Parallel Universes

April 6, 2007

The biggest difference between a Muslim and non-Muslim is their Weltanschauung. It is so utterly different and in the case of the Muslim, so engrossing and all-encompassing that it becomes a veil between him and the rest of humanity. I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Muslims simply do not realize what it’s truly like living in a world of meaning and metaphor that precludes the commandments of God. It is this differing world view that separates a believer from a non-believer; the greatest hurdle for true understanding between the two. That is one of the reasons why Sunni fiqh designed for western societies must scale not only the mountain of internal historical consistency in the face of modernity but also the mountain of establishing legal guidelines in conversation with people who cannot fathom an entire society still built around God.

It is foolish to think however that either is on the verge of collapse. Huntington was on to something [even though I don’t think he got it all right]. I am a true believer in Richard Bulliet’s view that a civilization of Islamo-Christian co-existence is only a matter of time. However, I also see an ocean of considerable ignorance that animates discourses in both universes. On the whole, whether we will continue to antagonize each other or not is a choice that lies in our very own hands.


Believe Me, I Love Seyyed Hossein Nasr

March 25, 2007

I was intrigued by Ali’s post which talked about Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s experience with a tonga driver in Lahore. In short, the tonga driver figures out that Nasr is persian and on the spot, starts reciting Hafiz, Attar, Rumi et al. with what we gather, heartfelt surr.

That example — riding in that carriage that night under the starry sky of the Punjabi countryside listening to an illiterate tonga driver reciting some of the most sublime mystical love poetry ever written, reciting both from memory and from the center of his heart — shows how universal the living reality of the love for God is in the Islamic spiritual universe.

Undoubtedly, Nasr paints a beautiful picture. I let the post churn in my head for three days because something about it just didn’t sit right with me. Then it hit me. Even though there is much truth to Nasr’s observation, there exists a dark side to this spiritual universe, a quagmire that Muslims cannot seem to escape: they have difficulty manifesting this love in their daily lives. Unfortunately, connecting the batin to the zahir is an exercise that either died out a long time ago or one that Muslims have severe difficulty executing today. There is no doubt that western people suffer from deficient sexual morality. However, for the most part, western people tend to have an impeccable social morality. The Muslim world on the other hand, reciporcates this pattern to perfection. And that is a shame for people that are scions of a personality that will be remembered eternally for being the bearer of perfect morality in every sphere of life may it be inner, outer, private or social.

What use are the experiences of saints if all we can do is print them in glossy books and memorize them for recitation? The obvious rebuttal to that is that surely there is no harm in doing the above, perhaps one day some soul may gain some benefit. I disagree. Doing the abovementioned is akin to taking pictures of clothing, memorizing their details and reprinting those pictures for the world proclaiming ‘look! clothing! this is what will beautify us and this will what will keep us warm!’

I Feel Like Screaming

March 24, 2007

I started too early. There’s no doubt I started blogging years ago at a time when it truly was a fad. Truth be told however, I was an awful writer with little to say. At the time, being a blogger didn’t improve my writing and I didn’t get smarter. True growth came after posting on messageboards and arguing about issues I truly cared for. To me, messageboards are still the superior method for improving one’s ability to synthesize ideas and to present viewpoints in a coherent manner. But there’s a caveat: you have to conciously make attempts at improving. I say this because I have seen one too many unfortunate souls who still sound horribly identical to what they did over a decade ago. So with that in mind, I am back to writing. The reason I feel like screaming is because If I dont write down some of the things that are going through my head these days, they will clog up my cranium until I am forced to regurgitate them all at once on someone not expecting a two hour rant on socio-political realities in the Muslim world.

In the spirit of improving, I am going to lift these gems right off the excellent ‘best blog’ blog.

• Best Bloggers respect their readers. They don’t take you for granted. They respond to your comments. They keep their promises or tell you why they haven’t been able to. (For example: We tried to do a Blog-A-Day every day this December. But we went to too many parties to do one EVERY single day. Still, even falling short of the goal, we gave you more great blogs this month than we have in many months this year.)

• Best Bloggers hook you. They drawn you in from the first sentence. That can happen in as many ways as there are imaginations, but it never, ever means this sort of beginning: Sorry I haven’t blogged in so long, but I’ve been busy. Or Not much to say, but I don’t have anything else to do but blog. A Best Blogger has got something to say, and they make you want to hear it.

