Tuesday, March 29, 2005

johnnie cochran died today

I guess it must be synchronicity. Just earlier this afternoon I was thinking about the death penalty and the criminal justice system. In principle, I'm certainly not opposed to the death penalty. Every once in a while out there in the world we can read about individuals who are so evil that they most definitely lose their I'm- a- decent- human- being- who- should- be- given- the- benefit- of- the- doubt- id- card.

At the same time, the criminal justice system (I always have "trouble" trying to diagram that phrase) is clearly perverted by classism and racism. An adequate defense is often only available to those who can afford it. And there have been far too many people wrongly convicted of crimes they didn't commit and even put on death row. (Only recently, some have been released due to DNA evidence or other forms of new information). Several years ago, Illinois wisely decided to put a moratorium on the death penalty, and hopefully more states will follow suit, at least until the deeper problems can be adequately addressed.

Which brings us to Johnnie Cochran; who came to national prominence in the OJ Simpson trial by proving to the country that a rich Black man's money can buy justice as easily as a rich white man. It's not exactly Martin Luther King's dream, but sadly enough, it actually represents progress.

(Recently, a white acquaintance of mine was telling me that just a few years ago when a rich black family tried to build a house in his affluent suburb, the construction site was subjected to arson 3 times to prevent the neighborhood from integrating)

Cochran continued to gain fame by defending several famous, and even iconic, black men, like P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Todd Bridges, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, and most significantly Geronimo Ji Jagga Pratt (the former Black Panther, and political prisoner who fell victim to Hoover's COINTELPRO and spent nearly 27 years wrongfully imprisoned for murder until he was released, in part, due to Cochran's efforts. Ironically, Cochran actually participated in Pratt's unsuccessful defense the first time around. And even more ironically, part of his alibi which proved his innocence was the fact that government officials had him under surveilance at the time and knew that he wasn't anywhere near where the crime was commited)

Anyway, with Johnnie Cochran gone, it will be just a little harder for the brothers to get a fair trial in court. He will definitely be missed.


Monday, March 28, 2005

not spiritual but religious

If spirituality is significant and objective.. if spirituality represents a real dimension of human existence, and isn't just make-believe, if living with integrity, compassion, patience, and hope are worth anything, then we ought to take seriously the task of becoming a good human being. We ought to take it as something real. San Francisco is a real city. And so if you want to go from Chicago to San Francisco, you don't just go any which way. There might be more than one way to get there, but some ways will work, and some ways won't. If the spiritual path has a real "geography" to it, then to go from A to B, we will need a map, proper equipment and a guide.

In our secular society, alot of people are very willing to blame religion for many of the problems in society. But you could do alot worse things with your time than regular go to a building, or read from some book, or hang out with some people who remind you not to lie, cheat and steal. The alternative to organized religion is disorganized religion, or none at all.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

day after day after day...

Recently, I've been thinking a little more about the nature of time, and the irony of my father passing on Easter last year.

One of the most meaning-packed holidays on the Islamic calendar must be the celebration of Ashurah (literally means "ten") which is celebrated on the 10th day of the first month of the year.

For Shia Muslims in particular, it marks one of the saddest events in Muslim history, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson Hussein (ra).

From authentic Sunni sources, the day marks the day God rescued Moses and his people from pharaoh. So in some respects it is similar to Passover. But on the other hand, like Yom Kippur, it is celebrated with fasting, and occurs on the 10th day after the start of the New Year, and is also associated with the idea of receiving forgiveness for the sins of the previous year.

In addition, some less authentic accounts, also associate this day with other examples of Allah's mercy to us throughout history.

