Saturday, 30 April 2016

Let the Scholar Speak, Even if it Scares You | Samar Habib |

When ebbing from altruistic motives, scholarship is an epic adventure into the unknown. Habib tells the story of the courage that is at the heart of a true research adventure and why we need scholars to continue to be adventurous and courageous. But as in every epic, the scholar faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles and adversaries on the path of truth and in the effort to formulate and disseminate new knowledge. 

The Myth of Radical Muslims

The dual consciousness of Muslims - by Farid Hafez - 17/12/2015

Published at
All Rights Reserved, Copyright -
Muslims today can no longer think, or ultimately exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. They can never be free of the neverending stream of projections about Islam. An essay by Farid Hafez
Has anything changed for Muslims, since the latest in a long line of so-called jihadist terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 130 people on 13 November 2015? As in the aftermath of any terrorist act, there have been debates on Islam as a religion and on ″its″ role in the attacks. Europe has responded not only with tighter security measures, including calling a state of emergency in France, but also by declaring war.

The attack in Paris was probably not the last: European societies must now face the kind of day-to-day life that has long since become normal elsewhere, complete with attacks and dead civilians. In future, European societies in general and their Muslims in particular will have to deal with issues such as trade-offs between security and freedom. Muslims will continue to discuss what reaction is the most sensible and expedient. Distancing themselves from the attacks? Or condemning them? Do we need the umpteenth fatwa against terrorism in general and Daesh in particular? And if so, who actually needs it?

The European citizens who ascribe to Islam a fundamental affinity for violence? Or the young Muslims who are seeking religious orientation in the face of racial exclusion and the piecemeal return to their Islam? Presumably we will be revisiting these questions again and again in the near future.

What's the impact on Muslims?

In this article, though, I would like to touch on something else that is in reality ubiquitous but scarcely ever addressed explicitly. Namely: what impact does such debate have on Muslims? What traces does it leave behind, what scars are inflicted on the Muslim self-image as a result of this discussion about Islam and terrorism? To illustrate, let′s start with a Facebook post. Recently, a well-educated, politically active adult Muslim woman posted on the occasion of the birth of her child:

"I gave birth to a boy in the Christian hospital XY, with nuns as nurses and a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf at the reception desk; I named him for the most beautiful person and prophet XY, with the most beautiful character and an exemplary life story. Above my bed hung a cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary and her son, the prophet Jesus. Religious symbols? For me, it was the perfect accompaniment for a wonderful new life!"

he post was probably prompted by the announcement by the editor-in-chief of an Austrian newspaper just a few days before that he was considering reviving the headscarf ban debate, at the suggestion of a representative of the Christian Democratic Party.

The post raises many questions: what causes a woman who is giving birth to new life for the first time and is likely to feel emotions of indescribable happiness to cast this unique experience in a political context? What is happening in the mind of this person? The answer to this question may lead us to one of the biggest challenges faced by Muslims today all over the world and especially in the West: Muslims are trapped in the discursive spider web of a pervasive discourse on Islam.

By this, I mean that it is no longer conceivable for Muslims today to think, or ultimately to exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. Simply to exist. To be a human being. To experience a birth without having to interpret the cross, the nuns and Muslim nurses apart from their humanity. To experience and live through a birth. To be free of everything that is constantly projected onto them.

Dual consciousness

In ″The Souls of Black Folk″, the pre-eminent African-American thinker W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963) describes a condition he dubs "double consciousness", by which blacks are only able to see themselves through the eyes of others (whites). They can thus never regard themselves as fully fledged human beings because they are always caught up in a dichotomy, wanting to be human – i.e. normal – but being black – and thus outside the norm.

The submissive subject tries to evade this discursive pressure by making himself invisible. Psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon spoke in relation to Algeria of the desire of the formerly colonised subjects to be white.

Many passed down this inferiority complex to their children, encouraging them to make life easier for themselves by becoming invisible, as Jean-Paul Sartre shows in his preface to Fanon's ″The Wretched of the Earth″. Today there are many Muslims who try to make themselves invisible because they want to be humans, in other words, normal.

And then there are those who publicly avow Islam and thus take on all the challenges and discursive conflicts that this entails. In their effort to counter the hegemonic discourse, they overlook how trapped they are in exactly this discursive web. They have to take a stand. They cannot remain silent. Because silence could be taken as tacit consent to this or that terrorist attack.

Trend towards self-discipline

Recently, a former class representative wrote on the Facebook wall of a Muslim girl who used to be a pupil of his: "To remain silent on the terror in Paris (and elsewhere) means to accept or even to endorse it". If Muslims avow their faith, they are then compelled to answer for it. If they make themselves invisible, they escape that pressure.

In a second stage, this discursive pressure leads to Muslims beginning to discipline themselves. Parents avoid giving their children toy guns in order not to be perceived as radical. Mothers and in particular fathers do not allow their young daughters to wear a headscarf on the way to the mosque, so as not to attract disparaging glances from those who regard this as a sign of subjugation.
Parents begin to bring up their children according to standards that attempt to counter the negative stereotypes, conspiracy theories and horrific imaginings that are part of the discourse.

Caught in the discursive web, it would seem difficult to breathe the air of freedom, to be human, to live a life apart from all the allegations, innuendo and suspicion. And yet it is this very freedom that is the first and most fundamental condition for thinking and living as a human being. In dignity.

© 2015
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

What I Learned Having Sex as a Young Woman in Pakistan

By Zahra Haider
April 26, 2016 
Published at Vice.Com (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)
Pakistan is an Islamic Republic with the highest porn-watching population in the world. That statement in and of itself signifies a particular aspect about Pakistani culture: we are horny and desperate for sex, but God forbid we actually engage in it. Sex in Pakistan is considered a taboo topic. Men generally aren't judged for it in our patriarchal society but if a woman from a middle-class family or underprivileged background is caught having premarital sex, serious shit goes down.

Women from poorer backgrounds could be victims of various forms of premarital punishment. Punishing women for premarital sex started with former President Zia-ul-Haq's dictatorship or "Islamization," which incorporated Zina (stoning to death), and Hudood (punishments such as whipping, amputation, honor killing) into Pakistani law. His government dismissed women's rape accusations, instead labelling them as fornicators and sending them to jail. These draconian forms of punishment are slowly dying out, but still linger in the mentalities of fundamentalists, imams, and police officers. Shariah Law can also be blamed for many gender discriminatory policies in Muslim societies, such as the lack of support for freedom of speech, women's rights, and, ultimately, human rights.

Even though I had engaged in sexual relations with almost a dozen people before coming to Canada for college in 2012, it wasn't something I was open about, and looking back I realize my sexuality was still pretty deeply repressed. Due to all these restrictions on us during the horniest years of our lives, in statistically the horniest country (see the above porn stats) in the world, we were forced to get creative during post-pubescent adolescence.

Achieving an orgasm was done in various ways, including but not limited to: having sex in a car with tinted windows and parked in the middle of nowhere; sneaking into my sexual partner's home in the middle of the night; sneaking into my partner's father's office, which happened to have a bedroom (WTF?). All this was done while making sure that no one in the house was on the prowl to notify my single father who would've freaked out (sorry, daddy). Hotel rooms were especially helpful.

