12/21/2006

The Qur'an is not a puppet-master

"The possibilities in Arabic for the use of figurative language are endless; its allusiveness, tropes and figures of speech place it far beyond the reach of any other language... Arabic loses on translation but all other languages gain on being translated into Arabic."

-- Joel Carmichael, The Shaping of the Arabs (1967)


Arabic is a tremendously complex language, which means that the Qur'an is a subtle text. Those who translate the text into English and those who interpret the text literally are in essence committing the same sin of truncation - they are taking something three-dimensional and reducing it to two. That missing dimension is the cultural and symbolic context which the writer in Arabic embeds his words - a rich layer of meaning that is inferred rather than simply transcribed.

The specific way in which this occurs is difficult to explain. Blogger H.D. Miller described it thus:

individual Arabic words are formed from simple three letter roots. To these simple roots suffixes, prefixes, and infixes are added, and vowels are changed to produce a large number of individual words which have, either actually or metaphorically, meanings somehow related to the idea behind the simple root. For example, the Arabic root k-t-b is expressed as a verbal infinitive as kataba, meaning "to write". From that basic root we can then get the words kitab "book", kAtib "writer", maktUb "written" (with a metaphorical meaning of "predestined"), maktab "office", maktaba "library", makAtaba "correspondence", kutubi "bookseller", kuttAb "elementary school", istiktAb "dictation", makAtib "correspondent" or "reporter", muktatib "subscriber", and about a hundred more variations all produced from that original three letter root.

All of the words springing from the triliteral root k-t-b have that similar three letter sound to bind them together, which means that each of the words shaped from the root, when spoken, are capable of evoking any of the other words shaped from that same root. To this, an extra layer of complexity and evocativeness is added by the fact that many of the Arabic consonants sound remarkably similar, so that there are two h's, one "hard" and one "soft", two s's, two t's and so on. This means that when you say k-t-b you're also evoking q-t-b "hunch" as in "hunchback", q-T-b (with the "hard" T ) which gives the root meaning of "to gather or collect", and about a dozen other groups of words. To the native speaker all of these various meanings resonate at either the conscious or unconscious level. This is what I mean when I speak of evocative and allusive, this feature of Arabic which links together hundreds of words, many of them with very different meanings.


This is why any theological interpretation of the Qur'an that starts from an English translation as its source text is immediately invalid. English translations exist, of course, and are not in themselves harmful. In fact they are valuable in providing the baseline meaning from which one can proceed with tafsir (interpretation). However if you begin and end your scholarship of the Qur'an with the translation alone, then you are not talking about Islam. You are talking about a reflection of Islam as seen from the translator's eyes, filtered through your own biases.

For example, three well-known translations are by M.H. Shakir, Abdullah Yusufali, and Marmaduke Pickthall. Consider the differences in their translations for Qur'an 3:23:

003.023

YUSUFALI: Hast thou not turned Thy vision to those who have been given a portion of the Book? They are invited to the Book of Allah, to settle their dispute, but a party of them Turn back and decline (The arbitration).

PICKTHAL: Hast thou not seen how those who have received a portion of the Scripture invoke the Scripture of Allah (in their disputes) that it may judge between them; then a faction of them turn away, being opposed (to it)?

SHAKIR: Have you not considered those (Jews) who are given a portion of the Book? They are invited to the Book of Allah that it might decide between them, then a part of them turn back and they withdraw.


Immediately we see that Yusufali interprets this as a faction that has declined arbitration via the Qur'an, whereas Pickthal sees the rejection as outright opposition to the Qur'an. Meanwhile Shakir interprets the passage as applying specifically to Jews, even though in the actual Arabic there is no specific mention of Jews aka "Yahudi" or the tribe of Banu Israel therein. Each of these writers carries baggage with them and that shapes how they interpret the passage. By cementing the passage into english, the meaning is rendered static. All the allusiveness that Miller described is irrecovably lost.

This is not to say that muslims don't adopt such strict interpretations as valid. The problem here is that most muslims simply don't have time or knowledge to go through the Qur'an line by line and translate the text. This creates an opening for those with agenda to define the faith and wrap their own biases in Qur'anic legitimacy.

While I certainly believe that there is a "correct" interpretation of the Qur'an, the fact remains that Islam is a living religion. But he who interprets the Qur'an in the worst possible light is no more representative of Islam than he who interprets it in the best. Since we have empirical evidence that one billion muslims worldwide have not risen up in slaughter against their non-muslim neighbors, and that the actual number of muslims who interpret the Qur'an to justify violence is a tiny percentage of the total number of believers, there's nothing innate about Islam or the verses of the Qur'an that leads to such behaviors. Anyone who asserts, for example, that verse X:YY of the Qur'an permits muslims to lie to unbelievers (taqqiya), for example, is making a factually untrue statement. The correct statement would be that such a verse has been used to justify lying to non-believers, but until such time as someone proves that a significant fraction of muslims habitually lie in such fashion, it's merely an anecdote, not an observation with any kind of predictive power.

The average muslim does not walk under a cloud of Qur'an ayats burned into his brain, dictating their every move. Muslims interact with others based on the same types of prejudices, experiences, good and bad knowledge that everyone else carries. The Qur'an is a generalized influence, but not the sole one and ccertainly not a specific one. While I certainly wish I could carry the entirety of the Qur'an in my brain and have relevant ayats appear in memory as life proceeds apace, it's simply not possible. Rather, I recite the Qur'an in Arabic as a duty and base my relationships with my community on the sermons and teachings of my authorities and role models. And sometimes quote it on blogs in responses to someone (usually non-muslim) telling me what Islam really is.

12/20/2006

changes afoot

First off - the results of the Brass Crescent Awards have been announced. Yes, I am extremely tardy in announcing it here but I was too busy announcing it everywhere else :)

I know that things have been slow around here. That's because I am planning on making some changes after the new year. I am going to be relying more on del.icio.us as an engine for the content I post here, and will be changing the layout of the blog a bit accordingly. The basic idea is to make the two feeds from the Carnival of Brass - at present relegated to the sidebar - more central. I will still blog here but that will just be part of the daily content.

My purpose is to basically create a sort of "mini-portal" that will serve as a general resource in terms of highlighting analysis and opinions by experts and other bloggers that you wouldn't normally be exposed to via the media, on the issues of the day. That takes some pressure off as well and lets me allocate more time to other projects.

I'll start making the changes after the holidays. Until then, happy new year, merry Christmas and Hanukkah, and good Festivus to you all.

del.icio.us tag cloud



I am just experimenting with various tools. The tag cloud above includes the Carnival of Brass, as well as feeds that I use at my Nation-Building blog and Super-rational project.

11/28/2006

Brass Crescent Awards voting now open!

Brass Crescent Awards voting now open!

Voting has begun for the 3rd Annual Brass Crescent Awards. Please visit BrassCrescent.org and vote for your favorite blogs and blog posts now!

11/22/2006

Thanksgiving

The fall holiday season starts with the most important holiday in my opinion - Thanksgiving! What a concept - give thanks for the numerous bounties and blessings we have received.

It is unfortunate that today thanksgiving is corrupted by the shopping frenzy and all the other cunsumer related events. But the Holiday itself remains to me the most important of all.

We forget too many times to give thanks for all that we have. When you wake up tomorrow with family, friends, colleagues, loved ones or even if you are by yourself, ponder for a few minutes what do you have to give thanks for? When you gaze out the window on this crisp Thursday morning, think of the never ending bounties of nature that surrounds us. The fact that we give thanks for seeing the sun rise one more day. That we live in a time when the good can be made to great, when food is plenty for us and when even the very basics of life are taken for granted. Look around the table as you prepare to have the plentiful Thanksgiving meal and see the joy you see in the eyes of your family and friends, give thanks for having the blessings of such companionship, support and family. When you first have a taste of that sumptuous meal and drink the sweet drinks, give thanks for the endless bounties you have received everyday that has led to this very complete nourshing meal.

We owe a lot to this world and the bounties that have been given to us. We forget that if we tried to even count the blessings of what we have in our hands, we would spend a lifetime and not even put a dent on the list of thigs we should be thankful. All we have is a single day dedicated to reflecting on such bounties, spend one day focusing on thinking, "what do I have to give thanks to?"

It is said that those who will give thanks shall receive exponentially more. Sounds like a wonderful investment....so tomorrow hold your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors hands, feel the endless blessings you have received in the past year, gaze in their eyes and see the joy and give thanks!

Happy thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday.

11/16/2006

eteraz.org: states of Islam

Ali Eteraz has launched a new Scoop-based blogging platform for the Islamic blogsphere. The new site, called "eteraz.org: states of Islam" is essentially the same technology as powers DailyKos, complete with user diaries.

