Sunday, May 29, 2005

What is a Progressive Muslim? Episode I

People sometimes ask "What is a Progressive Muslim?" Or even "What is a Moderate Muslim? How is one different from another type of Muslim?" This post and others will try to tackle aspects of this discussion.

The way I see it, the diversity of opinion within the progressive "fold"--and not just amongst Muslims, for I see this mirrored at least in Christian and Hindu circles--ranges from die-hard a-theistic secularists who identify as "Muslim" as a matter of strategy and/or culture, through secular (in the I-believe-in-the-separation-of-Church-of-State-but-I-have-a-strong-faith sense of the word) believers, right up to those that genuinely believe that a Muslim can live their faith within a constitutional and/or democratic framework. Of course, often these three strains co-exist in the world view of individual members...

Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part.

Heroes from World History--African Edition

Wonderful list at:

Askia, for example, was probably the first ruler in world history to have a Minister in charge of Fisheries. Mansa Musa, Samora Machel, Amina of Zaria, Jaja of Opobo--people the rest of the world should know about; and not just to give them their due, but so we can understand our own heritage better, all of us. For a better understanding of history makes us all better people and able to build a better world.

And I have intentionally not listed here the leaders that the world does often talk about: Mandela, Nefertari, and the like.

Sharia -- What is it?

As is often the case with me, coming off a discussion on a list I am on:

A very large flag goes up in my head when someone--whether it is Daniel Pipes, or someone on the progressive side or in the mainstream of the Muslim community--equates "Sharia" with the understanding of the dominant strain in the North American Muslim community of how Muslims should live and conduct their lives.

Here is one little believing Muslim who disagrees that girls' education is secondary to their being dressed modestlly. Or that the word "hijab" is a synonym for "headscarf". Of any description. (See note at the end of Or that "Allah Hafiz" is the preferred "Islamic" greeting--for South Asians or anyone else. Or that being aggressive or downright rude to waiters when you explain that you don't eat pork is allowed under Sharia or Islam--much less identifying you as a "good Muslim". Or that it is an option for you to assume the negative when you are offered meat at a fellow Muslim's home. (All based on real incidents in my own life--and, no doubt, others'.)

When we accept or assume that what is being thrust down our throats by the privileged or dominant strain of North American or Western Muslim communities--and by a vocal section in the Muslim world--is what Shariah or Islam really is, we've lost the battle for a sane, enlightened world. That's just my humble opinion. Wallahu Aalam, as we Muslims say; Allah knows best, I might be wrong.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Desecration of the Qur'an--Why the Riots?

One reaction within progressive Muslim circles(and please note the lower-case "p") to the discussion of the desecration of the Qur'an is this:
People are being killed by mobs over alleged desecrations of the Quran.
Is this not an outrage?
Well, people who feel they don't have any dignity left; who have, in their view, been exploited, oppressed, and marginalized for 8-10 decades and more; the only thing such people have left is their icons and their faith. And then, what happens when something rubs salt in their wounds, I call it a reaction. I offer you a quote from Sherif Feisal Bin Hussain via TE Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") as a call to compassion based on empathy on all sides of this discussion:
"...either forced good or forced evil will make a people cry with pain. Does the ore admire the flame which transforms it? There is no reason for offence, but a people too weak are clamant over their little own. Our race will have a cripple's temper till it has found its feet."
[Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Chapter IV.]
As a lot of people have said, especially since 9/11 till we are blue--this is not to justify the outrage, which I completely agree it is--but, to use the language of today, to show you where folks be coming from.

Galloway on C-SPAN

I don't know if it was a matter of routine or their wanting to run it on a weekend--because the alternative, that they first tried to get away with not showing it or archiving it, is too scary to contemplate--but CSPAN finally did carry George Galloway's testimony. It is available online:


The question of whether they are trying to bury it by only presenting it almost a week later is still troubling.

[Previous posts on this blog discussing CSPAN and others' not carrying the testimony:]

Friday, May 20, 2005

Galloway's Senate Testimony, NPR, C-SPAN and ...

Stop Press:
See the following post for an update on this matter:

People keep expressing amazement at what FOX and CNN and others did with the Galloway testimony.

But I was amazed at the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" night before last! I mean, it almost seemed to be consciously making sure that the viewer saw the Senate Committee's viewpoint as the truth!

