A different view William Dalrymple reviews books which seek to understand Islamic-Christian relations on a 'cultural' level in 'The truth about Muslims':
"[T]hroughout history, Muslims and Christians have traded, studied, negotiated, and loved across the porous frontiers of religious differences. Probe relations between the two civilizations at any period of history, and you find that the neat civilizational blocks imagined by writers such as Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington soon dissolve."
More on Lewis If you've not had enough of Bernard Lewis in the Dalrymple article above, apna historian, Sepoy, examines the role of the historian Bernard Lewis in current US foreign policy objectives:
"Bernard Lewis is [an] Empirist looking for a King to champion."
The failures of modern and postmodern Islam This appeared on a few Muslim blogs some time ago, but is worth repeating again. Abd al-Hakim Murad (aka T. J. Winter) probes, in considerable detail, the 'origins of suicidal terrorism'. There are one or two points I would like to look into at some stage. A small extract:
"In the twentieth century, however, the traditional pragmatism of Sunnism seemed to generate an ulema ethos that was certainly not quietist, but had nothing in common with Qutbian Islamism either. Hence the Deobandi movement in India, and its Tablighi offshoot, supported the Congress party, and generally opposed Partition. Arab religious leaders sometimes resorted to force, as with the Naqshbandi shaykh Izz al-Din al-Qassam in mandate Palestine; but the independence movements were overwhelmingly directed by secular modernists. The ancient universities, al-Qarawiyyin, al-Zaytuna, al-Azhar and the rest, regarded the modern period as a mandate for doctrinal retrenchment and the piecemeal ijtihad-based reassessment of aspects of Islamic law. In other words, mainstream Islam’s response to the startling novelty of a modernity that was forced on its societies at the point of an imperial or postcolonial bayonet was self-scrutinising and cautious, not militant."
The anal-retentive roots of materialism I'm in the middle of writing a review of Keith Ward's The Case for Religion (when I'm not in the middle of people trying to squeeze as much out of me as possible before the end of year festivities). But I want to share a small extract with you:
"Some people see the world as purely material reality. What explains that fact? It can seem that there is a sort of materialist neurosis, which drives people to seek just one sort of explanation for the whole range of phenomena, and to reduce all sorts of realities to just one basic kind. This would be a monothematic neurosis, possibley due to a fixation at an anal-rententive stage. We seek to exercise control over the universe by subordinating it to one simple and fixed scheme that is our own product. Control is absolute (the theory wholly orders the world), and nothing 'dirty' or messy is allowed to exist. The scientific cosmos is the perfectly potty-trained neurosis." (p.78)
Needless to say, Ward is making the joke to underline another (more valid) point. But more some other time!
Eid mubarak -- for those of you doing Eid today (Saturday)! As usual there is some confusion -- or should that be scholarly disagreement? -- over when Eid is. Those following Saudi's lead declared that Eid is today last night, and most here seem to be going with this. Others are taking Pakistan's lead (as most Muslims in Britain are of Pakistani origin). Does anyone here take the lead of Muslims actually living in Britain?
Yesterday, the imam who usually answers fiqh questions on one of the Pakistani digital channels was quite honest in saying that, although he was going with the majority opinion of holding Eid today, his own personal opinion was that Eid should have been on Sunday and felt this was a stronger option. So strong that he would keep another fast once Eid celebrations were over. My father seems to agree with him as well.
In any case, either enjoy Eid-ul-Fitr or have a blessed day fasting. I'll be back later to put up part II, and maybe even part III, of my trip to Istanbul, insha'Allah.
God causes Europeans problems This is very old, but do you remember God caused a furore when the EU was drawing up its constitution? This led a member of Rumsfeld's 'New Europe', a Christian atheist, to denouce the 'Godless tone' of the secular constitution.
Secular Denmark enters religious controversyBack in June Pastor Thorkild Grosboel was suspended, for a second time, from the Lutheran Church for comments he made. Pastor Grosboel was reported to have said that he does not believe in a God as defined by the church, but that "God abdicated in favour of his Son". Nor does he believe in other doctrines such as eternal life and the Resurrection. I have just caught the latest on this story on BBC World (news report, 18 September 2004), which reports the Danish Justice Minister will have the final say whether or not he keeps his job. This is because the Danish state decides who can and cannot be a religious minister and not bishops of the church.
