Monday, October 29, 2007

rising against Pharoah at last

via Sepia Mutiny comes this long-overdue news:

The boom has been possible due to plentiful investment from oil-rich neighbors and armies of non-unionized south Asian workers whose fear of deportation, until recently, kept them from voicing discontent over low wages.

“The cost of living here has increased so much in the past two years that I cannot survive with my salary,” said Rajesh Kumar, a 24-year-old worker from the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who earns $149 a month.

The laborers ignored the threat of deportation and refused to go to work, staging protests at a labor camp in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Industrial Zone and on a construction site in Al Qusais residential neighborhood. They demanded pay increases, improved housing and better transportation services to construction sites. On Saturday, workers threw stones at the riot police and damaged to police cars.
Companies, however, do not want more workers to leave as they struggle to find enough to complete existing projects following an overwhelming response to a government amnesty program to persuade illegal laborers to leave.

In June, the government offered, no questions asked, a free one-way plane tickets to illegal workers hoping to leave. They have since been swamped by 280,000 workers who, fed up with a rising cost of living and low wages, were ready to go home.

As amardeep at SM notes, these workers need permission to leave. This is the very essence of indentured servitude... or slavery. The monuments that the Dubai ruling class have built on the backs of their labor are, regrettably, partially funded not just with western money and Arab cash but also with wealthy Desi (Indian and Pakistani) travelers who fly through Dubai in transit and spend vast sums of money on gold and jewelry.

A fitting show of solidarity would be a boycott of Dubai's glittering wares by all Desi travelers, until the enslaved masters gain some measure of recompense and basic rights. But the chasm that separates upper class Desis from lower class Desi immigrant laborers may simply be too vast for this to be realistic.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Brass Crescent Awards

It is that time of year again for the Brass Crescent Awards, the annual celebration of the best of the Islamsphere:

What are the Brass Crescent Awards? They are named for the Story of the City of Brass in the Thousand and One Nights. Today, the Islamsphere is forging a new synthesis of Islam and modernity, and is the intellectual heir to the traditions of philosophy and learning that was once the hallmark of Islamic civilization - a heritage scarcely recognizable today in the Islamic world after a century's ravages of colonialism, tyrants, and religious fundamentalism. We believe that Islam transcends history, and we are forging history anew for tomorrow's Islam. These awards are a means to honor ourselves and celebrate our nascent community, and promote its growth.

The nomination phase is now open, so vote for your favorite blogs in each of the following categories:

BEST BLOG: This category honors the most indispensable, Muslim-authored blog there is. Period.

BEST NON-MUSLIM BLOG: Which blog writen by a non-Muslim is most respectful of Islam and seeks genuine dialogue with Muslims?

BEST DESIGN: Which blog has the most aesthetically pleasing site design, appealing to the eye, evoking Islamic themes, and/or facilitating debate and discussion?

BEST POST OR SERIES: Which single post or group of posts in the Islamsphere was the most original and important, above all the others?

BEST IJTIHAD: What blog post provided the best rebuttal to arguments of extremist ideology, and in so doing expose how those who commit evil in the name of Islam are actually profaning the faith?

BEST FEMALE BLOG: The woman's voice in Islam is equal to the man's, and in the Islamsphere we seek to make sure the female perspective is highlighted and given its rightful due. Which Muslim woman's blog has done the most to explore the role that women play within Islam and society?

BEST WRITER: Who is the most stimulating, insightful, and philosophically wise among us? This category is intended to highlight a blogger who may not post daily, but when they do post, they really make an impact.

MOST DESERVING OF WIDER RECOGNITION: Which blog is a true diamond in the rough, one that everyone should be reading but who most just haven't heard of (yet)?

BEST GROUP BLOG: Which multiple group blog in the Islamsphere has the best diversity of writers and the most interesting debate on Muslim issues?

BEST MIDEAST/CENTRAL ASIAN & BEST SOUTH/SOUTHEAST ASIAN BLOGGERS: The Islamsphere is truly a global phenomenon. In Iraq, despite the chaos and uncertainty, there is a sea change of free speech and expression, the vanguard of which are blogs. There are also bloggers in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Jordan, and most other countries that host Muslims, all of whom have their own perspectives on faith, culture, and politics.

