Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Petition for Dr. Zehra Attari

Update: 12/21/05

Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raji'oon

At a Wednesday morning press conference, the family of Dr. Zehra Attari thanked everyone for their support during the investigation.

“It was 43 of the most awful days, not knowing where your mother is,” said Attari’s daughter, Ruby, during the press conference.

“They positively identified the body as that of Dr. Attari,” stated family spokesman Ed Vasquez.

Dr. Attari worked with low income children and residents of East Oakland.

"I would say that if I had any wish that would come from this tragedy, it would be that someone will carry on her work in the community in Oakland, with children. She was a real humanitarian in what she was doing.” - Susan Heeley, Alameda.

You may express your condolences to the family of Dr. Attari by signing a guestbook here


Sign petition to get the FBI involved in search for Dr. Attari. This is the kind of work the FBI should be doing in the first place. Click here to sign

Respected Officials:

Subject: We want you to request the Federal Bureau of Investingation (FBI) to get fully involved in searching for Dr. Zehra Attari.

Dr. Zehra Attari, a resident of San jose, CA, is a pediatrician who was helping the underserved population in Oakland, CA, especially the most vulnerable section of our society, the children. She had been serving the community in Oakland for nearly 6 years. She is a loving wife and mother of two daughters who are also studying to become doctors.

On Monday Nov. 7th, she mysteriously disappeared after she left at approximately 5:00 pm from her clinic to go to attend a meeting in Alameda. There has been no information about her or her car since then. Her family, friends and the larger community have all rallied to search for her. The television and print media have continuously given coverage about her disappearance, vigils have been held in Oakland and San Jose to create awareness about her disappearance, the police in San Jose and Oakland have been searching extensively , but to no avail. More than 16 days have elapsed without any word about Dr. Zehra Attari

We believe she was probably abducted, and fear for her safety. Because so much time has elapsed, and Dr. Attari could have been moved to any location within or outside the state of California. It is imperative that a federal agency such as the FBI gets immediately involved in her search.

We as a family and a community in need appeal for your help.

click here to sign petition

click here to read updates on Dr. Attari

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Muslim Anarchist Hermeneutic

Hermeneutics has been described as the “science of interpretation which deals with the relationship between the author… and text.” (Esack, 1997, p.xi). My aim is to construct a Muslim anarchist hermeneutic, that is, one which affirms the importance of the individual life path in interpreting the Qur'an and other Islamic texts and discourse, whilst radically rejecting any single interpretation as having primacy over any other, including my own. In seeking to construct such a hermeneutic, I am primarily motivated by a passionate affirmation that “..any person reading a text…does so through the lens of his or her experience.” (Esack, 1997, p.12).

I embrace these insights with enthusiasm because, as a middle class graduate-educated convert living in 21st century rural Britain and caring for a teenage son with profound autism, I often feel alienated from contemporary Muslim discourse about orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This sense of alienation is bound up with my experiences of talking to Muslims about my personal circumstances, where responses have veered from misunderstanding and expressions of pity, to utter perplexity in the face of my lifestyle differences and (given the likely genetic roots of autism) my cognitive differences, which are intrinsic to my life and world.

In situating myself, I thus acknowledge that my religious motivation is one of a “post-orthodox” Muslim, embracing Islam not primarily as a political or cultural identity, but as a path to spiritual enlightenment. This does not necessarily leave me apolitical, or a mushrik (used as a term of abuse), but questioning both the relationship between power and religious meaning and essentialising Muslim identities, such as ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shi’a’. Like Arkoun, I desire to engage with the whole Muslim tradition, from Ramadaan to Muharram, and its entire cultural bounty. Islam is a beautiful faith and I see no reason why all of it should not be open to me.

Giving equilibrium to this situatedness is the desire not to rupture the meaning of the Quranic text that is my ‘bond with God’(3:103). The Qur’an is a writerly text, although its authorship is complicated by the mysterious interstice between the Transcendent and the temporal-material. Allowing the text to speak for itself therefore requires an understanding of wahy (revelation) as well as a commitment to a process of intellectual and personal preparation aimed to facilitate a clarity of understanding whereby taqwa (God consciousness) allows God to guide through the Qur’an (15:02).

In Sunni tradition, this process has traditionally been integral with obedience to the Shariah. Today, inside the new cultural geographies, the Shariah path seems almost impassable. Faced with an ossified corpus of legal scholarship, epistemological problematized and increasingly irrelevant to the demands posed by postmodernity, a more fluid project based on Quranic principles would seem to be required. In exploring alternatives, I have been most impressed by the postmodern ethic developed by Emmanuelle Levinas (1906–1995), an ethic distinct from utilitarianism or the profit motive, realised through irrational moral acts transcending reason, passion and the desire for power, where the individual takes unconditional responsibility for well-being of 'the other'.

The model of hermeneutics which seems most appropriate to this task is that developed by Hans-George Gadamer (1900-2002), which proposes a problem centred methodology centred on dialogue between reader and text, with the aim of building a fusion of horizons (Horizontverschmelzung). The notion of ‘horizon’ employed here is derived from phenomenology, according to which the ‘horizon’ is the larger context of meaning in which any particular meaningful presentation is situated. Gadamer's approach permits a positive evaluation of the role of tradition as legitimate sources of knowledge.

