fathers anguish

These are the kinds of photos that I don't want to see, because they trigger the most primal sort of fear: losing your child. I've had a brief shadow of that kind of fear just losing sight of my daughter in the mall for ten seconds; these photos are the face of that fear naked and revealed in all its power. I need to see these photos, and so do you, and everyone else too. More than submerged landscapes or chaotic relief camps, these capture the human scale of the tragedy that unfolded on Sunday.

An Indian man cries as he holds the hand of his eight-year-old son, who was killed in a tsunami in Cuddalore, southern India, December 27, 2004.

An Acehnese man is comforted by his father as he weeps next to his daughter who is badly injured at the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia's Sumatra island, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004.

A hospital worker ties a tag on the dead body of a child at the Karapitiya hospital some 125 kms south of Colombo.

The toll is now at 77,000 - and a third are children. While miracles did occur, they were few.

the Brass Crescent shines

one of the main reasons I envisioned the Brass Crescent Awards was because I knew it would expose me to muslim voices I hadn't heard of or not been familiar enough with. I'm not aspiring to be the Glenn Reynolds of the Islamsphere on a regular basis or anything, but here's just a sampling of the amazing blogs I have been introduced to as a result of the Awards.

Abdusalaam al-Hindi has a hilarious piece making fun of stereotypical jumu'a khutbas. My favorite was the "We-Suck-Today-But-Our-Past-Was-Awesome" one, though the Jewphobic one has the best line: "Jews probably bullied this poor Khateeb when he was younger. The Jewish bullies most likely gave the Khateeb a wedgie in junior high school." rofl

Haroon Moghul writes about his outsider's experience of attending midnight mass on Christmas eve, and the insights it gave him. It's a somewhat disjointed piece, but stay the course.

Amazingly talented writer ihath pens a compelling tribute to Yasser Arafat, her fear of Saddam Hussein, preference for George Bush to win the election, and how she lost her religion in the Holy Lands. James Lileks has nothing on her for writing skill; her personal lifestory is like a romance novel come to life. Don't visit hr website unless you have an hour to spare.

The group blog Living Traditions takes on MuslimWakeUp founder Ahmed Nassef's overly broad categrization of non-Progressive muslims (ie, orthodox ones such as myself) as "neo-Salafists". They draw an analogy between this rhetorical tactic and those employed by the true fanatical Islamists themselves:

This method of dealing with questioners and critics reminds the author of the way extreme Muslim groups deal with questioners and critics. The words ("neo-Salafi, extremist" vs "kafir, mutbada'") may be different, but the purpose and ends are the same -- to shut down communication, questioning, learning, criticism. "You're either with us or against us."

While MuslimWakeUp had my sympathy for the recent hacker attack, I find that Living Tradition's points are valid in that MWU's founders often serve the cause of validating Islamic stereotypes more than refuting them - by using their publicity to denounce those muslims with whom they have ideological opposition.

And finally, fellow father of a baby girl Abu Aardvark has a post simply titled "Children" that is a must-read.

This is a miniscule sampling of the thought and debate within the Islamsphere today. Highlighting the diversity of thought and debate therein is the primary purpose of the Brass Crescent Awards. If you haven't cast your slate of nominations yet, what are you waiting for?

Remember, non-muslims are expressly invited to participate in nominations, voting, and have their own blogs eligible for nomination as well.


the allure of h-bd

In one post at GNXP, gc_emeritus perfectly illustrates why the "h-bd" (human biodiversity) paradigm is a stale avenue of scientific inquiry. While the fact that there are genetic variations between the races is essentially obvious, where h-bd falls flat is its attempt to consistently extrapolate from their existence into the spheres of politics and social policy.

gc begins by laying out an impressively detailed and factual case for South Africa's impending economic collapse. He ties together numerous sources of information brilliantly, making a rigorous argument. And then he blows it:

Sophists and h-bd deniers will denounce anyone who makes the unfortunate but true observation: no nation or polity composed primarily of sub-Saharan Africans has maintained a technological infrastructure. The coming collapse is the predictable consequence of black rule. It is a sign of our times that the person who makes such an observation is considered more evil than the person who pretends that up is down, and black is white...and who whistles past the graveyard of the half a million murders that have taken place since the end of apartheid.

I'm not an h-bd denier and neither will I blame the future collapse of South Africa upon racism. As GC's case study explained well, the root problem is institutionalized reverse-discrimination which is all to susceptible to corruption.