Oh, and C-SPAN, which carries arcane Congressional events has no record of Galloway's testimony!

Of course, it doesn't help that the webpage on the Senate site for that hearing carries only the submitted statements of the people who spoke--and Galloway, it seems, did not submit a statement:

For a transcript, one has to go across The Pond to The Times (of London, of course)'s website:,,3-1616578_1,00.html
(A thanks to Class Worrier for posting it on his blog, and to Brainbytes for pointing me there.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Once in a while, people no one side or the other of a political issue or an ideology will froth at the mouth about how this or that media outlet was handling something. The only thing that drives me nuts is that intelligent people take American newsmedia seriously. Or consider it as fitting into the cateogry of "press" the way Ben Franklin understood the term.

American newsmedia is entertainment. Period.

Of course, one should be careful about how things are treated in the entertainment media, because that has consequences. But we need to keep what we are dealing with in mind.

Irshad Manji a Progressive Muslim? A Reformer?

Irshad Manji is often discussed nowadays. (See the recent post on this blog about her appearance on Fareed Zakaria's show.) And she is often described as being in "the same group as" or a "a forerunner in the movement" to reform Muslim society today. Of course, that is often framed as a "movement to redefine Islam", a formulation that she has contributed in no small measure to popularizing. The interesting thing is that I am yet to find any Muslim--progressive or conservative, ethnic or strategic--who thinks she brings something positive to the discussion. The best summary of the issues with her that I have seen is one from Omid Safi, Co-Chairperson of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America, the organization that is so often in the discussion nowadays, and editor of the book that has becoming a defining text of the whole disussion, Progressive Muslims : On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism. Reproduced below is Omid's exposition, originally written as an e-mail. Sabahat.
---------- Forwarded message from Omid S---------- From: Omid Safi Date: May 17, 2005 10:42 AM *********************** Dear friends... Some of you might have seen this compilation of comments on Irshad Manji, but for those who have not, here it is again.where to begin about Irshad Manji? Let me send you three items. The first two are good essays by folks on a Muslimwakeup, and the last something that I  had written. As you can imagine, I am quite fed up with her, and frustrated by the way that she pitches herself to everyone from Fox News (which is quite infatuated with her) to very right wing Zionist organizations (Daniel Pipes is a huge fan of hers as well). What is perhaps most frustrating is that she does have a few random insights here and there, but the whole framework is so flawed in my opinion, and at the end of the day a ceaseless attempt to bring the spotlight (and financial rewards) on her and her alone. 1) Here is what I consider to be a very astute critique of Manji, from our own Tarek Fatah: 2) Here is another important critique, one that directly gets to Manji's agenda in her discussion of Palestinians/Muslims. 3) This is a post that I had written myself on November 3rd to the Network of Progressive Muslims. It was in response to attacks from more conservative Muslims who grouped us along with Irshad together in "progressive" ranks, and I wanted to distinguish our own collaborative work from hers. ****************************** I think to most of us it is obvious why Irshad is not a progressive Muslim. I am not sure that she uses that self-designation either, although I know that she likes the "reformer" label. Recently, she has of course joined the ranks of those who are calling for ijtihad.I do agree, however, that in the perception of many folks out there we all get labeled together with Irshad. Part of what is so sad about things is that on one hand much of the corporate media seems to enjoy anointing one person as the flavor of the month (Akbar Ahmed, then Khaled abou El Fadl, then Soroush, then Shirin Ebadi, then Tariq Ramadan, etc.), and in their thinking there is basically room for one "nice Muslim" out there, and they have slotted Irshad there. I would prefer to see a whole spectrum of voices. Irshad also doesn't mind using (and being used by) the Muslim-bashing force of Fox News, etc.I do get asked all the time to differentiate between our approach and Irshad, and this is something that I find to be helpful in telling people: 1) Irshad presents herself as a voice out in the wilderness. (She has even managed to alienate the Toronto queer community, who have openly said that she doesn't speak for them.) We on the other hand are trying to not invent something out of scratch, but begin by creating a sense of networking, of fellowship, among existing communities and individuals. It is not about having one person on a podium, it is instead about bringing communities together and working on transforming them. 2) This point to me is key: all of us are working to identify, challenge, and resist problematic practices and interpretations in Islam and Muslim societies. That is fine, and necessary. However, I also believe that it is imperative for us as Muslims to identify areas in Islam that are deep reservoirs of wisdom and compassion for us. I don't see Irshad doing this. When one doesn't talk about what it is that keeps one a Muslim, spiritually nourished from the broad spectrum of the tradition, then it becomes very easy to side with the Muslim-bashers. Take a look at who sponsors most of Irshad's talks, and this points takes on even more urgency. 3) It comes back to the "multiple critique", the perpetual commitment to speak out for justice and against injustice no matter who it is against. Irshad actually does raise some valid points about areas in which we as Muslims do struggle. My problem is that she does not carry out the multiple critique by also directing the critique against the Empire. There is hardly a serious engagement in her presentations with the imperialistic agenda of the United States anywhere. Here I see one of the greatest ironies of her putting quotes from Edward Said on top of her webpage, while ignoring the very underpinning of Said's project, namely the commitment to resisting US hegemony, as well as critiquing Israeli abuses. Either she doesn't know Said, or is only name-dropping. 4) This issue is key for me: the Palestinian/Israeli issue. I think that we must approach this issue through the framework of a human rights issue, and I simply do not see Irshad acknowledge the suffering and humanity of Palestinians. Look at her gushing over Israel today as "...Israel is one mother of a pluralistic place." [The group that sponsored her, the VanCouver Hillel, proclaimed her as a "Muslim friend of Israel." ] Whatever word I think of to describe Israel today, pluralistic is not it. As I told the Toronto Star, the only person on TV that sounds more Zionist than her is Daniel Pipes! No wonder she has become the darling of so many Zionist groups in the US. To see Daniel Pipes' support of her, see [where she is being proclaimed as "voice of moderate Islam." I wouldn't be surprised to see her receive massive amounts of funding from some of them. 5) I do believe that any criticism has to be both firm and loving. This is especially the case when one is conducting a critique of one's "own" community. I have listened to Irshad very closely on multiple occasions, and read her book and website closely. When I listen to her address the shortcomings of Muslims, I never get the sense that it is motivated by a love and compassion for the people that she is addressing. Instead, it always come across as condescending and self-righteous. Her statements like "I give you permission to think freely" certainly do not help. I believe that people are very perceptive, and they can tell--especially in person--when someone is motivated by a profound sense of concern and compassion for the integrity of their soul (before God and humanity), and when someone is merely pointing an accusatory finger. in love and solidarity, Omid ****** I hope something in the above is useful. -----------end excerpt from Omid S

