Friday, 25 September 2009

Meda Ishq Vi Tu – You are also my Love

Celebrating Eid away from home (Scotland) was not easy for me but I was pleasantly surprised to have the good fortune of spending it with two new colleagues and friends and their families, Professor Naeem Inayatullah and Professor Asma Barlas who are both in the Politics Department at Ithaca College.

During our wonderful conversations the topic of music and ghazals came up. It was at this point that Naeem introduced me to Pathanay Khan’s ‘Meda Ishq Vi Tu’ – I had heard parts of Ghulam Farid’s Kafi (more on Ghulam Farid: with the ‘Radeef’ (refrain) on ‘Vi Tu’ – ‘are also you’, in the songs of Attaullah Khan EesaKhailvi. I also remember that I was once abruptly told to put off this song playing in my car because it was ‘idolatry’. The memory of that moment came flooding back after I heard Pathanay Khan’s beautiful rendition of this Kafi which has pushed me to re-examine this piece in light of my thoughts today. Is this really idolatry? Or is this truly about the Beloved (God)? So here is the Kafi and my simple commentary. I am also grateful to Saba who focused my attention to these ‘youtube’ clips without knowing that I was already thinking about this Kafi. I am taking some of the translations that I found on the web and adding my own translation. Leaving you all to ponder and reflect upon the words…

‘These knots, knots…my beloved, these knots by the hundreds

The material world, the difficulties, the pain, the splendor, oh how they have taken over my eyes and ended me in difficulty…knots…these knots

These eyes weep, they weep, complain, turmoil, recalling the troubles that emerge from you, these knots are attained, over and over again

Oh friend, Farid, they are surely blessed who are attached to the beloved’

Even though God ‘bestows’ knots, difficulties in the body and eyes of the believer there still remains a passion of attaching/associating oneself to the Beloved (God).

Translated by Asif J Naqshbandi
You Are My Ardour
You are my ardour, my friend, faith, creed.
You are my body, you are my spirit, heart, soul.
You’re the direction towards which I pray.
You are my Mecca, my mosque, my pulpit.
You are my holy books and my Koran.
You are my religious obligations,
My Hajj, charity, fasting, call to prayer.
You are my asceticism, worship,
My obedience and my piety.
You are my knowledge and you’re my gnosis .
You’re my remembrance, my contemplation
You are my tasting and my ecstasy.
You are my love, my sweet, my darling, my honey
You are my favorite, and my soulmate!
You’re my spiritual preceptor, my guide ,
You are my Shaykh and my Enlightened One
You are my hope, my wish, my gains, losses.
You’re all I see, my pride, my deliverance.
You’re my faith, my honour, modesty, glory
You’re my pain, sorrow, my crying, playing
You are my illness and my remedy.
You are what lulls me to a peaceful sleep.
You are my beauty and my fate, fortune, fame.
You are my looking, enquiring, seeking
You are my understanding, my knowing
You are my henna, my collyrium,
My rouge, my tobacco, my betel-leaf!
You are my terror, my passion, madness
You’re my crying and my lamentation.
You are my Alpha and my Omega,
My Inner, Outer, Hidden, Manifest.
If, O’Belov├ęd, you accept Farid
You are my Sovereign and my Sultan.

Who is the ‘you’? What does this ‘you’ really mean to us? If God is love then the entire material world, ritualized life must be imbued in that love which pushes us to consider how can such a passionate world view be physically manifested? Is this a wrong view of spirituality? Love can never be idolatry – love is always God.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

When Can You Say That a Person is No Longer a Muslim?: Q&A with Professor Abdullahi An-Naim

How To Improve the Qualities of the Ulamas So the Real Values of Islam Are Taught: Q&A with Professor Abdullahi An-Naim

Why I Need a Secular State: Abdullahi An-Naim

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan defends his views
By Henry Chu
September 22, 2009
Reporting from London

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan defends his views
The Swiss-born thinker, who was denied a visa to teach in the U.S., says he is a reformist interested in a 'post-integration discourse' to explore the ways Muslims in the West can contribute.

Liberal Muslim or closet fundamentalist? Peaceful intellectual or militant in sheep's clothing?

Tariq Ramadan has been called all these things -- and more -- by his friends and foes. Whatever the truth, the Swiss-born Oxford University professor ranks among the most influential thinkers in the Muslim world.