Islamabad, where I grew up, only has two hotels, one being the Marriott, at approximately $150-$200 a night—which, for a teenager who had to bear the brunt of the currency conversion, was a ridiculously high sum. But alas, in Pakistan, even paying for a sexual sanctuary isn't enough. The person who booked the room (the guy) would have to go up first, while the other waited about fifteen minutes to ensure no one from the concierge or security caught on to the fact we were about to have wild, rampant pre-marital sex.

And then if you were caught, you had to deal with a shitstorm of rage. My aunt's boyfriend was beaten to a pulp by my grandfather to "protect her honor." And when my own parents found out about my own tryst, they threw a completely irrational and melodramatic fit about how I was destroying my future and forbade me from ever speaking to the guy again (after notifying his parents and my school). 

Attempting to embrace my sexuality through my clothing was impossible too, because I had to wear baggy, unflattering t-shirts that diverted attention away from the shape of my breasts.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at the Opening of the Ruzbihan Qur’an Exhibition

Chester Beatty Library, 14th April, 2016

A Dhaoine Uaisle,
A chairde Gael,

Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo i Leabharlann Chester Beatty anocht. Tugann an foras céimiúil seo an deis dúinn éagsúlachtí ealaíne agus chultúrtha an domhain a fhiosrú. Tugann sí léargas dúinn ar chultúr na lámhscríbhinne i sibhialtachtaí éagsúla, agus ar an mbealach a chuir an cine daonna iad féin i láthair. Is íontach an rud é go bhfuil a leithéid de sheóid, a bhfuil suntas domhanda a baint lei, ar fáil dúinn ar fad anseo i gcroílár Bhaile Átha Cliath.

It is my great pleasure to open this important exhibition of the Chester Beatty Library, Lapis and Gold: The Ruzbihan Qur’an.  May I thank your Director, Fionnuala Croke, as well as the Library’s Board of Trustees, for the kind invitation to share with you in the wonder of what is a magnificently illuminated manuscript of Islam’s most sacred book.

This Museum stands out as a window opened – with access at the heart of Dublin - onto the culture of the manuscript, that most refined form of human expression shared by many civilisations. I am delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the Chester Beatty Library in making available to all, Irish people and visitors to our country alike, without charge, its wonderful collection of rare books, manuscripts, prints, calligraphies, icons, miniature paintings and objets d’art from the Islamic, East Asian and Western worlds.

It is a collection that means so much to people across the world. For example, when she visited Ireland, ten years ago, the Empress of Japan was keen to view both the Book of Kells, in Trinity College, and the magnificent Japanese painted scrolls and manuscripts on display here.  It is even more important to all our citizens to know what a resource is available to them and particularly at a time when an informed understanding of the Islamic world is key to our shared future.

This collection bequeathed to us by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty is, therefore, a national treasure of universal value - a most compelling invitation to engage with other cultures and traditions through the brilliance of their artistic and spiritual production.

As Minister for the Arts of Culture in the 1990s, I had the privilege to suggest funding assistance from European funding being available in addition to Irish provision for the transfer of the Library from its initial location in Ballsbridge to this Clock Tower Building in the garden of Dublin Castle, which was most successfully restored and extended by a modern exhibition block.  The administrative measures that were required were assisted greatly by the Board of Trustees and in particular by the late Mr. Justice Brian Walsh.  Shortly after the Library moved into its new premises, it was awarded, in 2002, the prestigious “European Museum of the Year Award”, in recognition of the quality of its displays and interpretation.

Dr. Michael Ryan was an enthusiast for the changes and the staff at the Chester Beatty have placed us all in their debt, as indeed they do to-day.  Visitors to this museum, and their number have steadily increased since the early 2000’s, are sure to gain a deeper understanding of both the extraordinary creativity and the intellectual accomplishment of the different traditions and cultures that make up our world. They are invited to wonder at the infinite variations of human imagination and skill, to admire the feats of illustration and calligraphic techniques that form literate culture. All of them also certainly will marvel at the connection between beauty and the sacred that manifests itself at the heart of all of the great civilisations represented here.

The art of illumination offers, of course, a captivating embodiment of this deep connection between form and meaning. In Islamic Qur'ans as in sacred manuscripts from other traditions, the function of illumination is not just to signal and differentiate various sections in the text, but also to remind the reader of the majesty of the holy text, to heighten the intensity of the believer's encounter with it - to glorify, to dignify, to amplify.

This is typically the case with the book around which we are gathered this evening - the Ruzbihan Qur’an. This Qur'an is one of the Chester Beatty Library’s finest manuscripts, but it is not one that easily yields the secrets of its fabrication. Indeed, this beautiful book raises a number of questions, addressed for us in this exhibition.

Although it is undated, it is believed that the Ruzbihan Qur’an was produced in the sixteenth century, most probably in the city of Shiraz, in South Western Iran. As its name tells us, it is presumably the work of Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab’i al-Shirazi, an illustrious scribe who is known to have been born in the second half of the fifteenth century into a family of calligraphers and illuminators. One of the few Shirazi calligraphers who signed their work, Ruzbihan al-Tab‘i al-Shirazi had a prolific output over the period 1514–47, which included not just Qur’ans such as this one, but also copies of secular writings.

Some enigmas remain, however, as to the craftmanship and authorship of the Ruzbihan Qur’an. The research presented in this exhibition has revealed, for example, that the striking illuminations we are admiring today may have undergone alteration at some point in the manuscript’s long history. Some of the pigments examined   under high magnification are, it seems, highly unusual in a sixteenth-century Persian palette, and would be the result of later work.

Who, then, is the author of the Ruzbihan Qur’an? Were Ruzbihan the calligrapher and Ruzbihan the illuminator one and the same person? Is this manuscript the creation of one man or that of several artists and craftsmen over a long period of time? Then, too, for whom was this copy of the Qur’an crafted?

We know that by the sixteenth century, Shiraz had become a major centre for the commerce of illustrated and illuminated books produced in family-run scriptoria. The city also produced precious court Qur’ans. The rich illuminations of the Ruzbihan Qur’an suggest a commission by a powerful figure rather than a commercial production, but the identity of that dignitary remains to be discovered.

Most of those questions and hypotheses raised by the Ruzbihan Qur’an are ones that are, to some extent or another, relevant to the study of many other ancient manuscripts – those captivating traces of old and glorious civilisations; treasures that were passed from hand to hand across the centuries.
May I, then, and it is one of the reasons I feel privileged to be here, is the opportunity it gives me to salute the work of Dr Elaine Wright, Curator of the Islamic Collections, and her team, for advancing knowledge on this outstanding piece in the Library's collection. Dr Wright and her colleagues did not just carry out much needed conservation work on this precious, time-worn Qur’an, but they also took the opportunity of the manuscript’s disbinding to undertake an in-depth study that has yielded important findings.

I am happy to note that, thanks to European funding, yet again, their research has benefitted from the expertise of scientists from Perugia and Paris. This, I believe, can be deemed an inspiring example of European cooperation around cultural objects of universal significance.