I will not be cross-posting content between my diary at Eteraz.org and this site. I have written an exclusive essay, a contemplation of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and what is needed for peace, for Eteraz.org and I hope that others will also make maximum effort to help make it into a shining example of the best the Islamsphere has to offer.

Shukran to Ali Eteraz for making this possible. Great things start small, but if you build and nuture your community, it will prosper indeed.

11/11/2006

publicly-funded faith schools in the UK: some facts

In the UK, a breakdown of the number of faith schools run by:

The Church of England - 4,646
Roman Catholic - 2,041
Jewish - 37
Muslim - 8
Sikh - 2

(source). Dhimmitude! Eurabia! aeieeeeee!

addendum: according to the UK Secretary of Education, publicly-funded Muslim schools already seek a non-muslim pupil population of 20% and 25%. They fall short however because of bad PR image problems. (via Yahya Birt)

11/06/2006

Brass Crescent Awards 1427H/2007

AltMuslim and City of Brass are pleased to announce the third annual Brass Crescent Awards for the muslim blogsphere!

The Awards will take place in two phases. First is the nominations phase, where readers nominate their favorite blogs in each of several categories. All submitted nominations will then be narrowed down to a maximum of five nominees per category, as selected by our judges. We will then have the final voting round on this site. The nominations phase begins today and will run until Friday, November 17, 2006.

Participating in the Brass Crescent Awards has never been easier. To nominate a blog or blog post, simply fill out the online form at BrassCrescent.org. The categories are as follows:

BEST BLOG: This category honors the most indispensable, muslim-authored blog there is. Period.

BEST NON-MUSLIM BLOG: Which blog written by a non-Muslim is most respectful of Islam and seeks genuine dialogue with Muslims?

BEST DESIGN: Which blog has the most aesthetically pleasing site design, appealing to the eye, evoking Islamic themes, and/or facilitating debate and discussion?

BEST POST OR SERIES: Which single post or group of posts in the Islamsphere was the most original and important, above all the others?

BEST IJTIHAD: What blog post provided the best rebuttal to arguments of extremist ideology, and in so doing expose how those who commit evil in the name of Islam are actually profaning the faith?

BEST FEMALE BLOG: The woman's voice in Islam is equal to the man's, and in the Islamsphere we seek to make sure the female perspective is highlighted and given its rightful due. Which muslim woman's blog has done the most to explore the role that women play within Islam and society?

BEST THINKER: Who is the most stimulating, insightful, and philosophically wise among us? This category is intended to highlight a blogger who may not post daily, but when they do post, they really make an impact.

MOST DESERVING OF WIDER RECOGNITION: Which blog is a true diamond in the rough, one that everyone should be reading but who most just haven't heard of (yet)?

BEST GROUP BLOG: Which multiple group blog in the Islamsphere has the best diversity of writers and the most interesting debate on Muslim issues?

BEST MIDDLE-EAST/ASIAN BLOGGER: The Islamsphere is truly a global phenomenon. In Iraq, despite the chaos and uncertainty, there is a sea change of free speech and expression, the vanguard of which are blogs. There are also bloggers in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Jordan, and most other countries that host Muslims, all of whom have their own perspectives on faith, culture, and politics.


Please join us at BrassCrescent.org to vote for your favorite blogs. This is our chance to honor ourselves and strengthen our virtual community. Please help us publicize the Awards as well, by including one of the following icons on your site, just copy and paste the corresponding HTML below:



<a href="http://brasscrescent.org/"><img src="http://static.flickr.com/114/290539731_6305be9b5e_o.jpg"></a>




<a href="http://brasscrescent.org/"><img src="http://static.flickr.com/107/290539729_f1686d4c8d_o.jpg"></a>


We hope you will join us in promoting and participating in the Brass Crescent Awards this year. More details about the Awards are at BrassCrescent.org.

11/02/2006

comments on the veil

Razib talks about veils at Gene Expression and breaks his observations into five major points. I found that I had some commentary on each, and originally was going to leave the following as a comment there, but decided to post it here instead.

One of the guests, who wore a full face veil, basically implied that women who don't dress the way she does are sluts.

This is a fairly commonplace and reasonable attitude among conservative women (Christian, especially). To put the incidents where a muslim woman has her veil ripped off in context, imagine someone walking up to a Christian matron and tearing off her blouse. Imagine such a matron's reaction to someone wearing no blouse (a la Sue Ellen Mischke).

To be perceived as modest and not draw attention in the West doesn't necessitate taking up the niqab, or, frankly even the hijab. If one has an absolute scale of modesty this might not be so, but, if the concern is how others perceive you, then that is the reality

This is actually backwards. The concern - ostensibly - that drives wearing the veil among conservative muslim women is not how others perceive you. It is how you perceive yourself. It is a statement of value that the woman places upon her own body and how she defines her own modesty.

Whether you draw attention or not is irrelevant - of course you will draw attention in teh generic sense. But someone gawking at your niqab is someone who is not imagining you naked. And that is the key.

Wearing the veil is a statement, just like getting a lot of peircings, or tatoos, or dying your hair is a statement. If the goal is to be modest and keep a low profile, walking around in a full body veil is not doing that. That's just the reality.

the goal is modesty, but NOT "keeping a low profile". Modesty is a goal but it doesnt require copartmentalization away from society. In fact the goal of the modesty is to enable women to attain a "normal" profile in society without the baggage that abandonment of modesty entails.

This is an important point which needs to be reiterated: wearing a fully veil is an interpretation of Islam.

absolutely true! And yet I don't think anyone - even myself - has ever stated that so directly. It needed to be said, and I will say it from now on. Having said that would have really strengthened my Burka and Bikini essay from way back.

veiling was never really normal in any society that is like a typical Western society where women are independent and are out and about in the world.

I disagree rather strongly. Muslim women in various states of veil and niqab participate fully "out and about" in India, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Jordan, Dubai, ... and the United States.

A fascinating article of relevance btw is Karen Armstrong's observation about what her years in a nun's habit taught her about veiling. Highly recommended reading.

10/26/2006

in defense of zeal

Aisha Eteraz writes, of zeal:

zeal, or excessive fervor, is easy to understand. Children who have only just learned to speak often can’t be convinced to stay quiet; when a person enters mindfully into a religion, it’s understandable that he might want to totally immerse himself in it, abandoning all aspects of his life that require him to compromise its rituals. (Note I said rituals, not beliefs. I’m getting to that.) Religion is the way he talks to God, and once you find you can talk to God, why do anything else? Hence, zeal. I am awakened promptly at 4:30 in the morning by it every day, when the dawn call to prayer blasts out from the nearest mosque at a very 21st century volume.

Many believers pass through this phase; Ali and some of the readers have been talking about it in the comments thread of the previous post. Most people who have experienced zeal will agree that it has a lifecycle; if one is thoughtful and introspective, it typically passes, interrupted by a period of bitterness and disillusionment, ultimately replaced by a quieter and deeper faith.


I think that zeal gets unfairly maligned here. In fact, I do believe that zeal is good, even neccessary, for faith. Why should zeal be defined as "excessive" fervour? Why should any amount of genuine fervour for Allah be excessive?

My zeal drives me forward in faith. Faith is not and should not be a purely intellectual excercise. Zeal is why I can awake for salaat al-fajr daily; zeal is how I can fast during Ramadan; zeal is how I pray salaat al-maghrib in parking lots or office corridors or whereever I happen to be. Zeal is how I avoid doubt about the societal and career consequences of wearing my traditional attire or sporting a beard. Were faith purely introspective or intellectual, bereft of zeal, then the practice of faith does indeed become mere ritual, nothing more.

In a nutshell, it is zeal that gives me the power to maintainn my introspection, to have a deeper and more solid faith. And heaven forbid my faith ever be "quieter" ! Or that my zeal ever have a "natural lifecycle". I have never experienced bitterness or disillusionment in faith because I have not succumbed to the Dawkinsesque conceit that reason is greater than faith. Part of why Islam is submission is in the submission to the truth that lies beyond the grasp of your own reason.

We are not vulcans. Faith can not and should not be tamed to the spartan constraints of reason. Faith - like a child - must be set free. The analogy to children speaks powerfully and positively to me; in my daughter I see a zeal that inspires me.

10/23/2006

Eid al-fitr Mubarak!

Allah grant us the power to hold fast all year to the increased piety of the preceding month. To all my friends, family, and loved ones - mabruk, mabruk!

10/19/2006

Reform Jews feed muslims for Eid

This is a beautiful story:

The same Jewish group who gave food assistance to underprivileged Jews during Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot is now turning to help an unlikely crowd: underprivileged Muslims who will celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week with the holiday of Eid Al-Fiter.

On Tuesday, 150 members of the Jewish Reform Movement, in cooperation with the "Kavod Foundation" gathered in Jerusalem to assist with the packing of canned goods and other provisions to be delivered during the holiday to needy Muslims in East Jerusalem.

