Friday, 28 December 2007

Liberal vs Progressive

Senator Hilary Clinton is asked if she would define herself as a liberal. I was recently called by a national newspaper who said quite openly to me, 'I am calling you because I wanted an alternative liberal viewpoint'! Not quite sure if I was to be offended but I did feel at unease that I was being boxed in this way. Are the narrow minded conservatives the mainstream viewpoint then? Who decided these paradigms? The progressive voices in Islam are the mainstream...it is just a matter of time before we all realise it:) If you kill one force of liberty another wave will emerge!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto - 1953-2007 - An Obituary from the Heart


It is with great sadness and pain that I write about the untimely death of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. The first female leader of a Muslim country and the leader of the largest political party in Pakistan was assassinated today.

After addressing an audience in Liaqat National Park in the garrison city of Rawalpindi it is alleged that a lone assassin opened fire and shot her in the neck and then detonated explosives strapped on him that killed over thirty people.

This is a shameful and ghastly attack on a political leader and a time of great sorrow for the nation of Pakistan. Since its inception Pakistan has been fighting for its national identity between the Mullah’s who demand an Islamic state and those who sought a state infused with Islam yet progressive and cultural. Benazir was a beacon of progress as she had been aware of the needs of bridging the gap between Pakistan’s rich heritage and the modern world. Every political leader in the world is accused of corruption and sleaze but in every political leader there is something good which they have all contributed to society. Why is it that we hear so little of the corruption charges against other political leaders in Pakistan?



As a woman, Benazir faced great hardship from those men who used every means to discredit her. From using faulty Hadith (sayings of the prophet) against female political leadership to corruption charges, they spared no means to dismiss her. Just recently I saw another despicable way of discrediting her on youtube where someone had posted a fake photograph of her exposing herself. As we are aware that conservative and political Islam places a huge emphasis on the outward appearance of people, especially women, this was a way of saying that she was in some way a lesser Muslim. Another accusation against her was the fact that she did not wear the head covering tight enough.  Against all this non sense, she marched on.



Benazir fought against all of these and showed the world that she was a woman focused on the progress of Pakistan. Benazir, as a woman, managed to lead a nation dominated by men and show the same calibre and charisma that the Qur’an shows in the case of the Queen of Sheba (Bilqis – Surah Naml). To take someone’s life in this way is something far from the realms of Islam and this is an act motivated by a political Islam which angers and depresses me. Let us not forget that the prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was one of the most powerful woman in the land and she was one of the greatest protectors of the prophet when the community refused to accept he was a prophet. The prophet’s other wives were also just as powerful. Aisha is credited with narrating many thousands of sayings of the prophet. I am fully aware of the warts and all that are associated with Benazir but she gave hope to the many hundreds and thousands of women in Pakistan, and around the world, to raise their voices against patriarchy and male domination not just in the political sphere but also the religious and cultural. For how long will we continue to muzzle the voices of women? For how long will women accept their voices to be muzzled because they have accepted patriarchy as a given in Islam?



The politics of Pakistan has a rippling effect on what happens in British/Scottish Islam too as the link between our two countries is strong because of emotional and familial ties of the first generation of Muslims in the UK, who are predominantly from Pakistan, and also the fact that the subsequent generation are still going back to Pakistan to find marriage partners and we continue to import Pakistani born Imams to lead us in the Mosques. Those Mosques who think that they can fool us into believing that there is progress by having British born Imams must not think we are that foolish to realise that they may wear the faces of British Muslim but their training, teaching and regressive Islamic understanding is from the same madrassas (seminaries) who exported the previous bunch!

Pakistan also has a very poor literacy rate and those wanting blind conformity have no intention of changing this status quo. Was an Oxford and Harvard graduate maybe just too much to handle by such people? Did they not want Benazir to be a role model to a new generation of educated Pakistanis who could stand on the international academic platform and be recognised for their expertise? How many international academic experts do we know from Pakistan? Why are the so-called Muslim leaders in Scotland so reluctant in highlighting this courageous woman's contributions to the Muslim world? I find it astonishing that they remain cold hearted and dismiss her even after her death. Even the prophet Muhammad stood for the funeral of a Jewish person stating that he had a duty to stand for a soul had died. Where is the mercy and grace to which Muslims pray to five times a day? Is it then not a weakness of faith when the faithful fail to find a positive word about the deceased? Much soul searching needs to be done all sides!