• Best Bloggers know how to use the tools at their disposal. Mostly, that means they’re good at the language in which they blog. Their writing is clear and sharp, they can punctuate, they proofread, and they sound like the smart people they are.

• Best Bloggers are generous. They know there’s room for everyone. They know that another great blog in no way diminishes them. They link to people they admire, regardless of whether that other blog is bigger or smaller than they are.

• Best Bloggers never stop learning. They read other blogs and learn from what they discover there. They read books — books that are so well written they feel compelled to try to do the same. They’re curious. They’re not afraid to say, I don’t understand that. They try new things. Maybe they’ll learn to podcast. Or take some pictures. Or try out a new template. Find out what CSS is.

• Best Bloggers know themselves. They don’t try to be other people. They know what they love, even if it’s a little odd, and their enthusiasm and affection for their subject animates their writing.

• Best Bloggers know they’re part of a community. They contribute to forums, help new folks out, welcome people to blogging.

New Megacities in Saudi Arabia

January 27, 2007

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King `Abdullah, Sunday, laid the foundation stone for the third mega economic city in the Kingdom – the SR25 billion ($6.66 billion) Knowledge Economic City in Madinah.

The new Knowledge City will comprise the Taiba Technological and Economic Information Center, an interactive museum on the Prophet’s life, a centre for studies of Islamic civilization, and another centre for medical studies, biosciences and integrated medical services.

RIS 2006, Sherman Jackson and Mawlid w/ Shaykh Hamza

December 31, 2006

I will not be expanding on the Mawlid too much because it was a private event and nor will I be providing a hagiographic account of it. There were however, some things that are of some interest.

1) I was lucky enough to be seated between Ustadh Yahya Rhodus and Shaykh Ramzy Ajem. I didn’t even realize it was Shaykh Ramzy until much later: he is shockingly good-looking [mashaAllah] and fools you with his youthful appearance. Ustadh Yahya was like a rock. Didn’t move throughout the whole Mawlid. Him and Shaykh Hamza were both perfectly stationary throughout.

2) Shaykh Hamza said something very significant during the Mawlid. These lines of poetry that we recite were written by ‘Aarifin that were in a state most of us are only capable or re-terating in their words. In essence, it is a true benefit that they were able to transfer their experiences to word so that we may atleast get a taste of what they had. After peeking over at Ustadh Yahya’s copy of the Divan we were using, it was blatantly obvious that Shaykh Hamzah couldnt have been more right.

3) Shaykh Talal Ahdab and Shayhkh Hamza had a very long discussion before the Mawlid started. From what I could pick up, it was regarding manuscripts of the Aqida Tahawiyya and orientalist english renditions of it. For all not aware, they are both independently working on their own translations and compilations. I have a copy of Shaykh Talal’s first draft and it looks like a winner. We will have to wait and see what Shaykh Hamzah comes up with. Interestingly, I was able to sneak a peak at Shaykh Talal’s ‘gift’ to Shaykh Hamzah later on at the retreat: It was a truckload of volumes of Al-Dhahabi’s Maliki fiqh work.

4) Sherman Jackson got a chance to break out of his academic skin and relaxed on the podium. He should. Most people are nowhere near understanding one of his real lectures. He is handcuffed by his audience: after last year’s deplorable selection of answers the Shuyukh had to deal with, they realized we need to slow down.

5) Imam Zaid is the people’s man. People love him and he loves people. He creates that human bond that is not always available with intellectuals. Of note, Shaykh Hamzah, after the last session, stuck around and answered every single person until there was not a single person left. Actions speak louder than words: especially from a man whose words have been the catalyst of so much action.

6) Everyone has their opinion of Dr. Tareq Suwaidan. However, if there’s one thing I admire him tremendously for is his consistent preaching of two things: Reading atleast two books a month on any subject and professionalism and self-respect in every matter. Dr. Tareq is a successful man and it shows.

