Tuesday, 19 May 2015

My dear colleague and friend, Professor Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, and I had the honour of launching our books at the end of year University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences reception. Thanks to Raymond for taking these great photos!

Friday, 8 May 2015

A Stronger and Progressive Scotland - For Those of Faith and None - God Bless Scotland

This is the moment my sister, Asea Akhtar, cast my vote as an overseas voter in The British Election yesterday. I voted SNP! Proud Scot in Miami. Moving back to Celtic lands. We need a stronger and progressive Scotland! The voting station is at my old primary school - St. Mungo's Primary in Townhead, Glasgow.

My constituency, Glasgow Central, outstandingly voted in exactly the way I did today. Glasgow Central now has a Scottish National Party Member of the UK Parliament and this Scot in Miami is over the bloody moon. Scotland has voted for a progressive and stronger Scotland! Scotland has always led and continues to lead in democracy and thought.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, OBE is a Scottish National Party politician, and has been Member of Parliament for Ochil and South Perthshire since May 2015

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I'm glad the SNP are using the word Progressive!

Endorsing, Supporting and Voting for the SNP on May 7th. The SNP are a superbly Scottish radical and progressive party that has strengthened my Pakistani and Scottish roots! God bless Scotland and the SNP!

Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Urdu: محمد اقبال‎) (9 November 1877 – 21 April 1938), widely known as Allama Iqbal (علامہ اقبال), was an academic, poet, barrister, philosopher, and politician in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement. He is considered one of the most important figures in Urdu literature,with literary work in both the Urdu and Persian languages.

Preshan Ho Ke Meri Khaak Akhir Dil Na Ban Jaye
Jo Mushkil Ab Hai Ya Rab Phir Wohi Mushkil Na Ban Jaye

My scattered dust charged with Love the shape of heart may take at last:
O God, the grief that bowed me then may press me down as in the past!

Na Kar Dain Mujh Ko Majboor-e-Nawa Firdous Mein Hoorain
Mera Souz-e-Daroon Phir Garmi-e-Mehfil Na Ban Jaye

The Maids of Eden by their charm may arouse my urge for song:
The flame of Love that burns in me, May fire the zeal of Celestial Throng!

Banaya Ishq Ne Darya’ay Na-Payda Karan Mujh Ko
Ye Meri Khud Nigahdari Mera Sahil Na Ban Jaye

By the mighty force of Love I am turned to Boundless Deep:
I fear that my self‐regard, Me, for aye, on shore may keep!

Kahin Iss Alam-e-Be-Rang-o-Bu Mein Bhi Talab Meri
Wohi Afsana-e-Dunbala-e-Mehmil Na Ban Jaye

My hectic search for aim and end, In life that smell and hue doth lack,
May get renown like lover’s tale, Who riding went on litter’s track!

Urooj-e-Adam-e-Khaki Se Anjum Sehme Jate Hain
Ke Ye Toota Hua Tara Mah-e-Kamil Na Ban Jaye

The rise of clay‐born man hath smit the hosts of heaven with utter fright:
They dread that this fallen star to moon may wax with fuller light.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A few photos from my book launch at 'Books&Books' (Miami). March 18th 2015.

(Published by Bloomsbury Academic, London. 2015)

Surrounded by books and an interested audience

Sporting my alma mater's tartan tie, University of Glasgow. Sharing a joke with a member of the audience about Mirza Ghalib, the Mughal poet, featured in my book.   

Signing my book for a reader

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Sufism won't solve Pakistan's problems - Using Sufism to counter religious terrorism is not the solution to Pakistan's problems - and it's risky. by Bina Shah

| War & Conflict, Politics, Pakistan, Asia  Source: Al Jazeera

Religiously motivated violence has steadily haunted Pakistan over the last 10 years, with the rise of militants and extremists who believe it's their holy duty to wage war on non-Muslims. The latest horrific episode: The Lahore church suicide bombing on March 15 which killed 16 Christians; two Muslim bystanders were also lynched and burned to death by an angry mob in the aftermath of the bombing.

As the author of the novel "A Season For Martyrs", which examines the fusion of Sufi tradition with the power structures of Sindh, I have watched with caution as western think-tanks have thrown up Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam with an emphasis on tolerance, peace, and love, as a means of combating this ideology of violence. Yet, I strongly believe that this is a misguided policy; using Sufism to counter religious terrorism is not the solution to Pakistan's problems.
Head to Head - Pakistan: Victim or exporter of terrorism?
Since 9/11, Pakistan has witnessed the weakening of state institutions, the confusion of political leadership, the uncertainty of whether or not to continue to nurture or disown the state's "strategic assets", that is, religious militants it has sponsored - and the relentless attacks by the Taliban and other militants against civilian, military, police, and minority targets.