And so we must all seek progress in Pakistan in order to see progress in the UK. The two are interlinked and will continue to be interlinked for a very long time. The death of Benazir will be welcomed by all the narrow minded Muslim bigots but let there arise from this a wave of progressive voices who shout louder than those who want Muslims to conform as one uniform monolith. God bless us all! May the soul of Benazir be graciously accepted into the gardens of heaven and her sins be forgiven in the same way we seek the forgiveness of every deceased, Amen.


Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Eid and Christmas: Khutbas and Turkey

Eid-al-Adha was an interesting day this year. For one, the car park at Glasgow Central Mosque was not as jam packed with cars as it usually is. However, the mosque was pretty full with a nice atmosphere. The Imam gave a pretty down the middle sermon (khutba) in which good and bad, right and wrong were clearly defined. He said that we must accept when ‘brothers want to dress and look in the way that our beloved prophet did’ or when ‘sisters want to dress in the correct manner’ and his rational was based on the idea that when we have people wanting to follow one, two or no God then why must our dress code be such shock horror. Hmm, somehow I feel the theology is weak for surely there is a difference between what we wear and what we believe? Even the prostitute during the time of the prophet was guaranteed paradise for just feeding a thirsty cat with some water. I found the prayer very spiritual and the Imam did a great job in showing the love and compassion to all in these prayers.

Christmas was sunny! I started the festivities with Midnight Mass at Saint Andrews Catholic Cathedral in Clyde Street, Glasgow. I went with my tennis coach and some other friends. I was amazed so see so many non-white faces, it was one of the most multicultural congregations I had seen in a Church. The sermon was full of many formalities and let’s not forget the incense!

On Christmas morning I went to Saint Augustines Episcopal Church in Dumbarton where Father Kenny gave a wonderful sermon. He recalled a primary school nativity play where a Down syndrome boy had just one line to say, “There is no room at the Inn” for Mary and Joseph. The teachers gave out a sigh of relief that he had managed the lines when they turned to see that he had ran behind Mary and Joseph and gasped out, “But it’s ok my mammy has a spare room that you can stay in!”. A beautiful example of innocent love, a love that at times is non-existent in the adult as it filters through the complexities of our ugly world and loses its place in our hearts. I had Christmas Lunch at a Methodist Ministers house. We sat and watched Her Majesty the Queen give her Christmas speech. She made an interesting point of remembering those servicemen who are out in the battle field as we sit to feast ourselves on a Halal turkey!


I want to keep this short so here are a few of my conclusions to these two important events in the Muslim and Christian calendar. Sermons need to relate to the lives of the congregation. A good step has been taken in Glasgow Central Mosque to recruit English-speaking Imams but we need Scottish born Imams! We need sermons to be in English that talk about Scottish life. Ethics and morality become an ideal without any examples from our lives in Scotland. There are times when I feel there are some examples but it always turns out to be examples which highlight something ugly in Scottish society. For example to highlight the effects of alcohol, Imams will illustrates its negative effect by talking about the binge culture of a few Scots and all the antics of some hedonists on a Friday night! This is not what makes me feel proud as a Scot. If we as Muslims want others to seek the beautiful in our faith then we must seek the beautiful in all that surrounds us too and accept it as ours, correcting what is bad for our society. In the Catholic Cathedral there was a presence of women at the altar, notably when they read scripture. Women must have a presence in Mosques that is visible to everyone. The prophet’s wives did not sit on a balcony and teach the faith! They took an active part in the promotion of good and this is what we need at the very heart and soul of the Muslim life. I pray that everyone had a wonderful Eid and a special Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2007

Salman Ahmed: Music, Liberty, Mullah's, HIV and Pakistan

Salman Ahmad (Urdu: سلمان احمد) is a Pakistani American musician and former actor, who used to be a member of Vital Signs but left after their debut album due to creative differences. He is also a medical doctor. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salman_Ahmad

I came across this al-Jazeera TV interview recently which I thought was great. A lot to think about.