Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year 2011!

The Scottish Bard, (1759-1796) Robert Burns' 'Auld Lang Syne' sang all over the world upon hearing the New Year's Bells!

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Our Quests and Crusades...

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day – Wednesday 22nd December 2010
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Visiting Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies
University of Miami, FL.

Nial Macdonald, A Gaelic television and radio presenter aims to become the first person to row solo from New York to Stornoway on Lewis. He’ll set out from New York in May 2011 and reach his home town at the beginning of September. The Celtic rock band, Runrig, are also promoting this venture which will raise money for the Scottish Association for Mental Health. Macdonald has made it his mission to help people speak more openly on mental health issues based on his own battles in the past.

This brave mission by Macdonald has made me think about how our quests and crusades are both private and public. When I first moved to the United States I felt like I was following in the footsteps of my late Father who traveled the world before settling in Scotland. I’ve realised that moving from your comfort zone is always good. And that my understanding and research of Islam comes from my proud Scottish upbringing but with equal pride in my Pakistani roots.

Just as I have many influences – Scotland – Pakistan – now America, my aim in class is to make the students aware of the fact that world religions, be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism all attempt to present a meaning and guide to life, and exploring them can often help us become more aware of ourselves. But I also think lived experiences are vitally important for a continued education and journey in any faith, including Islam.

Influences come from everywhere. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to help plan the visit of the Dalai Lama to the University of Miami. The Dalai Lama spoke on the quest for happiness in the world today and highlighted that peace prevails when one cultivates an inner peace through love and trust. It reminded me of the advice that the Prophet Muhammad gave to his followers. He prohibited them from forms of faith that isolate the private from the public, as the two need to work together. I guess finding a balance is a journey and quest for us all.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Iqbal Bano: Let me Sleep...

Remembering a Pakistani great ghazal singer, Iqbal Bano. This translation by my dear friend Saba Hasan.

I am done with waiting now let me sleep
Oh my troubled heart let me sleep
I am done with waiting now let me sleep
Oh my troubled heart let me sleep
I am done with waiting now let me sleep
Dont fall for the treachery of the sounds of footfall
Dont fall for the treachery of the sounds of footfall
How can you trust them, let me sleep
Oh my troubled heart, let me sleep
I am done with waiting now let me sleep

In my chest have formed
In my chest have formed mausoleums of desires
Let me sleep
Oh my troubled heart let me sleep
I am done with waiting now let me sleep

What are you looking at, beyond so far away
What are you looking at, beyond far away
One who knows the beloved's house let me sleep
Oh my troubled heart let me sleep
I am done with waiting now let me sleep
Oh my troubled heart let me sleep

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Asma Jahangir assails LHC’s Aasia order (Copyright, all rights reserved)
December 1, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir denounced on Tuesday the stay granted by the Lahore High Court against any action leading to a presidential pardon for blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi.

In her first comment on the LHC order, Ms Jahangir expressed surprise that a stay had been granted on an action that was yet to take place. She disapproved of the idea of suspending the constitutional prerogative of the executive.

“If they want to get popular there are other ways to do it. Do not twist the laws as court verdicts become precedence,” she remarked.

Ms Jahangir was speaking at a seminar on ‘The blasphemy laws: a call for review, organised by Jinnah Institute,’ a think-tank launched by former information minister Sherry Rehman.

Constitutional expert Basharat Qadir read out article 45 of the Constitution which empowers the president to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.

Ms Jahangir criticised the blasphemy law in its present form and observed that laws should be made to protect religious minorities and not to provide a tool to some people to exploit it in the name of religion.

She said people did not want to commit blasphemy. “I have never seen anybody committing blasphemy. Why would somebody do it in front of a religious leader.” She pointed out that most of the time the complainant was a religious leader. She said only a mad person would do it and mentally challenged persons deserved mercy.

Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti said the law was created by Gen Ziaul Haq to appease religious elements with a mala fide intent to prolong his rule. He said he had recommended repeal of the amendments to the law introduced by General Zia or some significant changes. He said the president had announced formation of a high-level committee which after consultations with all stakeholders, including religious scholars and political leaders, would submit its recommendations to the parliament.

Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Anis Haroon said the commission was concerned about Aasia Bibi’s security. She said minorities were not harming the interests of the country.

Former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr Khalid Masood said there was ‘religious illiteracy’ even among the literates. He said nowhere in the Holy Quran there is mention of death sentence for those committing blasphemous acts.

Other speakers, including Sherry Rehman, Tahira Abdullah and Ali Hassan, rejected the blasphemy law as discriminatory and called for either repealing or suitably amending it.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Generous Peace: Progressive Islam

Islamic TV channel rapped for advocating marital rape

A TV channel aimed at Muslims has been censured by the media watchdog Ofcom for allowing its presenters to encourage violence against women and advocate marital rape.

By Neil Midgley, Assistant Editor (Media) 6:07PM GMT 08 Nov 2010 (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

In one programme on the Islam Channel, which broadcasts on Sky and Freesat, the presenter of a discussion of sex within marriage said that "it shouldn't be such a big problem where the man feels he has to force himself upon the woman".

During another programme, a woman phoned in to ask if she had the right to hit a violent husband back. The presenter responded: "In Islam we have no right to hit the woman in a way that damages her eye or damages her tooth or damages her face or makes her ugly. Maximum what you can do, you can see the pen over here, in my hand, this kind of a stick can be used just to make her feel that you are not happy with her."

In March this year, the channel was the subject of a report by the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based organisation that describes itself as "the world’s first counter-extremism think tank".

Ofcom subsequently launched an investigation into the channel's programmes, under its rules relating to harm and offence.

In its decision, the regulator acknowledged that some TV channels "will broadcast programming that will derive from a particular religious or spiritual viewpoint" and that "such advice might cause offence to different sections of the audience".

However Ofcom went on to say that "the advocacy of any form of violence (however limited)... is not acceptable" and that "it was highly likely that any advocacy and support at all of forced sexual relations would be offensive", and found the Islam Channel in breach of the Broadcasting Code.

Ofcom said that it would not impose a fine, but that the Islam Channel would be requested to attend a meeting with the regulator to discuss its procedures for ensuring compliance with the Code.

The Gang That Couldn’t Bomb Straight

Published: October 22, 2010
New York Times (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

IN “Four Lions,” the first feature directed by the British comedian Chris Morris, a group of British Muslim fundamentalists hatch a plot to blow themselves up during the London Marathon. From this decidedly unfunny premise the film finds multiple occasions for laughter.

It opens with jihadist-video bloopers and uses the firing of a rocket launcher for a slapstick punch line. One of the gang argues that bombing a mosque is the best way to radicalize Muslims and tests his theory by punching himself in the face. The would-be terrorists communicate on a children’s chat site called Puffin Party, shake their heads from side to side to avoid being identified in closed-circuit video footage and attempt to thwart surveillance efforts by swallowing their SIM cards.

Nearly a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, terrorism and the war on terror are still more or less off limits for screen comedy, and the handful of exceptions — Albert Brooks’s “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” the stoner farce “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” the militarist spoof “Team America: World Police” — have been relatively circumspect, dealing mainly with Western attitudes and avoiding the specter of the Other.

But Mr. Morris, 45, an institution in British television comedy since the mid-1990s, has no fear of hot-button issues. His most distinctive talent may be for tackling nominally controversial material in a way that reveals the irrational roots of the controversy.

Equal parts social satirist, media critic and surrealist prankster, he created — with Armando Iannucci, the director of “In the Loop” (2009) about the diplomatic maneuvers that led to an Iraq-like war — the influential fake-news BBC program “The Day Today,” which was billed as “Facts x Importance = News” and anticipated the likes of “The Daily Show.” Mr. Morris followed that up with “Brass Eye” (1997), a mock newsmagazine show that specialized in the elaborate duping of gullible public figures (as Sacha Baron Cohen would go on to do with his various alter egos).

