Wednesday, May 13, 2020

OBITUARY: On the Passing of Shaykh Esad

On Sunday afternoon, 4 February 2001, just outside the town of Dubbo in country New South Wales (Australia), four persons were travelling in a car along the highway. The car was involved in a collision with a semi-trailer. 2 persons aboard were immediately killed.

One of those persons was Professor Mahmud Esad Cosan (pronounced ‘Joshan’).

Shaykh Esad (or ‘Murshid Effendi' as he is known to his students) was one of the most prominent leaders of the Islamic movement in Turkey. He was the khalifa (spiritual successor) of another respected Turkish Islamic scholar, the late Shaykh Muhammad Zahid Bursawi (rahimahullah). 

Shaykh Esad was not only one of Shaykh Bursawi’s favourite students but also his son-in-law. Amongst Shaykh Bursawi’s other students was Turkey’s former Islamist Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan.

Shaykh Esad travelled frequently to visit Muslim communities living in Western countries. He spoke fluent German, and was a frequent visitor to Germany and Sweden. He had a special affection for the people of Australia. One of his goals was to establish Muslim communities in various regional and country towns.

During his lifetime, Shaykh Esad established cultural and social service foundations in Turkey and abroad. He was particularly fond of publishing, and encouraged his students to spread Islam through the written word.

Shaykh Esad was also a man of his time. He encouraged Muslims to keep up with modern methods of communicating the message. He was not averse to using radio, television and cyberspace. He also encouraged Muslims to be economically independent.

Shaykh Esad understood that much jihad (struggle) to be fought in this time was in the marketplace. He encouraged his followers to actively pursue business opportunities.

Shaykh Esad was a follower of the path of sulook, the spiritual tradition of Islam referred to by some as sufism. The main school of sulook which he focussed upon was the ‘naqshbandi’ tradition, known for its emphasis on strict adherence to the Sunna and active involvement in the affairs of the community. Previous masters of this path have included Ottoman political leaders and generals, scholars from the Indian sub-Continent imprisoned by British colonial authorities and even the great independence fighter of Chechnya Imam Shamil.

May God have mercy on Shaykh Esad and fill his grave with Divine Light.

(first published Monday 5 February 2001)

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

PhD: Some notes on identity

Akeel Bilgrami has written a chapter on the notion of identity in a recently published lexicon on political concepts. He mentions the idea of Islam as an identity to quite a great extent. For me, this is interesting because my research is on the extent to which Islam (in a sense of membership of the global umma) is deemed or chosen as a primary identity by young people in Australia who identify in some way as Muslim.

Bilgrami distinguishes between subjective and objective identity, the distinction based on deliberate as opposed to not quite deliberate identification.

Subjective identity exists when a person deliberately chooses to identify with a particular characteristic, be it religion or race or language.

Objective is when a person doesn't necessarily identify with a characteristic.

Generally a subjective leads to political action. Hence we have identity politics which is so often criticised.

The sense of belonging to the umma can be subjective in that it relates to characteristics that a person actually has and with which that person chooses to identify with. It can also be objective in that it may relate to characteristics that a parson may or may not identify with. Identity of membership of the umma can be accidental or a deliberate act of identification.

Or must it be one or the other?

Bilgrami also mentions nationalism which he describes as a ...

... self-conscious majoritarian identity-formation ...
... involving the identification of some kind of internal enemy (usually a minority with something in common with an outside enemy) and causing it to be subjugated. This usually causes the minority to react.

The existence of multiple identities in a person does not mean that a certain identity cannot come to the fore and lead to political action. Though I wonder if it is really about choice and deliberation. What if the choice is forced upon you? What if you are a reluctant Muslim which your interest is more in your profession or your language? What if you, act as an act of defiance to majoritarian pressure, feel a moral obligation to set aside your preferred layer of identity in favour of Islam?

And to what extent does this make you feel part of some kind of umma?

 JM Bernstein, A Ophir & AL Stoler (2018) Political Concepts – A Critical Lexicon, Fordham University Press

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

PhD: Islam in the West

Here are some notes on the Routledge Handbook of Islam in the West, a tome I am currently reviewing. It was published in 2015. The first set of notes are from the Introduction by Roberto Tottoli, the editor.

[01] So often do we hear about these entities "Islam" and "the West". The idea of "Islam" refers to a religious entity while "the West" is more of a geographical entity, a place. Islam is a faith and a community, an umma. I personally wonder whether this is (or at least was) the case. The umma represented a place where Muslims ruled, even if they were not in the majority. An example of this was the Mughal Empire which maintained a Hindu majority. Even Muslim Syria in its early days had a Christian majority.