It is also worth recalling the significance of the Ruzbihan Qur'an in its association with Persia and Shiraz. Located between India and the Arab world, Persia was indeed the land of such renowned poets, philosophers and mystics as Zoroaster, Hafez, and the great Avicenna. It was a place where multiple influences – the heroic epics of Ancient Persia, Zoroastrian myths, platonic ideas, and Islamic thought – met and cross-fertilised. Islamic Persia was, in other words, as the eminent orientalist Henry Corbin put it:
“A world both intermediate and mediating... an entire spiritual universe, an arena for the history of religions.”
Such insights are of profound significance in today's world, where advocates of a distorted and hateful version of Islam are persecuting those of other persuasions, first and foremost other Muslims, and seeking, in their fanatical fury, to destroy the cultural traces of previous civilisations. That the epicentre of such devastation – which reaches out to Africa, Asia, and even to the heart of our European cities – should affect one of the cradles of civilisation, the holy lands of Iraq and Syria, is particularly tragic.

Making available works of such grace and sophistication as the Ruzbihan Qur'an to global audiences, at this particular historical juncture, is therefore a most powerful statement – and I would like to commend, once again, all those involved in creating this important exhibition.

May I, in conclusion, respect that I am convinced that for Irish and European audiences, the opportunity to encounter Islamic and Persian culture directly is so very important, in a context where Islamophobia and other insidious forms of prejudice against Muslims are rampant throughout Europe. Such prejudice is often fuelled by an ignorance of the politics and history of the  Middle East, a blindness to the many ways in which our Muslim citizens and residents have enriched and continue to enrich European life, and they constitute a misrepresentation of the tenets of the Islamic faith itself.

Agus muid ag ceiliúradh Chóráin Ruzbihan, mar atá muid inniu, caithfimid an sibhialtacht saibhir, ilghnéitheach, as a dtánaigh sé a cheiliúradh chomh maith. Is gá dúinn a chuimhniú gurb as buaicphointe fealsúnacht an Oirthir a tháinig an lámhscríbhínn seo, ionas go gcosnóimid muid féin ó insint réaduchtach ar an chreideamh agus ar an chultúr.  Is gá dúinn a chuimhniú chomh maith go dtagann sibhialtachtaí faoi bhláth trí eolas a bheith acú ar chultúir a dtáinig rompú, trína bheith sásta tuairimí agus tionchair nua a chuimsiú, agus tríd an léann agus na healaíona a chothú.

[To celebrate the Ruzbihan Qur'an, as we are doing today, is therefore also to celebrate the rich and diverse influences that underpinned the complex civilisation of which it is the product. It is to recall a high point of Eastern philosophy so as to better guard ourselves from any reductive version of religion and culture. It is to proclaim that civilisations flourish and thrive through the creative appropriation of their past, an openness to newcomers and new influences, and the nurturing of knowledge and the arts.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Why Islam has to thrash out thorny issues of sexuality, women and its idea of masculinity - The Herald View

Published in The Herald - Monday 18th April 2016
Copyright - All Rights Reserved

I have arrived back to the city I grew up in, Glasgow, to attend and present at a conference being held at the University of Glasgow with support from the Royal Society of Edinburgh on ‘The Unthought in Islam: Gender Perspectives’. The presentation topics are quite varied.

The opening address today comes from Juliane Hammer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill USA on Muslim women and prayer and how American Muslims negotiate gender, practice and space. Subsequent papers will look at women’s Mosques and women Imams amongst the Hui Muslim communities in contemporary China, Eve as a paradigmatic feminine figure in Muslim tradition, Muslim women in Scotland and Shi’a women and self-flagellation.

My own paper will explore Scottish Islamic masculinities which builds on my first book on ‘The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities’. Rigid notions of masculinity continue to cause a crisis in the global Islamic communities.

With current debates on British Muslims at an all time high this conference is both timely and critical.

The recent poll results from ‘what British Muslims really think’, the issues that Glasgow Muslims have faced at the Central Mosque and the killing of the Ahmadiyya, Asad Shah, in Shawlands push Muslims to have open and frank discussions on thorny issues, especially gender and sexuality.

Many of the issues facing Scottish Muslims are connected to gender or more precisely masculinity. Religion does not flourish in a vacuum. It is only a ‘thing’ because of the people that embody it and so we must begin to appreciate how understandings of religion are connected to gender. Muslim communities continue to be deeply male-dominated and this in turn shapes, and in fact shaped, the way the entire faith is seen and understood and the way in which the institutions are structured.

These gendered struggles are not specific only to the Scottish Muslim context but my six years in the USA gave me a first hand experience of this in the American Muslim experience too. However, I did arrive at the conclusion that there is more visibility of diverse approaches to Islam and Muslim life in the USA than in Scotland.

The question is how does one resolve these issue? In my view, the problem may be in attempting to ‘correct’ the situation. The liberal Muslim may like to believe that they can convert the conservative Muslim but realistically that is not always possible. ‘My Islamic is more Islamic than yours’, I hear myself think when seeing these tussles take place amongst Muslims. There needs to be a new approach to strengthen Muslim communities.

Firstly, there needs to be a realistic understanding on how deeply patriarchy is infused within not just Muslim communities but also wider society. And second and most importantly, ‘Islam needs a reformation’ talk needs to stop. The problem with this statement is that it loses sight of the different denominations that exist within Muslim communities. We must also appreciate that one person’s reform is another’s tyranny.

The Islamic traditions from the very outset allowed differences to exist and has always been supportive of counter examples to keep the religious traditions alive in submission to God.

The biggest challenge for Muslims is how to feel comfortable and confident in their own religious understanding and allow for a radically different approach to also be tolerated, equally. So what is needed is the appreciation and acceptance of pluralism. That there is more than one ‘Islamic’ is both an act of social cohesion but, in my view, the very essence of a God fearing submission that appreciates ones own humility and doubt.

When we listen and bring forth the visibility of marginalised voices we begin to see that individual Muslims form and reform their religion every day. What we see today is the visibility of different voices within Muslim communities that have often been invisible.

The heterosexual, male dominated hierarchy is being challenged by voices from the margins from women and those from the LGBT communities. These voices make up the beautiful colours of the tartan of Islam that Muslims need to appreciate even if they disagree with them.

Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork, Ireland

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

University of Glasgow Conference - April 18-19th 2016

Thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful two day conference at University of Glasgow, 
Theology and Religious Studies, on 
'The Unthought in Islam: Gender Perspectives'.
L-R: Dr. Zohar Hadromi-Allouche (University of Aberdeen), Dr. Lloyd Ridgeon (University of Glasgow), Dr. Yafa Shanneik (University of South Wales), Dr. Amanullah De Sondy (University College Cork), Dr. Juliane Hammer (UNC Chapel Hill) and Dr. Maria Jaschok (University of Oxford).

Friday, 15 April 2016

What British Muslims Really Think?

