Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lies We Tell Ourselves

One more post on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

It occurred to me that nations, just like individuals, can fall into the bad habit and eventually deadly trap of lying to themselves. I call it a deadly trap because, often, everyone else except the nation itself knows it's a lie. And the self-deceiving nation grows in bewilderment as it finds the world not consistent with how it thinks it ought to be.

A gross example of this is America's Middle-East policy. Either we are a neutral mediator or we have a special relationship with one of the two sides there. We can't have it both ways. For God knows how long we have been lying to ourselves that we can be both of the above. We end up being neither and everyone, except us, sees it.

A consequence of this is that the moderates among Arabs are shoved to the backseat by the masses who see see this lie as clear as daylight. Radicals are empowered and commit outrageous crimes. And to that our bewildered response is "why do they hate us?" And Israelis abuse the "special relationship" to dig themselves deeper into injustice, oppression and excesses.

A truly neutral America would empower moderates on both sides to sit and work out their issues. We've been hurting the situation because of our sweet little lie.

There is yet a ray of hope in all of this. I have immense faith in America's ability to self-correct. It might take longer than we'd like but this nation has a soul. Yes, it may have started wrong on as many issues as any other nation - let's count a few: status of slaves, rights for women, civil rights for minority races - yet through debate, education, and peacefully (not to be read passively) organizing, it finds its way home. If we find America lost in its own lie today, it's only because not enough of us who see the truth have engaged our neighbors and communities to highlight this lie.

We can curse the problem or as believers in the power of action and prayer, we can bring about positive change. I think far too much blood has been shed in the Middle-East. Far too many parents have buried their own children. Way too many orphans have cried over the bodies of their parents and their bulldozed homes. And a sickening number of humans there live in rage, fear and such deep hopelessness that they resort to suicide bombing. Criminals exploit such emotions and the sick cycle continues. I bow in prayer to the Lord of Abraham, Our Lord, help us rid ourselves of our lies. Give us the tenacity to resist lies and embrace truth no matter how inconvenient. Give us hope in you mercy that we never resort to violence or excesses. Peace, O Lord, lasting peace, please!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two Failed Strategies

I have gone on record describing how the strategy by Palestinians to regain their lost land has been a failure. All Muslims feel a connection to this human tragedy because the Holy Lands are equally as holy to us. And I have described in previous posts that this Muslim/Palestinian strategy has been a failure and will continue to be a failure. It violates some of the basic precepts of Islam and common sense.

What I haven't written about at all is the other failed strategy - the one adopted by the Jewish State itself. No nation should be founded on so much violence, so much pain inflicted on another people only so you can live there. The world is a big place. It is a shame that for all the scientific and technical progress Israel has made, it has inspired some of the worst emotions in humans. This is particularly shameful given how strongly Israelis feel about the Holocaust. They of all the people should know that the mighty fist cannot achieve everything. They continue to commit excesses and great crimes against innocent civilians and feel that they can whitewash it as "collateral damage." Sadly, they have have the bombs on their side but no peace.

The irony in all of this is both Muslims and Jews greet their people with Salam/Shalom, literally "peace" in Arabic and Hebrew. Somewhere out there, the devil must be laughing non-stop.

If sane people on both sides sat down, it really isn't that hard a problem. The insane have been in-charge for far too long. Lord, flush them out, let decency prevail!

Let's Not Fail This Test

If Israel declares a 48-hour cease fire and asks that Hamas not launch any rockets into Israel, will Hamas honor it? Will Muslims condemn if Hamas breaks this cease fire? If Hamas does break the cease fire and there are rallies to condemn this on part of Hamas, please report it here...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Protesting Israel's Actions, The Islamic Way

This one is going to alarm a few readers, so I have to write my Bismillah and ask my Lord to guide me on the Straight Path.

The cycle continues. Israel is bombing the daylights out of Palestinians. CNN reports that there are protests worlwide. I too feel moved by the sheer numbers of those dead. But I want to pause for a second. This has happened so many times before, I want to reflect and process this.

Were there actually rockets flying from Palestinian territories into Israel for months, as Israel alleges? If there were, then that changes everything for me. I am not going to be tribal about this. I am taught by my faith to be just, even if it means I have to bear witness against myself (or my "tribe" in this case). And you, my friend, all ready to beat your chest and protest, protest today, ONLY if Israel's claims of unprovoked rockets is false.

If those claims are true, then I am inviting you to reflect on this for a moment...

If I practiced Tribalism, I should be cheering every time "my side" hit the other side, and protesting every time the other side hit mine.

But I practice Islam. And my reaction is to be consistent with the command in Surah 5, verse 2:

"...and let not the hatred of some people in (once) stopping you from Al­Masjid­al­Haram (at Makkah) lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help you one another in (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah."

So today, protest if and only if Israel's claims of rocket attacks are false.

If Israel's claims are true, then we can all ask Israel to consider practicing constraint and pray God brings about peace. But I don't think we have the moral high ground needed to show our face at a protest, particularly if we were not protesting the Palestinian rocket attacks. I pray I live to see the day when we get rid of the Tribe in us to protest acts of transgression by those of our own faith. Wouldn't it be nice to read a headline that says "Muslims acrsoss the world condemn rocket attacks by Palestinians against Israel"? If you find that idea repulsive, consider this - they are UNISLAMIC actions :) - there, that should make it easy for you to show up at a rally!