A tall, imposing man with a prominent mop of curly hair, Mr. Morris has earned a reputation for elusiveness. The truth of the matter, he explained, is that he has simply avoided speaking to the news media when they are the primary targets of his satire. In an interview in Manhattan last month, fresh off a plane from London, he proved an affable and erudite conversationalist.

“It’s an impatience with easy, short-cut thinking,” he said, describing the impetus for “Four Lions,” which opens in New York on November 5. Starring Riz Ahmed (who appeared in Michael Winterbottom’s “Road to Guantánamo”) as the beleaguered cell leader, the movie is the first release of Drafthouse Films, the new distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Tex.

It is no surprise that Mr. Morris, with his keen appreciation for the comedy of faulty logic (and particular contempt for fear-mongering rhetoric), would be drawn to the big red flag of fundamentalist terrorism, which tends to deter rational thought among adherents and outsiders alike. “Resistance groups don’t seem to be outside our understanding,” he said. “But if it’s a movement that ends in blowing yourself up, that seems to flatten all the understanding that would be available.”

In a recent phone interview Mr. Iannucci described Mr. Morris’s knack for confrontation as a “natural tendency to head towards the fire.” Mr. Morris remains most notorious in Britain for a “Brass Eye” episode that skewered the moral outrage and alarmism around pedophilia. He recruited unsuspecting celebrities to compare the genetic makeup of pedophiles to that of crabs, and to warn of toxic fumes from computer keyboards that make child targets more suggestible. The show drew more than 1,000 viewer complaints and a public scolding from cabinet ministers; The Daily Mail branded Mr. Morris the “Most Hated Man in Britain.”

Mr. Morris said he did not conceive of “Four Lions” as a provocation: “It wasn’t about getting the least likely subject for a comedy and then making a film about it, but the other way around.” After 9/11 — and with greater intensity after the 2005 London bombings — he immersed himself in books and articles on Islamic history and culture, not knowing where his research would lead.

“I wanted to understand what was going on,” he said. “Once I started reading I found things that made me laugh.”

As he pieced together a ground-level view of Islamic extremism — talking to a wide spectrum of British Muslims, interviewing security experts, poring over transcripts and documents from terrorism trials — he noticed an abundance of plans gone wrong and a pattern of incongruous situations and idiotic behavior: the makings of farce, in other words.

There were the would-be terrorists who set up a training camp in the woods but slept in their van because they were afraid of mice. Recordings by the MI5 security service of a London cell turned up “reams of rubbish dialogue,” Mr. Morris said, “like debates about who’s cooler, bin Laden or Johnny Depp” and puzzled questions about the exact purpose of all that fertilizer they had purchased.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Eid Greetings!

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim dumplings, may your sweetness be illuminated by the love of God...a better me, a better you, a better Scotland...a better world around us!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Is Shopping a Sin?

What could be more mundane or less religious than shopping? Yet shopping asks us to choose our values and weigh the good in everyday terms. It also brings us instantly in contact with the myriad relationships and labor of people all over the world who have grown, harvested, or crafted the food, clothes, and other items with which we sustain and adorn our lives.

Michelle Gonzalez, whose work on spirituality has lifted up the life practices of Latina women, explores the rich material on economic activity and relationships in the Christian tradition and the larger pertinence of our actions in an era of globalized economic interconnection. Shopping focuses on the practice of shopping and its relationship to Christian spirituality and asks: How do Christian justice and solidarity play a role in how we value and spend our money? Can shopping be a Christian act? Can it be a sinful one?

Professor Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado earned her Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Her research and teaching interests includes Latino/a, Latin American, and Feminist Theologies, as well as inter-disciplinary work in Afro-Caribbean Studies. She is the author of Sor Juana: Beauty and Justice in the Americas (Orbis, 2003); Afro-Cuban Theology: Religion, Race, Culture, and Identity (University Press of Florida, 2006), Created in God’s Image: An Introduction to Feminist Theological Anthropology (Orbis, 2007), and the co-author of Caribbean Religious History: An Introduction (New York University Press, 2010).

"Winsomely weaving together cultural analysis, Christian scriptures, Saint Augustine, Catholic social teaching, and theological construction, Michelle Gonzalez's Shopping fashions a delightful tapestry illuminating the borderlands between temptation and tradition, wants and needs. Her incarnational theology refuses an easy Puritanical anti-materialism and suggests a practical reverence for life that can help readers keep shopping-for all its quotidian joys-in its proper place." --Jon Paul, Professor History of Christianity in North America. Author of Shopping Malls and other Sacred Spaces: Putting God in Place.

"Gonzalez not only provides some welcome remedies for the never-ending spiritualization of Christianity and the economy, she also proposes concrete steps for a new relation to the material world and even another materialism. This is where our work now begins." --Joerg Rieger, Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructivce Theology

Vatican delgates visit Shiite leaders in Qom

Payvand Iran News

Vatican delegates visited Iranian Shiite leaders in Qom yesterday as part of the three day discussion on religion and society in Iran. Ten Vatican representatives met with Ayatollahs Javadi Amoli, Makarem Shirazi and Yazdi in the holy city of Qom, Mehr News Agency reports.

Ayatollah Javadi Amoli told the gathering that oppression is "Haraam" (unlawful in religious terms) and added: "We expect the scholarly figures of Christianity and especially the Pope to condemn oppressive acts which predominantly originate from the US."

Javadi Amoli went on to stress that "religion is the only force that can direct the society." Regarding "silence in face of oppression", the senior cleric added: "These people become silent because they do not have a source. Human rights are not scientific rights, that is, if you present it to a philosopher or scholar, they will not accept it because no one can take ownership of it."

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi lauded the efforts in creating dialogue amongst religions and said "world peace, peaceful co-existence and avoiding violence" is the common denominator amongst all religions.

Ayatollah Yazdi, deputy chief of Iran's Assembly of Experts, discussed the topic of separation of religion and politics with the delegation and stressed that Islam differs with other religions in that it does not distinguish between religion and politics.

He said: "If religion has no politics, it will be confined to the mosque or the church. But in addition to worship, religion must also attend to the social concerns of people."

Ayatollah Yazdi went on to say: "Commitment to Islam is one of the main criteria for choosing managers and directors in Iran for otherwise they cannot fulfil their responsibilities successfully."

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran responded to Ayatollah Yazdi saying: "We differ on this respect. You see no separation between religion and politics but we consider them to be completely separate."

Cardinal Tauran added: "While religion and politics are completely independent for us, they do cooperate with each other. As religious leaders, our responsibility is to teach people to act religiously when they take on political responsibility."

This is the seventh meeting between the representatives of both sides. This year's meeting was organized by the Islamic Culture and Relation Organization around the topic of "Religion and Society: Christian and Muslim perspectives."

Taboo and rape in Egypt

10/28/2010 11:55
Published in The Jerusalem Post

Reporting rape anywhere is difficult but in Egypt’s conservative culture, women keep quiet rather than risk arousing blame or humiliation.

A WOMAN, COVERED head-to-toe in a black veil, appeared on Egyptian television this summer to drop a bombshell: two policemen, she said, had raped her.

It’s unclear if she normally wears the niqab, the face veil, or if it served to protect her anonymity. But there was no doubt that her allegation served as a sledgehammer to strike two of Egypt’s sorest spots of late: sexual assault and police brutality.

The latter has been the subject of outcry and unprecedented protest since Khaled Said, a young businessman, died on June 6 from what his family and witnesses say was a police beating. Two plainclothes police officers went on trial on July 27, charged with illegal arrest and excessive force.