However, to argue that the coming collapse is the "predictable consequence of black self-rule" betrays the danger of taking h-bd too seriously. What GC is trying to say is that statistically speaking, success of a given nation state in Africa is inversely correlated with whether the government is comprised of black people. That statement may be true. What is not true, but is certainly implied by the GC's assumption that race has predictive power for a nation's success, is that the failure of all black states in the past is due to the fact of their being black nations, as opposed to them being (for example) post-colonial nations, resource-poor nations, disease-afflicted nations, low-education nations, external-debt nations, subsistence-farming nations, etc.

There's a good dialog to be had on why South Africa might fail and what that failure will mean for the rest of Africa as a whole. The allure of h-bd however obscures that debate by making race relevant.

Here's the litmus test however. Were the racial situations perfectly reversed in South Africa, would the white majority have prevailed under the precise same conditions, history, and political environment where the present black majority is now failing?

UPDATE: via Dean, comes this story about an experiment in black freedom and self-determination during the Slavery era - in the South. The success of Israel Hill can only be fit into GC's "predictive" model as an outlier, which is as much a head-in-the-sand approach regarding h-bd's limits as h-bd denial itself.

I've had numerous discussions with Razib at GNXP about h-bd's close ties to those (unlike GC) who really do argue racial politics in bad faith. I have been convinced by Razib's arguments that "race" is a meaningful and useful construct with utility in specific fields (for example, in medical treatment, where acknowledging genetic diversity allows racially-optimized patient care). However, the main problem is the obsession of those such as gc with the so-called "predictive" power of racial correlation. I think that this attitude misuses correlation statistics in much the same way that philosophers misuse quantum physics for their existential arguments. correlation is, as ever, not causation.


Massive off-shore earthquake in South Asia

A massive earthquake (8.9 on the Richter scale) has struck off the shore of Indonesia, sending devastating tsunami waves to India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Thailand.

The BBC estimates the death toll at 7,000 and rising due to the coastal resorts in the region being packed with holiday goers.

The blogsphere is the best aggregator of information about the quake - see Slashdot, The Command Post and this Daily Kos diary for latest updates discussion and details.

UPDATE: The death toll is over 10,000, and rising. Who knows how many of these deaths were likely preventable:

A warning centre such as those used around the Pacific could have saved most of the thousands of people who died in Asia's earthquake and tsunamis, a US Geological Survey official said.

None of the countries most severely affected - including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka - had a tsunami warning mechanism or tidal gauges to alert people to the wall of water that followed a massive earthquake, said Waverly Person of the USGS National Earthquake Information Centre.

"Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges," he said yesterday.
Person said governments should instruct people living along the coast to move after a quake. Since a tsunami is generated at the source of an underwater earthquake, there is usually time - from 20 minutes to two hours - to get people away as it builds in the ocean.

"People along the Japanese coasts, along the coasts of California - people are taught to move away from the coasts. But a lot of these people in the area where this occurred - they probably had no kind of lessons or any knowledge of tsunamis because they are so rare."

UPDATE: toll rises to 44,000 confirmed dead. This animation of the wavefront is awe-inspiring.


Merry Christmas!

to all and to all a good night...

UPDATE: We had a white christmas in Galveston County! I'm no stranger to snow, hailing originally from Chicago. But this snowfall was all the more magical for its rarity, and timing.

The First Annual Brass Crescent Awards for the Islamic Blogsphere

In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful,

UPDATE: Voting has begun! The online form is now open - note that email confirmation is required, but all emails will be dicarded after the final tally.

Online Voting Form for the Brass Crescent Awards

AltMuslim and City of Brass would like to announce the first Annual Brass Crescent Awards for the Islamic Blogsphere!

The Brass Crescent Awards are named for the Story of the City of Brass in the Thousand and One Nights. Today, the Islamsphere is forging a new synthesis of Islam and modernity, and is the intellectual heir to the traditions of philosophy and learning that was once the hallmark of Islamic civilization - a heritage scarcely recognizable today in the Islamic world after a century's ravages of colonialism, tyrants, and religious fundamentalism. We believe that Islam transcends history, and we are forging history anew for tomorrow's Islam. These awards are a means to honor ourselves and celebrate our nascent community, and promote its growth.