Anarchists on both sides are ruining the lives of their people. Infants are dying, wives are widowed and little children orphaned as mere spectators and for no faults of theirs. I condemn such fitteen and anarchists on both sides. I seek God's mercy upon the innocent who suffer on both sides.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

As if the Future Mattered

Dulles International Airport (IAD) outside Washington, D.C. is one of America's busiest airports. It has been undergoing renovation/expansion for the past few years and its inspired designers created galleries to share some of the history of the airport (an odd thing to do if you ask me - just quickly complete the darn work and move on). There is this one panel where they got a little nostalgic and were trying to impress the point that the airport's original architects never lost sight of the future when the airport might serve vastly more passengers. Now slow down as you read this...the point being made was they (the founders) planned because - still with me? - BECAUSE the future matters. Except...and I keep thinking it can't be just me who has been noticing this sign for the last two years...the sign says PLANNING AS IF THE FUTURE MATTERED. Somewhere out there is an English teacher who let a student down.

My only other thought on this is, I hope their construction skills are better than their English language skills.


The passion with which The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) embraces the most bigoted positions is both alarming and sad. I have concluded that as far as opinions and editorials go, this newspaper is to the world of American journalism what Dick Cheney has been to America's political leadership (ideology-driven, what others say never matters, never admit any mistakes, offense is the best defense, decency is over-rated). Well, I wish it had kept its bigotry only to its editorial content, it goes further and taints its news, what it reports and how, with a fierce ideology.

In recent days, nearly every report on the scandal surrounding Illinois' governor Blagojevich has focused on somehow connecting President-elect Obama and his team with it. The MAIN headline on its online edition in the past 24 hours has been "Obama, Two Aides Questioned in Probe." Choosing to lead with such headlines and trying to make this about the President-elect than the governor of the Prairie State, requires some effort, possibly an agenda?

If WSJ were a publication in Russia, it would certainly hail Putin as the great guardian of the great nation and regard every opposition leader as a traitor. Ideology and tribal affiliations seem to mean more than any effort at trying to embrace a balanced view point and looking at all sides of any story.

I base this on the way the editorials and op-ed selections have glorified Sarah Palin, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, etc. Apparently, one of its op-ed writers still hasn't received the memo that the election is over, and proclaimed concerning Sarah Palin: "I know Maggie Thatcher. The two women have a lot in common." If you don't like Maggie Thatcher, there's one sure way to diss her. The heading of the same article was "Conservative Snobs Are Wrong About Palin." Wow, reads more like Rush Limbaugh's monologue transcript than the heading of an op-ed in one of the world's most prestigious daily newspapers.

The editorial yesterday called for President Bush to issue a full pardon to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. Mind you, within hours of being found guilty and sentenced to jail, President Bush rushed to commute Scooter's jail sentence. Anyone else would have been jumping in joy, clapping their hands and sending thank you notes... but the bigots at WSJ call this "a half-measure" and "a chilly arms length" treatment. And the audacity of their bigotry - they then go on to say "Many in (the Bush) Administration failed to behave honorably, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell..." Cheap attempt at obfuscation. Drawing from a famous exchange in American history, one may ask the WSJ editorial team, "have you no sense of decency, folks?" And what will they ask next - Scooter be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

Even the choice of books they review propagates bigotry and a monolithic view of the world. In their review of a book called The Blind Spot, they highlight the work of two authors who believe that any attempt to explain acts of terrorism by Muslims as a result of "oppression, economics, freedom and progress" is "stunningly naive" because such acts are solely the product of Islam's "fundamental religious dimension."

It is sad when news organizations become mouthpieces of any ideology. Fox News, MSNBC and WSJ do not serve the American people or American democracy well in their ideological slant. In so many ways these organizations are parochial and medieval, the difference is they have money and power today with which they cover it up. Shame on them and their sad agendas.

Their approach has a marked impact on the sort of nation we become. I have occassionally peeked at the "discussion" section most newspapers have started where online readers can leave comments. How is it that only the most bigoted and extreme people seem to participate in these? The passions, the bigotry, the downright hate that people spew on these forums - it's stunning. How come no one there sounds like my neighbors and co-workers? Slanted media serves the extremist appetite in our nation and that appetite grows as it consumes more of the "red meat." History shows us, that is not a good path for any nation.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Hoover Correction is Due

One of America's most admired traits is that it is a land of laws and equal justice - illa ma sha'Allah - meaning, with some unintended exceptions within the realm of human imperfections.

Yet, it seems, every once in a while, a man rises who challenges this core of this great nation, and gets away with it. In a prior generation, such a man was J. Edgar Hoover. An amazing feat of this man was that he headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1935 to 1972. Only death managed to get him out of that powerful position he frequently and abundantly abused. Not quite the tenure of Fidel Castro, but definitely that league.

There is a beautiful hadith where the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said the equivalent of the fact that it doesn't behoove a believer to be bitten out of the same snake hole more than once - the Islamic equivalent of "fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice shame on me." And boy do we believe in this in America! A fool tried to bring a plane down with explosives in his shoes, so for six years now we have been removing our shoes to be screened before boarding a plane.

It's what I'd like to call the Hoover Correction. After Hoover's highly controversial and abusive career-to-grave, congress passed a law that limits the tenure of an FBI director to a max of ten years. That doesn't mean we won't ever be abused by a crook of a FBI director again, but it won't be because he or she is in power for that long.

I think a Hoover Correction is also due over the abuses of Dick Cheney. For eight years this man has reduced transparency and accountability in public office not just to nothing, but lives to ridicule it. This has been documented in an award-winning series by Washington Post journalists Barton Gellman and Jo Becker. I just can't find enough people who have read it...

I hope they take measures so America's democracy is never tarnished and abused by a man like Cheney again.

I'm Stumped, Help Me...

In recent years, we have seen Iraqis fight with abandon.

