7/28/2005

Brass Crescent links roundup

With all the muslim meta-blogging activity of late, it's long past overdue for another Brass Crescent links roundup. This is as usual a collection of excerpts from posts within the larger Islamsphere, not just restricted to practicing muslim blogs, which I found particularly thought-provoking and of relevance to the Islamic community.

ihath has penned another long piece which is titled "Adventures of a boring sinner in Lotus-land". ihath is no longer a practicing muslim, and writes here (with some tounge in cheek, as is her indomiytable style) about a quest to sin successfully, which is a lot harder to achieve than she expected. It's a piece with a lot of wit and heart, as usual - but this part particularly struck me:

Oh how cruel this cosmic joker is. He sends me to the holy lands to lose my religion and then back to lotus land to experience spirituality. He must have watched too many monty python episodes or something.

Few weeks ago, my daughter was learning about world religions in her social studies class. She asked that I give her some things from our Muslim heritage for show and tell for her class. I dig up my old prayer rug from the closet, find a copy of the Qur'an in the library with the beautifully decorated test, I find a piece of dirt from holy city of Najaf that all she'a seem to carry. Suddenly I find tears in my eyes. I wipe them off and dismiss them as fake sentimentality.


ihath has a way of lulling the reader into thinking she is writing frivolously, but then hitting you with a dose of authentic insight. I am reminded of (proud atheist) Razib's recent mention of still knowing the Surat al Fatiha by heart - and feeling a chill down his spine when he hears the azaan (call to prayer) aloud. Perhaps it is time to explicitly define a broader "Islamic" identity which transcends religious belief. More on this later.

Next in the roundup is a thoughtful essay in the Christian Science Monitor by Shadi Hamid, reflecting on the London attacks of 7/7/05. Hamid's prescription does not differ from what other muslim-Americans have been saying must be done, but is worth repeating here:

...national Islamic organizations and local mosques must do more to encourage political integration of young American Muslims. Most Muslims will continue to oppose the Bush administration's policies abroad, especially its unbalanced approach to the Palestinian conflict and its continued support for various Arab and Muslim autocracies. Yet, at the same time, an effort should be made to convince young, easily impressionable Muslims that the key to change lies not in a return to some idealized notion of an Islamic state, but rather in a pragmatic, nuanced approach to involvement in the American political process.
...
Muslims must rediscover their religion's deep respect for the sanctity of human life - whether the lives in question are British, Iraqi, or Israeli. The Muslim community's inability or unwillingness to speak out against suicide bombing in Israel is reflective of the moral depths to which we've so tragically sunk. Some things in life are morally ambiguous. The killing of Israelis in cafes and pizzerias, however, is not one of them. When we argue that the immorality or illegality of suicide bombing is contingent upon political considerations, we're on a dangerously slippery slope.

If these steps are taken, the preachers of hate will find it harder to gain support in the Muslim community.


There are parts of Hamid's essay that are aimed at a non-muslim audience, but given my blog's focus I chose to excerpt the paras above rather than those. That doesn't mean that they are more or less important, however.

Next is a diary at RedState.org, posted by jadedmara, who is no longer a believer but who still counts herself as within an Islamic identity - and whose family remains believers. Responding to the way that Republican congressman Tom Tancredo's remarks about bombing Mecca were disturbingly embraced by many Republicans, she wrote passionately about how her party needs to make it clear that this is not a war on Islam:

WE are the Muslims that are offended by Tancredo's remarks. WE are the Muslims who do denouce terrorism and Usama and al-Qaida and all those who support him, whether overtly or by sympathy. WE are the ones who are trying what we can do to change the Muslim worldview that most on RedState so denouce,yet WE are being blamed for doing nothing.

I'm not usually melodramatic; I'm not usually PC. After all, I'm a fellow Republican. However, the prevailing view of most of the editors on RedState regarding Islam saddens me. I understand that we shouldn't whitewash and say that Islam is a peaceful religion, without any sort of atoning for what is being done in our name. I am furious with the Muslim masses who consider any form of terrorism justifiable. But I'm sick and tired of myself and my family being painted with a broad brush as belonging to a community of hatred.


I think that her perspective is an important one - she's a conservative, and she's not a practicing muslim, but she is within Islamic culture and feels the same association that we do. Our goals are the same, even if our political loyalties differ. Excluding voices like hers because she is a member of the GOP or no longer practicing is foolish, because it is people like her who are our best hope for countering the ignorance of the people like Tom Tancredo and those who would support him.