As always, I am honored to co-host the Brass Crescent Awards with my friend Shahed Amanullah of Shahed has worked tirelessly to create the voting mechanism and design the graphics for the Awards this year and every year. However, as usual, please note that neither nor City of Brass are eligible for any Awards.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nonie Darwish vs the meanies

Nonie Darwish has a compelling life story, and if you don't know who she is, then her Wikipedia biography is worth your time. Her personal history, including a father who was assasinated by Israel and then indoctrination as a child by Gamel Abdel Nasser to hate Jews, is the foundation upon which she has constructed her world view and her opinion of Islam. That opinion is well summarized in this interview with Reform Judaism Magazine:

Q. What was the Muslim response [to 9-11] in America?

A. The response was defensive, dishonest, and two-faced. The Muslim establishment engineered a massive public campaign in which Islamic scholars, distinguished clerics, and Arab intellectuals attempted to calm Western fears by painting a picture of Islam as totally benign. When asked about the roots of Islamic terrorism, they denied it had anything to do with the Koran. And when quoting from the Koran, they conven­iently ignored passages that encourage holy war against infidels.

Also after 9/11 many Muslims in the West reinterpreted the meaning of jihad as an inner struggle for self-improvement. Yet this “inner struggle” business is hogwash, a PR ploy for Western consumption only.

I have no condemnation or anger with Nonie Darwish for her beliefs. Her problem is that she is fundamentally (and probably permanently) incapable of understanding mainstream Islam, as a result of her personal history. So, I view the following with more pity than disdain:

Last week, on October 18, 2007, our hero Darwish spoke at the all-female Wellesley College as the guest of Hillel on campus. She was not treated as a hero; then again, maybe she was, maybe her treatment is precisely how heroes are greeted on American campuses today.

About 80-100 students came. Far more Muslim than Jewish students came and “so many” of the Muslim girls were wearing head-scarves.

According to Darwish, the female students in head-scarves did the following: As she spoke, they made exaggerated, “mean girl” faces at her. They rolled their eyes, practiced “disbelieving” facial expressions—did everything but stick out their tongues. And they continued to talk to each other in loud whispers while Darwish spoke: “How can she tell such lies!” “I was never, ever indoctrinated against Jews!” “Can you believe what she is saying?” “We do not call Jews pigs and apes, how can she lie about her own people?”

In addition to the “mean girl” faces and the continual loud whispering, one by one, at least four to five head-scarved girls, got up to leave the room during Darwish’s speech. This meant that each girl took two minutes to move to the end of her row, physically causing the other students to get up or twist aside, causing the entire room to look at the departing student, not at their invited guest—and then each girl did precisely the same thing when she returned two minutes later, presumably from a bathroom break.

They quadruple-teamed Darwish and did not stop until Darwish ended her lecture. Twenty to thirty minutes of soft-core, well-choreographed, goon squad behavior. “They are Hamas-trained” says Darwish.

I applaud the girls at Wesley who engaged in this restrained show of opposition to Darwish.

It should be noted that supposed defenders of the oppressed women in Islam such as Nonie Darwish predictably flock to Western audiences to preach the innate evils of Islam. There is no small amount of irony in this; Darwish is lecturing at Wellsley, the premier girls' college in the United States. The muslim women at Wellsley are the exact opposite of the women to which Darwish imagines herself the saviour of - these are highly educated, provided-for girls with every possible freedom and privelege that the West has to offer. That they do not tear apart their hijab after hearing Nonie speak down to them must be truly vexing indeed; for all Nonie Darwish sees is oppression, whereas the simple concept that a hijab might be - when freely chosen - a symbol of strength and empowerment is utterly beyond her comprehension. Again, Darwish's fundamental inability to comprehend this is most likely due to her tragic personal story, and not to any innate character flaw. Still, that hardly means that she should be feted as a "hero" when her purpose is essentially to do nothing more than harangue liberal muslim girls who are proud of being muslim and proud of their culture and faith, about what oppressed fools they are.

Were Nonie Darwish genuinely concerned with the plight of women and reform in Islam, she would work with the reformists in the Arab world - the emergent Muslim Left - and try to change things where it mattered. Instead she chooses the easy lecture circuit to harp at and condescend to muslims in the West. I suppose the latter is more fulfilling to her personal sense of victimhood, and probably more lucrative besides.