However, this should not be viewed as simply a balancing act between personal circumstance and traditional authority - far from it. 'Tradition' here is viewed as the whole Muslim tradition in accordance with a post-orthodox stance, from popular Sufism to high philosophy. Its epistemé extends beyond traditional usul to include contemporary human sciences, acknowledging - in keeping with anthropological data - that this whole is in most respects a collection of largely self-contained 'islams'. The Quranic horizon is one woven from the common threads running through these islams, both contemporary and historical.

What are these threads? Where does 'Islam', the whole of the tradition, best define itself? What is 'the Quranic horizon'? There is no definitive answer to these questions, but in my view, the most coherent and compelling definition is the one outlined by the Hadith of Gabriel, where "Islam means that you should testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad (saw) is Allah's Messenger, that you should observe the prayer, pay the Zakat, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage...." It also includes the concepts of Imam, a belief "...in Allah (swt), His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you should believe in the decreeing both of good and evil.." as well as Ihsan and also the Hour.

This is my intended direction. I ask Allah to guide me throughout this endeavour.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Alcohol smashed in Oakland, California

Update 12/1: The store that was set on fire was looted yesterday, and a community meeting was held to discuss the liquor stores:

"People want a grocery store in the community," Pastor Raymond Lankford said. "They want more variety certainly more fruits, more vegetables other than the liquor they're selling. There used to be grocery stores. We don't have grocery stores in West Oakland anymore."

See also Sunni Sister's blog entry on this issue: Pops

Update: 11/28: One of the two alcohol stores that was trashed was set on fire (police say arson) and was completely gutted.

Thank you everone for commenting here on ihsan, and on the indybay site. Maybe I've been a bit harsh in this blog entry - but this is a very serious matter. And I agree that trashing up these stores is not an answer, still, at the same time - we have to find ways to address these issues.

Here is excerpt from one of the comments on Indybay - giving some more background on these stores.

"Community leaders wanted to reduce crime and related problems linked to liquor stores. They pressured city leaders to revise city regulations governing those businesses. The new law created an Alcohol Beverage Action Team charged with responding to complaints, performing investigations, conducting minor-decoy operations and bringing repeat violators before hearing officers. If necessary, the ordinance provides for revoking a store operator's business permit. click here to read

A soon-to-be-released book by sociologist Robert Nash Parker, "Alcohol and Homicide: A Deadly Combination of Two American Traditions," cites a 20-year study of 256 U.S. cities demonstrating that alcohol outlet density has a significant effect on that area's homicide rates, and that the nationwide increase in outlet density from 1960 to 1980 played a major role in the skyrocketing violence during that period. click here to read

With adjustment for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics at the census tract level, every unit increase in liquor license density is associated with a 9% increase in domestic violence click here to read

"What is the relationship between outlet density and violence? A number of studies have found that in and near neighborhoods where there is a high density of places that sell alcohol, there is a higher rate of violence. That is, when bars, liquor stores, and other businesses that sell alcohol are close together, more assaults and other violent crimes occur. click here to read

updated 11/27 - scroll down...

Wednesday, near midnight, about a dozen or more African-Americans, apparently of Muslim background smashed two alcohol stores (owned by Muslims of Arab background) in Oakland, California.

Before we go about doing our usual round of condemnations - lets take a look at some facts:

1. Oakland has a poverty rate of nearly 20%. However, for the area (near West Oakland) where these two stores were located, this rate is far higher: upwards of 60 to 70%, and the residents are primarily African American and Latino Mexican and Central American backrounds).

2. Oakland has over 350 liquor stores, and, in some of the poorest areas - there are two or three of these "stores" (call 'em drug pushers) on a single block! This means that the bulk of these stores are located in poor neighborhoods.

3. Community activists in Oakland have been attempting to restrict and shut down some of the worst liquor stores for some time - but have had little success because alcohol is a legal substance. A very mild and ineffective voluntary measure is in effect that close the liquor stores down at 12:00 A.M. instead of 2:00 A.M.

4. Alcohol (along with other drugs) has been pushed in many inner cities of the US - includng East Oakland. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth notes that alcohol has been marketed to underage African Americans:

• Two formats—Urban Contemporary and Rhythmic Contemporary Hit—with music types including R&B, rap, hip-hop, house, and dance, accounted for almost 70% of the alcohol advertising reaching underage African-American youth on radio.

5. According to a recent study (pdf), neighbourhood violence goes way up as the numbers of alcohol outlets increase:

The strong connection between alcohol and violence has been clear for a long time – but now we know that this connection also relates to the location of places that sell alcohol.
The TV news coverage came up with a "Qur'an expert" who did the usual, robot like, condemnations (is there a standard condemnation form online somewhere?). But he said not a word about the role that these stores play in the destruction of communities, families, and especially the youth of the neighbourhoods.

And so you can expect that the usual suspects will line up to condemn this act. But that does not at all address very fundamental questions about alcohol stores, and exactly what are Muslims doing selling alcohol in the first place, and that too in very poor inner city neighborhoods. Not just in Oakland - but all over the United States!

Maybe asking such questions about Muslims is not very progressive of me - but they do need to be asked.

In an article on racial tension in the American Umma, Kelly Crosby wrote:

But one of his (Kelly's father) comments stayed with me long after we finished talking. He said, "there is no way for African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims to come together on anything in this community until we all address the problem of Muslim-owned cornerstores."
And so pardon me if I don't shed any tears when I watch the video of alcohol being smashed.