The Greek Constitution Section II: Relations of Church and State, Article 3 states:
"1. The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church of Greece, acknowledging our Lord Jesus Christ as its head, is inseparably united in doctrine with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and with every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine, observing unwaveringly, as they do, the holy apostolic and synodal canons and sacred traditions. It is autocephalous and is administered by the Holy Synod of serving Bishops and the Permanent Holy Synod originating thereof and assembled as specified by the Statutory Charter of the Church in compliance with the provisions of the Patriarchal Tome of June 29, 1850 and the Synodal Act of September 4, 1928.
"2. The ecclesiastical regime existing in certain districts of the State shall not be deemed contrary to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.
"3. The text of the Holy Scripture shall be maintained unaltered. Official translation of the text into any other form of language, without prior sanction by the Autocephalous Church of Greece and the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, is prohibited."
But, it seems, we must only shake a stick at Turkey for its religious credentials. This we must do while congratulating Turkish secularism, which in reality has mutated from a cultish worship of Attaturk into a fetish with preserving the 'integrity of the secular state' at any cost (i.e. some form of facism).
Open mockery of justice In case we forget why Russia is rightfully criticised for its henious crimes against the Chechens. Although this doesn't seem to stop the cypto-Communist Putin from mocking anything resembling justice.
British Council sacks Sunday Telegraph commentator The cultural arm of the Foreign Office sacked Harry Cummins, who was identified as the psuedonym writing for the Sunday Telegraph attacking Muslims in a series of articles. Following an internal investigation late last month, the British Council removed Cummins from his job as a press officer. We've mentioned some words on this before.
Albania gets the Avari-Nameh treatment A country which is rarely mentioned in the news gets the once over from Haroon, as he continues his Vexillological Jihad: "If there's one thing Muslims love to do, it's ghusl." Need I say more?
Five return from Guantanamo UK 'terror' suspects are to be released and sent home, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has announced, though then men will only be told later today. This follows the release a couple of days ago of a Danish man. The men are: the so-called 'Tipton Three' of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, and Ruhal Ahmed; Jamal Udeen, of Manchester; and Tarek Dergoul, from east London. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has anounced that anti-terrorist police will launch an investigation into the men, and Jack Straw said that the men may still face charges in UK courts. Though one would have thought the investigation would yield if the men are to be tried, and not the political interests of Straw? The families of the men have, as one would expect, expressed joy and relief. This now leaves four British 'suspects' as well over 600 men from other parts of the world, including children. I may have little sympathy for those people who like to join the current culture of so-called 'jihad' (beyond a human concern for a fellow man and a brotherly concern for another Muslim); but, the incarceration of these men is a travestry, and an abuse of the very word 'justice'. Guilt by association is not merely a matter for the law courts; it is a moral crime. We should not forget the other 660 men being held who do not have the fortune of having British or Danish passports, but belong to countries run by less than savory regimes. Whatever the 'legal' issues of the prisoners, from a moral perspective this is a truely woeful state of affairs; and coming from a country which - ignoring the usual diatribes - many Muslims probably do agree with, in its core values of 'justice' and 'freedom', makes it all the worse.
Kill the heathen! (Or at least make their faith illegal) No, this isn't a story from pre-2001 Afghanistan, or Saudi, or any Muslim country. It comes from Downunder:
"Islam was an illegal religion because the Koran preached violence against Christians and Jews, a Christian group told a judge yesterday.
"The group's barrister, David Perkins, said that Christianity was established under Australia's constitution and had special protection, especially through the blasphemy law.
""The Koran contradicts Christian doctrine in a number of places and, under the blasphemy law, is therefore illegal," he said.
"[The Judge, Michael Higgins, said] that the seminar was not limited to academic study of what the Koran says about jihad."
I don't know too much about law in Christendom (maybe someone could help), but from I understand about classical Muslim law I cannot recall reading of a religion being made "illegal"; at least not one of the 'accepted' religions of 'the Book' (India being a different case altogether). Though, certainly, public displays of religion and religious worship were severely restricted (even barred in some cases).
What interests me, however, is the approach of the Christian group to the Muslim scripture. Though I certainly reject the apologetics of modern Muslims with respect to warfare being only "defensive" (this is a false view), I doubt any verse of the Qur'an becomes 'law' without an interpretation. That's why classical Islam developed 'schools' or 'guilds' of jurisprudence, adhered to quite strictly. And it is obvious that this 'law' is under guardianship of the `ulema, but only executable by the 'state' authorities. I doubt the average Muslim is about to climb the pulpit and decalre 'jihad' - though modern Islam has its band of extremists who will, no doubt, try.
