Saturday, April 30, 2005

taliyah al-mahdi

In the course of trying to find more about Amir Sulaiman online the name of this group came up. The Asian symbols in their logo makes me think of Dead Prez and their use of the I Ching. Here is their website for more info. I wish I knew more about them. The site is well written. They seem to be coming from a Shia perspective, which seems interesting. They have a set of "12 Points of Action" which includes a study of the world's spiritual traditions, physical and mental training, opposition to terrorism and a strong statement against sexism: "we wash our hands of the oppression of women throughout history and oppose all forms of domination of man over woman." I wonder how well they manage to implement this really positive-sounding program.

If anyone knows more about them, feel free to add a comment. (Actually, that should go for all the blog entries)

amir sulaiman

Amir Sulaiman is a Muslim poet, writer, teacher and family man. You may have seen him on HBO's Def Poetry Jam doing a piece called "Danger" (which you should be able to hear on his website). He delivers his words powerfully, inspired by "a political consciousness that is profound without being preachy and stately without being stand-offish". Here is his website. The site is actually a pretty good reflection of his style. It's not as flowery nor as busy as other poet's sites I've seen. It is to the point and well-done.

amir sulaiman

an old list of rappers and their religion

I modified this list slightly. Da Youngstas and Divine Styler were originally in a seperate category for followers of W.D. Muhammad which I just lumped in with Sunni. And I got rid of "Black Panthers" as a category (Paris was the only one listed as a member)

I should point out that according to this list, Posdnus (Kelvin Mercer) was an Ansar and Common (Rashid Lynn) was associated with the Nation of Islam (They were mentioned recently on the blog).

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the industry, many of the groups have broken up, and many of the individuals no longer perform.

God Hop
Striving Righteous Brothers and Sisters in Hip-Hop
Updated Master Allah Why, Build, 15086
(May 8, 2000)

Nation of Gods and Earths :
(past and present) note - still studying means still doing research/hasn't make a commitment but uses the "language".

Akiem Allah from Micranots
Andre the Giant (ShowBiz and A.G.)
AZ (past)
Big Daddy Kane
Black Thought (from the Roots)
Boot Camp Clique
Brand Nubian
BuckShot (Black Moon)
Capone and Noriega
C Knowledge (Doodlebug) from Digable Planets
C. L. Smooth
Channel Live
Chino XL
Company Flow
C-rayz Walz
Dark Poets
Divine Life Allah
DJ Clark Kent
Dred Poets Society
E. Bros.
Erykah Badu (past)
Future Sound
God Sunz
Grand Puba
GURU from Gangstarr (Still Studying)
John Forte
King Just
King Sun
Lakim Shabazz
Leaders of the New School
Lil Soldiers (No Limit Records)
Lord Finesse
M.A.R.S. (from the Roots)
Massive Influence (was "y'all so stupid")
MC Shan
Medina Green
Mic Geronimo
MF Doom
Mobb Deep
Mother Superia
Movement X
Mwalim Allah (soul music)
Now Born Click
Nu*Born Records
Pete Rock
Poets of Darkness
Poor Righteous Teachers
Prime Meridian
Queen Latifah (past member)
Red Head Kingpin
Rough House Survivors
Scarmanga Shallah aka Sir Menelik
Self Jupiter (Freestyle Fellowship)
Self Scientific
Shorty Long
Smif and Wessun
Solar Panel
Supernatural (still studying)
Superstar Quam Allah
Sun Risers
Sunz of Man
3rd Eye Cipher
Top Quality
Two Kings in a Cipher
Wise Born (Stetsasonic)
Wizdom Life
World's Reknown
Wu Tang Clan
YGz (Young Gunz)

Ausar Auset:
Afu Ra
Jeru da Damaja

Holy Tabernacle/Nubian Hebrew Islaamic Mission/Nuwaubians (Ansars), past and present
Askari X
Intelligent Hoodlum (Tragedy) (past member)
Jay-Z (past member)
Jedi Mind Tricks
Mister Man (Bush Babees)
Posdonus (De La Soul)
Sciencez of Life
Tung Twista (past member)
"Zev Love X" i.e. MF Doom (past member)

FOI(Muslims of the Nation of Islam):
Common (still studying)
Ice Cube (still studying)
Maestro Fresh Wes
M.C. Ren
Nubian Mob
Planet Asia (past member)
Proffesor Griff and the Last Asiatic Disciples
Public Enemy
Smooth B.
Unique and Dashun
X-Niggas (representin` Indianapolis)

Orthodox/Sunni Muslims:
Da Youngstas/ Illy Funkstas
Divine Styler
Abdul Shahid
Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Dr. Soose (Madkap)
Malik B (from the Roots)
Mos Def


Friday, April 29, 2005

more on muslims and hip-hop

A Mercury News Piece called Hip-Hop's Islamic Influence focused on Akil from Jurassic 5

A very brief Associated press piece called Rapper helps Muslims to create pop culture (focused on Capital D)

A more serious piece by Hisham Aidi called Jihadis in the Hood: Race, Urban Islam and the War on Terror
for Middle East Report. There are some interesting comments on the relation between Islam and Pan-Africanism from a historical perspective and also a discussion of Islam's relevance to urban life today.

And finally a more academic, but very interesting paper: ISLAMIC HIP-HOP vs. ISLAMOPHOBIA: AKI NAWAZ, NATACHA ATLAS, AKHENATON by Ted Swedenburg, an anthropologist who wrote a paper I linked to earlier on Five Percenters and hip-hop. This piece discusses how Islam appears in the work of 3 specific musicians *outside* the U.S.

de la soul


A very brief excerpt from a very brief interview with De La Soul

I know that Common is Muslim, and so is Mos Def. Are any of you? What do you think about the current state of US?

Pos: We're all, especially myself and Dave, have definitely studied, practiced- where especially I am just more into trying to be positive and living my life in the right way. Not just coming in and promote something that's a lot of open gaps. As far as Muslim, as far as what I've always known it to be, referring to peaceful ways and being one of peace. I would consider myself Muslim. Try to be peaceful and try to do things of that sort.

Wow, thinking back to my college days it would be hard to understate how much I was a De La Soul fan. But I'm surprised they would identify themselves as Muslims. There were vague allusions in a song here or there (The only one which comes to mind is Posdanus saying: "So my occupation's known/ But not why I occupy/ And that is to bring the peace/ not in the flower but the As-Salaam Alaikum in the third I am" which comes at the end of "I am I be" on the Bahloone Mindstate album).

But other than just having a vibe different from the typical "gansta rap" being made at the time, they weren't really vocal about their specific beliefs.

the tao passes the turing test

Some time ago, I came across an interesting reframing of the whole question of God's existence:

There are many people out there who consider themselves to be atheists and they would claim to disbelieve in the existence of"God". But do you ever come across people who call themselves A-Tao-ists? I doubt it. It doesn't really make sense to ask whether the Tao exists or doesn't exists. There is some reason for why there is Something instead of Nothing. There is some reason for why there is Order instead of Chaos. It exists. Whether you call it Tao, Allah, the Absolute, the Ultimate Reality, Jah, or Fred. It's there. The real question is: what is it like?

And given the fact that most earthlings believe in some form of personal deity, it seems fairly clear that this reality, this entity, passes the Turing test. (The concept of the Turing test comes out of computer science, where researchers struggled to define what does it mean to say that a machine is "intelligent". And to put it very, very, simply, the suggestion is that something is *defined* to be intelligent if when you talk to it, you feel that an intelligent being is "talking back".)

So based on the evidence of human religious experience, it is pretty clear that most people do have this sense. We don't have to delve into God's "neurology" and insist that he has a physical human brain with lobes and hemispheres, or that his "anger" is like our "anger" or that his "mercy" is like our "mercy". Far from it. The Quran, at least, is clear that the Creator is unlike the creation. Allah is so amazingly Amazing that he beggars human language. Our words can't touch him.

But nevertheless, that doesn't preclude us understanding our own dependence on a Higher Power and expressing that awareness in the form of love, devotion and awe. Personal language is meaningful, not because God needs our words or feelings, but because we need express them, for our own sakes.

The farmer needs to understand his survial depends on the soil and the rain. The sailor needs to know his life is in the hands of the sea and the wind. And we need to cultivate a similar kind of gratitude and respect for God. Not in order to curry favor by stroking the divine ego, but because we need to keep our own in check. In earlier times, this knowledge might have been maintained by sacrifices to nature spirits or other creatures, and modern-man might view such practices as superstition, but from another point of view they are grounded in an uncompromsing absolute realism.

the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

I think the last few entires were a bit on the serious side. Not that it's totally out of place. I'm often in a serious mood but I'm not sure to what extent I should inflict it on everyone else. Especially since I've been gradually telling more people about this blog.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is coming out in movie theatre's today. Hopefully I'll be able to find a group of friends to go see it soon. Mos Def is in the movie playing Ford Prefect.

(I'm making sure to mention him because he's my thin and tenuous "justification" for mentioning the movie here at Planet Grenada. I'm actually planning on writng a seperate blog entry sharing some thoughts and info on Mos Def too. I love Mos Def. I've often thought to myself that the ummah could really use an "intellectual (i.e. academic, scholarly) Mos Def". But the more I read about him, the more I realize that reflects my own pre-conceived notions. He's not exactly a slouch. His creative career has been rapidly expanding in a couple of different directions, making (remarkably thoughtful) hip-hop music, Def Poetry, acting and activism. He's already making serious contributions to culture, even if its not in the ivory tower

Anyway, Hitchhiker's Guide has already been made into a television series (like over 20 years ago!) and a radio show. Even a computer adventure game (Oh my God, I feel so old. I used to play a bunch of those Infocom text adventures on my Commodore 64 way back in the day. Sometime in the future, a kid in middle school is going to be taking a history test where they have to identify which artifact is older...and on one side of the page they will be shown a commodore 64 and on the other they will be shown a picture of some kid in breeches playing with a hoop and a stick in the street... and this will be the hardest question on the test.)


So for all you archeologists out there, here is a site where you can actually play alot of the classic Infocom games. Some of the games might require maps or other props which were sold with the original packaging but you should at least be able to get a flavor of how the games worked back in the day. Besides, I'm almost certain that if you do a search online you should be able to find the relevant information online in some form which will let you complete the games.

But as far as the new movie goes, I should probably wait till actually seeing it before commenting much on its islamic or afro-futuristic implications. (athough the original novels did get into a fair amount of theology in a very quirky and lighthearted way. InshaAllah we'll see how, or whether, the subject is handled by the film.)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

perennialism and traditionalism

Perennialism is the name of an school of thought which has become popular among some Muslims, especially in the West, this past century. Some of the prominent figures in this school are Rene Guenon, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Charles le Gai Eaton, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Frithjof Schuon. (There are other people involved in the larger movement which includes Hindus, Christians, and even some straight-up Fascists, but the above names are the most prominent among those who claimed to be Muslim.)

The basic idea is that there is a single body of truth known as the perennial wisdom which human beings have known from a very early point in history and which gets restated over and over again in the world's major religious traditions. So, for example, Muhammad (saaws), Jesus (as), Krishna, Zoroaster etc. were all basically teaching the same eternal principles, except in a language appropriate to the needs of their audience.

(In some sense this is similar to the Bahai faith which also affirms a belief in the Buddha, Muhammad, Jesus, Zoroaster, Krishna, and others. Although one difference is that the Bahai faith has a notion of "progressive revelation" which develops a time-based hierarchy among the religions. And since the Bahai faith is the most recent, it sits at the top of the hierarchy before those which came before)

You might think this suggests some kind of cafeteria-style spiritual free-for-all but the above names were also part of a movement known as Traditionalism which asserted that this perennial wisdom is best expressed in the traditional, authentically-transmitted, orthodox versions of the various religions. So even if at a very deep level, the various religions agree, it still isn't appropriate to mix and match. Each path should be taken seriously, and followed on its own terms.

So the Perennialists are interesting because, on the one hand, they seem to see a great deal of value in other religions and other civilizations. But on the other hand, they also strive, in their own way, to stay faithful to a particular religious tradition and stay "orthodox".

Some members of the movement, especially in its "Traditionalist" form really emphasize the past and see the modern-age as decadent with things only getting worse. (I have the impression that this is what really motivates the scarier Fascist-Traditionalists)

Mark Sedgewick has a website which goes into a certain amount of depth on Traditionalism and its different manifestations (Actually that first page is an interesting article on the introduction of sufism to the west, but if you go to the homepage you'll find more ino). Sedgwick also has a paper called "Marginal Muslims in Cyberspace"

You can also go to Religio Perennis which is another website which deals with these ideas, but more from an insider's perspective.

And as a counter-balance to give another side of the issue, Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen wrote a piece called "Why I am not a Traditionalist" for a pretty thorough discussion of Traditionalism faults from the point of view of a Muslim who rejects it (rather thoughtfully I should add)

Also at the Living Islam site you can find a page which doesn't deal with these terms head-on but discusses issues in the same ballpark from a critical Islamic perspective.

metaphysics of interfaith dialogue

just an interesting article about how the Quran can provide a basic framework in which to view and understand other religions.

bahais and divorce

The following piece is from Juan Cole, who was formerly a member of the Bahai faith but left because of differences of opinion with the Bahai administration.

An internal Baha'i household survey done in 1987 found that the divorce rate in the U.S. Baha'i community was higher than that in American society as a whole. The report was never released to the public.

My own suspicion is that the high divorce rate has several causes. First of all, Baha'is are encouraged to utopian ways of thinking. Two young people with little in common save that they are recent converts to the faith will be encouraged to marry. I have seen this sort of thing over and over again with my own eyes. This utopianism is widespread in the faith and is the same reason for which so many other Baha'i enterprises end up doing damage to people. That both are "Baha'is" is not a basis for a marriage. One may be a liberal and the other a fundamentalist; current norms against such labeling make it difficult for people to identify one another on that basis, but you'd better believe the difference would show up in a marriage!

Young married Baha'is are also encouraged to pioneer, whether abroad to places like Haiti and Nicaragua, or homefront. Being uprooted from their social networks and families and isolated in a strange environment is not good for them as young marrieds.

In smaller communities the Baha'i committee work is a killer, and may isolate the two spouses, who spend less time together just coccooning and watching t.v.

And it is my estimate that from a third to a half of U.S. Baha'is are what the sociologists would call marginal people--persons with poor social skills who are emotionally needy and who join the faith because they are love-bombed and find a high proportion of other marginals in it. A high rate of marginality is fostered by the cultists who have infiltrated the administration, since only such individuals would put up with being ordered around summarily or would eat up conspiracy theories about bands of dissidents seeking to undermine the administration. Marginals would have higher than normal divorce rates, obviously.

Finally, the Baha'i faith encourages a great deal of ego inflation in the individual. Each Baha'i thinks he or she is saving the world and is a linchpin in the plan of God. This inspires in them great (and often quite misplaced) confidence in their own judgment--I've seen them pronounce authoritatively on astronomy, biology, Qajar history, and many other subjects on which they are woefully ignorant. Such ego inflation and over-confidence in personal judgment would not be good for a marriage. cheers Juan

[P.S. I should have also included that the exclusiveness of the Baha'i community, non-attendance of non-Baha'is at Feast, pressure to convert spouses, etc., was also probably a contributing factor to Baha'i divorces where only one spouse was Baha'i.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

lessons of the five percent

An old but relatively in-depth paper about the role that Five Percenter teachings play in hip-hop

hakim bey, ontological anarchy and cultural expression

I'm not sure I want to endorse Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson). Actually in certain respects, I'm actually certain that I don't. But he is certainly a character who occasionally has some very interesting things to say, (assuming that I understand him)

There is a huge collection of his writings available free online. This is typically the material written under the name Hakim Bey.

But besides those works available online, his book, Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam contains the most thorough description I've ever seen of the teachings of the Moorish Science movement of Noble Drew Ali. (Along with various essays on other topics). And his book The Drunken Universe is a decent collection and discussion of the outlines of Persian Sufi poetry. These and his other more serious, academic works are typically written under Peter Lamborn Wilson.

Actually the last few blog entries have gotten me thinking about the Five Percenters and other individuals and movements on the "margins of Islam". On the one hand, many of these groups definitely go too far and cross certain lines which put themselves pretty much outside of Islamic limits. At the same time, some of them manage to find dynamic and vibrant ways to express some aspects of Islamic culture. And I wonder if it isn't possible to learn from them while avoiding their excesses. Or more generally, how is it possible for different Muslim communities around the world to maintain their cultural autonomy, and continue to joyfully and authentically be themselves, while at the same time staying true to orthodox Islam.

I didn't see it as clearly before, but in fact, figuring out how to do that is actually one of the goals of Planet Grenada in the first place.

ali shaheed muhammad

Also formerly of A Tribe Called Quest (like Q-Tip), is Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Oddly enough, in spite of his obvious Muslim background, he only came to practice Islam in a serious way around the same time that Q-Tip did (shortly before making ATCQ's 4th album, Beats, Rhymes and Life.

Since the ATCQ breakup, Muhammad has been mostly working on individual cuts for other artists and a brief stint as a founding member of the supergroup Lucy Pearl (which only lasted for an album). His most recent project is his own first solo album entitled Shaheedullah and Stereotypes.

Here is the main Ali Shaheed Muhammad page

An interview with Ali Shaheed Muhammad about his faith and the industry for a Canadian periodical. Another interview with Ali Shaheed Muhammad done by Kenny Rodriguez. And finally an interview with

more on muslims and hip-hop

This can potentially be a huge topic. For a long time now, to varying degrees of depth and sincerity, hip-hop has included some kind of Islamic content. Oddly enough, it seems like the most well represented "Muslim" group in hip-hop have been the Five Percenters or the Nation of Gods and Earths (e.g. Poor Righteous Teachers, Rakim, Brand Nubian, Busta Rhymes, Wu Tang, Digable Planets etc.) I imagine that part of the reason is that the Five Percenters put a certain amount of emphasis on developing a certain "rap" and verbal fluency which lends itself very easily to hip-hop's lyricism. Another reason is likely that as a movement the Five Percenters are highly concentrated among the urban black youth who are part of the hip-hop generation. On the other hand, among orthodox Muslims there are certain factors which probably discourage participation in the production of hip-hop music, for example attitudes which restrict the permissibilty of music per se, and then reservations about being in environments where mainstream hip-hop tends to be performed (mixed crowds, places which serve alcohol). In spite of these factors, there are still a few who identify as Sunni Muslims in mainstream hip-hop. (e.g. Mos Def, One.Be.Lo, Q-Tip, members of Jurassic 5, the Roots)

I was especally surprised to find out that there is actually an online forum specifically dedicated to Islam and hip-hop at Some Muslim rap groups like Native Deen are becoming more and more visible. And the ummah in America is even developing Muslim record labels (here is an interview with one of their artists, Capital D from All Natural [2] and commentators on hip-hop culture like Adisa Banjoko

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

whatever happened to q-tip?

When A Tribe Called Quest came out on their first album singing "I don't eat no ham and eggs" you knew they were on a more natural, afro-centric vibe. By the time their fourth album, Beats, Rhymes and Life came out, Q-Tip changed his name to Kamaal Fareed, songs were interlaced with Siraj Wahaj samples, and he and Ali Shaheed Muhammad both declared their belief in Islam. The song which probably represents the peak of the group's spiritual development is The Remedy (with Common Sense) from the Get on the Bus soundtrack. But by the time their fifth album, The Love Movement, came out, they had started to lose some of their original vitality, and shortly thereafter the group announced its break-up in 1998. Q-Tip released a solo album called Amplified, with the single Vivrant Thing (and oddly enough, the video included the kind of "video hos" which never would have never appeared in a Tribe video in the early days before Q-Tip converted). And after that, Q-Tip seemed to disappear off the map.

Recently I found out that a few years ago Q-Tip actually did complete an album called Kamaal the Abstract, but Arista records has so far refused to release it. There is actually a campaign going to get Arista to Release Q-Tip's Kamaal the Abstract with its own website where you can sign an online petition and find a couple of links on what Q-Tip has been up to lately.

Here is another site with some Q-Tip news. Q-Tips to Jazz Joint is a New York Post review of Kamaal the Abstract. Here are some more reviews An interview with Q-Tip about an even newer unreleased album called Open. And then, pretty much all the Q-Tip or Tribe lyrics for their *released* material.

Both Kamaal Fareed and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have been keeping busy participating in other people's projects. And inshaAllah, we haven't seen the last or the best of their contributions to the industry.

islam and mexico


I haven't written a "Latino/Hispanic" post in a while so this is a bit overdue

The Murabitun have been active in Mexico, spreading in the Chiapas region where the Zapatistas are. I've been able to find some interesting sites about their efforts there. A short academic article on them is called Coversions & Conflict: Muslims in Mexico Here is the group's Mexican website The Murabitun are also very active in Spain and have even established a mosque there. So you could also check the group's Spain website (Their mosque happens to be located in Granada and has a certain amount of historical significance as the first mosque built in Spain since the Reconquista). Islam gains toehold in Mexico's Zapatista country is a recent Reuters piece about the Murabitun activities. Islam taking root in southern Mexico is an older article from the Houston Chronicle. And In Chiapas, missionaries battle for converts is from Knight Ridder Newspapers.

In the long run I wonder how successful the Murabitun efforts will be? They have sometimes been described as "extremist" Malikis who strongly believe in following the example of the first Muslim community in Medina. So if I understand them correctly they seem to want to set up whole communities in particular localities based on Islamic principles. It's an approach which seems to make a certain amount of sense if you have a critical mass of people and enough space to set it up. There are certainly aspects of being Muslim which are enhanced by having more of a community aspect. (making salat in congregation, producing food, collecting zakat, civil law, etc.)

I've known people who were Hebrew Israelites (there are many distinct but similar groups which call themselves "hebrews" or "israelites". The link is only to one of the most prominant) and talked about leaving the US eventually; perhaps to the community that they have in Dimona, Israel. And it seems to me that regardless of whether one agrees with the specific beliefs and practices, I think you have to respect the integrity and dedication of someone who picks up and moves to a different country in order to more fully implement their own religious principles.

La Voz de Aztlan is a somewhat contraversial website which is from a Chicano perspective but for some reason the contributors have chosen to take a more international perspective and are strongly anti-Zionist and against the war in Iraq. It is interesting to see how certain coalitions can potentially form among groups with superficially very different concerns or agendas. In this case, I think certain members of the Chicano movement see Palestians and Iraqis and identify very much with a strong desire for autonomy from outside forces, whether that foreign force is conceived as Anglo or Zionist or American.

An interview with Mexican intellectual Carlos Fuentes called the Invention of the Frankenstein Monster on US foreign policy in the Muslim world.

And finally:
Here is also a cautionary piece on how NOT to do dawa in Brazil

Sunday, April 24, 2005

people of direction

Volume 8, Book 81, Number 771:
Narrated 'Umar bin Al-Khattab:
During the lifetime of the Prophet there was a man called 'Abdullah whose nickname was Donkey, and he used to make Allah's Apostle laugh. The Prophet lashed him because of drinking (alcohol). And one-day he was brought to the Prophet on the same charge and was lashed. On that, a man among the people said, "O Allah, curse him ! How frequently he has been brought (to the Prophet on such a charge)!" The Prophet said, "Do not curse him, for by Allah, I know for he loves Allah and His Apostle."

In Islam, one of the orthodox ways of understanding the nature of iman (faith) is to say that iman is something in the heart which is separate from your actions. Moreover, it is something which you either have or you don't, it neither increases nor decreases. This perspective (associated especially with the Hanafi school) has some rather sweeping and beautiful implications for how we view other Muslims.

An early unorthodox sect known as the Khawarij disagreed. They took the position that your actions were included in your iman. And so when Muslims were guilty of major sins, they declared that they were apostates and had them killed. This group was the same group who had Ali (ra) killed because they had felt that he was in the wrong.

But if iman exists in the heart then ones ordinary sinful actions can't take you out of Islam. And therefore a sinful Muslim is still Muslim. They are still part of the ummah. The basic link between you and them is maintained. You still give them salaams. You still visit them when they are sick. Pray for them when they are dead. In spite of their sins, they are still your sisters and brothers in faith.

As the prophet (saaws) said: "Do not curse him, for by Allah, I know for he loves Allah and His Apostle."

According to the famous orthodox Sunni creed of Al-Tahawi:
57. We do not consider any of the people of our qibla to be unbelievers because of any wrong action they have done, as long as they do not consider that action to have been lawful.
58. Nor do we say that the wrong action of a man who has belief does not have a harmful effect on him.
59. We hope that Allah will pardon the people of right action among the believers and grant them entrance into the Garden through His mercy, but we cannot be certain of this, and we cannot bear witness that it will definitely happen and that they will be in the Garden. We ask forgiveness for the people of wrong action among the believers and, although we are afraid for them, we are not in despair about them.
60. Certainty and despair both remove one from the religion, but the path of truth for the People of the Qibla lies between the two.
61. A person does not step out or belief except by disavowing what brought him into it.

It continually surprises me when non-Muslims seem to have this image of Islam as a stern, intolerant, medieval religion in need of a Christian-style Reformation. Traditional orthodox Islam is beautifully tolerant. And often it is the "reformers" who are responsible for the examples of intolerance which appear in the newspapers and television.

Take the concept of "People of the Qibla" mentioned above. To be Muslim does not require one to accept a complicated and paradoxical theology. Sunnis and Shias might disagree over the status of Ali. Hanafis and Malikis may disagree about the best place to put your hands in prayer. Sufis and Wahabis might disagree over the proper way to do dhikr. But that's okay because these aren't essential matters that will take you out of Islam. All these groups can still come together in one place, five times a day and pray in the same direction.

There is alot more that could be said about tolerance and inclusion found in traditional Islam but I think I'm going to stop here for now.

For a more involved discussion of Imam Tahawi's creed, Abu Hanifa and the nature of iman, you might want to check here.

And for an excellent in-depth explanation of how Muslims can learn to disagree with one another without being disagreeable, I highly recommend The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam by Taha Jabir al `Alwani. The book is FREE and available online in its entirety.

Friday, April 22, 2005

me'shell ndegeocello

The last piece about Irshad Manji reminded me of Me'shell Ndegeocello. Interestingly enough, both women identify as Muslim and non-straight but for some reason Ndegeocello doesn't bother me in the same way. I think part of it has to do with the fact that Me'shell Ndegeocello is a musician and it is very hard to argue with a song. (And in any case, I'm probably more sympathetic to Ndegeocello's politics on social issues than Manji's [1],[2]) Another difference is that Ndegeocello doesn't seem to display Manji's hubris in terms of making generalizations about Islam for other people, instead she seems to have a very personal and idiosyncratic, but sincere faith. I'm not saying she's a role model, nor would she claim to be. But at least she positively affirms Islam, rather than acting in ways which fundamentally discredit it. In my opinion, the way in which Ndegeocello presents Islam is more likely to intrigue and gently attract people those who aren't receptive to a more in-your-face approach.

She has an official website but there is also a more extensive page at

Some exerpts from articles and interviews:

From the,
a periodal from Fort Wayne, TX


Me'Shell NdegeoCello
Comfort Woman
(Maverick Records)
By Jimmy Fowler

For her fifth studio album, the politically grumpy but spiritually conscious Me'Shell NdegeoCello has released the year's unlikeliest gospel collection -- an expression, perhaps, of her recent conversion to Islam under the name Me'Shell Suihailia Bashir Shakur.

Comfort Woman, produced by the artist with Allen Cato, is less a cycle of songs than an escalating series of meditations that employ NdegeoCello's husky whisper, alternating light reggae and stadium-rock beats, and shimmering clouds of synth/echo effects. These are mostly love songs with incantatory choruses -- "Give me shelter," "Come with me into the sun," "Take me down to your river" -- which, in the tradition of Sam Cooke and Al Green, could be directed as easily at a Supreme Being as a lover. (Frankly, anything is better than last year's disastrous Cookie: An Anthropological Mix Tape, in which Me'Shell worked up a Curtis May field fit over race, class, and gender issues without any of his withering musical precision.) "Come Smoke My Herb" and "Fellowship" are the closest to disciplined compositions, but anyone looking for hard grooves or even particularly memorable hooks will be disappointed. R&B stoners, on the other hand, should be thrilled at Me'Shell's invitation to "fly on butterflies" through the ether. And I give her props for one of the most provocative lyric lines I've heard in a while: "If you believe that your God is better than another man / How you gonna end all your suffering and strife?"

From Mountain Xpress

Cookie's original cover art, for example, depicted Ndegeocello in a hijab; a traditional Muslim woman's garb that covers all but the eyes. In a fluke of happenstance, the album was originally scheduled for release on Sept. 11, 2001, but was pushed back, for obvious reasons.

It's unfortunate that the cover art was changed; one could certainly argue that Ndegeocello's brave, multi-faceted perspectives on religion , especially as made manifest in that cover image . might actually have benefited the nation's scarred psyche at that point. Ndegeocello is, however, a sensitive and, more importantly, a thoughtful artist, however provocative: Her challenging nature most often comes undercut with humanism. [...]

Known to quote scripture during interviews, Ndegeocello also is openly bisexual (her last name, by the way, means "free as a bird" in Swahili). She freely references both Biblical and Koranic verse in her song (Comfort Woman's liner notes conclude with the declaration "all my praise is for Allah"), often juxtaposing her obvious spiritual bent with her social incisiveness.

On Peace Beyond Passion (1996), she even tosses a hint of sexuality into the already volatile mix, opening "Mary Magdalene" with: "I often watch the way you whore yourself. You're so beautiful." (The album also boasts songs with titles like "Leviticus: Faggot" and "God Shiva." And two tracks off Comfort Woman were inspired by Surahs (or chapters) of the Koran.

From Curve magazine:
So, back to the records, how is Dance of the Infidels different from what you've done before?

It's a lot more instrumental material, more improvisational music. I'm hoping it will be a record that you put on to ease your mind. I'm Muslim, so a lot of the music is inspired by my spiritual practice, and I wanted to definitely put my heart into it, but like religion- jazz is like religion, it's interpretive. For me, to be able to make instrumental music. It's a lot more free, because it is just sound.

Tell me more about your spiritual practice.

I believe in angels. I pray five times a day. I try to be as charitable as I can with my income, because I realize other people aren't as fortunate as me, and that.s how I came to be Muslim. One of the foundations is "seek knowledge until the grave"and that's allowed me to inform myself about various faiths and take what I need and want to from those, and just try to be a good person.

When you say it's allowed you to be a good person, I think some people would view that as a challenge and others would view that as a joyful experience. I wonder how you see it?

Oh, it's joyful. I make mistakes. I'm far from perfect. I've been a liar and a cheat. I've been many things. I have anger. I have intense anger, but the more I get into my practice and make those prayers five times a day. there's five times out of the day where I get out of my own shit, like, I get out of my own head and try to strengthen myself with something that's far greater than me. You know, far more beautiful. This whole experience of life, and when I connect with that regularly, it allows me to be a little bit more patient with others, to not be so judgmental, to not be so hard on myself. Islam speaks about the middle way. I find joy, not in the material things, or not in achievements, but just the fact that I got to see the sun shine or the leaves are turning.

That sounds very humbling.

Humility is a good thing. One of the teachings in the Koran I really didn't get until lately was not to walk around in insolence, not to walk around angry all the time.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

the trouble with irshad manji

Recently Time magazine named Ayaan Hirsi Ali as one of the world's 100 most influential people. Ali is a Somalia-born member of the Dutch parliament who had worked with Theo Van Gogh to make a short film called Submission which featured, among other things, verses from the Quran super-imposed on the bodies of naked women. Irshad Manji comes up in all this because Time chose Manji to write about Ali for the magazine... presumably to evoke some kind of "heretic" to "heretic" vibe. One significant difference between the two women is that Ayaan Ali has disavowed Islam, while Irshad Manji, in spite of being the author of a book called "The Trouble with Islam" still identifies herself as Muslim.

But I doubt I'm alone in thinking to myself: With friends like her, who needs enemies?
Because she says she's Muslim, Irshad Manji has been given a unique kind of soap box but what is she doing with it? Whenver I've heard her speak or read her work she sounds like a secular westerner who tacks on "but I'm Muslim" at the end of her words (kind of like the Seinfeld character who converted to Judaism soley to be able to tell Jewish jokes). For example, she doesn't seem to make much, if any, distinction between Islam per se, and the various far-from-ideal practices which exist in so-called Muslim countries. So she doesn't seem to convey to the reader the sense that there is actually much which is salvageable in Islam. But if she finds Islam so "trouble"some, it is not clear why she is sticking around.

In her Time magazine piece she writes:
I met Hirsi Ali, 35, last year during a book tour. Because I have written a blunt call for reform in Islam, a Dutch newspaper assigned her to interview me - heretic to heretic. The difference is, she has left Islam. I asked her if she thought I was naive for sticking with Allah. "Don't go" she told me "Islam needs you."

Aside from the hubris of suggesting that Islam needs her (rather than all of us needing Islam) she seems to distance herself too much from basic Islam to be very effective as a reformer. On top of that she seems to simply ignore the many people in the Muslim ummah who already recognize the shortcomings of the community and actively do what they can to make things better. Irshad Manji lives in a kind of limbo for me. In content and tone she seems to have too negative an opinion of Islam for me (or many Muslims) to identify with her. But then on the other hand, I wonder why she doesn't make a clean break (like Rushdie, like Ayaan Ali, like Taslima Nasrin). At least that way she would have the respect deserved by the heretic who fully follows the courage of their convictions. (In fact I am still baffled by what exactly she feels is the meaning of "being Muslim" when she writes about how as a younger girl she was given a "Most Promising Christian" award or when she went on a trip to Israel and put a prayer in the Wailing Wall.)

To her credit, on her own website she is actually willing to include several articles very critical of her views. (One from the president of CAIR, another from Z magazine)

Also to her credit, she seems to have changed the title of her book from "The Trouble with Islam" to "The Trouble with Islam Today", allowing for the possibility that Islam will be less troublesome and improve "tomorrow". Here's to hoping that she will too.

Some recent comments about an appearance of hers at Stanford

happy mawlid al-nabi

In the Islamic calendar, today's date is the 12th of Rabi`-ul-Awwal (the third month) 1426 A.H which commemorates the birth of the prophet Muhammad (saaws). Celebrating this day is "contraversial" for certain Muslims because Mawlid isn't explicitly mentioned in the primary Islamic texts. However the traditional mainstream Muslim scholars don't object to the practice and even recommend it as long as certain reasonable conditions are met.

questions on mawlid
Commemoration of the birth of the beloved of Allah
Article by Nuh Ha Mim Keller on Mawlid
Fatwa Regarding Milad
Other pages on mawlid

in honor of our beloved prophet (from Masud's site)
Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyya
Tawassul (intercession) and it's position in Islam
A Thorough Discussion of Tawassul (intercession)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

emperor leads death star memorial service

Thinking about Revenge of the Sith reminded me of the following "news" story.

Emperor leads Death Star memorial service

And then the posters just seemed to go along with the theme.



at the risk of sounding ridiculous...

I remember that in the wake of 9/11 I kept thinking to myself: Ok, even forgetting about jihad or the Quran. Even if the holy text of Islam were the San Francisco yellow pages, if I'm Muslim, and think of Muslims all over the world as my brothers and sisters, and I love them, then what is the logical response to U.S. policies in the Muslim world? Especially as the US was preparing to embark on a course which was likely to (and did) lead to the deaths of hundreds and thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq?

As Che said: At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.

But how many revolutions actually remember that? How many actually live up to that ideal?

revenge of the sith

This past weekend I was in a Seattle airport bookstore when I saw the novelization for the upcoming Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith and I couldn't resist buying it. I just finished reading it a few hours ago. Of course there really weren't any real surprises. We all know how the story ends. The book is all about transition. Completing the circle. The Republic falls and turns into an Empire. The only real question is how does it all come to pass. How do the honored and respected Jedis become hunted renegades? How does Senator Palpatine become Galactic Emperor? How does Anakin the small fun-loving child become Darth Vader, lord of the Sith?

Although this really isn't intended as a movie/book review, I'll say that they do a decent (but not a great) job of tracing Anakin's fall to the darkside. For my tastes the path was a little too quick to be totally believable or compelling but they could have done worse.

For some reason, this issue of transition from "good" to "evil" is a very fascinating one. As a friend of mine puts it "Even Osama had a mama". If there is no original sin and we are all basically well-intentioned then where does violence and evil come from? This is a question which seems to have been very prominent in our times, both fictional and factual. In her diary, Anne Frank famously said "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart". But do we believe that? In some ways she has a point. For example, in families one can often find situations where individuals love one another very much but still end up hurting one another somehow. Maybe the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

And if we don't want to believe Anne Frank, and want to divide the world into heroes and villans, then where is the line? In the wake of Abu Ghraib, Bush declared that he is frustrated by anti-American sentiment abroad because "I know how good we are". What does that mean anymore?


People don't turn evil overnight. It's more like the famous analogy about boiling a frog. You can't just throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will just jump out right away. What you do is you put the frog in the pot of cold water, and put the pot on the stove. That way, you boil the frog and you don't even need to put a lid on the pot. Imperceptibly, the temperature rises until you find yourself slowly cooking in the melting pot, and you can't get out.

In certain respects, the Revenge of the Sith was more of a modern fable than a fairy tale. Palpatine's justifications for Empire seemed a little too familiar to our ears. But the important question is whether *we* would be able to tell when our own Republic crosses the line into Empire?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

ratzinger - benedict xvi

The German, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger has recently been elected pope and has taken the name Benedict XVI. His previous title was Perfect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (more famously known as the Inquisition). He is often described as a theological hardliner and a conservative (even a neocon by some). Many have commented on his staunch opposition to liberation theology in Latin America and few years ago he's made comments on ecumenism which have even made Protestants uncomfortable (so you can only imagine what his relations would be like towards Muslims). In the past, he's opposed the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union on the grounds that it would threaten the Christian character of Europe. Instead, he argues, Turkey should associate with Arab or Middle Eastern countries.

Although I think he has a "point" in the sense that in the long term it probably would be a great thing for Muslim nations to come together in a more unified federation that would promote and defend common interests, like a Muslim version of NATO or the EU, I'm not sure that it is his place to make that call for Turkey.

Besides, he certainly isn't motivited by a concern for the interests of Muslims, but rather, is acting out of a basically antagonistic attitude towards Islam.

For what its worth, it doesn't seem like the choice of Ratzinger as pope bodes very well for the future of Catholic-Muslim relations. But only time will tell.

Monday, April 18, 2005 - s.o.n.o.g.r.a.m.


I had an interesting experience this weekend. I happened to be in a Tower Records in Seattle and at one of the hip-hip listening station I saw this new CD from One.Be.Lo. (his real name is now Nashid Sulaiman, formerly One Man Army of the duo Binary Star).

Now, I happened to see Nashid at a free local Michigan hip-hop show a while back and so I recognized him and knew he was Muslim. So firstly I was pleasantly surprised to see another Muslim artist getting a little more exposure in the hip-hop game, hopefully putting out some positive content in an arena which is too often surrounded by negativity.

Secondly, when I started to listen to the at the station it was gratifying to hear that the album didn't just fall into the trap of delivering weak beats and preachy lyrics but that the positive content was skillfully delivered over a strong soundtrack. (The album name, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. aptly stands for Sounds of Nashid Originate Good Rhymes and Music).

But what really blew me away was that two of the cuts feature a friend of mine named Abdus Salaam, and that was actually the first time I've heard him flow, and he can spit! Abdus Salaam is this Puerto Rican Muslim brother from New York.

Although it shouldn't have been too surprising that Abdus Salaam was on the CD since the first time I met him it was also in a musical context. I happened to be riding my bicycle outside one summer when the weather was nice and I come by this grassy area where some brothers are playing on some drums. I stop to listen. After a while, one of them (Abdus Salaam) starts to call out some phrases slowly, like an old style bomba y plena. After a moment I realize that he's speaking in Spanish and after a while I realize that the lyrics aren't just generically spiritual, but they are specifically Islamic! I actually have alot of respect for him. He had converted to Islam relatively recently when I first met him, but he certainly has dived whole-heartedly into the deen and grown alot in a way which is always encouraging to see and is an example for me to follow.

But getting back to One.Be.Low:
here is an exclusive interview with Vibe magazine.
here is a Metro Times piece about Binary Star and
here is one about the new album.
Some previews of the new album can be found here
And here is the label's website (SubterraneousRecords) with plenty of information about tours, other projects, etc.

zaid shakir and female imams

not to beat a dead horse, but here is a rather thoughtful and nuanced traditionally minded discussion about the current issue-of-the-week: females leading men in prayers.

It's called:
An examination of the issue of female prayer leadership

Friday, April 15, 2005

birth of a nation: a comic novel

It would be hard to adequately convey the anticipation I've had for this project. I've been literally waiting for most of a year when I heard that Aaron McGruder, Kyle Baker and Reginald Hudlin were getting together to make a graphic novel it was natural to expect the beginnings of a revolution.

Aaron McGruder is the creator of the Boondocks, which is without a doubt the funniest, most politically insightful and subversive comic strip out today.


Kyle Baker is the author of Why I Hate Saturn, a superlative graphic novel in its own right, full of engaging and hilarious dialogue on topics ranging from the battle of the sexes, the interplay of race and culture, the limits of sanity and family loyalty, and why NY city pizza joints never give you enough napkins.

Reginald Hudlin is one of the Hudlin brothers, filmmaking duo behind Bebe's Kids, House Party, Boomerang, and most importantly (at least in my opinion) Cosmic Slop, an afro-futuristic film reminiscent of the Twilight Zone where Rod Serling-style segues are delivered by the ever-funky George Clinton's disembodied head.


Originally the Birth of a Nation project was conceived as a film, and I strongly suspect that it would have been more effective in that medium. But the story still works as a graphic novel, and is highly entertaining.

The graphic novel begins with the story of the predominantly-black city of East St. Louis where the citizens gradually come to the conclusion that their political rights and local concerns are not being respected by the U.S. government, so they choose to secede from the United States and found their own nation of Blackland (whose anthem can be sung to the theme music from Good Times). The rest of the novel deals with the struggles of the mayor/president as he tries to negotiate with and survive the powerful forces which threaten the new nation's existence, while keeping his integrity intact.

I thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novel and would heartily recommend it. My only reservation is that, in my opinion, it didn't live up to the heights I expected given the previous work of the individual creators on their own projects. But I would still look forward to any future collaborations from this team and hope their work spawns a new politically conscious direction in popular culture (film, comic books, etc.) much as BDP and Public Enemy sparked a stream of consciousness in hip-hop. Yeah Booooy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

victor hernandez cruz

I actually met Victor Hernandez Cruz once. A good friend of mine introduced us. I read him one of my poems and he told me he liked my stuff which made me smile for a good long time. :) His latest book Maraca, New and Selected Poems, 1966-2000 actually really fits in with Planet Grenada. I need to study him some more. I believe his wife is Moroccan and he has actually spent a certain amount of time living in the Middle East being influenced by Muslim culture. Even the title of his latest book is in part a pun (Maraca/Morocco) which plays with this link. One of the points he was trying to get across was that both the Caribbean and the Middle East are places where parallel mixings of different races and cultures took place.

In at least one interview he is quite explicit about these connections and influences:

VHC: There’s a Brazilian guy in Italy who wrote a thesis based on my work and sent it to me. He’s fascinated with Ginsberg and all the Beat stuff. I told him thank you, you know. But I didn’t like it much because it’s full of cliché. And there’s another guy, Francisco Cabanillas, who has done critical stuff about my work, a professor who’s writing some kind of book. Cabanillas comes closer to understanding what I'm doing, puts me in perspective with the literature of the island of Puerto Rico. But there are some things that I am about that critics tend to ignore.

turnrow: What are they missing?