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Friday 15th April 2016
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork, Republic of Ireland
How do we live together as a society? This is something I’m left pondering after watching ‘What British Muslims Really Think’, a programme presented by Trevor Phillips on Wednesday, featuring the findings of an ICM poll. The survey of 1,000 British Muslims presented details that has led some parts of the media making generalisations about Muslim beliefs and their way of life.  In the last few days I’ve also read a large number of comment pieces by British Muslims countering these generalisations.  British Muslims are not a monolith and the various differences from gender, sexuality, denomination or regional variations have been voiced loud and clear. 

I’ve been left thinking how we move forward from this survey.  I’m also left wondering how we would react if a similar poll told us what British Christians or British Jews, or indeed British Sikhs, really think.    

Having spoken to many of my Scottish Muslim friends there is a general discomfort with the findings and it has led some to take a defensive stance.  This is mainly due to the way the findings paint quite a sad picture of British Muslims, but it’s making me question if we can turn this to something positive.  It’s reminded me of when I was a phd student and one of the early reviews of my work deemed it so bad that there was concern I wouldn’t actually be able to complete it.  It only led to me returning to the library with renewed energy and working hard to strengthen my thesis case. 

In a similar way British Muslims have been pushed to self reflect and have those internal discussions on critical subject matters.  Open and honest self-criticism is not easy and has its limits, but it’s important – not just for British Muslims, but for all groups who make up this wonderfully diverse nation. Rather than highlight what one group thinks, perhaps if we can all be more open - both with ourselves and each other- about our thoughts and beliefs, we will be on the road to creating a society where differences are better understood, and we are less suspicious of one another.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

In conversation with Amanullah De Sondy on ‘The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities’ - Published in The Irish Times

A shorter version of this was published in on Tuesday 5th April 2016
The Irish Times
Buy The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities by Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
What is the crisis of Islamic masculinities?
 “Rigid notions of masculinity continue to cause a crisis in global Islamic communities.  In the book, I open with the construction of masculinity which we are quite used to seeing, and that is a highly politicised view, a singular rigid presentation. I use the work of the political Islamist Abul Ala Maududi, who can be regarded as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, and I decided to look at him particularly rather than a political Islamist from the Arab world, because part of my project was to try to decentre our view from the Arab Middle East. If my aim is to challenge a singular version of masculinity than it is also to challenge a singular version of Islam.
Maududi found himself at the end of the British rule and had to construct a very clear vision of what he wanted to see in society, which was links to politics, the state and post-colonialism. So his construction was very much a reaction against the west, and one way he did that was by creating that rigidity of saying, men are the breadwinners and women are the homemakers. But there were other voices at the time, and I look at the philosopher-poet Muhammad Iqbal who knew that Pakistan had to be established on religious credentials but he wasn’t so antagonistic to the west, and then there was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who was more a secular minded individual. You can still see today how Pakistani society wavers between these three ideals.
 “It’s important to understand how driven Maududi was because I can’t imagine being in a country that has been colonised for so long. How would you react against that, and marry your ideas of statehood and religion? So Maududi was a very clever individual trying to do that. But what we lose sight of is the fact that these are human endeavours and charismatic male figures like Maududi have throughout history done an excellent job of positioning themselves where to question them is like to question God.”
 “I go onto to look at the critique of Maududi by Muslim-feminists. They are largely trying to use their own experiences and interpretation of sacred texts to understand their own Islamic femininity but they still want to hold strong to family, and we have to accept that family in any societal construction can be a place to cement patriarchy. How egalitarian can a family structure be where you have a father, son, daughter and a wife?”
What does the Qur'an say about gender roles?
 “You would think the Qur'an would tell you what it means to be a man or a woman but it doesn’t do that. The Qur'an is, and I say this in a positive sense, a superbly ambiguous and dysfunctional text, and the reason the text has to be dysfunctional is because it has to relate to dysfunctional lives. So the Qur'an is full of these men and woman who don’t reall fit this rigidity of Maududi. I give the example of figures who did not fit neat families. You have Jesus in the Koran, who is regarded as a prophet. Jesus had no father; we don’t know whether the Qur'anic Jesus was married.
 Then there was Joseph who fell in love with his step mother; we don’t know whether Joseph got married. The Prophet (Muhammad) was monogamous in marriage to one woman until she passed away but then he had 10, 11, 12 wives. So which model of Islamic masculinity is the one that needs to be upheld?
 And If you look at the story of Adam and Eve I’m not convinced it’s about traditional roles because it doesn’t actually say in the Qur'an Adam was created to be the breadwinner and Eve was created to be the homemaker. The only commandment that was given to Adam and Eve was: Submit to me and stay away from that tree. God only knows how people have arrived at the conclusion that that story is about heterosexual union.  What is common to them all is their individial submission to the one God.  They show us that the highly persona relationship humans and God doesn’t lend itself to organising society because that relationship cannot be replicated or typified.
 So how does this text, that Muslims hold as divine, help us to understand this crisis further? What does it say?  I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the Qur'an is continually trying to focus the believer’s attention on that one, singular commandment which is that they must submit to and obey god. I don’t think the Qur'an is a text which is trying to organise society. It can be read in that way and it can be manipulated in that way but the Qur'an for me is a very colourful and very  thought provoking text which is not a legal text. You can try to box the Qur'an in whatever way you want but it bursts out at the seams because it does not fit neat categories.”
 Why are so few Muslim men feminists?
 “It’s quite simple. Why would a man who is at the centre of everything try to rock the boat. I remember when I was doing my PhD people were saying, why are you looking at this? They were actually quite shocked. It was a Methodist minister who once said to me, you are a fundamentalist because you are going to the absolute foundations and reclaiming the term fundamentalist. And in a sense I think that needs to happen because the ripple effect of doing this type of critique or analysis will help us understand Islamic societies better , and it will allow us to introduce alternative voices, especially those marginalised ones, which have been pushed out because of this imagined centre point in Muslim societies which are normally headed, or policed, by very charismatic, heterosexual men.”
 “And because these Muslim men who have tried very hard to set the boundaries of what is masculine and Islamic, you have a mass exodus towards secularism. For example, I have spoken to many LGBT Muslims and have asked ‘Do you reconcile your sexuality with you faith?’ Many of them will say, ‘No, because we know this is a sin, we know it’s wrong, it’s not Islamic’. And so this begs the questions, ‘Under whose authority have they been thrown out of the centre point, that very category of ‘Islamic’?’  Now more than ever before this needs to be debated.
 “A lot of the discourse within Muslim communities focuses on Islamophobia, and I say, OK, Islamophobia exists but if you only concentrate on that it stops you from critiquing. We need to be able to offer critique while also keeping in mind the sense and sensibilities of Muslim communities.  Keeping that fair balance is a hard task.”
 Has studying this field weakened your faith?
 “No, in a way my own faith has been strengthened by questioning and critique. I do believe that Muslims from the very beginning have thrived in doubt and the unknown. I would regard myself as someone who lives in the real world. I know there is a lot of subjugation and oppression of women globally in the name of Islam so its bridging the text and lived reality but my project is hoping for a long-term impact.  I want to help my students and readers to think and I don’t regard myself as an activist. A lot of people come to me and say, ‘but Aman you have to tell us Maududi’s model is not Islamic’ and I say, I can’t do that, he has a right to access the text in exactly the same way as another Muslim, whose Islam you agree with, accesses the text. That’s not often helpful in our current geo-political climate because people often want to be told what to do. But I hope people will think through this and in turn helps us all to prosper.”