Yoav Shprank, a member of the organization told Ynet that the Kavod Foundation is working all year to help Jews, Christians, and Muslims during the holidays. As an example, the Reform movement donated 2,000 food boxes to the welfare offices, and they are also planning a substantial food donation in preparation for Christmas.


The Jews are our cousins in Abrahamic faith and I hope that all muslims worldwide see and recognize this generosity. shukran to them.

related: CAIR sends money to Palestine: to rebuild churches

10/18/2006

support Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Let us be clear - the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is important. Choudhury is a hero and deserves our support. Which is why in an otherwise important post, Michelle Malkin's rhetorical question, "where is CAIR" is so insulting. CAIR is an American civil rights grassroots organization. Choudhury is a Bangaldeshi journalist facing a sedition charge for his brave stance against fanatical Islamists.

This is no different from the wierd blogger experience of being expected to answer every blog post or comment. Why is Malkin silent about issue XYZ? Why are moderate muslims silent about PDQ? It is tiresome. Why can't we work on the basis of what we actually say, rather than what we have not said?

The fact that Malkin uses Choudhury as a slam against CAIR suggests that his real value to her is not as an emblem of the courageous stand we all need to take against a common enemy, but rather as yet another bludgeon against her perceived foes in the US. Which is a shame because they are actually her allies. That Malkin celebrates her allies in the fight against terror when they are located in Bangladesh is commendable; that she labels her allies as enemies when they reside in the US is tragic.

More information about Choudhury is at the Free Choudhury website. Please visit.

10/13/2006

600,000 dead in Iraq is a reasonable estimate

The Lancet study (PDF) that estimated deaths in Iraq at 600,000 is coming under considerable critique. However, all these critiques assume a priori that the number is unreasonable as an apriori. But if the number is actually quite reasonable, then the numerical methodologic critiques are irrelevant.

And in fact the estimate of 600,000 dead is actually quite reasonable. Juan Cole has a very lengthy post that lays it out on the line, including more detail about the methodology than most of the critics provide. He also notes that muslim burial practices sugggest that the estimates are, if anything, conservative. A lengthy excerpt:

I follow the violence in Iraq carefully and daily, and I find the results plausible.

First of all, Iraqi Muslims don't believe in embalming or open casket funerals days later. They believe that the body should be buried by sunset the day of death, in a plain wooden box. So there is no reason to expect them to take the body to the morgue. Although there are benefits to registering with the government for a death certificate, there are also disadvantages. Many families who have had someone killed believe that the government or the Americans were involved, and will have wanted to avoid drawing further attention to themselves by filling out state forms and giving their address.
[...]
Not to mention that for substantial periods of time since 2003 it has been dangerous in about half the country just to move around, much less to move around with dead bodies.

There is heavy fighting almost every day at Ramadi in al-Anbar province, among guerrillas, townspeople, tribes, Marines and Iraqi police and army. We almost never get a report of these skirmishes and we almost never are told about Iraqi casualties in Ramadi. Does 1 person a day die there of political violence? Is it more like 4? 10? What about Samarra? Tikrit? No one is saying. Since they aren't, on what basis do we say that the Lancet study is impossible?

There are about 90 major towns and cities in Iraq. If we subtract Baghdad, where about 100 a day die, that still leaves 89. If an average of 4 or so are killed in each of those 89, then the study's results are correct. Of course, 4 is an average. Cities in areas dominated by the guerrilla movement will have more than 4 killed daily, sleepy Kurdish towns will have no one killed.

If 470 were dying every day, what would that look like?

West Baghdad is roughly 10% of the Iraqi population. It is certainly generating 47 dead a day. Same for Sadr City, same proportions. So to argue against the study you have to assume that Baquba, Hilla, Kirkuk, Kut, Amara, Samarra, etc., are not producing deaths at the same rate as the two halves of Baghad. But it is perfectly plausible that rough places like Kut and Amara, with their displaced Marsh Arab populations, are keeping up their end. Four dead a day in Kut or Amara at the hands of militiamen or politicized tribesmen? Is that really hard to believe? Have you been reading this column the last three years?

Or let's take the city of Basra, which is also roughly 10% of the Iraqi population. Proportionally speaking, you'd expect on the order of 40 persons to be dying of political violence there every day. We don't see 40 persons from Basra reported dead in the wire services on a daily basis.

But last May, the government authorities in Basra came out and admitted that security had collapsed in the city and that for the previous month, one person had been assassinated every hour. Now, that is 24 dead a day, just from political assassination. Apparently these persons were being killed in faction fighting among Shiite militias and Marsh Arab tribes. We never saw any of those 24 deaths a day reported in the Western press. And we never see any deaths from Basra reported in the wire services on a daily basis even now. Has security improved since May? No one seems even to be reporting on it, yes or no.

So if 24 Iraqis can be shot down every day in Basra for a month (or for many months?) and no one notices, the Lancet results are perfectly plausible.


Also, to look at the issue another way, consider that almost 3,000 US sodiers have been killed in the war thus far, and that 14,000 Iraqi security forces have also been killed (the latter a conservative estimate based on published news reports only, source). Is it really beyond the realm of possibility that for every US soldier verified killed by the DoD or Iraqi security person reported killed by the media, that an additional 34 civilians have also been executed by militias or been killed by foreign jihadis? Because 35x17k= 600k right there.

The question is why the rush to deny the number. Does the argument for being in Iraq change if its 600,000 dead? If so, where is the threshold? Keep in mind that just a few months ago the same people were outraged at the suggestion that there might be 100,000 dead. Is that number still beyond the realm of possibility, too, in their eyes? And if not - if 100,000 is actually reasonable now whereas 600,000 is not, then when does 600,000 become reasonable?

I think that its telling of insecurity by the pro-war right that they have seized with such ferocity on the report, because they are essentially arguing a detail rather than a strategy. John (not Juan) Cole explores this further.

10/12/2006

Qahwa Sada

Marc Lynch of Abu Aardvark fame has launched a new web project on Middle East media, Qahwa Sada. From the mission statement:

Why a new blog-journal by Middle East experts? Because Middle East studies specialists have a phenomenal amount of quality knowledge about the Arab and Islamic world: deep knowledge about the history of the region, detailed empirical knowledge of political and social trends, sophisticated theoretical insights into their meaning. Many are out there in the region, seeing things happen and talking to people over a sustained period of time. But they often have trouble getting that knowledge out into the public realm. Part of the problem is that there just aren't nearly enough of the right kind of outlets. Academic journals are not well suited to getting information and analysis out to a wide public, and many have yet to adapt to the internet era. Blogs are wonderful, but not everyone wants one or has the time to run one. The op-ed pages are a crapshoot. MERIP and the Arab Reform Bulletin can't do it all on their own. That means that debate is too often dominated by people with, shall we say, a less empirically rich or theoretically sophisticated understanding of the region.

Qahwa Sada aims to fix this market failure by providing a public forum for Middle East studies specialists to talk about what they know. The blog format offers unique opportunities to reach a savvy, engaged audience hungry for this kind of information and analysis.


As we saw with the MEMRI/Apple affair, there is a vaccuum that is begging to be filled with genuine journalism and analysis when it comes to information about the middle east. Qahwa Sada will hopefully provide an alternative, a new brand.

10/11/2006

MEMRI nutpicking and the Apple NYC Store

The Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, has breathlessly announced today that muslims are offended by the Apple Retail Store on 5th Avenue in New York City:

On October 10, 2006, an Islamic website posted a message alerting Muslims to what it claims is a new insult to Islam. According to the message, the cube-shaped building which is being constructed in New York City, on Fifth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets in midtown Manhattan, is clearly meant to provoke Muslims.


Emphasis mine: an unnamed Islamic website somewhere has a message that asserts something dumb. And what possible reason is there for broadcasting it? In essence, MEMRI is nutpicking :

... the moronic practice of trawling through open comment threads in order to find a few wackjobs who can be held up as evidence that liberals are nuts. It's both lazy and self-refuting, since if the best evidence of wackjobism you can find is a few anonymous nutballs commenting on a blog, then the particular brand of wackjobism you're complaining about must not be very widespread after all.


MEMRI habitually applies the same method to muslims. Their methodology is suspiciously selective. MEMRI's selection bias results in disproportionate influence on mass media, public opinion, and ultimately even policy. Marc Lynch observes that MEMRI essentially conceded that they engaged in selective quoting in the past, and this latest smear attempt suggests that they haven't changed their stripes.

MEMRI quotes an unnamed "Islamic website" which could be anything ranging from a jihadi forum to a punk's blog. They provide no link or context or replies to the message. The result? The technical media, normally apolitical, swallows the bait. "Muslims are offended by Apple Store" says Jason D. O'Grady of ZDNet. Muslims? Can O'Grady identify a single offended muslim? The Register jumps in with "Apple's Store is an 'insult to Islam'". It is? Who speaks on behalf of Islam that the store is an insult? Ars Technica asserts "Apple Store 'provokes' Muslims.". Which muslims were provoked?