Update: There is an interesting conversation/debate/flame on the Indybay web site click here to view/participate.

A couple of excerpts from some of the comments:

"While people can make their choices on their own (as well they should,) a closer look at both the presence of liquor stores and the presence of crack and heroin in these communities doesn't paint a healthy picture. As such, the line between providing ample access and shoving it down people's throats is finer than you think. I do think its messed up that an individual shop owner was targeted -- just another example of ordinary people being divided against each other in the midst of a genocidal war. But I can also understand how people get to that breaking point."

"There are 3 liquor stores within 6 blocks but not a real grocery store for miles. Literally miles.

"I do see where people might come to seriously resent these stores, though, and it's so ironic than many are run by Muslims who would never partake in what they are selling in poor neighborhoods everyday -- things I myself buy. But a good bit of anger should also go towards companies like Safeway who pulled their last store out of the neighborhood about 6 years ago (they had one on Broadway). Even older grocery stores in the area are now scraggly church's. There is a Whole Foods coming about a mile or so from here, but it will be a madhouse when it opens as the first return of a real grocery store in years and years to a long underserved neighborhood."

A day of solidarity with Native Americans

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"In the absence of the sacred, nothing is sacred -- everything is for sale."

--Oren Lyons, ONONDAGA

The Elders often say that when something is sacred it has spiritual value.

You'll hear, on the Earth there are sacred spots.

You'll hear, our ceremonies are sacred, our children are sacred, marriage is sacred.

When something is sacred it means it's so holy you can't attach a value to it.

Therefore, it's not for sale.

It's an insult to suggest buying something sacred.

On the other hand, if we look at it differently, as there is no sacred land, ceremonies are not sacred, our children are not sacred, etc., then everything is for sale.

Sacredness creates spiritual space. Sacredness makes things holy. Sacredness shows respect for God.

Great Spirit, let me honor things that are sacred.


On the Ihsan Podcast, you can listen to Ward Churchill describe the FBI-COINTELPRO assault on the American Indian Movement - and what we all can learn from this history. Click here for web streaming.

A group of Native Americans in the area now called "New England" is observing a National Day of Mourning today (11/24) -

And in the San Francisco Bay Area, The International Indian Treaty Council invites indigenous peoples and friends to gather for a sunrise ceremony at Alcatraz Island: You Are On Indian Land.

For some beautiful Native music check out Native Radio.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Message To Imams Across Australia, New Zealand & The World

25 November 2005 falls on a Friday, the day regarded as sacred to Muslims. On this day, Muslims gather at the mosque to pray in congregation. Part of that process includes the delivery of a sermon or “khutbah”.

The Prophet Muhammad has provided guidelines for the delivery of sermons. One od these guidelines is that the khatib (the one who delivers the sermon) is to deal with current issues facing the Muslim community.

Although I am no scholar, I have a humble suggestion for our imams and khatibs for a topic which affects all Muslims, especially Muslim men. I also have a humble request for our imams and khatibs to wear a certain item with their clothing.

The United Nations has designated 25 November to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As part of this day, men wear white ribbons on their chests as a symbol that they will not commit, condone or tolerate any forms of violence against women carried out by other men.

I urge our imams and khatibs to wear a white ribbon on that day, and to encourage the male members of their congregation to also wear the white ribbon.

Islam gave dignity to women. It gave women rights and liberties. But some men, Muslim and non-Muslim, choose to take those rights away. Moreover, some men choose to act violently toward women.

Our greatest exemplar in conduct was the Prophet Muhammad. There is no instance of him ever behaving violently toward a woman. He never engaged in physical or sexual violence toward any women, be they his wives, his daughters or women outside his family.

The Prophet Muhammad brought a scripture which states that husbands and wives are like “garments unto each other”. Which man would rip up or punch or kick his garments?

The prophet is reported to have said: “The best of you is he who is best to his wife. And I am the best amongst you because of my behaviour with my wife.”

The measure of a man is how he treats his wife. Yet we all know that Muslim men do exist who beat and act violently toward their wives. Often such violence is carried out in the presence of children, or at least comes to the knowledge of the children.

When violence against women is perpetrated in the home, it isn’t just the women victims who suffer. The children are traumatised, and this can last even after they reach maturity. Other men who care for the woman victim – fathers, brothers etc – also suffer.

Indeed, even the perpetrator of the violence suffers. He loses respect of his children. He is increasingly unable to control the anger or other causes of the violence. Most importantly, he eventually loses the woman who could have offered him unconditional love.

Society as a whole loses. And we are losing. Our women are suffering physical and sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and other men. We know it is happening. But many of us come from cultures where domestic violence is hidden.

In Australia and other Western countries, there are laws which forbid domestic violence and which provide women with remedies against the perpetrators. Similar laws exist in Muslim countries.

Yet it troubles me that when I visit a court located in an area of Sydney with a substantial Muslim community, I see names like “Ali” and “Muhammad” and “Umar” and “Abdullah” figuring prominently on the court list as perpetrators of violence toward their female partners.

It also troubles me that I see so many women with names like “Aisha” and “Khadija” and “Yasmin” and “Fatima” as victims.

Women make up at least 50% of the Muslim population, and at least 50% of the human race. Violence against women is condemned across all faiths and schools of thought. So why is it on the increase?