Mainstream Muslim Clerics on Terrorism

Well, there's always the question of if and when mainstream, traditional Muslims will stand up to be counted on things like suicide bombings and the like. Well, here's the news from the country of my parents:

[Note: I don't define the word "traditional Islam" very differently from most people. You can write to me or leave a comment here if you want to discuss it.]

Monday, May 16, 2005

Urdu Blossoming on the Internet

For those not familiar with it, Urdu is the language associated with the Muslims of South Asia--fully almost half of the world's Muslims. It is the language in which the madrassas of Pakistan and India operate. The official language of Pakistan, a country that needs no introduction to most readers in this day and age, it is also the language in which a great volume of literature, especially poetry, has been written--a lot of it with Sufistic content or undertones.

On the Internet, Urdu has had a presence for a while. But up to now, it has been in the form of content created using specialized software (like the ubiquitous "InPage") and then converted to a graphic format (like GIF or JPG) and then placed on a website. The content itself has usually been in the form of poetry, literature, or news and current affairs that has been created for another medium--or in another time-- and "re-purposed" for the Web. Original content creation specifically for the Internet has been very tentative; though we have had some poets use the Web as their first or main outlet and some news sites, etc. have come up.

But all that is changing. In the last few months or so, I am tracking a blossoming of Urdu language for blogging and other live discussions, and original content being developed for, and often on the web.

Blogs, of course, are where everything "is at" nowadays. And blogging in Urdu seems to have been triggered by the direct support for Urdu script that is available in Windows XP and the phonetic keyboard developed by the CRULP (the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing at the National University of Science and Technology in Pakistan). A follow-up piece to this one will lay out the how-tos of this. Please watch this space and feel free to get in touch with the author/editor of this piece.