Standing up to the police in a country that’s been under emergency law for 29 years comes with considerable risk. Said’s family says he was targeted after posting an online video allegedly showing police sharing the profit of a drug bust.

Reporting rape anywhere is difficult but in Egypt’s conservative culture, women keep quiet rather than risk arousing blame or humiliation, and at times rape again at a police station. In some cases, they risk being killed by a relative to rid the family of shame.

“I am sacrificing my reputation by telling the story... to protect every girl, every woman who may trust a police van. I tell them now, if you see a police van, you must be very careful,” she said. “I want the officials to know what policemen do to the people. Even now, I still can’t believe or comprehend that these were policemen.”

Her lawyer told the TV station a police investigation had recognized that the rape took place but didn’t identify the attackers as policemen. It’s unclear how her case has proceeded. Assailants in rape cases face sentences ranging from three years to life imprisonment. Marital rape is not illegal in Egypt.

Some 20,000 rapes are reported in Egypt each year, according to a state-run research center. But that figure is said to represent just 10 percent of the total number of victims. When I was a reporter in Cairo, psychiatrists were my source for information on sexual assaults. They are the ones rape survivors went to for help to cope.

Sexual assaults have been surfacing for a while, often with a background of police ineptitude or compliance. In 2005, hundreds of Egyptians staged an angry protest against the sexual harassment and assault of female activists and reporters by suspected government supporters. The women said police and security forces stood by, some shouting orders during the assaults.

Sexual assaults in downtown Cairo during a religious festival in 2006 forced Egypt to confront the consequences of its unchecked sexual harassment. Women said police did nothing as men tore off their clothes and headscarves, groping them and in some cases trying to rape them during the festival. The Interior Ministry denied the assaults even took place.

Bloggers at the scene posted photographs and videos of the assaults, pushing them onto the headlines and forcing a long-overdue reckoning. A number of draft laws dealing with sexual harassment are under consideration by Parliament but there is still nothing on Egypt’s statute books that specifically prohibits street harassment.

Later this year, a volunteer-run private venture, HarassMap, will be launched that will allow women to report street sexual harassment by sending an SMS to a centralized computer. They will receive a reply offering support and practical advice, and the reports will be used to build up a detailed and publicly available map of harassment hot spots that activists hope will shame authorities into taking greater action.

Attitudes toward rape across the Arab world generally are abysmal. The stigma – and often the law – is much harsher on the woman than on the rapist.

Two cases notorious for their miscarriage of justice clearly illustrate why most women who are raped keep quiet. In 2007, a Saudi woman who reported being gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes and imprisonment for being alone with a man. After an international outcry, the Saudi king pardoned her.

In June, a court in Abu Dhabi sentenced an 18-year-old Emirati woman to a year in prison for illicit sex after she reported that six men had gang-raped her. The court said that by agreeing to go for a drive with a male friend, a 19-year-old military police officer, she had consented to having sex with him.

The woman in niqab on Egyptian television understood the magnitude of what she was doing. Her tearful TV segment, which has gone viral on YouTube, stands to become as iconic as the harrowing footage in 2006 of policemen sodomizing bus driver Emad Kabir with a stick. Two bloggers posted that footage and two of the policemen were sentenced to three years in jail. Kabir’s testimony helped break the taboo around male rape in police custody.

The woman in niqab is helping break a taboo too, but neither she nor Egypt is ready for her to do so as publicly as Kabir, whose name we know and whose face was clearly visible as he screamed in pain in the footage of his rape.

All we know of the woman in niqab is that she is a grandmother.

She told that to the police she accuses of raping her as she pleaded with them to sto

Finding the jokes in jihad

November 12, 2010
Michael Phillips Movie critic

A nervy jihadist version of "The Office," the British comedy "Four Lions" asserts the right of hit-and-run satirists to go too far. The film chronicles the petty, unstable group dynamics among a hapless terrorist cell of Islamic extremists located in Dorcaster, not far from Sheffield, England.

Material like this can hit its expiration date in a flash: All audiences need is one successful terrorist attack too close to home (we've had a few near-misses lately), and the film's comic targets suddenly strike some people as offensive. Whatever. (That's the value of "Due Date": It's offensive, but not in any time-sensitive or funny way.) "Four Lions" became a considerable success last year in England, where co-writer and director Chris Morris has a following. I think it's appalling in all the right ways. While its lingering aftertaste of ashes in the mouth is unmistakable, I'd argue that the subject warrants it.

If you saw and liked "In the Loop" (based on the British TV series "The Thick of It") the visual approach will be familiar here. "Four Lions" begins with Omar (Riz Ahmed), the sanest and most skeptical of the would-be terrorists, at home watching a homemade video ("the outtakes," he explains to his wife and son, "the bloopers"). He's about to get the call to travel to Pakistan and endure the rigors of a training camp, before returning to England for something big.

His comrades don't give him much confidence. There's Waj, whose devotion to Islamic extremism extends to the study of children's picture books (one is called "The Cat Who Went to Mecca"). The group's most insecure and overbearing live wire is an Anglo convert (Nigel Lindsay) whose anger is multidirectional. Counterintuitively he's plotting to bomb the local mosque. That, he reasons, will "radicalize the moderates" and begin the revolution. "Islam is cracking up," he bemoans. "We got women talking back. We got people playing stringed instruments. It's the End of Days!"

It is, and it isn't. As the rad four (plus one) progresses down a winding, dangerous road toward jihad, generally to self-injurious or worse results, "Four Lions" pushes its luck every which way. Director Morris gets away with murder, and the visual comic possibilities inherent in inept suicide bombings, simply by not treating these clowns either as pure caricature or with conventional empathy, but a droll combination thereof. When the terrorists (dressed variously as mutant ninja turtles and massive chickens) attempt to disrupt a fund-raising marathon, you may feel the joke has gone on a bit long. But it's a miracle Morris and fellow writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain sustain it as long as they do. Their onscreen ensemble of fervent dolts couldn't be better.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Faisal Alam: The Lives of LGBT Muslims talk at the University of Miami

Faisal Alam ( gave a public lecture at the University of Miami on October 12th 2010. Some of my students in my Islam courses wrote up a summary of their thoughts. Below are two student perspectives on Faisal Alam's talk.

LGBT Muslims & Faisal Alam
Nancy Shalhub

Faisal Alam’s presentation on gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender issues, titled “Hidden Voices”, was enlightening and refreshing to hear. Faisal introduced himself as the creator and founder of the organization Al-Fatiha, which advocates and promotes tolerance and acceptance of gay, lesbian, transsexual, and bisexual Muslims. The issues of homosexuality in religious societies often gets overlooked or pushed aside because many do not want to confront or accept the issues and presence of the gay community within their religious sect. Due to the lack of exposure to the topic, hearing Faisal talk so candidly was definitely refreshing as well as interesting. Like many major religions today, the questions and ideas of openly gay communities within traditional religious societies is often frowned upon. Islam, is no exception, and if anything, frowns upon it much more due to the religious stressing of the roles of men and women in Islamic societies/countries. As stated by Faisal, in many Islamic societies and countries, the Qur'an is translated to state that homosexuality is punishable by death. As shown in Faisal’s presentation, gays and lesbians can only be themselves in limited environments such as gay underground nightclubs. While many gay Muslims fear the extreme punishment of death, many also fear the rejection of their own family and friends. Like many religions, Islam is much more than a belief. Islam has a place in a Muslim’s everyday life and every day one is reminded of their acceptance of God as a Muslim. For a gay Muslim to be rejected or exiled from his or her community, it would be an abandoning of a part of one’s self, and as stated by Faisal, it becomes a true battle because it becomes impossible to reject either one’s identity – that of a Muslim and that as a homosexual.

