I've just received my copy of the new-look glossy Illume magazine. Illume is an effort of a group of young American Muslims and gathers an impressive array of writers including Hesham Hassaballa, Zaid Shakir, Wajahat Ali and Shahed Amanullah, together with other writers whom I've not heard of and who are clearly much better than the ones I have!
Is that a fair assessment? Well, you'll have to subscribe to find out! Subscription is US$40 a year or US$72 for 2 years. If you're stupid and place no value on your brain cells, you will not subscribe.
One essay I'm looking forward to reading is Naeem Randhawa's Tea With The Taliban, an account of the author's 30 days in Afghanistan. The photos are fantastic. There's also an article by Antonio Graceffo on the Muslims of Cham in Cambodia, as well as an interview with New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh.
Anyway, I'd better stop writing this post and start reading the magazine!
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Mr Ali’s biography on the Ayn Academy website includes a claim that he is “on the Board of Advisors at Markaz Aleem in Cairo, Egypt”. So what is this “Markaz Aleem”? What is its role in Islamic studies or in the accreditation of imams in Egypt? No details are given.
My concern isn’t so much with Afroz Ali’s claims about himself. At least, not in this post. Rather, I have another concern.
The issue of hijab is an extremely sensitive one. There are differing views on the subject. I have read various interpretations and rulings on the issue of women’s dress and the extent of their covering as required under the sharia or sacred law of Islam.
I have read views that state that women are required to cover their faces in the presence of non-mahram men (i.e. men whom they can marry) at all times except at the Haj. I have read views that state that women are required to cover everything except their face and hands in the presence of non-mahram men. I have read opinions that state that it is permissible for women to show the front part of their hair (as is common in South Asia, Central Asia and Iran). I have also read opinions that state that women need not cover their hair all the time in the presence of non-mahram men.
Each of these opinions has some scholarly basis. I have a preference for one of these views. However, I am not qualified to give any authoritative expression as to which view is correct.
And neither is Afroz Ali.
The choice of these women needs to be respected, whether we agree with their choice or not. Further, it is not for unqualified men with only rudimentary knowledge of Islamic sacred law to be writing on this issue.
I have every respect for Muslim sisters who choose to wear hijab, whether full-time or part-time. I also have every respect for sisters who choose not to.
Men have absolutely no idea how difficult it is walking out their front doors and being ambassadors of their faith in an environment when so much hatred is invested in that faith. We are living in a time when many people who claim to follow Jesus actively degrade and despise women who choose to dress like his mother just as much as (if not more than) they despise people who look like they might have been born in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.
Muslim women need to be free to make their own choices. We may not agree with their choices, just as much as they may not agree with ours.
I’m no hadith scholar, but I do recall reading a hadith in which the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) remarked:
There will come a time when holding onto Islam will be harder than holding onto hot coals.
I do know that making a commitment to wear the hijab is an enormous one. Many of our sisters last the distance. Some stop for a break before continuing. Some choose to walk on leaving the issue by the wayside.
The confusion in the metaphors I have used in the paragraph immediately preceding this one is but a partial indication of just how difficult this issue is. I think it is a matter that should be left to our sisters to decide among themselves. If they need our advice and opinion, we should offer it honestly and with respect. We should keep in mind just how difficult this issue is.
It might also make it easier if our men decided to wear some openly Muslim symbol or dress. Perhaps our lectures to women on hijab should be accompanied by lectures to men about wearing caps and/or kufiyyeh's and/or sporting beards. In the present environment, what’s good for the gander should be just as good for the goose.
I myself used to lecture sisters on wearing hijab. I even considered sisters who didn’t wear hijab to be inferior Muslims or not worth talking to. At one stage, I even stopped returning their salams. We all make mistakes. We live and we learn.
There are Muslim women making enormous sacrifices in the cause of human rights and civil liberties in their countries. They are women like Irene Khan and Shirin Ebadi. In Australia, Muslim women with or without hijab are making enormous contributions to Muslim communities and the broader Australian community.
Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, whether on a full or part time basis, must be respected. Muslim women who choose not to must also be respected. Whether hijab is compulsory or not under Islamic sacred law should be left to qualified scholars prepared to outline the full extent of their qualifications and provide clear proof of same. Everyone else should just shut their mouths.
That includes both Irfan Yusuf and Afroz Ali.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Muhammad Fethullah Gulen, an influential Turkish religious scholar and educator, has had the refusal of his application for permanent residency to the United States overturned by a US court.
Gulen is influential in Turkey and Central Asian republics as well as Western China. His followers run a network of schools and educational establishments across the world, including Australia.
Previously, Gulen's Australian followers distanced themselves from Sufism. This was consistent with their claims to being followers of Said Nursi al-Kurdi, popularly known as Bediuzzaman (literally "wonder of the age"). Gulen claims to be a student of Bediuzzaman, although the two men are believed never to have met. Bediuzzaman was known to have had mixed feelings about sufi orders.
Sufi groups have played a controversial role in Turkish politics. Most were banned during the early days of the Turkish republic. One Turkish sufi and religious scholar, Muhammad Zahid Bursawi, was close to a number of conservative and Islamist politicians, including former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan who was overthrown by the military in a coup.
With the election of a new conservative small-'i' islamist government in Ankara and with aggressive secularism in retreat, sufi orders are again becoming influential. Gulen's followers are now beginning to be more open about their teacher's sufi heritage. Gulen is author of a number of sufi works, including Emerald Hills of the Heart, a primer on Naqshbandi sufism.
Gulen was recently elected by two influential publications as the world's most influential intellectual and thinker. Editors of both publications claim the results were skewed by Gulen's followers, who are said to have voted en masse.
However, Gulen's influence in the Turkish-speaking world and in former Ottoman colonies (now modern European states) such as Albania and Bosnia should not be underestimated. Some paranoid observers claim Gulen's growing influence is evidence of Turkey being in the possible throes of an Iran-style Islamic revolution. Yet Gulen has rarely shown signs of support for any Islamist party. Unlike other religious figures, Gulen isn't known to have instructed his followers to get behind any party or coalition in elections.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
Monday, July 21, 2008
Some time ago, I changed the postings on this blog to only allow comments I had moderated to appear. I've now decided to remove the moderation situation and will allow all comments in. However, I will reserve the right to remove any comments that I deem offensive, abusive or that contain threats of violence or are in some other way undesirable.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
Friday, July 11, 2008
One reader recently send me this e-mail ...
I wanted to take a few minutes to give you feedback on your writings; I try to read your writings as much as I can ... but when I do read them, I usually find them to be very informative and sensible. I’ll be honest, there have been a few occasions when I haven’t agreed with your views but I guess this is to be expected and quite natural. But you certainly help to clarify many misconceptions and shed light onto many misunderstood issues an events.
I think you are fulfilling a very important responsibility by creating awareness of some realities by responding to ridiculous media stories about Islam and Muslims. Keep up the good work!
I'll be honest and say that I sometimes read what I've written in the past and cringe!
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
I've just visited the blogsite of the so-called Centre for Social Cohesion, started by the allegedly conservative and allegedly liberal UK thinktank Civitas.
And what is the common theme of this blog? Any mention of the British National Party? Any discussion on developments in Northern Ireland? Any word on poverty? Unemployment? Any comments on the recent controversy concerning the Australian staffer of the London mayor?
Nope. It's all about Muslims, Islam, sharia, honour killings, caliphate websites, public libraries conspiring with al-Qaeda, etc etc. The implication is clear - these dirty dark-skinned ugly Mozzlems are a threat to social cohesion. Charming.
Is this the best that so-called conservatives in the UK can come up with? Have they completely lost the plot? Are they obsessed with finding Muslim conspiracies as some Germans (and at least one Austrian) were with identifying Jewish conspiracies some 60-70 years ago?
This kind of thinking seems to have become mainstream in the United Kingdom. It isn't helped by irresponsible comments by self-declared Muslim spokespeople. But it also isn't helped by the hysteria generated by wacky media commentators and thinktanks.