By way of background, this phenomenon has been preceded by the explosion of blogging in Farsi. And yes, I use that word advisedly; if what is happening in Urdu now is a "blossoming", then what has happened in Farsi is an "explosion". Farsi is reputedly now the third most popular language for online journals, and Farsi blogs are to the political scene in Iran what printed pamphlets were to revolutions in the early 20th century. But I digress. You can follow the links earlier in this paragraph to catch up on that discussion. Back to Urdu.

Here's a short round-up of things that will provide you a lay of the land, so to speak.

There is now a list of Urdu blogs:

The above link is to a post is from "Urdu ke Naam", a collaborative blog that includes contributions by the current author, and announces that blog's being included in the list. A closer look at that blog entry will also point to a page--on, what else? a blog--that describes how to start blogging in Urdu. And one that provides templates for setting one up.

The comments on that post above also mention "Urdu Planet", a site that aggregates the content of a lot of Urdu and Urdu-related blogs in one place:

The list of blogs that page points to is hosted on the "Urdu Wiki":

For readers not familiar with them, "wikis" are a wondeful new class of websites which are great for colloboratively creating content and gathering infromation. The "Urdu Wiki" has become a good place for the community forming around this whole phenomenon of Urdu on the Web. Among other things, it has pages where the community is starting to do some of the work on developing and fine-tuning the terminology for computer usage, for example. To use another link from Urdu ke Naam, see:

South Asian readers will remember that, till very recently, this kind of list was sent around as a joke, with satirical translations of Windows features into Urdu, Punjabi, or what-have-you. Now we are working on the real thing. And I do mean "we"--anyone can participate. I wish everybody would.

Which brings us to the next topic. A real encyclopedia in the language. The Wikipedia community has set up an encyclopedia in Urdu. Everyone can and should participate; it is a wonderful way to engage the Urdu-speaking community and Urdu lovers with the Internet, while helping the collection and growth of knowledge in Urdu. The address to get to it directly is:

By way of background, here's a link to an earlier post by the current author on this topic:

One could see a conflict, or redundancy between the above two projects--but I dont. Here's why: One is a place for collaboratively developing content about Urdu and related topics, while the other is a real encyclopedia about anything and everything (or aims to be, anyhow) in Urdu. A project that, to my knowledge has not successfully been carried out since before colonial times.

To give you an example of the kind of discussions that are starting to happen as the use of the language starts to mature in its use on this medium, see the following posts on "Urdu ke Naam":

Before I close, a few specific observations:

The community I am talking about spans India and Pakistan. Which, IMHO (in my humble opinion), is a good thing. It is good for the health of the language and intellectual strength of the community using it, as well as for world peace. The interesting thing is, the only tensions that arise in this online community do not arise out of national differences, but about things like the strong feeling amongst some users that the Urdu script should be the only one used for such discussion. (See the comments under the main post at and then the current author's own post at:

Secondly, from where I sit, the discussion of just a couple of years ago about whether Urdu is on its way out in India (see, for example, the 2003 article on Chowk that has been making the rounds on e-mail again recently) is moot. Some of the most passionate members of this community are currently based in Hyderabad, one of the historical "homes" of the language.

Another interesting thing is that the diaspora of Urdu speakers and lovers around the rest of the world is the furthest behind in this regard. Most people one talks to around Silicon Valley, for example, start the discussion with a "but I can write Urdu now, in InPage (a software for desktop publishing in Urdu)". When, after a few minutes of explaining that what is being talked about is exactly that one now does not need specialised DTP software and can employ the Urdu script anywhere in their day-to-day computer use, you can practically see the lightbulb go off above people's heads. What follows is requests for "how to" and so on.

And lastly, an expression of humility. I write this piece not to take credit for any of this, but to pay homage. The people in the trenches, doing the real work, are people like Asif Iqbal, father of the Urdu Wiki mentioned above; Danial, a blogger in Karachi; Umair Salaam, who makes a rather credible claim to have started the first blog in Urdu; Qais Mujeeb and Manzoor Khan, founders of "Urdu ke Naam"; Qadeer Ahmad Rana, the 19-year old student in Multan, Pakistan who finally scolded and shamed the current author into learning how to write in Urdu. (Wish him luck, he's in the middle of exams now.) Heartfelt khiraaj-e-thehseen and nazrana-e-aqeedhath to them. For these are the "Asathaza", the founding fathers, as "hamaari zubaan" moves into a new medium.