Faisal also spoke openly about his hardships and experience as a gay Muslim growing up and his coming out which made me think about how much more difficult it must be to be gay and Muslim in a Muslim country. How do such Muslims live double lives? How do they cope with the pressure of keeping such a great secret from society? Faisal showed a short snippet of a young man who married at a young age due to please his family and Islamic traditions. His wife would constantly question why they never engage in sexual acts and eventually, the young man gave in to the pressure to reproduce and have kids. After his wife ran off, and he took care of the kids and coming out as a gay man, she returned to reclaim the children and forbid them a relationship with their father because of his sexual orientation. His own wife and children left the man abandoned due to his coming out.

While I do believe Faisal did a great job at introducing the audience to the issues of the Muslim gay community, I feel that there are even more issues that gay Muslims face on a day-to-day basis that Faisal did not discuss or feels that he does not relate to, such as the issues of gay marriage within the Islamic faith (or lack of acceptance), physical abuse, sexual abuse, the consequences of exile, imprisonment, etc. I believe that there is hope with the continued exposure on the struggle of LGBT Muslims will, in the near future, bring about more acceptance and tolerance around the world.

LGBT Muslims & Faisal Alam
Samuel DeFreze

Faisal Alam is a Muslim activist of Pakistani descent who grew up in New Hampshire. In a lecture he gave on October 12 2010, Mr. Alam discussed the idea of LGBT Muslims, and highlighted several key points. Among his chief points was the concept that Islam is not a monolithic religion (a point which many scholars agree on, yet the public has a difficult time grasping). Acting on this statement, Mr. Alam was able to go on to discuss and highlight some of the varying practices and movements taking place in various Muslim communities across the globe. Before this, when asked what they thought of first when they thought of Islam, the audience was decidedly restrained, and it was quite some time before they went as far as to suggest that Jihad and “9/11” were associations which these people had when they thought of Islam.

However, it would appear that Alam’s goal was to encourage the audience to be honest – and not politically correct – using negative stereotypes of Islam as a base from which to show diversity and prove that Islam is not monolithic and, as a religion, is not in opposition to LGBT individuals. Mr. Alam went on to show photographs and videos – of which the “Burkini” springs to mind (A swimsuit which attempts to facilitate a swimming costume for those individuals who wish to cover up in Hijab, Abaya, or Burqa). Mr. Alam also showed a fashion show which featured women dressed in Hijab made by famous designers such as Valentino. While this was interesting, fascinating, amusing and at times heartwarming, I do feel that in an attempt to show diversity and focus on positives, Mr. Alam glossed over in many ways the seriousness of the conflicts which LGBT Muslims have faced in certain societies and still face today.

Mr. Alam went on to discuss his upbringing and a little bit about his life, as well as how Al-Fatiha came into being. In this, it appeared that he was able to show some of the difficulties of being an LGBT Muslim, though once again I feel that this was glossed over (Though supplementary clips from A Jihad for Love as well as a clip from a Channel Four documentary were helpful).

Though good points were made and the presentation was very interesting, I felt that there wasn’t enough reference to the Qur’an (This may have been a conscious decision made by the speaker), and that Mr. Alam could have highlighted more of the struggles of the LGBT individuals within different Muslim communities. I found his anecdote about the Ayatollah Khomeini and his views on transgender individuals and sex reassignment operations to be interesting and refreshing, and it seemed that the general audience was relatively surprised to hear of this. However, there was once again a neglect to mention that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Essentially, Faisal Alam’s presentation was interesting and refreshing, but at the same time one couldn’t help being left with the feeling that he could have delved into the controversy more deeply and made more of an effort to show the struggles which the LGBT Muslim communities across the globe are subject to.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s Visit to the University of Miami

We were honoured to have the Dalai Lama visit the University of Miami (UM) today where he gave a vivid and frank discussion on 'The Quest for Happiness in Challenging Times'. The Bank United Center at UM was packed with students, faculty and invited guests who all came to listen to the Nobel Peace Laureate.

The Dalai Lama spoke about peace emerging in one’s life only when inner peace is cultivated in connection to love and trust. He spoke about how those who have been denied ongoing love from their Mothers are often showing signs of discontent in their own lives and those around them. The Dalai Lama spoke about inner happiness not being connected to wealth or status, for the poorest child could have had a more priceless childhood with love from his/her parents in ways that rich children may not, he mentioned the love of a Mother in particular. It was a sobering lecture in which the glitz and glamour that seems to enamor most about Buddhism was placed in a context of war, bloodshed and religious differences.

Interestingly His Holiness did not shy away from the political issues of the day in his lecture and talked about the importance of secularism as a way of detaching oneself from religious affiliation in order to have a pluralist and open mind, for e.g. he mentioned that even though he is a Buddhist, he was not 'attached' to the term for such attachment to religious affiliation has caused much harm to world peace. An interesting question was posed to the Dalai Lama on whether he believed that science/medicine was more important in illnesses, such as HIV/Aids, or prayer. The Dalai Lama was quick to answer that prayer was important but he placed more hope in science and medicine on this one. On a more politically laden note he mentioned how he found the former US President George Bush to be a very personable man who had helped him select the best cookies at a table on one occasion. But on a separate occasion after the Iraq crisis the Dalai Lama had not been afraid to tell him that he disagreed on his policy in Iraq.

In the morning, The Dalai Lama spoke at the Jewish Temple Emanu-El on Miami Beach on the subject of ‘The Significance of World Religions’ – he was joined on stage by leaders of several religious communities. The lecture opened with two musical acts. One was a Prelude Concert from a Tabla player and a flutist and then a performance by the Latin Grammy award-winning flautist Nestor Torres. In his lecture, The Dalai Lama, spoke about the different philosophies that religions present to us but what joined them together was their pursuit of the same ends, of establishing peace and love. I was honoured to have been asked to help select questions from the audience directed to the Dalai Lama and his answers were just superb, and of course his humour was delightful!

In preparation of His Holiness’ visit I took students from my Introduction to Asian Religions Class on Monday 25th October 2010 to the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum for a special talk by Brian Dursum on ‘The Changing Face of Buddhist Art in Asia’. Students can be seen viewing different objects of interest.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Taqwacore - The Movie

by Mark Jenkins
From - All Rights Reserved - Copyright
October 21st 2010

Taqwacore — the Islamic punk-rock scene willed into being by Michael Muhammad Knight's 2003 cult novel of the same name — isn't a single subculture. It's a dozen or more, including radical and traditional, straight and gay, hedonistic and abstemious. The Taqwacores, Eyad Zahra's feature-film adaptation of the book, vigorously captures that diversity, and while there's not much of a story, there is a whole lot of stuff going in a whole bunch of different directions.

Knight, who co-wrote the film, is a white American who converted to Islam as a teen, in part to escape an abusive father. He invented the idea of "taqwacore," which combines the Arabic term for "God consciousness" with the latter part of "hard-core." When his novel was published, there was no such thing, but subsequently taqwacore has blossomed, mostly in the U.S. It has attracted a few of the faithful, as well as some who are skeptical of the religion in which they were raised.

The movie begins with the arrival of the audience's surrogate, Yusef (Bobby Naderi). He's a Pakistani-American engineering student whose parents are happy to hear he's found an all-Muslim group house. But none of the current inhabitants of the heavily graffitied building is anything like the upright, unquestioning newcomer: His housemates include perennially shirtless skateboarder Ayyub (Volkan Eryaman), red-mohawked guitarist Jehangir (Dominic Rains), heavily made-up gay "Khalifornian" Muzzamil (Tony Yalda) and Rabeya (Noureen DeWulf), an outspoken feminist who has chosen to wear a burqa.