Also, their approach reminds me of Friday preachers who spew hatred against Jews and Christians. One of them, I recall, launched into Christianity, and was less than honest with a citation from the Qur'an, conviniently leaving out passages which would have contradicted his "true Islamic message". Maybe the two extremes share something common afterall (shallow, vapid, unintelligent and crude approach to faith)? Personally, I am hoping no Australian Muslim happens to be a descendent of the Amalekites...
Politics over principles for French government There's something disingenuous with this article, though a month old, I only saw yesterday.
"Meet Tokia Saifi, of Algerian origin [and a Muslim], minister of state for sustainable development in the French government.
""I strongly support the ban," she says emphatically. "Insistence on a dress code is one more way in which Islamic people are manipulated by the fundamentalists, and must be nipped in the bud. People must be able to choose what to wear, the mullahs should not force them."
Though, she seems perfectly happy for her own government to impose what people may or may not wear (albeit in the 'public' sphere).
Wheeling out a Muslim who says this or that, and hoping that her identity as a Muslim will help the government's case, seems a tad hypocrtical for a 'lay state', where religion is to be a 'private' affair. This seems less than principled. It ought not to be seen endorsing any religious opinion, surely? For if France is a 'lay' republic, which recognises no religion (and thus no religious interpretation), then in enforcing its ban it must rely solely on 'secular imperatives'. For it to weigh in on a 'religious debate', and try to influence what is and isn't 'obligatory' for a Muslim, would mean that the state encoraching upon religion, and thus the idea of religion being a 'private' affair (which is how French laicisme attempts to resolve the religion-state issue) is violated.
France, as a secular republic, is perfectly entitled to demand that its citizens leave their religious affiliation aside when engaged in public service. We may or may not agree with what the law says, based on secular imperatives or religious obligations we adhere to, but must respect that this is the law and that it ought to be obeyed. If a Muslim finds this difficult they either bare with patience, or leave, for God's earth is a vast place (though that is indeed easier said than done). On the other side, the hostilties towards those Muslims who do feel their rights are being restricted should be rejected, because as French citizens the Muslims have the right to make representations to the government, in whatever means are available and legal.
What would be an interesting test for the law is if a non-Muslim girl were to wear a scarf to school. How will the French courts establish whether or not the scarf worn by the girl is not out of fashion, but of a religious convictions? We shall see, I suppose.
(Lastly, and this has nothinig to do with the hijab issue, but The Times of India article begins with what seems like quite a naked attempt to stoke the religious embers, or have a dig at a religious culture she dislikes: "It is always refreshing to meet a Muslim woman who wields power in government and does not hesitate to speak her mind." Obviously, this reporter was asleep when Bhutto was ripping off Pakistan next door!)
"The western German state of Saarland today became the fifth in the country to propose legislation that would ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in public schools, AP adds from Frankfurt. The proposal states that neutrality in public schools must not be endangered “through political, religious or ideological displays” and specifically names wearing headscarves as an example.
"Displaying Christian and Jewish symbols, however, would be allowed under the law because the teaching of Western religions is part of the public school curriculum in Saarland, a conservative-governed state on the border with France."
Perhaps 'secularism' is actually 'dead' in Europe? Afterall, from a certain perspective it was only a 'theological' position. Or maybe we're witnessing a new Kulturkampf?
"I don't feel oppressed at all... We have more freedom here than straight couples. After all, they can't kiss in public like we can, or stroll down the street holding one another's hand."
What I find interesting, from a 'sociological' perspective, is that the identity of "gay" is rejected. "Gay" is probably a political identity which was developed in the gay and lesbian rights movements in Western nations during the 20th century, and so probably has limitations on how it can be applied to social bonds between same-sex couples in other parts of the world.
I have taken the concsious decision not to post much, if anything, during Ramadhan. However, here are a few news stories which caught my attention over the last few weeks and months and various thoughts which have occurred to me during this month.