With no care for what became of their own bodies, with no regard to what happens to their families, so many there have embraced suicide bombing and carried out missions that just seem irresistible. It's hard to fight someone who is fighting to die, especially if you are restricted to fighting by a civilized code (Abu Ghraib and others of Messrs Rumsfeld and Cheney's misdeeds aside, on which there will be another post another time).

For a moment, I want to set aside any debate on what inspires or motivates them - whether it's desperation, religion, brain-washing, patriotism, etc. Let's consider that only in the limited context that I am posing the question:

Where were these "brave" men when Saddam ruled over that land with an iron fist for decades? Just where were they? Why was it that whatever is "inspiring" them to "fight with whatever and everything they have" didn't come out against a sadistic ruler who just wouldn't go away, but it flows so easily against an effort to establish a system that gives them more power and a greater say. I have a few theories, but I could be wrong:
  1. Good ol' Tribalism - which says something along the lines "he may be wicked and stink, but he's OUR wicked and he's got OUT stench." Our stench is better than a "foreign perfume." Abuse at the hands of someone from MY TRIBE is better than something that benefits me at the hands of a FOREIGNER.
  2. Inertia: Yes, this is Uncle Isaac Newton's First Law. People resist change, they accept the old. So maybe Saddam faced some problems in his early days, but the generations that opened their eyes in the world with Saddam as the head, came to accept that as "normal." An attempt to change that even with the promise of something better is change and Newton can't have any of that - not without a fight.
  3. Things really were not that bad under Saddam: OK, I am putting this down to prove I am trying to be exhaustive in my brain-storming.
  4. People fighting now are those who were privileged under Saddam: Sort of like in Europe, it was harder for the serf class to start a rebellion. So the Kings kept the Lords and Nobles happy and everything was peaceful.
  5. Saddam crushed rebels more ruthlessly than Americans and Iraqi government dare: This could be true. There are reporters in Iraq now (how else would we get the video of the Shoe-Attack on President Bush?) and it's not just the official news state anymore. So Saddam could carpet bomb the rebels and bury them with bulldozers, and no one would find out?

Help me, I am confused. Where were the brave men of Iraq when Saddam plundered their land? got into one misadventure after another? Why was it so easy for him to suppress their yearning for self-determination?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Who'll Cover This Story?

Marc Gopin writes a real blog and I couldn't think of anything more worthwhile to write than what he recently wrote about a story that deserves greater coverage.


A lot has gone wrong in Iraq in the past 6 years.

An American president possibly defined by his lack of curiosity, likely overwhelmed by a mentor and a mentor's mentor (Cheney and Rumsfeld), rushed a 9/11-scarred nation to invading this sovereign nation over flimsy UN resolutions and shameful lies. What a shameful scar on the history of America and what a horrible tragedy for the people of Iraq and humanity! Some experts estimate nearly 1 million Iraqi civilians may have been killed. That's the count of innocent Iraqis, not soldiers, not militia folks, just your average men, women and children.

An uninstigated ought to be sufficient reason for Americans to be ashamed of what their country was doing...but for the thick-skinned, God sent images of Abu Ghraib and reports of rapes by American soldiers. We have yet to figure out how we ensure something like this never happens again.

All of this is so jarring that I shouldn't be able to see any humor in anything associated with Iraq.

Yet, yesterday's shoe-attack on President Bush made me laugh and cry, both simultaneously.

Many things went through my mind all at once:

  1. For all that Iraq endured, and I can't even begin to appreciate it, at least the country has gotten to the point where you can hurl your shoes at a VVIP and not immediately face a firing squad. That seems like progress.
  2. Then again, maybe he will rot in a dungeon somewhere? So there may not have been much progress after all?
  3. You can always count on Muslims doing the most high-risk and stupid thing when charged with emotions. For some reason, we lack the ability to carefully lay out constructive plans with long-term strategies and remain steady on them. I suspect we have the steady-types, it's just that the shoe-attackers and suicide bombers keep making headlines?
  4. Does this mean all future presidential press events will require journalists to leave their shoes behind?
  5. That was one fast shoe-pitch, if I ever saw one...I mean he didn't merely toss his shoes, he surely meant to hit W!
  6. That was some fast ducking and evading by Bush. Then again, as this lady on TV said, he's been practicing evasion and ducking through much of his presidency!
  7. On a serious note, there is something wrong about attacking any political leader or head of state like the journalist did. An act like this is all despots need to usurp more freedoms of press. The journalist got to get his frustration out of his system but the cause to which he claims allegiance was not advanced, I would argue it suffered.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Classiest Act of Campaign '08

A picture is still worth a thousand words...sometimes more. I wrote this morning about how Colin Powell has been a bit more outspoken lately. Here's the picture that pushed him over the edge. Scroll down and get the full story by watching the clip of his interview on MSNBC (he gets into some stuff at 6min 40sec that might bring tears to your eyes...but every second is worth watching).

God bless Karim Rashad Sultan Karim and his family. And may God bless all our soldiers and their families.

As I said earlier this morning, blessed is America for among her sons are men like General Powell.

Lesser Instincts and Better Instincts

Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in an interview yet to be aired, is reported by CNN to have said the following concerning the Republican Party:

"Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh? Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?"

Every nation in history has always had its demagogues who appeal to the the fears and prejudices of their fellow citizens. The power and magic of leadership cuts both ways, though. Every nation in history has also always been blessed with truly inspired individuals who see the truth for truth and the lies for lies. Such men and women have an opportunity and duty to appeal to the better instincts of their fellow citizens. Where a nation goes as a whole depends on which type of leaders take over the reins of that nation - but it's a collective fate, the good and the bad end up in the same place.