7) Shaykh Hamzah’s choice of using Sidi Ahmad Zarruq’s tassawuff manual was brilliant. It was hilarious because Shaykh Hamzah had to explain just why Sidi Ahmad Zarruq was against the false sufis and the effectiveness of sama. This is why I love Shaykh Hamzah. He’s not caught up in projecting a dreamy, utopian image of Sufis. There were [and still are] deviant sufis and unless traditional Muslims say this openly, they are doing a disservice to themselves and the awam.

8 ) Sherman Jackson, Shaykh Hamzah and Imam Zaid were sneaking into each other’s lectures. That was some sight.

9) They invited all local ‘ulama to the last day to discuss the moon-sighting issue. It was good to see them interact with Shaykh Hamzah and Imam Zaid. There were many times when the Deobandi ulama were smiling and laughing along with Shaykh Hamzah’s witty musings. I was informed later on that a respected local Deobandi Mufti told an aquaintance that he rarely ever takes notes in a lecture. That changed during Shaykh Hamzah and Imam Zaid’s seminar where he came back with pages of them.

Iran & Saudi Arabia are ‘true’ Muslim countries.

December 3, 2006

Next time you decide to criticize someone for using the draconian Saudi laws as a benchmark for ‘muslimness’, keep in mind that there are people out there who perpetuate that very view. Don’t blame angry non-muslims, blame this guy (and his ilk I suppose):

In Kuwait, Shiite cleric Abdul-Hussein Qazwini said he believed the pope’s visit would have been more meaningful “if had it been made to a Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia or Iran,” rather than to secular Turkey.

Link to full article

Shaking Women’s Hands: Shaykh Al-Qaradawi Answers

September 20, 2006

However, if we investigate the sahih (sound) Hadiths that are narrated from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), we will conclude that the mere touching of hands between a man and a woman without desire or fear of temptation is not prohibited. Rather, it was done by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), whose actions are originally a source of legislation. Almighty Allah says: “Verily in the Messenger of Allah ye have a good example …” (Al-Ahzab: 21). It is narrated on the authority of Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, “Any of the female slaves of Madinah could take hold of the hand of Allah’s Messenger and take him wherever she wished.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)

Read the complete fatwa here

Why we shouldn’t try to be a bunch of McGyvers.

July 24, 2006

One thing that occured to me recently is that if traditional conservative muslims really want to propogate their way of life as mainstream and accessible, they really have to start creating social institutions that embrace those values and provide convenience and a sense of normality to said values. That means more islamic fashion houses that incorporate the notion of ‘modest’ clothing sincerely into their designs, more media elaborating on the nuances of being a traditional conservative muslim living in the ‘west’ etc etc. Anyway you look at it, traditional conservative muslims have to be proud of their lifestyle, proud of being different, proud of sticking out like sore thumbs and most of all, be completely and utterly content with being who they are without raining on other people’s parade. It’s been my continous rant for a while now: create a culture so you dont have to reinvent the wheel by yourself everytime you have a kid! People are hamsters who run in the ferris wheels of culture. So instead of trying to ineffeciently break out, mould the ferris wheel to your wishes. It’s just easier and less of a heartache that way.

Africa turns its eyes to Islam

June 11, 2006

SOMALIA | The fall of Mogadishu to Islamic militants has many worried. But experts say it’s wrong to assume that Islamic rule is the worst option for blood-spattered African nations.

In the blood-splattered Somali capital, Mogadishu, militias loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts last week seized power from a United Nations-backed transitional government. In Northern Sudan, Islamic militancy has changed the character of the country, imposing sharia law and pushing religion into the political arena as never before.

Our reactive extremism and Islamabad’s defensive ‘enlightened moderation’

May 29, 2006

EDITORIAL Wednesday October 20, 2004
Source : DAILY TIMES Pakistan

According to news reports, a Christian family was forced in August this year to leave its house in Wah Cantt in Punjab for fear of violence after an 11-year-old girl of the family accidentally threw a copy of the Holy Quran in the trash-can. The family of Tasneem Dean, a boiler engineer, left the Asifabad locality of Wah Cantt after an ‘agreement’ between the local Saint Thomas Catholic Church and the khateeb of Central Lala Rukh Mosque, Maulana Muhammad Ishaq. This was done in collaboration with local administration and police officials for the safety of the family because the local people had threatened to burn down their house.

