Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Subhaanilillahi! Maadallah!

I am not a fan of Irshad Manji, Wafa Sultan or Ayan Hirsi Ali. You can google me on that--or search this blog . But we--yes, me included--critique these folks morning, noon, and noony night, to quote the children's story character, for saying, na'uzu billahi min zalik, that "Islam needs reform" or that the Qur'an "has ambiguities, inconsistencies, outright contradictions and -- gasp! -- the possibility of human editing." (An exact quote. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irshad-manji/the-riots-in-jalalabad_b_1013.html)

But when the Mercury News, a newspaper with a much, much better record than most US papers (not to mention being our local paper in Silicon Valley), reports that:
"In the seventh century, when most people were illiterate and uneducated, moon sightings were the simplest way to determine the lunar calendar, said Muzammil Siddiqi, a member of the influential Fiqh Council of North America, the body of Islamic scholars that allowed the astronomical calculations."

'``These are the same principles,'' Siddiqi said. ``If you have all this knowledge available, why would you wait until the last minute? You can tell them ahead of time and they can plan.'''
and that ISEB President Khalid Baig
".... foresees slowly introducing the scientific concept to the 300 mosque members, and one day using that new method."

"``The sighting of the moon has been a tradition since the Prophet Muhammad, so this will not be an easy thing to give up,'' Baig said. "

[The full article is at: http://mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/15581292.htm . They do require you to log in/register on their site.]
We're okay with that?!

What can I say except, as the then very relaxed, Maliki Muslim community in West Africa that I grew up in--which, each year, stayed up late to hear the ailing Sultan of Sokoto say the magic words "Gobe Sallah", or "Tomorrow is (the Big Day of) Prayer"--would, in the local Hausa-Fulani dialect, say,

Subhaanilillahi! Maadallah!

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Comments on the Pope: StratFor/Friedman, Tariq Ramadan, Daniel Pipes, Progressive Muslim Groups

Before we move on to other subjects, here's a round-up of reaction about the Pope's speech that I found interesting:

George Friedman of StratFor, has a very interesting take on the whole thing, calling it "A Deliberate Move", saying:

"Let's begin with the obvious: Benedict's words were purposely chosen. The quotation of Manuel II was not a one-liner, accidentally blurted out. The pope was giving a prepared lecture that he may have written himself -- and if it was written for him, it was one that he carefully read. Moreover, each of the pope's public utterances are thoughtfully reviewed by his staff, and there is no question that anyone who read this speech before it was delivered would recognize the explosive nature of discussing anything about Islam in the current climate. There is not one war going on in the world today, but a series of wars, some of them placing Catholics at risk."

You can read the whole commentary at: http://halldor2.blogspot.com/2006/09/limits-of-tolerance.html

Tariq Ramadan, who has been referred to Europe Islam's Martin Luther King, weighs in with:

"...Throughout the Muslim world, religious leaders, presidents, politicians and intellectuals joined their voices with protesting masses angered by a perceived “insult” to their faith ... Whatever the judgements of these scholars and intellectuals, one would have hoped that they adopt a more reasoned approach in their critical remarks..."

You can read his commentary at: http://www.digitalnpq.org/articles/global/114/09-19-2006/tariq_ramadan

Daniel Pipes, yes, Daniel Pipes; I said interesting, not necessarily "positive contribution to the discussion" weighs in with a predictable--but not-so-incendiary-as-you'd-expect op-ed, includiing some interesting (as promised) comments, including:
  • "First reflection: Benedict has offered elusive comments, brief statements, and now this delphic quotation, but he has not provided a much-needed major statement on this vital topic of Islam. One hopes it is in the offing...."
  • "In the Italian original, however, Benedict says only sono rammaricato, which translates as "I am disappointed" or "I regret."
You can read his whole piece at: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/3968

[To complete the picture in terms of academics and thinkers, and if you haven't already, please don't forgot to check out my post about Karen Armstrong's comments on the issue at: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2006/09/karen-armstrong-on-popes-speech.html ]

The Progressive Muslim Union of North America "calls for calm in the wake of the Pope's Remarks":


The Muslim Canadian Congress says, "comments provocative, but Muslims should learn to turn the other cheek":


I wonder, is that their way of saying "We're all Catholic now?" [Sorry, that was too easy :-).]

