Friday, 28 March 2008

Geert Wilders - Fitna: Alienating the Progressive Voices

Published in the Scottish Herald: Monday 31st March 2008

Listen to Voices of Reason, Not Zealotry

Geert Wilders’ film ‘Fitna’ has been creating the usual flurry amongst Muslims globally, ‘Dutch MP releases film attacking Islam’, and so I decided that I would only comment on the film after viewing it. Having seen the short film I have to say that this is nothing new in the long line of one-sided propaganda that alienates the progressive voices in Islamic societies. I found the film both disturbing and depressing. Disturbing to see the pain and death that ill-informed Muslims have caused in the world and depressed that Islam for some has become a political pawn for global domination, both are far from the essence of God and scripture.

The Qur’anic passages which he has highlighted are passages which are problematic to understand in our contemporary world but, for me, they are a test of faith for Muslims to place them within a context which advocates peace, love, diversity and upholding good. The Qur’an was revealed in a historical context and that context needs to be understood to understand the passages that Wilders highlights. There are just as many passages within the Qur’an that should drive a Muslim to peaceful co-existence with the other. Why are they not being highlighted? Unfortunately,

Wahabbist/political Islam has swept the Muslim lands and suffocated the creative, reasoned beautiful thinkers. The bitter after taste of colonialism has embedded an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality within many Muslims globally and it is a challenge for us all to move forward, united in creating a progressive society. We must accept that there are just as many problematic passages in other sacred scriptures such as the Bible, which have led some to take up arms in their sacred struggle, the Crusades are one such example. But there will always be voices of reason against religious zealots and wealthy leaders such as Wilders should focus on the former if we truly wish for a peaceful world.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Punjabi: Contributing to Civilisation

Although I am a great lover of Urdu poetry/ghazals, I am just as much a fan of Punjabi songs too. So, I decided that I would translate this lovely Punjabi song this time. Sung by the beautiful Naseebo Lal live last year, I am presuming somewhere in England. I watched an interview with Naseebo Lal on Pakistan GeoTV recently and was immediately drawn to her down to earth manner. It was very refreshing.

Some background to the language. Urdu and English are the national languages of Pakistan. It is often understood that the localised languages are inferior to Urdu and English which I totally refute. The localised languages such as Punjabi, Balochi, Pushto, Saraiki, Sindhi all have their own special flavour. It is as if it is more ‘posh’ to speak Urdu than these localised languages. So this translation is to highlight the fact that localised languages also have something to offer to Pakistani culture! And I have to say jokes and humour in Punjabi are just so much more fun! :)

Dedicated to all those in a huff....sort it out! :)

Singer: Naseebo Lal
Translation: Amanullah De Sondy

Appa doway rus betay to mana’o kaun wey
Who will resolve our differences if we both sit in a huff?

Meno ki menona si wey
How will you sort things with me?
Tu wi rus chul’ay o
You are going away in a huff
meno sumujhanda se to, aap uth chulay o
You used to make me understand and now you walk away
Jug wek da tamasha gul la'u kaun wey
Society watches us in amusement the show we display, who will hug me now?
Appa doway rus betay to mana’o kaun wey
Who will resolve our differences if we both sit in a huff?

Appa doway rus betay to mana’o kaun wey
Who will resolve our differences if we both sit in a huff?

Teri chah wich bo’a to’ya kudi ko’lay’a
I occasionally open and close the door with you, my love, in mind
Titrich hauk’ay anoo daubh lay’a to lay’a
I sink and diminish emotions within me
Teri rah wich pulka, wicha’o kaun wey
Who else will lay themselves in your path, giving their self up for you?

Ros’aych nungay pul, hunjo’a day tupkay

The moments that pass in a huff, the tears of emotions drop
Chuna ay jo taray nay jo chur day nay chup kay
Beloved, these stars that rise up so quietly
Tootay taray’a’no lub kay lay’ao kaun way
Who will go and find these broken stars?

Appa doway rus betay to mana’o kaun wey
Who will resolve our differences if we both sit in a huff?

Teray naal naseeb meno zindagi ta sath way
With you is my destiny, my life is with you
Teray bina dil de’a sudra udhas wey
Without you the voices of my heart are sad
Meno hunjo’a dub na bach’ao kaun wey
Who will save me drowning in the sea of my emotions?

Appa doway rus betay to mana’o kaun wey
Who will resolve our differences if we both sit in a huff?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Progressive Muslims Wake Up!

Minneapolis Star Tribune: A New Vision for Islam

By Susan M. Barbieri
Published: October 30, 2004

They are Muslims without a mosque, believers in a new vision of Islam that's taking root in the safe haven of cyberspace.

Shereen Fakier is a young Muslim-born Indian who immigrated to the United States from South Africa after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Karima Bushnell, Trish Kanous and Erik Kamperschroerer are white Americans and converts to Islam. Hassan El-Bakouri is a Moroccan Muslim who came to America in the 1980s.