The Awards are loosley modeled after the successful Koufax Awards and consist of two phases:

First, bloggers and blog-readers are asked to submit nominations for each of the categories listed below. Both muslims and non-muslims may paricipate in the nominations process. Nominations can be done in the official nomination thread at AltMuslim or City of Brass, or via private email. Self-nominations are encouraged! (AltMuslim.com and City of Brass may not be nominated for any category)

After the nominations period has concluded, we will go through and post a list of nominees, along with brief descriptions of the blog and why they were nominated. This will serve as a snapshot that we hope will serve as a benchmark to track the growth of the Islamsphere over time. Please help us with this by leaving descriptive comments along with the nominations!

Second, based on the number of nominations each blog receives for each category, we will select 8-10 finalists for each category. Voting will then take place for winner in each category. The blog with second-highest vote count in each category will be granted honorable mention status.

The nomination thread is here: First Annual Brass Crescent Nominations. These are the categories for this year's awards:

Best Blog - The single most essential muslim-authored blog in the Islamsphere, with the best overall writing and content.

Best Writing - Which blog is the most articulate, the most persuasive and well-reasoned?

Best Post - Which single post in the Islamsphere was the single most original, insightful, and important, above all the others?

Best Series - What regular, recurring feature deserves recognition for its comprehensiveness, its relevance to the concerns of the Islamsphere?

Best Iraqi Blogger - Whatever our opinions about the war, we can agree that Mesopotamia is once again fertile ground for self-expression and speech. Which blog from Iraq best captures the voice of the Iraqi people?

Best non-English Blog - Whether it is in Urdu or Persian or some other language, which non-english blog deserves the most recognition, especially for promoting multilingual blogging? (not 100% of the posts need be non-english).

Best Group Blog - which multiple group blog in the Islamsphere has the best diversity of writers and the most interesting debate on Muslim issues?

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition - Which muslim-authored blog is a true diamond in the rough, one that everyone should know about but for the vagaries of Google, few are aware?

Best Non-Muslim Blog - Which blog writen by a non-muslim is most respectful of Islam and seeks genuine dialog with muslims?

Best New Blog - Who's the most interesting new muslim kid on the block?

Best Commenter - The greatest aspect of blogging is the community that springs up around the blogs and their comment sections. Which commentator in the Islamsphere deserves respect for the most consistently insighful and wise contributions to the debate?

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.

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?

Note: With exceptions noted above, any blog is eligible for any category, including blogs authored by non-muslims. 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.


Cowards hack MuslimWakeUp!

UPDATE: MWU has restored their main page, including the Sex and the Ummah section. You can see the original hack here or download it here.

UPDATE 2: MWU has issued a statement on their front page. Excerpt:

...we will not be silenced and will not be intimidated. We will continue to fight falsehood everywhere, whether it takes the form of violence, sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other form of injustice. Our only weapons will continue to be truth, compassion, and honesty.

"And say, 'The truth has come, and falsehood has perished; for falsehood is bound to Perish.'" -- Qur'an 17:81

MuslimWakeUp!.com has been hacked with a death threat by some islamo-script-kiddies calling themselves the "Islamic 0xChallenge Brigades".

The FBI needs to be involved, because their hack includes explicit death threats. They photoshopped the MWU logo to "Murtad (apostate) Wake Up" instead of "Muslim Wake Up", and have litterred their piece with references to "final warnings". This is not the first time that a death threat has been issued by the cybertaliban - via Rebecca MacKinnon, Hossein Derakhshan (who remains the God Father of Iranian blogging) has received death threats from a blog calling itself the Islamic Army (how original). Hoder has been following up with the police, and I am sure MWU will take similar action.

Here's the infantile text they have replaced the main page with:

due to the continues violation by Muslim Wake Up website and its vile attack on Islam for a long period of time we at the Islamic 0xChallenge Brigades decided to deliever a powerful message to the people behind this website and so we started with an attack on MWU forum , all praise be to Allah the attack was successful but unfortunally the people running this website didn't understand our message and continued their attack on Islam and so we decided to deliever yet more powerful message and here we are!!


* No more slandering of the Mujahdeen
* No more peverts allowed to speak about Islam like Mohja Kahf and her warm fluid fantasies
* No more using our beloved prophet name in one of your dirty pornographic stories
* No more slandering of the respected scholars of Islam
* No more anti hijab articles

>> Optional

* remove the pic of the Egyptian girl with half bare breasts from your "Pornogrphy and the Ummah" section
* ask mohja Kahf to get a life
* stop being a minbar for hypocrites and learn the real Islam!
* move "hug a jew" to "sex and the Ummah" section......go figure why!