Where is the outrage? Islamoyankee observes that muslims don't hate macs:

I must confess though, that I live close by and go on pilgrimage there at least once a month and play with the toys. I know of no one who is offended by this thing (except for the fact that the elevator only seems to work 50% of the time). But of course, as you can see by some of the comments on Jason's blog, MEMRI has achieved their goal of de-humanizing Muslims as thoughtless brutes.


And that is precisely MEMRI's goal. Muslims are brutes; they are orcs. Muslim-baiting has already been legitimized and I am afraid that we will yet see much worse.

10/05/2006

Leave the Sikhs alone, you bastards

ignorant redneck scum:

A billboard designed to educate drivers on Interstate 78 about Sikhism, an Indian religion that Americans often confuse with Islam, has been removed after it was marred by profanity aimed at Muslims.

"Arabs go to hell," someone wrote across the billboard in black, along with "Jesus Saves," "Hell Yeah USA" and a four-letter expletive directed at "Alah." Muslims pray to Allah, which is Arabic for God.

The vandalism in Berks County came as midstate police were investigating threatening letters and e-mails sent to Muslims in the Harrisburg and York areas. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said Friday there have been "at least seven" such messages in the past two months.


"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." -- Yoda

UPDATE: Incidents like these are why I have defended and continue to support CAIR, even though I believe that the national leadership are fools. No one else will fight for muslims in the face of increasing Islamophobia. It should be noted though that there is plenty of disagreement about CAIR within the american muslim community.

10/02/2006

Shehrullah-El-Moazzam (Ramadhan) 1427H

(This guest post is by my close friend Taha Raja, a businessman in Sugarland, Texas. Taha and I attend the same masjid in Katy, TX as part of the Houston Dawoodi Bohra community.)

It is 1427H and the new moon of the ninth month signals the start of Ramadhan for muslims around the world. Everyone today knows what the month is for Muslims. Fasting, extra prayers, community events, and of course charitable giving. For me, this year marked a special event. My goal this year was to begin the month with a new start in my life. I sold my small businesses, The UPS Stores, and I resigned from my position at Symantec Corp. I chose this great month to signify a new chapter in my physical, material and of course spiritual life. Ramadhan hails a sense of renewal. This year, with my new start, I plan on focusing on the activities surrounding Ramadhan. Attending the Masjid everyday, giving extra care on the days' activity focused on the principles of cleansing your own self as well as giving a chance to reflect on my last 14 years as a small businessman. This sense of renewal will undoubtedly provide me the energy and focus I will need for my new venture.I feel blessed and fortunate that I have a vehicle like Ramadhan to provide me this opportunity. Three months ago I was debating as to when I will make this change in my life for the next chapter. There never seemed like a good time to do this. Then it came to me that why not mark this change with the start of Ramadhan! And so the decision was made. Ramadhan, 1427H marks a new chapter in my journey. And what a wonderful occassion to embark on this journey. I know with the showers of barakaat that fall duirng this month, success is inevitable. May Allah Ta'ala bless us all during this month and may He provide us the guidance and wisdom to make choices that allow us to show Him that we are worthy of His bessings.

10/01/2006

The unbeliver's Ramadan

(I am inviting a series of guest posts on City of Brass from close friends and family this Ramadan. This guest post is by my friend Razib, founder of the Gene Expression website, who is a professed atheist.)

Last week I sent off a check to my parents to add monies to the pot for a sum that they will deliver to a mosque which will disburse food to the poor in Bangladesh for Ramadan. Now, keep in mind I am not a believer. I would not consider myself a 'cultural Muslim' either. Am I a hypocrite? Perhaps, but ultimately, it matters less to me to adhere to the particulars of symbolism than as to whether someone has a full stomach or not in this case. I am a selfish person, but my heart is not made of stone and human beings have value to me.

And for me, that is what Ramadan is about, people. It is about the smell of food tempting you during the day. It is about people coming together and sating their appetite, slacking their thirst, chatting, laughing, smiling. I do not believe in a God in heaven or a devil in hell, what I believe in are the lives of people in this world and how they treat their fellow man, how they greet the stranger on the street. For all my disagreemants with the execution of religion I have little quarrel with its nobler aims, with its aspiration to rise men and women above the petty squalor of their personal concerns and look to the heavens above and be as the angels. I smile when I see men and women greeting each other as brothers and sisters, embarking on the same journey or task, aiming for the same discipline. I agree that humans need a common ground of understanding, a set of values which they can all touch and feel with the intimacy of a held hand. There is something special about the pronoun "we," the amity of communal purpose.

Ramadan means something to me not because I believe it is a special and sacred time because one particular religion is true, Ramadan is a specific manifestation of human fellow feeling, communcal striving, and a reaffirmation of the value of discipline and struggle. There is a reason that aesceticism and holiness are often coupled together. We are after all one human race, with a common horizon, and the same sun in the sky, the same pains, the same struggles and the same joys. For one month men and women across the Muslim world feel the same cravings and pangs, only to be sated as the night dawns.

9/29/2006

up yours, Abu Ayyub al-Masri

Al-Qaida in Iraq's leader, in a chilling audiotape released Thursday, called for nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners so they could be traded for a blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.

The fugitive terror chief said experts in the fields of "chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences — especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts" should join his group's jihad, or holy war, against the West.

"We are in dire need of you," said the speaker, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri. "The field of jihad can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases (in Iraq) are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them."


BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! Dumb ass.

Regards, Aziz Poonawalla, Ph.D.

footnote: the article notes,

The statement followed the release of a U.N. report Wednesday that said fewer foreign fighters have been killed or captured in Iraq in the last few months, "suggesting that the flow has slackened." The report also said some fighters had expressed dissatisfaction they were asked to kill fellow Muslims rather than Western soldiers and that the only role for them was to be suicide bombers.


well, if you selectively recruit the dumb asses fools enough to sign up for suicide bomber missions, then eventually you raise the mean IQ.

CAIR sends money to Palestine... to rebuild Churches

Beliefnet has the story:


The Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday (Sept. 21) that it will deliver $5,000 in seed money to help repair six churches in the Palestinian Territories that were damaged by Muslims who were infuriated by the pope's speech.

"We're still waiting for a detailed report from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to find out the full cost of the damage," said CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Ahmed Bedier, announcing the campaign with Catholic officials in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But the response has been received well."

The Rev. Robert Gibbons, vicar general for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, is accepting the donation on behalf of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a New York church agency that offers humanitarian and pastoral support to churches in the Middle East and around the world.

"I'm very impressed that (CAIR) would make this statement to Christians that Muslims don't condone this violence," Gibbons said.
[...]
Bedier said "these churches were protected under Islam. We were upset to see them attacked."

Bedier said the idea to collect money for the restoration originated from individuals within the Tampa-area Muslim community who were concerned about increased Muslim-Christian friction. CAIR leaders said the campaign would soon go national.


Emphasis added, though otherwise presented without comment.

I do not hide the fact that I am pro-CAIR and that my assessment of the organization is that while there are several fools at the top at the national level, the state-level branches do essential and good work.

Michelle Malkin, Robert Spencer, and many others in the conservative blogsphere unfairly smear the organization as a whole as being "an Islamist front group" based on a few stupid comments from the national leadership but they cannot and never will be able to point to anything concrete that CAIR has ever done to support terror organizations. Daniel Pipes' bogus lawsuit against CAIR was a complete joke and a good example of abusing the legal system.

9/28/2006

Crossroads Arabia

I just wanted to mention that John Burgess's blog, Crossroads Arabia, is one that is as important reading as Abu Aardvark. Only by uderstanding the discourse and reforms within the muslim world can we hope to harness them. John's blog is an old warhorse that's been essential in describing the ongoing reforms in Saudi Arabia, especially with regards to women's issues. As John put it himself,

Particularly of note are how Saudi women fight to create a space for themselves, on their own terms. And how they really, really hate it when their "big sisters" in the West tell them how deprived they are.

You're not going to find honey if you're only looking in the vinegar barrel.


John is a real scholar and even had an op-ed published in Asharq Alawsat recently. XDArabia is a blog well-worth keeping a regular eye on.

9/22/2006

Ramadan il-Moazzam 1427




O Allah! This is the month of Ramadan in which descended the Qur'an as a guide to mankind and a criterion to separate truth from falsehood. O Allah! Bless us in the month of Ramadan, and give us Your help and accept our ibadat, for You have power over all things.

There is no god but Allah. We seek Your forgiveness. O Allah! Grant us Paradise and save us from Hellfire.


Ramadan mubarak, and remember my family and myself in your duas.

