Monday, 17 December 2012

BBC Radio Scotland - Thought for the Day

by Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Assistant Professor in Islamic Studies, University of Miami, FL.

Scotland’s tennis hero, Andy Murray, has sent a message to the families of the 26 people shot dead in the Sandy Hook school atrocity in the USA.  The US open champion had been reflecting and sympathising given his own experiences in his hometown of Dunblane and the tragedy there.  Americans have been united in grief and condemnation of this incident that has left many seeking further gun control.  The way in which Americans are able to acquire guns has always puzzled me. 

I witnessed this first hand when a locksmith was shot dead when he and a police officer tried to evict a squatter in the block of flats next to mine in south beach, Miami.    Arriving home from Miami with a heavy heart because of these recent events has left me thinking about how our lives differ from place to place yet in some way are connected.  It seems that the locations may change but the events sadly stay the same.  At a time when many of us are reconnecting with families and friends during this festive season we are pushed to consider how connected we are beyond our loved ones.  I was sent a photograph of Pakistani children in the capital city, Karachi, lighting candles with a placard reading, ‘we grieve for you as we hope you too grieve for us’, clearly a statement against recent drone attacks seeking terrorists which unfortunately have killed many children too.  

In the last few months I’ve been traveling a lot to many cities in the USA and the UK.  Meeting different people from all walks of life often left me thinking about how different we are yet in the face of life and death we begin to appreciate our shared humanity.  It reminds me of the Islamic tradition which details how the prophet Muhammad stood for the passing funeral and was asked why he was doing this for the deceased was a Jew.  “Does this person not possess a soul?” was the firm answer. 

Now more than ever before I feel we need to celebrate our unique identities and locations yet find points of connection as we ponder and reflect on difficult times.   

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Pakistani: Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the voice of Madam Noor Jehan

Craving your love, he gambled away
both this world and the next.
Look – he is leaving now -
having spent the night in grief.

And the taverns are deserted,

and the wine glasses are upset;
hurt by your departure
even the Spring has turned away.

Forgetting you was a reprieve,
but it did not last.
Now we have seen how far
even God can be trusted.

The world seduced us,
made us exiles from your memory;
day by day, the business of living
proved more deceptive than your love.

And then, today, she smiled,
forgetting herself,
and the heart, so long unused,
began to beat with a new urgency. 
(translation by the Black Mamba)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Abida Parveen - Pakistani sufi singer

What's it to do with YOU! This about Me and God!
Oh the funeral prayer...this is about me and God!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Malala Yousafzai and the Other Half of Muslim History

Published at
Posted: 10/24/2012 11:43 am
All Rights Reserved, Copyright 

Asma Afsaruddin is a professor of Islamic Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, and a senior editor of the forthcoming Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women (2013). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana -- As someone who writes and lectures about women and gender in Islam, I am often asked if women had any role in the making of the Islamic tradition. Happily, the answer is always yes. There were in fact many prominent women in the early history of Islam.

At the top of the list would have to be Aisha, the widow of the Prophet Muhammad, who was renowned for her learning and wit. The Prophet in fact is said to have counselled his followers to "take half of your religion" from Aisha -- in recognition of her learning. After his death, she spent the rest of her life transmitting the sayings of her husband and commenting on the Quran. Her authoritative pronouncements have decisively shaped the later Islamic legal tradition.

The early period of Islam in particular is peopled with such intelligent, assertive and pious women. Another name that comes to mind is Umm Umara. Although she was a prominent companion of the Prophet Muhammad, whom he regarded highly in her own time, she has become an obscure figure over the centuries. One possible reason for this is that Umm Umara was a "difficult" woman -- that is to say, she was someone who asked a lot of questions and who protested loudly when she was faced with inequality, especially in regard to women's rights. Her passion for justice and outspokenness, however, were hardly out of place in the first century of Islam.

As historical records inform us, women in particular excelled in religious scholarship through the late Mamluk period, the 14th and 15th centuries of the common era. This should not be surprising since women's right to education is firmly guaranteed by Islam. A well-known saying of the Prophet Muhammad asserts that knowledge is equally obligatory for males and females -- which has allowed for considerable Muslim receptivity toward providing education for girls and women alongside their male counterparts through the centuries. As a result, women scholars dot the Islamic intellectual landscape.

The famous ninth century Muslim jurist al-Shafii, widely regarded as the father of Islamic jurisprudence, studied with female teachers. Ibn Hajar, another prominent jurist from the 15th century, gratefully acknowledges his debt to a number of his female professors whose study circles he frequented.

Ibn Hajar's student, al-Sakhawi, dedicated one whole volume of his encyclopaedic biographical work on famous scholars from the Mamluk period to women alone. Among the 1,075 women listed in this volume, over 400 were active in scholarship. One such scholar is on record as having complained that she was not getting adequate compensation for her teaching (a complaint that may sound dismayingly familiar to contemporary professional women the world over today).

Regrettably, the memory of these accomplished women has grown dim over time. As Muslim societies became more patriarchal after the first century of Islam, many of these women have been air-brushed out of the master narrative of Islamic history, leaving us with the impression that the Islamic tradition was shaped mainly by men.

This erasure of women can lead to a dangerously mistaken belief that Islam itself mandates this marginalization of women. The danger is real -- as became recently evident in the Taliban's brutal and misogynist vendetta against the indomitable 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai. A fearless warrior to promote education for females in her native Pakistan, Yousafzai has paid a huge price for her courageous stance, as she now struggles to recover after being shot by the Taliban.

Yousafzai's fate is a reminder that women's historical roles in Islamic learning and scholarship need to become much better known among Muslims themselves. This is imperative so that in the future the Taliban's grotesque interpretation of women's rights can immediately be recognised for what it is: a violation of fundamental Islamic principles and one that should not be granted even the veneer of religious legitimacy.

In her fearless insistence on the right to be educated and to be heard in public, Yousafzai is following in the footsteps of her illustrious female forebears from the first century of Islam. Learned, feisty and principled women have contributed much to the Islamic heritage.

Her predicament reminds us why this history must be featured prominently in our own times and why women must be reinstated into the very mainstream of the Islamic intellectual tradition. It is the most effective way to keep religious obscurantism at bay in Muslim-majority societies, especially the kind that threatens the well-being of Muslim girls and women.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 October 2012,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Queering the Qur’an Popping the Marks By Michael Muhammad Knight

Published at - all rights reserved, copyright

Not a week of my life goes by without me receiving a message from either a gay Muslim seeking reconciliation between faith, heart, and body, or a gay non-Muslim who is considering converting to Islam, but wonders whether Islam can ever allow a place for him or her. There are a few approaches that one could take to answer these questions, and I’m not really qualified to employ any of them, but here we go.

First, a basic historical argument: Islam is what Muslims do. If we look at Islam as a human tradition with its history and contexts anchored to this planet, rather than something that floats above humanity as an untouched, unchanging essence, then the answer is yes: Islam can have a place for queer Muslims, because queer Muslims have always existed. We have significant traditions of poetry and mysticism in which homoerotic desire is fused with Islamic spirituality. These traditions might not satisfy anyone who cares about Islamic legal tradition, but a historical approach also undermines assumptions about the absoluteness of Islamic law, showing the law to be an ongoing process of human interpretation. Anyway, founding fathers of Islamic law as we have it today acknowledged that same-sex desire was natural, while maintaining that the associated actions were illegal. Abu Hanifa, eponym of the Hanafi school, would deliberately have a handsome male student sit in such a way that he could not look at the student directly, lest his eyes betray him.