Reuters recently reported comments made by Britain's first government minister of Pakistani Muslim heritage, Shahid Malik ...
Muslims in Britain feel like aliens in their own society and say they are targeted like "the Jews of Europe", the country's first Muslim government minister said.
International Development Minister Shahid Malik painted a bleak picture of the integration of 1.8 million Muslims, three years after Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people on London's transport system ...
Malik, who has been the target of race attacks including a firebombing of his family car, said some media coverage "makes Muslims feel like aliens in their own country."
"If you ask Muslims today what do they feel like, they feel like the Jews of Europe," he told a documentary to be shown on Channel 4 television next week, marking the third anniversary of the attacks on July 7, 2005.
"I don't mean to equate that with the Holocaust but in the way that it was legitimate almost -- still is in some parts -- to target Jews. Many Muslims would say that we feel the exact same way."
An ICM survey done for the documentary shows a narrow majority of 51 percent of Britons blame Islam to some degree for the bombings.
Islam is to blame for the bombings? Which Islam? The Islamic heritage of the 5 or so people who died in the bombings? The Islam of the first victim to be buried?
Are groups like the Centre for Social Cohesion really promoting social cohesion? Or are they really just adding oxygen to the fires of hatred and prejudice?
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
Thursday, July 10, 2008
The Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council, a thinktank I've never known to have ever published anything even mildly critical of any decision or action of any Israeli government, has invited a "terrorism researcher" to inform it that there are some "moderate" Muslims emerging in a place called "the Islamic world".
As we all know, terrorism is a purely Muslim phenomenon. The Columbian group FARC are just an example of how far and wide nasty Muslim terrorists have spread. And we all know that FARC wants to establish an Islamic state in Columbia.
Further, one can only understand Muslims through the prism of national security. Hence AIJAC has decided that instead of inviting a Muslim social scientist or even someone with a proper understanding of Muslim societies (e.g. Professor Ira Lapidus), they'll get some "terrorism researcher" promoted by a neo-Conservative speakers bureau.
The Australian Jewish News reports on July 8 2008 that Muslim "moderates" are "making their voices heard". As if their voices were never heard before. Unlike the universe (which only began with a big bang), the "Islamic world" has just been a constant loud bang lasting fourteen centuries until recently.
And who are these recently-emerged "moderates"? Apparently, there is one Egyptian chap named Sa'ad Ed-Din Ibrahim. His moderate credentials arise from him declaring that he was ...
... seen on Egyptian TV stating that Israel had become a technology powerhouse with a strong economy because it was a democracy.Amazing. So what you need to do to be declared "moderate" is declare that Israel's IT industry and economy has been caused not by it being the largest recipient of US foreign aid or to the fact that Israeli Jews live longer and lower infant mortality rates to Israeli Arabs. Rather, you attribute it purely to the idea that Israel is a democracy.
Now there's no doubt that Israel is a few trillion times more democratic than most of its Arab neighbours. But does that mean democracy is unknown among Muslim-majority states. Is Indonesia a theocratic regime? Is Bosnia Herzegovina on the verge of returning to absolute monarchy? Is the Ottoman Caliphate about to be restored in Turkey?
Then there is Ali Ahmed Said, described as "a voice in Syrian affairs". What the ...? What kind of affairs is he involved in? Does Mr Said sleep with lots of Syrian women? Does he run an antique store in Aleppo?
Said is regarded as a moderate because he ...
... has publicly targeted radical interpretations of Islam and also campaigned against corruption.So if you don't campaign against corruption, you must be an extremist. I guess on that basis, some of these Arab countries lining up to establish embassies in Tel Aviv are led by some rather nasty people.
Then there is the poster girl for every Muslim-phobe, far-right cultural warrior and wacko, Dr Wafa Sultan. The AJN report describes Sultan as ...
... a Sunni Muslim living in California ...
Someone should tell Dr Sultan that she is a Sunni. I'm sure it will be news to her. Just about every credible report about Dr Sultan says that she grew up in a Syrian Alawi/Nusayri family. Anyway, what makes Dr Sultan so moderate? Apparently, it is because ...