PS: Shapar86, my apologies for writing another piece in English, but I really wanted to reach an audience outside those that are already set up to read and write in Urdu.

NOTE: Versions of this article have appeared in my column in Al-Mizaan and at and

Saturday, May 14, 2005

On Faith...and Politeness

Had reason to say this on a list of Pakistanis involved in science and engineering:

My point is that we need to keep our minds open. I have seen lots of fans of science make the case that God's existence can't be proven. (That's why we people of faith call it "faith", by the way; you have to take it on faith.) But I haven't seen anyone provide proof that God doesn't exist. And my scientific training (Bachelors' in Engineering, Masters in a Social Science) teaches me that when you can't prove something OR disprove something, you have to keep your mind open to the possibility of either being true. Until gravity was proven, it didn't mean that gravity didn't exist--just that we didn't understand it.

A lot of people have one working hypothesis (that God doesn't exist; all "superstition" is nonsense) and demand proof to convince them otherwise.That's a very valid, scientific stand to take and you are justified in taking that stand till you see real data to change your mind.

However, my working hypothesis is different. I start with the assumption that God does exist and there's most probably something to some of this spiritual stuff. And I am yet to find anything that moves me the other way.

In the absense of further data, I guess we will have to agree to disagree. That's my point. Can we disagree more politely rather than making fun of things that other people might believe and cherish? Isn't that the scientific, and human way?

And here's another reason to be nice: the faint possibility that when you start a conversation by making fun of something your interlocutor has affection for, you run the chance of making them defensive and not listening to your argument. I know this is not a rational thing to do, but, hey, you know?! Humans aren't rational beings all the time.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Fareed Zakaria TV

In case you missed it, Fareed Zakaria (see the brief previous post about him on this blog) now has a rather nice-looking website and a TV program:

He has a program segment on Iran that is worth listening to.

One of his early programs was on Islam being anti-woman and "starred" Irshad Manji and Afifa Syeed:

It is good to see her make a clear distinction between the theory of Islam and the practice of culture, honor, etc. It seems like she's learning on the job; I had actually not noticed, till someone pointed it out on a mailing list I am on, that she's added a word to the title of her book: it is now "The Trouble with Islam Today". I checked out the website again. It now has:

Interestingly, if you look at the Urdu page, the word "Aaj" (Today) has been added to the beginning of the title--in a different font.


One keeps hearing the word "Islamofacism". One person that uses it is Reporter Steven Vincent on his time in Iraq his is "The Red Zone." his interview with Sandip Roy on Upfront ("dispatches from the new majority", a program on KALW), he expresses surprise at finding Muslim women that see the Qur'an as a means of getting their rights. Now that is a strong reminder that there is definitely a disconnect between people in this world—at times, we really don't know much about each other.

Also, listening to that, the word "Islamofeminism" popped into my head

Secondly, he makes some other points and provides some very good insights. And this is a guy that self-idenfies as a Neo-Con. (He says to the left "Where are you? Don't leave this work [of understanding the Iraqis and helping them build their country, I guess] to Neo-Cons like me!) Worth listening to. I'll see what links to events, radio programs I can find featuring him and put them here.

Wahaabis as "Traditionalist"?

Reza Aslan, writer of "No god But God" is on Upfront with Sandip Roy on KALW. I like his dichotomy about tradionalists and rationalists--but not how he defines them. He gets all confused between puritanical and rational and ends u p calling the Wahabis "traditionalist" and ...then who are the rationalists again?

He says along the way that "We need to make sure that [the other voices] are also heard." He does have a point when he says "It is only we that hear only the [militants]." "We" being the West; and I would include a lot of Western Muslims in that, too...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

British Election Results

CSPAN2 (not the main CSPAN channel, which is carrying a National Memorial) promised election result coverage. Right now it is carrying the "BBC Election Night Simulcast".

Britain's Blair being the last of the international leaders to support George Bush on the War in Iraq that is still in office, this election is very intriguing. Other reasons to care include the fact that Britian's "third party" (the Liberal Democratics, or Lib-Dems) is reputed close to taking the spot of the 2nd largest party...

Right now (2:20 pm California time), the exit polls are "forecasting a sharply reduced majority for the Labour Party"...

I guess the best place to go online for results themselves would be: