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.


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!


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.