We could name-drop Sufi saints and poets from various times and places who violated norms of gender and sexuality on one level or another, and this might do some good towards a useable queer-positive Islamic history, but proving a diversity of beliefs and practices isn’t going to answer the Muslims who need God’s words to settle all disputes with clear verdicts. If you want the Qur’an to really say something, I don’t know what to tell you; I can’t pick apart verses of the Qur’an to reveal the hidden intentions of a transcendent Author. People on both sides of the issue try to do that, but they often see what they want to see.

As with anti-queer readers of the Bible, anti-queer readers of the Qur’an mention the fate of Lot’s people as proof that God hates same-sex desire. However, there are also readers of the Qur’an who attempt to produce new meanings from the episode. Among progressive Muslims, an argument exists that the story of Lot does not discuss men who want consensual sex with other men, but rather men who intend to commit rape. I have to confess that this argument strikes me as a bit of a reach, but I do appreciate the effort, if only so that I can say that alternative readings do exist.

Unfortunately, when I read the Qur’an, I find it mocking men who want to have sex with men. This is not what I want to see, and I hope to someday find an interpretation that will change this for me. I appreciate the need for queer Muslims to find new meanings in the words, and I’m on their side, but the project remains a matter of making the Qur’an say something other than what it appears to be obviously saying.

Before deciding what the Qur’an means, I look to the people who love the Qur’an; between history and scripture, I find the figure of Ali ibn Hamzah al-Asadi, more widely known as al-Kisa’i al-Kufi (d.804). As the transmitter of one of the Qur’an’s seven harfs (“readings”) in Sunni tradition, he’s an immeasurably important figure in the history of the Qur’an as a text. As such, his knowledge and character were both under close examination. In one assessment, al-Marzubani, speaking on the authority Ibn al-Arabi (the jurist, not the mystic), described al-Kisa’i as “one of the most learned persons” while adding that al-Kisa’i openly confessed to engaging in illegal acts that included same-sex relations. “Yet,” he adds, al-Kisa’i remained “an accurate reader, knowledgeable in the Arabic language, and honest.”

This does not answer all questions, but it offers something. In Sunni Islam, there are seven canonical ways of reading the Qur’an. Al-Kisa’i al-Kufi is the man who gave us one of them. He devoted his life to knowing and teaching the Qur’an. It should go without saying that al-Kisa’i al-Kufi memorized the entire scripture by heart and recited it every day of his life. Along the way, he apparently fucked dudes. The lips that he used to recite divine scripture touched men.

I can’t read his mind or take him out of his own world to speak on the debates of ours, and I can’t say that he ever reinterpreted the story of Lot or searched the Qur’an for a queer-positive liberation theology. If he lived today, would he even self-identify as a gay Muslim? I cannot assume that he viewed sexuality in anything outside of its construction in his time, as what you do, rather than our modern concept of sexual orientation as what you are. I do not know of him having critically examined the authenticity of anti-queer sayings attributed to the Prophet, and his example does not create an opening in Islamic law. But if the question is whether Islamic tradition has room for gay Muslims, he makes more room.

Al-Kisa’i al-Kufi was a Muslim who died less than two full centuries after the Prophet. He seems to have done things that his society regarded as violations of God’s laws, and publicly admitted to doing these things, apparently without facing punishment or persecution. As a teacher of the Qur’an, his work was respected. Commentators who disapproved of his actions still acknowledged his mastery of what could be seen as Islam’s most crucial religious science, the preservation and transmission of the sacred text. Whenever Sunni Muslims mention the seven readings of the Qur’an, they are making reference to this man’s work, even if they do not know his name.

Again, there are meaningful problems that al-Kisa’i al-Kufi’s life cannot solve, and still more work to be done.  But when I consider Muslims as comprising a human family, al-Kisa’i al-Kufi gives me two comforts: first, that he could be himself openly with the Muslim family; second, that members of the Muslim family could find good in his contribution and accept it.

Michael Muhammad Knight (@MM_Knight) is the author of nine books, including Journey to the End of Islam, an account of his pilgrimage to Mecca, William S. Burroughs vs. the Qur’an, and Why I Am a Five Percenter.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Pakistan, Islam and Poetry

Written by Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal - philosopher, poet and politician in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement. 
(b. November 9, 1877 – d. April 21, 1938)

Sung by Shabnam Majeed, Pakistani celebrated singer

Set out once more that cup, that wine, oh Saki—
Let my true place at last be mine, oh

My lyrical vein was all dried up, with little remains.
The Shaikh decrees that, "Even this is prohibited", O Saaqi!

Who Snatched Away the Piercing Sword of Love (Strong Faith)?
Knowledge is Left With an Empty Sheath Alone, O Saaqi!

With a luminous soul the power of song is life;
With a darkened soul that power is eternal death.

A full moon glistens in Your brimful cup;
Deprive me not of its silver beams at night.

Truth’s forest hides no lion‐hearts now:
Men grovel before the priest, or the saint’s shrine, oh Saki.

Who has borne off Love’s valiant sword?
About an empty scabbard Wisdom’s hands twine, oh Saki.

Verse lights up life, while heart burns bright,
But fades for ever when those rays decline, oh Saki;

Bereave not of its moon my night;
I see a full moon in your goblet shine, oh Saki!

#Saki/Saqi: The cupbearer, wine pourer, a lover, a friend, homoerotic

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Irrelevance and Relevance of Islamic Law

Professor Mona Siddiqui

On Thursday 10th November, Professor Mona Siddiqui, founding director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at the University of Glasgow, gave the last in this year's series of St Wilfrid lectures on the subject of 'Islam and the Question of a Loving God'.

In her lecture, Professor Siddiqui explained how the language of scripture in Islam and Christianity has created strikingly different discourses of divine love, in spite of the fact that it is often assumed Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Indeed the God of the Qur'an seems very different in significant respects to the God of the Bible. In the Qur'an, God is somehow more concealed, the unseen who sees all. His love of his creation remains to some extent veiled. In Christianity, divine love appears to be more explicitly revealed, both in the relationally of the Trinity, and in the sacrificial love manifested in Jesus Christ; whereas for Muslims divine love is understood in terms of God's compassion and mercy.

However, although there is no specific Qur'anic commandment to love God, yet the Qur'an still inspired the exuberant descriptions of divine love in the great Sufi poets and mystics, like Rumi, for whom love is a reality that - like God - transcends whatever one

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai...

Sung by the Pakistani music sensation, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

...meray baad kis kis ko satao ge...meri wafa'ay yaad karo ro ke faryaad karo ge...mujhko jo barbaad kiya he...aur kise barbaad karo ge...dil jalo se dillagi achi nahi...rone walo se hasi achi nahi...dillagi hi dillagi mein dil gaya...dil lagane ka natija mil gaya...mein tarapta hun ke mera dil gaya...tum kyu haste ho tumhay kya mil gaya...meray baad kis kis ko satao ge

…who will you tease/agonise after me…you will reminisce my faithfulness…shedding tear after tear…lamenting…as you destroyed me…who next will you massacre…kindling love with burnt out hearts is not felicitous…smiles from those crying is never pleasing…through the extreme passion for love’s connections…was the heart of love taken…the result of meddling in love was achieved…as my heart is taken…agonised…why do you smile…what have you achieved? Who will you tease/agonise after me?

