Saturday, 9 February 2008

Archbishop Rowan Williams Vs Professor Abdullahi An-Na’im: The Future of Shar'ia

Archbishop Rowan Williams has come under fire for stating that certain elements of Islamic Law (Shar’ia) are ‘unavoidable’ in Britain. There have been calls for his resignation by senior Church of England members and also criticism from within the Muslim communities.

I’m not quite sure where to start with this one. What are the real issues at stake here? If the criticism is against the current state of Shar’ia Law which I believe is a historical law which was best suited for medieval times then this I fully support. Islamic Law was never stagnant. Let me be absolutely clear here that Islamic Law is not a ‘divine law’, it is a mixture of Qur’anic passages and practices and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad but they are presented to support the jurists opinion on matters. In what way is this then ‘purely divine’? The literal meaning of ‘Shar’iah’ is ‘way to the watering hole’, which means that a Muslim’s practices must continue to spiritually flow in the same way that water does. Has this happened over the years? Has there been a constant development of Islamic Law since its inception? Has certain aspects of the law kept up with current social norms which were not prevalent during medieval times? For example during medieval times there was a practice for men to have multiple wives but today western societies do not accept this as a social norm, has Islamic Law developed to keep this argument in mind? Is this stagnant historical Shar’iah to blame for the neither here nor there Scottish/British Muslims who fail to bridge the gap between medieval Islam and the contemporary world? Stuck between upholding a past that doesn't quite fit in to todays world. Has anyone even bothered to bridge this gap? A lot of Muslims talk about ‘ijtihad’, which is creative independent reasoning, but to what extent is this happening? Everyone is calling for reform in Islamic cultures and societies but how many Muslims are willing to get their hands dirty and speak out against injustice? Islamic Law was established to uphold peace, safety and security in society so when it fails to do this we must certainly reconsider the issues. And if the criticism is by ignorant folk who have no understanding what Islamic Law is except the chopping of hands and heads then my answer to them is go and understand what the Shar’ia is before you base your opinion on stereotypes and prejudices. I have no time of day for those who abuse critical thinkers seeking progress in order to further their own prejudices and hatred.

I’ve raised the questions and now I want to point you in the direction of one of my most beloved and respected teachers, Professor Abdullahi An-Na’im who is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law. His specialties include human rights in Islam and cross-cultural issues in human rights, and is the director of the Religion and Human Rights Program at Emory. He argues for a synergy and interdependence between human rights, religion and secularism, instead of a dichotomy and incompatibility between them. An-Naim is originally from Sudan, where he was greatly influenced by the Islamic reform movement of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. I had the good fortune of learning from him during my time working on a social justice philanthropy project for the Ford Foundation New York.

This is Professor An-Na’im’s current project in his own words:

"The main objective of this project is to promote the future of Shari`a among believers and their communities, but not through the enforcement of its principles by coercive powers of the state. By its nature and purpose, Shari`a can only be observed freely by believers, and its principles lose their religious authority and value when enforced by the state. From this fundamental religious perspective, the state must not be allowed to claim the authority of Islam. It is true that the state has its proper functions, as explained below, which may include adjudication among competing claims of religious and secular institutions, but that should be seen as performing secular functions of a political institution, without allowing the state to claim religious authority as such. It is also true that the religious beliefs of Muslims, whether as officials of the state or private citizens, always influence their actions and political behavior. However, these are good reasons to keep a clear distinction between Islam and the state, as well as between the state and politics.

My purpose is to affirm and support the institutional separation of Islam and the state as necessary for Shari`a to have its proper positive and enlightening role in the lives of Muslims and Islamic societies. This view can also be called ‘the religious neutrality of the state’, whereby state institutions neither favor nor disfavor any religious doctrine or principle. The object of such neutrality, however, is precisely the freedom of individuals in their communities to favor, dispute, or modify any view of religious doctrine or principles. This does not mean that Islam and politics should be completely separated, as this is neither necessary nor desirable. The separation of Islam and the state while maintaining the connection between Islam and politics allows the implementation of Islamic principles in official policy and legislation, but subject to safeguards. This view is premised on a difficult distinction between the state and politics, despite their obvious and permanent connection.