(via Jim Henley via Whiskey Fire)

Facebook and free speech

Some of Facebook's resident jafis create a group called "F$%k Islam". What is the correct response?

A. Join the group and engage them in respectful debate
B. Ignore them, because what they crave is publicity
C. Create your own group called "F$%k Facebook" and demand that the other group be censored immediately.

In related news, I have coined a new term: MALI. It stands for Muslims Acting Like Islamophobes.

I am tempted to create a group called "muslims who demand that Facebook delete the groups F^&K Israel and F%^K Christianity" just as a social experiment. However, I have enough jihads on my plate right now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

defining a Muslim Left: part I

Introduction: Eteraz on Islamic reform

Ali's series on Islamic Reform at The Guardian has been, in my opinion, nothing less than a tour-de-force. I've linked the series below; they really are mandatory reading for anyone interested in discussing Islam in the context of politics and policy.

  1. The Roots of Islamic Reform
  2. The Islamic reformation
  3. An Islamic counter-reformation
  4. Beyond Islamic enlightenment
  5. The making of the Muslim left

The Falwell muslims

In his latest entry, Ali identifies what he terms the Muslim Right - evangelical religious supremacists who follow the roadmap of the Christian Right, seeking to utilize the mechanisms of democracy as a vehicle to further their agenda and polemic. These are essentially the muslim analouge of Falwell and Dobson; they are not violent and they are much more numerous in the UK than in the US. Dal Nun Strong and Tariq Nelson have both done real yeoman's work in identifying and rebutting these "Falwell muslims" on their respective blogs. However, their efforts are largely isolated since the Islamosphere is loosely organized and does not have much of a platform for articulating the counter arguments within the broader media environment.

Principles for a muslim Left

To try and address the problem, Ali calls for the emergence of a "Muslim Left" which would explicitly affirm the following principles:

  • separation of mosque and state;
  • opposition to tyranny (even if the tyrant has liberal values);
  • affirmance of republicanism or democracy;
  • an ability to coherently demonstrate that the Muslim right represents merely one interpretation of Islam;
  • a commitment to free speech and eagerness to defeat the Muslim right in the marketplace of ideas;
  • commitment to religious individualism and opposition to left-collectivism, specifically Marxism;
  • opposition to economic protectionism;
  • opposing any and all calls for a "council of religious experts" that can oversee legislation (even if those experts are liberals); and
  • affirming international law.

Strategies for a muslim Left

To be effective, Ali argues that the muslim Left must utilize the following strategies:

  1. Popularising the slogan "theocentric, not theocratic" to counter claims of religious treason that will be hurled by Islamists;
  2. An alliance with supporters of old-school Muslim orthodoxy who despite their conservative values are not the same as the Muslim right because they do not like to politicise their faith. These Muslims, by virtue of doctrine and history, have always supported separation of mosque and state, and still do;
  3. Having the confidence to call their solutions truer to the ethos of Islam than the ideas of the Islamists, without engaging in apostasy wars;
  4. An alliance with Marxists and neo-Marxist Muslims without getting sucked into their collectivist phantasmagoria;
  5. Opposing any and all punishments, fines and stigma for "apostasy," "heresy," and "blasphemy". This includes opposition to all "sedition" crimes;
  6. Accepting that the enthronement of the left through democratic means might require the intermediate step of the Muslim right succeeding as well, due largely to its head-start;
  7. Supporting arts, literature, agnosticism and atheism without engaging in derogatory or insulting gestures. The battle against Islamism isn't a fight against Allah or Prophet; it is against an ideology;
  8. Supporting Muslims' right to express their piety with beards, hijab, niqab in order to draw the moderates among the pietists away from the Islamists; and most importantly
  9. Opposition to all imperial western behaviour. Also, rejection of any and all alliances and support from the western right.

An intrinsic conflict

I am in large, broad agreement with essentially all of this (with some exceptions, addressed shortly). I agree that the mainstream conservative Right is now a hostile entity, emphasized by Ali in the last point above. However, it must also be noted that the mainstream liberal Left is not automatically a natural ally for our putative muslim Left, either.