Translation by Dr. Amanullah De Sondy

5 Things WE ALL Need to Know About Pakistan

Richard Clarke described Pakistan as a nation of "pathological liars" on the Bill Maher Show last year. He also called Pakistanis "paranoid." In the public mind there is little apart from suicide bombings, terrorism, violence and corruption associated with Pakistan. Commentators freely call Pakistan a "nursery for terrorism." Every news item from that country confirms this image -- whether the shocking news that Osama bin Laden lived just by Pakistan's premier military academy with Pakistanis claiming they had no idea about his whereabouts, or the shooting, a couple of weeks ago, of Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old girl, whose only crime was that she wanted an education.
Surely there is more to Pakistan than this? Yes, there is. Here is the reality:

1. Pakistan's Democratic Foundations

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founding father, created a modern Muslim state in August 1947, the first of its kind in the Muslim world. A brilliant, successful lawyer with a reputation for integrity and rigid principles, he advocated women's rights, minority rights and human rights. One of his first acts in August was to declare himself the "Protector-General of the Hindu community" and to attend church to reassure the minorities of their inclusion in the Pakistani nation. In his first address to the Constituent Assembly in the same month he laid out his vision for Pakistan: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State."

Fatima Jinnah, Jinnah's sister, played a key role in promoting the visibility and rights of women. Women ambassadors, governors, parliamentarians and editors soon made a mark. It was with this background that Benazir Bhutto emerged as the first female prime minster in the Muslim world. Today, there are some 70 female parliamentarians in the National Assembly and the foreign minister of Pakistan is a woman.

2. The Widespread Influence of Nonviolence in Pakistan 

Sufi Islam -- which promotes the notion of sulh-i-kul, or "peace with all," and non-violent political movements and humanitarian initiatives -- is widely supported by millions of Pakistanis. The great Sufi centers which attract thousands of worshippers every week are spread throughout Pakistan, and the historic city of Lahore can boast the shrine of the celebrated Sufi Master, Data Ganj Baksh. The qawwali, Sufi devotional music, sung by groups like that of Fateh Ali Khan, made an international impact.

(Or the music and songs of Madam Noor Jehan , a legendary and iconic singer in Pakistan (and India)

Pakistan also produced the legendary Ghaffar Khan, called the "Frontier Gandhi" because of his non-violent philosophy and close association with Mahatma Gandhi. Ghaffar Khan led a widespread and powerful movement that was allied with the Indian Congress Party and therefore fell out of favor in Pakistan, but the roots of his non-violent philosophy, as he emphasized, were deep within Islam and his Pukhtun tribal culture. Humanitarian work with a focus on the poor and the dispossessed is symbolized by the saintly Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilquis. They are the founders of the Edhi Foundation, a social welfare program providing help to the destitute across Pakistan for the past half century. Wearing thread-bare clothes and living a life of extreme simplicity, the Edhis personify the emphasis on compassion in traditional Muslim society.

3. Pakistani Hospitality

Pakistani hospitality is famous. At the birth of the nation in 1947, Pakistan received between 10 and 12 million refugees from different parts of India. Many of these had lost everything they possessed and spoke a different language to the local people. Yet, they were welcomed to the new nation with some of them thriving. There were several heads of government who had a refugee background, including Presidents Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq. In the 1980s there were more waves of refugees escaping Afghanistan from the brutal Soviet invasion. Anywhere between 5 and 6 million Afghans sought shelter in Pakistan. One of the side effects of the refugee invasion was the creeping violence that began to appear in society as Kalashnikovs and drugs made their way into the markets. Increasingly, Pakistan's politics became involved with the politics of Afghanistan across the border.
Next time you hear the discussion whether a dozen or two refugees should be allowed into the country as it may threaten its stability and character, think of Pakistan which opened its arms to literally millions of people seeking refuge.

4. 'Shining Pakistan' as a Model for Growth

It is difficult to conceive, but only a generation ago Pakistan was seen by the World Bank, Harvard development economists, and developing countries like South Korea looking for role models of growth as an Asian nation on the verge of "taking of.f" Building on its British heritage in agriculture, industry, education, the civil service and the army, Pakistan had made steady strides. It had made a name for itself on the international stage as world champions in cricket, squash and hockey. It had a brand new and smart airline called PIA (Pakistan International Airlines), and the Pakistani President boasted of having the finest Armored Division in Asia. Professor Abdus Salam emerged from this environment to become the first scientist from the Muslim world to win the Nobel Prize, for Physics. It was this scientific base that allowed Pakistan to become the first nuclear Muslim nation in the world.

5. Pakistan as a Traditional American Ally 

Mr. Jinnah set the orientation for Pakistan's foreign policy as an ally of the United States. For about half a century Pakistan remained firmly in the Western camp. There were important economic, cultural and larger geo-political reasons that made the relationship mutually beneficial. Today Pakistanis are bitter about their American ally and blame "America's war" for the destruction that lies over the land. They point to some 40,000 Pakistanis who have lost their lives as a result of the war on terror and the billions of dollars of property destroyed. They blame the uncontrolled nature and violence of the Taliban on America's war. They feel betrayed.

The anti-Americanism is widespread. The good news is that it is not too deep. If you doubt this statement, take a look at the picture of Jackie Kennedy visiting Lahore in 1962. She is in an open car with the Pakistani President and surrounded by smiling Pakistanis throwing flower petals to welcome her. She later visited the Tribal Areas along the Afghanistan border and received a similarly warm welcome. The iconic image of the elegant and smiling American lady who set out to win over Pakistani friends should prompt both Americans and Pakistanis concerned at the sorry mess that is their alliance to ask: What happened to that relationship and how best can it be repaired?

Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies and Jesus College, Cambridge. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings February 2013).

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Golden Age of Islam by Sasha Brookner writer, publicist

Published at Huffington Post - All Rights Reserved, Copyright
"In case of differences, provided scriptural language does not violate the principles of reason, that is, it does not commit a contradiction, science should give way." -- Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

There was a Golden Age to Islam once -- a Muslim Renaissance so magnificent, famous, cosmopolitan and cerebral that it's borders didn't always bleed. While some European archaeologists refuse to believe the hype -- not having excavated enough pottery shards -- this era unequivocally produced some of the most enlightened thinkers throughout the Islamic Diaspora. Between the ninth and 13th centuries, the libraries in Baghdad (Bait al-Hikma), Damascus (al-Zahiriyah), Timbuktu (Sankoré), Cordoba (Royal Mosque) and Cairo  (Dar al-Hikmah) contained more books, manuscripts and literature than in the entire Greek world. Thanks to China passing along the art of papermaking and the translating skills of travelers, these newborn Islamic scholars went on to become polymaths. They studied spherical trigonometry, agriculture, physics, medicine and science, using astrolabes to measure the altitude of stars while setting up sophisticated astronomical observatories. While Europe was dwindling away from the Dark Ages and the Church was busying itself replacing science with superstition, these Islamic scholars were setting up psychiatric hospitals, correcting Ptolemy, determining the circumference of the Earth while Rhazes produced sulfuric acid and could distinguish whether you had smallpox, chicken pox or measles. Abulcasis was a gynecologist/dentist and Egyptian patients could refill their pharmacy prescriptions at the Qalawun Hospital in Cairo, a facility that offered American liberal's much sought after universal health care.