The grandson of the man who founded the radical Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan drew attention in the United States in 2004 when he was denied a visa to take up a post at the University of Notre Dame because he had given money to a Swiss-based charity that the U.S. later alleged had linked to the militant group Hamas. (In July, a federal appeals court ordered that Ramadan's case be revisited.)

Another controversy erupted last month when Ramadan was fired as an integration advisor to the Dutch city of Rotterdam, which said that his hosting of a show on an Iranian state television network could be seen as an endorsement of the Tehran government. Ramadan calls his dismissal a politically motivated decision to appease Rotterdam's anti-Muslim populist party.

Ramadan, 47, recently gave an interview in London, where he lives with his wife and their four children. His comments have been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Doesn't it bother you to work for and appear on a television station run by the Iranian government, which many see as a propaganda tool of a repressive regime?

I took three months to decide to be involved in this, three months where I talked to people who are not all supportive of the government. Quite the opposite: people who were jailed in Iran, people who are against [the government]. They told me, "Look, if they are giving you this window for you to come with your ideas, to spread around your interpretations, do it" . . .

I'm not at all someone . . . who is through this program supporting the regime. I am a free intellectual and free mind. What I want people to see and to assess is the program itself, to watch the program. You will see with the program I am inviting . . . rabbis, priests, women with head scarf, without head scarf, and having an open discussion.

Can you and have you criticized the Iranian government on this program?

It's not a political program. The program is a philosophical, religious program on [Koranic] interpretations and contemporary issues dealing with religion and philosophy.

You've been called a liberal Muslim reformist and an Islamist in sheep's clothing, with ties to extremist and militant thinkers and groups. How do you describe yourself?

I am a reformist Muslim; I am a reformist scholar. . . . I take the Koran seriously. For me, these are texts that are Islamic reference.

But I'm also facing the contemporary world, so it's a dialectical process between being faithful to universal principles and to take history and context into account.

Critics say that you have made equivocal statements on women's rights, failed to condemn stoning as a punishment, described homosexuality as deviant and referred to the Sept. 11 attacks and the Madrid attacks as an "intervention." How do you respond?

My position on homosexuality is quite clear. . . . Islam, as Christianity, as Judaism, as even the Dalai Lama . . . [are] not accepting of homosexuality, saying that this is forbidden according to the principles of our religion. . . . My position, with homosexuals, is to say, "We don't agree with what you are doing, but we respect who you are," which I think is the only true liberal position that you can have. . . .

My position on the death penalty, stoning and corporal punishment is once again quite clear. There are texts in the Koran and in the prophetic tradition referring to this. But I have three questions to ask Muslim scholars around the world: What do the texts say, what are the conditions to implement [the punishment], and in which context? As long as you don't come with a clear answer to this, it's un-implementable, because what we are doing now is betraying Islam by targeting poor people and women. . . .

You have been accused of saying one thing for Western, liberal, non-Muslim audiences and another thing -- more dogmatic, conservative and possibly extremist -- for Muslim ears. Is your message the same to both communities?

If this was the case, would I be banned on both sides, in the United States but also Saudi Arabia?

So what is your message?

My message [has] different levels and different dimensions. . . .

In the West, I am talking about "post-integration discourse." Integration is over. We are American, we are Canadian, we are European. And we are Muslims. The point for us now is not to integrate; it's to contribute. What we want for our fellow citizens is to integrate us in their minds, to integrate the fact that Muslims are their fellow equal citizens, which is not [yet] the case. We are still "the others.". . .

In Muslim-majority countries, [my message] is really to promote . . . emancipation and liberation [from] anything that has to do with dictatorship, and to promote the five main principles that for me are indisputable: rule of law, equal citizenship, universal suffrage, accountability and separation of powers. . . .

How would you see a Muslim democratic state as different from a Western secular democratic state? What would it look like?

I don't know, because I don't have a model. For me, talking about an Islamic state in the [abstract] doesn't mean anything. What I want for every single society is to respect these five principles. . . . I am sure that the Egyptian model will be different from the Iraqi model, and the Iraqi model will be different from the Saudi model.

Do you feel there is more mistrust of the West by Muslim-majority countries, or more mistrust of Muslims by Western countries?