Do you speak English? David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, called for Muslim Imams to learn English (unfortunately paid registration is required, The Independent, Friday 31 October 2003), in an effort to help reduce "the culture clash" which young British Muslims undoubtedly suffer. Usually, I ignore Blunkett's outbursts, like his diatribe against Asian (read Muslim) people marrying "from back home". That obviously didn't help race relations, or "integrationist" policies; after all, home is, and always has been, London to me, and to many other Asians, Muslims, and anyone else who doesn't look British, so what was Mr. Blinkett on about? Personally speaking, I only know of one person who married from Indo-Pak. One out of a whole collection of people, who have either married from within their own race, religion, or without, but all "from back home" where "back home" means London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, and so on. Or his "concern" that Asians do not speak enough English in the home. Well, again from personal exprience, no on I know speaks anything but English at home, except when conversing with one's parents, and even then English words and phrases pepper the Urdu, Punjabi, Gujrati, Bengali, Sylheti, etc. However, in this argument I strongly agree with Blunkett. What is the point of an Imam of the local masjid preaching to the young, the future of a community, if he can't even communicate to them in their language? Because, yes, English is our language. I sincerely believe an Imam of a mosque should undergo at the very least basic training in the English language as well as very basic understanding of the law. This is to help foster some sort of connection with "the" British Muslim community, as well help the Imam, to whom the community will look to, provide sound advice. In anycase, eventually, whether people on all sides of the 'divide' like it or not, Islam will become as much a 'Western' religion, as it is an 'Eastern' religion. It's history attests to this. (More on this below.)
To God we belong and to Him we return October saw the death of the former President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Iztetbegovic. He was aged 78. I cannot said to have know too much about him, but in what little I have read, and did see of him in the media, he seemed unlike other politicians, to whom soulless and often meaningless word juggling seem the order of the day (or 'lying' to the layman like myself). But then again, how many politicians on our television screens and in our newspapers spent their life fighting for a 'just cause'? The Muslim News provide a precise of his life.
Integration, integration, integration Earlier last month, I visited the third ExpoIslamia (I mentioned this earlier in a post). Unfortunately, the main speaker, Yusuf al-Qaradawi (Arabic link), could not make it due to ill-health. A pre-recorded interview was played instead, with Azaam Tamimi translating. However, I was interested in seeing, in person, Tariq Ramadan, a lecturer in philosophy and Islamic studies in Central Europe (Geneva and Freiburg). And, as his work, the best know of which is To Be A European Muslim, suggested, the main thrust of his discussion was that of integrating as Muslim citizens of Europe. Enough, he said, of this idea that we are "British Pakistani" or "British Bengali" or "British [insert Muslim nation]". We are "British Muslims", or "European Muslims"; and no significance is attached to the order of those words. Most of us were born in Europe, educated in Europe, married in Europe, speak European languages, are citizens of Europe, and will probably die in Europe, though God knows best. The mental schizophrenia must be discarded, if we are ever to help ourselves, and our communities around us. Such words probably did not go down to well. I cannot speak for all, but I got the sense that those around me were either uninterested in what he had to say, could not understand what he was saying (nothing to do with his accent though), or else shocked that he should be so harsh with their "traditions". Attitudes are hard to change, he said, but it must begin with the most important facet of society; that of education. As someone steeped in the French literature, it was not hard to see him emphasise the humanity of his faith. Indeed, his call to work together with "all people", of every religion, even of no religion, to "create better communities" in which we live, is an emphatic anouncement of an Islamic humanism, we have probably not read or heard since the demise of Fazlur Rahman.
God, forgive us our wrongs Now, I am going to mention the following, only because when I was a young boy I remember being taught that 'the believer is the mirror of himself' (or words to those effect - I cannot remember if this is something ascribed to the Prophet, or a general Muslim tradition). In other words, when we see something wrong with another Muslim's actions, we are seeing a reflection of our own actions. So, in this criticism, is there something I need to pay attention to as well? God knows best. For anyone who regularly visits the mosque to pray, we have all been slightly late, at one time or another, in joining the congregation. It is unavoidable, therefore, that we will find that once the main congregation has finished their prayer, people rise to finish their salaat, accordingly. However, what alarms me very often is the utter lack of respect shown to the late-comers, by those who have already finished. Very often I will see men, young and old, jump straight in front of those praying, simply to exit the mosque as soon as possible. Where is the patience? Where is the respect? We like to talk big, and think big, talk of world issues, of Palestine, of Chechnya, of Kashmir; yet it seems such a simple matter of waiting for two minutes while your fellow brother finishes his remebrance to God, is an enourmous burden, one where every second counts in the rush to leave the masjid. Is the mosque such a dirty place, we wish to vacate as soon as possible? Why not use those few seconds and perform some dhikr? And then, of course, there is the state of the toilets and washing facilities after a big gathering of Muslims. Subhan'Allah, we pride ourselves on being clean, physically as well as spiritually. Yet, we seem to have difficulty in picking up a piece of tissue paper and throwing it in the bin. Right after we have discussed large scale political projects, talked of grandioso Islamic schemes, indeed, talked of world domination in some conferences I've attended, we seem to have forgotten about the matter of ethics, of akhlaq, about "doing good" no matter how small. I pray to God to forgive us all our mistakes and misdeeds, however small, and God knows I count myself at the forefront of any criticism.