The Canadian Muslim Union "is saddened by the remarks and quotes made by Pope Benedict regarding Islam and the Prophet Muhammed," saying:

"To have chosen to make such insensitive and provocative statements is at best short-sighted, if not irresponsible, considering current social realities and political tensions..." and while recognizing "that people have deeply held religious beliefs but also feels that no religion should be held above another in public affairs. Freedom of religion demands that government policy be framed in a secular environment," and while urging "the Vatican and His Holiness to pursue a new relationship with the followers of the prophet Muhammed based on mutual respect and compassion ... also urged offended Muslims to show restraint in the manner they show their offence and to avoid confrontation and violence."


And to amplify that last point, I would like to call attention to my post of a couple of days ago about respect for places of worship and people of the cloth. And to say to all who will listen that to this Muslim, at least, there is almost nothing uglier than some of the pictures on this page:


Reminds one of a cartoon that one saw during the cartoon controvesy:


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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Islam 101: Muslim Conduct towards Churches and People of the Cloth

There have been reports of people attacking churches and at least one nun killed in Africa since the Pope's statement of a few days ago quoting Manuel II. (And other things have happened before.) I thought this would be a good time to cover the topic above in a little more detail.

As Muslims, we need to be very clear in our own minds, and not just for CSPAN and CNN and the purposes of daawa, that attacking Churches, specifically, is a direct violation of a direct order from The Prophet (Allah's peace be upon him and all the Prophets and Messengers before him). These orders are best understood from a charter he gave to the Monks of St. Catherine in the Sinai. The monastery itself has consequently been very highly regarded and respected by Muslims ever since. But the way the document is written, it is not just about that monastery, but also, in my humble opinion, captures how he wanted his followers to treat Christians in general and people of the cloth in particular.

And before people start challenging the theology of the Catholic Church, let us remember that the Councils of Nicea had already happened by The Prophet's time, and St. Catherine, while (according to the Wikipedia) an Orthodox institution, still follows the Nicean creed.)

In his own words,
"those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

"Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them."
"No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses."
and, at least one translation starts the last paragraph to say,
"Every help shall be given them in the repair of their churches. They shall be absolved from wearing arms. They shall be protected by the Muslims."
while others say
"Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants."
[My Arabic is not fluent and if anyone can take a look at the original Arabic text and help get a more exact sense of the text, please let me know. I think I am familiar enough with Arabic to make a judgement with some help.]

As to who, where, and when this is applicable, the document is very clear at the very beginning that "we don't rule such-and-such territory; it is the occupier's/government's responsibilty" is not an excuse we can fall back on:
"Any Muslim violating and abusing what is therein ordered would be regarded as violator of God’s testament and would be the breaker of His promise and would make himself deserving of God’s curse, be he a king or a subject."
"No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)."
Too often, in the rush to take the Pope to task, or condemn cartoons in Denmark (and I have done by part of taking to task and critiquing the cartoons, though maybe for slightly different reasons than most), we forget to keep that in mind; that the tradition of The Prophet and his Khalifas (not to mention the Qur'an and the rest of our canon/qanoon) is that places of worship and people of the cloth are inviolate, whatever the circumstances. And whoever is doing the attacking--and I pray it is not someone who considers themselves a Muslim, for that points to another, much, much deeper problem in the Ummah today--if a Muslim community has any authority and influence in the area, it is our duty to protect them, plain and simple. And not for the image of Islam, or international relations or because I am a "friend of the West", but because if we take the words of the Qur'an and The Prophet seriously, we believe that Allah will take us to account on this issue on the Day of Judgement.

[PS: You can follow up on the document starting on the Wikipedia here or here: ]

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Dear Holy Father, Stop Feeding the Bears

Bo Register, someone I know on the Internet (which is to say rather well, intellectually) in trying to understand what I have been mumbling about The Pope's speech, just responded with some simple words that capture the same thing with an elegance that is only possible when we one does away with the academic language, and the anguished long discussions, and so on. His translation of my words was, simply, that I:
"...really, really wish y'all would stop feeding the bears...."
Now, them's words most North Americans should understand, so to speak.

Here's how it came about. I was saying, on a mailing list, that personally, I think the Pope owes me an apology--and people like me who would like, and work for, trying to help sanity prevail in the Muslim world/communities. What he's done is a gift to the people who'd like Muslims to follow their extremist, fanatic attitude. And as I was saying here in the last few days whether he did it out of naivete, ill-advisedness ("stupidity" seems inappropriate for such a respected person), or malice, I know not. Though Karen Armstrong's op-ed in The Guardian yesterday makes the case that it is a mixture of all three.