This is not just an issue for Muslims. It is eating at the soul of mankind. We know that God is “ar-Rahman” (absolutely gracious) and “ar-Rahim” (absolutely merciful). We know that these two primary attributes of God come from the root word “Rahm” which means “the womb”.

God uses the example of the female womb to describe His own absolutely mercy. Yet instead of respecting the wombs that carried us, we see women being subject to the worst forms of physical, mental, sexual and emotional violence in our communities. We even see fathers and brothers perpetrating violence for the sake of protecting family honour.

Yet the most honourable and best of men is the one who is best to his wife. This is the standard set for us by our Prophet. It is the standard we have failed.

The Prophet said: “Help your brother, both when he is oppressed and when he oppresses.” Those hearing asked: “How do we help someone when he oppresses?” The Prophet responded: “By stopping him from his oppression.”

Muslim men need to stop their Muslim brothers who deem it acceptable to oppress their wives and other women. The violence against women will only stop when men take a stand. If Muslim men sit by and not stop the evil from occurring, we might as well be lending a hand to the violence.

I humbly call upon all imams and khatibs to deliver this message to the men in their congregations on 25 November 2005.

Irfan Yusuf

Myth before ‘fact’ – the myth of reason

Ever since I first read Fatima Mernissi’s Women and Islam more years ago than I care to remember, I have been troubled by the issue of hadith. Up until recently, my stance was to acknowledge the hadith linked to salah and sawm as generally authentic, whilst ignoring those used to justify or proscribe minutiae apparently at odds with Quranic values. This understanding would seem to be in keeping with the insights of reforming thinkers such as Fazlur Rahman.

Herbert Berg describes the debate over hadith in Western academia in terms of a 'dichotomy' between theories derived and developed from the works of Ignaz Goldziher, who place little stock in either the historical truth of either hadith or the chains of transmitters (isnads) that designate them as authentic (sahih); and Fuat Sezgin, whose writings are generally more supportive of traditional Muslim scholarship. Scholars aligned with Goldziher include Schacht, Cook, and Calder, with the latter view supported by Abbott, Azami, Motzki, Horovitz, and Fück, leaving Juynboll, Rahman, Robson, and Coulson vacillating between.

Today, I had one of those little epiphanies, when I suddenly wondered why I was so concerned with arguments surrounding the historical justification of hadith. It struck me that this whole argument sits more comfortable at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Goldziher was writing, than in the twenty-first. In one important sense, debating the historical 'truth' of hadith is as daft as philologically analysing Gia-Fu-Feng’s translation of Tao Tse Ching. No doubt some of the alleged words of Lao Tsu probably reflect the norms of China several millennia ago, as much as the translation reflects early 1970s hippyish spirituality. The question is, does this make the book any less profound?

Similarly, whether early Muslim scholars airbrushed the life of the Prophet (aws) with their own politico-religious convictions is a moot point. The truth is that, scholars of integrity with deeply felt pious convictions – such as Martin Lings – are able to utilise traditional texts to reconstruct a narrative of the Prophet (aws) in a way which is inspiring, not just to Muslims, but to anyone with a spiritual bent. In the 1920s, the idea that such representations might be deemed ‘myths’ was an argument steeped in colonial arrogance, where a myth was not an anthropological category as much as means of deriding a conquered religion as primitive.

Narrative hadith inspire in a way that transcends historical truth. Murata and Chittick preface their introduction to Islam with the hadith of Gabriel, on its own a sublime description and definition of the Muslim path. My personal favourite is of the man who came to confess to the Prophet (aws) that he broken his fast during Ramadan by having sexual intercourse with his wife, only to leave with a basket of dates after the Prophet (aws) realised he was one of the poorest of the poor. Muslims should be free to understand these stories in terms of the relevance to our own lives and communities, unsullied by either the repressive legalism of Mullahs or the stultifying drone of academics.

The mythological stories of Islam should not be hidden away as if they were some kind of embarrassing admission of unreason. Rationalism, that represents something which cannot be proven by positivistic empiricism as primitive, is a colonial ideology, and one that has been subjected to protracted critical analysis by a multitude of social theorists from Kuhn to Foucault. Myths are narratives that have spiritual value, and they pervade Muslim discourse from the Qur’an to the hagiographies of Saints. The tales of the Imams in Shi’a Islam are among the greatest examples of mythological beauty within Islam, not least the story of the murder of Husayn, still recounted with heartfelt grief by countless Muslims every year.

The beauty of Lings' Seerah transcends its biographical accuracy or otherwise, reaching as it does deep into the Prophetic psyche, exploring problems that confronted the mission of Muhammad (aws) and hence our own dilemmas which come from trying to realise Islam in the contemporary world. The sledge hammer of Imperial reason should not be permitted to shatter the beauty and resounding truth of such works, nor the narrative hadith nor the stories of Muslim Saints. All continue to illuminate Muslim culture and understanding today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Aussie Muslim model lambasted by cultural Muslim leaders