I think it's exactly the same. . . .

[For] Western Muslims, as well as Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, the perception is that the West has an agenda, which is to dominate us. There is nurturing, sometimes, [of] a victim mentality. On the other side, we have also a victim mentality in the West: "Look at these people. Silent colonization. They come; they are taking our homes, our jobs." . . .

We live in a world of globalized victimization. I'm saying to the Muslims, "Stop with the victim mentality. Yes, you are facing discrimination, but stop with the victim mentality, [which] is nurturing this sense of alienation." And to the West, it's also saying, "Look, to come to a better understanding, it's a question of mutual education and mutual respect."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Monday, 21 September 2009

Young Muslims use punk to loosen their religion

Chicago Sun-Times, USA
September 20, 2009

The notion of Muslims playing punk rock may seem like incongruous cultures -- profanity-laden lyrics following the religion's traditional greeting ("Salaam aleikum"), melodic Middle Eastern strumming punctuates noisy guitar feedback, purple and red mohawks and Arabic-scripted tattoos. But for the second-generation Americans leading this contemporary cultural movement, Muslim punk isn't just an irreverent juxtaposition.

"It makes sense," said 23-year-old Marwan Kamel, a Syrian-American and the lead guitarist for Al-Thawra, an experimental punk band whose name is Arabic for revolution. "You've got this pull from both sides when you're one of the first kids in your family to grow up in America. That's the thing that's so punk about it, 'cause that's what it's all about -- feeling f---ing different."

Al-Thawra and a handful of other bands build communities online and tour across the country under the banner of taqwacore -- a term that fuses the words hard-core and taqwa, Arabic for piety.

The taqwacore scene spans the religious spectrum -- Muslims, mystics and atheists -- all sharing a real, first-person understanding of the effect religion has on their world. After all, these guys were in high school at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Having faced discrimination and the struggles of dual identity, they're now offering up a space for young Muslims to express themselves outside of Islam's traditional settings.

With a rebellious attitude and unabashed criticism of both East and West, Muslim punk highlights the breadth of Islamic practice and piety. For this colorful crew, donning patchwork jackets and taking slow drags from hookah pipes, religion is more personal than institutional or dogmatic.

For the most part, the bands drink and smoke, in excess, despite Islam's prohibition of both. When driving from coast to coast on tour, they're not stopping to break out prayer mats for the obligatory five-times-a-day salat.

But just because they aren't practicing Islam in the traditional way doesn't mean they don't still consider themselves religious Muslims.

"It's infinitely more pious to be true to your heart, because that's where religion really lives," said Kamel, who grew up in the Chicago area, raised by a Muslim father and Catholic mother.

Last week, a few taqwacore bands performed in a space not even tall enough for the musicians' mohawks -- a barely 6-foot-high basement under Kamel's apartment on Chicago's West Side. His band played alongside the Kominas, touring taqwacore rockers from Boston.

The sweaty crowd chanted along with the religious references and politically charged lyrics, written slightly tongue in cheek -- but mostly with tongue stuck out. Their song titles have shock value. The opening act sang a song dubbed "I Pray Every Day Because I Don't Want to Die." The Kominas are best known for their catchy hit "Suicide Bomb the Gap."

"It's about the false dichotomy between East and West, talking about those gray zones," said Kamel. Thousands listen to Al-Thawra and the Kominas on their MySpace pages, with popular songs racking up nearly 10,000 plays thus far.

Muslim in-betweeners

While this generation's immigrant parents remain loyal to their home countries, and Muslims in their 30s and 40s having more fully assimilated into American culture, the taqwacore group finds themselves in between.

"The younger kids are more religious, but also more civic-minded," said Syed Ali, a sociology professor at Long Island University in Brooklyn, who researches second-generation Muslims. "They are very adamant about saying, 'I am a Muslim,' but also adamant about saying, 'I am an American, and I have these rights and no one's gonna screw with me.'"

From this contemporary Muslim-American experience comes their no-holds-barred criticism of both East and West. Band members say their music is a way to show fellow young Muslims that they don't have to limit themselves to conventional notions of religion.

"It's OK to approach Islam on your own terms," said Imran Malik, 25, the Kominas' drummer, wearing a cut-off black T-shirt with a picture of a spiky-haired Muslim kneeling for prayer.

