Saturday, 4 July 2015

Podcast of interview discussing my book is available at the end of page

Amanullah De Sondy 
The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities
Bloomsbury, 2014
by Kristian Petersen on October 27, 2014

What gets to count as Islam? In the current political climate this question is being repeated in a variety of contexts. The tapestry of various Islamic identities is revealed in an investigation of gender. In The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities (Bloomsbury, 2014), Amanullah De Sondy, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork, Republic of Ireland, tackles the construction of Muslim manhood in several interpretive traditions. These forms of masculinity – both ideal & reviled – are taken across a wide spectrum of thought, from Islamist perspectives to those challenging patriarchy. Many of the discussions revolve around similar themes, most importantly family, marriage, sexuality, and veiling. Other constructions of masculinity challenge heteronormativity within Muslim identities. The Qur’an is central to many of the interpretations discussed in the book but De Sondy demonstrates that here too we are not presented with a singular and clear ideal of masculinity. Qur’anic descriptions of male prophets, including Adam, Joseph, Muhammad, and Jesus, each complicate a simple narrative of Muslim manhood. In our conversation we discuss hermeneutical strategies, feminists approaches to the Qur’an, notions of love and sexual boundaries, the Mughal poet Mirza Ghalib, gender fluidity, Sufism in South Asia, prophethood, and same-sex love.

To listen to the podcast in full please follow the link below:

Friday, 3 July 2015

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Friday 3rd July 2015
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork​, Ireland 

The Hungarian government is running a campaign to encourage young people to return back to the country.  The campaign known as ‘young people, come home’, provides a number of incentives including a free flight and a monthly allowance for a year.  Reading about this reminded me of my own experience of coming back to Celtic lands from the USA. 

In the initial stages of learning about life in Cork, I remember watching an interview that the President of the University had given in which he talked about the time he told Mother’s to ‘cover their ears’ as he advised graduating students to ‘go away’. President Murphy believes that young people should go away and learn about skills and diversity at an international stage but offering it back on return.  

Another example of some one leaving and returning back to a homeland is our very own Andy Murray.  Most of Murray’s year is spent in Miami as he volleys around the globe aiming to win more titles but we often hear of his return back to the small city of Dunblane where it all began for him.  

Sending folks away or luring them back is easier said than done and there are many Scottish greats who didn’t return back but is this always about incentives?  For me, if I’m honest, it was a mixture of academic promotion but more importantly it was the connections that pulled me back to be closer to Scotland.  In some way the strength of my Muslim identity is mixed and shaped in Scottish society.  The early years of our lives are connected to the land that shapes us. The roads and the hills that we’ve walked. Connected in to this are the beliefs that we hold strong to.  It is these roots that quite often tug us back home - to a place that centers us and helps us flourish in thought and action.  


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Pakistan gets flustered over Facebook's gay rights meme by Jon Boone in Islamabad

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Those showing support online for the US supreme court’s decision to legalise same-sex unions have faced a barrage of criticism

When Nabeel Khalid joined the 26 million people around the world to superimpose a rainbow flag over his Facebook profile picture, he did not expect a tirade of abuse for showing support for same-sex marriage.

But the meme that swept the social networking site in the wake of last week’s decision by the US supreme court to legalise same-sex unions has not gone down well in Pakistan.

“The reaction was extremely negative with a lot of close friends, colleagues and ex-colleagues just completely unable to handle it,” said Khalid, an IT worker from Lahore. “They could not accept that someone who is married is supporting something they say is away from our culture and our religion.”

The online debate has seen supporters of marriage equality accused of abandoning Islam, as well as claims that bestiality will be next to be legalised, and the widespread circulation of Qur’anic verses condemning homosexuality.

Most observers say social intolerance has grown in Pakistan, a religiously conservative country that has seen radical groups working hard to spread a more militant version of the creed in recent decades.

Surveys find the country’s huge population of young people tends to be conservative: one poll found nearly 40% wanted the country to be run according to Sharia law.

But Marvi Sirmed, an outspoken social activist, says some people are becoming more liberal, particularly on the subject of gay rights.