With beer in the fridge and a porn mag in the living room, conflict is inevitable. Caught having sex during a wild party, Ayyub is evicted by iron-pumping moralist Umar (Nav Mann). Spiky-headed Indonesian stoner Fasiq (Ian Tran) sermonizes on the Allah-given virtues of pot at Friday night prayers. Yusef himself, meanwhile, is attracted to Lynn (Anne Leighton), a sexy semi-convert who is disgusted to learn that he's saving himself for marriage. These in-house tensions are punctuated by right-wing TV and radio rants against Islam.

Ian Tran (from left), Nav Mann, Volkan Eryaman, Bobby Naderi, Dominic Rains, Noureen DeWulf and Tony Yalda play housemates deeply immersed in the taqwacore scene.

The movie's defining event isn't a dramatic scene, but a capstone concert organized by Jehangir and depicted in a rush of shattered black-and-white images. While the bands who perform at the house seem to be fictional, some of the film's music is by such genuine taqwacore groups as the Kominas.

Because the music is less distinctive than its sentiments, that final burst of bash-and-bawl punk is something of a letdown — but then the director, disguising clunky dialogue and low-budget production values with quick cuts and heavy shadows, isn't concerned with traditional story structure. Unapologetically episodic, the movie is designed to awe and shock — with band names like "Boxcutter Surprise," for instance — and to plunge viewers into a world whose fury is half exotic and half typical of any group of unruly adolescents.

Ideally, The Taqwacores should be seen with Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, a new documentary that provides a better sense of the scene's aims and motivations. Zahra's jumpy feature film captures much of taqwacore's energy, but less of its meaning.

It Gets Better: Muslim Woman Speaks Out... against homophobia and bullying that has seen a rise of suicides in recent days

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Bigotry and Islam: Bill O'Reilly's at It Again

John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani
Posted: October 16, 2010 12:26 PM (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)

Bill O'Reilly and his inflammatory speech was on The View this week, and everybody knows it.

But, the attention should go elsewhere.

His baseless anti-Muslim rhetoric that led to Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg to walk off the set earlier this week was a ratings boon for him and the show. O'Reilly appeared on the Glenn Beck show and The View hosts are scheduled to discuss Thursday's show on Monday.

The show is likely to grab more ratings and headlines, but really, it's time to shift gears and focus on the anti-Islam hysteria sweeping over the U.S. Bill O'Reilly is getting bashed in the press, but thousands, maybe millions, agree with him. Some of them are silent. Many are not. It has become mainstream to bash Muslims.

The trickledown impact is that Muslims who were born, raised and educated in the U.S. are being maligned and alienated when conversations about religion in America need to include everyone. According to the Pew Center on Religion & Public Life, 35 proposed mosques and Islamic centers have met with community resistance over the last two years. Hate crimes against Muslims are also on the rise.

Major polls report increasing fear and prejudice toward Muslims and Islam, and the temptation to view Muslims through the prism of terrorism and oppression remains deceptively easy. Right wing and anti-Islam blogs bash Muslims, Islam or those who support freedom of religion. Public perception of Muslims and Islam is distorted by the media's disproportionate emphasis on the acts of a dangerous and deadly fraction of Muslims overshadowing the vast majority of mainstream Muslims.

A study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the public's view of Islam has worsened. The study found that 30% have a favorable view of Islam, while 38% hold an unfavorable view. Gallup polling reveals that Americans were asked what they admire about the Muslim world, 57% responded "nothing" or "I don't know."" Despite major polling by Gallup and Pew that show that American Muslims are well integrated economically and politically, a January 2010 Gallup Center for Muslim Studies report found that 43% admit to feeling at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims -- more than twice the number who say the same about Christians, Jews, and Buddhists.

These opinions existed but were less visible until the debates in New York over the proposed Islamic Center reached a high pitch. When the University of North Carolina assigned reading the Qur'an to incoming freshman, O'Reilly compared the assignment to having students read Hitler's Mein Kampf in 1941. More recently, Newt Gingrich compared Muslim Americans who want to build the Islamic center in New York to Nazis who would erect a sign next to Holocaust museum. Gingrich has also received a standing ovation earlier this year at the Values Voter Summit when he called for a "federal law that says Shariah law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States." Oklahoma State Rep. Rex Duncan also expects that his "Save our State" referendum to keep Islamic law out of state courts to pass easily on Election Day. The Center for Security Policy released a 177-page report last month called "Shariah: The Threat to America" and says Islamic Law is infiltrating American society. The report cites examples such as Muslims building mosques and using Islamic financing to buy homes.

Never mind that nobody is calling for Islamic Law -- including Muslims. The rhetoric is misguided and cheap.

Accommodating a person's religious views in no way imposes religious law in the workplace or society. Basic religious exercise by Muslims should not be viewed as an imposition. It's their right. It's the American way. Unfortunately, that is in danger of becoming lost in the debate to give way to hostility.

It's true: Finding stories that criticize O'Reilly are hard to miss.

And, it's also true that finding stories that factually confront Islamophobia are hard to find.

John L. Esposito is University Professor and Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and author of the newly released book The Future of Islam (2010). Sheila B. Lalwani is a Research Fellow at the Center.

Friday, 15 October 2010

...For alas it was not my fate...

"These are floating heads, each with it's own facial expression, hanging in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum, Scotland."

It was never in my fate to meet my beloved.
Even if more years of life was to me allocated, I would have been still awaiting the prize cherished.

If you think that I had been living on your promise, it is a lie.
For, if I had faith in you, would not of joy I would die.

Woe betide, my friendship, that the friends give pious advice and sermons they deliver.
I need someone on whose shoulders could I weep, who could allay my grief and my fears.

Whom should I tell that the night of sorrow is full of pangs.
I would not have resented the death, if it comes only once.

Disgraced, as I was after my death, why didn't I drown in a river or sea.
Neither, there would have been a funeral, nor tomb erected for me.

The marvels of ethical problems and your statements full of meanings.
I would have counted you, "Ghalib" amongst dearest friends of God; if only, you had not been a lover of drinks.

This is the translation of one of Mirza Ghalib's ghazals by Mansurul Hoda, author of the Urdu book "Dusra Rookh." He is one of the scholars of Ghalib poetry. He has translated many Ghalib ghazals and also published many articles on different Urdu poets and their poetry.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Morals and Mysticism in Persian Sufism: A History of Sufi-Futuwwat in Iran

By Lloyd Ridgeon
* ISBN: 978-0-415-54434-4 * Publish Date: May 12th 2010 * Imprint: Routledge *
Pages: 240 pages

Sufism is often understood to be the mystical dimension of Islam, and many works have focused on the nature of "mystical experiences" and the relationship between man and God. Yet Sufism was a human response to a wide range of contexts and circumstances; the fact that Sufis lived in society and interacted with the community necessitating guidance on how to behave.

This book examines the development of Persian Sufism, showing it to be a practical philosophy of the everyday rather than just a metaphysical phenomena. The author explores the ethic of futuwwat (or jawanmardi), an Iranian code of honour that emphasised loyalty, humility, generosity and bravery. Although inevitably some Sufis spiritualised this code of honour and applied it to their own relationship with God, the ethic continued to permeate Sufi behaviour on a more mundane level, typified by the strong links between Sufis and certain trades.

Drawing on field research in Iran, as well as detailed analysis of both Arabic and Persian texts and new materials that have been published in Iran in recent years, this is the first book in English to provide a history of Persian Sufi-futuwwat, As such, this book is an important contribution to the study of Persian Sufism, and to the fields of Islam, history and religion.

**Dr. Ridgeon is a Reader in Islamic Studies at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow. He teaches courses on Classical Islam, Modern Islamic Thought, Modern Iran, etc. His research interests comprise Persian Literature, Iranian History and Culture, Classical and Modern Sufism and Islamic History.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Gay debate at Aligarh Muslim University

Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is a Residential Academic Institution located in the city of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. It was established in 1875 by the modernist thinker Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and in 1920 it was granted a status of Central University by an Act of Indian Parliament. It is known for being the birth place of the Pakistan movement and the intelligentsia associated with the university played a pioneering role in the creation of the Islamic state of Pakistan.