According to one account taken indirectly from a work by Abdul-Qadir Jilani:

Ashura is a day of great historical significance. On this day: Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) accepted the repentance of Sayyidina Adam ('Alaihis-Salaam) after his exile from Paradise; Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) saved Sayyidina Nuh ('Alaihis-Salaam) and his companions in the ark; Allah extinguished the fire in which Sayyidina Ibrahim ('Alaihis-Salaam) was thrown by Nimrod; And Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) spoke directly to Sayyidina Musa ('Alaihis-Salaam) and gave him the Commandments. On this same 10th of Muharram, Sayyidina Ayyub ('Alaihis-Salaam) was restored to health (from leprosy); Sayyidina Yusuf ('Alaihis-Salaam) was reunited with his father Ya’qub ('Alaihis-Salaam); Sayyidina Yunus ('Alaihis-Salaam) was taken out from the belly of the fish; and the sea was divided as the nation of israel was delivered from captivity and pharaoh’s army was destroyed. ‘Ashura is also the day when Sayyidina Dawud ('Alaihis-Salaam) was forgiven; the kingdom of Sulaiman ('Alaihis-Salaam) was restored; Sayyidina Isa ('Alaihis-Salaam) was raised to Jannah and Sayyidina al-Husayn (Radiyallahu 'anh) (the Holy Prophet’s, Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam, grandson) achieved the honor of Martyrdom.

So by including Jesus' ascension as well in the collection of meanings, Ashura becomes like a kind of Easter (and in yet other accounts, a Christmas), in addition to Passover and Yom Kippur. Taken together, the result is a beautiful and multi-layered concept for a holiday, whether all those events actually happened on the same date or not. Mercy is mixed with tragedy, sweetness with sorrow. And when we understand the way of the world, it helps us to take it all in stride.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

laughing lions

[Here is an excerpt from The Forbidden Dialogues by Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison, the section is originally called "a new breed". This is probably the least analytical and most lyrical and moving passage in the book, although I'm not certain how I feel about the last paragraph. There are some interesting connections between this book, the League of the Blackstone, Aisha Bewley (a scholar whose page I've linked to), Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi and the Murabitun movement (which is really active in Spain and Mexico among other places). The Murabitun movement is the common denominator and as far as I can tell they seem to have a decent program which is doing some positive things. They are promoting a traditional approach to islam, with a healthy respect for sufism, they are fluent with western culture, they have a specific political program, and they are comfortable with pan-africanism. That's not to say they are perfect. No group is, and the Murabitun certainly have their reasonable critics. But compared to a number of groups out there, I like them more than not.]

By now it should be clear that the purpose of this book is not to offer an alternative response to the dilemma of the black man in Europe and America who finds himself alienated from his African roots, but to give notice of an event. It announces the advent of a new breed who have overcome the diseased psychology of ressentiment and who have unearthed from beneath layers of deliberate distortion and concealment the hidden keys to the recovery of a complete and genuine Islam without whose vital contribution there can be no effective unlocking of our human predicament. These keys are the spiritual sciences of Tassawwuf which reveal the true human being, and the Madinan civic patterns which have revealed the politically explosive economics of open trade.

They have already begun to share these knowledges with those of their Muslim and non-Muslim counterparts across Europe, Africa and America and the message is invariably well received by those who have retained enough command over their intellectual integrity and independence not to have succumbed to the emotional prejudices and conditioning generated by the misleading dialectics of race and religion. So the fuse is lit and it is now simply a question of time.

Their deen does not belong to the category of corrupt Islamic regimes which terrorise the ordinary people caught in their grip, nor is it that of the young black men dressed according to Arab or Pakistani tradition or in the specially customised variations which have become common sights on the streets of New York and London. You will not find them haranguing passers-by on street corners. You will not find them gratuitously attacking their own people verbally or otherwise, Muslim or not.

Their purpose is to bring to bear by the best means at their disposal the benefits of the knowledge and the political significance of the spirituality they themselves have come to embody by virtue of their overcoming of the distortions and contradictions resulting from the historical departure of the inward spiritual path (tassawwuf) from the limits of outward behavior which had always contained it (the shari'ah). This has led to the dismissal of sufism by the shari'ah to the shari'ah's own detriment since it is left distorted and disabled by the rejection of it's most vital internal organ, while the sufis for their part recoil from what they see as this limping deformity which cannot possibly be what Islamic shari'ah is supposed to stand for.