This diverse group of Minnesotans, whose ages range from mid-20s on up, are members of the fledgling Progressive Muslim Union (PMU) of North America. Tolerance is the cornerstone of the PMU, which advocates speaking publicly against Muslim practices that members consider harmful and divisive.

The organization takes positions that conservative Muslims consider objectionable, even heretical: Progressives support gay rights, a broader role for women in mosques and the notion of borrowing from traditions such as Buddhism and the U.S. civil-rights movement to reshape Islam for modern times.

Not surprisingly, they often have trouble fitting in with the larger Muslim community.

"One of the problems I have encountered as a Muslim is finding the community that's out there to take you in and make you one of their own," El-Bakouri said. "It has been difficult. I went to several mosques, and I just really never found my place."

At a friend's suggestion, he went online to and to find other Twin Cities Muslims who felt, as he did, that tolerance and respect for others in all their diversity is a core value of Islam. He found other progressives to be kind and welcoming. "There is not that rigid way of thinking that is usually associated with some in our community," he said. "They were gracious enough to embrace me."

Now with 14 members and growing, the group meets monthly for Qur'an study, prayer and discussion. One goal is simply to find a physical space in which local Muslims can feel comfortable asking questions and discussing issues without fear or shame.

"It's very broad, it's a large umbrella," said Bushnell, who conducts workshops in intercultural relations. She said the movement provides a way to study the Qur'an and the hadith (Mohammed's word and deeds) deeply with others "without feeling like if I said the wrong thing I'd get squashed or I would have to accept things that weren't acceptable and pretend it's all right."

"Very often if you just go to the regular mosque, you meet a lot of very delightful people, but it's very hard to be yourself. There are a lot of things you can't talk about." In the progressive movement, everyone is welcome -- men, women, people of any ethnic background, Muslim-born and converts, Bushnell said. "That's the beauty of it; there's really room for all these people."

Kamperschroer, who converted to Islam two years ago, agrees. "It's very unifying," he said. "You don't have divisions between Sunnis and Shias, stuff like that. That was a big draw for me."

But by promoting acceptance of homosexuality and women's religious leadership, progressives leave themselves open to accusations that their agenda is not truly Muslim. Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, a leading Muslim organization, said that "creating forums and making them too radical" will alienate other Muslims. "They might have something good on other issues," Syeed said, but their more controversial positions will undermine their credibility and "do a disservice."

Omid Safi, a religion professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and a founder of the Progressive Union, said the movement must take these chances. Progressives will not be "standing outside pointing an accusatory finger" at other Muslims; they want the religion to flourish, said Safi, editor of "Progressive Muslims," which serves as the movement's guidebook. "We're confronting a lot of problematic practices that are part of our faith and our community, while also admitting and acknowledging that there are incredible reservoirs of wisdom for us to draw upon from our faith," Safi said.

The progressive movement is a response to Wahhabism, a version of Islam named for Abdul Wahab that is about 200 years old, Bushnell said. "Traditional Islam can be very conservative in some ways, but [Wahhabism] is very radical. It was considered a fringe movement until recently. It's very exoteric as opposed to esoteric. Very much surface ritual, not depth."

While the Sufis, or Muslim mystics, also emphasize ritual, "it's all things to bring you toward love, it's all things to bring you deeper into the experience of God or to purify or open your heart," Bushnell said.

"In everything that you do, there are these very beautiful, joyful reasons for it. But this other form [of Islam], it isn't really like that. It's like, 'If you don't grow your beard we will arrest you.' It's very harsh."

'Co-opting Islam'

The events of 9/11 helped inspire the progressive movement's birth as many Muslims wanted their voices to be heard, Kanous said. But speaking out and advocating tolerance has its risks, even though the principles are grounded in the Qur'an. "In some countries, we'd be killed or thrown in jail," Kanous said.

"We've heard all this stuff about certain people co-opting Islam and hearing this very conservative interpretation. After 9/11 you did hear a more moderate interpretation, but it was still something that wasn't meaningful in many ways for a lot of us out there. It was a very apologetic view," she said.

Progressives say they don't want schism, they want unity and acceptance among Muslims. Safi writes that at the heart of a progressive Muslim interpretation is the simple yet radical idea that every human life, female and male, Muslim and non-Muslim, rich or poor has the same value -- unconnected to culture, geography or privilege.

"The thing I love about this movement is that it's willing to confront injustice, no matter who's doing it," Bushnell said. "Unjust things are being done in the name of Islam, and even if the people have a lot of money and they're kind of scary, [progressives] confront them. If the injustice is being done in the name of democracy and America, they will confront it just as strongly."

Then there is also the personal side of the movement. Fakier, who grew up Muslim, feels comfortable among progressives because she wants to be free to ask questions and learn more about such things as Islamic rituals around food and attire. The progressive movement has helped her realize that there's more than one way to see Islam.

"It's a space where Trish or whoever can bring their world views and I can have mine," Fakier said. "We don't have to agree, but it's kind of a place where you can come and explore your religion together. This is a space where you can talk about anything, any questions you may have."