“It is a very, very pleasant surprise for me that so many people on social media are actually supporting it, because that was certainly not the case just five years ago,” she said.
In 2011 Sirmed was the object of furious denunciations, after she appeared on a television show to defend the US embassy in Islamabad for hosting a “Pride celebration” for Pakistani lesbian, gay and transgender activists.

“It is still extremely difficult to even talk about these issues, but it is getting a little better,” she said.

The US supreme court decision has attracted little coverage in the mainstream media, but considerable scrutiny online.

“The generation growing up with the internet have more access to the outside world,” said Khalid, who lives in Lahore with his wife.

“My virtual life is mostly outside Pakistan, but on Facebook people inside the country can see what I am doing and they don’t necessarily understand.”

Only 32 million of Pakistan’s estimated 200 million people are thought to have access to the internet, although it is growing fast as smart phones become more popular.

Emrys Schoemaker, a researcher from the London School of Economics conducting field research on internet use in Pakistan, said a growing number of poorer people are using Facebook for the first time, as telecom companies offer free access to the site.

“A lot of people don’t know what the flag stands for,” he said. “One day labourer said he felt tricked after liking a friend’s rainbow profile picture and later discovering it was for gay marriage.”

On Wednesday, a call for the liberal-minded Express Tribune newspaper to be shut down was one of the most popular Twitter trends in Pakistan.

The source of the online anger was a blog on the newspaper’s website entitled “My husband is gay – A difficult truth”.

Hamza Ali Abbasi, a film star followed by more than 60,000 people on Facebook, declared himself “disappointed at people in Pakistan celebrating a behaviour that is taboo even in animals” and changed his profile picture to a rainbow flag with a red line across it.

“It’s strange how a law passed in a land far away has generated a debate about a topic which is somewhat irrelevant in Pakistan,” he later mused in a Facebook note.

“Now we know that intolerant fanatics exist who wear western clothes, have utmost exposure, education and are very eloquent in their English skills,” he wrote of the people who criticised his stance.

Homosexuality may be illegal in Pakistan, but can be highly visible at times. A large transgendered community make their living on the streets by begging and prostitution.

In 2009, the supreme court ruled transgendered people had the right to identify themselves as a third gender on their national identification cards and ordered the government to help find them work.

Mohsin Hamid, a Lahore-based author, said that while there was “a lot of homosexuality inside Pakistan, it is not an issue people talk about”.

“In Pakistan there is a kind of societal nervous laughter on the subject of homosexuality,” he said. “It evokes smiles and giggles, but there aren’t many public formats in which to have a serious conversation about it.”

As atrocities are committed in the name of Islam, our ‘leaders’ are failing us by Nazir Afzal

With Muslims both the victims and perpetrators of terrible crimes, the dearth of representative voices in the UK to speak up for our faith has never been clearer 

(Published in Guardian - All Rights Reserved, Copyright) 

Tuesday 30 June 2015

The atrocity in Tunisia, at a hotel I once stayed in, is terrifying and deeply depressing. Muslim communities in the UK feel the pain of those who have lost loved ones. This is Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and the fact that people have committed murder supposedly in Islam’s name has shocked us to the core.

For it is Muslims who are the biggest victims of Isis. They fight the jihadists in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and it is they who hourly die brutal deaths at the hands of Isis. The soul-searching of Muslims in the UK and beyond is now at fever pitch – the question they ask constantly is: what more can they do?

A “not in my name” march is planned after Ramadan; loud voices on the streets and in the media condemn violence and extremism, but still more is expected. This is where the conversation begins to dry up and the deficit in Muslim leadership is starkly evident. There are 13 Muslim MPs, including eight women, but they do not speak for the faith, rather for their constituents. Imams, with a few excellent exceptions, don’t see their role as anything more than prayer and looking after a building, the mosque – the imam of Dibley is not so different from the vicar in that respect.

Larger representative groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain have little credibility either with the state or the communities. In London Muslims make up 10% of the population, and represent more than 50 nationalities – compared with just a few in the north of England. There are also many different strands of the faith: the biggest mosque where I used to live was Ahmadi, a branch of Islam whose adherents aren’t even allowed to go to Mecca. The faith splinters: it has developed tribes who have different homelands and cannot even agree on the dates of religious festivals.