(Top Right: Trigonometry - A thousand years ago, Muslim scholars pioneered the study of trigonometry as they observed the movement of the planets, and predicted unknown lengths and angles. Today, trigonometry, including spherical trigonometry, is used in solving complex problems in astronomy, cartography and navigation. ( (Ali Hasan Amro), page 89)

Aristotle, the Greek "master of those who know" was at the top of Averroes and Avicenna's reading list, while some Islamic philosophy paradoxically bordered on secular humanist thought -- with literacy rates that would put the modern day Muslim World to shame. Speaking of literature, two and a half words: Sinbad and Ali-Baba. They became known throughout history as the "Father's of Algebra" with a little help from Diophantus, Aryabhatta, Archimedes, Baudhayana, Hippocrates, Chang Tshang and the Rhind Papyrus (I'm not going to enter that debate in this article), but indeed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg can thank al-Khwarizmi for his employment of the word "algorithm."

Some even hypothesize that the Golden Age of Islam may have been more favorable to women. There are reports of numerous female scholars in Moorish Spain, and philosophers such as Averroes of Cordoba were openly honest about the inequities between men and women as outlined in the Hadith, Quran and auxiliary Sunnah. Contrasted with today, this type of rhetoric would have surely got him issued a fatwa alongside Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Rushdie. He continued to share his illuminating insight about Islam's failed dealings with women,

"Our society allows no scope for the development of women's talent. They're destined exclusively to childbirth and care of children and this state of servility has destroyed their capacity for larger matters. It's thus we see no women endowed with moral virtues, they live their lives like vegetables, devoted to their husbands. From this stems the misery that pervades our cities."

Averroes pièce de résistance, "The Incoherence of the Incoherence," paid tribute to the Greek peripatetics of the Ancient World and made a plea to the Arabic World for a reconciliation of philosophy and theology, sophisticatedly broadening his horizons by incorporating Neoplatonism with the teachings of Malik ibn Anas for his ultimate understanding of the universe. So renowned was he, that Dante and his charming tour guide Virgil later discovered him in Limbo where he could live out his days on green pastures with his first circle of hell comrades, Plato and Aristotle. Unfortunately, Averroes peers including the fundamentalist thinker al-Ghazali, who rebuked and discarded the works of any non-Muslim (kafir), tended to be at the writing vanguard of encouraging caliphs to strip women of comprehensive human rights.

(Above Right: Chess - An illustration shows a Muslim and Christian playing chess in a tent, from King Alfonso X’s 13th-century Libros del Ajedrez. (Courtesy of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, page 46)

Shamefully, barbarism has always found a way to dismantle even the greatest of societies (ask the Visigoths). While Christians crusaded against the Spanish Moors, about 2,500 miles South East, Hulagu Khan and his genocidal horde of sociopaths claiming to be Buddhist swept in and closed out Baghdad's free thinking utopia. Regrettably for intellectualism, the Mongols had a predilection for burning libraries; subsequently the Enlightenment movements had to wait that much longer to figure out Jesus wasn't an original story. But more importantly, the Arab World would be left with one book to read and re-read and re-read for what would seem time eternity.

In the 13th century, Islam should have made its graceful exit; instead, it survived to become a nation of hermeneutists who would have nothing remotely scholarly to debate for the coming centuries besides whether "flogging" a woman to death should be considered the same thing as "stoning" her to death, and how much dhimmi taxes should be raised at the next lunar month. The Golden Age had officially departed to it's 72 virgins. As Europe entered its own 16th century Renaissance, the Arab World reverted back to the mind sophistication level of their seventh century illiterate warring caliphates who only accepted instruction from divine sources, courtesy of hearing voices from Allah via the Archangel Gabriel via Muhammad, once emerged from a cave in Bedouin attire. In fact, I have been unable to locate one Quranic passage that encourages secular (ilmanniyya) education outside of scripture. Most of the quotes attributed to Muhammad such as "the ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr" came from the Hadiths of al-Suyuti, al-Bar and al-Jawzi, which were a collection of post-Muhammad proverbs and narratives written by men who wanted to add their two cents even after the prophet clearly said of the Quran, "Nothing have we omitted from the Book." Subsequently it makes sense that aside from Ba'athists, there are few Mullahs or imams in the Arabic world in favor of the separation of din (religion) and dawlah (state).

The disciplines of science, philosophy, gender studies and history are mitigating factors for those who clutch steadfast to archaic religious tradition, which is why for the most part believers in developed countries have a tendency to interpret primordial texts a little less literally. Orthodox Jews, who have access to The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, are less likely to live out the tale of Jonah jumping into the mouth of Shamu trying to repent sins of eating shellfish (Shout out to "Blue Planet: Sounds of the Sea"). Conversely, men and women in American Muslim communities are excelling quickly through the ranks of higher education, the Nation of Islam has been transformative in the black community and although there are more accusation of Orientalism than honest dialogue about their brethren 6,000 miles away, there is an understanding that Islamic law must be subservient to the U.S Constitution, a living text that allows for modification and revision, unlike the Quran. As is evident, Islam -- much like the Judeo-Christian religion -- can only attempt tolerance and co-existence while parallel to a liberal arts education and a secular system of jurisprudence, without which there is an inevitable clashing of civilizations.

(Above Right:  Gardens - A 17th-century manuscript shows Sultan Babur holding a plan and watching his gardeners measure flower beds. (V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, page 222)

Unfortunately, in the same regions that once flourished almost 1,000 years ago, we are witnessing the calamitous affects of the Mongol invasion and Christian Crusades. The Muslim world continues to invest only 0.2 percent of their GDP on science, research and development. There are a mere 500 universities in the entire Islamic Diaspora, while not a single higher education facility has been featured in the Top 100 Ranking Universities of the World due to the curriculum focusing more heavily on Surah Al-Fajr than Einstein's Law of Relativity. Since 1901, only two muslims have ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in Science (perhaps more if Scandinavian committees counted the chivalrous chemists concocting poison gas elixirs to throw in the schools for girls).

The current literacy rates for males in Islamic communities are dismal, ranging from 43 percent in Afghanistan, 58 percent in Pakistan and 70 percent in Egypt to 30-40 percent throughout Mali, Senegal and Guinea. For female literacy rates you can often take these paltry numbers and divide them by two.

These statistics are heart breaking for a girl like myself who once found insight into my own life through the analytical writings of the legendary brown philosophers of the Middle Ages. In light of the rampant violence, gender disparity and blind indoctrination at the expense of intellectual advancement pervasive throughout the Middle East and Africa, I find myself romanticizing the Golden Age, hoping at some point in the distant future that type of luminosity might return to the Muslim World.


A profile created and directed by one of my students Norma Moreno at the University of Miami

Friday, 19 October 2012

HuffJummah: We Are All Malala Yousafzai

By Professor Homayra Ziad, Assistant Professor of Religion, Trinity College

Three days ago, a young Pakistani girl from Swat was shot in the head, point-blank, by a Taliban gunman. Miraculously, she is still alive - a courageous young woman who will not be silenced. Malala Yusufzai, the 14 year-old champion of a woman's right to self-expression, lies in critical condition in a hospital in Rawalpindi. Her attackers claim to be enacting the will of God. The Pakistani public, and Muslims around the world, vehemently disagree.

The earliest revelations to the Prophet Muhammad (upon him, peace) warned of an impending day when each human soul would be called to account for its actions in this world. These apocalyptic surahs, with their urgent staccato rhythms, ask us to imagine a time in which the laws of nature cease to apply, when every certainty becomes uncertain, and when human beings are like "scattered moths" in their haste to flee from the impending judgment.