French women cause a stir in niqab and hot pants in anti-burka ban protest

By Henry Samuel in Paris
Published: 3:10PM BST 01 Oct 2010 (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

Two French female students have made a film of the pair of them strolling through the streets of Paris in a niqab, bare legs and mini-shorts as a critique of France's recently passed law.

Calling themselves the "Niqabitches," the veiled ladies can be seen strutting past prime ministerial offices and various government ministries with a black veil leaving only their eyes visible, but with their long legs naked bar black high heels.

Bemused passers-by can be seen gawping at the pair or asking to take photographs in the clip.

At one stage in the film, the two women approach the entrance to the ministry of immigration and national identity, only to be told by a policeman to go elsewhere. However, a policewoman also present is delighted by their clothes. “I love your outfit, is it to do with the new law?” she asks. “Yes, we want to de-dramatise the situation,” one girl replies. “It’s brilliant. Can I take a photo?” asks the policewoman, who will soon be required to fine public niqab wearers.

In an opinion piece published on the news website, rue89, the anonymous duo – political science and communication students in their twenties – said the film was a tongue-in-cheek way of criticising France's niqab ban, which the Senate passed last month and is due to go into force early next year.

"To put a simple burka on would have been too simple. So we asked ourselves: 'how would the authorities react when faced with women wearing a burka and mini-shorts?," asked the students, one of whom is a Muslim.

"We were not looking to attack or degrade the image of Muslim fundamentalists – each to their own – but rather to question politicians who voted for this law that we consider clearly unconstitutional," they said.

"To dictate what we wear appears to have become the role of the State (as if they didn't have other fish to fry ...)."

The film had been viewed 71,000 times on rue89 and a few hundred times on YouTube yesterday, but French websites predicted it would become an internet sensation.

France's law banning the burka makes no mention of Islam, but President Nicolas Sarkozy's government promoted the law as a means to protect women from being forced to wear Muslim full-face veils such as the burka or the niqab.

France's five-million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe's largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a full face veil.

Once the law is in force, a woman who chooses to defy the ban will receive a fine of 150 euros (£125) or a course of citizenship lessons. A man who forces a woman to go veiled will be fined 30,000 euros (£25,000) and serve a jail term.

It could yet be overturned by France's constitutional court.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The conditions of your city...

The climate/conditions of your city seem prosperous to me...
Could I but steal an evening...if it were not considered iniquitous
If it is within you to forget me...forget me...
But to forget may me take me a lifetime...
One world seems angered/burnt by our love..
Please pray that we are not the wrath of a ill-wisher...
If you are to drown...drown in such an ecstatic peace...
That the waves here and there...are unaware of this action...
Reach the height of unfaithfulness this time...
That after one seems unfaithful after you...
Could I but steal an evening...if it were not considered iniquitous
(translation my own)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Pakistan's Burqa Drama

For some, "Burqavaganza" is a funny love story in the time of jihad. For others, it mocks Islam. The government's recent ban on the play highlights Pakistan's liberal-conservative divide.

Syrian Actress Tests Boundaries Again

“My films criticized the double standard of the Eastern man. He studies in Europe, but he comes back East and returns to his old attitudes,” said Nihad Alaeddin.

Published: October 1, 2010
Published in the New York Times (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)

NIHAD ALAEDDIN was once one of the great sirens of Syrian cinema. Working under the stage name Igraa, or Seduction, she embodied the openness and liberalism that reigned in the Arab world during the 1960s and ’70s, performing the region’s first cinematic nude scene and flippantly telling journalists that “we have to bring sex to the cinema because our audience is frustrated.”

Now, after 15 years of self-imposed seclusion, she has returned as a ferocious critic of the Islamist wave sweeping the Middle East, and her courage has drawn the admiration of a younger and more constrained generation of actors and filmmakers. A multipart documentary about her appeared on Syrian television last year, and a prominent Syrian director is now working on a film about her life.

Unlike many other actresses of her era, she refuses to apologize for any of her numerous risqué roles, and even defends her sexual freedom in a way that is almost unheard of in this increasingly conservative country.

“Men have this hypocrisy nowadays. If the girl wears a hijab she must be honest,” Igraa said in a voice ragged from chain-smoking, during a late-night interview at her Damascus apartment. Today’s Islamic conservatives, she said, are mostly “liars” who “criticize others but don’t truly believe themselves.”

“The whole issue of the hijab has become an excuse for hunting down other people,” she said.

She laughed and added, “This kind of talk could get me hanged.”

Igraa’s own family has been split by the Islamist trend. As a teenager in the late 1950s, she traveled with her older sister to Cairo, where an Egyptian impresario renamed them Seduction and Charm and made them a successful belly-dancing duo who toured Europe and Asia in daringly scanty outfits.

Then in the late 1970s the Islamic revival began, taking with it Igraa’s sister. She took the veil and became a conservative Muslim, discarded the name Charm, and now refuses to talk about her belly-dancing past, though the sisters remain on speaking terms.

As for Igraa, who still uses that name, she now lives mostly nocturnally, rising in midafternoon. Her apartment is a decaying museum of her own career, with dozens of pictures of her alongside bizarre collections of cheap trinkets and stuffed animals. In her late 60s, she still dresses like the precocious teenager she once was, with tight jeans, pancake makeup and a spectacularly bouffant wig hiding her gray hair. She married only eight years ago, to a man decades her junior, and has never had children.

Some critics say her new iconoclasm is just an effort to dignify what was little more than a career in soft-core porn. Igraa bristles at the notion. “I took off my clothes for a principle,” she said. “If I wanted to do it for money I could have done it in the dark and made a lot more.”

BORN in Damascus to a lower-middle-class family, she dropped out of school in the fifth grade and moved to Cairo at the age of 13. After training with the legendary Egyptian belly dancer Tahia Carioca, she danced with her sister for several years, and then began acting in television dramas. She went on to become a leading actress, screenwriter and director.

“There was a kind of bloom of freedom in those days,” said Nabil Maleh, a Syrian director who helped to make Igraa’s career.

Igraa’s breakthrough came in 1970 with the film “The Leopard,” widely considered to have established modern Syrian cinema at a time when Egypt dominated the business. During filming, the producers and director worried that the story — about a Robin Hood figure in the mountains of northern Syria — might not get the attention it deserved without some kind of lure. They asked Igraa, who played the protagonist’s wife, to do a nude scene. She surprised them by agreeing almost at once. By modern standards, the film is scarcely racy at all: a few glimpses of flesh during a muted love scene. But at the time, it was profoundly shocking.

“I felt like a suicide bomber when I was making this scene,” she recalled. “To do such a scene in Syria — I knew there would be criticism.”

There was criticism, but the film was a hit. People traveled in packed buses from remote towns to the movie theaters in Damascus and Aleppo. Igraa was defiant about her role, and when she was asked to blame the director and producer, she refused, saying they had done the scene with her full consent.

She went on to make dozens of other films, many of them tawdry affairs with a lot of bikini scenes and not much plot. But she also wrote 25 screenplays, and she casts her work as an effort to break down patriarchal attitudes toward women.

“My films criticized the double standard of the Eastern man,” she said. “He studies in Europe, but he comes back East and returns to his old attitudes. If he could lock his wife and sister up, he would.”

To some younger filmmakers, her standing as an artist is less important than her defiance. In a country where artists are often forced to make compromises — with censors, or with religious orthodoxy — her honesty and steadfastness alone seem a virtue. Despite her controversial views, however, she has not suffered harassment or threats.