These new men have emerged neither as devotees of an unrestrained sufi mysticism, nor as men of a shari'ah reduced to the rigid fundamentalism of mullahs and terrorists. Rather, they have emerged through a middle way resulting in a breed of men whose form is superior to both of the previous alternatives. They are men of Allah, men of pure deen, laughing lions who have sat with vigorous appetites at well laid tables where masters have served them with the best of Tassawwuf. They have eaten every dish and the essential nourishment, finally back where it belongs, has fed their hearts and suffused itself throughout their limbs, eliminating along the way any waste matter or useless residues.

Their demeanor is urbane and self-assured. They value intelligence, courtesy, trustworthiness, courage, loyalty, sincerity and generosity above all other personal qualities. They disdain all forms of vulgarity or whatever lacks dignity and they do not suffer patiently the prevarications of the fainthearted. The inner path of their deen takes them on a journey of genuine transformation by tasting of the inwardly hidden realities and knowledges which alone can bring true mastery over the self and freedom from fear and anxiety with respect to confronting the world and the powers that claim to govern it in defiance of the Power that is the origin of all power. This is the import of Tassawwuf when it lies at the heart of Islam and without which the results is the familiar hollowness of organised religion, a sad deformity, a body without a soul.

This new breed have surpassed the familiar melancholic song of the African Diaspora whose melody floats lost between Africa, the Americas and Europe. Historical destiny has taken them on two journeys and his delivered them to their appointed places. They have surpassed the values of survival and resistance, they are not concerned with that or with fighting for rights, and they have surpassed the politics of race and religion in favor of a life transaction based upon harmony with the natural order of the universe and the Lord of the Worlds. They are the songmasters of a new spirit and they sing to a score written and orchestrated since before endless time by the Unifier of existence. Their voice is the voice of Overman culture which sings of the transvaluation of values and the arrival of the heralds of a New Wave. From the heart of Europe and across the Americas they sing the will to power of Marcus Garvey, they sing the ultimate song of Hajj Malik al Shabazz, they sing the battle cries of Nietzsche, Wagner and Pound, and they sing the searching flights of John Coltrane for a Love Supreme. They sing the strains of spiritual home-coming.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday

[...] they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah.;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Quran 4:157 (Yusef Ali translation)

For a long time now it has occured to me that the Islamic concept of the non-crucifixion seems almost like an inversion of the doctrine of transubstantiation. The Catholics say that even though it looks like wine and crackers, the substance underneath the appearance is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Quran says that even though it looked like the body and blood of Jesus Christ was up there on the cross, in reality, underneath the appearance, something else was going on entirely.

Sometimes modern-day evangelicals and anti-Muslim missionaries will dismiss the non-crucifixion without any consideration, but it is interesting to note that even before the revelation of the Quran, several different ancient Christian groups also had radically different understandings of what happened on Good Friday which might also be considered "non-crucifixions".

The followers of the 'heretic' Basilides taught that Simon Peter took Jesus' place on the cross. (And in the Gospel of Barnabas, an interesting but highly flawed document, after Jesus prays for the cup to be taken from him, Judas miraculously is made to appear like Jesus and is crucified in his place) Adoptionists taught that Jesus' essence or power left his body so that he never really experienced death (those who take this view argue that this gives the real meaning of "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"). According to the Acts of John, Jesus appears to John in a cave at the same time that the crowds believe he is up on the cross. And some of the Gnostic groups questioned whether Jesus had a flesh-and-blood body to begin with. The idea that Jesus only "appeared" to die on the cross (or that he only "appeared" to have a body) is called Docetism, and this concept had many varied expressions in early Christianity. The Gospel of Peter (which in many respects is quite similar to the canonical gospels, was also excluded from the Bible specifically because of alleged docetic tendancies.

Some of these theories make more sense than others, but I tend not to hang my hat on any one in particular. As the Quran says: those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow.

From a certain point of view, Islam has benefitted greatly by not insisting on using Greek philosophy to do its theology. Instead of trying to describe the abstract mysteries of what happened or didn't happen, it sticks to the concrete. You may think that he died, but your eyes sometimes lie to you. And things aren't always as they seem. Even when it comes to saying who is alive (in reality) and who is dead (in reality). More than that leads down to the road of angels-on-pinhead-counting.

