the Bay Area's South Asian community, it offers the public an extraordinary look into the everyday lives of a Muslim South Asian American family dealing with the impact of 9/11 on their family and community. "The point of presenting The Domestic Crusaders on September 11 is to include Muslim Americans in our national day of mourning," said the producer, Mr. Reed. "They have suffered along with everyone else, and in unique ways." The play chronicles cultural, political, and religious conflicts of a fictional Muslim South Asian American family living in post 9/11 America.

Said the director, Ms. Blank, "It is an authentic, revealing no-holds barred depiction of one day in the life of one family, composed of six unique members, who convene at the family home for a birthday celebration. With a background of 9/11 and the scapegoating of Muslim Americans, the humor, tensions and sparks fly among the three generations. The day culminates in an intense family battle as the 'crusaders' struggle to assert and impose their respective voices and opinions while still trying to maintain and understand that unifying thread that makes them part of the same family, and citizens of the United States of America." Ms Blank continued, "As an alternative to the cardboard stereotypes regularly offered in today's world of marginalizing people, the Patriot Act, andthe belief that if you look different then you might be a threat, The Domestic Crusaders is intended to enlighten the public on issues of multiculturalism, racism, and the need for tolerance in a changing world."

"The interest generated by September 11 gives us a special, wonderful opportunity to engage in dialogue and to understand each other. That's why we felt it was important to make sure this play was available to our students and the general public." said Hyon Chu Yi, Director of the MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center at San Jose State, an agency of the university created to foster multi-cultural understanding. "We have significant Muslim American, South Asian American and Jewish populations at SJSU, and part of our educational mission is helping them gain sympathy for each other's points of view. We're proud that we're probably the most diverse university campus in America, and that young people today are really interested in being accepting of all different kinds of people."

The Domestic Crusaders was received with great acclaim in its 2004 staged readings at Oakland's prestigious Art & Soul Festival, the Mehran Theater Restaurant in Newark, the Main Branch Auditorium of the Oakland Public Library, and the 2005 production recently presented at the Thrust Theatre of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

"Wajahat Ali is a major new voice in American literature. His play is to Muslim American theatre what A Raisin in the Sun is to African American theatre," said Mitch Berman, head of the Center for Literary Arts, which is co-hosting the event on the San Jose State campus. "Our mission at CLA is not only to bring literary stars to San Jose, but to bring attention to emerging writers who have something new to say."

The author, Mr. Ali, says, "9-11 is an excellent time to perform this particular piece due to the global, international memory of a tragic event which has drastically altered the face of the world. It allows us, as a global community, to face the repercussions of that fateful day head on, confronting our fears, doubts, apprehensions, attitudes, and feelings in an honest, blunt, open manner which doesn't pander to hypocrisy, political ideologies, or rampant hysteria. The play gives us a means to understand themulticultural fabric of the American experience from the viewpoint of Americans who aren't usually seen as 'your average American' but live, breathe, sweat, suffer, hope just as much as any other American."

Who's who in The Domestic Crusaders

Wajahat Ali (Playwright) is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent who is not a terrorist or a saint. The Domestic Crusaders is his first play. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he has been writing, producing and directing plays, films, and sketches since childhood, enlisting his friends to be actors and crew. He began The Domestic Crusaders in a writing class taught by Ishmael Reed at the University of California, Berkeley, in Fall, 2001, and with his encouragement, transformed the piece into a full length play. He is currently mapping out a two-part prequel/sequel of The Domestic Crusaders, in addition to entering his second year as a law student at the University of California, Davis.

Carla Blank (Director) She has been involved in the development of The Domestic Crusaders since its inception, both as dramaturg and director. She is co-author, with Jody Roberts, of "Live On Stage!," an anthology of performing arts techniques and styles available in teacher resource and student editions (Dale Seymour Publications, a Pearson education imprint, 1997), and author and editor of the recently released historical reference, "Rediscovering America, The Making of Multicultural America,1900-2000," Three Rivers Press, a Random House imprint, 2003). Her current writing project is a timeline of 19th century America.

Ishmael Reed (Producer) is the author of nine novels, six plays, one opera libretto, six books of poetry, and six books of essays, and he is the editor of numerous anthologies and magazines. His collaborations with musicians have resulted in three CD collections: "Conjure I" and "Conjure II" During the 2005 Spring semester he was The Lurie Distinguished Chair in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. He isalso founder of the Before Columbus Foundation (which annually presents the American Book Awards) and the Oakland chapter of PEN. His online literary magazine, "Konch," can be found at http://www.ishmaelreedpub.com

Saturday, September 03, 2005

the Word on the street …

I live on the West Coast of Turtle Island, on unceded Native land belonging to the Coast Salish people. It is also called Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver in the province of British Columbia, in the country called Canada. In this small suburb of this medium sized Canadian city, there is this one particularly beautiful street. It’s called Number 5 Road. Within the distance of a few kilometres, all along one stretch of road, there are a string of places of worship. There are 2 Masjids, one Sunni and one Shia, there are Hindu Temples, a Synagogue, Sikh Gurdwaras, several Churches of different denominations and a massive Buddhist Temple.

There are, of course, a few logistical reasons that all of these faith communities have gathered on the same street. In the 70s and 80s, before this suburb was heavily populated, land was cheap in this area and available in large tracts. So various communities bought large plots, believing rightly that their communities would grow into those spaces.

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night, as I was staring at my blank computer screen trying to write an essay, my writer’s block hell was interrupted by a call from friends whose aged car had left them stranded at the end of No. 5. As I drove down to rescue them, I was struck again by what an absolute blessing it is to live near such a street. Every one of those buildings was alive with light and sound and the beauty of crowds gathered in worship and in the celebration of community.