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Noble Struggle - Professor Amina Wadud - Muslim Women Leading

On March 18, 2005, Amina Wadud shocked the Islamic world by leading a mixed-gender Friday prayer congregation in New York. THE NOBLE STRUGGLE OF AMINA WADUD is a fascinating and powerful portrait of this African-American Muslim woman who soon found herself the subject of much debate and Muslim juristic discourse. In defying 1400 years of Islamic tradition, her action caused global awareness of the struggle for women’s rights within Islam but also brought violence and death threats against her.

Filmmaker Safari follows this women’s rights activist and scholar around the world as she quietly but with utter conviction explains her analysis of Islam in the classroom, at conferences, in her home, and in the hair dresser’s shop. Wadud explains how Islam, with its promise of justice, appeals to the African American community. And she links the struggle for racial justice with the need for gender equality in Islam. Deeply engaging, this film offers rare insights into the powerful connections between Islam, women’s rights, and racial justice.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Islam’s forgotten bohemians With its subversive poetry, rejection of politics, and ecstatic rituals, Sufi Islam continues to surprise and to thrive by Nile Green

is professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. His latest book is The Love of Strangers: What Six Muslim Students Learned in Jane Austen’s London (2015).
Published at AEON Essay Online - Copyright - All Rights Reserved

I was lying in the dust, staring into the African sun, when their swords came down on me. The crowd was about a hundred strong, all of them Muslims shouting in a sonic blur. First they began slicing my arms. Next, pulling my shirt open, they cut into my torso. My eyes were closed with pain by the time I felt a blade moving hard across my throat. I thought I would die there, in that poor Durban neighbourhood where, despite the warnings of middle-class South Africans, I had decided to go exploring that evening.

Just minutes earlier, I’d turned a corner into a crowd of African and Indian Muslims. And then I was on the ground, being sawed with swords. When they finished with my throat, a dozen hands pulled me up again. Soaked in blood, I opened my eyes and saw it was just sweat. I was not even bleeding, though the scarlet lines from the sword strokes left wheals in my skin for months. Everyone was shouting, ecstatic. It was a miracle, a show of faith and power in which the Africans with the swords were well-practised. They were Rifa’is, a brotherhood of lower-class Sufis, and in the eyes of the assembly I had inadvertently renewed their prestige.

There are few of these Rifa’is left now, but a century ago they were numerous enough for travellers to give them a special name. They were called the ‘howling dervishes’, as a coarser counterpart to the elegantly balletic ‘whirling dervishes’. That latter name survived as a figure of speech when the ‘howling dervishes’ were forgotten. But this demeaning name hides a history of entanglements between Europeans and Muslims that redefined the Islam we now call ‘Sufism’. Together, European scholars and Muslim reformists decided that the popular and festive traditions of such dervishes were not true Islam, and not even true Sufism.

Writing in History of Persia (1815), the East India Company diplomat John Malcolm remarked that the Islam of the Sufis ‘is the dream of the most ignorant and the most learned’. Two centuries later, Malcolm’s epigram makes a good place to start thinking about the mystical Islam known as Sufism. On one level, it encompasses much of the popular practice of Muslim religiosity: it is an Islam of saints, miracles, pilgrimages, and popular displays of charisma of the kind I encountered in Durban. On another level, it consists of mind-bogglingly complex treatises in philosophical Arabic. This philosophical Sufism dwells on such doctrines as the ‘passing away’ of the lower self, the meaning of the Qur’an’s mysterious secret letters, and the ‘light of Muhammad’ manifested at the dawn of creation from God’s own primordial light.

At the same time, Sufism consists of an unfathomably rich tradition of poetry written in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and many other languages. The West knows little about this literature. This ignorance is a loss, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, because such poetry – and its jokes and iconoclasm – forms a historic literary testament to a shared humanity.

Sufi poetry abounds in humour, learning and bawdiness. The Persian narrative poems of Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi, contain so many sexual innuendos and downright brazen images that Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, the Cambridge don who translated them in the early 20th century, blushingly rendered those parts into Latin. Materterae si testiculi essent, ea avunculus esset is, in Rumi’s rawer vernacular: ‘If an aunt had any balls, she’d be an uncle.’ Another of Rumi’s more notorious tales involves sex with a well-endowed donkey. Such sections have been omitted from Rumi’s poetry anthologies that the enthusiasms of Madonna pushed into the US bestseller lists a few years ago.
Dirty jokes don’t fit with current impressions, learned or popular, of Islam. It’s a dangerous excision. Omitting the rich history of this avant-garde encourages the misapprehension that present-day conservatives have some superior claim to cultural and religious authenticity over today’s Muslim liberals.

More popular, in past and present, than these bawdy tales was the lyrical tradition of Sufi poetry, in which the poet as vagabond speaks the raucous language of the demi-monde, adopting the guise of the homeless wino. In the words of the medieval poet Jamali Dihlavi, the Muslim is the seeker wandering the earth in search of the beloved of whom he once caught the briefest glimpse:
Listen, my boy, to the tales of a tavern-haunter,
So you can roam down the same road yourself.
Whoever becomes a bandit on God’s highway
Will turn to tavern once he’s seen the light.
Dihlavi cut a similar figure to the more familiar Arthur Rimbaud, the 19th-century French poet who, like Dihlavi, plumbs the depths of self-negation before finding simpler, physical ways to lose himself. Like many of the Sufis, Rimbaud immortalised in verse his tortured humanity before walking off into the sunset and disappearing into Africa.

He mirrors the Sufi poets in another way too: spellbound readers make private pilgrimages to Rimbaud’s grave, at his home in Charleville, in provincial Ardennes. Yet, in scale, their visits can’t compare with the adulation shown in the mass pilgrimages to the graves of the Sufi poets of South Asia.

That is why fundamentalists have destroyed so many Sufi shrines and places of pilgrimage: the poetry sung at those places celebrates and advances an Islam that rejects political power

Every year, thousands of festivals around the tombs of Sufi saints in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh demonstrate the vitality of Sufi poetry. Dotted throughout town and countryside, the shrines where these saints are buried still form the focus for the spiritual lives of tens of millions of Muslims. Their doors and rituals are open to people of any religious background; as a result, Sufi shrines in India still play an important role in the religious life of many Hindus and Sikhs. The work of the great Baba Farid, a 13th-century Punjab Sufi poet, also exemplifies this long history of religious co-existence, as his poems form the oldest parts of the Sikh scriptures.

Farid’s poems are still recited in Sikh temples around the world. In one of the verses from the Adi Granth (the sacred scripture or ‘First Book’ of Sikhism), Farid declares in rustic and homely Punjabi:
Ap li-ay lar la-ay dar darves say.
Translation: Those tied to Truth’s robe are true tramps on the doorstep.
The seeker after Truth must become a wandering beggar. The word Farid uses is darves, or ‘dervish’ – literally, a vagrant who goes from door to door. Read again that alliterative line of Punjabi: Ap li-ay lar la-ay dar darves say. It has the simple rhythm of repetition, the call of love’s beggar traipsing from house to house.