... she has challenged her own religion in numerous forums ...
Actually, she doesn't regard Islam as her religion. She has openly declared that she no longer regards herself as a Muslim. That's her choice, of course. Yet for some reason, AIJAC and/or AJN persist in describing Sultan as a Muslim.
That's a bit like me describing Maryam Jameelah (Margaret Marcus) as a Jew. The fact that she doesn't believe in Judaism and openly describes herself as an ex-Jew doesn't matter. The fact that she adopted the Islamic theocratic religion and politics of the Jama'at-i-Islami is irrelevant. The fact that she has written that Judaism treats God as "a real estate agent for the Jewish people" and has called for the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state is inconsequential.
Even more absurd are claims by this "terrorism researcher" that in
... the Islamic diaspora ... there is a secularist influence but it hasn’t touched the core.Where did that remark come from? Do Muslims living in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada regard themselves as a "diaspora"? Do they regard their real home (spiritual or otherwise) as somewhere else? And in what sense has secularism not touched the core of these communities? Do they all refuse to vote? Do they boycott secular political parties? Do they refuse to pay taxes? Do they live in Amish-style settlements and drive horse-drawn carts?
I almost fell of my chair when I read this "researcher" described as describing "Sufism" (by which I resume he means what Muslims refer to as zuhd or tasawwuf or ihsan or even irfan) as
... a form of Islamic mysticism that is seen as a moderate stream of Islam.A form of Islamic mysticism? How many other forms are there? Has a type of Muslim kabbalist emerged? Have Jesuit Muslims set up their first monastery in Lakemba?
If this is the best AIJAC can do to understand Muslims, Allah/G-d help them.
UPDATE I: One anonymous reader has pointed out that the AIJAC speaker, Nir Boms, also spoke at the Limmud Oz Festival of Jewish Learning & Culture. The official Limmod Oz website gives a preview of Boms' lecture. I'm not sure whether Boms wrote this preview. That preview is as follows:
A war of civilizations? A battle of faiths? A peaceful Jihad? The dawn of the new millennium has brought the words “terrorism” and “Islamic Radicalism” much closer to our lives. New York, London, Madrid, Bali and Melbourne have ‘tasted’ these new realities and have been forced to provide some answers. Using video presentations, the session will provide an introduction to some surprising and uncommon voices. It will further explore the questions presented by this new era with a particular focus on Islamic radicalism and on some of the unique and brave voices within Islam that seek to counter it.According to the anonymous reader, Boms' presentation was limited to the Midle East. Yet the preview reproduced above clearly refers to "unique and brave voices within Islam", not "within the Middle East". Further, I'm really not sure why these voices are described as unique. The implication is clear: that "terrorism" and "Islamic Radicalism" are the norm and everything else is "unique and brave".
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
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Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Sunday, July 06, 2008
What did Hillary say when she found out she lost the final vote in Democratic Party primaries? "Oh bummer!"
Yes, I admit this is exceptionally lame. Poking fun at people's names is as bad as casting aspersions on their religion. Or casting aspersions on the religions of others.
Which makes me wonder why Barack Obama is so-damned intent on keeping away from Muslim American voters. Isn't he aware that some of these voters delivered victory to George W Bush in 2000? And what does it say about the allegedly inclusive America he wants to lead? Does Obama's view of social inclusion have its limits?
Ethnic and religious minorities across America are asking these questions. Is Obama's idea of inclusion limited by the types of exclusion practised by his political enemies? If neo-Cons despise a particular group, will Obama avoid that group in an effort to avoid being labelled by his political enemies?
Or is this an issue of past ghosts coming back to haunt? Many neo-Con writers such as Ann Coulter express hatred for anything related to Islam more because of their past relationships with Muslims than anything else. Mark Steyn also fits into this category. Barack Obama has perhaps better reason to resent Islam if he associates it with his father and step-father.