[2.154] And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead; nay, (they are) alive, but you do not perceive.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Forbidden Dialogues

One of my favorite books is "The Forbidden Dialogues : The Impact of Islam on the Future of the African Diaspora" by Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison. I sometimes think it's the kind of book which would have written by Malcolm X if he had lived (and gone to grad school). The "dialogues" in the title were an actual series of discussions held in England among the community of young Black intellectuals on issues related to Pan-Africanism, although Ibrahim-Morrison doesn't pretend to transcribe or even represent the full range of opinions of the various groups. The dialogues were only a starting point, and Ibrahim-Morrison really just spreaks from his own unique perspective as a Muslim, with strong Garveyite leanings.

One of the many things I find refreshing about the book is that it is a book by a Muslim, who deals unapolegetically with racial issues from a Black perspective, but without getting into the-white-man-is-a-blue-eyed-devil mess of some organizations, and on the other hand, without retreating to just a vague in-Islam-we-are-all-the-same-and-equal-just-like-Malcolm X-at-hajj approach.

The book really explores the situation of young educated Afro-Caribbeans (especially in England but the conclusions are still relevant to others) from an Islamic perspective.
Check it out

(When I have more time I'll add my favorite passage from the book)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

perfect for this blog


Secret CIA Map indicating the location of the Taliban

Latino 2

Of course, just because Latino is a space, an area code, an address, rather than a people doesn't mean that certain forms of solidarity can't occur. Of course, the non-white, Spanish-speaking (or Spanglish-speaking, or Spanish-accent-having) salsa-eating-and-dancing folks who live in the United States and trace the roots back to Latin America will tend to have common experiences, will tend to understand one another, will tend to have common interests and agendas.

But peoplehood can't be taken for granted.

The most recent time I was sharply reminded of this fact when I was at a surprise birthday party (actually half-birthday) for a friend of mine and was introduced to a Peruvian classmate of hers. I guess she introduced us to one another because we would presumably have a little more in common... and we did in the sense that we both spoke Spanish, but on the other hand, he was also a white Jewish man married to a Jewish woman, and we talked about how they were thinking of moving to a new town so they could put their child in a Jewish school. And here I am, an Afro-Hispanic Muslim with a different constellation of concerns and interests.

Even though we were both definitely Latino, there was no real sense of "Latino solidarity" and we shared little beyond a common language our common humanity, and a mutual friend. That didn't mean we had to be enemies. But any friendship would have to be based on some other foundation besides Latin peoplehood.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


It is common for "Latino" to be constructed as a racial identity alongside (or in opposition to) "Black", "Asian" , "white" or "Native American" but in reality this is more than a bit misleading. Aside from the usual objections that race is a social construction anyway, Latin America is a place more than a people. It's not just a magical land where Latinos come from and spring out of the earth (although some indigenous groups do have that as part of their founding myth). Instead, Latin America is a space where different people come and meet, and a certain dynamic can play itself out. For example, Cuba, before the Revolution was segregated not unlike the US. In fact, it was proverbially, if not literally true, that there were country clubs so exclusive that Batista, the mulatto dictator of the country couldn't get into. In Mexico there are conflicts between the "white" rulers and the "Indian" Zapatistas in Chiapas. etc. Using "Latino" as a racial category is a blanket which covers over these differences. When in reality, "Latino" is more like an address.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Afrofuturism / Rebirth of a Nation

The journal Callaloo, recently issues a call for papers on Afrofuturism which described the movement as follows:

"Afro-Futurism is an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy and magic realism with non-Occidental cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. Examples of seminal Afro-Futuristic works include the novels of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; the vibrant, frenetic canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the provocative photography of Rene Cox; as well as the extraterrestrial mythos of Parliament-Funkadelic and Sun Ra, and the recombinant sonic texts of Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky."

I think it will take some time for me to elaborate my thoughts on Afrofuturism as whole, anything I would say now would just be the tip of the iceberg. But I remember being pleasantly shocked and amazed to discover that a conscious movement existed along these lines because it seemed to sum up many of the creative goals which I try to achieve in my own poetry. (O.k. let me not front, I'm just a Black Trekkie trying to sound deep... lol). But I really can identify several of the "afrofuturist" themes in my poetry and I wonder what's the best way to come to terms with that fact. (Should I merely note the co-incidence and ignore the movement, or is it worthwhile to stop and actually explore this line alot further?)