What the German philosopher Max Weber described as the disenchantment of the world, modernity’s discrediting of the supernatural and magical, has not been good for these beggars, these mystical troubadours, especially among the Muslim middle classes. Their pilgrimage places, however, retain mass appeal, especially among the large populations of poor and uneducated people. That is why fundamentalists, whether the Pakistani Taliban, the Saudi government or ISIS, have destroyed so many Sufi shrines and places of pilgrimage. The poetry sung at those places celebrates and advances an Islam that rejects political power, an Islam incompatible with the ambitions of religious fundamentalism. It is an Islam antithetical to political Islam, which sees political power as the foundation of religion. Although not all forms of Sufi Islam are non-political, the Sufism of the dervishes renounced political power as the most significant impediment on the long road to their divine beloved. It is a spirit of Islam still very much alive.

I have attended shrine festivals from Morocco to Pakistan where hundreds gather to hear Sufi poetry sung until the audience is brought to tears. These concerts are called layla in Arabic and mahfil-i sama in Persian. They are a continuation of the old Sufi custom of reaching ecstatic communion with God through music. One story recounts how a medieval Indian Sufi heard the following lyrics sung at such a concert in Delhi:
Har qawm-ra ast rahi dini va qiblagahi
Man qibla rast kardam bar samt-i kaj kulahi
Every people has a road, a religion and place of worship,
But me, I say my prayers to the beauty with the tilted cap.
It is an evocative image, the kaj kulah, or ‘tilted cap’: one can almost picture a Chanel advert. When the Sufi in old Delhi heard those lines, he fell into a state of rapture for his beloved, then keeled over and died of heartbreak. At Sufi concerts in India and Pakistan I have seen many scenes of such ecstasy, in which listeners leap up to dance wildly in tears.

In a Persian poem beloved by qawwali singers to this day, the 14th-century poet Amir Khusrow placed love above religious dogma:
Kafir-i ‘ishqam musalmani ma-ra dar kar nist
Har rag-i man tar gashta hajat-i zunnar nist;
Az sar-i balin-i man bar khiz ay nadan tabib
Dardmand-i ‘ishq-ra daru bajuz didar nist.
I am love’s infidel; the Muslims’ creed is no use to me.
My veins are taut like wire; I’ve no need of the Hindus’ holy belt.
So go away from my sick bed you foolish physician:
For the lovesick, the only cure is a glimpse of the beloved.
The enduring popularity of Khusraw’s poetry is just one example of the continuity of classical traditions of Sufi Islam in today’s festivals and performances. The Prophet Muhammad captured the same blend of the sensual and the mystical when he said: ‘Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume; and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.’

For a long time, European scholars found it difficult to see this continuity of Sufi influence. Arthur Arberry, an influential mid-20th-century professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge, saw degeneration instead. ‘It was inevitable, as soon as legends of miracles became attached to the names of the great mystics,’ wrote Arberry in Sufism (1950), ‘that the credulous masses should applaud imposture more than true devotion.’ Recognising the continuity of the grand poetry and philosophy of the Sufis of old might have undermined the authority of European colonisation. Instead, Arberry emphasised the decadence into which Islam in general and Sufi Islam in particular had fallen. ‘The cult of the saints,’ he continued, ‘promoted ignorance and superstition, and confounded charlatanry with lofty speculation.’

Imperial ‘orientalists’ such as Arberry erred in drawing this line between great, dead Muslims and living, decadent ones, between a fragile, fallen Islamic high culture and a benighted world of a Muslim Lumpenproletariat. The orientalists’ influence was so strong that they shaped the way Muslims came to see their own history. Educated Muslims were taught to look down on the ‘decadent’ Islam of the lower classes. But in the poor urban districts across the Muslim world, Sufi poetry is still read today. As they are less likely to speak English, and foreign journalists are unlikely to interview them, Westerners do not often hear from the multitudes for whom Islam is Sufi poetry.
Islam without Sufism is like French philosophy without existentialism, or French poetry without Rimbaud

The Age of Empire, Western Europe’s colonial domination of much of the Muslim world, played a formative role in both Muslim and non-Muslim attitudes to Sufi Islam. Like Oxbridge Orientalists, political Islamists look down on the religious practices of ordinary Muslims living in Asia and Africa as decadent and corrupt. Empire also lay behind the terms in which we have come to address mystical Islam. The more common words by which Sufis were known in their own languages were faqir and darvish. Both signify a beggar.

European travellers’ accounts of India and Iran during the Age of Empire described the fakirs and dervishes as dirty hobos and opium addicts, street people. By the late 19th century, Muslim reformers took this colonial criticism to heart. They blamed the fakirs and dervishes – in other words, the Sufis – not only for Islam’s supposed religious decadence, but also for the Muslim world’s loss of economic and political power. The poor repute into which orientalists and Muslim reformers threw the Sufis contributed to their marginality in Western representations of Islam. This marginality makes it much easier for fundamentalists to portray themselves as the spokespeople of the authentic Islam. However, Islam without Sufism is like French philosophy without existentialism, or French poetry without Rimbaud.

More pragmatically, dervishes were potentially dangerous anti-colonial leaders. In the Mahdist War (1881-99), Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, a Sudanese Sufi leader, led his army of dervishes against the troops of General Gordon in Sudan. In the years that followed, ‘dervish’ in the West became a symbol of fanaticism as well as decadence.

Recently in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, I found The March to Khartoum and the Fall of Omdurman, 1898 (price: three pence), a short pamphlet of poems by Private Henry Surtees dedicated ‘To General Gordon and the Men who fell during the Soudan Campaign’. Private Surtees’s poems make clear the political potential of spiritual language:
We forgot the trying marches
That we went on each day.
We longed to make the Dervish
For his past wrongs well pay.
The lad plucked up his courage,
And had another try;
And ’ere another minute,
He saw that dervish die.
Printed in bold at the end of Private Surtees’s booklet are the mortality statistics, sobering indications of the brutality of empire:
Total of killed and wounded: Anglo-Egyptian side – 50 killed, 342 wounded.
Dervish Side – About 11,000 killed, about 16,000 wounded.
One of the stranger outcomes of the defeat of the Mahdi was all the dervish paraphernalia that British soldiers carted back from Sudan as trophies of war. In the last pages of his unpublished memoirs, General Sir Archibald Hunter made two long lists of the dervish trophies he had collected. Today, those spoils of war provide a unique material archive of African Sufi culture. You will be hard-pressed to find such artefacts in the museum collections of ‘Islamic Art’ from Paris to Doha, funded as the museums are by Saudis and other Gulf states: the Saudis don’t consider such objects to represent ‘true Islam’. Scattered in regimental barracks and stately homes around Britain to this day, the brightly dyed cloaks and battle banners carried back from Sudan lend an extraordinary glimpse into both the artistry and influence of the anti-colonial dervishes. One such patchwork smock hangs on display in the tourist tea rooms in the Cotswold town of Cheltenham Spa. It is an apt place for an old brigadier’s trophies if ever there was one, but a sadly marginalised place for a dervish mantle.

