Friday, 27 August 2010

Mir Taqi Mir: 'From where has this smoke arisen that kills my heart and soul...'

Sung by Mehdi Hassan
Ghazal by Mir Taqi Mir (

Sung by Mehdi Hassan
Ghazal by Mir Taqi Mir

In dwellings everywhere, the remnants are flying around
the jungle......on fire (to show everything natural and man made is in turmoil)

The smoke erupts/twists/pierces like a black serpent..

My dear heart/my soul you must look from where it arose.
...Fumes darted all over, from where is it rising? What is on fire, my heart or my soul...

Who will allow them to settle will they settle now...
The one who rises from your doorstep...

I (or my sigh) rose from their street today...
In the same way that someone is lifted from this world...

Love (Mir) is but a heavy stone...
It is rarely lifted by the weak (hearted)...

(Translation is mine)

One Church’s Reasons to Hate Islam, Challenged by an Expert

August 25, 2010, 8:46 pm
The New York Times

In the centuries-old conflict between Christianity and Islam, tolerance has generally outpaced antagonism. But with a proposed Islamic center two blocks from ground zero reigniting an international debate about the compatibility of Islam with Western democracy and Christian teachings, some of the old battle lines are being redrawn.

Terry Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., is clearly at the extreme end of the Christian perspective. His plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Koran on Sept. 11 has been condemned not only by Muslim leaders in Egypt and Indonesia, but also by the National Association of Evangelicals here in the United States, which urged Mr. Jones to “call it off in the name and love of Jesus Christ.”

And yet, Mr. Jones’ core argument — that Islam is an enemy — has found its way into the mainstream. Politicians, pastors and activists are all now arguing against the ancient faith of Muhammad even as they knowingly or unknowingly combine theology with their own particular view of its politics and current events. Is it just election year posturing?

Maybe, but experts like John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University who has consulted for the State Department, worry that a sense of collective blame is being developed — something similar to what appeared during World War II, when Japanese-Americans were interned because they were believed to be sympathizers with Japan.

The proposed Islamic center in New York, he said, “has revealed a deep-seated Islamophobia across the country, in fact given it permission to go viral.”

In the United States and Europe, he added, “the danger, and I am not exaggerating, is that this social cancer spreads and impacts a community, as happened to the Japanese and historically to Jews due to a Christian theology of collective guilt, which then infected politics and society.”

Ignorance, of course, is often a foundation of such misunderstandings — and Mr. Jones’s church is a clear example. Even though Mr. Jones told me he had “no experience whatsoever with the Koran,” he and his congregation have put together a list called “10 Reasons to Burn a Koran” that offers a window into the views of not just Mr. Jones, but also of many others (as seen in hundreds of supportive e-mails sent to the church and thousands of fans on Facebook).

To understand some of this reasoning and what it might be leaving out, I asked Professor Esposito — a scholar who has studied both Christianity and Islam; a former president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America — to read through the list and comment.

Below are some of the arguments and Professor Esposito’s responses (edited slightly for clarity and style), which focus on the issue that seems to have gripped the nation: where Islam intersects with politics.

REASON 6: Islamic law is totalitarian in nature. There is no separation of church and state. It is irrational. It is supposedly immutable and cannot be changed. It must be accepted without criticism. It has many similarities to Nazism, Communism and Fascism. It is not compatible with Western civilization.

JOHN ESPOSITO: Not true. Even the best of non-Muslim scholars who would not subscribe to Islamic law or see problems would not deny the level of scholarship and reasoning, which is often comparable in its intellectual sophistication (however much one might not agree or follow it) with canon law and many other systems of law. I am not speaking here of its abuses and its distortions, but the law over all. Historically, Islamic law did change, and certainly today there are many scholars — Muslim and non-Muslim — addressing these issues.

REASON 8: A Muslim does not have the right to change his religion. Apostasy is punishable by death.

JOHN ESPOSITO: There are certainly such abuses. This position developed at a time when apostasy was seen as treason and punished as such. It continues to be operative in some though not all Muslim countries, and we have seen the effects of these abuses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. At the same time, today, reform-minded Muslim scholars and senior Muslim religious authorities, like the Grand Mufti of Egypt and others, have spoken out against such practices.

REASON 9: Deep in the Islamic teaching and culture is the irrational fear and loathing of the West.

JOHN ESPOSITO: Where? Despite their grievances regarding the denigration of Islam and Muslims (something this minister seems to excel at) and some American foreign policies, majorities of Muslims in some 35 countries admire the democratic principles and values of the West, its freedoms, rule of law, etc., as well as our technological, educational and economic accomplishments. They want greater democratization and better relations with the West, although many think we have a double standard regarding the promotion of democracy and human rights — given many of the authoritarian governments we have and continue to support. During George W. Bush’s second term, his administration — in moving to a policy to promote democracy and legitimate the invasion of Iraq — acknowledged that historically, U.S. presidents, Democrat and Republican, have practiced what the State Department called “democratic exceptionalism.” This is documented fact, not assertion.

REASON 10: Islam is a weapon of Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism. Wherever Islam has or gains political power, Christians, Jews and all non-Muslims receive persecution, discrimination, are forced to convert. There are massacres, and churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship are destroyed.