If by this point you've detected a theme - responses to the ramifications of the London bombings - it's because I am as unsubtle as a freight train :) Let us now turn to sepoy at A Chapati Mystery, who has a landmark series of essays which are simply must-reads - they really are a single long post, broken into four pieces. These are in order: London 2005, That Terror Thing II, That Terror Thing III, and That Terror Thing IV. OK, so Part III is a bit of a break, but it's still somehow fitting. This excerpt from Part IV is particularly important, however:

The jihadist aim is not to bring back some artifact of the Muslim past but to shape the Muslim present on their terms. It is a twisted notion of the ummah that constitutes a fulcrum upon which jihadists construct the worldview persuading a Muslim in Lahore to bear arms for a political cause in Palestine, eg. It is one particular sense of belonging and outrage that the jihadist narrative seeks to emphasize in its propoganda. It may be as broad as the Muslims all over the world or as narrow as the racism-tinged reality of Leeds. To convince a teenager to give his or her life up to avenge wrongs that s/he never experienced is not a task easily accomplished. The appeal of the ummah is that like any other imagined community - say, nationalism - it is far more maleable and powerful than a mere membership in the Super Secret Organization of al-Qaeda Subsidiary, Leeds Branch. The ummah becomes one more tool to give sense to their feelings of dispossession, alienation and uprootedness. Seen this way, what we are talking about is not Islamic theology but social constructions - community, prejudice, fear, belonging. As I mentioned earlier, the language of religion is incidental to this narrative. It is incidental but not irrelevant. Jihadists employ it as cryptic transmitters of their own, twisted worldview. That it gets accepted into the WoT narrative is hardly surprising. That it doesn't get questioned or examined is frustrating.

There is no superstring theory of terrorism. And I am not proposing any, please.


I have also blogged previously on the way that the concept of "Ummah" often interferes with muslim self-interest, a harmful construct rather than a helpful one. What is really needed is a better formulation of Islamic-ness, one that is broader than merely adherence to the faith, but one in which jadedmara, ihath, and Irshad Manji can feel a part of, while also providing a sense of community for dispossessed Pakistani youth in Britain.

What is really needed is not a Reformation of the faith, but rather a redefinition of the faithful. As things stand, we have the allure of fundamentalism in defense of a nebulous Ummah at one ed of the extreme spectrum, and at the other, those like Manji who are obsessed with changing the religion itself to be more accommodating to their preferences. Manji's self-adopted refusenik label smacks more of self-promotion than anything else, but her solutions are ultimately more damaging to the end goal of a more inclusive Islamic identity than helpful. The core of such an Islamic concept must be the Qur'an - as a holy text it is of course abused by the extremists, but there is a depth to it that transcends any single interpretation.

Um Yasmin has actually written an excellent editorial, originally intended for publication in the Australian, addressing Manji's recent expressed desire to excise from the Qur'an those passages that she finds oppressive or objectionable. Entitled "Tampering with the Text", Umm Yasmin shows how such butchery would be self-defeating:

For fourteen centuries (and a hundred or so years in Australia) Muslims have been able to interpret their scripture in enlightened ways, without resorting to wholesale excision. It did not take a trimmed-down Koran to produce Rumi, the most famous Muslim poet, who said: "The middle path is the way to wisdom," or Ibn Arabi, who compared his heart to the Koran, saying: "I follow the religion of Love... this is the true religion."

But if we do attempt this strange immolation of scripture, where should Muslims start and where should they finish? What Manji might find offensive, another might find benign. Who is the ultimate judge of what is offensive and what is palatable? Perhaps if there is potential for violence, we should consider deletion. In the Bible, Jesus instructs his followers to hate their parents, and warned that he was no peace-maker, but that he came with a sword. But it is only the cultic mind who might interpret these statements literally. What if those statements were designed to bear fruit of a different fashion? What if they were deliberately provocative so as to force people to think about them?

William P. White wrote: "The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time." Might we not extend that analogy to the other great texts that have produced world civilizations? The Avesta, the Vedas, the Pali Tipitaka, the Tao Te Ching, and the Koran (to name a few) have endured for centuries as mystical books of guidance. There is something in these pre-modern texts that has given humanity the ability to glimpse beyond the everyday, mundane reality. They have been the source of ethics, morality, legal guidance and more for countless generations of humans across the globe. For this reason alone, we should respect their words, and not rush foolhardily into tampering with their precious texts.


Finally, a few quick hits. First is Haroon's excellent response to Tom Friedman's assertion that there aren't enough "fatwas" against terror. Haroon patiently shows Friedman the examples under his nose, and then goes on to helpfully de-mystify just what a fatwa really is. Hint: it's not a religious ruling that must be obeyed. Next comes a link via Thabet at Muslims Under Progress to a letter by Yakoub Islam, responding to the question posed by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph, "Where is the Gandhi of Islam?". Unsurprisingly, the letter was not published, but Thabet obtained permission from YI to reproduce it on the blog. Lastly, a somewhat geeky discussion on international relations (IR) theory by Abu Aardvark, which is written in a deliberately triumphalist tone in order to provoke some, er, constructive criticism. The debate between constructivism and rationalism has I think some implications for successful foreign policy with respect to the Islamic world.

Thats about it - the purpose of this roundup is to touch a bit more deeply on what is going on in the Brass Crescent and also to find some common themes. The concept of Islamic community is really the heart of today's roundup, but all the pieces are stimulating in their own right for discussion.

1 comment:

Razib said...

interesting links. thanks.