They claim to have deleted MWU's "Sex and the Ummah" section from the server. That section was very explicit; the latest entry was a short story about a muslim male who was cheating on his wife and delved into how his guilt manifested in increased piety at home and the mosque. It was crude and explicit and yes, even offensive at times, but it was a powerful critique of how culturally-inherited misogyny coupled with misogynistic self-serving interpretations of the faith lead to self-destructive behavior.

The obsession with mohja kahf is noteworthy - like Maryam's masterful critique of Theo van Gogh's film The Submission, I see in Kahf's writings an Islam I barely recognize. The males in Kahf's essays seem to be as imprisoned as the woman praying in van Gogh's film, by an Islam not of their devising but which has them firmly and cruelly within their grip. But Kahf deserves to write about the "dark side" of muslims' attitudes towards women just as van Gogh deserved to make films about it - and neither deserves censorship, let alone death.

MWU will be back, and I will continue to have my issues with their approach to the faith, which can be basically summarized as "the salad bar Deen" approach. But as victims of this puerile attack, they deserve nothing but unqualified support from the Islamsphere.

Some more snarky observations:

* The Islamic 0xChallenge Brigades seem to consider covering half-bare breasts being "optional" ... go figure why!

* They also seem to see jews as objects of sexual fascination ... go figure why!


Spirit of America

I'd like to remind everyone that the deadline for donating to the Spirit of America's "Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge" is tonight, Dec 15th at midnight. Please do think about kicking in 5 or 10 bucks if you can spare it to help support the upcoming elections, buy Iraqi children toys, fund Arabic-language blogging tools, and other worthy endeavors.

I've set up a team donation link, whose modest donation totals can be tracked here under "City of Brass". Join me and let's add our voice to the chorus promoting success in Iraq and help to the Iraqi people, to whom we owe no small moral debt.

The list of projects is below - I have designated that the funds raised by my link above can be spent as the charity deems best. If one of these appeals to you more than the others, however, you can sign up yourself and donate directly to one of these causes only.

411th Civil Affairs - Re-equip Universities in Baquba, Iraq
Help Army assist 2 universities damaged by terrorist fighting

Library Books for Iraqi Children
Help kids who want to read and learn with books for children's libraries.

Friends of Democracy - the Iraq Democracy Project
Contribute to the success of free elections and democracy in Iraq.

Iraq's Universities
Support Iraq's next generation leaders by re-equipping higher education.

Arabic Blogging Tool - Viral Freedom
Support independent new media and free expression in Iraq and the Arab world.

Marines and SeaBees Seek Tools for Iraqi Tradesmen
Help those who make a commitment to improving their country.

Sewing Machines For Women in Ramadi
Putting economic power in women's hands

Iraqi TV in Al-Anbar
Spirit of America Helps U.S. Marines Equip TV Stations in Iraq

Operation Snapshot
Marines need Polaroid cameras and film to build goodwill and break down barriers in Iraq.


Flew's wager

What does one make of a famed advocate of atheism, who debated CS Lewis in the 1950s and a patron saint for modern atheist groups like infidels.org, suddenly declaring himself a Deist at age 81?

A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

His later comment about the Christian and Muslim concept of God being akin to a "cosmic Saddam Hussein" suggests that he employs his dispassionate, Socratic assessment of evidence sparingly.

But what's more intriguing is to see him invoke belief buttressed by scientific evidence. As I've been wont to argue, proof denies faith. Not to say that a miracle on your doorstep wouldn't be valid empirical evidence, but rather that expecting to find conclusive rather than circumstantial evidence to rationally and rigorously deduce the existence of a Creator is misguided. Faith, by definition, lies outside the sphere of reason.

Still, the skeptic in me can't also help but wonder if his age doesn't have something to do with his tentative spirituality...

UPDATE: Richard Carrier of Infidels.org spoke to Flew personally about his apostasy, and reveals some more details:

I asked him point blank what he would mean if he ever asserted that "probably God exists," to which he responded (in a letter in his own hand, dated 19 October 2004):

I do not think I will ever make that assertion, precisely because any assertion which I am prepared to make about God would not be about a God in that sense ... I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations.