With their colourful patchwork clothes, the less warlike and more typical dervishes – ‘those whose hearts have been broken’, as they often called themselves – made for a pretty sight. Travelling across northern India in the early 19th century, the missionary Bishop Reginald Heber came across two such figures. ‘Two dervishes, strange antic figures, in many-coloured patched garments, with large wallets… the elder, a venerable old man…raised his hand with much dignity and prayed for me.’ Very occasionally, on travels through Iran, Pakistan and Chinese Central Asia, I have encountered Sufi mendicants still wearing this traditional costume.

A hundred years ago, there were many of them to be seen. At the turn of the 20th century, one of England’s great explorers, the indomitable Ella Sykes, saw them regularly while she was living in Kashgar in what is now western China. Sykes described how people would wait for the dervishes to arrive singing new songs, picked up on their travels. She also left one of the most enjoyable descriptions of the dervishes of Iran: ‘They are striking-looking figures,’ she wrote, ‘in white garments of dubious cleanliness, with leopard skins flung over their shoulders on which flow their long unkempt locks from under a conical felt cap, often embroidered with texts. Sometimes they carry a begging-bowl, beautifully carved, and they go from place to place telling fortunes, giving charms and love potions.’ Such dervishes deserve their well-earned place in the history of Islam.
But as valuable as such artefacts and travellers’ accounts are, the most vital way to encounter Sufism remains its poetry. The greatest Sufi poet is the Indian Mirza Ghalib, arguably also the greatest Urdu poet. In his poetry, the deepest humanist and spiritual impulses of Islam find some of their most memorable expression.
Writing of paradise, for example, Ghalib mocks it, doubts it and hopes for it. Thus:
Why would I prize getting to Paradise,If it weren’t for its red wine with the scent of musk? Doubting,
I know the truth, but be that as it may,The dream of heaven keeps me from dismay.And hoping,
It’s all very well what they say about heaven – All I care is that God allows you in to brighten it.
Although he tried to rise above it in his poetry, Ghalib could not escape the world of politics and empire. In 1842, his diminished pension was no longer enough to support him. Despite his fame, he sought a teaching position at Delhi College, which had been established by the British administration in India. He received notice of an interview. When he arrived at the college, Ghalib waited outside for his interviewer to come out to greet him, as any late Mughal gentleman would. But no one came out. Etiquette meant that Ghalib himself would have greeted even the humblest beggar to have called at his door, so he felt sorely aggrieved at the insult. His would-be interviewer, Sir James Thomason, later apologised for the cultural misunderstanding, explaining that, since it had been an official and not a personal meeting, British etiquette dictated that Ghalib come to Thomason, like any interviewee.
During Ghalib’s later years, following the 1857 Indian uprising against the East India Company, British and Sikh troops ravaged the old capital of the Mughal emperors. As Ghalib recounted in his Urdu letters, the daily conditions in which he lived became almost unbearably difficult. He had not, however, lost the sense of humour for which he was known. Citing a friend’s comments about him in one poem, Ghalib wrote self-mockingly:
All this Sufi business, Ghalib! And the expositions you give of its theories!
We’d have considered you a saint – if you weren’t such a drunkard.
Like many a dervish before him, Ghalib died penniless in 1869. As with the poems still sung at the tombs of Sufi saints from Pakistan to Egypt, his verse engages a life of common dilemmas familiar to anyone living in the world. Such poetry exemplifies the humorous and eloquent spirit of Islam which finds devoted followers from Manila to Marrakech. The boisterous Rifa’is who made a miracle of me in Durban are few now. But the poetry of the Sufis is still being recited.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

After Asad Shah's 'religiously prejudiced' death, we know inter-Muslim hatred is a problem in Britain Muslims aren't alone in facing problems with sectarianism, but people who demand respect for their beliefs but can’t afford tolerance to others deserve neither.

By Sunny Hundal
Published in The Independent - Copyright, All Rights Reserved
Sunday 27th March 2016

By all accounts, the death of shopkeeper Asad Shah on Thursday night in Glasgow was alleged to be related to his background. It shocked the local community and a tribute event on Friday was attended by hundreds of people, including Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. But, astonishingly, it is now suspected that Shah was killed by another Muslim man because he was an Ahmadi Muslim. It is the first high-profile anti-Ahmadi incident on British soil, and it has already sent ripples of shock throughout the small community.

Ahmadis are an Islamic sect, founded in modern day Pakistan in 1889. There’s no definitive number of Ahmadi Muslims: estimates range between two million to “tens of millions”, and though they are spread across the world, they are predominately based in Pakistan. Ahmadis are also considered heretics by many Sunni Muslims, and are viciously persecuted in their homeland. Pakistan treats Ahmadis no better than Apartheid South Africa treated black people; that is, with complete contempt.

It’s shocking, but not entirely surprising, that the persecution Ahmadis face in Pakistan has travelled over here. Several British Ahmadis I spoke to say they have known of someone who had been threatened or attacked for being an Ahmadi here in Britain. One anti-Ahmadi group with offices in London organises conferences that spread hate-speech against them; a popular Facebook group sent out a message of “congratulations” on news of Shah’s death.

The persecution of British Ahmadis by other Muslims has become worryingly normalised, yet has remained largely unspoken. In recent weeks, several British imams in Glasgow Central Mosque and Bradford openly praised Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered a Pakistani governor for campaigning against the country’s vicious blasphemy laws (used primarily to persecute and even kill religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadis in Pakistan).
These are not isolated incidents. Last month a group of Muslims in Scunthorpe protested against an Ahmadi mosque being built, and there have been reports of similar incidents elsewhere around the country. In 2010, The Independent reported of hard line Muslims in west London calling for Ahmadis to be killed. In Tooting, mainstream Sunni preachers were found to have urged follower to boycotts Ahmadi businesses.

What’s frustrating for many British Ahmadis is that authorities are only just beginning to take their persecution seriously. Until now, it has been written off as an “internal Muslim issue” for the community to deal with itself. That can continue no longer. As Fiyaz Mughal, who runs the Muslim hate-crime monitoring group Tell MAMA, says: “They are hate incidents and are recorded as such by us.”

There may be deep theological differences between mainstream Sunni Muslim tradition and the Ahmadi Muslim tradition, but this isn’t just a theological debate. Ahmadis have the right to live peacefully and without persecution, just like other Muslims in Britain. An alarmingly large number of Muslims who call for tolerance for their own beliefs seem unwilling to afford that tolerance to other minorities. This is a human rights matter. If mainstream Muslim groups, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, accept that Ahmadis have the right to live here without persecution, why don’t they speak out against hate-speech?

It wasn’t always like this. Being an Ahmadi was only criminalised in Pakistan by dictator Zia ul-Haq in the 1970s after pressure from Muslim hardliners, yet their persecution has worsened since. In Britain, increasing sectarianism has followed the rise of extremists groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and now Isis. The victims of inter-Muslim hatred aren’t always just Ahmadis, but even bigger minority groups such as Shia Muslims.