To this, Bo said, "I'd think the apology should come from those who are calling for the pope's head in the name of the 'religion of peace'. They are the ones that make life difficult for those who try to act on the principles of Islam that lead to the great civilizations of the Caliphates, not the Pope. "

And I replied, "I am not asking for the pope's head in the name of the religion of peace. I am asking for it in the name of sanity and not doing stupid things. Like saying things you know will play into the hands of evil people," and make all talk to sanity and moderaton even more difficult to get through.

Bo then asked, "Are you then asking for the head of the Imams in Somalia as well? Of all those that threaten violence over a quote?"

And I replied, "That is a fight we fight in the Muslim world and communities. And have been for 3 generations now. And for a LOT of that period, the people you might support in government and leadership (both the US government and the Pakistan government, and the colonial British one, and even Gandhi) were supporting the other side. If you want to be adversarial, I'd like to say that y'all be the newcomers to the party. Stay a while this time, will ya?"

And Bo concluded, "I'll take that as a "Yes", I am and I have been, and really, really wish y'all would stop feeding the bears...."

To quote George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States: "Touche."

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Karen Armstrong on the Pope's Speech

Reproduced below is Karen Armstrong's op-ed on the Pope's recent speech. It captures one of the threads going through my head--discussed this very thought with my brother on Friday, for example. And these are much needed words. Words that might help explain the "Why" to non-Muslim audiences.

In the Muslim world/communities, I fear even these words will only add fuel to the fire The Holy Father has lit--whether out of naivete, ill-advisedness ("stupidity" seems inappropriate for such a respected person), or malice, I know not. Though the article below makes the case that it is a mixture of all three:

We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam

The Pope's remarks were dangerous, and will convince many more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic

Karen Armstrong
Monday September 18, 2006
The Guardian

In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a
dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but
with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his
book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with
love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of
the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into
spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated
the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established
itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? "I shall be worse
than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I

Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians
were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it
impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was
so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the
Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his
remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with
apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor
Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and
there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command
to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Vatican seemed
bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope's words,
claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an
attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and
cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".

But the Pope's good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam
is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it
brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the
Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the
Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who
have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make
common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in
full agreement.

Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is
entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders
began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish
communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their
campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in
Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have
wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of
Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not
- or feared that we were.

The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for
centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and
behaviour. When the popes called for a Crusade to the Holy Land,
Christians often persecuted the local Jewish communities: why march
3,000 miles to Palestine to liberate the tomb of Christ, and leave
unscathed the people who had - or so the Crusaders mistakenly assumed
- actually killed Jesus. Jews were believed to kill little children
and mix their blood with the leavened bread of Passover: this "blood
libel" regularly inspired pogroms in Europe, and the image of the Jew
as the child slayer laid bare an almost Oedipal terror of the parent

Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to
exterminate them. It was when the Christians of Europe were fighting
brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East that Islam first
became known in the west as the religion of the sword. At this time,
when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant
clergy, Muhammad was portrayed by the scholar monks of Europe as a
lecher, and Islam condemned - with ill-concealed envy - as a faith
that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts. At
a time when European social order was deeply hierarchical, despite
the egalitarian message of the gospel, Islam was condemned for giving
too much respect to women and other menials.

In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting
subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the
Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness.
This habit has persisted. The Muslims who have objected so
vociferously to the Pope's denigration of Islam have accused him of
"hypocrisy", pointing out that the Catholic church is ill-placed to
condemn violent jihad when it has itself been guilty of unholy
violence in crusades, persecutions and inquisitions and, under Pope
Pius XII, tacitly condoned the Nazi Holocaust.

Pope Benedict delivered his controversial speech in Germany the day
after the fifth anniversary of September 11. It is difficult to
believe that his reference to an inherently violent strain in Islam
was entirely accidental. He has, most unfortunately, withdrawn from
the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by his predecessor, John Paul
II, at a time when they are more desperately needed than ever. Coming
on the heels of the Danish cartoon crisis, his remarks were extremely
dangerous. They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably
Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.

We simply cannot afford this type of bigotry. The trouble is that too
many people in the western world unconsciously share this prejudice,
convinced that Islam and the Qur'an are addicted to violence. The
9/11 terrorists, who in fact violated essential Islamic principles,
have confirmed this deep-rooted western perception and are seen as
typical Muslims instead of the deviants they really were.

With disturbing regularity, this medieval conviction surfaces every
time there is trouble in the Middle East. Yet until the 20th century,
Islam was a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity.
The Qur'an strictly forbids any coercion in religion and regards all
rightly guided religion as coming from God; and despite the western
belief to the contrary, Muslims did not impose their faith by the sword.

The early conquests in Persia and Byzantium after the Prophet's death
were inspired by political rather than religious aspirations. Until
the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim
empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as,
according to Qur'anic teaching, they had received authentic
revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have
surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to
intractable political problems - oil, Palestine, the occupation of
Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle
East, and the west's perceived "double standards" - and not to an
ingrained religious imperative.

But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists,
and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments. As one of the
received ideas of the west, it seems well-nigh impossible to
eradicate. Indeed, we may even be strengthening it by falling back
into our old habits of projection. As we see the violence - in Iraq,
Palestine, Lebanon - for which we bear a measure of responsibility,
there is a temptation, perhaps, to blame it all on "Islam". But if we
are feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our peril.

· Karen Armstrong is the author of Islam: A Short History

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope's Statement

There's a hullabaloo starting about "The Pope's Statement". My first reaction was in a reply to a comment on this blog. I actually took the time to read what is actually an academic speech. I think I can do an executive summary--and will, when I get a chance. In the mean time, here are my first impressions (my taking "Rhetorical Theory": at grad school should come in handy *some*where):

He's actually making the case for religion (and, in particular, theology) to be considered more seriously in academica and in intellectual circles generally. He (amazingly!) seems to be using
Manuel II's words (the part about Islam, which is incidental, but the part where Manuel's Christian insight into what is and isn't nice religion) as an opening quotation, as an example of what wonderful insights reason is capable of, when guided by religion (and he repeatedly says Christianity is particularly good at that).

My analysis: As I have taken to saying so often nowadays, the man and his use of that incident out of over 2000 years of Christian history are either naive, ill-advised ("There is no sin except stupdity," said Oscar Wilde), or malicious. I would say the same about the school of cardinals that elected their most conservative, and backward-looking theologian to lead them at the opening of the 21st century.

And in that sense, the complaints from the Muslim world have some basis; poking folks in the eye ain't the best way to make friends. Now if we had an official Caliph, he could challenge the man to a duel and we could be done with it and lots of people wouldn't have to be affected by riots and suchlike.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

COMMENTARY: Kill us, too: We are also Americans

Got the following in email. Correct me if I am wrong, but this seems to be premised on the assumption that a Jihadist--and I use that word advisedly--would NOT want to kill someone like him. I don't think that's true at all; the most extreme of such people are very clear that if you choose to live in the US or think any good of the US, you are, if anything, more deserving of what these people do...

Kill us, too: We are also Americans
Radical Muslims not worthy of the religion
Special to the Review-Journal

The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, recently issued a decree to its supporters: Kill at least one American in the next two weeks "using a sniper rifle, explosive or whatever the battle may require."

Well, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, I am an American too. Count me as the one of those you have asked your supporters to kill.

I am not alone, there are thousands of Muslims with me in Las Vegas, and many more millions in America, who are proud Americans and who are ready to face your challenge. You hide in your caves and behind the faces of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. You don't show your faces and you have no guts to face Muslims. You thrive on the misery of thousands of Muslim youth and children who are victims of despotism, poverty and ignorance.

During the past two decades, you have brought nothing but shame and disaster to your religion and your world.

You said you "invite you not to drop your weapons, and don't let your souls or your enemies rest until each one of you kills at least one American within a period that does not exceed 15 days with a sniper's gunshot or incendiary devices or Molotov cocktail or a suicide car bomb -- whatever the battle may require." I invite you to surrender, to seek forgiveness from God almighty for the senseless killing you and your supporters are involved in and repent for everything you have done.

You say that the word of God is the highest. Yes, it is. But you are not worthy of it. You have abandoned God and you have started worshipping your own satanic egos that rejoice at the killing of innocent people. You don't represent Muslims or, for that matter, any decent human being who believes in the sanctity of life. Many among us American Muslims have differences with our administration on domestic and foreign issues, just like many other Americans do. But the plurality of opinions does not mean that we deprive ourselves of the civility that God demands from us. America is our home and will always be our home. Its interests are ours, and its people are ours. When you talk of killing of Americans, you first have to kill 6 million or so Muslims who will stand for every American's right to live and enjoy the life as commanded by God.