UPDATE: And, happy Rosh Hashanah! I love these Abrahamic convergences :)

(aside - regarding the moon sighting issue - thank god for ISNA's decision. Zack has a nice roundup and comment. I have little to add that I haven't said before on the matter. We Bohras use the Hijri calendar as described here, and which also powers the salaat timings tool you see at the left sidebar.)

9/21/2006

taking up the Pope's gauntlet

If the purpose of the Pope's speech was to stimulate debate, then it was indeed a success. As with the Cartoon StupidStorm, the short term initial wave of violent reaction by the extremist minority has given way to substantial and thought-provoking analysis. Said analysis, not incidentally, also enjoys the same total media blackout as the post-cartoon analysis did.

Paramount among the reasoned responses to the Pope is Tariq Ramadan's essay, which argues that the real context of the Pope's address was to emphatically place Islam within the category of Other with which no true dialog can be undertaken. Ramadan argues,

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the crisis is that the real debate launched by Benedict XVI seems to have eluded most commentators, and particularly Muslim commentators. In his academic address, he develops a dual thesis, accompanied by two messages. He reminds those rationalist secularists who would like to rid the Enlightenment of its references to Christianity that these references are an integral component of European identity; it will be impossible for them to engage in interfaith dialogue if they cannot accept the Christian underpinnings of their own identity (whether they are believers or not). Then, in taking up the question of faith and reason, and in emphasizing the privileged relationship between the Greek rationalist tradition and the Christian religion, the pope attempts to set out a European identity that would be Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason. Islam, which has apparently had no such relationship with reason, would thus be foreign to the European identity that has been built atop this heritage. A few years ago, then-Cardinal Ratzinger set forth his opposition to the integration of Turkey into Europe on a similar basis. Muslim Turkey never was and never will be able to claim an authentically European culture. It is another thing; it is the Other.


Or, to put it more succinctly, Muslims are Orcs.

And as we know, Orcs are a mindless horde. They cannot be reasoned with, because they lack reason. Therefore, any attempt at dialouge with Islam is utterly futile. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, highlights that subtext in the Pope's address clearly:

What makes me shudder about the Pope's Regensburg lecture is that he appears to join Osama bin Laden in this effort to cast the current conflict as a clash of civilisations. Complicatedly, and dense in footnotes, he is, at bottom, trying to establish the superiority of one faith over another. His argument is that reason is intrinsic to Christianity, yet merely a contingent part of Islam.


And we see that attitude towards Islam reflected in the foreign policy of the present Administration, in fact. Hossein Derakshan, reknowned Iranian blogger, points out that Iran is developing nukes for the most obvious reasons: security. But security guarantees to Iran in return for cessation of its program are beyond the pale? Meanwhile, Syrian's Assad cultivates Hizbollah as a counterweight to Israel's regional dominance. Are there no common interests between his nation and ours? The expectation of the West towards muslim nations is as towards a dog: do as you are told, or be punished - be obedient, and you may be given some scraps.

And if muslims are orcs, then Europe is Minas Tirith, which must be defended. The question of Turkey's admittance to the European Union is the flashpoint for this subtext. In the face of lengthy polemical diatribes that invoke the West without ever defining it, it is not surprising that Turkey itself is reconsidering it's own allegiances - and the strategic position for the "West" will be the poorer for it.

Let us take up the substance of the Pope's charge. What does Islam have to say about Reason? In a tremendously insightful comment on my previous post, reader jr786 writes:

Interestingly, for a Pope so well read in Islam he seems to have forgotten that Koran 18: 60-82 deals explicitly with the limits of human reason and its finite, conditioned interpretation of events. The message for Muslims is to strive for knowledge and truth and not to be misled into thinking that reason is the highest form of human achievement.


Qur'an 18 is Sura al-Kahf, one of the most mystical and powerful - and exceedingly difficult and symbolic - surahs in the Qur'an. In it, the prophet Moses follows a chosen servant of Allah, and learns the limits of his own rational faculties. The lesson is that all knowledge is not within reach of the human intellect, and that reason can take you a certain distance, but not all the way. Ultimately, super-rationality is an illusion.

And the Qur'an, far from being (as the Pope implies) a spartan text filled with trivial daily injunctions and strictures, is a deep well when it comes to broader philosophical issues. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in one of his typically erudite essays entitled, "The Qur'an and Hadith as source and inspiration of Islamic philosophy" gives this overview:

One might say that the reality of the Islamic revelation and participation in this reality transformed the very instrument of philosophizing in the Islamic world. The theoretical intellect (al-aql a1-no ari) of the Islamic philosophers is no longer that of Aristotle although his very terminology is translated into Arabic. The theoretical intellect, which is the epistemological instrument of all philosophical activity, is Islamicized in a subtle way that is not always detectable through only the analysis of the technical vocabulary involved. The Islamicized understanding of the intellect, however, becomes evident when one reads the discussion of the meaning of aql or intellect in a major philosopher such as Mulla Sadra when he is commenting upon certain verses of the Qur'an containing this term or upon the section on aql from the collection of Shiite Hadith of al-Kulayni entitled Usul al-kafi. The subtle change that took place from the Greek idea of the "intellect" (noun) to the Islamic view of the intellect (al-aql) can also be seen much earlier in the works of even the Islamic Peripatetics such as Ibn Sina where the Active Intellect (al-aql al fa dl) is equated with the Holy Spirit (al-ruh al-qudus).


Ultimately, a reading of Islam that derives the conclusion that it is hostile to reason is fundamentally a polemic, not a debate. In other words, it is anti-reason itself. Did the Pope really desire debate? It looks more like he wanted to ensure that there could be none.

Ramadan concludes his essay with this call to action:

Muslims must demonstrate, in a manner that is both reasonable and free of emotional reactions, that they share the core values upon which Europe and the West are founded.

Neither Europe nor the West can survive, if we continue to attempt to define ourselves by excluding, and by distancing ourselves from, the Other — from Islam, from the Muslims — whom we fear.

Carnival of Brass: update

The Carnival of Brass has thus far been an initial success, and I would like to especially thank Dean Esmay, Haroon, Ali, and Thabet for hosting the Carnival on their sidebars. Their high-profile example has inspired several other blogs to follow suit and thus greatly increase the overall utility of the Carnival for all bloggers. I am also grateful to the numerous smaller blogs that have also hosted the Carnival as well.

However, we are still far short of the full potential of the Carnival to serve as a uniifying force for the Islamsphere and as a "force multiplier" for our ideas in the broader blogsphere at large.

For one thing, not enough bloggers are contributing their own links, to either the @brass_crescent (blogs) or @COB (media) feeds. At present I myself account for over 75% of the links on both feeds, which means that the Carnival is dominated by my personal taste. This is not desirable. I especially appreciate thabet's help in this regard; he has submitted quite a few links himself and many of the links I submit are lifted from his personal bookmarks.

Second, we do need more blogs in the Islamsphere to add the Carnival to their blogs. And not just the @brass_crescent feed, but also the @COB feed. Remember that the Carnival has two feeds - one for blog commentary, and another for articles in the mass media. The @COB feed gets as much fresh content as @brass_crescent does, and for maximum impactwe need everyone who wants to participate to use both.

To these ends I want to make the following revised javascript code available. Unlike the code given in the FAQ, the headlines here are only 5 long, not 15. That should make the footprint of the Carnival much smaller and more conducive to inclusion on blog sidebars. The code, which you only need to cut and paste into your blog template, is as follows:


<script type="text/javascript" src="http://del.icio.us/feeds/js/azizhp/%40brass_crescent?extended;count=5;
title=blogs%3A%20%40brass_crescent;icon=rss"></script>

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://del.icio.us/feeds/js/azizhp/%40cob?extended;count=5;
title=media%3A%20%40COB;icon=rss"></script>


Note that you can change the number of headlines from 5 to whatever you want - just edit the part in green to your taste. Likewise you can also put any title you want, just edit the part in red (the %3A means a colon, ie : , the %20 means a space, and %40 is the @ symbol. You can also style the feed with CSS to match your blog layout.

I would like to make an appeal to please do use the code above and put the Carnival on your blog sidebars. The great advantage of the Carnival is that it unites us and amplifies our voice. Its real time, and there's no host, so the admin overhead is minimal. Its a platform for us to share action items and important events just as much as it is for introducing new and fresh voices. And it's the best way to get our message out to the wider world - we are not silent.

And of course, please participate by submitting links as well! You will need a del.icio.us account but once you've got one, and you've added me to your network, it is very easy for you to send links for submission. If you tag a link with "for:azizhp" it will even show up directly in my inbox! Let's take full advantage of these technologies to support ourselves.

9/18/2006

apology accepted, but the damage is done

As is well-known, Pope Benedict made a tremendous speech about secularism and human reason. He spoke of Logos and faith. It was really an erudite, reasoned, and intellectual piece about secularism that any believer in God would do well to take note of, and appreciate.