The distinction between the state and politics therefore assumes constant interaction among the organs and institutions of the state, on the one hand, and organized political and social actors and their competing visions of the public good, on the other. This distinction is also premised on an acute awareness of the risks of abuse or corruption of the necessary coercive powers of the state. It is necessary to ensure that the state is not simply a complete reflection of daily politics because it must be able to mediate and adjudicate among the competing visions and policy proposals, which require it to remain relatively independent from different political forces in society. Since complete independence is not possible either, it is sometimes important to recall the political nature of the state because it cannot be totally autonomous from those political actors who control the apparatus of the state. Paradoxically, this reality of connectedness makes it necessary to strive for separating the state from politics, so that those excluded by the political processes of the day can still resort to state organs and institutions for protection against the excesses and abuse of power by state officials."

You can view a lecture by Professor An-Na'im on this at:
More Info:

Friday, 8 February 2008

Fairuz: The Arab Diva of Love

I read with interest that the great singer of the Arab world Fairuz had performed in Damascus. If only I had been there to listen to her great voice. I was in Damascus in 1999 and have to say that I came across many a lovers of Fairuz's mesmerizing voice.

Fairuz (born: Nouhad Haddad) was born in 1935 to a modest Syriac Orthodox family. Fairuz is known as Ambassador to the Stars, The Arabs Ambassador, Neighbor to the Moon and Poet of the Voice. She has sang around 1500 songs and sold around 80 millions records worldwide. One commentator states; "To the Arab world Fairuz came suddenly, as a miracle. At a time when Arabic singing was weighed down with convention and predictability, and spirits were nationally at their lowest, her voice rang, as though from the beyond, the notes of salvation and joy. Arabic music has never been the same since. Nostalgic but vibrant, sad but defiant, folkloric and yet so new, hers has been for nearly 30 years perhaps the only voice that seems so capable of jubilation in an almost cosmic sense. By turns mystic and amorous, elegiac and fiery, her singing has expressed the whole emotional scale of Arab life with haunting intensity. Often singers give listeners pleasure, as they expect. She often gives them, beyond their expectation, ecstasy" Jabra Ibrahim Jabra.

I came across Fairuz during my masters study in Jerusalem studies. Her famous song about walking down the old streets of Jerusalem was something extraordinary for me at that time. I had not been to Jerusalem, let alone the Old City and now having been there four times in four years I can understand what she was singing about.

Fairuz sings a song in admiration of Mary, Mother of Jesus.

O virgin Mary
You transcended the sun and the moon
and each star traveling the skies

O mother of Jesus
O my mother, my hope
Don't let me down if I ever sin

O star of the morning
shine in our places of worship
And light up our minds, ears and eyes

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Poetry for the Day: Lovers and Longing

My favorite Urdu poet...Mirza Ghalib....

Hazaron khvahishen aisi kih har khvahish pe dam nikle
Bahut nikle mere arman lekin phir bhi kam nikle


My longings were in thousands,
To fulfill each I could die.
Though many were fulfilled,
Others were a far cry.

It is said that Mirza Ghalib wrote this poem for his dearly beloved courtesan, Mughal Jaan. Even though he was married to Umrao Jaan, it was part of Mughal culture to frequent the courtesans. In the YouTube clip you can see Mughal Jaan singing the ghazal.

ye na thee hamaree qismat ke wisaal-e-yaar hota
it was not in my fate to meet my lover
agar aur jeete rehte yahee intezaar hota
had I lived longer, this would still be my only desire

tere waade par jiye ham to ye jaan jhoot jaanaa
to live on your promise is to make my life a lie
ke khushee se mar na jaate agar 'eitabaar hota
would I not have died of happiness if i trusted it

teree naazukee se jaana ke bandha tha 'ehed_booda
from your frailty I learnt that the promise was delicate
kabhee too na tor sakta agar oostuwaar hota
it would not stand broken had you been determined

koee mere dil se pooche tere teer-e-neemkash ko
someone ask me about your half-drawn arrow
ye khalish kahaan se hotee jo jigar ke paar hota
would i even feel this pain if it had pierced my heart

ye kahaan ki dostee hai ke bane hain dost naaseh
what kind of friendship is this, that friends are now advisers
koee chaarasaaz hota, koee ghamgusaar hota
someone should ease my pain, someone sympathize with me