Tonight, I sat in the Shia Masjid, in a gathering to pray for those that were killed in the Al-Kazimiyya tragedy outside of Baghdad this week. The Shia community had invited all the other communities to come in and share in their grief. There was beautiful Quran recitation in Arabic and dua in English. There were also prayers in Chinese, and in Sanskrit, and passages from the Bible read by a Priest. They prayed for those that died in Al-Kazimiyya and for those in New Orleans and for all those who are suffering everywhere.

The space felt blessed.

We live in a time where many have some kind of fetishized obsession with the term, "secularism". This is a term, perhaps like many other terms, that seems to shift in meaning rapidly. For some it means simply that the State should never impose any religion on anyone. Others further define it to mean that the State should not interfere in the religion of faith communities and individuals. But for some the term, "secularism" is really about anti-religionism - a vehement removal of all things religious from the public discourse.

For myself, I prefer the term, "pluralism" - a celebration of the multiplicity of ways that we seek intimacy with the Divine. And with that a clear understanding that all of us are equal regardless of what we call our path, including those who chose to not identify their path with any religion.

My prayer is for more of this. Anyday. On any street.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Irreverence of Yoose

In 1985, I attended my first Muslim youth camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). It was an amusing affair, with talks and lectures given by middle-aged men with thick accents telling us about how we should consider ourselves Aussie Muslims.

One “uncle” in particular stands out. I will never forget the laughter and ridicule with when he was greeted when he announced: “The AFIC tuck shop is now open!”. Since that time, we have been poking fun at the “t” sound he made in his Indian pronunciation of the word “tuck shop”.

On the last night of the camp, the participants traditionally did performances to entertain each other. Often we took the piss out of the group leaders and organisers. On my first camp, I manufactured a fictitious pop band called “Pak-Attack”, consisting of myself and 5 token Pakistanis. We used cricket bats as guitars and did a truly woeful rendition of the ‘80’s song “Take On Me”. But our song was really a tribute to Sheik Fehmi, our camp imam.

I also did a stand-up comedy skit which I can now admit plagiarising from a stand-up comic I saw on video. I put a tea-towel on my head and came out and said …

“Aloo! I am ze ayatollah. But Aya toldya that already. I dunno Khomeini times, Khomeini times …”

I was probably the only Anglo kid at the camp. Well, I was the closest thing to an Anglo, musically speaking. While all the ghetto-lebbos listened to George Michael and Boy George, my ghetto-blaster would blast out the sounds of U2, Midnight Oil and AC/DC. While my friends would sing and dance like Michael Jackson, I would be screaming out how “I’m on da highway to hell!”.

Then at my last AFIC camp in 1987/88, I joined my best mate Abs (as we used to refer to Abdullah) on stage. Our faces were covered in kufiyyehs and we sang a version of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. It took us 10 minutes to adapt the lyrics to the intifadah, and a further 5 minutes to prepare.

Thankfully for AFIC, we had no further youth camps at which to perform our irreverent form of comedy. We have gone beyond that now. Abs is now managing his old buddy Anthony Mundine. I am practising law and appearing on TV every now and then.

So why were we so irreverent? What did the elders think of us? Why did they put up with us? I asked one camp imam, Shaykh Khalil Chami, about it. Shaykh Chami is now official Muslim chaplain for the NSW and Federal Police. He is one of my favourite imams.

“Bruzzer ‘Arfan, you must undirstend zat za yoose are za fiyoochar of za Muslim in za Australia. We cannot shut up to za yoose.”

He was bloody right.

Perhaps the worst form of irreverent performance was at a camp organised by Young Muslims of Australia (YMA). I was a team leader at the time. We decided to take the piss out of some of the anti-Semitic attitudes displayed by our middle-aged Indian uncles. But we also wanted to do it in style.

So we took an old Frank Sinatra song and re-wrote the lyrics. We sad it in awful Indian accents, but soon gave up on the idea. The lyrics are exceptionally offensive. But remember that this was us lampooning anti-Semitism, not being anti-Semitic. Here is an excerpt of the song …

Start killin the Jews
They’re pissin me off.
I wanna tell the lot of them
Jet out, jet out!

The phrase “jet out” is a common Pakistani-English phrase used by globe-trotting Pakistanis to boast of their favourite and expensive preferred mode of travel.

Were the organisers of the camp impressed? The imam was furious. The organiser, a Young Naqshibandi Turk from Coburg Mosque, half-jokingly said to me: “I will one day leak the video recording to the Liberal Party when you run for pre-selection”.

Later, another organiser took me aside and said:

“Listen, I got the joke. But many of these kids are young and impressionable. They won’t understand you are taking the piss out of Indians. They might think you are promoting anti-Semitism. Their parents will be furious if they find out. You’d better get up and explain yourself”.

Which I did. I got up and explained the jokes from the amended lyrics to the kids. I told them that our religion does not teach hatred of other faiths or violence. And I learnt quickly that the irreverence of “za yoose” has its limits.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

A time to act!

Islamic Relief

Mercy USA

ICNA Relief

See Izzy Mo's blog for more information and first hand account of the floods.

Read Counterpunch for critical perspectives on Katrina, New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast.

If you are a medical doctor, a mental health worker, EMT worker, nurse etc. and have a week or so to spare - consider calling up your local Red Cross to volunteer.

And say a prayer for all the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and all those in need wherever they might be located.

(The Muslims Respond to Katrina graphic was *found* on altmuslim.com )