“She is very important because she is not a liar,” said Khaled Khalifa, a prominent novelist and television screenwriter. “She never regretted, she never apologized.” He added that in contemporary Syrian television and film “you can barely even show a kiss.”

Mr. Khalifa said he had tried to persuade Igraa to return to the screen, without success.

ODDLY, Igraa said she was a great admirer of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. She does not share his Islamist principles, but admires his honesty. “If he asked me to sacrifice my blood, I would,” she said.

Igraa said she would make another film if the role were right. For now, the Syrian director Omar Amiralai is making a film about her life, and she seems comfortable to play the provocateur.

Pointing to a huge movie still on her living-room wall that shows her younger self, head thrown back and eyes closed in what appears to be a moment of sensual abandon, she asked, “Guess what I’m doing in that picture?” The answer? Being stabbed to death by her husband. In the film, she played a woman who cheats on her husband and then returns to him, only to have him kill her.

Men usually think the still shows a moment of sexual climax, she said, with a bawdy smile. “Only women ever guess it right.”

Nawara Mahfoud contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 2, 2010, on page A8 of the New York edition.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The eyes and the look...

Translation by my dear friend Saba Hasan
Albeit it a fleeting look but look at least
Be cruel if you wish to, but not too much
We cant seem to find anyone like you
For you there is no one less than us
We have seen your eyes sad too
But, I swear on you, less than our wet eyes
If you wish then this distance could go
What is left anyways but a step less than a step

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Hey, America: I’m a Muslim, let’s talk

by Mona Eltahawy
14 September 2010

New York, New York - I have developed an overwhelming urge to tell everyone I meet I’m a Muslim.

As a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear a headscarf, I’m often mistaken for a Latina and other ethnicities that my features match. But as anti-Muslim sentiment has risen across the United States, so has my urge to say: “Hey America: I’m a Muslim. Let’s talk.”

That urge took me to the sidewalk in front of Park51, the proposed community centre and mosque near Ground Zero, over Labor Day Weekend. I spent four days with a small but dedicated group of sidewalk activists who for more than three weeks have stood in front of Park51 with signs reading “Peace Tolerance Love” to support its right to build.

The volunteer sidewalk activists are a mix of non-Muslims and Muslims, and newly-minted activists in their 20s as well as veteran activists of their parents’ generation.

We were not there to defend or speak for any of the spiritual or financial backers of Park51. We were there to defend Park51’s constitutional right to build. For me, opposition to Park51 was part of that larger pattern of anti-Muslim sentiment that had expressed opposition to several other mosque projects around the country. It was much bigger than Park51.

The easiest people to deal with, for me, were what I called the “hit and runs” – passersby who thanked us or those who would hurl insults as they moved on.

Those four days in front of Park51 taught me a lot. First, I learned to resist labelling as a “bigot” anyone who opposed its building. Some of those against Park51 were indeed bigots, but as my sidewalk activist friends taught me, when you call them bigots it makes them defensive and it ends up shifting the focus from the issue at hand – the necessary discussion about Park51’s right to build – to the hurt feelings of the people you just called bigots.

And that necessary discussion can bear fruit. Two women who had walked over to Park51 from a nearby protest against the centre had some questions. One wanted to know about jihad. I said I condemned all acts of violence committed in the name of any religion, including my own. After some back and forth, Meryl said we both should launch a jihad against violence in the name of any religion and asked if she could hug me.

“Why aren’t there millions of Muslims like you?” she asked.

“There are,” I answered.

Mary wanted to know how, as a woman, I could remain a Muslim when Muslim women were treated so badly.

I told her I would be lying if I denied that women in Muslim-majority countries enjoyed equal rights but also said I belonged to a movement called Musawah, which means equality and which aims for equality and justice in the Muslim family by working to remove misogynistic and male-dominated interpretations of Islam.

Again, after a back-and-forth discussion, Mary hugged me too.

Later, another woman asked: “Can’t you see that you’re hurting people’s feelings by building so close to Ground Zero? Think of the victims’ families.”

“Can you see when you ask me a question like that you’re assuming that I had something to do with the attacks on 9/11?” I answered. “Those men were Muslim but it was 19 men. None of us here had anything to do with it.”

“But would it be so hard to move it somewhere else?”

“That’s a really slippery slope,” I told her. “There are mosques across the country being opposed. Where do you draw the line? Once you make Park51 move, anyone can say ‘Oh I don’t want Muslims around here. Move them.’”

She too gave me a hug!

I often went home not just ready to collapse but wondering if I had at all helped to stem that wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. Does talking to six or seven people change anything?

One man who identified as a liberal Christian stopped to ask general questions about Islam. He had many. After talking for about half an hour, he thanked me and said it was the best conversation he had had about the religion. So I have to believe that my “Hey America: I’m a Muslim, let’s talk” campaign is worth it.

* Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 14 September 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Death in Paris of Professor Mohamed Arkoun

From Ennahar Online
Professor Mohamed Arkoun great Islamic scholar and a « smuggler » between religions, died Tuesday evening in Paris at the age of 82, has announced a close relative, Father Christian Delorme.

This Algerian was professor emeritus of history of Islamic thought at the University of Sorbonne in Paris and one of the initiators of the dialogue. Mohamed Arkoun was born in 1928 in Taourit-Mimoun, a small village in Kabylia (north-eastern Algeria), in a very modest family. After attending elementary school in his village, he went to high school with the White Fathers in Oran (northwest) and had studied Arabic literature, law, philosophy and geography at the University of Algiers.

Through the intervention of the University teacher Louis Massignon, said Christian Delorme, he was able to prepare aggregation in Arabic language and literature at the Sorbonne University. He then taught at several universities before being appointed in 1980, professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III. He teaches the history of Islamic thought and develops a discipline: Applied Islamology.

Since 1993, he was professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, but he continued to lecture around the world. Mohamed Arkoun was convinced that the historical event of "the word become Koranic text" had not benefited from the scientific interest he deserved, and that huge construction sites remained open. For him, the "three definitions of revelation "the Jewish definition, the Christian definition and Muslim definition could not be separated, and their study brings to each lighting.

In 2008, he directed the development of the "History of Islam and Muslims in France from the Middle Ages to the Present time", an encyclopedic work which had been attended by many historians and researchers (Albin Michel) and which tells and explains a common history.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Lebanese poet Haddad pushes boundaries on erotica

By Junaid Ahmed BBC News (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)
13 September 2010 Last updated at 06:08 ET

Joumana Haddad Jasad was first published in December 2008

Joumana Haddad, the editor of an erotic Arabic-language magazine and author of a new book that challenges sexual taboos in the Arab world, is drawing praise and death threats alike. The Lebanese writer and poet publishes Jasad - Arabic for body - a glossy quarterly that deals with eroticism and body-culture.

Published since December 2008, Jasad's articles range from violence in relationships to voyeurism and masturbation. Her works have been opposed by Muslims and Christian groups alike, but Ms Haddad says she will not be silenced.

"When I started doing Jasad, I started receiving a lot of hate mail and threats," she told the BBC World Service in a recent interview. "I didn't want to be intimidated and compelled to stop doing what I was convinced I needed to do," she says. "I just kept on doing it."

She has been described by some as the Carrie Bradshaw of Beirut - in reference to the main character from Sex and the City - but says the purpose of her work is not to emulate the West. "I don't think this is Western," she says, "I get feedback from women all over the Arab world telling me how great it is to read this magazine."

Ms Haddad, who grew up in a conservative Christian family in Lebanon, says the main image of an Arab woman in the West is the one of the victim, "the one who doesn't have any decision over her body, her life."

Cover of Jasad Publication of Jasad had evoked strong criticism

But that should not be the only image of an Arab woman in the world, she argues. "Even though that image does exist," she says, there is also another Arab woman who is liberated and emancipated, "and she represents the hope for the first one."