Part of the conflict arises from the basic principles, which come into conflict with the mainstream of liberal political thought. For example, the issue of "opposition to leftist collectivism specifically Marxism" is problematic. What aspect of Marxism specifically do we mean? The central tenets of Marxism, ie the dignity of the working class and the conscience that keeps capitalism fettered, remain core principles of modern liberalism. Likewise, the warning against "economic protectionism" is also somewhat vague and opens us to conflict with the liberal mainstream. The free vs fair trade debate is a critical one. The final and "most important" strategy prescription that Ali makes is to reject the Western Right, but it's worth noting that embracing the principles above would put the Muslim Left in de facto alliance after all.

The Fallwell Left

More important than matters of domestic policy and social justice however is tolerance. And on this score, the Left is just as hostile to muslims as the Right. The mainstream Left remains deeply skeptical of religious faith, with secularism as a core value. Ali notes that the muslim Left will need to make concrete and sincere alliance with old-school muslim orthodoxy, but this also entails defending the orthodox (muslim and christian alike) against the secularist assault. An example is the overt hostility to expressions of faith in the public sphere, which do not violate the concept of separation of church/mosque and state but still elicit a pathological response from the warriors of secularism on the Left. In Europe, the fault line lies firmly upon hijab, which Ali mentions above as an expression of piety. The zeal with which the secularists pursue their agenda is no less supremacist than their analouges on the right.

Dubai Ports World

Beyond the conflict with secularism lies something even uglier; outright xenophobia. The best example of this was the Dubai Ports World fracas. While President Bush argued forcefully in support of the deal, Democrats seized upon the issue as a means to burnish their security image, a gross example of political pandering at the expense of the muslim community. Leading the charge was none other than Hillary Clinton, who claimed the deal would "surrender" our ports to "foreign governments", even though 80% of US ports are already operated by foreign-based firms (including Chinese). There were Democratic voices in support of the deal, including former Presidents Bill Clinton (heh) and Jimmy Carter, the latter of whom took the trouble to answer a question I posted to him on Daily Kos regarding the matter:

Answer to azizhp: In an interview on CNN, I publicly supported the DPW as
soon as the issue arose. My agreement with President Bush on the issue was highlighted that evening by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. There was no
threat to U.S. security, and it was a false and demagogic issue

(emphasis mine). Eventually DPW sold its stake to an American-based firm to defuse te issue, but the damage was done.

And the DPW issue is not an isolated incident. Via 'Aqoul, there was another display of Democratic xenophobia, this time with Senator Charles Schumer leading the crusade against another Dubai-based firm buying a stake in the NASDAQ exchange:

Saying the deal gives him pause, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Thursday to thoroughly review a proposal by Borse Dubai to buy a nearly 20% stake in the Nasdaq Stock Market.

"I believe that the acquisition of such a large stake in a U.S. exchange by a foreign government raises some serious questions," the senator wrote to Paulson.

An outdated political axis

It should be noted that if one wishes to critique Dubai, there are plenty of legitimate avenues to do so; for example, the fact that the engine of economic prosperity runs off the back of indentured labor. Man-made island chains, 7-star hotels, and the tallest building in the world, all are gleaming Pharonic monuments to economic disparity. Dubai is a "gulf" state indeed, but there is little critique of Dubai on this score from the liberal mainstream.

And therein lies the crux of any attempt to define a muslim Left solely in relation to the traditional left-right political axis. In doing so, we become constrained by the same stultifying left-right narratives that so hobble mainstream political discourse. Exhibit A is today's New York Times piece on Ali's reform series, where they (wrongly) describe the concept of a muslim Left as "centered on Western political liberalism." But who can blame them for that perception, when Western political conservatism is so explicitly rejected in its formulation? The truth is that there are issues on which the muslim Left can, and even must, agree with the political Right. Of these, the most critical is foreign policy, to be addressed in Part 2 of this post.

my ethnic heritage

I am the proud son of immigrants from India. As such I am the ethnic heir to a mighty civilization, straddling the centuries and at the nexus of history. Behold the legacy of my forebears.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Empire State Building photos

I found a fellow on Flickr, "zmustapha" who has taken pictures of the Empire State Building lit green for Eid al-Fitr and already posted them an hour ago. See below; the original photos are here (in higher resolution).

The jafis are seething. I wonder if the color green will become the new symbol of dhimmitude? I am reminded of the Crusade against Crescents. If so, then what will the jafis say when they dye the Chicago River green for St. Pats? "the green waves of dhimmitude" ?