Australian model and Muslim convert Michelle Leslie
Australian model Michelle Leslie returns to Australia over the next few days. While in an Indonesian prison, this swimsuit and underwear model decided to don a head scarf. At one stage, she even wore a burqa covering her entire face.
Some Australian media had a field day with her alleged "conversion on the road to Bali prison". When her friends revealed Leslie had embraced Islam at least two years ago, the media cynicism on her conversion largely subsided.
But as Leslie's plane prepares to land at Sydney Airport, she will be greeted by another frenzy. Leslie has been told by the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) to cease her modelling career.
Dr Ameer Ali, AFIC President and an economics lecturer, was quoted in Sydney's Daily Telegraph as saying:
"If she is a Muslim I don't think she should go back to her job as an underwear model because Islam is about modesty. Taking off her clothes and being half-naked on the catwalk will raise a lot of eyebrows in the community. She can't have it both ways. Either practice Islam and do something decent or don't practice it at all."
This all-or-nothing mentality has become all too prevalent amongst the first generation migrants who dominate leadership roles within Muslim bodies and organisations. New converts or young Muslims returning to their faith are expected to immediately conform to a set of standards.
But this attitude doesn't account for human realities. We all have to start somewhere. And if some of us end up choosing to regard ourselves as Muslim, this does not necessarily translate into a complete change of career or lifestyle choice.
Leslie has a number of modelling contracts awaiting her return to Australia. Although the writer is no theologian, it is an Islamic theological given that her taking up modelling will not in itself take her outside the fold of Islam. The President of AFIC will know this. Or at least he should.
Being Muslim is a product of one's faith. And belief is a matter of the heart. Only Michelle Leslie and her Creator know what is in Michelle Leslie's heart.
Further, it is not for the presidents of Muslim bodies to be telling Muslim women how they should dress. Just as it is not the business of politicians to be regulating Muslim dress. Dr Ali's comments mirror those of conservative Liberal Party backbenchers who want to see the traditional Muslim hijab banned from state schools.
Muslim women living on either side of the Tasman have the same opportunities as any other women to participate in mainstream society. Whether they are converts or brought up in the West, these women should be allowed to make their own choices without men - and their often irrelevant cultural standards - becoming involved.
Many Muslim leaders find it impossible to bridge the cultural gap that often divides them from mainstream society.
Whether as converts or reverts, many non-cultural Muslims face difficult decisions and choices beyond the almost impossible task of adopting a new faith.
Leslie has taken an enormous step. She has changed her faith. It will take her some time to change her lifestyle.
Human beings are not robots or computers that can be programmed into a new set of habits and behaviour.
For many young Muslims the choice is even more difficult. They are forced to swing life's pendulum in at least three directions between parental expectations, orthodox religion and the Western culture they grew up in. For new Australian and New Zealand Muslims, both young and converts, conventional mosques and imams are locked in an alien cultural world.
I have a Kiwi Muslim friend who sometimes works behind a bar. She serves alcohol, and she enjoys drinking white wine or champagne mixed with orange juice. Both are habits regarded as sinful by mainstream Islam.
But beware anyone who says something nasty about her father's religion. My friend may not be the most observant Muslim on the planet, but in terms of passion for her faith I have known few people better and stronger.
More important than her job and her drinking habits is the goodness of her heart and her wisdom. Despite leading a difficult life, she is one of the most compassionate people I have met. She is extraordinarily sensitive to other people's feelings. I have never heard her speak ill of anyone. And when she rebukes her lawyer friend Irfan on his over-eating habits, she does it mildly.

My friend is the living embodiment of what American sufi Hamza Yusuf Hanson once said: A religious person is someone who doesn't want to go to hell. A spiritual person is someone who has been to hell and never wants to go back.
Islam teaches that a good heart and noble intentions matter more than appearances. Some rednecks claim that Muslims believe all martyrs go to heaven into the arms of 72 virgins. But the prophet Muhammad taught that a martyr who dies with the intention of being glorified will in fact be sent to hell. He made the same remark concerning the cleric and the philanthropist who do good deeds just to be seen.
The same prophet also spoke of a sex worker who finished her shift and went to the well to drink some water. She saw a dog dying of thirst and gave the dog water first.
For that good deed and for the purity of her intention, God made this woman destined for heaven.
Whether you're a neuroscientist, a barmaid, a swimsuit model or a sex worker, what counts isn't what people think of you. Like all mainstream faiths, Islam teaches that what counts at the end of the day is the goodness of your heart.
I hope Australians of all faiths will welcome Michelle home with open hearts.
* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer.
(First published in the New Zealand Herald on 22 November 2005)

This article was penned for my good buddy Yazza.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Vine Deloria, Jr. (Died 11/13/05)

"In recent years we have come to understand what progress is. It is the total replacement of nature by an artificial technology. Progress is the absolute destruction of the real world in favor of a technology that creates a comfortable way of life for a few fortunately situated people. Within our lifetime the differences between the Indian use of the land and the white use of the land will become crystal clear. The Indian lived with his land. The white destroyed his land. he destroyed the planet earth."

"Scientists, and I use the word as loosely as possible, are committed to the view that Indians migrated to this country over an imaginary Bering Straits bridge, which comes and goes at the convenience of the scholar requiring it to complete his or her theory. Initially, at least, Indians are homogenous. But there are also eight major language familied within the Western Hemisphere, indicating to some scholars that if Indians followed the trend that can be identified in other continents, then the migration went from east to west; tourists along the Bering straits were going TO Asia, not migrating FROM it."

Vine Deloria, Jr., Standing Rock Sioux, 1970, 1994

see Writeous Sister's blog for more on this wonderful Native American scholar/activist.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Missing person alert: Dr. Zehra Attari

Update: 12/21/05

Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raji'oon

At a Wednesday morning press conference, the family of Dr. Zehra Attari thanked everyone for their support during the investigation.