By growing a beard, shouting some religious slogans and misquoting and misusing some verses of the divine scriptures, you cannot incite Muslims to do things that are contrary to our religion. Yes, you even fail to understand the basic Islamic principles of life and living. Islam demands peace in all aspects of life, Islam demands respect for life. Islam demands justice.

What you are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, India or other parts of the world is anti-human and anti-divine. You are an enemy of Islam as much as you are an enemy of America. You must understand that God who entrusted you with life is the same God who spelled his spirit in every human being regardless of his or her religion or ethnicity or nationality or status. You are violating him.

We feel totally disgusted with your action and we condemn you without any reservation. Don't come to our mosques to preach this hatred. Don't visit our Islamic centers to spill the blood of innocents. Don't think that just because we share the same religion, we would show some sympathy to you. You are not of us. You don't belong to the religion whose followers are trying to live a peaceful life for themselves and others serving the divine according to their understanding. In our understanding of faith, you appear as anti-divine and anti-human. We reject you now as we rejected you yesterday.

There is nothing common between you and us.

We stand for life, you want to destroy it.

We accept the divine scheme of diversity in the world and you want to impose conformity.

We respect every human being simply because he or she is a creation of the divine, and you hate people based on their religion and ethnicity.

We support freedom and liberty and justice, and you promote bigotry, murder and strangulation.

You will never be able to find a sympathetic voice amidst us. Our differences with others will never lead us to do things that are fundamentally wrong in our faith, i. e. taking the lives of innocent people and killing others because they are different.

So on Sept. 11, when you will be hiding in your caves, we will be out in the streets paying tribute to those who you killed because you failed to see the beauty of life. We will condemn you once again the same way we have been doing ever since 9/11 because we are Muslim Americans.

Aslam Abdullah is director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.

Muslim Man Pleads to Die in India

Someone sent this yesterday. How does one do a petition? I have never done one, but this cause just seems as good as any to start with.


Jammu: A 100-year-old man from Pakistan is begging to be allowed to spend his last few days with his family in Kashmir. But rules require him to return to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
"Give me a place for my grave in India. Let me die here with my children, please don't send me to Pakistan, for god's sake," pleads 100-year-old Nadeem Din who had crossed over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir during the 1965 war and could never get back.

His desperate plea is to be allowed to die next to his family. After forty-long years, Nadeem managed to get back to his family in Rajouri district of J&K about a fortnight ago.
"I have no one there. My children are here in India. My land, my ancestors, everything belongs here. I don't want to go to Pakistan," he says.

Nadeem and his cousin had crossed over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir during the 1965 war and could never get back. But when the Chakka Da Bagh route opened recently on the Line of Control, Nadeem managed to return home.

He only got a 15-day permit, but that period has lasted now. His wife is no more and the only thing he pleads the governments is, to be allowed to stay back with his brother and children in India. He has requested the state government and the home ministry, but has not received any help from them so far.

"We plead, let him die in peace here. We are Indians. My brother is 100-years old, where will he go? Allow him stay back or send us with him," Jamal Din, Nadeem's brother says.
Din has already been in India for 16 days. If he doesn't go back on his own, authorities will force him to return on the September 25. Till then, all he can hope for is either the time to freeze or borders to melt.
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Thursday, September 14, 2006

On Terrorists that are "Islamic" or "Hindu"

There was a report being circulated via email in some circles titled "Reports from Muslim Women attacked by Hindu Terrorists".

The phrases "Hindu Terrorists" and "Hindu Terrorism" should not be any more acceptable to us than "Islamic Terrorist" or "Islamic Terrorism". These people are, very like our own right wing extremists, the product of a neo-conservative movement within Hinduism that, also like our own, has been formed and has grown in the last century or more. This is not all Hindus. One of the most interesting statistics, if you want to talk about Gujarat--and I have worked in and with organizations active on the issue of the Gujarat massacares, and that's what they were: massacares, not riots--is how many districts (counties we call them in this country) in Gujarat had genocide happen in them, and how many did not.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why say "Progressive Muslim"?

One comment on my post of yesterday titled "Canadian Progressive Muslims on 9/11" was in the vein of "Why say that Progressive Muslims condemn this and that; why not condemn it as Muslims?" (Paraphrasing here.) And it is something that comes up often. And a question worth addressing. So here goes:

Believe me, I understand where that question is coming from. I have been there.