عید مبارک

Photo: APOD 2007 March 20, NASA

the Eid stamp

On September 1st, 2001, the US Postal Service issued a postage stamp commemorating the Islamic festivals of Eid al Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Ten days later, the twin towers fell. An enormous controversy arose, with a vocal xenophobic campaign arising to demand that the stamp be withdrawn and replaced with the images of the twin towers, but the stamp was saved, most notably because of the vocal and public support of the Bush Administration, especially President George Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. And ironically, the stamp was indeed discontinued two years later by the USPS, but not for any reasons of domestic pressure from the jafi lobby, but simple apathy. It is a tale worth retelling every Ramadan.

Very few people, Muslim or otherwise, are even aware of the existence of the Eid stamp. visually, the stamp is iconic, simply beautiful. From the White House website, here is a description of the artistic process in its creation:

The Eid stamp, designed by Zakariya of Arlington, Va., features the Arabic phrase "Eid mubarak" in gold calligraphy on a blue background. English text on the stamps reads "EID GREETINGS."

Employing traditional methods and instruments to create this design, Zakariya chose a script known in Arabic as "thuluth" and in Turkish as "sulus." He describes it as "the choice script for a complex composition due to its open proportions and sense of balance." He used homemade black ink, and his pens were crafted from seasoned reeds from the Near East and Japanese bamboo from Hawaii. The paper was specially prepared with a coating of starch and three coats of alum and egg-white varnish, then burnished with an agate stone and aged for more than a year.

This beautiful, elegant work of art, intended to commemorate both the end of the Ramadan and the festival in which muslims honor the patriarch of all three major religions, came under immediate and vicious attack, after the attacks of September 11th. This was in hindsight rather inevitable, but it was obscene nevertheless.

The crux of the argument against the stamp was made in an editorial by Paul Weyrich, entitled "Why a tiny stamp deserves a huge backlash." Weyrich writes,

We are not at war with a gang of terrorists. Al Qaeda is not the Jesse James gang with Arabic surnames. It is not even that we are at war with Islam. Rather, Islam is at war against us.

The sooner Americans recognize this fact then the safer we will be as a nation.
Would our country have issued a swastika flag stamp in 1941? Would our country have issued a hammer and sickle stamp in 1955?

The answer is no on both counts. Actually, a flag stamp issued by our government featuring Nazi Germany's swastika or the Soviet Union's hammer and sickle would have been unthinkable.

That is why we raised the issue of the Eid. We wanted to encourage debate about what Islam really stands for and why we have good reason not to honor the religion. As a nation, we still need to have that debate.

This is very hard for most Americans to understand, but it needs to be said over and over again.

Islam at its core is hostile to the West and the values that comprise the Judeo-Christian tradition, including the emphasis on tolerance and peace that many in the establishment are now so eager to promote as being the true values of Islam.

There are many Muslims who are peaceful, but the fact is that the core of the religion itself is not peaceful.

Weyrich and his organization, Quixotically named the Free Congress Foundation, submitted a letter to various government officials making their case, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Of course, Muslim-American organizations responded, making the fairly obvious point that 9-11 had absolutely nothing to do with muslims, or Islam, or the stamp:

"I am writing to suggest that the current stamps be withdrawn, to be overprinted with the image of the Twin Towers and then reissued," foundation President Paul M. Weyrich wrote in letters to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

"I have no doubt a majority of Americans would find the altered stamps a more appropriate commemoration of Islam than the current celebratory version," he said.

But anyone who looks at the Arabic script on the Eid stamp and equates that with the terrorist attacks is "really playing into the hands of the terrorists," said Aly R. Abuzaakouk, executive director of the Washington-based American Muslim Council.

"Who dares to associate negativity with something that celebrates a religious festival?" he said. "The Eid has nothing to do with the terrorists, and we thank God that all of those . . . suspected to have done this have nothing to do with our community. They were not the known guys of our community. We have nothing to do with that."