The sticking point in this incident was that the law-enforcement authority, the local Muslim clergy and the Church were all agreed that no deliberate offence had been caused by the child. No case for desecration of the Holy Quran was registered against the family of Mr Dean and, if the police had had their way, an apology would have been sufficient. But the local population of mostly unlettered people was aroused by a woman who had gone to the waste disposal and started shouting. It developed that Mr Dean, the Christian, had an interest in inter-religious studies and had inherited the Holy Quran from his Christian father. Once the local mosque authority and the church recognised that, they were satisfied that there was no case under the Penal Code. Why did Mr Dean then move out of Wah?

We should go into this matter because Mr Dean could be hounded also in the next town to which he has moved. When asked why he had agreed to leave his home in Wah Cantt, he pointed to the Pushtun and Afghan migrants living in the locality who had been alerted by mischief mongers to the job of hounding him. The original population did not react after they were informed of the details of the case, but the newly arrived groups of Pathans and Afghans came around and threatened to burn down his house and possibly kill his family. The enraged groups convinced the local administration, the local khateeb and the local Catholic church that Mr Dean and his family had to leave. To give authenticity to the ‘agreement’ reached with the fleeing Christian family, the local Punjab MPA also affixed his signature to it.

If the administration in Wah thinks it has resolved a grave issue to the satisfaction of all parties, it is gravely mistaken. Once again the authorities have succumbed to the pressure of the unenlightened and the immoderate, once again the law has been flouted and once again innocent citizens have been made to suffer on account of their faith. The obligation to protect citizens against religious extremism has been dodged once again and the slogan of ‘enlightened moderation’ adopted by General Pervez Musharraf and the PML government has once again been betrayed. If this single case is considered insufficient evidence to prove the uselessness of General Musharraf’s slogan, let us take a look at the life sentence handed down on Tuesday by an additional sessions judge in Lahore to another person charged with ‘desecrating’ the Holy Quran. The evidence was allegedly flimsy but the lower court judge was so overpowered by the extremism of the local opinion that he sent the man in for the maximum punishment.

There was much reactive extremism in Pakistan’s past when our governments were not telling the world that they were determined to inculcate ‘enlightened moderation’ among the people. In 1997, the twin villages of Shantinagar-Tibba Colony, 12 kilometres east of Khanewal, Multan Division, were looted and burnt by 20,000 Muslim citizens and 500 policemen. The police first evacuated the Christian population of 15,000, then helped the raiders use battle-field explosives to blow up their houses and property. When no one from the president of Pakistan to the Inspector General of Punjab Police reacted to the biggest act of destruction in 50 years, the Christian youth took out processions in Rawalpindi and Karachi and were fired upon by the police in the latter city. The youth in Lahore was asked by their elders to refrain from protesting.

Shantinagar was destroyed by the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the organs of the Pakistani State in tandem because there was hardly any difference in outlook between the two allies. But today, President Musharraf’s government pretends to stand apart from the fanatics and the extremists. Yet every other day, people go on a rampage after ‘discovering’ a leaf or two of the Holy Quran on the road. They stop the traffic, burn tyres and destroy public property to express their ‘grief’ because that has been allowed to become a ritual. State functionaries and politicians are keen to identify themselves with the vandals rather than hold them accountable under law. What is the difference between past governments and the ‘enlightened’ and ‘moderate’ government of General Pervez Musharraf today? Shouldn’t Islamabad worry about its rhetoric and do something to spread the message against extremism more effectively?

One very effective way of reaching out to the people, instead of exposing them to slogans they don’t understand, is to discuss the subject frankly. If you simply say pur-etedaal roshan khayali, the extremist will shoot back the remark that Islam is already that, so ‘say something new’. Obviously the thing to do on the state-owned media at least is to go into the details of the religious extremism that has brought Pakistan dangerously close to what the Afghanistan of Taliban was before the world thought it necessary to destroy the government of Mullah Umar. It is time to discuss the flaws of the blasphemy law and the law pertaining to the desecration of the Holy Quran without caring to ‘balance the debate’ between the extremists and the ‘apologists’ for moderation. In the realm of human rights, you don’t do what the people want, you educate the people to respect the law and, if necessary, you use the organs of the state to do that effectively and unapologetically. Is anyone in Islamabad listening?