White minority A little bit of an update: I was looking for an article, before posting this entry, but found it this morning via Bin Gregory. The Guardian article discusses what it feels like to be a white ethnic minority, in Britain. The article looks at a white family living the overwhelmingly Pakistani area of Manningham, a district of Bradford, made infamous due to the riots involving Pakistani youth and the police. I live in area of London which, according to some, is approximately 30-40% "ethnic". However the area covers the globe: from Eastern Europe to North Africa to South East Asia. In fact, as elements of the "upwordly mobile" Indo-Pak made their small fortunes, many of them have left. My father first came to this area of London way back in 1970. He was the only the second non-white person living on the street (the other being a Jamaican carpenter, now a family friend), and eventually bought the house he used to rent (which became the one in which I grew up). There was an influx of Pakistanis, most of them Punjabi, some from Mirpur, into the area during the 1980's. Yet, I believe there are less than half a dozen (at a strech) Indo-Pak families left on the street now. The point about Bradford seems to be that the large concentration of one "category" of people (most Pakistanis in Bradford, I understand, are from Mirpur), has led to a "ghettoisation" of the area, and a firm ghetto-mentality: us-versus-them, or "pakis and porkies" as the article has it. Here is one such problem of "integration" which has not been tackled. The solution, however, will never come from the government alone. And again, it all seems to boil down to education. Depressingly, attitudes toward schooling and education in some Pakistani circles I move in are either economically driven (I meekly raise my hand here!) and have nothing to do with increasing our awareness of ourselves and our society, or there is an utter rejection of it, due to the "loss" of cultural values it will bestow upon the young. Well, I suppose if you want to bring your children up as good Pakistanis, then Pakistan, and not Britain, is the best place for you and them. Though, perhaps, it is easier for me to say, as someone who has lived in relative security and (for want of a better word) "luxury" (I still work over 40 hours a week though!).
I am busy trying to close out a project (a development an engineernig system made up of GIS-SQL-EDMS, which I have been doing for the year, single-handedly!), so have had little free time to pay too much attention to this blog. Nonetheless, I shall post something considerabely large in the next few hours, insha'Allah.
In the meantime, here are a few news stories, and other miscellaneous items, that caught my attention.
Murder, in the name of 'honour'. Not once, but twice. The response? Fairly pathetic, even by the usual standards of the MCB (I couldn't find anything on their website).
Newsnight (8 October) had a special feature on French attempts to create a secularised 'French Islam', in an effort to combat the 'radical' message being preached in mosques in some part of the country. This French lacisme has always been far more anti-religion, than the more tolerant, yet still atheistic, English secular tradition. You can see the difference between the two, in the impression it has made on former colonies of the two countries. The 'utter secularity' (to use Martin Marty's words) of the Continental Europeans, primarily the French, has produced autocratic secular fundamentalists; Tunisia and Algeria are two prime examples. Here the state ends up controlling religion for its own ends, if not trying to completely obliterate the religion. It seems a reverse of the ceaserpaporism of the Catholic Church. The 'mere secularity' of the British, has produced less virulent anti-religious secularist ideologues. In fact, this has allowed (relatively speaking) more breathing space for Muslims in the Subcontinent to try and re-engage in their religion, intellectually as well as emotionally.
This weekend (12 October), is the third ExpoIslamia, at the Wembley Conference Centre. More often than not, I have tended to avoid such large gatherings of 'esteemed' personalities from across the Muslim world, because more often than not issues are rarely discussed which are relevent, of which education and social activism are the two most important. Instead they can tend to degrade into back-slapping, or slandering of various 'sects', or a public display of hatred against "the Kaafir". This time however, I am looking forward to seeing Tariq Ramadan speaking, the man Time called the 'Muslim Martin Luther', and hoping that, because this conference has been arranged by the Islamic Forum for Europe, we will be discussing issues which face Muslims of Europe, as Muslim citizens of Europe, rather than as merely Muslims who happen to be in Europe due to fate. Further, concentrating on issues which face Muslims in the Middle East, or Indo-Pak, or elsewhere, cannot help those who have only ever lived in a 'foreign' place, such as Europe or the USA. (That is not dismiss or belittle these global issues.)