rag-e-sang se tapakta wo lahoo ki phir na thamta
from every nerve drips blood without restraint
jise gham samajh rahe ho, ye agar sharaar hota
as if that which you think is anguish is but a spark

gham agarche jaan_gulis hai, per kahaan bachain ke dil hai
threatening as love is, there is no deliverance from the heart
gham-e-ishq gar na hota, gham-e-rozgaar hota
if not the torment of love, it would be the torment of life

kahoon kis se main ke kya hai, shab-e-gham buree bala hai
whom shall I narrate the pangs of these evenings of sorrow
mujhe kya bura tha marna agar ek baar hota
i would have not resented this death, had it come only once

hue mar ke ham jo ruswa, hue kyon na gharq-e-dariya
that I died and was disgraced, why was I not just drowned
na kabhee janaaza uthata, na kaheen mazaar hota
never was there a funeral, no where was a tomb erected

usay kaun dekh sakta ke yagaana hai wo yaktaa
who can see him since his Oneness is without peer
jo dooee ki boo bhee hotee to kaheen do chaar hota
even the scent of his duality would be an introduction

ye masaail-e-tasawwuf, ye tera bayaan 'Ghalib'!
this mysticism, these statements of yours Ghalib
tujhe ham walee samajhate, jo na baada_khwaar hota
you would be a saint, if only you were not inebriated

Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto

"I fear for the future of Pakistan. Please continue the fight against extremism, dictatorship, poverty and ignorance,"
Benazir Bhutto

I wanted to promote the book which may enlighten us further on her vision for a progressive Pakistan and Muslim world.

Amazon Synopsis of book reads:

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, after eight years of exile, hopeful that she could be a catalyst for change. Upon a tumultuous reception, she survived a suicide-bomb attack that killed nearly two hundred of her countrymen. But she continued to forge ahead, with more courage and conviction than ever, since she knew that time was running out—for the future of her nation, and for her life.

In Reconciliation, Bhutto recounts in gripping detail her final months in Pakistan and offers a bold new agenda for how to stem the tide of Islamic radicalism and to rediscover the values of tolerance and justice that lie at the heart of her religion. With extremist Islam on the rise throughout the world, the peaceful, pluralistic message of Islam has been exploited and manipulated by fanatics. Bhutto persuasively argues that America and Britain are fueling this turn toward radicalization by supporting groups that serve only short-term interests. She believed that by enabling dictators, the West was actually contributing to the frustration and extremism that lead to terrorism. With her experience governing Pakistan and living and studying in the West, Benazir Bhutto was versed in the complexities of the conflict from both sides. She was a renaissance woman who offered a way out.

In this riveting and deeply insightful book, Bhutto explores the complicated history between the Middle East and the West. She traces the roots of international terrorism across the world, including American support for Pakistani general Zia-ul-Haq, who destroyed political parties, eliminated an independent judiciary, marginalized NGOs, suspended the protection of human rights, and aligned Pakistani intelligence agencies with the most radical elements of the Afghan mujahideen. She speaks out not just to the West, but to the Muslims across the globe who are at a crossroads between the past and the future, between education and ignorance, between peace and terrorism, and between dictatorship and democracy. Democracy and Islam are not incompatible, and the clash between Islam and the West is not inevitable. Bhutto presents an image of modern Islam that defies the negative caricatures often seen in the West. After reading this book, it will become even clearer what the world has lost by her assassination.

About the Author
Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996, and the chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Born in 1953 in Karachi, Bhutto was the first woman ever to lead a Muslim state. She lived in exile since 1999 and had returned to Pakistan in October 2007, two months before her assassination.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Gay and Muslim: A Jihad for Love

I heard that this documentary was being released and saw this BBC report. Thought it might be of interest. Some interesting points raised. A lot of folk might want to brush this one under the carpet but I think that this is something that needs to be pondered over. No right or wrong answer when it comes to sexuality. What scared the living daylights out of me was when a 17 year Glasgow boy emails me to tell me that he is contemplating suicide because he feels he will never fit into the Muslim community and never be 'accepted and loved'. How do you answer that one?