Ms Haddad, first began publishing her work when she was in her mid-20s, first in French and then in Arabic. She launched Jasad two years ago, and says the magazine is read by a wide range of people despite the taboo of sex in the Arab world.

It has the obvious readership, "the people who are not embarrassed to buy it in front of everybody else," and what she calls the background readership - people who attack it in public, and read it in secret. Even though the material is controversial, Ms Haddad insists that they must be written by Arabic writers using their real names. "I do not accept fake names," she says.

Her latest book, I killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, takes aim at Middle Eastern women themselves - for not doing enough to fight for their rights. Even in her home country of Lebanon, where many women dress more freely than in other Arab countries and can go out at night, Ms Haddad says there is still a lot of discrimination.

"Women have to be very careful about not falling into that trap of superficial freedom," she warns. Ms Haddad sees confrontation, not capitulation, as the key to women's advancement.

"This is why I attacked the image of Scheherazade [in my book]," she says, referring to the queen at the centre of the age-old stories contained in A Thousand and One Nights. "[Scheherazade] negotiated with the man [the king]. She told him: 'I'll tell you a story each night, and you let me stay alive'. "The woman is sometimes the worst accomplice against herself," she says.

Ms Haddad says her book aims to reflect the real dilemmas of women in Arab societies. But her work has received almost the same number of complaints from various Christian churches as it has from Shia and Sunni Muslim groups, she says.

"I think we underestimate the power of the Church. There is a lot of discrimination in the Church and I talk about it in the book," she tells the BBC. "Christianity, as far as I am concerned, is not that different from Islam. I'm convinced that religion in general is one of the worst enemies of women's emancipation," she adds.

Saudi Arabia's juggling act on homosexuality

As a gay diplomat seeks US asylum, Saudi Arabia seems torn between wanting a civilised image and appeasing traditionalists

by Brian Whitaker (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)
Monday 13 September 2010 17.00 BST

Saudi Arabia may be a miserable place to live, but it's not very often that a Saudi diplomat seeks refuge in the United States. The last time it happened was in 1994.

At the weekend, though, it emerged that Ali Ahmad Asseri, first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, has applied for asylum in the US on the grounds that he is gay. He says his employers have refused to renew his diplomatic passport – effectively terminating his job – after finding out about his sexuality. He adds they were also unhappy about his friendship with a Jewish woman.

The Saudis are reportedly demanding his return to the kingdom, where Asseri fears he would be killed "in broad daylight".

The conservative American Thinker website is rather excited about this and suggests it "will pose a real problem for the Obama administration, which loves to cozy up to (and bow before) Saudi power" – though I doubt that it will.

If American officials accept Asseri's story he is almost certain to be granted asylum. The Saudis may grumble a bit about that for the sake of appearances, but letting him stay in the US would spare them the embarrassing and potentially damaging question of what to do about him if he returned home.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, Asseri is the first Saudi ever to publicly declare himself gay. So, in a way, this is uncharted territory – but territory where the authorities in Riyadh would probably rather not go. If he went home they would either have to charge him or provide him with lifelong protection – and no matter which course they chose, it would anger someone.

As in some other recent cases (such as the TV fortuneteller accused of sorcery who was sentenced to death and then apparently reprieved) they are torn between their desire to present a civilised image to the outside world and their need to appease religious traditionalists on the home front.

Saudi Arabia is one of four Arab countries where homosexual acts are not only illegal but punishable by execution. The others are Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen; the same applies in non-Arab Iran, just across the Gulf from Saudi Arabia.

In contrast to Iran, though, there have been no "gay" executions reported in Saudi Arabia since 2002 when three men from Abha were beheaded. There have, however, been various raids on gay parties and men have been arrested for "behaving like women" but the usual penalties are flogging and imprisonment – which tend to attract less media attention than executions.

Despite its officially tough stance against homosexuality, the Saudi regime – like most of the other Arab governments – does not regard the issue as important enough to risk jeopardising its international relations, so it will probably be quietly grateful to the US if Asseri stays in Los Angeles. But it can't keep up its juggling act for ever, and at some point it will have to decide where it really stands.

Pope visit: This visit can help Muslims find a place in a hostile continent

By Mona Siddiqui
Published: 7:00AM BST 11 Sep 2010 (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

Building bridges: Must the Pope have "dialogue" with Muslims, either culturally or theologically, for his visit to have relevance for them? What Pope Benedict has said about Islam will keep many watching keenly , writes Mona Siddiqui.

This Thursday I will be at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where the Queen will receive Pope Benedict, as the first state visit by a Pope to Britain gets under way. It’s a privilege to be invited because, however one views Pope Benedict or the Vatican and, whatever resentments one feels towards the Catholic church in the light of recent sexual abuse revelations, this is a symbolic and historic occasion; it demands attention.

Benedict is only the second pope to come to Britain since Henry VIII broke with Rome, and his visit falls within the 450th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland and the country’s schism with Rome. In fact, he arrives on the feast day of St Ninian, which will remind Scotland of its Catholic roots. There is enough intra-Christian symbolism around this event to keep onlookers and worshippers intrigued or even suspicious – but what of the non-Christians? How significant is the papal visit for people of other faiths?

On one level, it is not significant at all; this is just another state visit by a leader who just happens to be both the head of a state and the head of a faith. But religious leaders always have the potential to do great harm as well as great good. As a Muslim who has been involved in Christian-Muslim interreligious work for some years, I know that what the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict in particular, have said and done with respect to the Islamic faith will keep many in the inter-religious world watching keenly.

Benedict presented himself to much of the Islamic world through his 2006 university address in Regensburg in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who had strongly criticised Islam and its propensity for violence. Tragically, many Muslims around the world did react violently, demanding an apology and fuelling the growing frustration within Western society that Muslims tolerate free speech only as long as it doesn’t offend them.

Benedict did, subsequently, apologise for causing offence and he has since been to Turkey where, in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, he turned towards Mecca in a gesture of prayer. This trip was hailed as a success. He also addressed Muslims and Christians in the King Hussein Mosque in Amman in 2009, urging Muslims and Christians to work together for the common good. During his visit to Britain he is expected to address faith leaders.

Does any of this really matter, especially when, behind the scenes, one sees that the pontifical council for dialogue with Jews and Muslims is weaker than it has been for a long time? Must the Pope have “dialogue” with Muslims, either culturally or theologically, for his visit to have relevance for them? Dialogue has to be more than symbolic to be transformative. It has to be more than playing politics, it has to be persuasive and passionate and resonate in peoples’ lives.

There are so many negative assumptions about the place of religion in society that meaningful debates about it are almost non-existent. The widely accepted and extolled narrative is that democracies must be secular to flourish and that liberal states do not need religion to give them real moral purpose. However we understand secularism and its relationship to democracy, it is foolish to think that religion does not matter and that people of faith need simply to tame their religious passions.

This will not just be manifest by the hundreds of thousands of faithful Catholics who turn up to see the Pope, but also by the many who will be glued to their televisions. They will want to hear what he has to say about the place of God and conscience in society but, more significantly, about Europe’s Christian past and the question mark over its Christian future. Muslims have a huge stake in this conversation as Islam is the one faith that has been perceived as a threat to social and political cohesion.

The potent images of an illiberal sharia imposing fanaticism equated with effigy-burning has made many Europeans suspicious or contemptuous of Islam. If Islam has nothing to offer Europe, where do Muslims see themselves and their values in a continent where their faith seems at best incomprehensible, at worst evil? Most Muslims would deny that they recognise themselves in such an image, but the debate is real and the solution is not to be reactionary but visionary – Europe belongs to us all; its future depends on us all.

Mona Siddiqui is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Glasgow