But I find it much more intellectually honest for a group to say "Look, we're not saying we speak for all Muslims; but here's what we think." Too often very conservative people say things that only 5% of Muslims would completely agree with; and, on the other side, very liberal/progressive people say things that only 5% of Muslims would completely agree with--and claim the mantle of moderate or mainstream Muslims. Take the policies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for example. Or the regime in Iran. Or take Irshad Manji. If Irshad Manji said, forthrightly, "Look, I am not saying things that most Muslims might agree with, but I have something to bring to the table" instead of her holier-than-thou-more-human-than-thou spiel, she might be a good addition to the conversation. That's the difference I see between
her and El Farouq Khaki, one of the co-authors of the piece I forwarded.

As to whether there is such a thing as a "Progressive Muslim", and isn't there just one True Islam which, in its pure form is pretty darn progressive to start with, personally, I don't ever say "Progressive Islam" or "Moderate Islam" or anything; I always talk about Muslims. For example, the two organizations I quoted both have the word "Muslim" in their name, not "Islam". As I have said before, the funny thing is, it is the people that most often complain about, for example the use of the term "Islamic Terrorism", or "Islamic Fascist" that also name organizations "Council for Ameican Islamic Relations" and "Islamic Society of North America" and so on.

Islam is one religion. As a Muslim, I believe it is universal enough to have facets to appeal to all types of people. Some people love the rituals and find them the most fulfilling part of the faith; others love the message of social justice and service and find that the most important part; to some it is an emotional appeal; to others a rational appeal; yet others a moral one. [I am not being excluvist here; other faiths and ideologies have similarly diverse followers.] And you have people who are more ritualistic Muslims, others who are more social-minded ones. It is only when one group or the other believes that only their interpretation is valid or acceptable and that others' grasp of the faith is either not significant, or misguided, or, in the extreme, so wrong that they don't deserve to be accepted in the fold that problems start.

Wallahu Aalam, as we Muslims traditionally used to say more often, before the modern exclusivist and arrogant attitudes gained so much ground; only a Omniscient and Omnipotent Supreme Being can have perfect knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the cosmic elephant. We are told that there was a time that even every formal fatwa ended with those words. Today, even the least read of Muslims claims that they are certain that what they think and do is the one true and perfect Islam.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Canadian Progressive Muslims on 9/11

The recent formal split in the Canadian version of the progressive Muslim movement, and all that went on around that very public falling out had various facets to it and we can--and will--discuss the more relevant ones (to the rest of us) as we go along. But for now, it was interesting to see what the quality of the statements from each, and especially the new group, would be as one of the most significant anniversaries on the calendar rolled around. I have to say, neither disappointed.

Here's the part of the Canadian Muslim Union's statement that really resonated with me; in places, it has an almost lyrical quality to it (though the full statement is kinda long):
"Today, we as progressive Muslims condemn with the same breath the crimes against humanity enacted in the name of the war on terrorism and the crimes of humanity enacted by the suicide terrorist attacks in New York, Bali, Sinai, Amman, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Mumbai and London. The hijackers of 9/11 not only hijacked planes and lives, they also hijacked the very soul of Islam as a breathing, living, compassionate and liberating force that has stirred the hearts of women and men for over 1400 years."
and they go on to refer to:
"sad, misguided and false attempts to return Muslims back to a time/space of authenticity, when no such return is possible or even desirable if constructed in terms of excluding of women from public space including the mosque, attacks on gays and lesbians as sinners (as manifest in public hangings in Iran and Iraq, whippings in Saudi Arabia, accusation of blasphemy and apostasy in places such as Pakistan), and the stoning of raped women in Somalia."
You can read the full statement at: http://www.muslimunion.ca/20060911a.html

The organization that has retained the original "Muslim Canadian Congress" name and insignia had a more concise, but more directly Canada-focused statement, I thought. Here's a couple of quotes (condensed) from their statement:
Treat the Muslim world with respect and dignity. Quit propping up dictators like General Mushaffar [sic] of Pakistan, and the kings of the Arab world. Abandon outdated ideas and prejudices. Let progressive and liberal Muslims tackle the extremists. American involvement in "fostering democracy" is the kiss of death to democratic forces in the Muslim world.