VHC: For one example, no one has asked me about my influences from Islamic culture. I read the Islamic-Arabic philosophers, thinkers, poets.... About the fact that I lived in Morocco for a period of time and the effect that would have on my writing, the connections with Islam that I’ve seen in Spain. No critic has ever written about that.

I need to dive into Cruz's work alot more but at some points at least the connections are actually really obvious and explicit for example:


The revelation of the revelation
The secrets offered in rhythms
The truth of heaven entering through
Yourself runs into yourself
Through a crack of understanding
As if Falcons landed on a
shoulder of your thoughts
With a letter from your guardian
angel -
Like Carribean mambo dancers
The whirling dervishes go off
spinning into the arms of light
Across a floor of endless squares
and circles
Calligraphy brushed into tiles
Painted inside the names of God

arnaldo tamayo mendez

And if we are going to talk about Puerto Ricans on the moon, I feel ethnically obligated to mention that the first person of African descent in space, and the first Latino in space was the Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez. You can read a little more here and here

Actually, for a while now I've contemplated writing a poem about him but it seems hard to find really good source material that would help to flesh him out.

boricua en la luna

I don't know if there is actually a "Latino-futurism" movement, but if there is, this just might be one of its main texts. The last line of the piece, "I would be Puerto Rican, even if I was born on the moon" has become a powerful slogan for alot of folks, Nuyoricans especially. To be honest, I'm not sure how literally one can take that idea but I definitely think they should get a chance to make their case.

Actually, the site where I got this piece The Virtual Boricua has some pretty good resources in general and is worth exploring.

Anyway, without any further ado

Boricua en la Luna

Desde las ondas del mar
que son besos a su orilla,
una mujer de Aguadilla
vino a New York a cantar
pero no sólo a llorar
un largo llanto y morir.
De ese llanto yo nací
como en la lluvia una fiera.
Y vivo en la larga espera
de cobrar lo que perdí.

Por un cielo que se hacia
más feo que mas más volaba
a Nueva York se acercaba
un peón de Las Marías.
Con la esperanza, decía,
de un largo día volver.
Pero antes me hizo nacer
y de tanto trabajar
se quedó sin regresar:
reventó en un taller.

De una lágrima soy hijo
y soy hijo del sudor
y fue mi abuelo el amor
único en mi regocijo
del recuerdo siempre fijo
en aquel cristal de llanto
como quimera en el canto
de un Puerto Rico de ensueño
y yo soy puertorriqueño,
sin ná, pero sin quebranto.

Y el echón que me desmienta
que se ande muy derecho
no sea en lo más estrecho
de un zaguán pagua la afrenta.
Pues según alguien me cuenta:
dicen que la luna as una
sea del mar o sea montuna.
Y así le grito al villano:
yo sería boricano
aunque naciera en la luna.

Juan Antonio Corretjer

en cuba no falta nada

I'm in a poetic mood today so I'm going to put in a few poetry related entries. The first piece I'm not going to *actually* include here due to some of the language but I'm still going to put in the link. I actually have a really vivid and fond memory of my dad reading this piece to his friends at the Cuban barbershop we would go to on the Northside. Not only did I learn a few new words, but I think I also learned a little about how to put them

Monday, April 11, 2005

african islamic mission

A number of years ago I had heard (online) of a group called the African Islamic Mission. They were interesting to me at the time because they seemed to be concerned about the Black community without going to the extreme and narrow nationalism of certain other organizations. And they were intriguing because (like the Ansars) they believed the claims of Muhammad al-Mahdi from Sudan but at the same time they seemed mainstream and orthodox Sunni Muslims.

For a long time I've had the impression the group was relatively dormant, but just today I tried to find out more about them because they seem to fit in with the theme of Planet Grenada and found the following site.

I'm not certain what the group's current beliefs are. But judging from their website they seem to value unity and inclusion over orthodoxy (which certainly isn't the worst thing in the world but it means including some odd birds all under the same tent.) Nevertheless I'm eager to see how the movement grows and I hope they can do some positive things.

islam, prophet muhammad and blackness

This article by Zaid Shakir is shamelessly duplicated from Ginny's blog. And the piece is called Islam, Prophet Muhammad and blackness

It deals with several topics including positive linguistic uses of the term "black" in Muslim culture, some Islamic statements on human equality, and it gives several examples of "black" companions who were extremely close to the prophet.

last man to enter paradise

If God has a perfect sense of hearing (As-Sami) and a perfect sense of sight (Al-Basir) it shouldn't be hard to accept that he has a perfect sense of humor too. It is odd to me that many non-Muslims have the impression that Islam is a harsh, stark, cold, humorless religion where God is stern and unloving. To the contrary, God says "My mercy takes precedence over my wrath" and no one had to die on a cross before God would let himself forgive us. While on the other hand some Christian evangelicals emphasize the Bible teaching that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins", and as a result they turn God into some kind of Cosmic Shylock who is unwilling or unable to forgive without His pound of flesh.

The following is one of my favorite hadith. Don't tell anybody but it really moved me the first time I read a version of it, even in a poor English translation:

Narrated Ibn Mas'ud: Verily the Messenger of Allah said: The last to enter Paradise would be a man who would walk once, stumble once and be burnt by the Fire once. Then when he passes beyond it, he will turn to it and say: Blessed is He Who has saved me from thee. Allah has given me something He has not given to any one of those in earlier or later times.

Then a tree would be raised for him and he will say: O my Lord! Bring me near this tree so that I may take shelter in its shade and drink of its water. Allah, the Exalted and Great, would say: O son of Adam, if I grant you this, you will ask Me for something else. He would say: No, my Lord. And he would promise Him that he would not ask for anything else. His Lord would excuse him because He sees what he cannot help desiring; so He would bring him bear it, and he would take shelter in its shade and drink of its water. Afterwards a tree more beautiful than the first would be raised before him and he would say: O my Lord! Bring me near this tree in order that I may drink of its water and take shelter in its shade and I shall not ask Thee for anything else. He (Allah) would say: O son of Adam, if I bring you near it you may ask me for something else. He would promise Him that he would not ask for anything else. His Lord will excuse him because He sees something he cannot help desiring. So He would bring him near it and he would enjoy its shade and drink its water.

Then a tree would be raised for him at the gate of Paradise, more beautiful than the first two. He would say: O my Lord! Bring me near this (tree) so that I may enjoy its shade and drink from its water. I shall not ask Thee for anything else. He (Allah) would say: O son of Adam! Did you not promise Me that you would not ask Me for anything else? He would say: Yes my Lord, but I shall not ask Thee for anything else. His Lord would excuse him for He sees something the temptation of which he could not resist.

He (Allah) would bring him near it, and when He brings him near it he would hear the voices of the inhabitants of the Paradise. He would say: O my Lord! Admit me to it. He (Allah) would say: O son of Adam, what will bring an end to your requests to Me? Will it please you if I give you the whole world and a similar one with it? He will say: O my Lord! Art Thou mocking at me, though Thou art the Lord of the worlds?

Ibn Mas'ud laughed and asked (the hearers): Why don't you ask me what I am laughing at. They (then) said: Why do you laugh? He said: It is in this way that the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) laughed. They (the companions of the Holy Prophet) asked: Why do you laugh, Messenger of Allah? He said: On account of the laugh of the Lord of the universe, when he (the desirer of Paradise) said: Art Thou mocking at me though Thou art the Lord of the worlds? He would say: I am not mocking at you, but I have the power to do whatever I wish.
[Sahih Muslim, Vol. 1, #359, 361]

That just blows my mind. Even when you are in the fire, pray. Even when you have made promises to God and broken them, pray. But never despair of the mercy of Allah.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

eric robert rudolph

Well, Eric Robert Rudolph finally plead guilty in the case of the Olympic Park Bombing (along with other offenses).

An audio clip of the story from NPR can be found here

And a link to a decent article on the story can be found here

Of course it is rather cliche to point this out but it is "funny" that he has links to Christian Identity groups but he doesn't get called a "Christian terrorist" in the above pieces. I've heard that newspapers and tv/radio stations often have guidelines about this sort of thing (who is a "terrorist" as opposed to freedom fighter, insurgent, rebel, etc.) but I wonder what they are.