[02] Tottoli writes of the ...

... supposed Islamic roots in the West. 

Islam has been in the West for only 3 centuries less than Christianity. In many parts of Europe, Christianity only spread after the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Indigenous European Islam existed in Spain as well as Bosnia and Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Kosovo, not to mention Russia. To suggest Islam has no roots in Europe is akin to suggesting Judaism has no roots in Europe. 

[03] Tottoli speaks of ...

... outer and Western umma.
Yet he denies the existence of a geographical umma. Furthermore some 6% of Muslims live in Europe. Indeed, the minority Muslim experience will soon become the norm as the country with the largest Muslim population is likely to be India in 2050. Then again, India will also have more Christians than any other nation. Exactly where is the outer or inner of Islam and/or Christendom?

[04] There is an enormous difference between looking at Islam in the West and Islam and the West. The former inquiry is far more nuanced.

More to follow.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

PhD: On Umma

We generally imagine ourselves to be citizens of a state or country to which we owe ultimate allegiance. But most of us also have other allegiances that go beyond the state. Such "transnational" allegiance and solidarity can include language, culture and even religion.

In some Muslim societies, this can include allegiance to a broader Muslim or Islamic space or sense of belonging.

Yet this broader sense, religious belonging beyond the nation state must inevitably be influenced by the nature of the nation state from which it emerges.Transnational religious culture is built upon national or regional religious culture as well as other forms of culture.

Your "Muslim"-ness or "Islam"-ness isn't purely related to doctrine.

Saunders (2008) argues that the identity based on umma membership is fast morphing into a form of nationhood. He makes an argument for

... treating the ummah (the transnational community of Muslim believers) as a nation.

This is something new, and has only been made possible by

... a potent nexus of information and communications technology (ICT), emergent elites, and Muslim migration to the West ... globalisation, Western media practices, and the nature of European society allow 'ummahist' elites to marginalise other voices in the transnational Muslim community.

That may be the case in Europe, but what about Australia? Do the forces of umma represent Muslim elites? Is this happening more and more thanks to media practices? What about the nature of Australian society?

Saunders (2008) concludes that we

... need to recognise ummah-based identity as more than just a profession of faith - it represents a new form of postnational, political identity which is as profound as extant nationalism.
RA Saunders, The ummah as nation: a reappraisal in the  wake of the 'Cartoon Affair' (2008) Nation and Nationalism 14(2), 303-321

... To be continued

J Piscatori, "Order, Justice, and Global Islam Justice in International Relations" in R Foot, J Gaddis & A Hurrell, Order & Justice in International Relations (2003) Oxford University Press

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

COMMENT: Talking Turkey at ICNA

ICNA is the Islamic Circle of North America. The organisation has its roots in the activism of South Asian students of the Jama'at-i-Islami who moved to North America. Recently the annual convention of ICNA saw the daughter of Turkish President Recep Teyip Erdogan make a rather startling declaration.

FETÖ is a radical group like Daesh and Boko Haram.
In case you were wondering, FETO is shorthand for "Gulenist Terror Group". And the implications of this?
... the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) is very similar to terrorist organizations and will pose a threat to all Muslims throughout the world if significant steps are not taken against them.
Steps such as? Who knows. And quite frankly, who cares.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

COMMENT: The significance of Melbourne's Anglican cathedral

I haven't posted on this blog for ages and ages. This post will be spontaneous and not have a huge amount of organisation or direction. Sorry.

It's Christmas eve and I should be enjoying my holidays in Tokyo. It's winter here and Christmas is little more than a retailing gimmick. Christians are a minority in this largely Buddhist/Shinto nation. Churches are about as common as mosques. 

In this part of the world, no one seems to have the same hangups that Australians do about security and terrorism and all that stuff. The biggest security threats are China and North Korea. Muslims are more known as expat workers or tourists, just as Christians (and Jews) are.

While I've been here, my friends in Australia have had to content with a large terror-related raid in Melbourne. The alleged plot was to attack St Paul's Cathedral in the heart of the city.

I'm not sure how many Muslims:

a) understand the significance of St Paul's Cathedral

b) appreciate the timing of an attack on Midnight Mass or a late night service

c) are aware of the kinds of people who attend such services

I attended an Anglican Cathedral school in Sydney. A cathedral is the main church in a region or city. It is almost always the largest church in size and capacity, and is usually built and designed in the most ornate fashion. Australian Christianity is just over 200 years old, but our cathedrals are modeled on European structures much older.