Whatever the reason, Obama's reluctance to embrace voters of all backgrounds is beginning to worry members of a range of minority groups. Writing in the Detroit Free Press, Jewish-American writer Emily Hauser expresses her discomfort with Obama ...
I am a Jewish American and an enthusiastic Barack Obama supporter. I can't tell you how much I hope he'll be our next president.
But for all my longing for change and insistence that "yes we can," there's a bee in my bonnet, a sense of real dissonance between the Obama rhetoric and the reality: the Muslim thing.
Not the idea that he might be one. No, what has me so bothered is that an American presidential candidate acts as if the word "Muslim" were a slur. And according to recent reports, the Muslim community is feeling the sting, too ...
... the campaign discusses, endlessly, the candidate's Christianity; the third item on its "Fight the Smears" Web site reads: "Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim." Months ago, Michelle Obama characterized references to her husband's middle name, Hussein, a "fear bomb," and recently, two Muslim women were kept from standing behind him at a rally.
Honestly, there's something noxious in all this - as if Obama isn't proudly declaring his own faith, but running as fast as he can from the other ...
I wish that rather than hand out pamphlets declaring him a "committed Christian," Obama had held a prayer breakfast with an Imam; rather than trumpet his own faith, he'd found some praise for that of 1 billion Muslims around the globe.
Or, in the words of Keith Ellison, a Muslim and a congressman from Minnesota: "A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim."
In his "Yes We Can" speech, Obama echoed a powerful Jewish notion: tikkun olam, repairing the world -- an idea that embraces not just the physical world, but the people in it, and our relationships.
To my mind, it would be a real step toward repairing the world if Obama were now to consider an equally powerful, Muslim concept: "Allah will put friendship between you and those who have been your enemies. Allah is mighty, forgiving, and merciful."
Obama's campaign team would do well to read and take note of Hauser's sentiments. His attempts to distance himself with one unpopular minority could land him in trouble with other potentially unpopular minorities.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Richard Kerbaj writes in The Australian today of an Australian aid agency which has allegedly breached Australia’s anti-terror laws. Muslim Aid Australia (MAA), in conjunction with Muslim Aid UK, has been raising funds for Palestinians in Gaza caught up in the Israeli-enforced blockade arising from Gaza’s takeover by HAMAS. That aid has been allegedly channelled through another UK-based charity called Interpal, a proscribed organisation under Australia’s anti-terror laws.
The current Consolidated List of proscribed terrorist organisations and individuals has over 1,000 persons and entities listed. It’s an offence to hold assets on behalf of anyone on the list or to make assets available to them. This is all part of the terrorist assets freezing regime, details of which can be found here.
Interpal, also known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, is number 462 on the list. It was proscribed by former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on 21 November 2003, well before the HAMAS takeover of Gaza in June 2007 and the Israeli-enforced blockade. Kerbaj claims that MAA has channelled funds to Gaza via Interpal, an organisation proscribed under US and Australian legislation but not proscribed under UK legislation. Interpal is known to work with mainstream organisations working on the ground in Gaza such as the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) that works with Palestinian refugees living in camps in the Occupied Territories, Lebanon and other places.
Kerbaj provides a list of MAA “principal directors”. Curiously, he mentions where each director was born. I’m not sure how this is relevant to the story, especially since all directors are known to be Australian citizens (or, at the very least, Australian permanent residents).
It’s unknown how many other Australian aid agencies have channelled funds and other forms of aid to Gaza through Interpal. However, the fact that UNWRA works with Interpal raises some interesting issues. Such as how any aid organisation is expected to deliver aid to Palestinians without involving Interpal in some way, shape or form.
The other problem is with the legislation itself, which relies on the executive adding an individual or organisation to the list. Interpal was listed in 2003, allegedly because it was linked to HAMAS. Yet the reality is that HAMAS has been running various health and welfare-related projects (such as clinics and schools) since even before the Palestinian authority was established. Indeed, Israel encouraged HAMAS in these activities in the hope that HAMAS would act as an effective counter to the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organisation which Israel regarded as its enemy.