When the sun is overturned
When the stars fall away
When the mountains are moved
When the ten-month pregnant camels are abandoned
When the beasts of the wild are herded together
When the seas are boiled over
When the souls are coupled
When the girl-child buried alive
Is asked what she did to deserve murder
When the pages are folded out
When the sky is flayed open
When Jahim is set ablaze
When the garden is brought near
Then a soul will know what it has prepared. (81:1-14, tr. by Michael Sells)

In the center of this chaos lies a simple heartbreaking phrase: when the girl child buried alive is asked what she did to deserve murder. This sentence refers to the abominable practice of female infanticide through live burial that plagued the Arabian peninsula before the advent of Islam. Daughters were a financial burden, best disposed of at birth. In fact, it was the Qur'anic condemnation of this practice that attracted many of the first converts to the new faith. Just like the murdered infant, Malala committed no crime. She merely understood that imprisoning a woman within four walls, physical or mental, is like burying her alive.

That this of all crimes should take center stage in the drama of the apocalypse reminds us, forcefully, of the Qur'anic stance on violence against women. The Qur'an was first revealed as a call to arms against injustice, and one of the first injustices it chose to address was the victimization of women and girls. The Prophet Muhammad (upon him, peace) exemplified the Qur'anic attitude; his love for his four daughters is the stuff of legend. Of his daughter Fatima(may God be pleased wIth her), he said: She is a part of me; whoever hurts her, hurts me. Whenever the Prophet saw Fatima, he would stand up and kiss her, take her by the hand and seat her in his place. The Prophet tells us that if parents are good to their daughters, they will be as close to him as one finger is to the next.

The Qur'an is one of the only scriptures that directly addresses women as participants in the process of revelation. Women played pivotal, at times even controversial, political and scholarly roles in the early community. Their voices are clearly heard in hadith literature, often questioning or raised in dissent. The gunman has no place in this story. He spits in the face of the tradition he claims to uphold. Not only did he try and shoot a young girl to death, he did it to prevent every girl from claiming her Qur'anically mandated right formulate her own opinions and act on her conscience. It is so easy to despair in the face of such brutal ignorance and self-delusion. But if we wish to honor Malala, then we must act as she did. Malala understood that every human being, even a young girl, has a moral obligation to respond to injustice. In a CNN interview in 2011, she decried apathy by saying "God will ask you on the day of judgment, "Where were you? Where were you when your people were asking [for] you!"

Perhaps she remembers what the Prophet once said, "A believer who struggles in community and endures its pain is more virtuous than the one who does not."

Malala's lack of fear and her clear-eyed commitment to the truth is the mark of one who understands, in the wise words of Abd al Hakim Murad, the fundamental poverty of fanaticism. The product of an insecure and fragmented self, fanaticism is essentially unsustainable, built on the shifting sands of Satanic logic. The feminist legal scholar Azizah al Hibri elaborates on this twisted form of logic: in the Qur'anic story, Satan (the first fanatic) claimed his superiority over human beings on the basis of an arbitrary principle (fire is better than clay) that he invented to serve his own ego. His self-obsession led him to defy the direct command of God Himself, to bow to Adam, the new creation.

The fanatic serves the idol of his ego. And so it is that he can shoot an unarmed girl in the head and call it an act of courage. Malala's commitment transcends her own fragile self. She grasps `urwat al wuthqa, the handhold that never breaks. And so it is that she can act in the world without fear, even in the face of death.

There are so many young girls like Malala in Pakistan, and around the world. They need our prayers but more than that - they need our active support. Let us follow Malala's example, stand on the front-lines, and create a world in which violence has no place.

Friday, 12 October 2012


Ammar Abdulhamid

Hasan, the local imam’s son, has the strange ability to smell a menstruating woman among a thousand others. This helps him classify members of the opposite sex with whom he has little contact until the day he has a brief affair with a married woman. This sexual initiation irrevocably transforms him and shakes his entire system of beliefs. Hasan no longer knows what to believe in nor who he is, he just knows he has to avoid the marriage his father has arranged for him.

Hasan’s story runs in tandem with Wisam’s, a friend of his sister’s, who is unhappily married and having her first lesbian relationship. Her sense of alienation from her husband, her frustration and her newfound sexuality echo Hasan’s questions about religion, identity and sexuality.

Hasan and Wisam will both experience frustration, doubts and ultimately liberation in different ways. Their previously held notions about religion and sexuality are dramatically shaped by their new experiences and the influence of Nadim and Kindah, the progressive intellectuals who help them formulate a new worldview.

Abdulhamid’s daring debut novel explores contemporary themes related to sexuality, self-realization and repression within a conservative religious framework and the ways people are able to reconcile themselves with a changing world.

About the Author(s)

Ammar Abdulhamid was born in 1966 in Syria. He holds a bachelor degree in history from the University of Wisconsin. This is his first published novel.


‘Going out on a limb almost comes naturally for Ammar Abdulhamid … he is one of Syria's daring modernizers.’ Washington Post
‘Set in contemporary Damascus, Ammar Abdulhamid’s debut novel is going to upset people. Its title, Menstruation, leaves readers in no doubt that Abdulhamid is not about to pull any punches when it comes to taboo subjects. Clearly a reaction to repression in itself, the novel looks at the effect of conservative values on society, particularly the young.’ Cairo Times

  • Imprint: Saqi Books
  • ISBN: 9780863563126
  • Published: June 2001
  • UK Price: £6.95
  • US Price: $10.95
  • Format: 135 x 216 mm (Demy)
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Extent: 163pp
  • Subject:

Friday, 5 October 2012

Islamic Tartan Tie Saves the Day for Scotland's First Minister

This was forwarded to me by one of my blog readers.  This is truly a wonderful story!  Even though I have reservations about how inclusive the tie is, an Islamic tartan tie that saves the day for our First Minister is just fantastic! Bravo!

Published at
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First Minister Alex Salmond’s reputation was unexpectedly saved by a Scottish Islamic Tartan tie on Friday. During an intimate reception at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Salmond spilled coffee on his tie shortly before he was due to attend several important meetings, including one with Chicago Mayor and Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Fortunately, Executive Director of the Scotland Institute Dr Azeem Ibrahim had presented the First Minister with an official Scottish Islamic Tartan tie beforehand. The First Minister quickly swapped his stained blue tie for the distinctive green and blue tartan version after delivered a stirring speech to the assembled delegates, including an amused Dr Ibrahim.

Salmond was visiting Chicago as part of a delegation to promote sport, trade and culture at events around the Ryder cup ahead of the 2014 golf tournament at Gleneagles, Perthshire. When contacted by, Dr Ibrahim stated:

“I am delighted that when the time came I stepped up to save the honour of the First Minister and my country. I almost feel like a modern day William Wallace. I have written to the First Minister’s Office and the Palace to let them know I am available to receive a Knighthood at anytime. Strangely, I have not heard back from them yet. Maybe they are planning something big like a new Honour just for me – the Saviour of Scotland or something. Who knows?”

The Scottish Islamic Tartan was launched in July by Dr Ibrahim as a celebration of the great contribution that Scotland and Islam have made to humanity and weaves the diverse Muslim identity into the fabric of Scotland to provide an enduring symbol of the deep connection between these two great civilisations.

Leading tartan designers and Islamic scholars were consulted in the design of the tie, resulting in a unique style based on the following
- Blue to represent the Scottish Flag
- Green to represent the colour of Islam
- Five white lines represent the five pillars of Islam
- Six gold lines the six articles of faith
- Black square pattern represents the Holy Kabah.

The Tartan was milled at the world’s last specialist mill, DC Dalgleish. Using only original production methods on traditional shuttle looms, DC Dalgleish maintained the rich heritage of Scottish tartan with integrity and reverence for the Islamic tradition.
The Tartan can be seen here:

Friday, 21 September 2012

Are Muslims Allowed To Dance? Depends Who You Ask

Published at Huffington Post, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Religion News Service  |  By Posted:

(RNS) The Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world this week (Aug. 27) when they beheaded 17 people, allegedly for the crime of dancing at a mixed-gender gathering.