For all the mistakes Colin Powell made as GWB's "Yes Man" Secretary of State, America is blessed that he is now speaking his mind. It is my hope and prayer that clear-thinking, educated and experienced men and women in Muslim societies will start to speak out and act against the way our faith has been hijacked. It's never too late to turn the tide against those who appeal to our lesser instincts. It's time to take back.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Awash in Blood & Gore

It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches God: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify God for His Guidance to you...
Qur'an 22:37

Who says there is no such thing as bad publicity? I got one for you.

This past Monday, for the first time in recent memory, most Muslims across the US and Canada celebrated Eid Al Adha on the same day. When I realized there wasn't a single person I knew who celebrated it on Sunday or Tuesday, I worried I wasn't embracing Muslim diversity enough...I mean, was I becoming too snooty and selective in the friends I had? Possibly.

I wish that were the saddest realization I had this Eid. That arrived soon enough, in the form of a 10 mega-pixel picture gallery in the online edition of The Washington Post. The leading text was fairly innocent:

Every year on the holiday of Eid Al-Adha, Muslims take part in the Festival of the Sacrifice at local farms in Virginia and Maryland. For some, it is a festive occasion with balloons and laughter; for others, it is a solemn ritual as they pray over the chosen animal.

But I knew we were in trouble when, even before the first slide showed up, the following parental advisory flashed:

Editor's Note: Some images in this gallery may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature.

A mentor once told me, "it's not what you say, it's the listening you create." I am afraid most WP readers didn't see what Eid Al Adha is supposed to mean for Muslims. (For a quick read, check out Wikipedia and if you want to learn a lot more: The Tent of Abraham.)

The slide show goes downhill from the appropriate parental warning...20 slides in high, high resolution of what appears to be at best an uncivilized bunch killing animals. It certainly did not capture the solemnness that my parents taught me is associated with laying down to slaughter an animal for food. The necessary reflection on the meaning of life, on how we express thanks for the livestock God provides for our nourishment, how we don't slaughter them or hunt them for mere sport. We created some bad listening, I am afraid.

WHY WOULD ANYONE INVITE A PHOTOGRAPHER TO CREATE A SLIDE SHOW OF MUSLIMS SLAUGHTERING GOATS AND LAMBS? Is the world lacking in the stereotypical association between Muslims and disturbing, violent activities? Have we not contributed more than our share of galleries that may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature? Oy ve!

More than 10,000 Muslim Americans of all shades and color, from newborns to folks in wheel chairs, speaking English in every accent known to mankind, attired in the most exotic and diverse regalia, gathered at the new and beautiful Convention Center in America's capital city to pray, play and party as a way of celebrating Eid. We invited leaders and members of other faith groups so we build bridges of understanding with our neighbors. But how does the Washington Post show we celebrated Eid? By being awash in blood and gore, of course! I don't know I can blame Carol Guzy, the photographer WP assigned to cover the story (member of a Pulitzer-winning team, by the way). But I certainly hope they find a new PR person at the mosque which thought of inviting Carol there.

I am not calling for censorship. Just balance. A lot more happened on Eid day than the "bloodfest." And the spirit of the sacrifice as captured in the verse I quoted above from 22:37 was not even remotely conveyed. Islam is strongly for animal rights. In days when camels and horses were the only means of carrying load around, Islam prohibited overloading them. You may not burn ants if they infest your backyard. We may not hunt animals for pleasure - only if you intend to consume them for food. No fur coats. No ivory on our walls. I think you get the point. And I doubt you got it from Carol Guzy's slide show.

You want a link so you can see the slides? Go do something better with your time (smile).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One Muslim Community (Finally) Takes a Stand!

Who says all news is depressing? In what BBC reports as "their first openly defiant act against 'Islamic terrorism'" Indian Muslims refused to bury the bodies of the nine men who terrorized Mumbai in Muslim cemeteries.

Finally, a precedence-setting act of courage! Alhamdulillah.

Earlier, I was told that US government officials were starting to avoid referring to terror perpetrators as "mujahideen." I hope the media follows suit.

Kinship with people of one's faith is natural, among Muslims this kinship is deeper and stronger than many other faiths. We celebrate each others' successes as siblings do. We mourn with each other our losses. Our hearts weep for the oppression other Muslims endure. Yet, for all the tragic and heart-rending oppression of Muslims, we can never retaliate by crossing the lines our Lord has drawn. Our love for other Muslims will not blind us to their crimes. We are not a tribe, we are a faith community. Our faith sets high ethical and moral standards. We are not so naive that anarchists and terrorists could pass off as freedom fighters and martyrs.

You can fool anybody once, but you can't fool all the people all the time. I view the response of India's Muslims as the beginning of the end of the age when terrorists defined Islam and Muslims.

Terror is our response to tyranny against us? Forgive the cliche, but two wrongs do not make a right. We don't fight sin with bigger sin. Just as speaking the truth before a tyrant is a great form of jihad, resisting hopelessness, despair and suicide in face of great oppression must have great rewards with God. Who came and tricked us into suicide missions? And look at what that has brought us?

We need to unequivocally denounce the terror strategy. It has no place in our faith. And it's been tried for way too long and failed. It has brought shame to the name of our faith and untold suffering to our people. To borrow from the editorial headline of India's leading Urdu newspaper Inquilab: "ab bahut ho chuka" - enough already!

Libertarianism in Islam

I sense a particular closed-mindedness and exclusive thinking among fellow Muslims. I found the following Wikipedia entry on Hilf al Fudul an appropriate answer to that narrow approach. I am not being lazy, this entry is better than anything I could ever write.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Jew in the Path of our Prophet

This morning, CNN carried a little article on Raphael Lemkin, the man who was at the center of efforts to ensure the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Forty members of his family had died at the hands of the Nazis. Lemkin followed two key teachings of the Prophet (pbuh). First, he left the country where his life was in danger - he made hijra. Secondly, he acted to confront oppression in a constructive way. He committed his entire life to ensuring the world recognized the criminality of genocide.