In any case, once the label exists, it seems to open up a fissure where we can start to ask a whole series of questions. Is there a distintively Black attitude towards computers and technology? Can you build a ghetto/barrio in cyberspace? Is it possible to keep it "virtually real"? Why does science fiction seem like such a predominantly white genre? In many imaginings of the future (for example, even the Bahai faith's) humanity will be united and mixed in a kind racism-free wonderland. So will there still be Black people in a bazillion years? Why do most of the aliens on Star Trek look like white people with silly putty on their faces? And the list goes on. Much of the identity politics engaged in by people of African descent involves looking back to some idealized possibly mythical African past. So what will it mean to be Black in the future?

One of, if not the, the most important things I took away from Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth is the idea that culture is something living and dynamic. Fanon gives the example of the colonized intellectual who goes to Europe and feels inferior, but then has a counter-reaction where they embrace a fossilized folkloric static idea of their own culture. They wear certain clothes. And practice certain rituals. And eat certain foods. Because "these are the traditions of my people" but in reality "the people" have already moved on to something new. It's not about wearing dashikis because the ancestors used to. The trick is to just live with "the people" and then do whatever makes sense. And remember change is a part of life.


I recently saw DJ Spooky perform "Rebirth of a Nation" which was a modern reply to D.W. Griffiths racist, but cinematically important silent film "Birth of a Nation" about the Civil War Reconstruction, and the Birth of the KKK. (Scenes from the original film were distilled, repeated, edited, combined with superimposed computer-generated images, and throughout "That Subliminal Kid" (another monicker of Miller's) was dj-ing on stage. The new film began with a sequence combining images of flags from all over the world juxtaposed to interesting political effect.

But that leads me to the most disturbing realization I had while watching the film: If I take "North" and "South" out of their normal context within United States history and instead think of "North" and "South" on the global scale, then all my normal associations of heroism and villany get overturned. So is the film really about the United States, racism and slavery or is it about nationalism and globalization in the contemporary world?

The global South is obviously being exploited by the global North and probably should "secede" in different ways (i.e. reclaim and maintain their autonomy in the interests of their citizens). Globalization really does threaten an older, traditional (possibly more humane ways of life. This is exemplified in the recent concept of Jihad vs. McWorld where "jihad" isn't specifically Islamic but also includes other struggles in many parts of the world towards local control and autonomy (whether in the Basque region of Spain, the nationalist struggles in the former Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union, or anywhere else on Earth).

It was honestly a bit disturbing (in a good sense) to see DJ Spooky play around with those associations of "North" and "South". It makes me want to get a new compass.

canary in a coal mine

I have been thinking back to a talk I saw by Lani Guiner where she had a very intriguing take on affirmative action. She claimed that women and people of color or other oppressed groups are more vulnerable in institutional settings. And so if there is a problem where the institution isn't properly serving all its members, if there is a "toxicity" to the environment, in reality everyone is affected. But women and people of color will feel the brunt first. And so when these groups agitate for change, its not just a request for some kind of special status, in reality, its a sign that there is something wrong overall. And when the basic concerns of women and people of color are addressed, in reality, it makes the environment better off for everyone.

It is an interesting idea, I just wish it could be implemented without the brids suffocating.

light as a feather...

I never realized until recently just how deeply a current of internalized institutional racism runs through some liberal organizations.

The analogy which makes the most sense to me is to the party game of "light as a feather, stiff as a board". I've never actually played the game, but from what I've heard, what happens is that in a group of about 20 people or so, the lightest person in the room would lie on the floor, flat on their back, "stiff as a board". Everyone else would kneel down around this person and each would place a single finger underneath the person's body and as a group chant "light as a feather, stiff as a board" over and over again, while gently lifting the person. And if there are enough people then the work can be divided by so many people that it almost feels like they are levitating the person with little or no strain.

