Monday, January 25, 2010

COMMENT: An uncomfortable moment ...

Some days back I had the good fortune to perform my fajr (pre-dawn) prayers at a new institution established by a younging chap of Fiji-Indian extraction. The al-Mustapha Institute has been established by Noor-ul-Hassan Al-Hijazi, a graduate of Hijaz College in the United Kingdom.

Also present were a number of local Brisbane people as well as Hadhrat Imam Shaykh Afroz Ali, founder of the al-Ghazali Centre in Sydney and a qualified imam in the Islamic tradition. Regular readers of this blog will know that Allama Afroz was also once a graduate of the Islamic University of Madina, though his degrees seem to have been lost somewhere. Either that, or his studies have taken him to Madina and then onto somewhere else. You figure it out.

I couldn't help but ask the head of the Al-Mustapha Institute about his training. I asked him about ...

* where he studied;

* how many years he studied for;

* what subjects he studied;

* what qualifications he received;

* what form those qualifications took.

He answered all these questions without any hesitation. Indeed, he volunteered more information such as who some of his teachers were and even the nature of the graduation ceremony.

Sayyidina Ayatullah Afroz was present during these discussions, though he did look somewhat uncomfortable to say the least.

So will Maulana Pir Abul Bayaan Afroz provide us with details of his precise qualifications with the same degree of candor and honesty? I'm certainly not holding my breath.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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OPINION: Thirteenth Column in Crescent Times: Why should we bother writing for a Muslim newspaper?

One of the best books I’ve read this year is entitled Leave to Remain. It’s a memoir by an associate professor of environmental engineering at the University of Sydney. The author talks about his experiences growing up in a country wracked by civil war, his studies and work in the United Kingdom and his eventual settlement in Australia. Of particular interest to me was reading about how the author gets along with people of his own ethnic and religious heritage.

That author’s experiences are somewhat similar to my father’s. Dad completed his PhD in Canberra during the 1960’s before moving back to his home country of Pakistan. He was about to be transferred to what was then East Pakistan when he was offered a job in Sydney. Had that job offer not come through, he and his family may have been caught up in a civil war.

My father has an Indian Muslim heritage. He privately practices his faith. The author of Leave to Remain, Dr Abbas El-Zein, has Lebanese Muslim heritage. He publicly professes to be a non-believer. They could both be described as “Muslim migrants”. They both migrated in similar circumstances.

But can these migration experiences really be compared? Isn’t it like comparing chalk
and cheese? And isn’t comparing one Muslim experience to another a little silly?

Greg Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of a foreign-owned newspaper calling itself The Australian, doesn’t seem to think so. Recently he wrote a column suggesting we need to have a debate in this country about the desirability of having Muslim migrants. Or migrants from Muslim backgrounds. Or migrants from Muslim-majority states. He message wasn’t very clear.

Sheridan’s editor gave him the headline of “Uncontrolled Muslim influx a threat”. He acknowledged in the 4th paragraph that:

It is extremely difficult to talk honestly about Muslim immigration. All generalisations about it are subject to countless exceptions. Muslims are very different from each other.

Sheridan then proceeded to praise a book which made all kinds of outlandish generalisations in the service of a conspiracy theory that Muslims are on the verge of taking over Europe. It was real “Eurabia” stuff.

Apparently Muslim migration leads to certain problems for host societies that Sheridan describes as “the Muslim problems”.

These problems include: they outbreed us; they tend not to integrate, they have a strange kind of victimhood, they all seem to hate Jews.

Sheridan says that the solution is that we should not have uncontrolled Muslim immigration. Since when has Australia had uncontrolled Muslim immigration? Indeed, since when has Australia had an immigration policy that is built on religion? Yes, we had the White Australia Policy. But this policy did not stop Albanian Muslims from migrating here in the 1920’s or Yugoslav Muslims in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.

You’d think an experienced editor of a national newspaper would get his facts right. But sadly when it comes to issues even vaguely related to something vaguely related to something deemed Muslim, facts and logic are thrown overboard. This is what happens when we allow others to write our story instead of writing it ourselves.