However, the Pope also threw in a gratuitous swipe at Islam, which was mostly tangential to the main thrust of the argument and (as the Pope's own defenders concede), could have been readily omitted without undermining the speech as a whole.

The Pope has since apologized, saying that the views of Emperor Manuel II towards Islam do not reflect his own, and that he sincerely regrets the offense he caused. I accept this apology unreservedly.

I also remind fellow muslims that we take great exception to the moving goalpost syndrome that our own condemnations of terror invariably attract, and so we must as a matter of principle take the Pope at his word.

But we should also be very realistic about the probable intent of the Pope's original remarks, and the true consequences.

The riots and tragic murders that the Pope's remarks set off are tragic, foolish, and yet more evidence of the profound vacuum that exists at the center of the muslim world's discourse. But riots and murder in the name of insult to religion are hardly limited to Islam. My aim is not to engage in tu quoque but rather to illustrate that violence in the third world is worthless as a metric. Such violence is the product of professional thugs who exploit the lack of civil order in their societies, and seek any pretext upon which to wage chaos. Their efforts are barbaric, and they are transient, and they are ultimately futile.

The violence is a red herring; far deeper damage has been done.

First, the needless propaganda gift to our enemies - the enemies of all civilization, Islamic, Western, whatever label you choose. Marc Lynch illustrates in detail why the Pope's comments amounted to a gift for bin Laden - he minces no words in describing the comments as "strategically dumb." He summarizes:

To put it another way: It is just really dumb to "fight radical Islam" by handing it rhetorical weapons and then doing everything you can to drive ordinary Muslims - the vast majority of which have no truck with al-Qaeda's ideology - in their direction. The point should be to drive al-Qaeda farther away from the Muslim mainstream, not to try to force them together. The sorts of confrontational statements that some folks seem to consider to be courage or moral clarity or whatever aren't.. they're just strategically dumb. They actively help al-Qaeda and hurt al-Qaeda's opponents, whatever the intent behind them.


But the damage is far worse than just a PR gift to al-Qaeda. The Pope's comments also were disastrously timed with respect to the critical struggle for women's rights in Pakistan, the face of whom is Mukhtar Mai. True reform has been proceeding in minimalist, incremental fashion. And now, the fate of reform hinges upon the judgment of Pervez Musharraf.

However, Musharraf is in a delicate balance between the wealthy elite and the Islamists. And now with the outrage over the Pope's needless highlighting of thousand-year-old insults to Islam, the pressure on him from the Islamists will be tremendous.

Think of the opportunity that has been lost. Pope Benedict could have lent moral support to Musharraf. The bully pulpit of the Papacy, coupled with the eloquent appeal to Logos, would have given great power to the reformers in the muslim world - and the Christians who abide therein.

Why would the Pope, noted for his mastery of language, have sought to open an old wound of rivalry between the faiths at such a critical time? Victory in the war on Terror requires that we give the reformists succor, not undermine them. One possible answer is that the Pope's speech was aimed at multiple targets, Catholicism's "chief competitors for souls" - Islam, Protestants, and secularists alike. I think however that a better answer lies in this rather fair-minded article in the Telegraph (via Bill Cork), that goes into some detail about Benedict's perceptions of Islam:

no pope in history has made a deeper study of Islam. Having explored every verse of the Koran, and engaged in long debates with Muslim scholars, he rejects the simplistic notion held by fundamentalist Christians, and by the Roman Catholic Church until the middle of the 20th century, that Islam is evil. Yet he is convinced that some of its doctrines are morally indefensible.

In Benedict's view, a profound ambiguity about violence lies at the heart of Islam, arising from the Prophet's belief that faith can be spread by the sword. Mohammed, after all, was a general whose troops beheaded hundreds of enemy captives.

Asked recently whether he considered Islam to be a religion of peace, the Pope replied: "Islam contains elements that are in favour of peace, just as it contains other elements." Christianity, by contrast, he sees as a religion of pure peace which is why he adopts a near-pacifist approach to conflict in the Middle East.


(with regards to that last sentence, Razib points out that Benedict's view of Christianity benefits from the unique and different geopolitical landscapes into which Christianity and Islam expanded into. Razib summarizes, "In short, the fact that Islam has bloody borders is a natural consequence of its expansion into cultures which need no civilizing and have religious ideologies which are naturally resistant to marginalization and offer compelling narratives to elites.")

The article continues, drawing an important difference between Benedict and his predecessor:

John Paul II hoped that prayer could bring Christians and Muslims closer together, and famously prayed alongside Islamic leaders at Assisi in 1986. He also reassured Muslims that "we believe in the same God".

Benedict would emphasise that the Islamic understanding of God is radically different from that of Christians.


In a sense, JPII saw muslims as brothers in Abrahamic faith, whereas Benedict sees them as truly Alien. Note that the default understanding of Christianity for a muslim is that we are indeed heirs to the same tradition. In that sense, John Paul's passing and Benedict's ascension represented an easily-foreseeable souring of Christian-muslim relations.

The Telegraph article continues,

"The Koran is a total religious law," he wrote in 1996, "which regulates the whole of political and social life." Therefore, a devout Muslim living in the West must aspire to live under sharia law. A multi-faith society "is not consistent with Islam's inner nature".

In other words, the Pope subscribes to a version of the "clash of civilisations" theory, which sees a fundamental incompatibility between Western and Islamic cultures. In his opinion, the primary aim of Christian-Muslim discussion is to avoid conflict.


(emphasis mine). That the Pope subscribes to the "clash" thesis - and rejects the idea that both Islam and Christianity have anything in common or have any common cause (against secularism, for example), is hardly surprising. The former Cardinal Ratzinger was known for his hardline stances. He is a religious partisan first and a spiritual leader second; the previous Pope (partly due to his role in articulating the universality of Enlightenment values against Communism during the Cold War) was the exact opposite.

But then why provoke that clash?

How could a man who is so notoriously careful with words have committed what, in the eyes of liberal society, is a diplomatic blunder? The answer may be that underlying Benedict's nuanced world view is a deep-seated fear of Islam, which crops up in the daily conversation of Italian Catholics and stretches as far north as his Bavarian homeland.

He does not believe that the Koran condones terrorism; he bears no animosity towards peace-loving Muslims; but he is worried that the aggressive ethos of authentic Islam may provoke a crisis in Western society. And if the price of making that point is a "diplomatic blunder", then so be it.


And here I think we have the true answer. Fear of Islam - literally, "Islam phobia". Rather than a race for souls, he fears that Islam will destroy all of them. The Pope sounded an alarm against secularism in the short run, but Islam is the threat on the horizon. Perhaps his words were even deliberately intended to provoke, to better prove the point.

What is truly tragic about Benedict's world view is that the fear he holds towards Islam could be largely mitigated if he followed the footsteps of John Paul II, and helped use his influence to bring Enlightenment values to the Islamic world. Helping Musharraf rather than hindering him would have been a truly momentous start. It is the liberalization of the muslim world, a liberalization that was not even fully completed in the West until August 26, 1920.

It is not too late for women's rights in Pakistan. We must stop talking about the Pope and start talking about this instead. There is only so much media oxygen and the Pope affair has consumed almost all of it until now. Muslim bloggers are relatively powerless in this regard, however - what is needed is the alliance of non muslims to bring pressure upon the mass media, to shine a spotlight on Pakistan and to speak the language of human rights and tolerance rather than demonization and fear. Muslims and Christians together must join forces and pressure Musharraf for true reform of the hudood laws.

9/04/2006

Rita retrospective

We just passed the anniversary of Hurrican Katrina; the anniversary of Hurricane Rita is just around the corner. I am jumping the gun a bit, but here are my blog posts from last September, chronicling our Rita experience.

Rita's comin' to Texas, folks (Sep 19, 2005). I was one of the very first Texas bloggers to declare that Rita had our number. That post was updated numerous times over the next couple of days as the reality began to sink into the wider media.

Batten down the hatches (sep 21, 2005). I started planning our escape route. At that point in time it wasn't clear whether my wife, a resident at UTMB Galveston, would have to stay on duty or not.

update (Sep 22, 2005). A grueling 9-hour drive to go 60 miles. We were part of the largest evacuation in US history, the great mother deity of all traffic jams. A nightmare of overheating brakes and low gas and frustrating cell-phone outages and endless mile after mile of highway, one foot at a time.

contraflow (Sep 23, 2005). Having escaped Galveston county, but still in northwest Harris, we were deciding whether or not to try and make it to san antonio or not. We ultimately decided to stay in Katy rather than take our chances on the highway and repeat our experience of the previous day.

shelter in place (same day, 23rd). The evening of landfall. We went to our community masjid for shelter, anticipating the worst.

the power is ours (late that evening, 23rd). A report from the masjid, waiting out the storm. It became pretty clear that evening that Rita wouldn't pose the threat we all feared - thanks to the divine providence of a sudden change in Rita's course.