Lemkin had a choice on how to react to losing forty family members in the Holocaust: he could fall into despair, lose hope and worse, lose it and become a suicide bomber. We have witnessed such reactions from others. But Lemkin stayed hopeful - an essential trait of a Believer. He didn't resort to violence - which does not mean he did nothing about the tragedy that befell him. In fact, Lemkin embarked something very difficult and very courageous. He hit the agents of oppression with a hard and lasting blow when the United Nations adopted the Convention. The world is a better place that Lemkin directed the energy that comes from so much suffering down a constructive channel.

To repel evil with good, is a central Qur'anic command:
Good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel evil with that which is better... 41:34

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eid Mubarak - when is it?

I wonder if there will ever come a time when we will not dispute over when we celebrate our major holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and mark the beginning of Ramadan.

Weird thing is, the Qur'an takes a strong position against those who thrive on mastery of inane matters. In Surah Kahaf (8:18), for instance, it makes it clear that debating issues that are of little significance and on which there is not clear-cut final resolution is not an activity that behooves people of faith:

"Enter not, therefore, into controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear..."

Yet, so many Muslims seem to have such hardened positions on moon-sighting and determination of Islamic calendar dates, when the fact of the matter is, it is vastly more important to celebrate Eid together than get that darned date "right".

The comedy-tragedy on this issue occurred when after years of educating and lobbying, Muslims in a city convinced the local school board to declare Eid day as a holiday. As the Muslim community fell in sujood to thank Allah, the phone rang. It was the school board president, he wanted to know what day Eid would fall that year, so he could put it on the school calendar. OK, so I made this story up, but if it hasn't already played out across American, it's only a matter of time.

A young, fast-speaking, African-American Imam from New York who embraced Islam as an adult used to say: "Muslims man! We master the minor and miss out the major." (Now say that ten times out loud in a New York accent, to get a feel for what the Imam sounded like!). Time to read Surah Kahaf again...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Evidence of a Flawed Strategy

Given enough time, it will become manifest to anyone whether they're on the right path or the rotten path. I think we Muslims have reached one such milestone and it's time to reflect.

Muslims once created and lived in a great civilization. The world from Spain to Indonesia woke to mueddhin's call to prayer and fasted every Ramadan. With time, they became complacent and abandoned critical thinking, science and innovation.

Western Europe came late to the civilization party, but got some things right. They pursued science, rational thinking and embraced innovation. When they came to Muslim lands with their superior weapons, Muslims could barely put up a fight. The world outside had changed forever, but in their complacence Muslims thought it was just a local, passing anomaly and they would regain their past position of being the trend-setters.

For over 250 years Muslims kept losing battles small and large and ceding control of their lands to Europeans who colonized these lands. They only took notice of events that were symbolically big. For instance, when the Allies abolished the Caliphate, Muslims tried hard to restore it. The nation that had little discourse or debate over the fact that the Caliphate had become a hollow, meaningless shell of an institution for centuries, stood up in outrage when its irrelevance was made official.

Another big shocker was losing control of the Holy Lands.

Two generations of Muslims have waged armed struggle in the Middle East and other parts of the world. When they were completely out-powered by their adversaries, Muslims have adopted guerrilla warfare and a more sinister war which is appropriately labeled terrorism.

In general, the Muslim nation is still unable to fully come to grips with the fact that the world has changed and we are living in a new paradigm. They think the mueddhin will soon sound the call to prayer at daybreak and, waking up, they will realize all this had been one long bad dream.

Now, I think Muslim grievances in many instances do bear merit. Millions of Muslims have been wronged individually and the nation has been wronged collectively. But such is life. American Indians have been wronged. The Irish have been wronged. Franks and Persians have been wronged. Jews have been wronged by the Pharaos, the Nazis and generations of Christians over Passion of the Christ. India's untouchable class has been wronged - and that's been going on how many centuries? And, right before our eyes, with plenty video footage still available, we have seen the subjugation, humiliation, dehumanization of African-Americans. They were stolen from their homes, brought to America as slaves and worked without so much as being accorded their humanity.

In the 1950s and 60s, this last group was at a cross-roads. With few rights in a land that brimmed with wealth, they had a choice. They could go violent, and some did, or they could adopt the path of passive resistance. Passive resistance means you don't commit violence, but you stand firm in the face of your oppressors telling them that you want them to stop oppressing you ("speaking truth to a corrupt leader" is extolled in Hadith as the greatest jihad). The cross-roads is symbolized by the Rev. Martin Luther King as one path and The Black Panther as the other. It is also symbolized by the speeches and path of an angry Nation of Islam Minister called Malcolm X and the path suggested by a more mature, Al Hajj Malik Shabbaz.

History bears witness that despite some flirtations with the path of violence, African Americans have largely chosen the path of passive resistance.

And today, a man whose father was as black as the blackest slave ever traded and dehumanized in America, is counting days to assume the highest office in this land. And he was voted there by the children and grand-children of those who once oppressed.

As I look back at the history of Muslims and African-Americans, I think we see two nations acutely aware of the oppression, subjugation and dehumanization and two nations that have taken two radically different paths to addressing it. I think it is as clear as daylight which strategy has failed and which strategy has worked.

The perversion of Islam to convince Muslims that their faith allows for random acts of violence is one of the biggest tricks the devil may have pulled in a long time.