If you have a large enough community or organization where many of the members are unconsciously a "little bit" racist, the effects can still add up. You can have a system where each individual is unaware of the ways in which they contribute to the problem, but still, everyone does their part to make the system hard to change.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Latinos and Islam

The relation between Latino history and Islam is an interesting one to consider. Alot more research could bear to be done on the topic. The interaction is complex and multilayered. On the one hand, Spain itself was a Muslim country for ceveral centuries, which certainly left its mark on subsequent Spanish culture and learning. The Spanish language itself has many loan-words from Arabic.

But then at the same time, the founding myth for Spanish identity is wrapped up in opposition to the Moorish culture. The Reconquista the Inquisition. "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue". The same year marked the expulsion of the Jews and the Muslims from Christian Spain and into the Ottoman Empire.

Islam also has some connections with the non-Spanish roots of Latino people. When people like Ivan Van Sertima suggest that there were groups who discovered the Americas before Columbus, typically the candidates are from Muslim civilizations. And so some researchers in this area have pointed to evidence which seems to suggest an early Muslim presence among the Indians of North America (for example, place names like T-ALLAH-assee, Florida.

Then on top of that, many of the slaves brought into Latin America from Africa, originated in Muslim areas of Africa. And so, for instance, in "Islam, Black Nationalism and Slavery" we can read about how for a time, many of the slaves in Brazil were taken from Muslim areas and fought jihads to gain their freedom. This gave the "owners" so much trouble that significantly stopped importing Muslim slaves.

So, from three different directions Latinos have organic connections to Islam. (well, you wouldn't have guessed that if you went by how much chorizo gets eaten.)

Muslim Poetry (Suheir Hammad)

I love Suheir Hammad. I love her voice (on the page). She strikes the right tone, or at least one I would like to emulate in my own writing. The famous Muslim writers of the past, like Rumi and Hafiz seem to have written from the top of the mountain. They have walked the path and reached the destination and now they are showing us the slide show. (Not that they didn't come back with gorgeous pictures, but still it's hard to relate if you haven't seen the Grand Canyon yet.) And much of modern religious Muslim poetry is quite pietistic, and comes out more like rhymed sermons. (Not that we don't need to hear more sermons but they don't really satisfy a distinct need for poetry). But Suheir is different. She's experienced much, but takes us with her. Her words aren't so much sermons, but quiet night-time conversations on a porch. She has the most beautiful 9/11 poem called "first writing since" and an amazing collection of other pieces called "Born Palestinian, Born Black" which is out of print last time I check but might be available in used bookstores.

What I like about her writing is that it is current, casual, colloquial, spiritual but not preachy, politically engaged but also human and concrete. Alot of the material reflects her Arab/Muslim family background but it doesn't beat you over the head with it.

To be honest, I'm not sure where she is exactly in terms of her individual religious commitments. In fact, I'm not sure that she does either. but at the same time, her honest doubt and self-reflection is something which the Muslim community (whether poetic or otherwise) could use some more of.

It will at least be interesting when there are more Muslim poets who get down from the pulpit and find multiple vantage points from which to speak. Even if its the bedroom as in Mohja Kahf's love poem "More than one way to break a fast" (I just love the title)

That's it for now

Progressive Islam?

I've read the book Progressive Islam, edited by Omid Safi and I've occasionally looked at the "Progressive Muslim" website called Muslim Wake Up! and I'm both encouraged, excited and concerned by the idea of "Progressive Muslims". On the one hand, especiialy after the Muslim endorsement of Bush back in 2000, which made me worry that political conservatives had hijacked Islam in America. So it was a breath of fresh air to find that there was actually a movement of Muslims who did have a progressive political vision and had a beautiful conception of Islam as a positive force for change in the world. An Islam which was opposed to sexism and racism. An Islam concerned with social justice the needs of the oppressed. A liberation theology which would reform individuals and communities to their full humanity. A slave to no one but Allah.

On the other hand, at least a few of the people who seem to wave the banner of "progressive Islam" seem to be taking some positions which have the potential to be corrosive to faith.

I think part of the difficulty in talking about these issues is that "progressive" is too big an umbrella and can't really define a unified group.