Houston makes it through (Sep 24, 2005). A guest post from my friend Taha. We made it safe and sound and Taha expresses the thanks we all felt.

sitting dry (that same day, 24th). We did lose power but only for about 10 hours. We returned to my inlaws' place in Katy and now begin the waiting for normalcy.

Aggie joke (Sep 26th 2005). Some welcome humor at Texas A&M alumni expense.

Houston reawakens (same day, 26th). The city comes back to life, though finding eggs and milk was pretty hard. We were glued to the radio listening for when the local WalMart would reopen!

home (Sep 27, 2005). Made it back to my house in Galveston, where apart from a few shingles, everything was ok.

My posts didn't get into a lot of detail about the preparations we made to leave our home, the work involved in getting it all back together again, etc. Overall it was a grueling and insane week, one I'd never want to repeat. And we were of course lucky. Our neighbors in Lake Jackson, who got the full brunt of Rita, still haven't fully recovered.

9/01/2006

Naguib Mahfouz, 1911-2006

The father of the Arabic novel died a couple of days ago, at the age of 94 (NPR.org). Mahfouz is credited for being the first writer to have captured the essence of spoken Arabic in written prose. His works were only accessible to me via their English translations, but even then the two books I have read impressed me with his almost effortless ability to paint a scene and bring it alive.

Mahfouz' most controversial novel was Children of the Alley, which was a metaphorical retelling of the origins of faith, as set in a modern-day Egyptian slum. I found it a difficult and maddening book; not because I was offended by its content, but because I found the retelling to be monotonous - a crude kind of morality play, in which the outcome is known. I felt that had he chosen to go a different route with the characters, each of which represented a major figure of Abrahamic history (Adam, the Prophet SAW, etc), then it would have been more interesting, but ultimately the characters seemed trapped and destined to go through the motions that had been foretold. In so doing, it drained them and the significance of what they achieved, leaving them just.. people in a slum. Maybe that was the point? I was hoping that the personalities he tried to evoke would have a transformative effect, but ultimately nothing happened.

The book did inflame Islamists, who attacked Mahfouz and stabbed him in the neck. Mahfouz survived, though with partial paralysis, and continued his work. He was a brave man and a powerful artist. His legacy will endure, and that is something the Islamists can never destroy.

I heartily recommend this additional story on NPR about Mahfouz' works. Also, TIME has a piece on Mahfouz' life with much more detail.

three blogs

If there were only three political blogs in the entire blogsphere that I could read, they would be Washington Monthly, Balloon Juice, and American Footprints.

8/31/2006

The Carnival of Brass

[UPDATE: See the update to this FAQ that explains how to further customize the feed, including showing fewer items]

Yesterday I alluded to creating a "real-time" carnival, which you can already see in action on my right sidebar. This Carnival of Brass differs from traditional carnivals (like the Carnival of Islam in the West or Nomad Fatwas, both excellent in their own right) in two important ways. First, to submit a link, you don't send an email with the URL, but rather you simply "tag" it. Second, to read the links, you don't visit the host website, but you actually have a sidebar on your own blog. This means that the Carnival is actually a "news feed" that is continually updated and always fresh and current. You can subscribe to it not just in a sidebar, but also from an RSS reader like the ones built-into your email client or on the web (Bloglines being one example).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the Carnival of Brass:

1. What is the feed address for the Carnival?

There are two feeds, and you can choose either or both as you see fit. The first one is titled @brass_crescent, and its address is:

http://del.icio.us/rss/azizhp/@brass_crescent


This feed is for blog posts by muslim bloggers and other blogs in the Brass Crescent (aka the Islamsphere). In defining the Islamsphere, we are not relying solely on adherence to the faith, but an affinity for parts of the diverse cultural fabric that Islam embraces and is embraced by worldwide.

The second feed address is here:

http://del.icio.us/rss/azizhp/@cob

This feed is for articles and news items from the mass media, of particular interest to the Islamsphere. Blog posts that comment on these articles belong in the other feed, this is more "news" whereas the other feed is more "opinion".

2. How do I read the Carnival?

The feeds are RSS v2.0 and so should work with any feed-reader software, Bloglines, or your email program if it supports RSS feeds.

3. How do I embed the Carnival on my blog?

The easiest way is to put either or both of the following javascript blocks in your sidebar:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://del.icio.us/feeds/js/azizhp/%40brass_crescent?extended;title=The%20Carnival%20of%20Brass;icon=rss">
</script><noscript><a href="http://del.icio.us/azizhp/%40brass_crescent">The Carnival of Brass</a></noscript>


(for the @brass_crescent feed)

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://del.icio.us/feeds/js/azizhp/%40cob?extended;title=The%20BrassFeed;icon=rss"></script>
<noscript><a href="http://del.icio.us/azizhp/%40cob">The BrassFeed</a></noscript>


(for the @COB feed)

Remember that @brass_crescent is the analysis and opinion, ie mostly blog posts. @COB is the news and articles, mostly from mass media.

Also keep in mind that the HTML for the above feeds can be custom styled using CSS to match your blog layout and design. Here is a reference for what styles are used.

Your blog host may not allow javascript in your template. If that is the case, then you should try to add the feed directly. For example, Wordpress.com-hosted blogs allow RSS widgets, so you can add the feed addresses directly. I am sure that Typepad has a similar feature.

BTW, hosted services like Typepad and Wordpress.com may have some lag time, so your sidebar may not update immediately after a new link is approved. Be patient, it will get there.

4. What if I don't use a feedreader, know nothing about RSS, and I don't have a blog?

You can visit any blog (like City of Brass or Eteraz) that has the sidebar for the Carnival and read the links from there. We also will have a dedicated website for the Carnival as well - stay tuned.

5. How do I submit a URL to the Carnival?

First, you must register for an account on del.icio.us and add the host of the Carnival, Aziz Poonawalla, to your "network". The steps to do this are:

  1. Go to del.icio.us and register for a new account if you have not yet done so already.
  2. Install the del.icio.us extensions for Firefox or for Internet Explorer, depending on which browser you use to surf the web.
  3. Add user azizhp to your network by clicking here.


The above steps only need to be done once, and I encourage everyone to do so.

To actually submit a link, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the URL of the item you wish to submit.
  2. click the "TAG" button on your browser toolbar (which was installed by the browser extension).
  3. Fill out the pop-up form using the following conventions:
    URL
    the actual URL of the post or item. This may already be prefilled out for you.
    Description
    The headline or title of the post.
    Notes
    A brief description or comment on the item. To identify yourself as the submitter, append your initials as follows: -ap
    Tags
    Use either the @brass_crescent tag (if the link is a blog posting) or the @COB tag (if the link is an article from the mass media). Do not forget the @ sign. Do NOT use both tags, only one or the other.


If these steps are followed, then your submission will be made visible to the host automatically. The host will choose the best links as they come in.

6. How many links can I submit?

Please limit yourself to one link a day.

7. I submitted a link, why didn't it show up?

Please note that not all links submitted can necessarily be approved, especially if many people submit links. The process by which a link is approved is admittedly subjective; I am asking for your trust that I will try and keep the content fresh and diverse.

8. Why not show all the links from everyone who submits?

Since there is a limited number of links we can display at a given time, if we attempt to show all submissions, then nothing will remain visible for very long. By being more selective and lower frequency, we can take our time to savor the content that flows past.

9. Isn't all this harder than the traditional method?

After setting up your del.icio.us account, you will see that submitting links is in fact incredibly easy to do. Plus, it requires significantly less effort on the part of the host to maintain. The advantages are there - try it out and you'll see!

10. This FAQ didn't answer my question. Now what?

Please leave a comment to this post or to apoonawa dash bohra at yahoo dot com.

That's it! Please try it out and let's see whether this experiment can succeed.

8/30/2006

a real-time carnival

I'd liketo direct your attention to the sidebar on the right. There are two feeds there, both powered by del.icio.us. The topmost one is tagged @brass_crescent (the Carnival of Brass) and the lower one @COB (the Brassfeed).

The purpose of these feeds is to allow the muslim blog community to collaboratively promote content, both from within our own circle (the Carnival) and the wider blogsphere/mass media (Brassfeed).

I'd like to encourage you all to get accounts at del.icio.us and tag items you feel should be on the feed. In other words, posts or items that you think we should all be looking at. Don't add more than a link every day or two to each at most - otherwise content will scroll off the page too fast for us all to properly reflect on and write about.

The two feeds function in a sense as a real-time carnival. Instead of submitting your links, you just tag them. And they will automagically appear. Of course you can also host the feed yourself on your own blog the same as it appears here. For details on how to do that, email me and I'll walk you through it. You will need a del.icio.us account to participate.