The government, through largely focusing historically on “representative” groups has failed to build capacity in grassroots organisations. Muslims are mostly under 25, female and from low-income backgrounds, but the “leaders” are much older, male and middle class – they don’t speak for typical Muslims because they aren’t typical Muslims.

We face some real challenges that go way beyond the threat of jihadism. In 2014, 14% of prisoners in British jails were Muslim – more than 12,000, of whom fewer than 200 were inside for terror-related offences. One in four young people in youth custody or secure homes are Muslim. Muslims are disproportionately involved in the drug trade and child sexual exploitation. What worries me deeply is that communities don’t have leaders capable of rising to these challenges. That said, many don’t think it is helpful for communities to have any “leaders”, because it encourages the authorities to lazily go to these usual suspects rather than to engage more widely.

In tackling the deficit of Muslim leadership, we need – to use an economic analogy – to cut and invest. The first thing to cut is the communities’ focus on victimhood. Yes, Islamophobia is real, and anti-Muslim hatred touches thousands. I have suffered it several times in my career. However, you should not be defined by the things that are done to you, but by the things you do. Look at other examples of groups of immigrants who have embedded themselves in the UK, such as the Jewish and Irish communities. Their leaders focused on their strengths, and decided that victimhood would be remembered a few days a year at most. Yes, there should be memorial days, such as that for the victims of Srebrenica (11 July), but it shouldn’t define your whole identity.

The second thing to cut is this reliance on unrepresentative leaders. We need more women’s and young people’s voices to be heard. For several years now I have made it a rule not to attend an event or meeting where there isn’t a mixed audience. Next to be cut is the instinct to put each other down. Too many climb the ladder and pull it up after them. The mentoring schemes are plentiful, but the turnover of mentors is overwhelming. How else are we going to nurture and develop the next generation? Give them the tools to meet their aspirations before extremists suggest another way.

When I talk of investing, I’m talking to those who have more to give. Islam has a long history of charitable giving; it’s one of the five pillars. Organisations such as Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid are internationally renowned. But in this country there are several Ramadan appeals, as there are every year, for funding the building of mosques. The Qur’an talks of this as being a blessing, but when you have more than 100 in Bradford, for example – of which more than half have congregations of fewer than 50 people – would the blessings not be greater if the money raised was used to take someone out of poverty, give them an education and protect them from harm? Developing communities is not the high priority it should be. Examples such as a mosque in Bradford that decided to use the money to employ a youth worker instead of building a dome are rare but welcome.

We have talent. We contribute billions to the UK’s GDP. We have ambitious youth. What we don’t have is the right leadership. Issuing a press release when something terrible happens is no substitute for action on the ground to build capability and to give the young the voice that is stifled by their elders.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Ramadan Is Not a Time for Bloodshed What explains ISIS’s perversion of the Muslim holy month?

By Caner K. Dagli
Published in The Atlantic - All Rights Reserved

In a way, Ramadan combines the spirit of Christmas with the inwardness of the Easter season. Indeed, Muslims consider Ramadan to be the month that the Word of God (the Quran) first descended into the world through the revelation to Muhammad, as Christmas is the time when the Word of God (Jesus) came into the world through the virgin birth.
The Ramadan fast is marked by its anonymity and intimacy with God. The Prophet said that God says, “Every good deed is [rewarded] 10 times its like, up to 700 times, except for fasting. It is for Me, and I will reward it.” No one but God can see you fast. The Prophet said that especially while fasting one should not shout or return insults, but respond to an abuser by saying, “I am fasting. I am fasting.”