“It was 43 of the most awful days, not knowing where your mother is,” said Attari’s daughter, Ruby, during the press conference.

“They positively identified the body as that of Dr. Attari,” stated family spokesman Ed Vasquez.

Dr. Attari worked with low income children and residents of East Oakland.

"I would say that if I had any wish that would come from this tragedy, it would be that someone will carry on her work in the community in Oakland, with children. She was a real humanitarian in what she was doing.” - Susan Heeley, Alameda.

You may express your condolences to the family of Dr. Attari by signing a guestbook here

Salaam Alaikum,

Dr. Zerha Attari is a highly respected children's doctor in the Oakland, California area, where she has her own clinic for low income, and uninsured residents of the city.

Dr. Attari has been missing since November 7th. There is a reward for anyone who might have information that would lead to her whereabouts. Click for details, and how you can help in the search (especially if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area).

Dr. Zehra Attari. Details:
Name: Dr. Zehra Attari
Age: 55
Weight: 135-145 LBS.
Height: 5' 4"
Complexion: MEDIUM
Discernable Marks: Red mole near her elbow.
Race: INDIAN (South Asian)
Date of Birth: 05/05/1950
Car: Driving a Silver 2001 Honda Accord, California LIC# 4MUH810
Last Seen: 11/07/05 @ 5:10 PM
Clothes: Wearing open toed shoes and black rimmed prescription glasses.
She had on a light blue sweater over a turtleneck and navy blue trousers.
If you have any information regarding her whereabouts or can be of any help in finding her then please contact the following numbers
Contact Information: 408-277-4786 or call 911
Missing Person Unit, San Jose Police Department Case #: 05-311-9543
NIC #: M145302302

Moustapha al-Akkad - Sharing the Prophet in name and in film

Every life lost to terror is precious. Whether it be Sydney footballers or an anonymous London travellers, terror always claims innocent victims. But one recent terrorist incident should have really shaken the few Muslim left who only reluctantly condemn the terrorists.

Moustapha al-Akkad was no small fish in Hollywood. He was executive producer of the successful Halloween series of movies, from which he made millions. Halloween was released in 1978, and has regularly featured in lists of all-time great horror movies. The film had 7 sequels, the most recent of which was released in 2002.

Akkad was an American national. He had decided to move to Lebanon, taking advantage of the Mediterranean surrounds and the relative peace following decades of civil war and occupation. He was in Amman with his family to attend a wedding.

Akkad was born in the city of Aleppo in Syria, a Muslim town which provided shelter to thousands of Armenian refugees fleeing persecution during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. He moved to the United States at 18 years, and is said to have had only $200 and a Qur’an in his pocket when he arrived in Los Angeles.

Akkad studied film at UCLA, graduating in 1958. He completed his Masters from the University of Southern California where he focussed his attention on documentary making. Akkad went onto make documentaries for CBS across the world.

Despite being held captive to the American dream, Akkad never forgot his roots to his Syrian homeland or his Islamic faith. He used his directing skills to produce two movies regarded as classics across the Muslim World.

In 1976, Akkad produced and directed “The Message”, a film about the life of the Prophet Muhammad. He gathered actors of the calibre of Anthony Quinn, who played the Prophet’s uncle Hamza. Quinn also played the lead role in Akkad’s 1981 film “Lion of the Desert”, which portrayed the life and death of Libyan anti-colonial fighter Omar al-Mukhtar.

In a 1977 interview about “The Message”, Akkad described his reasons for making the film and his vision of his Islamic faith.

"I did the film because it is a personal thing for me. Besides its production values as a film, it has its story, its intrigue, its drama. Beside all this I think there was something personal; being a Muslim myself who lived in the West, I felt that it was my obligation, my duty to tell the truth about Islam. It is a religion that has a 700 million following, yet it's so little known about, which surprised me. I thought I should tell the story that will bring this bridge, this gap to the West."

Akkad’s vision of Islam was as a faith which built bridges between hearts and civilisations. Like most Muslims, Akkad wanted to use his faith to be a source of peace, not conflict. The only terror (if one could call it that) Akkad wanted people to experience was from his horror movies.

Akkad was attending a wedding in Amman, Jordan when terrorists struck. He was standing outside the hotel where the wedding was being held. His 34 year old daughter, Rima Akkad Monla, was inside the hotel and was amongst those instantly killed in the blast. Akkad was severely injured and died in hospital on Friday.

Across the Arab world and the United States, tributes have been pouring in on this proud son of Aleppo. The Daily Star of Beirut, Akkad’s adopted city, writes:

“Remembered by his friends and family here as a humble man whose words spoke volumes, he lived life to the fullest always loving the art of filmmaking and never stopped in his pursuit of bringing a true and peaceful image of Islam to the West. It is the most tragic of ironies that he died a victim of fellow Muslims claiming to fight in the name of the religion he so loved.”