It is incumbent upon muslim-americans to recognize however that the far more devastatingly effective response to the jafi zealots like Weyrich was not by CAIR or the American Muslim Council, but simply this:

CAPTION: Imam Yahya Hindi gives the opening prayer in the House of Representatives, November 15, 2001, the last day the House was in session before Ramadan. House Speaker Dennis Hastert listens with bowed head. (Associated Press).

and this:

Greetings From the President to Muslims Celebrating Eid Al-Fitr
The Festival of Breaking the Fast

This festival marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, the holiest period of the Islamic year. Eid al-Fitr is a time to give thanks to God for the blessings of renewed faith, to perform acts of charity, and to share traditional food and good wishes with family and friends.

Islam is a religion that inspires its followers to lead lives based on justice, compassion, and personal responsibility.

During this joyful season, I encourage people of all faiths to reflect on our shared values: love of family, gratitude to God, a commitment to religious freedom, and respect for the diversity that adds to our Nation's strength. By working together to advance peace and mutual understanding, we help build a future of promise and compassion for all.

Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for a joyous celebration.

Eid mubarek.


It's also worth mentioning that the US State Department has issued an entire booklet entitled Muslim Life in America, which documents the way in which Muslims have moved into the American mainstream, and integrated with their communities.

It's also worth mentioning that President George Bush has, on numerous occasions, expressed admiration for the faith of Islam, and affirmed the place of muslim Americans as valued members of our society. This is why, despite my often fervent and heated critiques of the Bush Administration's policies both at home and abroad, I cannot and never will hate George Bush.

And yet, in the end, the Eid stamp was indeed discontinued after 2002. The reason was straightforward; like any other special issue stamp, the decision was made based on the result of sales. And the Eid stamp simply did not perform well enough to justify its continued printing. It's probably safe to assume that the majority of muslims in America never even realized that there was an Eid stamp; if anything the controversy by Weyrich et al probably boosted sales, albeit briefly. If you will pardon the expression, the stamp simply failed to stick.

Until now:

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Postal Service today reissued the Eid stamp in the Holiday Celebrations series.

First issued in 2001, the stamp commemorates the two most important festivals in the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. On these days, Muslims wish each other "eid mubarak," the phrase featured in calligraphy on the stamp, which translates as "blessed festival" or "may your religious holiday be blessed."
The Postal Service produced 40 million 41-cent Eid stamps in sheets of 20 that are available for purchase at local Post Offices, online at, or by calling 800-STAMP-24 on Sept. 28.

I urge my fellow muslims and non-muslim friends alike to show your support for this beautiful stamp, and the expression of happiness and celebration that it represents, by making a point of buying Eid stamps this year. You can order them directly online.

And, of course, let us not limit our expressions of mubarak to stamps alone. Thank you for reading City of Brass this Ramadan and over the past 5 years. Eid mubarak!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

the final fast

Today marks the 30th day of Ramadan by the Fatimid calendar, and as such is the very last day of fasting. It brings both a sense of relief and of anxiety. Relief in that I will get more sleep and actually eat a hamburger (mmm, Culver's!) tomorrow. But anxiety, in that another entire Ramadan has passed and I fell far, far short of my own expectations in terms of what I wanted to achieve. It's the procrastinator's curse that all the interstices of time that were yours to waste are revealed clearly in hindsight alone.

Still, it was a good Ramadan. Today's fast will be the easiest of all because even the discomfort it entails - to which we have long since acclimated - is a reminder of how much control over ourselves we have exerted to achieve. And regardless of my ambitions with regards to hifz-ul-Qur'an, completing 30 fasts in a row is something to take (humble) pride in.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

four principles

I affirm the right of all people to live in freedom and dignity, and the freedom of the individual conscience: to change religions or have no religion at all. In doing so, I invoke the Qur'an:

"To you, your religion and to me, mine" (109:6)

"if they turn away from you, your only duty is a clear delivery of the Message." (16:82)

"There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256)

as well as numerous other verses that emphasize that the Prophet is not a "keeper", his only duty was to preach and deliver the Message, but whether the Message is accepted is solely between the individual and Allah (see: 6:107, 4:79-80, 11:28, 17:53-54, 24:54, 88:21-22, 39:41, 64:12, 67:25-26 for starters).