Given that HAMAS is now ruling Gaza, how can any organisation deliver aid to Gaza Palestinians without in some way involving HAMAS or a HAMAS-related entity? The listing of Interpal by former Foreign Minister Downer on the Consolidated List now effectively means that Australian aid agencies cannot donate to help the people of Gaza at all. I doubt this is what Downer intended when he made the directive in relation to Interpal.
Further, Australia has chosen to follow the lead of the United States instead of the UK, which has twice found Interpal having little or no substantive link to HAMAS. The United States doesn’t exactly have a brilliant record in proscription of individuals and groups as terrorists. ABC reported that the US only recently removed former South African president Nelson Mandela from its terrorism watch list.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf
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Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Dinesh D'Souza poses this question: Is Christianity the Only Way? It's a legitimate question to be asked by someone living in a country as religious as the United States, where (according to Pew Research) some 92% of people believe in God. It's also legitimate considering the the United States has a strong and officially secular political system where holding a particular religious affiliation isn't a condition of holding any (including the highest) public office in the land.
At the same time, religious pluralism is very strong. Many Americans don't regard their own faith as being the only source of absolute truth or as the only comprehensive road to paradise.
What got the most attention, however, was Pew's discovery that a majority of religious Americans believe that other religions make valid claims about God and can lead to heaven. Around 80 percent of Catholics, Protestants and Jews, as well as 55 percent of Muslims, reject the idea that their religion is the only way.
D'Souza makes a very important point about how the monotheistic faiths view each other, yet how little this view is even known to many Americans.
... many people don't realize that just as Christianity sees itself as succeeding and incorporating Judaism, so Islam sees itself as coming after and incorporating both Judaism and Christianity. Consequently I'm not surprised that most Muslims view Jews and Christians as fellow monotheists rather than hell-bound infidels.I was a bit confused by D'Souza's claim that ...
... Christianity is the only religion to hold another religion to be wholly true. That religion is Judaism.
Does that mean that Christians accept that Judaism's insistence on belief in a unitarian God is "wholly true"? What about Judaism's rejection of the belief that Jesus was the Messiah?
Followers of all faiths and none are welcome to comment.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has just handed down its decision in the complaint brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) against Canadian news magazine Macleans and theatre critic Mark Steyn. The subject of the complaint was an article Steyn wrote entitled The future belongs to Islam. The offending article was an excerpt from Steyn’s book America Alone.
The article was published in October 2006. It probably would have been forgotten by November 2006, if not earlier. Steyn was a virtual nobody in Canada. Now, with all the fuss over these legal proceedings, Steyn has become a huge somebody.
The CIC should have thought this one through and obtained proper advice before going ahead. They might have consulted with other Muslim groups in similar circumstances (such as the Islamic Council of Victoria).
On the other hand, CIC took steps within the law, using remedies that the law made available to them. Whilst their actions could be presented as an assault on freedom of speech, they certainly weren’t offending the Rule of Law. Certainly arguing rationally before tribunals and commissions is preferable to burning embassies or issuing death threats.
The problem now is that the CIC have made themselves (and Canadian Muslims) look like they are against freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In the minds of many of their countrymen and women, Canadian Muslims will be seen as a group that considers themselves above criticism or offence.
Perhaps Dr Hesham Hassaballa should have written these wise words much earlier ...
While I understand the feeling that may have led to the lawsuit against Maclean's, the action was truly misplaced. It sends the message that Muslims are not proponents of free speech and the free exchange of ideas. While I agree that speech which incites violence and bloodshed against Muslims or any other group of people should never be tolerated, the Maclean's article by Mark Steyn- as writer Ali Eteraz said best - "could never, ever, never ever, rise to 'incitement'" under U.S. case law.The CIC has much work to do in improving its relations with the popular media. I understand that engaging with some editors and columnists is just pointless. But Canada is a big place, and there are plenty of news magazines and publications that will give minority communities a fair go.
Of course, there's no substitute for having more and more young people engaging with media. This means studying mass communications or journalism and making media a genuine career path.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf
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