Rather, he would only have in mind "the non-interfering God of the people called Deists--such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin." Indeed, he remains adamant that "theological propositions can neither be verified nor falsified by experience," exactly as he argued in "Theology and Falsification."

This is much more reassuring - I unintentionally mischaracterized his position based on the earlier article. Flew is arguing more for a remote "First cause" that does not neccessarily have a scientific explanation - Godelian, if you will.

Carrier also quotes the following from Flew:

My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species ... [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms.

Carrier suggests that the modern literature, which Flew has not yet read, provides the naturalistic theory that Flew asks for, and so ends his article on the confident note that Flew will re-embrace the faith once more - after a suitbale period of re-enlightenment.

Overall, the case here is not of a conversion on the road to Damascus but rather one of plugging holes - which his atheist brethren are keen to rapidly provide him brick and mortar.

On the issue of whether a naturalistic account of the first reproducing organizms is required to banish introduction of a supernatural element to the origins of life, I think it's a red herring. I am sure that Richard Carrier can make a rgorous case that a purely naturalistic explanation can exist. The more I have learned of biology, the less mystique that early pre-cellular life seems to me, frankly.

Where the true wonder of creation manifests is in the longer view, and the staggerring complexity - and evolution itself - of complex organisms.

I predict Flew will return to the fold in due order, finding in Carrier's literature the excuses he needs.

UPDATE: Well, I was careless and thought that the following aricle came after Flew's flirtation with Deism, but it is actually from some years beforehand. Still, it is interesting: "">Sorry to disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist"

I remain still what I have been now for over fifty years, a negative atheist. By this I mean that I construe the initial letter in the word 'atheist' in the way in which everyone construes the same initial letter in such words as 'atypical' and 'amoral'. For I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify - to show to be false - what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as "the religious hypothesis." The more I contemplate the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam the more I wish I could demonstrate their falsity.
I can suggest only one possible source of the rumours. Several weeks ago I submitted to the Editor of Philo (The Journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers) a short paper making two points which might well disturb atheists of the more positive kind. The point more relevant here was that it can be entirely rational for believers and negative atheists to respond in quite different ways to the same scientific developments.

The gratuitous dig at Islam and Christianity aside (I think there's an element of a-priori opinion driving his supposedly dispassionate analyses), I find it fascinating that stressed the "negative" aspect of atheism. Logically, being unable to disprove God is logically equivalent to being unable to prove God - the latter being my position. He had indeed basically adopted the view that "God exists" is a Godelian statement, outside the realm of proof or falsification.

The other interesting point is his explicit agreement with my position that rationality is not uniform. I discussed this in an earlier essay that basically critiqued Richard Hoftstatder's "super-rational" argument (itself grounded in the game theory of the Prisoner's Dilemma). It is indeed perfectly valid for two rational thinkers to assess the same set of observations and facts and yet come to completely different conclusions.

To be honest, finding this much common ground with an atheist (negative or otherwise) is not that surprising to me. I'm fairly confident in the rigor of my own analyses, and you could in one sense characterize Flew's evolving position as a desperate attempt to NOT be atheist. desit, or anything else. I think they call these people "agnostics" in the real world. Perhaps my post title isn't as snarky as I thought...

Now, all of the above is moot of course, since he is now a declared Deist (of the "Aristotelian" type). I think I found more in common with him intelectually speaking when he was not a Deist. Much like my post, he seems to hae wandered all over :)

BTW, Flew's famous 1950 essay on Theology and Falsification is indeed required reading, regardless of where you stand on the line (or straddling it, as the case may be).


Internet haram!

via a lengthy isnad[1], I've come across an article by Sikander Ziad Hashmi, a Canadian muslim who has is accorded sayyid status on the SunniForum.com website. He argues that blogging, and mixed-gender comment sections in particular, are not permissible according to Islamic principles. The key to his argument is:

In essence, blogging about one's personal life is similar to writing a journal entry and then posting it outside one's house or at a street corner for all to read. There isn't anything really wrong with doing that (if one wishes to be so public about one's private life), as long as one doesn't divulge any information that doesn't lead members of the opposite gender to envision and imagine the author, and doesn't let their hearts and minds become impressed and eventually lean towards the author.