For example, it might be illuminating to distinguish between Muslims who find traditional approaches to Islam deeply flawed and in need of reform (e.g. those who want to significantly change the role of hadith or the traditional schools/madhabs) and those who find the traditional religious foundation to be basically sound but are also motivated by certain political commitments.

[It might not always be useful to make comparisons to other religions but I imagine the distinction I am trying to draw here somewhat like the distintion between Protestant "reformers" who rejected the authority of the Church and between those Catholics who basically accept traditional forms but who have a religious-inspired concerned for social justice.)

Another interesting book along these lines is: The Final Imperative: An Islamic Theology of Liberation by Shabbir Akhtar Which is more a defense of political engagement in general, than a defense of a particular perspective on the political spectrum but is a good short read nonetheless.

In any case, the important question we have is whether being a "progressive Muslim" necessarily means making compromises with orthodoxy. For the moment, I would say no, and that it is possible to combine the two consistently. But it is definitely a question which bears to be asked again from time to time.

Palm Sunday

So today is Palm Sunday. I've sometimes wondered how to think of the difference between Islam and Christianity on this point. Both in the Hegira to Medina, and then the Return to Mecca, Muhammad (saaws) was able to have a triumphal entry without a crucifixion. Not that sacrifices weren't made, but that a community was actually established and managed to persist and grow, despite certain significant setbacks, without Muhammad facing the kind of dramatic violent gory death experienced by others. A state was established, tribes were brought in. And after the passing of the prophet, the community was lead by "rightly-guided" successors.

In the case of Christianity, the true kingdom of God never materialized on earth as a living community. Or at least, that seems to be the thinking of most of the Christian groups around today. The Roman Empire was the dominant political order. The Jewish institutions and leadership had a measure of influence underneath them. It wasn't till later (Constantine I believe) that Christianity had a government and by that point it had already gone radically off track anyway.

I wonder if it is appropriate to introduce the prophet's grandson Hussein (as) into the equation. Muhammad (saaws) had the triumphal entry but Hussein was beheaded and his death is remembered in vivid passion plays.

What is it about the world that it needs to assassinate its truth-tellers. The world can't allow them to live. John the Baptist (as), Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Lincoln, Gandhi, etc.. (I'm going to stop before including 2Pac and Biggie.. to paraphrase Chris Rock "They didn't get assassinated. Them two n****** got shot")

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Gentle Bahai

There was an episode of the Simpson's which showed the Flander's kids playing a video game where they had to convert non-Christians by shooting them. Zap! And the shirtless (or possibly turbaned) heathens got converted and suddenly appeared in suits and ties. "Look, the gentle Bahai!" says Lisa. Before he too gets zapped by the Flader's evangelical ray gun.

I've been thinking about the Bahai faith alot these days. I'm not sure I can sum up all of my thoughts in a single entry. I think that overall, the Bahais I've met are well-intentioned and polite people. But at the same time they actually do have a plan to take over the world. It's kind of weird, I don't want to sound like some crazy fundamentalist who can't quite decide if the anti-Christ will come from the Vatican or the UN. But the Bahais actually do have a vision for the future involving a one world government based on Bahai principles. And they are gradually taking steps to try to make that vision a reality.

It's great news if you are Bahai. But it is less clear what it will mean for the rest of us.

And what is more than a bit disturbing is the complex Bahai attitude towards Islam. On the one hand, the Bahais actually grew out of Persian Muslim roots. They claim to believe in Muhammad (saaws) and the Quran, and even the 12 Shii imams. So it would almost be natural to expect them to believe many of the same things which traditional Muslims believe. But then they say that the validity of Islam expired in 1844 with the coming of the Bab.

So in the Bahai view, Islam, like all religions, like spoiled milk, has an expiration date.