An attack on St Paul's Cathedral i Melbourne would be the equivalent of an attack by Christian or Hindu extremists in Indonesia on Masjid Istiqlal. Or an attack in Lahore on Badshahi Masjid. Or an attack in Sarajevo on the Gazi Husrev Beg Cami. 

Stand opposite St Paul's Cathedral on Flinders Street and you will see a large placard that reads "Refugees Welcome Here". Refugees from all across the globe. Largely Muslim refugees. This Anglican institution opens its doors to the most vulnerable Muslims.

Speaking of Anglicanism and the Anglican Church, I spent a afew monthss working as a solicitor for Anglicare in a poor town in the La Trobe Valley. Anglicare offices provide services to people of all denominations including Muslims. Anglicare hires Muslim staff. I went to an Anglicare Christmas event for foster kids and their families. There were lots of women there in hijabs, all Angliicare clients.

Anyway, getting back to Midnight Mass, an event I've attended on plenty of occasions in Sydney (though admittedly at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral). The Anglican church (also known as the Church of England) remains the dominant church in Australia, though like other established churches it is facing stiff competition from charismatic churches such as Hillsong. 

But the Anglican church's fastest growth is not in Australia. Instead it is in Africa, in countries like Kenya and Nigeria and South Sudan. There are significant Anglican communions in Pakistan and India. When I started school, the school captain was a Pakistani Christian whose father was an Anglican priest.

Midnight mass would attract Anglicans from across the ethnic and linguistic spectrum of Melbourne Anglicanism. An attack on this congregation would not have merely affected "rich white people". It would have hit poorer families, including refugee families from South Sudan and immigrants from Pakistan and Indonesia.

I've often been stunned at the variety of costumes worn at Midnight Mass. Women decked out in saris and shalwar kameez and other cultural dress from Kenya and Vietnam. 

Imagine if an attack had gone ahead. The casualties would have been enormous. People from across Australia's multicultural spectrum would have been hurt. And all on Christmas, a time of celebration and worship and families and goodwill and peace on earth.

But as we all know, ISIL love attacking big targets, whether a large crowd in Istanbul or Karachi or Iraq or Syria or Tunisia. Whether Eid or Ramadan or Ashura, ISIL have no respect for holidays or sacred days or worshippers or mosques or shrines. Why would they care about our church services and congregations?

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

PhD: New World Order?

Things have changed since the Berlin Wall fell. Some readers of this blog (assuming I have any) may not have even been born during the period of 1989-91 which saw the end of ideological bipolar world (p3).

What was the end of communism as a global power replaced with? With a new unipolar global order based on market capitalism and liberal democratic institutions and processes of government. There was also a strong growth of civil society operating relatively independent of market capitalism and processes of government.

Religion's situation has changed - ironically "its role has grown in significance". Global order could never really control the role of globalised religion and religious identity and culture, especially in the established religions which easily crossed national and political boundaries. At best, global order could try to regulate religion.

So what is global order anyway? "Global order" means more than just the international order of states. Order is

... a concrete state of affairs which is dominant, or rapidly becoming so, in space (the globe) and time (contemporary) in respect of human activity and the surrounding beliefs, values and ideas" (p3).

The collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the bipolar world has been accompanied by globalisation, often seen "overwhelmingly as an economic and technological matter". Religion has entered political and social consciousness largely due to

... the resurgence of a militant Islam and in particular its challenge to modern (Western) values and power.

So "Islamism" is seen as competing with global Western hegemony. (p1) Religion, especially Islam, has come to be seen as a threat to global order and particularly to Western dominance therein. The main threat seen as Islam. Secular political and economic ideology as a source of competing alternative world views has declined. (p4)

A rather complicated way of saying that Islam is the new communism. Perhaps we really are still living in a bipolar world after all. The human race is suffering from bipolar disorder.


JL Esposito & M Watson (eds), Religion and Global Order (2000) University of Wales Press Cardiff

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Friday, October 09, 2015

PHD: Islam and enlightenment

So there's this historical time and process in Europe called "the Enlightenment". It has been defined by many philosophers including Immanuel Kant who published an essay in December 1784 entitled An Answer To The Question: What Is Enlightenment?

He defines the European Enlightenment as "man's emergence from a self-imposed immaturity". An enlightened man "had the courage to use his own understanding" and not be shackled by dogma or tradition.

According to Dr MA Muqtedar Khan, in Islamic terms Kant was speaking about ijtihad which Khan defines not in the narrow jurisprudential sense but rather in a broader sense as "independent thinking". 


MAM Khan, "What Is Enlightenment? An Islamic Perspective" in The Journal of Religion & Society Volume 16 (2014)

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