If for no other reason than this, we need a national newspaper that reflects the diversity of opinion among those Australians who feel inclined to tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms. The newspaper you are holding in your hands or reading on your screens is put together by a bunch of writers and editors who disagree on more things than they agree on.

Yet we still are civil in our disagreements and appreciate each other’s criticisms. After all, as the greatest of men said, disagreements among his followers are a mercy from God.

So celebrate the first anniversary of the Crescent Times. And if you disagree with anything I or anyone else writes here, put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and give readers a piece of your mind. You’ll only be adding to our collective store of divine mercy.

Words © 2009-10 Irfan Yusuf

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OPINION: Fourteenth Column in Crescent Times: How to burn Swiss chocolate?

Next week, I’m organizing a huge bonfire. Hundreds of people dedicated to freedom of religion will be joining me. We have decided to show our solidarity with four Swiss minarets by burning the symbols of Swiss culture at our disposal.

Some will bring chocolate to burn. Others will turn the bonfire into a huge toasted sandwich by emptying their fridges of imported cheese.

Still others will be targeting cuckoo clocks. The wealthier ones will bring records of their secret bank accounts (I assure readers I’m not in that category).

I’m shocked that Muslims are not repeating the imbecilic spectacle that accompanied (or rather, that followed by 6 months) the publication of the Danish cartoons. Remember the burning of embassies? Remember the huge protests in Arab and other nominally Muslim countries where normally you cannot even sneeze without the secret police reading the contents of your handkerchief to make sure the blood and mucus don’t spell some criticism of the king or general or emir?

I doubt any crazed crowds will be protesting or burning Swiss embassies. Why? Because let’s be frank and honest about this. Where will the corrupt Muslim rulers store their ill-gotten and embezzled wealth if they tell their people to boycott all things Swiss? Which other country has such liberalized banking laws that allow corrupt despots to hide their loot?

Swiss Muslims are largely of indigenous European - Albanian, Bosnian and Turkish – extraction. Their mosques are likely to be designed along Ottoman lines, with flat domes and skinny minarets that look like scud missiles (and would probably be about as inaccurate if filled with explosives and launched). Ottoman mosques are modeled on the St Sophia’s Orthodox Basilica in what was once Constantinople. Apparently when the city was taken over by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, he ordered the Basilica to be surrounded by a bunch of minarets but otherwise left the structure intact. He also ordered mosques across the empire, including in European cities like Sarajevo, to be designed to resemble the cathedral/mosque.

And so mosques across the Ottoman empire resemble Eastern Greek churches. But where did Fatih Sultan Mehmed get the idea of minarets anyway? After all, the first mosques built by the Prophet in Quba did not have big tall minarets. Neither did his mosque in Madina. The minarets were added after he passed away.

So where did the minarets come from? Well, when the first generations moved out of Arabia, they modeled their mosques on the existing architecture. One of the oldest mosques in existence can be found in China. It was built by a companion of a companion (tab at-tabi’i). If you walked in the street where it was located, you could not tell it was a mosque from its architecture. Why? Because it looks just like a Chinese pagoda.

Similarly, mosques in Syria were modeled on existing Byzantine churches, which had towers for bells. Muslims also decided to build towers for their muezzins.

And so the minaret is little more than an act of architectural plagiarism. Muslims added minarets to mosques so that they did not stick out like sore thumbs in the environment.

The early Muslims were happy to build mosques that looked like the houses of worship of the dominant cultures where they settled. Australian Muslims, of course, don’t need to follow this precedent. We prefer building mosques that look like something out of 1965 Karachi. We cry “racism” when residents get upset at our insistence at always being different. Then we spend tens of thousands of dollars taking local councils to court. All for the right to build domes and minarets that our ancestors copied from churches and synagogues anyway.

Still, try telling moronic Swiss voters that they are seeking to maintain their Christian heritage by objecting to what are essentially (or at least historically) Christian religious symbols. It isn’t just their clocks that have gone cuckoo.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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