Which prompts the question: Does Islam forbid dancing? While Islamic scholars are divided on the answer, it's easy to find Muslims in America and abroad who love to boogie down.
"Even though there are scholars who forbid dancing, there is a long tradition of dancing in Muslim cultures," said Vernon Schubel, a Muslim and professor of religious studies at Kenyon College in Ohio.

There is no mention of dancing in the Quran, which serves as Muslims' primary source of guidance. There is a story about dancing in the hadith, or collected stories about Islam's Prophet Muhammad, which are the second-most important source of guidance for Muslims.

The story, which can be found in the hadith collection of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, a 9th-century Islamic scholar, said that one day Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha saw a group of Abyssinian Christians performing a modest dance inside a mosque, and watched without objection.
A majority of scholars who cite that hadith say it permits dancing under certain conditions: no alcohol, no gender mixing, no effeminate moves, and don't do it excessively.

"As long as these four conditions are met, then dancing is permissible," said Imam Omar Shahin, secretary of the North American Imams Federation and an Islamic law lecturer at the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana.

Yet even within the imams' umbrella group, opinions are split. Imam Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, the group's president and also head of the New York chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America, said dancing is prohibited because Muhammad never danced, and therefore Muslims should never dance.
"Many people think if it's not mentioned in the Quran, it's OK. No. You follow Allah and you follow his messenger. If he didn't do something, you don't do it. If he did something, you do it," Khan said.

Other scholars said dancing is forbidden only if it leads to indecent touching or movements.
"It's not dancing that's unacceptable, it's the way of dancing," said Imam Talal Eid, the Islamic chaplain at Brandeis University near Boston and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Within the Sufi order of Islam (representing about 5 percent of Muslims), some schools believe dancing is an integral expression of devotion and a way to connect with God. The most famous group of dancing Sufis are the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.

Dance has long been integral to many Muslim societies, including the Filipino Muslim dances of Singkil and Pangalay; belly dancing in the Middle East; and the long dance parties that precede Muslim weddings in South Asia.

Aasif Qureshy, a computer engineer in San Jose, Calif., grew up in northern India and recalled going to many weddings as a youth and seeing men and women boogieing to modern Bollywood pop music.

"Nobody felt it was wrong. We were aware that there were mullahs who objected, but nobody listened to them or took them seriously," said Qureshy.

Muslim immigrants brought these dance traditions to America, where their children have kept them alive while also getting into American dance. Dr. Sofia Shakir, a pediatrician in suburban Chicago and observant Muslim, has enrolled her children in ballet, hip-hop and dance classes.
"Humans have a need to move," said Shakir. "Dance fulfills this desire for self-expression."
Khadija Anderson, a dancer for 35 years, learned about Islam through a Senegalese dance class she took in Seattle, and converted to Islam in 1993. Believing it violated her new faith, Anderson gave up performing for 10 years but continued taking classes.

She gradually became less conservative and in 2003 took up Butoh, a Japanese dance form that she said conformed to her Islamic values because it is not about attractive body movements but activism. On Aug. 9, for example, she performed a Butoh dance to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki.

"For Muslims, intention is everything," Anderson, who now lives in Los Angeles, said. "I use the art of dance for social protest. I'm not out there to show off my body and say look at me."

A famous Pakistani song and dance steeped in Islamic traditions.  The battle between the song and dance of Islam continues... 

Monday, 17 September 2012

I tell fellow Egyptians and fellow Americans it's about us, not about them After this week's Middle East protests we must move beyond the deceptive simplicity of the question: 'Why do they hate us?'

By Mona ElTahawy
Published in The Guardian, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Friday 14th September 2012

When my father came home from Friday prayers, I was eager to know what the sermon had been about. We'd all been following three days of protests outside the US embassy in Cairo, ostensibly over a film deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad that was posted on YouTube. More protests were expected in several countries after Friday prayers.

"The regular imam wasn't there, so the muezzin stepped in and told us the best way to honour the prophet was to live by his teachings," my dad said. I carry that breathtaking simplicity in my emotional suitcase with me when I travel back and forth between the US, where I've lived for the past 12 years, and Egypt, the country of my birth, to which I'm returning to fight for the social and cultural revolution we desperately need in order for our political revolution to succeed.

When my fellow Americans ask me that tired question, "Why do they hate us?", my initial response is usually: "It's not about you." When a fellow Egyptian wants to talk about hating the US, I flip that response on its head and tell her: "It's not about America – it's about you." The truth is somewhere in the middle, but too many people are willing to use it as a football in an endless match of political manipulation.

For a slightly subtler response, I tell my fellow Americans that "they" don't hate them for their freedom but, rather, because successive US governments all too willingly and knowingly supported dictators who denied their populations any kind of freedom. As a US citizen, I cherish the first amendment. It's what I whipped out as I stood alongside Muslims and non-Muslims in Lower Manhattan in 2010 to defend the right of an Islamic community centre to open close to Ground Zero. We told those who opposed the centre that that first amendment was what gave them the right to protest and at the same time guaranteed freedom to worship right there on that spot.

How could a country that cherishes such freedom be so willing to support dictators all too eager to deny that same freedom to their people? Even President Barack Obama, who spoke so eloquently about dignity and freedom in his 2009 Cairo speech, disappointingly dragged his feet when it was time to decide between Mubarak and the people rising up for that very same freedom and dignity.

Anti-US sentiment has been born out of many grievances – support and weapons for such dictators as Mubarak, unquestionable support for Israel in its occupation of Palestine, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen that kill more civilians than intended targets.
And, paradoxically – or perhaps fittingly – that anti-US sentiment was played on dictators such as Mubarak, who was happy to pocket US aid in return for maintaining Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and buying US weapons, and yet used the state-controlled media to fan hatred of the US. Mubarak was adept, as were many other US-backed dictators, at playing the sane middle to the "lunatics with beards" he so often used as bogeymen to guarantee the support of foreign allies.

Mubarak is gone, and Egypt's president is from the Muslim Brotherhood movement – long vilified as the "lunatics with beards". It is at this point that I tell fellow Egyptians it's about them, and not about America.

That YouTube film – not made or distributed by the US government – was posted at least two months before ultra-conservative Salafists called for protests at the US embassy. Why? Understanding that the president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, must now occupy that same middle ground as Mubarak did, the Salafists are all too happy to flex rightwing political muscle. Why else did they call their protest in Cairo on the anniversary of the attacks on 11 September 2001?
Morsi, not wanting to concede the moral high ground, remained silent for too long, stuck between his memory of being the opposition and an awareness that he's now the president.

That's what I mean when I tell fellow Egyptians that it's about us, not America.

Mubarak could and did ban films. That's why many genuinely offended Muslims in Egypt and other countries so quickly ask why the American government can't do the same. Of course, he also gave the green light to messages of antisemitism and hatred against Egypt's Christians.

As an Egyptian-American, I want both sides of that hyphen to enjoy the forms of freedom guaranteed by the first amendment, as I want both sides of that hyphen to move beyond the deceptive simplicity of the question, "Why do they hate us?"