JOHN ESPOSITO: Only 23 percent of the world’s Muslims are Arab. No doubt some Muslim rulers used religion to justify their wars of imperial expansion. But where today? Regarding the history of religious colonialism, who has been more successful — from 312 under Constantine, when Christianity became associated with empire, to the conquistadors, European colonialism and the use and misuse of religion by politicians and hard-line Christian ministers of the Christian right — especially in the first term of President Bush?

Problems of religious pluralism and tolerance have plagued both Islam and Christianity, past and present. But what, historically, was the policy and track record of official Christianity regarding other Christians (denounced as schismatics and heretics)? What about Christianity’s intolerant policy and treatment of Jews and Muslims (convert, flee or be killed)?

In contrast, though not always followed, the position of Islamic law, based on the Koran, and under many though certainly not all Muslim rulers, was that Jews and Christians were people of the book and protected people (dhimmi). In exchange for a poll tax, they could practice their religions, etc. By today’s standards this would be second-class citizenship and unacceptable; relative to its times, Islam was more tolerant than Christianity towards religious minorities.

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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sun, Sea and Sand in Miami Beach...Floods in Pakistan...Mosque in New York

Ramadhan Greetings to everyone from Miami!

The last couple of weeks have been quite hectic for me with my move from upstate New York's Gorges Ithaca to Florida's hot and humid South Beach! I'm feeling rather blessed as a Glasgow boy to wake up every morning to an ocean view (below right)! But I'm not here to sun at the beach...I've taken up a Visiting Assistant Professor in Islamic Studies position at the University of Miami, ranked at number 47 in the US News College Rankings in the USA. (Picture of the beautiful campus to right) I'm humbled to begin a new chapter of my academic career at such a prestigious university and excited to be joining a world renowned department of Religious Studies. In the fall I will be teaching two courses on 'Introduction to Islam' and 'Introduction to Asian Religions' and very much look forward to beginning classes on Wednesday 25th August. I was at a new faculty orientation yesterday and the buzz of excited new students was quite heart warming.

At the orientation day we were told about the prospect and emergency procedures involved in Florida's infamous 'hurricanes'. It is quite a scary thought when one looks back at the history of hurricanes in the region, some not too bad but some totally wiping out everything in sight. But the prospects of a hurricane are in no way comparable to the floods that are taking place in Pakistan at this very moment.

I am pleased to see the efforts of our Scottish government in helping the unfortunate flood victims of Pakistan. The UK and USA has pledged significant amounts to help the victims of this natural disaster that has come at the time of the blessed month of Ramadan. But I have been baffled to see the slow response of the fortunate for the unfortunate as it seems that the very mention of Pakistan conjures up all the extreme images of the Taliban and its Mulla’esque ilk to blur the vision of our humanity and in turn the beauty of Pakistan. It is time for us Scots to dig deep in our pockets, wherever we are, and start realising and extending our vision of what it means to say ‘We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns’.

Another issue of the day is the Mosque planned to be built near Ground Zero in New York. One must not forget that there was a Mosque inside the twin towers and that Muslims died also in this terrorist attack. The building of a Mosque cannot become a symbol of anti-Islam/Muslim bashing yet on the other hand Muslims must bear in mind the pain and sorrow that the family and friends who lost loved ones in the attack feel every day. The bridge between Islam-haters and Muslim siege mentality needs a bridge to be built between them, a bridge that sees them accepting each other as a fellow human being who bears the same pain, suffering and happiness. For me a place of worship needs to bring peace, tranquility and stability to any given community. A Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Mandir, Gurdhwara that offers a community such things should be welcomed with open arms and if they are to become the bastion of hatred and exclusivist preaching then I truly believe that our societies and communities do not need them.

Some have compared the ease in which Muslims can build places of worship in the USA as opposed to the difficulty that Jews and Christians have in building Churches and Synagogues in Saudi Arabia or other Muslim countries. I think it is unacceptable that there remains a lack of religious freedom in Muslims countries and this must change! I think it is unacceptable that religious minorities are under attack in some Muslim countries and this must also change! But such a comparison again upholds a monolithic notion that all Muslims have some form of ties to Saudi Arabia and in turn are being labeled as upholders of the extreme Wahabbist movement that controls much of what Saudi Arabia is today! It disregards the rights of born and bred American Muslims or British Muslims who have a right to the freedom and liberty of any American or Brit (or Scot;) and disregards the sentiments of Muslims who just want to lead a beautiful life and world around them.

I'm also an open advocate of equality in the Mosque where women need to be given a presence to the extent that I would like to see Mosques that allow women to lead prayers. I'm not saying 'do away' with Mosques with male leaders, but the time is right for female Imams to show their faces at the pulpit. So I wonder to what extent new Mosques will be a bastion of change or really just 'same old, same old'!

In the current climate there remains, unfortunately, widespread ignorance about Islam and Muslims and until we are not able to see and understand that Islam is diverse and Muslims are not a monolith, we may continue this cycle of using symbols, such as Mosques, Minarets, hijabs, burqas as a way of fermenting all those ill-informed media hyped understandings of this world faith that is easily seen as ugly but requires us all to make a bit more effort to see its beauty...are we up for the challenge?