I also affirm the equality of dignity of women and men, again invoking the Quran:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female." (49:13)

"O Mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, created of like nature his mate, from them scattered countless men and women. Fear Allah, through whom you demand your mutual rights and reverence the wombs (that bore you), for Allah ever watches over you." (4:1)

"Never will I waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other." (3:195)

and finally, I affirm the right of all people to live free from violence, intimidation, and coercion, with the Qur'an:

"Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not aggress. Surely God does not love the aggressors. And fight them where you come upon them, and send them out from where they have sent you out, for persecution is a worse thing than fighting. And do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque (in Mecca) unless they fight you there, but if they fight you, then fight them back. That is the reward of the rejectors. Then if they cease, so God is All-Forgiving, Gentle. And fight them until there is no more persecution and the religion is for God. But if they cease, so let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers." (2:190-193)

"Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind." (5:32)

I imagine that my affirmations above won't meet with these folks' endorsement, however, since I am amd will always be utterly and implacably opposed to the suggestion that Islam needs to be "reformed" or the Qur'an needs to be edited. To those who believe that the solution to islamic extremism is less Islam, rather than less extremism, I only say, good luck with that. To your way, yours, to me, mine.

Alayk as-salaam, ya shere Ramadan

Eid is almost upon us, and despite the immense spiritual satisfaction of the fast, our thoughts are not immune to some anticipation that there are less than a handful left. Partly because of the sense of satisfaction that will come from having completed another Ramadan, but also because we are hungry. It's like graduating from college - the intellectual stimulation of the collegiate world is a bubble existence of its own, and at its close you will miss it, but there is also anticipation to get "out there" into the "real world" and start applying what you've learned. So too with Ramadan - but every year. The time of spiritual nourishment is almost at a close and it will soon be time to apply our souls to the task of living in the world beyond the one we construct for ourselves in Ramadan.

As such, the anticipation of Eid grows. Blogger Indscribe has posted some beautiful photos of preparation for Eid throughout the muslim world, from the middle east to asia and the west. A photo gallery at ABC News also provides a look at Ramadan and Eid preparation worldwide. There's a great story - and recipies - about the grand feast of Eid at NPR. Finally, there's an unintentionally hilarious story in the Arab News about Saudi men who take teh end of Ramadan very, very seriously - and annoy their housewives in the process.

On a more sober note, Andrew Lee Butters takes a look at Ramadan in Amman, Jordan for Iraqi refugees. Well worth remembering that the spiritual bounties of Ramadan are divinely guaranteed, but nothing else is in this world.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Republicans refuse recognizing Ramadan

There's no better way for the GOP to paint itself as a monolithically Islamophobic entity than the following:

Forty-one Republicans, more than 20 percent of the caucus, and one Democrat voted "present" on a resolution recognizing the commencement of Ramadan on Tuesday.

The 42 lawmakers make up more than 10 percent of the members voting on the resolution. There were zero "no" votes, and 14 members did not vote.

The resolution recognized "the Islamic faith as one of the great religions of the world," rejected "hatred, bigotry and violence directed against Muslims, both in the United States and worldwide" and "[commended] Muslims in the United States and across the globe who have privately and publicly rejected interpretations and movements of Islam that justify and encourage hatred, violence and terror."

In other words, one in five elected Republicans refuses to affirm that muslims in America are a valued piece of the fabric of America. The reasons given by some of the caucus for their passive-aggressive stance were mainly complaints about political correctness and invocations (hilariously) of the separation of church and state:

"This resolution is an example of the degree to which political correctness has captured the political and media elite in this country," Tancredo said.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said, "I voted 'present' because I read somewhere that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion."

Their dedication to the Constitution is as admirable as it is selective. But pray tell, why did not Messrs. Pence, Tancredo, et al vote No, rather than Present?

(incidentally, read loyal conservative blogger Rick Moran on how the hyper-religiosity on the part of the Republican candidates is a recipe for a rout in 2008.)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

9-11 made us stupid

Tariq Nelson finds a gem of a video online: asking the American on the Street whether US muslims should carry a special ID, be incarcerated, or even converted to other religions:

It's played for laughs but it is worth mentioning that the idea that there should be muslims-only lines at the airport has been advocated by mainstream conservative pundit Mike Gallagher on Fox News. Also, conservative radio host Jay Severin argued on his nationally syndicated show that "Muslims in this country are a fifth column. . . . The vast majority of Muslims in this country are very obviously loyal, not to the United States, but to their religion. And I'm worried that when the time comes for them to stand up and be counted, the reason they are here is to take over our culture and eventually take over our country." And when radio host Jerry Klein suggested in satire that muslims be forced to wear distinctive armbands identifying them as such, his show's phone lines were instantly jammed - with listeners clamoring in support. Klein later took to the airwaves to chastize his own audience.