Akkad was planning to produce a movie on medieval Kurdish general Salahuddin (known in the West as Saladin) who defeated the Crusaders and drove them out of Jerusalem. Firas al-Atraqchi from al-Jazeera writes on 13 November 2005:

“It was only two years ago that I sat across from him and his son Malek as he discussed the challenges he was facing in arranging financing for his new epic project – Salahuddin. Sitting comfortably in a leather chair in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Cairo, Egypt, with a pipe in his hand, Akkad described his Salahuddin troubles as nearly synonymous to the challenges he faced when trying to put together a script for The Message – a film about the rise of Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Atraqchi goes onto describe the problems Akkad faced in trying to convince the fringe Wahhabi religious establishment of Saudi Arabia to approve the making of a film about the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunni scholars of al-Azhar and Shia authorities of Southern Lebanon had given their approval. Only the Wahhabis were holding back.

The same ideology held back Akkad from completing his Salahuddin project. The al-Qaida terrorist network, an offshoot of the Wahhabi cult, took responsibility for the Amman blasts which killed Akkad, his daughter and over 50 others.

In his book “The Great Theft – Wrestling Islam from the Extremists”, UCLA Law Professor Khaled Abou el-Fadl laments how contemporary attention on Islam focuses on the actions of fringe groups such as Wahhabis and al-Qaida. The result, argues el-Fadl, is that “the most emphatic moral values taught by Islam … mercy, compassion, and peace” are readily ignored.

This struggle between the violent fringe and the moderate mainstream continues. It continues to claim victims of all faiths and no faith in particular. It has now claimed Moustapha al-Akkad, a man who devoted much of his creative talent and wealth to building bridges between Muslims and the rest of humanity. Muslims in Australia , New Zealand and across the Western world owe it to humanity to continue his legacy.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Thursday, November 10, 2005

signs in a forest

The Coastal Redwoods are perhaps the most remarkable trees around. Hiking through an old growth forest - recalling that some of these trees are thousands of years old, is to take a walk through the ages of our planet.

The outer bark are soft, allowing the trees to easily absorb moisture, the core, however, is one of the hardest. This strong hard core of the trees was heavily used for housing construction in California during the 19th and all the way upto mid to late 20th centuries. As a result, there are now only about 3-5% of the original old growth forests left standing.

These trees can grow upwards of 250 feet tall! Given this size, one would expect deep roots to keep them standing for hundreds of years. But the roots are shallow, and can be easily viewed while walking through the forest. The redwoods remain standing because they grow in groves, or “communities” and the roots are inter-connected with each other. This inter-dependence, and connectedness at the root allow them to remain standing strong. If the roots were not literally tied up with each other, the trees would fall within a few years, especially since they grow so close to the ocean, and are exposed to all of the elements.

Perhaps this is a sign of Allah we might reflect upon…

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

the God conscious

the devil sits
comfortably with strangers
he knows how to use them, and you know

his talk, always
for sure, whereas
the God conscious

dance with the play of hu

the devil laughs
on one side of his face only
the outside

his smile, always
more obsessive, whereas
the God conscious

learn from the way of rusul

the devil sells
invisibility cream to the frightened malls
buy more control

he screams, always
afraid for you, whereas
the God conscious

worship only at the birthplace of ruh

Review: Living Islam Out Loud-Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur

Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak

Ed. Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur

Whatever your feelings about this collection of essays, I think the most disturbing fact is that none of the top Muslim media outlets carries it.

Click here to continue.

Mr. Lonely by Akon

I was recommended this song by a fellow Loser Brother and just now got the opportunity to listen to it; it is the Loser Brother song of the month.

Mr. Lonely | Akon

Lonely I'm Mr lonely,
I have nobody,
for my owwwn
I’m so lonely,
I’m Mr Lonely
I have nobody,
for my owwnnn
I’m so lonely

Y'all, this one here,
Goes out to all my players out there, man, ya know
Thay got that one good girl, dawg
That’s always been there man, like
took all the bullshit
Then one day she can’t take it no more
And decided to leave

I woke up in the middle of the night
And I noticed my girl wasn't by my side,
Coulda sworn I was dreamin',
For her I was feenin',
So I had to take a little ride,
Back tracking on these few years,
Tryin figure out what I do to make it go bad,
Cause ever since my girl left me,
My whole life can crash in a moment.. ,I’m so

Lonely (so lonely),
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own,girl)

I’m so lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own,girl)

Can't believe I had a girl like you
And I just let you walk right outta my life,
After all I put you through you still stucked
Around and stayed by my side,
What really hurt me is I broke your heart, baby
You a good girl and I had no right,
I really wanna make things right,
Cause, without you in my life girl, I’m so

Lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own,girl)

I’m so lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own,girl)

Been all about the world ain't never met a girl
That can take the things that you been through
Never thought the day would come
Where you'd get up and run
And I would be out chasing you
Cause ain't nowhere in the globe I'd rather be,
Ain't no one in the globe I’d rather see
Then the girl of my dreams that made me be
so happy but now so lonely

Lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own, girl)

I’m so lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own, girl)

Never thought that I would be alone (be alone),
I didn’t think you'd be gone this long, (gone for long)
I just want you to call my phone,
So stop playing girl and
Come on home (come on home),
Baby girl I didn't mean to shout, (ohhh)
I want me and you to work it out, (work it out)
I never wished to have a
Hurt my baby (Hurt my baby)
And it’s drivin me crazy cause I'm so

Lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own,girl)

I’m so lonely (so lonely)
I’m Mr. Lonely (Mr. Lonely)
I have nobody (I have nobody)
for my own (nobody for my own,girl)

Lonely, so lonely, lonely,
So lonely, (so lonely),
Mr. Lonely, lonely, so lonely
So lonely, (so lonely, so lonely, Mr. Lonely

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Civil Unrest in France

I've been traveling the Internet looking for intelligent commentary on what is going on in France. I lived there once in the late 80s (only for one year) and had friends and acquaintances among the "immigrant" community (the French use of the word "immigrant" is much like the American use of "person of color" - i.e., most of the "immigrants" are second or third generation French citizens but are not white and their grandparents or parents came from a former French colony in North or central Africa).