Of course, Muslims aren’t alone in their sectarianism against religious sects: Christians have a long, inglorious history in this regard. The centuries old Hindu caste system in India also leads to appalling treatment of lower-caste ‘Dalits’.

So let’s call this out for what it is: pure bigotry and persecution. People who demand respect for their beliefs but can’t afford tolerance to others don’t deserve either.

Asad Shah’s death is a reminder that to bend the arc of history towards justice requires speaking out for it, even if it doesn’t directly affect us. Otherwise, we all become complicit in that injustice

Friday, 25 March 2016

Ebrahim Moosa: "What is a Madrasa?"

The recent developments within Glasgow Central Mosque require us to understand who runs Mosques and where they received their education and training. Professor Ebrahim Moosa has written a book on 'what is the Madrasa?' and this podcast will be helpful to this end for those who want to understand.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Imam at Scotland's biggest mosque praises Islamist assassin

Friday 25th March 2016

By David Leask- Published in The Herald - All Rights Reserved, Copyright

The spiritual leader of Scotland's biggest mosque has praised an Islamist assassin amid fresh concerns about the threat of radicalism at the Muslim centre of worship.

Habib ur Rehman, the imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said extremist Mumtaz Qadri was a "true Muslim" and equated his actions with the French resistance against the Nazis during World War Two.
He made his remarks last month as he protested the execution of Qadri for the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who had championed the rights of Christians being persecuted under blasphemy laws.

Mr Rehman's views, expressed to a small group on messaging service Whatsapp - have sent a chill through Scotland's Islamic community as news of them spread among his congregation.

Picture: Imam Habib meeting the moderator of the Church of Scotland
Herald Scotland: Imam Habib meeting moderator of Church of Scotland

Progressive figures in Scotland's Muslim community are concerned that what they called the Old Guard - the conservatives who are desperately fighting to control the mosque - are failing to stamp down on ultra-orthodox or extremist views.

Lawyer and activist Aamer Anwar said it was "rank hypocrisy" for an imam to praise the killing of man promoting religious tolerance.

He said: "Many within the community are horrified and scared that such views will filter down the Muslim community and radicalise our children. To describe a convicted terrorist as a ‘true Muslim’ or draw parallels with the ‘French resistance fighting the Nazis’ is grotesque.

"There can be no moral or religious justification for remarks which glorify murder.

"Silence is not an option, Glasgow Central Mosque must take action otherwise their calls for peace following each terror attack will mean very little."

Picture: Aamer Anwar
Herald Scotland: Aamer Anwar
But the imam, who this week condemned the terror atrocities in Brussels, insists he is being misunderstood and that he merely wished to oppose Qadri's hanging in late February.

He added: "A true Muslim was punished for doing [that] which the collective will of the nation failed to carry out."

The Qadri case has sparked huge controversy in Pakistan and the killer's funeral was attended by thousands, many carrying "I am Mumtaz" placards.

Picture: slain Pakistani politician Salman Taseer
Herald Scotland: Salman Taseer
The assassin, who was Mr Taseer's bodyguard, is seen as a dangerous zealot in the West and among Pakistani moderates but a martyr by fundamentalists.

On Whatsapp a member of the congregation challenged Mr Rehman over Qadri, saying he was "murderer".

Mr Rehman responded: "According to some he was a murder but according to many others he did what was the collective responsibility of the ummat [the Muslim community].

"Just when France was occupied by the Nazis, French did all they had to do to protect their nation. They were national heroes."

Pictures: Imam's Habib's WhatsApp postings
Herald Scotland:
Herald Scotland:
His words came as liberals and conservatives fought a brutal turf war for control of the Mosque amid an investigation by Scotland's charity watchdog.

Independent accountants, as revealed by The Herald, have warned the Mosque is vulnerable to money-laundering.
Dinancial investigator John O'Donnell, formerly of the HM Customs and Excise fraud investigation service, said he believed previous accounting practices left the body vulnerable to "unscrupulous" individuals.

Liberals, meanwhile, have questioned a loan to the ultra-orthodox group Tablighi Jamaat, which is legal in the UK and which has been banned from preaching in Punjab educational institutions.
Progressive figures in Scotland's Muslim community are concerned that what they called the Old Guard - the conservatives who are desperately fighting to control the mosque - are failing to stamp down on ultra-orthodox or extremist views.

The liberal ruling committee of the mosque resigned this spring citing intimidation. An interim committee is in place. OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator, has been investigating the Mosque's governance for months.

A preliminary report last year was hugely criticial of the mosque's historic and conservative leadership.
Herald Scotland: Friday prayers at the Central Mosque in Glasgow
The president of Glasgow Central Mosque, Shafi Kausar, said he did not see grounds to act against Mr Rehman.

He said: "He is entitled to his opinion. I don't think it is right to take anyone's life."

Dr Kausar said he believed Mr Rehman's remarks were taken out of context, which was that he thought Qadri had been unjustly executed when an American, Raymond Davis, in another Pakistan cause celebre, had been allowed to leave Pakistan after killing two people.

Asked to explain his remarks, Mr Rehman said they were a "private issue"; that they had been leaked by "an unauthorised third party" then  "misconstrued and taken out of context" and that they referred to his criticism of judicial process in Pakistan.

Herald Scotland: Exterior of the Glasgow Central Mosque.Picture by Stewart Attwood
In a statement, Mr Rehman said: "The assassination of Salman Taseer is and was widely condemned.

"As the former acting Governor of Punjab and as a private individual, his freedoms and rights should have been respected, in particular his right to life and his right to face due process.
"Personal views about his conduct are irrelevant.

"Whether I agree or disagree with the views he expressed, as an Imam and as a human being I express abhorrence at the manner in which he was executed and convey sympathy for his family.
"The execution was not in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles."

Picture: Imam Habib, far right, with other Scottish Religous leaders
Herald Scotland:
Mr Rehman added: "Similarly, Mumtaz Qadri’s execution is condemned as it is not in accordance with due process nor is it in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles.

"The selective messages disclosed to you by an unauthorised third party have been misconstrued and taken out of context."

"Capital punishment on this particular occasion was inappropriate and any expressions of sympathy or compassion are relevant to that disposal and are extended in my capacity as a private individual and not in any professional or public capacity.

"As far as I am concerned, the matter is a private issue and freedom of expression and criticism of the judicial process in Pakistan are relevant features."

A senior Scottish Muslim, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Rehman's remarks were "shocking". Some parents are understood to be mulling whether to withdraw their children from religious instruction at the Mosque, which is under Mr Rehman's control.

Mr Taseer was ultimately replaced as Punjab governor by Mohammad Sarwar, a former Glasgow MP and a highly influential figure at Glasgow Central Mosque.

The assassination of Mr Taseer was a major event in Pakistan. The politician had championed the cause of a Christian woman called Asia Bibi, who was charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Koran and is now on death row.

Some hardliners believe that Mr Taseer was himself effectively a blasphemer and now regard Qadri as a hero. Accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan are extremely dangerous. Mobs have killed scores of blasphemers in recent years.

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