The truth about Muhammad and Aisha Innocence of Muslims repeated the claim Muhammad was a paedophile, but the story is more complex and interesting than that

                                       By Myriam Francois-Cerrah
Published in The Guardian (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)
Monday 17th September 2012

Writing about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, the Orientalist scholar W Montgomery Watt wrote: "Of all the world's great men, none has been so much maligned as Muhammad." His quote seems all the more poignant in light of the Islamophobic film Innocence of Muslims, which has sparked riots from Yemen to Libya and which, among other slanders, depicts Muhammad as a paedophile.

This claim is a recurring one among critics of Islam, so its foundation deserves close scrutiny.

Critics allege that Aisha was just six years old when she was betrothed to Muhammad, himself in his 50s, and only nine when the marriage was consummated. They base this on a saying attributed to Aisha herself (Sahih Bukhari volume 5, book 58, number 234), and the debate on this issue is further complicated by the fact that some Muslims believe this to be a historically accurate account. Although most Muslims would not consider marrying off their nine-year-old daughters, those who accept this saying argue that since the Qur'an states that marriage is void unless entered into by consenting adults, Aisha must have entered puberty early.

They point out that, in seventh-century Arabia, adulthood was defined as the onset of puberty. (This much is true, and was also the case in Europe: five centuries after Muhammad's marriage to Aisha, 33-year-old King John of England married 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême.) Interestingly, of the many criticisms of Muhammad made at the time by his opponents, none focused on Aisha's age at marriage.

According to this perspective, Aisha may have been young, but she was not younger than was the norm at the time. Other Muslims doubt the very idea that Aisha was six at the time of marriage, referring to historians who have questioned the reliability of Aisha's age as given in the saying. In a society without a birth registry and where people did not celebrate birthdays, most people estimated their own age and that of others. Aisha would have been no different. What's more, Aisha had already been engaged to someone else before she married Muhammad, suggesting she had already been mature enough by the standards of her society to consider marriage for a while. It seems difficult to reconcile this with her being six.

In addition, some modern Muslim scholars have more recently cast doubt on the veracity of the saying, or hadith, used to assert Aisha's young age. In Islam, the hadith literature (sayings of the prophet) is considered secondary to the Qur'an. While the Qur'an is considered to be the verbatim word of God, the hadiths were transmitted over time through a rigorous but not infallible methodology. Taking all known accounts and records of Aisha's age at marriage, estimates of her age range from nine to 19.

Because of this, it is impossible to know with any certainty how old Aisha was. What we do know is what the Qur'an says about marriage: that it is valid only between consenting adults, and that a woman has the right to choose her own spouse. As the living embodiment of Islam, Muhammad's actions reflect the Qur'an's teachings on marriage, even if the actions of some Muslim regimes and individuals do not.

Sadly, in many countries, the imperatives motivating the marriage of young girls are typically economic. In others, they are political. The fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia have both sought to use the saying concerning Aisha's age as a justification for lowering the legal age of marriage tells us a great deal about the patriarchal and oppressive nature of those regimes, and nothing about Muhammad, or the essential nature of Islam. The stridency of those who lend credence to these literalist interpretations by concurring with their warped view of Islam does not help those Muslims who seek to challenge these aberrations.

The Islamophobic depiction of Muhammad's marriage to Aisha as motivated by misplaced desire fits within a broader Orientalist depiction of Muhammad as a philanderer. This idea dates back to the crusades. According to the academic Kecia Ali: "Accusations of lust and sensuality were a regular feature of medieval attacks on the prophet's character and, by extension, on the authenticity of Islam."
Since the early Christians heralded Christ as a model of celibate virtue, Muhammad – who had married several times – was deemed to be driven by sinful lust. This portrayal ignored the fact that before his marriage to Aisha, Muhammad had been married to Khadija, a powerful businesswoman 15 years his senior, for 25 years. When she died, he was devastated and friends encouraged him to remarry. A female acquaintance suggested Aisha, a bright and vivacious character.

Aisha's union would also have cemented Muhammad's longstanding friendship with her father, Abu Bakr. As was the tradition in Arabia (and still is in some parts of the world today), marriage typically served a social and political function – a way of uniting tribes, resolving feuds, caring for widows and orphans, and generally strengthening bonds in a highly unstable and changing political environment. Of the women Muhammad married, the majority were widows. To consider the marriages of the prophet outside of these calculations is profoundly ahistorical.

What the records are clear on is that Muhammad and Aisha had a loving and egalitarian relationship, which set the standard for reciprocity, tenderness and respect enjoined by the Qur'an. Insights into their relationship, such as the fact they liked to drink out of the same cup or race one another, are indicative of a deep connection which belies any misrepresentation of their relationship.

To paint Aisha as a victim is completely at odds with her persona. She was certainly no wallflower. During a controversial battle in Muslim history, she emerged riding a camel to lead the troops. She was known for her assertive temperament and mischievous sense of humour – with Muhammad sometimes bearing the brunt of the jokes. During his lifetime, he established her authority by telling Muslims to consult her in his absence; after his death, she went to be become one of the most prolific and distinguished scholars of her time.

A stateswoman, scholar, mufti, and judge, Aisha combined spirituality, activism and knowledge and remains a role model for many Muslim women today. The gulf between her true legacy and her depiction in Islamophobic materials is not merely historically inaccurate, it is an insult to the memory of a pioneering woman.

Those who manipulate her story to justify the abuse of young girls, and those who manipulate it in order to depict Islam as a religion that legitimises such abuse have more in common than they think. Both demonstrate a disregard for what we know about the times in which Muhammad lived, and for the affirmation of female autonomy which her story illustrates.

• This article was amended on 17 September 2012. It originally stated that King John was 44 when he married Isabella of Angoulême. This has been corrected.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Scottish National Portrait Gallery - Migration Stories - Pakistan

Just a few observations on the National Galleries of Scotland's Migration Stories from Pakistan.  As history informs us, the vast majority of Pakistanis who came to Scotland (UK generally) came from extremely poor backgrounds.  They came to earn their living and look after their, often, large families.

I wonder how many of these families that are being showcased at our National Galleries have this story to tell?  How many of them came from affluent families in Pakistan?  How many of these families are from the small percentage of Pakistani Scots who are millionaires?  And why is this exhibition promoting a by and large neat and tidy heteronormative family structure?

If Scotland wants to be at the forefront as a progressive nation then we must present the bigger picture.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Scotland Tonight : Scottish Muslim women aim to challenge misconceptions with exhibition

Mona Eltahawy: What sparked the violence in Egypt?

Lupe Fiasco counters anti-Islam video

US media angrily marvels at the lack of Muslim gratitude

By Glenn Greenwald - - Copyright All Rights Reserved 

One prominent strain shaping American reaction to the protests in the Muslim world is bafflement, and even anger, that those Muslims are not more grateful to the US. After all, goes this thinking, the US bestowed them with the gifts of freedom and democracy – the very rights they are now exercising – so how could they possibly be anything other than thankful? Under this worldview, it is especially confounding that the US, their savior and freedom-provider, would be the target of their rage.

On Wednesday, USA Today published an article with the headline "After attacks in Egypt and Libya, USA Today asks: Why?" The paper appeared to tell its readers that it was the US that freed the Egyptian people from tyranny

"Attacks in Libya that left four US diplomats dead – including Ambassador Christopher Stevens – and a mob invasion of the US Embassy in Cairo, in which the US flag was torn to shreds, have left many to wonder: How can people the USA helped free from murderous dictators treat it in such a way?"