One last point: There is a management principle that if you do more of the same, you get more of the same. Is 250 years plenty proof of a failed strategy? Do we want another 250 before we open our eyes and realize this isn't a bad dream, it's real? It is not too late yet. We need to categorically abandon terrorism as a mode of fighting against anyone we consider an adversary and adopt the path of our Prophet (pbuh): get your own house in order, stand firmly against oppression, but don't resort to acts of violence. Our African-American neighbors did and look where God is taking them. Allahumma Salli 'Ala Sayyidina Muhammad...

Dear Brothers and Brothers

Imams Who Don't Care #3: Dear Brothers and Brothers

A unique challenge for many Muslims is to accord to women their rightful status - as defined by the Qur'an and the Sunnah - in society. Islam ordains that men and women are equal before God and in society. However, humans, in their imperfect implementation of this principle often swing to the two extreme ends of this spectrum.

To some, sadly, equality is achieved only when SAMEness is achieved - i.e. men and women dress the same, carry the same responsibilities, and do the same things. I say sadly, because this quickly becomes absurd. Some of the sameness can never be achieved because it is physically and biologically impossible. Men will never be able to breastfeed children or carry babies in their wombs (which do not exist). While Islam allows a woman to work outside the home, this distorted sense of equality now pressures all women to feel the need that they must work outside the home to feel equal.

The other extreme, equally sad, is the one we see more often in Muslim communities. People who sort of pay lip service to women's equal status but kind of wink and nod to a reality that is anything but. Books can be written to cite evidence for this bold assertion, but two simple examples ought to suffice for now - I see some comedy and tragedy in both:

  1. Muslim Women as an Afterthought: In the last 40 years Muslims have built mosques around the United States. What amazes me is how badly designed most of these structures are. I know, I know, it's the spirituality that's more important and all that nonsense, but come on, if you're going to build a structure, please pay as much attention to it as you would to your own house in terms of functionality. The issue that receives LEAST attention is that of women's access to mosques. It's usually an afterthought. Here is how I think things really happen. The grand mosque gets built, nice dome and minaret and all, prayer rugs from Persia and Pakistan...and the inauguration day is approaching. Someone, then realizes "what about women - where are they going to pray?" The highly resourceful masjid secretary has a solution. "Hey, not to worry, we have a dark and damp basement!" If there is no basement, he usually runs to Office Depot and grabs a few pieces of cubicle furniture. Then, in the extreme corner of the masjid, the same resourceful brother, assisted by the rest of the executive committee, working together in perfect unity, installs the "Sisters' Prayer Area." Oh, the sign is quickly made too - the cover of a cardboard box is ripped, and using a matching color H1B pencil someone writes it all up and duct-tapes it at the entrance. Masjid budget: $2 million, 4 years of effort. Budget to find place for "Sisters": $125 and 35 minutes of effort.

    If you feel your brother here is exaggerating, visit the "National Masjid" in Washington, DC on Massachusetts Avenue.

  2. The "Dear Brothers and Brothers" Imam: Some of our "Back Home Imams" and others who became Imams here but picked up a hardlined strain of the deen just can't come to accepting the fact that our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers choose to join us in prayers at the masjid. These Muslim women may be braving the dark, damp basement or relegated to a corner cubicle where jackets and the masjid cleaning supplies are kept, but the biggest insult they have experienced is when the Imam just cannot acknowledge their presence. I have known many such Imams - I call them the "Dear Brother and Brother Imams." You know how it goes, the Imam in addressing the congregation considers it a sin to refer to the congregation with the realistic "Dear Brothers and Sisters" - naah, can't utter the taboo word.

    If you feel I am exaggerating, maybe I am. So these Imams simply say "Dear Brothers" even as they know the presence of the fairer gender in the masjid, but bad, old habits, deep-rooted biases just can't bring them to acknowledging them.

I worry about this issue is for the following reason: We Muslims in America, and soon Muslims elsewhere in the world, won't be able to bluff our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers for too long. Bluff season is over. It's time to fully adopt Islam and shed our old, pre-Islamic tribal principles that we have held on to so tightly for so long, even if we feel very attached to them.

Dear brothers and brothers, let's start with building mosques that are every bit geared to also meet the needs of our women. And if you know they are in the audience, don't hesitate to make them feel welcome.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Burying Daughters Alive

Answer quickly: Under what special circumstances does Islamic Shari'ah make it legal for Muslim parents to bury their young daughters alive?

If you answered never, you are right.

The people of Makkah prior to the message of Islam condoned the the heinous custom of burying their daughters alive. Oh they had their reasons - girls consumed resources but didn't contribute economically. There was shame associated with anything wrong they would do. The tribes into which they married gained an upper hand, etc.

One of the earliest revelations that came to the Messenger of God provoked the early believers to reflect on this crime:

When the female child who was buried alive is asked for what crime she was killed. 81: 8-9

Islam forbid this custom forever. And this prohibition is absolute. No compromises. No special considerations. Nothing, absolutely nothing would justify or condone or accept or tolerate this monstrosity. And it is a monstrosity.

Islam forbid a few other crimes, some equally as heinous. Sadly, some Muslims want to bring those criminal and inhuman customs of jahiliyah back. Read on...
First, what do I mean by "special circumstances." Islamic Shari'ah has an incredibly flexibility built into it. A Muslim jurist is required to weigh all factors in a situation before issuing a ruling. While doing this, she or he must also prioritize and ensure the law is serving to better human condition. Consider an example: Pork is forbidden from a Muslim's diet. But if a Muslim faces starvation and pork is the only food available, the shari'ah does not hold the Muslim liable for consuming this food in order to survive. Human life has precedence over the piety of avoiding pork. Numerous other examples can be cited. This flexibility is a mark of our Lord's blessing and mercy upon us.