For what its worth, Wikipedia is willing to cite Eric Rudolph as an example of Christian terrorism. But I've seldom seen or heard those two words next to one another in other news media. I think the last time was many years ago when I read a newspaper article about a militant Christian group in Uganda. And the terminology "Christian terrorist" surprised me so much I clipped it out and saved it.

slave ships south

Slave ships landed south of the border
south of the border you know
bringing more than the rhythm of a drum and new shades of brown to Spanish skin.
slave ships landed South
trayendo mas que Tito tocando tambores
mas que Celia Cruz cantando canciones del corazon.
tambien trajeron a Maceo macheteando por montanas,
Albizu Campos cortando cana de libertad.
ships came bringing more than African noses to Olmec heads.
I think that more than kink came off the boat.
they came South, bringing thieves, ladrones like Guillen que cogio el
Castellano, who stole the Spanish from the Spaniards,
and later gave it b(l)ack to them.
ships landed South, bringing Yoruba to the tips of Taino tongues.
South, carrying strong hands that took earth from earth,
brought sea to sea,
splitting Panama in two down its middle.
They landed south of the border bringing more than Moors,
ships came, carrying gods in the cargo hold.
further south than Dixie
further south than soft cotton land,
cortaron cana,
dulce pero dura.
They travelled South, leaving a mark too dark for Spic and Span to wipe away.
El que no tiene de Dinga tiene de Mandinga
south, carrying orphans who have left their grandmothers on the shores of Africa.
Y tu abuela ... donde esta?
South, turning Brazil into Nigeria.
South, turning Cuba into the Kongo.
South to Borinken, Quisqueya, Mexico, Peru, Panama
They travelled south bringing more than the rhythm of a drum and new shades of brown.
But now we have to ask
Ahora que estamos en el Norte, ?que traemos?

April 30, 1993

Thursday, April 07, 2005

jimmy smits and the west wing

This is just an observation which occured to me a few months ago and now I thought I'd just write it down to get it out of my system. For years now, Martin Sheen (second interview) has been playing Josiah Bartlet, a descendant of one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence and Present of the United States on the NBC show The West Wing. And on the show, there have been more than a few interesting milestones in terms of the fictional U.S. Some which stand out are having the first Latino Supreme Court justice (played by Edward James Olmos) and a sexual romantic relationship between a black White House employee and the President's youngest daughter Zoe Bartlet.

This season the racial iconography reaches new heights. Actor Jimmy Smits plays Matthew Santos as the first serious Latino candidate for President of the United States, and in the season finale he wins the nomination for the Democratic party. The really ironic part of all this is that Martin Sheen (originally named Ramon Estevez) is *actually* Hispanic. So in a bizzarre twist, fans of the show have been watching a Hispanic man play the role of President for several years, but not until this latest season is when the idea of having a Hispanic president is explicitly addressed on the show.

I think this goes back to an earlier observation of how Latino (or Hispanic) is more of a space than a people. Jimmy Smits and Ramon Estevez (Martin Sheen) both come from the same "place" but Estevez is white (and has a certain invisibility), while Smits is mestizo. And so they arrive at different "positions" in the US racial paradigm.

Damn, I really need to reread Black Skin, White Masks

"sala de parejas"

Nothing Deep:
There is a show on Telemundo called Sala de Parejas which is a Spanish-language courtroom show with feuding couples. I only really caught the tail end of today's episode, but apparently the husband had been sleeping around, but then claimed to have converted to Islam and tried to defend his actions as polygamy. But when the judge asked him about other aspects of the religion, he really didn't seem to know anything. I was impressed. The show hovers somewhere above your typical scandal-mongering talk show, but the judge still made a point of saying that the husband was disrespecting Muslims and the Quran.

I wonder if polls have actually been taken to indicate how positively or negatively Latinos feel about Islam releative to other groups. Historically, Spanish identity was defined as a rebellion against a Moorish background and that might make one expect a strong anti-Islamic current. But still so much of Hispanic culture actually comes out of Muslim sources; words and phrases, architecture, music, etc. Perhaps one can even argue that "machismo" has historical connections to Muslim notions of gender (or they are both stereotypes which come from the same source).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

tuesday I had fruit loops

When I started this blog, I told myself that it wouldn't just be an online diary where I share the trivial and mundane details of my personal life with people who probably couldn't care less. I've seen blogs like that and some of them seem really boring. I didn't want to just have entries like: "Monday, I had Golden Grahams for breakfast. Tuesday, I had Fruit Loops. "

But recently a friend of mine suggested "maybe some of us would like to know what you had for breakfast!"

I'm not sure that I believe that, but I do think that it probably is sometimes hard to make a real sharp distinction between the strictly "personal" issues, and the larger "public" and "political" issues. History is just extended (auto)biography. And after all, these days even the question of whether you drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi is filled with political implications. So maybe I will be less "anonymous" and a little more forthcoming with personal details.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

the spiritual left

Here are two more interesting pieces on the overlap between Islam (or religion generally) and a left-of-center political perspective.

The first is called Islam and the Greens written by, Larry Rinehart, a Green Party member who is interested in
exploring coalitions between Greens and Muslims.

The other is a piece by Michael Lerner which was written in the wake of the last U.S. Presidential election and its called The Democrats Need a Spiritual Left.

Monday, April 04, 2005

what is progressive islam?

At this point, I'm not gung-ho about the particular organizations which are waving the banner of "Progressive Islam", but the following is a nice description by Omid Safi of at least what a "progressive Islam" would ideally strive for:

What is progressive Islam?

Islam And The Blackamerican: The Third Resurrection

jackson's book

Here's a book which I'm definitely putting on my shopping/reading list.

Editorial Review:
Sherman Jackson offers a trenchant examination of the career of Islam among the blacks of America. Jackson notes that no one has offered a convincing explanation of why Islam spread among Blackamericans (a coinage he explains and defends) but not among white Americans or Hispanics. The assumption has been that there is an African connection. In fact, Jackson shows, none of the distinctive features of African Islam appear in the proto-Islamic, black nationalist movements of the early 20th century. Instead, he argues, Islam owes its momentum to the distinctively American phenomenon of "Black Religion," a God-centered holy protest against anti-black racism. Islam in Black America begins as part of a communal search for tools with which to combat racism and redefine American blackness. The 1965 repeal of the National Origins Quota System led to a massive influx of foreign Muslims, who soon greatly outnumbered the blacks whom they found here practicing an indigenous form of Islam. Immigrant Muslims would come to exercise a virtual monopoly over the definition of a properly constituted Islamic life in America. For these Muslims, the nemesis was not white supremacy, but "the West." In their eyes, the West was not a racial, but a religious and civilizational threat. American blacks soon learned that opposition to the West and opposition to white supremacy were not synonymous. Indeed, says Jackson, one cannot be anti-Western without also being on some level anti-Blackamerican. Like the Black Christians of an earlier era struggling to find their voice in the context of Western Christianity, Black Muslims now began to strive to find their black, American voice in the context of the super-tradition of historical Islam. Jackson argues that Muslim tradition itself contains the resources to reconcile blackness, American-ness, and adherence to Islam. It is essential, he contends, to preserve within Islam the legitimate aspects of Black Religion, in order to avoid what Stephen Carter calls the domestication of religion, whereby religion is rendered incapable of resisting the state and the dominant culture. At the same time, Jackson says, it is essential for Blackamerican Muslims to reject an exclusive focus on the public square and the secular goal of subverting white supremacy (and Arab/immigrant supremacy) and to develop a tradition of personal piety and spirituality attuned to distinctive Blackamerican needs and idiosyncrasies.

And Here's the link to Amazon Books

I haven't read the book but parts of the above really ring true for me. There is a certainly evidence to back up the idea of a "Black religion" which exists as a common framework, a common set of concerns, which can bring Black Americans together across formal confessional differences. (For example, consider the positive feelings for Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan among Black Christians.)

The task remains, however, to make the connection between Islam and Black Religion (or Black life in general) explicit and conscious so that the relation between the two can be well-understood.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

the passing of the pope


Volume 2, Book 23, Number 399:
Narrated 'Abdur Rahman bin Abi Laila:
Sahl bin Hunaif and Qais bin Sad were sitting in the city of Al-Qadisiya. A funeral procession passed in front of them and they stood up. They were told that funeral procession was of one of the inhabitants of the land i.e. of a non-believer, under the protection of Muslims. They said, "A funeral procession passed in front of the Prophet and he stood up. When he was told that it was the coffin of a Jew, he said, "Is it not a living being (soul)?"

As most of the world knows, Pope John Paul II passed away yesterday. I'm not sure exactly how to think about it. I'm not Catholic so I don't have the sense of losing a religious leader. But as a Muslim I would have to say that it seems Pope John Paul II was a pretty good pope, as far as popes go. I mean, we have to understand that the job comes with certain parameters, so as long as he's the Pope we can't really expect him to reject fundamental Catholic doctrines like the Incarnation or the Trinity anytime soon(although we can always pray) But apart from those kinds of "constraints", John Paul II has actually had a rather positive attitude towards Islam.

For example, the above picture of the Pope kissing the Quran was taken when he visited and worshiped in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria where tradition says that the head of Yahya (John the Baptist) is buried. And the picture is actually really widespread on many of the ultra-traditional Catholic websites as proof that the pope was way out of bounds on a variety of issues. And I would argue that the fact that he made such a gesture of respect to Islam, especially when it alienated him from segments of his own flock speaks volumes.

And then of course under his tenure we have the Catholic Church's (admittedly slow in coming) apologies for the Crusades, the Inquisition (and other examples of violent oppression) along with the (much more timely) opposition to the Iraq War and supporting a more balanced perspective in the conflict over Palestine.