Did you know that the "USA helped free" Egyptians from their murderous dictator? On Thursday night, NBC News published a nine-minute report on Brian Williams' "Rock Center" program featuring its foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, reporting on the demonstrations in Cairo, which sounded exactly the same theme. Standing in front of protesting Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Engel informed viewers that this was all so very baffling because it was taking place "in Cairo, where the US turned its back on its old friend Hosni Mubarak", and then added:

"It is somewhat ironic with American diplomats inside the embassy who helped to give these demonstrators, these protesters, a voice, and allowed them to actually carry out these anti-American clashes that we're seeing right now."

That it was the US who freed Egyptians and "allowed them" the right to protest would undoubtedly come as a great surprise to many Egyptians. That is the case even beyond the decades of arming, funding and general support from the US for their hated dictator (to his credit, Engel including a snippet of an interview with Tariq Ramadan pointing out that the US long supported the region's dictators).

Beyond the long-term US support for Mubarak, Egyptians would likely find it difficult to reconcile Engel's claim that the US freed them with the "made in USA" logos on the tear gas cannisters used against them by Mubarak's security forces; or with Hillary Clinton's touching 2009 declaration that "I really consider President and Mrs Mubarak to be friends of my family"; or with Obama's support for Mubarak up until the very last minute when his downfall became inevitable; or with the fact that the Obama administration plan was to engineer the ascension of the loathed, US-loyal torturer Omar Suleiman as Mubarak's replacement in the name of "stability".

Given the history of the US in Egypt, both long-term and very recent, it takes an extraordinary degree of self-delusion and propaganda to depict Egyptian anger toward the US as "ironic" on the ground that it was the US who freed them and "allowed" them the right to protest. But that is precisely the theme being propagated by most US media outlets.

Even in Libya, where it's certainly true that many Libyans are happy about the Nato intervention, this bafflement is misplaced. It's always the case that some portion of the populace of an invaded nation will be happy about even the most unjustified invasions: that the Kurds are thrilled by the Iraq war is a fact still cited by Iraq war advocates as proof of the war's justness and wisdom.

But it's also the case that such invasions produce extreme anger, as well: among the families of those killed by the invading forces, or who suffer from the resulting lawlessness and instability. Combine that with the fact that it was repeatedly noted that US involvement in Libya meant that anti-US extremists, including al-Qaida, were being armed and empowered by the US, it is far from mystifying, as Secretary Clinton insisted, that some people in Libya are deeply hostile to the US and want to do it harm.

In the same report, Engel also spent several moments explaining that the primary reason these Muslims have such animosity toward the US is because their heads have been filled for years with crazy conspiracy theories about how the US and Israel are responsible for their woes. These conspiracies, he said, were fed to them by their dictators to distract attention from their own corruption.

Let's leave aside the irony of the American media decrying crazy "conspiracy theories" in other countries, when it is the US that attacked another country based on nonexistent weapons and fabricated secret alliances with al-Qaida. One should acknowledge that there is some truth to Engel's claim that the region's tyrants fueled citizen rage toward the US and Israel as a means of distracting from their own failings and corruption.

But to act as though Muslim anger toward the US and Israel is primarily the by-product of crazy conspiracy theories is itself a crazy conspiracy theory. It's in the world of reality, not conspiracy, where the US and Israel have continuously brought extreme amounts of violence to the Muslim world, routinely killing their innocent men, women and children. Listening to Engel, one would never know about tiny little matters like the bombing of Gaza and Lebanon, the almost five-decade long oppression of Palestinians, the widely hated, child-killing drone campaign, or the attack on Iraq.

And it's in the world of reality, not conspiracy, where the US really has continuously interfered in their countries' governance by propping up and supporting their dictators. Intense Muslim animosity toward the US, including in Egypt, long pre-dates this film, and the reasons aren't hard to discern. That's precisely why the US supported tyranny in these countries for so long: to ensure that the citizens' views, so contrary to US policy, would be suppressed and rendered irrelevant.

It doesn't take a propagandized populace to be angry at the US for such actions. It takes a propagandized populace to be shocked at that anger and to view it with bafflement and resentment on the ground that they should, instead, be grateful because we "freed" them.

But to see why exactly such a propagandized populace exists in the US and has been led to believe such myth and conspiracies, simply read that USA Today article or watch the NBC News report on these protests as they convince Americans that gratitude, rather than resentment, should be the sentiment people in that region feel toward the US.

Friday, 14 September 2012

YouTube Terrorism by Professor Bruce Lawrence

  •  Published at
    All Rights Reserved, Copyright

    An American ambassador is killed in the line of duty for the first time in 33 years. Three others perish with him. An American consulate is destroyed. At the same time, an American flag is torched, while another diplomatic post, an embassy, is stormed in a neighboring Arab Muslim country. Days later, further outbursts against American officials and diplomatic sites occur in two other Arab Muslim countries.
    The headlines are here stripped of their local names, not to protect the innocent but to show the pattern of a creeping violence that has precedence and yet, at another level, is unprecedented.
    What makes the current saga surreal is the seamless manner in which a hackneyed 14-month-old movie becomes the flashpoint for violence against American officialdom in the Arab Muslim world, and that it came both on the anniversary of 9/11 and during an intense presidential election season.

    The two issues at stake are opposite: 1) Freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to poach on the fine line between public critique and satire (allowed), and defamation or hate speech (not allowed); and 2) Protection of U.S. interests, including and especially diplomatic posts and personnel serving the U.S. government abroad in a variety of other conflict settings.
    Much will be made of the murky elements on both sides: On the one hand, who made this low-budget, scurrilous, and artistically deficient movie? (See Sarah Posner’s excellent detective work on that question); and on the other, who initiated the attack on American outposts in Cairo, Benghazi, and perhaps also Sanaa?

    Whoever “Sam Bacile” turns out to be (most likely Coptic ex-patriot Nakoula Basseley Nakoula), he said one thing correctly: “This film was not about religion but about politics.” Whoever made, then distributed the “trailer” for Innocence of Muslims was trying to score points against Muslims, though perhaps they didn’t intend to provoke the violent outburst that has wrought such destruction at hypersensitive urban nodes in the rapidly changing Arab Muslim world. What seems more and more likely is that the video itself was simply the pretext for a pre-planned attack, likely by al-Qaeda operatives or sympathizers. But that still raises the question: how did a B movie get rendered into Arabic, then used to justify an attack on American sites overseas?

    The two principles—freedom of speech and protection of American diplomats—become entangled when the internet makes possible not just the distribution but the reemergence of visual production (a movie, a clip, a trailer) at a delicate moment; in this case, the anniversary of 9/11. Beyond all the issues that have been discussed, debated, and fine-tuned since the 9/11/12 tragedy in Benghazi, one central point has been missed, and it needs to be made again and again and again: expect the unexpected, look for the unrelated to be connected, then projected for the interest of dissident groups savvy about the nature of the modern world and, above all, media ‘neutrality.’

    There are no topics so hateful or obscene that they’re debarred from the Internet. They travel virally in a world that welcomes them but cannot monitor either their content or their impact. What al-Qaeda did today, other ill-wishers or polemicists or terrorists can, and will likely, do tomorrow.

    This is the greatest, and sobering, lesson of the death and destruction that came out of the 9/11/12 debacle. Alas, it is a part of our brave new world of endless information and mindless usage of that information. Gertrude Himmelfarb once observed: “Like postmodernism, the Internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral.” 

    Had she added “between the sanitized and the incendiary” her words would have predicted what we saw in Benghazi but, alas, will see loss of life and property in other places during the still young but perilous 21st century. It is a century, our century, that belongs neither to the USA nor to China, neither to imperialists nor terrorists, but to the CyberKingdom and to those who grasp the endless good and evil wrought by the Information Age.