I think that the Islamophobia is really a symptom of a larger problem in the national psyche. In diagnosis, Thomas Friedman has a scathing opinion piece in the New York Times about the national reaction - his included - to the tragedy of September 11th. He argues it is time to move beyond September 11th:

I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

I had a very similar essay at my Nation-Building blog on the anniversary of the attacks this year, simply titled 9-12:

It's six years since 9-11. Everyone has their own stories about what they were doing that day when time stopped and a nation turned to CNN. It was a day that truly changed the world, like a catalyst. It is time now to accept the new world we have and stop worrying about why it is so. That also means letting go of 9-11 to some extent. What about 9-12? What world do we want to create?
For the sake of clarity it bears repeating: 9-11 was six years ago. America's war in Iraq, for all the good it has achieved in deposing a cruel dictator, has also done massive injury, for which we do bear responsibility and yes, blame. We did not act in evil intent, but we must accept the moral burden of responsibility for our actions, good and bad. We are no longer innocent victims but active participants.

We need a fresh outlook that takes the present situation into account as the facts on the ground, and free ourselves of all concerns about why we are where we are. It's time to lay 9-11 to rest and focus on 9-12.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Laylatul Qadr

In the Holy Qur'an, Allah has this to say about Laylatul Qadr, the Night of Power:

[Yusufali 97:1] We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
[Yusufali 97:2] And what will explain to thee what the night of power is?
[Yusufali 97:3] The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
[Yusufali 97:4] Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand:
[Yusufali 97:5] Peace!...This until the rise of morn!

97:1-5 (Listen to Recitation by Husain Saifuddin DM)

On Laylatul Qadr, I spent awake engaged in prayer. We arrived at the masjid for maghrib prayer around 6:30pm and did not leave until 5:00am, after a sehri feast. According to the Fatimid calendar and various hadith, we interpret the night of Power as occurring on the 23rd of Ramadan, the climax of an increasingly auspicious sequence of nights (the 19th and the 21st).

The logistics of preparing for the night are numerous. We buy new toys and coloring books for the kids, and make a snack run at the grocery so everyone in the family has a little bag of goodies to munch on all night long (and for once, any craving for particular candies are indulged, regardless of nutritional merit). New clothes are bought in advance for the night, ridahs for the ladies and perrin (a kind of kurta that reaches the ankles, and with cloth buttons) for the men. The clothes are specially washed (made namazi), starched (for the men) and imbued with bukhoor (incense). During the day, everyone takes a nap in the late afternoon to ensure adequate rest.

Arriving at the masjid, rows of folded masallahs are already in place, and with space constraints it is not uncommon for two or even three people to share. Maghrib prayers are offered, and the fast is broken with a communal meal. After that, for a few hours there is a downtime in which many people return home to take a nap or change clothing, whereas others (especially those who have traveled a longer distance) simply stay at the masjid and recite Qur'an. As the time of Isha namaz approaches the masjid gradually fills and fills until a half hour before, the masjid is teeming with people and their sociable chatter. Then, the imam arrives for Isha and the night begins in earnest.

Between Isha and Nisful Layl, there are numerous short prayers offered on behalf of the various Ahlul Bayt and other luminaries, notably including Fatema Zahra AS, the daughter of the Prophet, Ali ibn Talib AS, and of course the Prophet himself. There are beautiful duas that were written centuries ago by Ali Zayn al-Abedin (SA), son of Imam Husain who was martyred at Karbala. After nisful layl there is also a recitation of munajaat, an intimate poetic conversation with Allah written anew each year by the Dai ul Mutlaq of the community, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin TUS. The night concludes with the shafa, witr and julus prayers, and then the devout break ranks to eat and then go home - and collapse into bed for whatever rest they can scrounge until the demands of work or school the next day.

This night was two nights ago and I can still feel the strain on my body - and the nourishment of my soul. After Ramadan ends it will be just a memory, but Allah's grace is such that we are given this night every year in which to renew.