I pray for these communities and hope that France's institutions and leaders will take the high road (eventually - they evidently have not yet) and try to address root issues rather than stooping to the all-too-easy "race card" such as calling the rioters "scum" and blaming "Islamism" for the unrest.

For some very good commentary on this issue I recommend 'Aquoul's Lounsbury and also .Steve Gilliard, who has several very thoughtful articles up about the larger social issues in France. Also, check Hot Coals in the next couple of days for an on-the-ground eyewitness account.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Happy Eid Mubarak!

Imam Zaid Shakir on monsighting controversy

Earthquake Donations:

Donate to Islamic Relief

And donate to Edhi Foundation

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why violence against women is a men's issue

What is it about us men? Why do we always seem to want control over women? Why do so many of us become violent when the “requisite” degree of control is not available to us?

Violence against women is the scourge of all societies. My family’s background is Indian Muslim. Indian cultures are some of the most oppressive toward women. Muslim Indian society produced Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani villager who was sentence to be raped as part of communal “justice” for the crime of bringing “dishonour”. Her actual “crime” was that her brother had befriended a woman from a powerful clan.

Instead of defending her pleas for justice, Pakistani President Musharraf caused international outrage by claiming rape had become a “money-making concern” used by women to seek refuge overseas.

On a perhaps more mundane level, it is the same society in which male religious scholars pass edicts (known as fatwa’s) against tennis star Sania Mirza for the length of her skirt, while ignoring the tightness of my namesake Irfan Pathan’s cricket trousers.

In Bangladesh, women are regularly attacked with acid if they are deemed to behave in a culturally inappropriate fashion. Yet this same community at one stage had a female president and opposition leader.

Something is rotten in the state of Islam. The way we treat our women is atrocious. Which doesn’t say a lot for Muslim societies as a whole, given that at least 51% of their community are women.

One recent well-publicised gang-rape case in Sydney involving defendants of Pakistani background outraged the community. A defence barrister reportedly claimed his client’s crimes were an inevitable result of “cultural conditioning” as the defendant grew up in Pakistan where traditional views are held about women.

Traditional views? To gang-rape a woman is deemed traditional? One Sydney lawyer, Ms Wajiha Ahmed, was outraged by the claims. She was cited in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “To make this excuse of where a person came from and that they lived a traditional life, is not good enough. This is a travesty for all women, not just white Anglo-Saxon women, but for all women.”

But it isn’t just Muslim communities that subject women to violence. In the great bastion of Judeo-Christian values that is 21st century Australia, domestic violence is on the increase. Yes, something is rotten across the Tasman as well.

On October 27, the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics released a report that showed reported incidents of domestic violence had increased across NSW by some 50% over the past 7 years. During the period of 1997 to 2004, rates in Sydney alone increased by 40%.

The trends are predictable, but the figures are alarming. Most women are abused by current or former male partners. 36% of incidents involved the abuse of alcohol by perpetrators. In the past year, some 86% of incidents occurred in or near the victim’s or someone else’s home. Around one-third of victims suffered injuries – mostly bruising, red marks, minor cuts or bleeding.

Some 15% of victims suffer more serious injuries – fractures, burns and internal injuries. And who knows what emotional and psychological scars women bear as a result of domestic violence.

We read these statistics. We read what women activists are saying about domestic violence. But what about men? What steps are men taking?

November 25 is my mother’s birthday. It is also White Ribbon Day, the United Nations’ designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On this day, men claim the issue of violence against women as a men’s issue.

Which makes sense. After all, the overwhelming majority of acts of violence against women are perpetrated by men. It is only appropriate that men be the ones to champion non-violent relationships amongst other men.

White Ribbon Day began in Canada in 1991, on the second anniversary of a massacre in which one man killed 14 women in Montreal. Since then, in countries across the world, men have been wearing white ribbons to signify their opposition to all forms of violence against women.

An important feature of the White Ribbon Day campaign is the role played by male ambassadors who are at the heart of the campaign to inform and agitate to eliminate violence against women. Among Australian ambassadors for White Ribbon Day are three Australian Muslim men (including myself), as well as men from across the spectrum of Australian society. They include footballers, politicians, entertainers, lawyers, politicians and businessmen. They include indigenous and not-so-indigenous Australians.

White Ribbon Day is about turning violence against women into a men’s issue. The men involved as ambassadors for White Ribbon Day are not perfect in their relations with women. But if we remain silent on the issue, we may as well be lending a helping hand to those who perpetrate violence against women.

Men really have only two choices when it comes to violence against women. They either speak out or they effectively lend a hand. Or perhaps a fist. Or a broken bottle. Or some other implement being used. The choice is ours.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University. He is an ambassador for White Ribbon Day 2005. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Two Stories from Iraq

The first set of links discusses the exploitation of Nepalese workers in United States' contractors' work sites in Iraq.



The second discusses the thriving cosmetic plastic surgery industry in Iraq. But not to repair the wounded, but to look like pop singers.