Extremism and terrorism are like malaria. To fight them we need to drain the swamp, not shoot down individual mosquitoes. Every time the US shoots down one mosquito, a hundred new ones are bred in the swamps of marginalization and victimhood."
You can read the full statement at: http://www.muslimcanadiancongress.org/20060910.html

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The Spirit of Ramazan

Someone on a list I am on sent around the "Ramazan Checklist" that is one of the pieces of faith-related spam that circulates once in a while. You can can read the whole think by clicking on the graphic at right--or here. Here's the reply I posted on that list:
Thank you for the reminder. I would particularly like to bring attention to #7 and #8. And ihsaan, good akhlaque, is amongst the best of sadaqah, we were brought up to believe. Let us remember to be compassionate, polite, and beyond polite, let us be warm and friendly both to Muslims and, even more importanly, I believe, non-Muslims; and towards people we agree with and love as friends and dear ones, but, even more importantly, towards people we disagree with who, we think, are completely wrong on this or that issue (take, for example, when Eid is, or whether the calendar should or should not be fixed).

And let us do all this not because it will help us create a good image of Islam and Muslims, but because it is what Allah and Islam and His Prophet told us to do, and because this month is the month Allah told us to be as good Muslims as we can.

And let us pray that, and work at, having this ihsan, this best Muslim character stay with us all year round--Ramazan is given us as a time when we can more easily and with more focus, practise and build up this good character so that it helps us become better human beings as Allah wants us to be better human beings; living the way of life we believe being a Muslim is about.

Wallahu Aalam, as we Muslims used to say more often; only a Omniscient and Omnipotent Supreme Being can have perfect knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the cosmic elephant.
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Flashback: 9/11/2001

It's 9/11. Nobody needs to say more. Everybody knows what that means. No, they are not referring to the anniversary of events in Chile that many decades ago, which might highlight some of the things what we all--and yes, all of us on this planet--did and put up with for decades and which got the planet to the place we're at. No, they are not referring to the anniversary of the death of Pakistan's founder; a person's whose politics and way of being a Muslim politician and leader might be relevant to today's problems. We all know know which September 11th we're talking about.

So what is one to do? There's so much going to be said about it being 5 years later and, specifically how Muslims and Pakistani-Americans are faring and what they are thinking etc. (for example, see this article in Pakistan's biggest English newspaper: http://www.dawn.com/2006/09/11/int11.htm ). But even in that regard, it might be instructive to start the day by just going back to read, unedited, unexplicated and unspun, the emails I sent out during that day five years ago. I hadn't started seriously blogging then; like a lot of "moderates", frankly, I didn't quite know how to take on extremism--or who'd listen, if anyone. And personally, I didn't consciously self-identify with or as a "progressive Muslim", then, either. But more on all that later. I personally feel this is not the day or time to bring that up. So, here it is:
I tried to write this earlier in the day, in reply to a query from some friends, but a system failure [unrelated to the other happenings of the day] prevented that.

Today started with a call from my brother at 7:11 am Pacific Standard Time, telling me to turn my television on.

The morning was spent tracking down friends and family in the New York Metropolitan Area.

Everyone I know in that area -- and the Washington DC area -- are okay. Physically, at least. As far as I know, no one I know was flying today. The last report came in late evening. Night on the East Coast of the United States. That concerned a cousin my niece first reminded me worked in New York City.

In the late afternoon, I found myself explaining over the phone to my 8-year old niece that people do this kind of thing because they get really, really angry and when they get angry, they get violent, and that while violence is never a good thing, that's just how some people are.

A few things have been going thru my head.

If this had happened barely a year and a half ago, I would have been stuck in New Jersey unable to go home for the night. Irmeen would have been very, very busy to say the least. St. Vincent's Hospital is the closest medical institution to the World Trade Center.

At least a couple of times during the morning, when the CNN anchor said the doctors at St. Vinnie's were asking for old clothes and shoes, I almost got up to collect some from the closet and take the elevator the basement to get over to the other side of the building. The realization that we no
longer lived on 13th Street in Manhattan was instantaneous, but the feeling was real while it lasted.

Another fragment that has been going through my head is that "Last time something like this happened, there were internment camps."

It is not at all a nice thing to contemplate, but the realization that what happened after that other unspeakable tragedy in Oklahoma City -- the very year I moved to The States -- had tempered the reaction to events today was

And it was just last night that we found out that our Pakistani grandmother -- the matriarch of the family that my father lived with when he emigrated to Pakistan in '54, alone in his immediate family to do so -- had passed away Sunday night. Having grown up abroad, she was the only grandparent we had ever gotten the chance to worry with whether I or my brother got home in the evening.