Secularism as solution?

Many Pakistani liberals posit secularism as the solution: They theorise, or fantasise, that going back in time to erase the dictator General Zia-ul Haq's Deobandi imprint on Pakistani society - in other words, to eliminate his Islamisation project from both the statute books and the annals of history - will ease Pakistan's pain and bring this divided country back together again.

On the other hand, western think-tanks, ever concerned with the rise of militancy in Pakistan and its ramifications for western interests, decided that Sufism could be a means of countering hardline radicalism in the Muslim world. 

A 2007 RAND report urged western governments to "harness" Sufism; similar reports emerged from the Heritage Foundation, the Libforall Foundation and the Nixon Center, supporting the idea that Sufism, with its "politically moderating" effect, could supplant Salafism, whose local expression in Pakistan is the Deobandi movement.

Muslim and other scholars hit back at this plan, calling it misguided. The peaceful Sufi/violent Salafi dichotomy, they argued, did not stand up to scrutiny; Sufism could be used as much to advocate violence as Salafism. 

In Pakistan, even Barelvis, a moderate sect influenced by Sufism and opposed to Deobandism, have enacted or supported violence. The murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was committed by Mumtaz Qadri, a Barelvi, in 2011; Barelvi clerics have rallied for his cause ever since.

Many Pakistani liberals posit secularism as the solution: They theorise, or fantasise, that going back in time to erase the dictator General Zia-ul Haq's Deobandi imprint on Pakistani society ... will ease Pakistan's pain and bring this divided country back together again.

Still, this didn't stop the Pakistani government from trying out the formula: It formed a Sufi Advisory Council in 2009 to try and spiritually convince radicals to lay down their arms.
Since then, shrines and Sufi leaders have continued to be attacked all over Pakistan: the Baba Farid shrine and Sakhi Sarwar shrine in Punjab, Lahore's most famous Data Darbar shrine, the shrine of Sheikh Taqi Baba in Balochistan; and the assassination of the Sufi leader Faqir Jamshed in Dera Ismail Khan, in northwest Pakistan.

Complete reversal

The work of Farzana Shaikh, a Chatham House fellow and author of "Making Sense of Pakistan", represents a complete reversal from the discourse taking place about Pakistan's problems with extremism among its liberal intelligentsia: That religious extremism has come about because of the religious right wing's stubborn certainty that being a Pakistani equates to being a conservative Sunni Muslim, and that violence is a way of eliminating from the fabric of Pakistani society those people who don't fit that definition.

Yet, according to Shaikh, it's precisely Pakistan's uncertainty, not its certainty, about what it means to be Pakistani that has led the country to this critical point of desperate soul-searching amid one extremist-backed attack after another. 

Until the nation engages critically with Islam, trying to pin down whether or not a Muslim country's raison d'etre is to provide a homeland for Muslims or to actually "defend Islam" - with all the troubling implications of that motivation - Pakistani will continue to flounder.
Shaikh calls the enterprise to recast Sufism as the counter to violent extremism terribly risky.
"The geopolitical context has changed; the competing narratives of Islam have all become more increasingly violent." 

Bringing Sufism - or the Pakistani state's co-opted version of Sufism - into the mix has the potential to backfire, tearing the country further apart rather than healing its divisions.
And what effect would these political machinations have on the ordinary worshipper at a shrine, women and men who seek solace and security through their supplications?
"They don't know anything about it," says Shaikh. "They just don't understand why their shrines are now being bombed." 

Using Sufism as a tool in a game of ideologies will only result in more attacks of this nature. Far better to let the Sufi saints rest in blissful ignorance of what the state might make of their legacy.

Bina Shah is an award-winning Pakistani writer from Karachi. She is a contributing opinion writer for the International New York Times and writes a monthly column for Dawn, the biggest English-language newspaper in Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

I am humbled and honoured to receive a formal invitation to address and lead the Scottish Parliament at Time for Reflection on Tuesday 23rd June 2015.

This will be my second invitation to lead Time for Reflection. The first was in May 2008 (see below).

I will reflect, in some way, on my move to the USA in 2009 and now returning back to Celtic lands, closer to my beloved Scotland, as Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork, Republic of Ireland, my position at Cork commences June 1st. Thanks to Members of the Scottish Parliament, Joan McAlpine and Humza Yousaf for their continued support.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

ISIS and Authority By Kecia Ali on February 24, 2015

Last week, Graeme Wood caused quite a stir with his article “What ISIS Really Wants.” It focused on the apocalyptic religious vision of the group and contended that ISIS was, as a scholar quoted in the article put it, “smack in the middle of the medieval tradition,” including on the things most shock and repulse observers, such as slavery.