It all makes me want to say that John Paul II was the first "Muslim" Pope in the same spirit that some people say that Bill Clinton was the first Black President.


which is a perfect segue into the question of who is going to be John Paul's successor....

The next Pope will be chosen by near-ancient and traditional election process. And for a while there has been some discussion that the Nigerian Cardinal Frances Arinze would be a logical choice. Catholicism is dying in Europe and the church's center of mass has definitely been moving south towards Africa and Latin America. Choosing Arinze, an African from the developing world, as the first Black pope of modern times would be a powerful statement of the Church's shifting position in the world. In addition, the Church's relation to Muslim is more important in today's world and coming from Nigeria, a country with a large Muslim population, Arinze has had a non trivial record of inter-religious activity.

In any case, whether Arinze becomes the next pope or someone else, they will definitely have some big shoes to fill.

islam and punishment

following up on the discussion of corporal/capital punishment, a friend of mine pointed me to the following link with some interesting comments on the subject by Tariq Ramadan, along with some responses and commentary from others.

Friday, April 01, 2005

april fool's and the fall of granada

Given the date and the background concept for this blog I feel obliged to touch on the following topic:

Often around April 1st, some version of the following story circulates among Muslims on the internet. (Here's the one I got this year)


Most of us celebrate April fool day every year and fool each other. But how many of us know the bitter facts hidden behind it. It was around a thousand years ago that Spain was ruled by Muslims. And the Muslim power in Spain was so strong that it couldn't be destroyed. The Christians of the west wished to wipe out Islam from all parts of the world and they did succeed to quite an extent. But when they tried to eliminate Islam in Spain and conquer it, they failed. They tried several times but never succeeded. The unbelievers then sent their spies in Spain to study the Muslims there and find out what was the power they possessed and they found that their power was TAQWA . The Muslims of Spain were not just Muslims but they were practicing Muslims. They not only read the Quran but also acted upon it. When the Christians found the power of the Muslims they started thinking of strategies to break this power. So they started sending alcohol and cigarettes to Spain free of cost. This technique of the west worked out and it started weakening the faith of the Muslims in particular the young generation of Spain.

The result was that the Catholics of the west wiped out Islam and conquered the entire Spain bringing an end to the EIGHT HUNDRED LONG YEARS' RULE OF THE MUSLIMS in Spain. The last fort of the Muslims to fall was Grenada (Gharnatah), which was on the 1st of April. From that year onwards, every year they celebrate April fools day on the 1st of April, celebrating the day, they made a fool of the Muslims. They did not make a fool of the Muslim army at Gharnatah only, but of the whole Muslim Ummah.

We, the Muslims, were fooled by the unbelievers. They have a reason to celebrate April fool day, to keep up the spirit. Dear brothers and sisters, when we join in this celebration, we do so out of ignorance. If we had known about it, we would never have celebrated our own downfall. So now, that we are aware of it, and now let us promise that we shall never celebrate this day. We should learn our lesson from the people of Spain, and shall try to become practicing Muslims, never to let anybody weaken our faith.

Please forward this message to as many people you know. The more people you forward it to the greater will be the reward from your Lord in this world and the hereafter. Please try to do it before the 1st of April, to create awareness that WE ARE NOT FOOLS ANYMORE.

The funny thing about this story is that it is actually totally FALSE. One site where the story is debunked is here. And so in some weird post-modern way, the e-mail itself becomes an example of an April Fool's day prank being perpetrated on Muslims by Muslims.

I hate to say it but sometimes I get the feeling that as a group, Muslims need to develop a lot more critical-thinking and need to learn not to pass on everything we hear from so-and-so as the truth. As the saying goes: If a person repeats whatever he or she hears, that is sufficient for them to be considered a liar.

And there are some pretty spectacular examples of our (Muslims) capacity to pass on whatever we hear... except like a huge game of Telephone, the transmission isn't always perfectly clear.

One of my favorite examples is the story of how Neil Armstrong became Muslim. (He's not actually Muslim, at least not in the normal sense. And he and his press agents have had to go through a certain amount of effort to debunk that particular rumor.) Apparently what happened was that in an interview once, Neil Armstrong was commenting on the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) and remarked that it sounded "spacey" and somehow that got morphed into a nice (actually quite beautiful) story of how when he was up in space he heard this strange music he didn't recognize. And then much later, he happened to be visiting Cairo and again heard the same strange sounds, and he tracked the sound down and realized it was the adhan. And he was so inspired by the miracle that he was moved to become Muslim.

It is understandable that occasionally, honest mistakes get passed on and errors would get propagated. But the fact that many of these stories are repeatedly told and pervasively re-appear even after being debunked suggests that these aren't just simple mistakes, but that the stories get repeated because they fill some kind of need.

The Neil Armstrong story is just one of a genre (the false conversion story). Another similar account is the Jacques Cousteau conversion story. This one centers on the Quranic passage: "He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together: Between them is a barrier which they do not transgress." (55:19-20) which is taken to refer to some specific natural phenomena. And the claim is that Jacques Cousteau recognized this special phenomena as real and was so impressed by the Quran's scientific accuracy that he converted. Both accounts are similar in that they involve white Westerners in scientific fields.

Issues around science and technology, I think, hit a real nerve with some Muslims. Many Islamic apologetical books, articles and websites place a very strong emphasis on the presence of scientific content in the Quran. (For example, The Bible, Quran and Science by Dr. Maurice Bucaille) Such an approach is fine if it strengthens people's faith but personally, I feel that some people emphasize it out of proportion to its actual importance. The Quran is the word of God, so if the Quran talks about scientific matters we'd expect it to speak the truth, and it does, but I'm not sure that the early Muslims made all of the great sacrifices they made, just to give us a science textbook. The Quran, is primarily a source of guidance for how to live our lives, morally, ethically, spiritually, and its main function isn't to explain fetal development or planetary orbits.

I suspect that one reason why Muslims, especially non-Western Muslims really gravitate towards the scientific miracle approach to Islam is that in the wake of Western colonialism, the Muslim (i.e. non-Western developing) world lags behind the West technologically. In some contexts being Western is strongly overlaps with being scientific (mira', que los blancos inventan.) And given the dissonance of that situation, Muslims can gain some measure of comfort by thinking that in spite of the West's momentary technological edge, that in fact all the secrets of modern science were already a part of Islam's inheritance because they can be found in the Quran.

If we go even further back (to a place more fitting for this blog, and this entry in particular) it might be possible to trace this desire for scientific validation to the Andalusian syndrome. i.e. on a deep civilizational level, the ummah is still in a certain kind of trauma from the shock of loosing Andalusia (Islamic Spain, arguably the greatest symbol and proof of Muslim scientific achievement) along with the other loses which followed.

As a result, there is a special "need" being satisfied by stories which involve icons of the West (especially Western science) being reconquered by the Islamic world.

Along similar lines, a Muslim friend of mine once commented that very often Muslims seem to fawn over the average white convert and turn them into celebrities while overlooking and taking for granted many african-american muslims, even those of some learning. I guess people can decide for themselves if this rings true with their own experiences.



Another genre of story which often gets told and re-told among Muslims, and probably sometimes serves some kind of psychological need is the conspiracy theory. At one point in my life I would probably have had a more skeptical and negative attitude towards most such claims. But like the saying goes: Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Just think about it: In the last US presidential election, in some dark basement on Yale's campus, Skull and Bones celebrated the results several months before anybody else in the country (both Bush and Kerry are members of the secret organization)

Another disturbing nugget to chew on: Given all the things which the government admits to doing (involvement in the assassinations of Allende in Chile, Arbenz in Guatemala, the Tuskegee Experiment, COINTELPRO, etc.) what exactly are the secrets which they think the citizens are too fragile to handle?

I generally don't dwell on conspiracy theories. I wouldn't say they are central to my perspective. Specific claims need to be judged on their merits. But the fact is, the world isn't a democracy. Some people have more power over human lives than others, and some of these powerful people hang out.

"The rest", the names, the legends are smoke-and-mirrors. Whether these groups clothe themselves in an invented Indian past (like Michigamua or Skull and Bones) or an invented Muslim/Oriental past (the Shriners) or even a science fictiony "past" (the Vulcans). In the long run, it doesn't matter if there really is some smoke-filled room with some old white dudes who smoke cigars and plot on how to take over the world.

There is a certain fraction of the population with a great degree of power and influence. Judges, CEOs, senators, congressmen, media moguls, members of parliament, captains of industry, the owning class. Some of these powerful people were elected to their positions and are accountable to a constituency. Many are not. Some of these powerful people came from the same neighborhoods, went to the same schools, are members of the same organizations. Secret societies in elite colleges and universities are uniquely situated to find and identify people who are "going places" and hook them into a powerful network of associations. These networks clearly exist and have an impact and constitute a departure from egalitarian values.

That's the reality which we would be fools to ignore.