Which reminds me, Tarique/Shaikhoo, haven't heard from you yet.

It is definitely shaping up to be an odd week.


Interacting with people on several professional and social mailing lists I am subscribed to, one thing that strikes me is that the average American *needs* to be reassured that what happened yesterday was the act of extremists and that most Muslims don't approve of them. That's something to remember.

In terms of specifics, it seems like the following points are the main things Americans need information on:

* The controversial and by no means mainstream status in the
Muslim world of suicide as a tool of Jihad

* The prohibition on Suicide in Islam

* That Islam does not demand the killing the killing of people
just because they "oppose it's teachings" -- as Jihad or otherwise.

Above all, we need to be patient and understanding ourselves for the anger, outrage, and sheer emotion that people have. We have all felt it ourself.

I guess I didn't get the looks someone mentioned they were getting at work because *I* was the one in my office that shared the anxiety of the colleague that was trying to reach his sister, who was walking back to Queens from Manhattan.

Up till last July my wife was a doctor at St. Vincents', the closest hospital to the WTC. They treated people after the firing at the top of the Empire State Building. Muslims make up about 2% or so of the US Population and the percentage in New York City must be higher. There were at least 500 Pakistanis working in the WTC.

Is anyone actively involved with CAIR? We need to have an advisory that our brothers and sisters can make available to people [***including MUSLIMS***] that might misunderstand any of the above. Only Press Releases are not enough.

I have not been able to work directly with CAIR up to now, but I am a technical writer by profession and would be honoured to work with volunteers/members on this.

Quoted below is a mail I wrote on a professional discussion list today. I am sorry for the duplicate content with the message above.

Salaam, Peace,


Both as a former [moved within the last year and a half] resident of New York City and a Muslim, I would like to thank everybody for their wishes, support, and understanding. Would also like to say that I understand the anger and outrage. It really is time the silent majority of the Muslim population of the world did some introspection and stopped letting people that think girls getting an education [a religious obligation] is less important than a dress code [a recommendation] control not just how the religion is viewed, but, more importantly, how it is practised in the 21st Century.

Like everybody else, I spent a major part of yesterday tracking down family members and friends. Got my last confirmation of safety this morning. An Indian friend of mine who is on a project in NYC got in touch with me over Yahoo Messenger and requested me to call his dad in Delhi to reassure him.

It is less than a year and a half since we moved out of New York City. Up till last July my wife was a doctor at St. Vincents', the closest hospital to the WTC. She was there when people were brought in after an unstable person fired on tourists at the top of the Empire State Building. Muslims make up about 2% or so of the US Population and the percentage in New York City must be higher. There were at least 500 Pakistanis working in the WTC.

> Lots of people of Middle Eastern extraction work in
> high-tech. They may have trouble from prejudiced,
> vengeful idiots. Those of us from other backgrounds
> may need to stand up for our perfectly innocent
> co-workers who may happen to share an ethnic
> background with suspected terrorists. As a Southerner
> and a Texan I know what it is like to have people
> think my entire region is represented by some backward
> killer.

Thank you for saying that. It means a lot.


I also had reason to say the following on another list:

As a practising Muslim, I was brought up to believe that comitting suicide was one way of settling once and for all that you would *NOT* go to heaven. Suicide and murder are equal. You are taking a life.

Suicide bombing is *very* controversial in the Muslim World. People that subscribe to it as acceptable in *any* circumstances used to be a *very* small minority.
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Friday, September 01, 2006

NPR on "What is Islamofacism?"

We've heard so much cogitating, protesting, and so on on the issue, that it was a refreshingchange to see NPR actually talk to a scholar on what the word "fascism" means and so on:


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On "Professionalism"

On of the things that causes me no end of amusement and heartburn is how the aspiration to act and be seen as acting "professionally" is seen as such a high value, I daresay, by immigrants, especially middle class Third Worlders. Not the first time, someone suggested, yesterday, that a community organization we're trying to get off the ground exhibit a bit more "professionalim". My response was as follows:

I am sorry, what? This is not a professional body. If you had said "sober, civilized, organized, or even vulcanized..." I would have been with you. But professional? This is a community organization, not a for-profit corporation.

I am sorry, but the totemization of "professionalism" is a pet peeve of mine. If we can't all act like civilized people, no amount trying to act like we are some ultra-loyal serfs of some corporation is going to make us more of a credit to humanity or our various communities.

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