Progressive Muslims point out that both the Qur'an and the hadith teach the importance of seeking knowledge. The Qur'an also contains many teachings about diversity, multiculturalism and reaching out to others, Bushnell said. "So to learn from Martin Luther King or from Buddhism or whatever, there's nothing wrong with that. It's within Islam to reach out and acknowledge others," she said.

And the directive to seek knowledge works both ways, Fakier said. When she came to the United States after 9/11, neither she nor her husband would tell people that they were Muslim. But now she welcomes encounters with curious people of different faiths.

"A lot of the time when you meet, people are closed off. And I'm like, 'No, ask me these questions.' I want to have a dialogue going on because I think that's the way we're going to start to heal and also start to understand each other better."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Susan Barbieri is at

Monday, 24 March 2008

Integrated Education: Qur'an Classes

This is something I have a special interest in and hope that folk will realise that integrated education will do more to break down barriers and stereotypes than faith based Muslim schools. I think a way of integrating Qur'an studies into the curriculum will be an excellent compromise to those who lobby for a state funded Muslim school in Scotland. How this would happen logistically is another issue! Why can't we just work together in educating the next generation? Why must we become all isolationist when we put on our 'religious' hats? When will we realise that the religious hat of the other is usually the pretty same as our own?

BBC News
Monday 24th March 2008

Head teachers should allow imams, rabbis and priests to offer religious instruction to pupils in all state schools, teachers' leaders have said. by Hannah Goff

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the move would be a way to reunite divided communities. The NUT said parents had a right to have specific schooling in their own faith, if that was what they wanted. But having children taught at different faith-based schools had led to community breakdown in some areas. Offering pupils some instruction in their own faith could reduce the demand for faith schools, said NUT General Secretary Steve Sinnott.

'Real benefits'

It could be devised in response to parental demand and would be over and above the religious education already included in the curriculum. Speaking to reporters at the union’s annual conference in Manchester, Mr Sinnott said the post-1960s immigration from Southern Asia meant many more Muslim and Hindu youngsters were growing up in Britain. He said: "This had led some people to reflect whether the development of faith schools was something which should be supported in a national context."

The real concern is that youngsters from different backgrounds needed to be educated together, he added. This is not something a school should play with, it's not something a school should create as a second tier of responsibility
Steve Sinnott, NUT General Secretary

"This is more than simple religious education, it's religious instruction. "There would be real benefits to all our communities and to youngsters if we can find a space for parents who are Roman Catholic, parents who are Church of England, parents who are Jewish, parents who are Muslim for them to have space for some religious instruction.
"In that way we could keep cohesion within communities." Mr Sinnott acknowledged the plan would require a "significant rearrangement" of the curriculum but insisted it was not "unworkable".


"What I am saying is not easy with the curriculum demands of all schools. We could have imams coming in or local rabbis or local priests." He added: "In some circumstances we might meet it by some after-school provision. This is not something a school should play with, it's not something a school should create as a second tier of responsibility." "If we did that we could create a drop in support for the initiative in the community," he added. He said the consequences of not adopting the measures would be more faith schools and more divisions between youngsters of different backgrounds. The suggestion comes from a policy document expected to be adopted at the union’s conference later on Monday.

No obligation

But it also comes as delegates prepare to debate calls for faith schools to be abolished. Mr Sinnott said abolition was not the NUT’s policy, but he did want to see fewer faith schools opening. He stressed that no pupils would be forced to have any religious instruction.

Faith schooling is an issue that has divided teachers for some time, with calls for their creation and abolition often debated at teaching union conferences.

But ministers are unlikely to accede to demands for them to be scrapped because they are popular with parents - partly because they tend to achieve good results.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Naseebo Lal: Placing flowers in books...

This is one of my favorite ghazals sung by Noor Jehan originally but Naseebo Lal has done an excellent job on singing it too (below). I went to Naseebo's concert at the SECC last year and have to say she has an amazing voice!

Dedicated to all the wonderful women who have inspired and taught me the beauty of God and life.

Translated: Amanullah De Sondy

Kabhi kitabo mein phool rukna
Occasionally placing flowers in books
Kabhi durukto pey naam likna
Occasionally writing names on trees
Humay bhi hai yaad aaj tuk woh, nazar sey hurf-e salaam likna
I still remember to this day, writing messages of peace with my eyes

Woh chand chehray, woh behki baatay
Those moonlit-like faces, those reluctant words
Sulagtay din tay, mehiktey raatein
The days were confused, the nights were fragranced
Woh chotay chotay say kaghazon pur
Those tiny little pieces of paper
Mohabbaton kay payaam likna
Writing those sweet love notes

Gulab chehro say dil lagana
The heart falls for those rose-like faces
Woh chupkay chupkay nazar milana
Silently…silenty making eye contact
Woh arizo’on kay khwab bun’na
Weaving my desires into dreams
Woh kisa-ay na tamam likna
Writing about the stories that may never be

Meray nagur ki haseen faza’o
The beautiful condition of my valley
Kaheen jo unka nishaan pa’o
If you ever pierce into it
To puchna kay kaha busay woh
Then ask where are you fixated
Kahan hey un ka payaam likna
Where are their messages, I write