Malik joined the band earlier this year after finishing medical school in Pakistan, where he also played for indie rock and punk groups. While there, the Princeton, N.J., native took the time to consider his own relationship with Islam and came to realize he was an atheist.

Many young Muslims like him connect with the cultural aspects of their religion but not the theological ones. Professor Ali at Long Island University said it's similar to secular Jews in the United States, people who connect to homeland and tradition and readily identify with the group but don't embrace its religious dogmas.

"I don't believe in God, but I see that religion has importance," said Malik. "It means different things for different people, and it's great that we can gather together under the term taqwacore."
Breaking it down

That word is taken from The Taqwacores, a novel about imaginary Muslim punk bands, written five years ago by Michael Muhammad Knight, an American convert to Islam. The countercultural-types that read Knight's fiction contacted him about the made-up scene and have since brought Muslim punk to life in concert venues, bars, hookah cafes and dimly lit basements, labeling themselves with the book's title (also the name of an independent feature film Knight is producing this year).

Real-life taqwacore spans musical styles and levels of religious dimension, band members say.

"I don't know if it's all that Muslim or if it's all that hard-core," said Kamel, whose own upbringing in Islam was more based in family tradition than teachings from a mosque. "Taqwacore is more about earnestness in music and earnestness in religion. Different people are in different places in terms of those things."

At a recent taqwacore show in Chicago, Kamel and Malik sat in a circle with a dozen or so other performers, fans and friends on the dirty floor littered with empty beer cans, clapping along to the loud chords of an electric guitar.

Omar Waqar, a Washington D.C.-based artist performing on tour with the Kominas, belted out a song about the partition of India, its lyrics scrawled in a black composition notebook set next to the stage.

Waqar cites his Sufi mysticism as inspiration, referring to one song as "qawwali," a type of devotional music from Pakistan and northern India. The crowd, most in their mid-20s, chants along, "They call it partition, it's more like separation!" singing out against a political event that took place decades before any of them were even born.

In America, Islam skews young, with a greater proportion of adherents under 30 than any other major religious group, according to the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life. These Muslims in their 20s are twice as likely to report instances of discrimination than older ones, but they're also more likely to find support and solidarity from non-Muslim peers, according to the 2007 report.

Taqwacore shows draw audiences beyond the Arab-American and South Asian-American demographics. White kids and black kids who identify with or at least appreciate the Muslim punk message -- openly expressing views on religion, politics and the second-generation experience through music -- happily head-bang in the front row alongside a twirling belly dancer dressed in traditional jewelry.

"It's about being with a bunch of like-minded individuals," Malik said, noting, "We have the same questions, the same conflicts about identity."

Mainstream Muslims seem to more readily embrace hip-hop fusion (as seen in the PBS documentary "New Muslim Cool") while remaining hesitant about the rebellious punk scene. A few years ago, the Islamic Society of North America called police when taqwacore bands played at their national convention in Rosemont, the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the country.

At the ISNA show, girls in colorful hijabs cheered and rocked along with the music, evidence that many young people -- even more traditionally pious-types -- see a place for the punk genre in the Muslim-American community.

Ahlam Said, a 23-year-old activist, remembers watching the punk bands get kicked off the stage at the ISNA conference. At the time, she was involved with the Muslim Students Association at DePaul University in Chicago, where she attended school with Al-Thawra frontman Marwan Kamel.

"Just from the little instances I had with him, he was somebody who really was able to connect the dots around these issues and build solidarity around it, which I think is really important across the line," said Said, who now works for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a community outreach organization in Chicago.

The young Muslim musicians involved in taqwacore have developed a new medium out of remnants of history -- cultural bits of their parents' homelands, Islam in its American form and the legacy of punk rock, a genre that began back in the '70s.

As they tell their stories and mock the stereotypes that mark their upbringing, they push the edges of the traditional box America's estimated 1.4 million Muslims typically find themselves in. And that's what makes it worthwhile, they say.

Aiming to open minds to new approaches to Islam, Malik, a doctor-to-be but a drummer-for-now, said candidly and absolutely: "This is the most important thing that I can be doing with my life right now."

Kate Shellnutt is a Carnegie-Knight fellow and the religion reporter for Northwestern University's News21 (