Though Wood grants that most Muslims do not support ISIS, and acknowledges in passing the role of interpretation in formulating its doctrines, the overall impression conveyed by the article was that Muslims who deny that ISIS is a fair representation of Islam are either apologists or simply do not really know anything about Islam. Others have offered rebuttals of many of the points in the article, and Bernard Haykel, the scholar quoted, has offered a more nuanced articulation of his views. More than one commentator has pointed out that by treating ISIS as a legitimate representative of the Islamic tradition, seriously religious and dedicated to the texts “shared by all Sunni Muslims,” it fosters an unholy convergence of interests between extremist Muslims and Islamophobes.

Wood is right about some things and wrong about others. ISIS is laying claim to the tradition and the texts they cite are in what we may call the canon. Still, to quote approvingly and without clarification Haykel’s contention that “these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else,” seems quite a stretch. To be sure, it is not the job of religious studies scholars (or U. S. presidents) to judge which groups are “Islamic” or “un-Islamic.” Rather, we must understand how various actors make claims to represent, understand, or further their tradition. That does not mean there are no distinctions that can be made, no criteria by which to situate those religious claims in a historical and social framework.
Some attempts to assess ISIS’s legitimacy have focused on the fact that reputable Muslim authorities – clerics, scholars, ‘ulama – uniformly distance themselves from ISIS and condemn its brutal tactics.

Though unwilling (for sound theological reasons) to declare leaders or followers of the Islamic State apostates, some have been willing to describe its actions as sinful, evil, or even “un-Islamic.”

But these arguments from authority worry me too. When women do something “impermissible” – lead Friday prayer, open a Women’s Mosque, interpret the Qur’an in feminist ways – self-described “traditional” Muslims offer similar condemnations: these acts–and these actors–are outside the pale of tradition. Regardless of the sophistication of the arguments presented, the response is that those who make them are not properly trained. What authority do they have? In sum: how dare they?

These specious criticisms are nearly impossible to counter, even when those spouting them do not necessarily offer more nuanced or methodologically sophisticated answers. The simple appeal to widespread scholarly agreement leaves me unconvinced.

Take the example of the Open Letter to Baghdadi published last September. Among other things, it condemns ISIS’s violation of what the letter describes as a century-old consensus on the abolition of slavery.  (Though presented in a press conference, the letter attracted virtually no attention from the mainstream media – unlike the shocking violence that prompted it.) Undoubtedly well-intentioned, the letter makes a hash of both history and the classical tradition, with its ahistorical declarations (“No scholar of Islam disputes that one of Islam’s aims is to abolish slavery”) and simplistic proclamations of things that are “forbidden in Islam.” The letter was signed by 126 male Sunni scholars and leaders from around the world. Since its publication online, others, including a handful of women, have signed.

Admittedly, this letter, which affirms “the prohibition and criminalization of slavery” as “a milestone in human history,” offers a much more compelling ideal than ISIS’s propaganda magazine, which signals “enslaving the families of the [disbelievers] and taking their women as concubines” as a sign of its own legitimacy and prowess, and reminds its readers that denying or mocking scriptural permissibility for slavery renders one not merely “weak-minded and weak hearted” but also an apostate. Still, however appealing it is to believe that slavery was, as the letter states, “something the Shariah worked tirelessly to undo,” such wishful thinking does not provide a firm foundation for criticizing contemporary injustices.

The most troubling thing about the Atlantic article is the static definition of tradition that Wood uses. In his view, tradition is a body of texts. Legitimacy emerges from texts. Practices consonant with the texts – or that are interpreted as being so – are therefore “Islamic.” Muslims who say otherwise – as he admits the overwhelming majority do when confronted with ISIS – do not have much ground to stand on. But the rejection of ISIS on the basis of its distance from the classical tradition and its unacceptability to contemporary scholars who claim to constitute the legitimate inheritors of that tradition is not a panacea either. Too frequently, the weapon of “scholarly consensus” has been wielded against Muslim women who overstep its bounds—not, as ISIS has done, in a quest for domination, but in a quest for dignity.

Kecia Ali, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University where she teaches a range of classes related to Islam. She writes on early Islamic law, women, ethics, and biography. Her newest books are The Lives of Muhammad and the co-edited Guide for Women in Religion, revised edition. Her earlier books include Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (2006),Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), and Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint (2011). She currently serves on the Membership Task Force of the American Academy of Religion and serves as president of theSociety for the Study of Muslim Ethics. She lives in the Boston area with her family.