Now, that may seem simple, but the fact is that nobody can really ascertain as to what may cause the above in the minds of the opposite gender. It may seem tempting to write-off this whole notion by saying that what goes through the minds of the readers is not the responsibility of the author. While that may hold true for truly objective pieces of work and in matters of true need, the onlookers would not be completely to blame for not "lowering their gaze" if a muscular, handsome man wearing boxers and a t-shirt were to unnecessarily walk through a group of women. The bulk of the blame would fall squarely on the shoulders of the one committing the unnecessary action, though the onlookers would be responsible for continuing to look even after they knew they weren't supposed to.

Similarly, bloggers must be careful about what they write, lest they divulge traits about themselves that they should otherwise not be making known to the opposite gender, while at the same time, leading the readers into sin by hooking them on to reading on and learning more about the things they really don't need to know, and shouldn't know. Some devoted readers even end up forming an affectionate, emotional attachment with the author.

The fact that the above is in fact possible has proven itself time and time again, with bloggers receiving marriage proposals and other suggestive comments through various means such as e-mail, the comments box on their blogs, etc. It is highly unlikely that a stranger would send off a marriage proposal unless he/she was able to get to know the author well enough to feel comfortable in taking such a step.

Now, let me first explicitly state that I have no problem with someone interpreting the faith to mean that something is permissible or not, and obviously he is not seeking to issue a fatwa or try to impose his view on others (though many at the Sunni Forum have already heeded his call to stop blogging entirely). As Ikram mentioned in Zack's (mixed-gender) comment section, you can take the argument on modesty arbitrarily far, to the point of sitting alone in a dark room 24/7 eating (homemade) bread. That's entirely a matter of personal interpretation.

Since I am clearly not imposing gender controls on my comment section nor have I deleted my blog, it will be no surprise to anyone that I disagree with Hashmi's interpretation[2]. Zack has already criticized elements of his logic, but my main critique centers on the religious assumptions above, namely:

  1. revelation of personality or physical details about yourself, even accidentally, is forbidden to members of the opposite sex, because this revelation will inevitably lead to sexual or emotional arousal

  2. a person bears part of the blame for any sexual or emotional arousal they may stir in a member of the opposite sex

Hashmi is careful not to couch the argument solely in sexual terms, which legitimizes his arguments considerably. The key here is that he seeks to prevent the author from compromising their modesty and becoming an object of desire of infatuation. As I have argued in my essay on the Burke and the Bikini, that reduction to object status is something to guard against, regardless of whether it is done with too many or too few clothes. While I don't disagree with the intent behind assumption #1 above, his prescription is simply too broad.

If any contact that could lead to getting to know someone better (which would help in evaluation of marriage prospects) is forbidden, then how will anyone ever get to know anyone well enough to make that evaluation? There's a contradiction here that only resolves itself if you assume that marriage proposals should be the arranged type only and that personality is a secondary concern. Given the emphasis on "Biodata" in south asian matchmaking, this is perhaps not an unreasonable assumption in all cases, but that's a cultural issue, whereas Hashmi is trying to make a religious argument that presumably would apply even to non-biodata-obsessed cultures.

But the far more contentious assumption is that the author bears blame for "leading into sin" their readers of the opposite gender. Hashmi's thesis is that emotional attachments between people of different gender is inherently sinful unless that relationship is a mehram one. The subtext here is that people are ruled by their passions and are emotionally immature, hence not fully responsible for their actions. This is a pernicious concept which is at odds with the concept of individual liberties, because it forces society to adopt the role of protecting you from your own impulses - for your own good, of course. We know where this leads - to repressive regimes like the Taliban or imposition of evangelical Christian social norms into the legal domain.

Consider the classic case of the rape victim. She has a right to dress as she pleases; the rapists' argument that she had it coming because she wore a tight dress is not accepted as a valid defense in our society. At least, not anymore, thanks to the efforts of liberal groups like the ACLU and the entire civil rights struggle. The "blame the victim" mentality is a hallmark of the extremist social conservative who seeks to wield state power against individual liberty in order to force others to conform to their values. A crime like rape is seen as a problem arising from immodest clothing rather than a violation of civil rights and the sovereignity of the self.

Hashmi is correct that by revealing information about yourself, you may cause infatuation amongst a reader. Where he is incorrect is that such infatuation is your fault, for leading them to sin[3]. Since I believe that the gift of reason (al-Aql al-insaan) from Allah is far more powerful (given its source) than the base instincts of our animal natures, it is hard to see what religious justification exists for the assertion that our animal natures can override reason, and hence our responsibility for our actions.