Just a day without food and one realizes how fragile the body is, how it becomes harder not only to move but even to think! It is a bodily experience of emptiness and poverty that Sufi Muslims say should be the state of the soul before God at all times. Muslims are reminded of the dependence of human beings upon that which is other than themselves for their happiness, and through the daily Ramadan ritual they practice breaking free of even their wholesome and licit desires in order to turn inward. It is an exercise of the spiritual heart overcoming the ego. The Prophet directed Muslims to the inner nature of the fast by warning, “Many people get nothing from the fast but hunger and thirst.”
* * *
In contrast, at the beginning of the current month of Ramadan, an ISIS spokesman said, “Aspire to battle in this noble month … make Ramadan a month of disasters for the unbelievers.” It was a message that mangled lofty teachings about the holy month drawn from sayings of the Prophet and combined them with warmongering rhetoric whose spirit was summed up in the spokesman’s declaration, “No acts of worship are equal to [military] jihad.” On Friday, the second Friday of Ramadan and just days after the release of the statement, vicious attacks struck three different countries. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the atrocities in Kuwait and Tunisia, but not, as yet, France.

The group’s brutality has also escalated in Syria, where at least 145 civilians were reportedly killed in the town of Kobani.

It is tempting to view ISIS’s Ramadan statement as a manifestation of dueling (and tiresome) narratives between a fringe and a mainstream—“ISIS is Islamic!”, “No, it’s not!”—but in reality there is something deeper going on.

A great danger in all religions is the drift from the inward to the outward, resulting in a focus on the shell at the expense of the kernel. When this happens, rituals like fasting are seen less as interiorizing and illuminating ways of approaching God, and more as measures of conformity and participation in a greater human project. For those people who are usually but misleadingly called fundamentalists (even the most peaceful kind), the pursuits of truth, law, contemplation, and social life are often mashed together into a mechanistic fervor in the service of a supreme goal: the fulfillment of an ideological blueprint. These people fuse and confuse the spiritual and the material, and measure all goodness in terms of adherence to a pre-ordained program and vision of what society (and perhaps the entire world) is supposed to look like.

Without inner meaning and truth, spirituality is reduced inexorably to some social, communal, or legal obligation. Instead of being about the sacred, religion is about “the community” or “the glory of [insert name of group].” For different reasons, modern secular systems of thought tend to see religion as being entirely reducible to (and not only comprising) matters of class, gender, race, and the like. But what about the truth as such? What about the sacred?

When all that is left of religion is its shell, something more sinister will inevitably take the place of the kernel. Rituals, when they cease to nourish the soul and allow participation in a transcendent truth, can become mechanisms of control: you perform the actions and are punished if you do not, and prayer and fasting become gears and levers in a machine designed to build a perfect world. This is the Ramadan of ISIS, where boys are reportedly hung by their wrists for eating during the fast. Only with such a vision of things does it become plausible to say that no act of worship is superior to war, and that a month of fasting and prayer is a special season for bloodletting.

* * *
It is precisely the spiritual power, joy, and generosity of Ramadan that the cynical propagandists of ISIS are trying (and, I would argue, failing) to redirect for their own demented purposes. They will be unsuccessful because for almost all Muslims, Islam is still a beautiful religion whose truths satisfy the mind and whose rituals fill hearts with peace. The idea of Ramadan as a season of cruelty and aggression is not just incorrect but unthinkable. So how does it become thinkable?

A religion is not simply a set of beliefs and rituals. It is a community that enshrines and transmits wisdom across generations and, in the case of Islamic civilization, across continents. Such a tradition enables the believer to know what they must do, but also answers questions like: Why must I do this? What is the nature of the world such that this ritual means something? What is the soul and how will it be changed by this act? Institutions like the Sufi orders, Islam’s philosophical and theological schools of thought, and its vast spiritual literature are delicate and precious, not easily recreated once destroyed or abandoned.

Yet Muslim modernists and “fundamentalists” of many stripes share a conviction that they should jettison over a thousand years of Islamic spirituality, philosophy, and theology, and presume to extract truth and meaning from the Quran and Sunnah (the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad) all by themselves. For the modernizing reformers (Muslim and non-Muslim), this spiritual deforestation is meant to bring Muslims out of a hidebound and even superstitious tradition into a more progressive future, while for revivalists it is meant to purify the tradition of its wayward accretions.

The effect is ultimately the same: believers bereft of a thousand years of wisdom flailing, at best, to make sense of their sacred texts, or at worst, capitalizing on ignorance among some of their co-religionists to enforce their vision of the world, no matter how brutal.