This flexibility is subject to judicial principles and not easily open to abuse. For instance, let us consider if there could be a situation under which parents may bury their little daughter alive. Say, if there was a famine when there was not enough food for everyone? The answer is an absolutely undisputed NO. What if the parents were convinced (for whatever reason) that their little girl may not be able to cope with the moral decadence of society and grow up to fall prey to its perversions? The answer is still no.
Why this inflexibility? Because God provides and God guides. Also because taking another's life is not a matter of personal choice. There are numerous principles vastly more powerful than the silly fear of food scarcity and moral decadence in the above example. I think all sane Muslims would agree with my analysis of this hypothetical question.
I am about to make a point. I believe a similar prohibition applies to terrorism. It is evident that Islam's prohibition on acts of violence is absolute. I feel some Muslims believe that if we have been wronged, we may resort to some form of violent retaliation. This perversion of our faith is sickening. It has besmirched the name of this great faith and continues to. I am still recovering from the filth of what happened in Mumbai. I am ashamed for what happened on 9/11. My heart bleeds that the curse of terrorism has befallen the community that was charged with inviting all to the "Straight Path." Oh how we have lost our way.

This prohibition is categorical. No excuses. Terrorism = Sin in Islam. Big sin.

I know what some of you are thinking. You are asking yourselves, this guy made a list of acts of terror by Muslims, how about acts of terror inflicted upon Muslims? I overheard someone at the mosque today "Muslims in India have suffered a lot, some of them were bound to lose it and become terrorists."

Look, I understand the human failing if "losing it" aka insanity. Anyone can lose it and commit crimes or acts of sin. The Pharao lost it and wanted all humans to worship him as God. But please don't tell me that my religion permits insanity and heinous crimes.

Surely Muslims are persecuted in many parts of the world. So are Christians, and Jews. Blacks in America have suffered centuries of oppression, humiliation to the point some generations were born, lived and died with very little of their humanity acknowledged. Yes the world isn't perfect.

But as standard bearers of the world's morals, you want to tell me that retaliation against oppression through random acts of terror is accepted, permitted or condoned in Islam, you are dead wrong. I will oppose you with every breath, and God willing, your false ideology will be defeated.

Islam forbids this perversion. And this prohibition was absolute. No compromises. No special considerations. Nothing, absolutely nothing would justify or condone or accept or tolerate this monstrosity called terrorism.

Insha'Allah-itis Is An Official Sickness Now

This elaborates on my post from yesterday "Spotting IWDCs #2." You know it's true when the New York Times does an article on an issue :).
Click here to read the article.

The reason I don't find this abuse of Insha' Allah funny is because it is happening at the hands of (through the mouths of) educated folks in our mosques. Our history teaches us to be more tolerant of those who could not know better...the villager who has no education, the tribesman who came to the Prophet's mosque and not knowing more refined ways, started to urinate in the mosque. The prophet taught us to deal with such ignorance with understanding and kindness. But when educated folks, the ones who are to be the standard-bearers of knowledge, themselves slip up, it calls for action.

In the words of William F. Buckley, some of us need to stand athwart history and yell stop. So here it is - STOP ABUSING THE PHRASE Insha' Allah. Think if it makes sense to use it in a sentence.

Will you not join me?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Abusing Insha' Allah

Imams Who Don't Care(IWDC) #2: Abusing Insha' Allah

Abuse of the phrase "Insha' Allah" abounds in most mosques across the United States and Canada. First, let's do a crash course on Insha' Allah.

Our Lord in the Holy Qur'an instructs us as follows: "And never say of anything, 'I shall do such and such thing tomorrow. Except (with the saying): 'If God wills!'" (18:24). The phrase Insha' Allah is translated as "If God Wills."

Growing up in a Muslim family I never had any confusion about its usage. In fact, I remember the following childhood story used to illustrate correct and incorrect uses of the phrase:

An uneducated and not-so-religious villager was on his way to the market with his livestock when an acquaintance met him and inquired as to what he was up to. "I have a plan" responded the village, "I will be in the market this afternoon, will sell the animals for a handsome profit and with the money I get, I will build myself a large house." To any Muslim, that sentence has a few missing words, and so this acquaintance sought to remind the obviously ill-educated villager. "You mean to say Insha'Allah, you will be in the market this afternoon and, Insha'Allah, you will sell the animals for a handsome profit, and with the money you get, Insha'Allah, you will build yourself a large house?" The villager didn't see the point of all the extra words. "What's Insha' Allah got to do with anything? Here's my livestock, there's the market. So it's all in my hands."

Later that evening the acquaintance saw the villager returning back from the market, looking visibly shaken and troubled. "How was your day, sell your livestock?" "Oh, friend," responded the villager, "I should have listened to you and used Insha' Allah in my speech. Anyway, here's what happened...Insha' Allah, I went to the market and Insha' Allah, I had a great sale. But, Insha' Allah, someone pick-pocketed me, so Insha' Allah, I have no money. And that dream of the house is, Insha'Allah, all gone!"

End of a story with fairly obvious moral. The phrase "Insha' Allah" has a purpose, a meaning and a proper usage.

Yet, countless Imams Who Don't Care (IWDCs) (ab)use it like many use "ummh," and "errr" in their speech.

See if you can spot the illiterate and uneducated villager in the following announcements in your local masjid:

  1. "Insha'Allah, brothers and sisters, please remain seated during my announcement."

  2. "I hope everybody is well, Insha'Allah."

  3. "Please donate generously, Insha'Allah".

  4. "I have a question, can we, Insha' Allah, sit and discuss this issue a little longer?"

  5. One brother even goes on to say "Assalamu' alaikum, Insha' Allah." I hate being the IA police but it's got to hurt other ears besides mine. And it sets bad acoustics for the younger generation who might pick up a good word but use it incorrectly?