Still, Hashmi (and his followers at SunniForum) are welcome to their interpretation. I hope they do not fall to the easy temptation of judging the iman of those muslims such as myself who do not find their arguments rigorous enough to be binding.

I do have a question, though. Isn't participating in the SunniForum itself a violation of the same principles Hashmi outlines?

UPDATE: Here is a single-issue blog which makes the argument that chatting on MSN, AIM or equivalent is equivalent to zina (adultery). Aside from simply declaring it such, they do not provide any actual theologic references to justify the religious claim. This website is explicitly written as an attempt at dawah (proslytezation). The basic flaw in the argument is the assumption that any and all contact between non-mehram gender is inherently of immodest niyat (intent).

[1] Sister Soljah -> Zack -> Bill -> me. OK, this footnote is a bit gratuitous, I was really looking for an excuse to use the word isnad in a blogging context.

[2] Note that some muslims might interpret Hashmi's opinion as a fatwa and feel obligated to comply. Naturally, he's no authority as far as I am concerned, being a Bohra there is only one source of religious authority whose interpretations I would consider binding.

[3] Whether the infatuation is a sin itself is largely irrelevant to the discussion.


Happy Hanukkah!

To all my Jewish friends in the blogsphere, especially Jonathan, Diane, and Matthew.

For the benefit of my readers who don't know what this holiday[1] means beyond its commercial association with the generic Holiday season, here's a good summary from Wikipedia:

The miracle of Chanukah is referred to in the Talmud, but not in the books of the Maccabees. This holiday marks the defeat of Seleucid forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practising Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple. The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights with a special Menorah, traditionally known amongst most Sephardim as a chanukah, and amongst many Balkan Sephardim and in Modern Hebrew as a chanukiah.

The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) says that after the occupiers had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees went in to take down the pagan statues and restore the Temple. They discovered that most of the ritual items had been profaned. They sought ritually purified olive oil to light a Menorah to rededicate the Temple. However, they found only enough oil for a single day. They lit this, and went about purifying new oil. Miraculously, that tiny amount of oil burned for the eight days it took to have new oil pressed and made ready. It is for this reason that Jews light a candle each night of the festival.

The story of Hanukkah is fascinating to me because of the narrative about pagan desecration. Judaism is as strongly monotheistic as Islam (not that Christianity isn't monotheistic, but the other two faiths seem to place more emphasis on monotheism in their daily practices and observances, in my admittedly superficial observations). Therefore the struggle to resanctify pagan defilement of the single most important Temple seems strongly echoed in the Prophet's SAW cleansing of the Ka'aba, which was built by the grand patriarch of monotheism, Ibrahim Nabi (Abraham) and defiled by the pre-Islamic pagans (jahilliya). The Prophet SAW and his successor Ali AS cleaned out the Kaaba at the end of the (bloodless) conquest of Mecca, an event beautifully rendered at the end of the movie, The Message. I find a strong parallel between Hanukkah and the reclaiming of the Kaaba, as it's a theme that lies at the very heart of the concept of faith - an affirmation, and struggle, to assert Truth over falsehood.

This theme is also a parable for our times. The struggle against the "pagans" may not be about the numerical quantity of gods we follow, but rather about the universality of human liberty. If the day comes where constitutional liberalism[2] spreads to every corner of the globe, then a memorial much like Hanukkah might be worth envisioning - one candle, for every century that mankind labored under tyranny and oppression.

[1]I am tempted to use the spelling "Chanukkah" instead of Hanukkah, but am not sure what transliteration of the Hebrew word is more accurate since i have almost no experience in Hebrew pronounciation. With Arabic words like Qur'an, I do tend towards a stricter transliteration because I have knowledge of the difference in sound represented by the Qrather than the K, the presence of the apostrophe, etc. I fear it would be presumptous of me to write Chanukkah without the analogous knowledge of what pronounciation the spelling difference represents.
[2]I have learned that freedom is not synonymous with democracy, and sometimes is even its enemy. The true measure of liberty is constitutional liberalism, not democracy for its own sake. This is a strongly Madisonian view, but after reading Fareed Zakaria's book, it's hard to dispute the evidence of history. More on this later.