When tagging a link, please use the following convention:

url: (the actual URL of the post or item)

description: credit the site first, then follow with the headline.

notes: add your own commentary here, be sure to sign with your initials so we know who submitted the link.

tags: use the @brass_crescent or the @COB tag depending on which feed is appropriate. Please do not use both. You can add other tags too as you see fit, though - just not thesetwo simultaneously.

UPDATE: you also need to add me (user azizhp) to your del.icio.us network for it to work. I have posted an updated FAQ for the mechanics of this carnival that is the main reference.

8/29/2006

yes, we are

the WaPo has an essay claiming that American muslims are not as assimilated as one might think. However, the problem here is the definition of "assimilated". In the lead graf, the author concedes,

I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.


Emphasis mine, which I think rather undercuts the headline. We ARE as assimilated as you might think; we are not a radical community. The real complaint here seems to be the issue of Islamic "identity". I see no evidence in the article that muslim americans are "choosing" their Islamic identity "over" the American one; in fact if anything there is an ongoing synthesis of the two, which is really the entire point of America. The truth is that yes American muslims are religious, but so are Christians here by and large, more so than in Europe. Few would argue that Christian Americans are choosing Christian identity over their American identity, after all. Muslims in America do not have to be Irshad Manji-style "refuseniks" to be moderate; if anything the history of America teaches us that here (and almost exclusively here!) can the persecuted peoples of the world find sanctuary to practice their faith as they see fit. American muslims do not and should not have to be secular in order to be moderate.

The truth is that muslim americans are a different demographic and have a different history than their European counterparts. I discussed this issue at length in an earlier post titled "muslim citizens, not citizen muslims" and provided quite a few links therein that address this point. Also see publius' comments on the WaPo article above, in which he makes much of the same economic and class-based arguments.

However, the sense of alienation that Muslims feel is a very real thing. What do you expect when we have talk of muslim-only airport lines? For the most part American muslims have borne the increased scrutiny without complaint. We do as a community understand why we are being singled out - but that doesn't take the sting out of "flying while muslim" in any way. But is alienation and resentment equivalent to anti-assimilation? No, though they certainly could be the seeds for it in the long run. However I have great faith in America and I do not think this will come to pass.

The whole issue of identity is really not as critical as that of modernity. Its reconciling tradition with modernity that is tricky. We all have multiple identities and we rarely "choose" one over another, but the conflict between modernity and tradition is sometimes trickier to navigate. The way in which my own community (the Dawoodi Bohras) achieves this feat was nicely described by Jonah Blank in his book, Mullahs on the Mainframe, of which you can read an excerpt here and which I myself reviewed here.

Egyptian textbooks

With respect to my previous post, some argue that selected passages in children's textbooks in Egypt support Donald Sensing's contention that "any muslim" is bound to consider the forced conversions of the FOX journalists valid. I respect the work done by the CMIP to try and translate textbooks but I think that their work lends itself to others' polemical agendas rather readily.

I think that it's self-evident why a court ruling that forced conversions are not valid carries more weight than a textbook for grade schoolers. But the issue is worth addressing because the chidlren's textbooks used in Egypt are actually a sign of increasing tolerance, not less.

In my elementary school in suburban Chicago, I was taught Manifest Destiny of the United States and that the Native Americans were savage but noble people who are now protected citizens and have embraced modernity. I think that there are few people in my generation who still subscribe to this view, despite having been "indoctrinated" as impressionable youth. And certainly my grade school textbooks have no relevance to many court rulings in favor of the Indian Nations that say that the treaties they signed with the US were continually and habitually broken.

But let's look a little more closely at the textbooks in question. The translation seems pretty poor to me, but here's the whole paragraph:

If a Protected Person [Dhimmi] is forced to convert to Islam, his conversion is valid. If a Harbi [non-Muslim alien] is fought against and converts to Islam - it is valid... If the [same] Dhimmi returns [to his former religion], he is not killed [like an ordinary apostate], but imprisoned until he converts to Islam [again], because there is doubt regarding his belief [when he was forced to convert]. There is a possibility that it [i.e., his forced conversion] was sincere, so he is to be killed as an apostate. It is [also] possible that he did not believe [in Islam while having been forced to convert] and then he [should] be a Dhimmi and shall not be killed...


The reason I say the translation is poor is because the first sentence is an absolute one, that is directly contradicted by later ones. In actuality the assertions were probably more nuanced - Arabic is not a language that lends itself to machine or brute force translation.

Also it is worth noting that textbooks are often a vehicle for social activists to push their social agendas. Their value in this is beyond dispute; look at the turf war over textbooks being fought in the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate. The specific textbook in question is one issued by Al Azhar university, which is not a monolithic entity but actually has numerous factions ranging from liberal modern to islamist medieval. The CMIP notes that textbooks issued by the Ministry of Education are much more reasonable, and that in general the textbooks used by school children are much more tolerant than they were in the past. If you read the entire report you get a much more nuanced picture. Also keep in mind that the passage above is from 2002.

Are children's textbooks in Egypt still intolerant by our standards? Well, if by "our standards" you mean the United States circa 2006, then yes, absolutely. If you mean 1956, then no. Given that the trends are pointing in the right direction I think that it's pretty disingenious to try and use these textbooks as evidence of how the precepts of Islam dictate that "any muslim" (Sensing's words, not mine) would consider a forced conversion valid.

The bottom line is that a textbook is just a textbook. It's not the Qur'an, which I quoted in my earlier post. And the fact that there are jurist rulings on how forced conversions are not valid pretty much overrules any textbook-derived analysis.

8/28/2006

no compulsion

If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! Qur'an 10:99 (Yusufali)

Donald Sensing, analyzing the gunpoint conversions of the FOX News journalists who were kidnapped in Gaza and then subsequently released, comes to the conclusion that Muslims necessarily accept a forced conversion as valid:

So according to the precepts of Islam, Centanni's and Wiig's confessions were completely valid. Any Muslim, not just their captors, considers it so. That they were uttered "at gunpoint" is unobjectionable. The guns simply enabled the two newsmen to understand that submission to Allah was required of them. Regardless of what Centanni or Wiig may think or believe, Muslims now consider them to be of their religion.


Unfortunately, this interpretation of Islam is driven as much by Sensing's own Christian polemical agenda as it is by any real attempt at understanding the issue of conversions. It is rooted in a false understanding of what the "submission" that is Islam's name means - a deliberate misunderstanding to be sure. It is just as false as a muslim claiming that Christians are polytheists because of the Trinity doctrine.

The truth is that the acceptance of Islam is a purely individual decision. The Shahada (There is no God but God and Mohammed Is His Prophet) is an oath. Sensing portrays this as a submission of slave to master, but in reality it is no different from the oath of citizenship that immigrants take when becoming US citizens.

Whether or not a person is muslim depends solely on whether that person declares it to be so. Since Centanni or Wiig appear to have indicated that they only gave the shahada out of fear for their lives, it's essentially obvious that they are not truly muslim.

This issue also touches on the issues of takfir and of taqqiya. I will leave discussion of the latter to Ali Eteraz (link forthcoming).

UPDATE: a commentator to Sensing's post observes,

the original post did not cite legal opinions, which is what is relevant. It would be as if Rev Sensing tried to guess what Orthodox Jews could eat, by reading Leviticus and speculating, instead of actually consulting a source on Kashrut. Wed get halacha according the school of Sensing, not anything that told us anything about what ANY Jews actually do. Somehow we accept this kind of reasoning wrt Islam, cause of the manifold problems Islam has - and yes, Im quite aware of who and what our enemies are. I also think the threat from Salafist terrorism, and the related threats from Khomeinism and pan-arab nationalism, are serious enough to want to be precise in our investigations of the Islamic world.


Sensing did not cite legal opinions of Islamic jurists nor did he even bother to cite the Qur'an! (I prefaced this post with one verse, myself). I will also point to this court case from Cairo back in February 2006:

Cairo, Egypt - Two young Coptic Christian women whose father had converted to Islam when they were infants have won a court battle in Egypt to retain their official religious identity as Christians.

Now 18 and 19 years old, Iman and Olfat Malak Ayet will be issued national identity cards matching their Christian birth certificates tomorrow.

In the final verdict, presiding Judge Farouk Ali Abdel Kader of Cairo’s District No. 1 Administrative Court declared that the civil authorities had conducted a “non-justified intervention” by imposing upon the two plaintiffs a belief they had not chosen.
[...]
Nearly three years ago, the Ayet sisters were surprised to learn that, before his death, their father had changed their identities from Christian to Muslim on government records. The change also left them with new Muslim names.


This is just a single example, obtained from a casual google search, but it serves to rebut Sensing's assertion that the "precepts of Islam" compel muslims to accept forced conversions as valid.