Many mosque leaders have a far more serious problem with the phrase. They use the phrase improperly multiple times in a sentence - and I mean 4, 5 times! Insha' Allah! Oops, I meant, SubHan Allah! What's happened to their 'aql? Big time Imams, established mosque leaders, improperly dropping Insha' Allah to the point of disrespect for the phrase.

Insha'Allah, one of these days, I shall write a simple set of rules under which the use of the phrase is appropriate and all other use is actually an abuse and trivialization of the important command of our Lord.

The "Imams Who Don't Care (IWDC)" Series

Some Imams Don't Care

We've all seen them and suffered at their hands - Imams who simply don't care. They must think they have us all fooled with their phony smiles and loud "masha'Allah"s - but the truth of the matter is, they fail the important tests of caring.

I am building a list of acts of omission and commission by Imams across the United States. God, the Most High, is my witness, I am motivated by a desire to point out these on-going and fairly obvious, even glaring acts, with a desire that they may read them and change. My own shortcomings are such that I had to deploy sarcasm to shed some light on these. If you are an Imam or a leader of a muslim group of any sort, please check the list below to see if any of these apply to you:

Imams Who Don't Care(IWDC) #1: What's In a Name?

This is the most shocking for me and deserves the first spot. If you've attended a Muslim Wedding recently chances are you have been subjected to this blatant act of not caring by an Imam.

The next generation of Muslims growing up in America proudly embraces its Islamic heritage and invites an Imam to perform their Nikah - the equivalent of "the exchange of vows" at a wedding. Ceremonies range from simple to stylish. Now since Muslims come as rich and poor and of varied backgrounds, venues range from Masjid basements to ritzy hotel ballrooms. Menus range from a few samosas or masboosas to elaborate 5-course sit-down meals. Yet, in all this diversity, there is one facet common to all Imam-led wedding ceremonies.

(In many cases, thanks to the cultural baggage of our parents' generation most Muslim weddings run hours behind schedule. The one silver lining to this shamefully dark cloud is that Imams are rarely the cause of delays at weddings. "Six PM Sharp" conveys simply nothing to Muslim masses. They stroll in anywhere between 7 and 8 PM.)

But the most embarrassing act of the ceremony belongs to the Imam, our leader. I have yet to go to a wedding where the Imam took the time to get to know the bride or the groom. And I don't mean in such a way as to say a thing or two about the beautiful qualities in the young people and their families coming together - that would be too much to ask for. How about their names? That's right, NAMES. The very things by which angels refer to us. If you listen to NPR, you are familiar with the effort that they put in to get people's names right on radio. They remind you "when writing us, please tell us how to correctly pronounce your name."

At your life's most important event, with all your loved ones surrounding you, the obviously lazy Imam (who couldn't care less but) who has given hundreds of khutbahs and lectures about how the Prophet (pbuh) had a personality that won over others, doesn't feel the need to ask the bride's family what her name might be, or the groom sitting next to him how his name is to be pronounced...until it's too late.

I have seen prominent Imams struggle with this. "We are here to witness the most important day in the life of our brother Sha...Shaw...err, (whisper on 1500 W speaker) how do you say your name, brother? - oh yeah, Shah-Zad, we are here for dear Shahzad and, errr, (to the man to his other side this time) what's her name..."

Recently, the "Azhar-educated" Imam made rookie mistakes on Indian-Pakistani (aka desi) Muslim names. Desi Names 101 tells you that among men, their given names may be preceded by a Muhammed or a Syed. But a Syed Abrar Ahmed's name is never to be Syed. The dude is Abrar since the day he was born. Likewise, Muhammed Aleem Khan is Aleem. The brave, couldn't-care-less Imam kept praying loudly that God may bring happiness to the life of "our dear brother Syed" - while the visibly uncomfortable attendees showered their "Ameen"s - some of them rechecking the groom's face to make sure they were at the right wedding.

The same IWDC managed to do the entire ceremony with the microphone turned off, apparently he forgot, so no one heard the most critical part of the ceremonies. Aaaagh!

If God has honored you with the status in the community that you get invited to perform nikahs, then kindly take the duty seriously before you accept. And part of the duty is to know the names of the bride and the groom, know the names of their parents, know whether the parents are attending, know whether any of their parents are deceased - so that on the day we are to believe is the most important of our lives, in the ceremony that is most important part of that day, we are called by our names without hesitation, correction and embarrassment. Is that too much to ask of you? I don't think so!

I once even sat at a Nikah where the Imam tried to convince the groom that his name was not a "proper Muslim name." Imagine this: "We are here to celebrate the nikah of - what's your name brother? - maysur? now, that's not a proper Muslim name, you sure it's not Mansur?"

I had never fantasized sitting in the groom's seat until that day, but that evening I wondered if I could swap seats with the young man who was beginning to sweat by now simply so I could tell the learned Imam what I thought of him.

Dear Imams, if you're so busy to do justice to an important ceremony, do the bride and groom a favor. Politely bow out of the responsibility. There is no clergy in Islam and any adult Muslim can lead in all ceremonies. I would rather someone who had the decency to do justice to the ceremony than someone who acted like a mercenary who didn't care.

Then there are clumsy Imams. It is not until they have started giving their sermon that they bother to ask the family about their preference on the sequence of the ceremony. In all their years of learning, no one told them that it's not planning when you are already under way with something and the microphone in your hand is not the best time to start consulting about what to do next.

Sarcasm and outrage aside, I pray to God that our Imams will have the sense, the courtesy and decency to see the point I am making and stop embarrassing young Muslim brides and grooms, their families and friends and portraying all Muslims in poor light.