On top of that, there are some uncanny parallels between the Bahai relation to Islam, and the Christian relation to Judaism. Islam and Judaism are each the older religion, with a rich sense of tradition and ritual. The Bahai faith and Christianity are in certain respects less strict. And these latter religions both have a kind of replacement theology, where they claim to co-opt or invalidate what came before. Another aspect is that as upstart faiths, Christianity and the Bahai were both persecuted at their outset by Jews and Muslims respectively. So the founding story of the Bahai faith (which will presumably be told over and over again to generations of Bahais) involves stories of martyrdom and opposition at the hands of Muslims. And so just as Christian theology and narratives (as pointed out in the recent contraversy over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ) have fueled anti-semitism through the centuries, it would not be surprising to me if at some future point in time, assuming the Bahai faith spreads and grows, Bahais would also round up Muslims on trains and put them in ovens.

Not that the Bahai faith would necessarily endorse the practice, but in the sense that groups of Bahais who didn't live up to the true ideals of their faith might take matters in their own hands. Actually, already in Babi/Bahai history, members of the faith took up arms and tried to over throw the Iranian government (also without the approval of the leaders). So the bleak scenario suggested above wouldn't be too surprising.

In da club...

I have to ask myself why I react or feel the way I do when I see other Muslims doing things that I myself do. It gets complicated. Part of it is a certain amount of disappointment. Here is this beautiful deen, and sometimes I struggle with it. But then here are some people who are raised with it and they don't appreciate what they have.

From another perspective, however, we all struggle with it, we all have to do that internal jihad and do the things we know we should be doing, and avoid the things we know we shouldn't be doing. And that situation is the same whether you are raised in a Muslim home or whether you converted.

It's kind of funny though. I've often thought that I'm glad I was raised Christian, and travelled on the train (of thought) I've been on and found my way to Islam. I could totally imagine that if I had been raised Muslim, in the United States, especially in certain schools of "thought", I might have converted to Christianity!

Easter Memories

My father died last year. The anniversary is approaching soon. Technically it was on Easter (Saturday after sunset). The irony was definitely not lost on me.

Time has gone by very quickly. It doesn't feel like a year. It still feels like... a little while ago.


Friday, March 18, 2005

politics of prayer

This issue of whether a woman can lead a prayer is interesting. It taps into a number of other questions. For example, what is the political content of the prayer anyway? What does leading a prayer mean? What does following the leader (imam) mean?

More generally there is this whole question of how traditional religious understandings interact with modern sensibilities. How spirituality and piety interact with political concerns.

take a step to the left

I've been thinking about the role of religion and politics/economics these days.

At one point I remember thinking that Islam in certain respects seems leftist. Or to be more precise, it is critical of capitalism in a deep way. I mean, there are too many ethical constraints on the uses and abuses of wealth for anyone to say with a straight face that Islam gives unqualified suport to a laissez faire economy or gives unfettered freedom to the market. There are rules against charging interest, on hoarding wealth, on price gouging, limitations on sharecropping, on the uses of natural resources. etc. Not all economic behavior between consenting adults is permitted. One of the 5 pillars of the religion is a wealth redistribution program. Ramadan is a month-long reminder on the plight of the hungry. The Eids come with their obligation to feed the hungry as well. The money that we "have" isn't really ours anyway. It is just a trust, and we are accountable to God for what we do with it.

And then on top of that, due to "recent" historical events, the Muslim world has been very much on the receiving end of colonialism, globalization, and the modern manifestations of McWorld.

In varied ways, Muslims suffer from imposed identities. Where that could mean "Russian" (instead of Chechen) or "Chinese" (instead of Ughyar) or "Filpino" (instead of being from Mindanao) or "Indian" (instead of Kashmiri) etc. Instead of naming themselves and defining an autonomous existence they/we are being defined by others. It seems like an all-too-common story.

Islam is almost perfectly suited and situated to be the ultimate liberation theology, not just in terms of its principles but in terms of its demographics.

In terms of economic principles it would strive to moderate the excesses of capitalism. And in national struggles it can be a strong force for unity and solidarity.

So why should progressive Islam be so contraversial in some circles?

Some elements of the Muslim community are conservative, but it isn't exactly clear to me where their attitudes and beliefs are grounded. In the US presidential election before last, a coalition of Muslim organizations actually endorsed Bush ?!?! But in the election before, Clinton was the most popular candidate among Muslims. And actually, in both of the last two elections, Nader did rather well with Muslims.

The factors which conceivably played a part in all this are varied. Perhaps some wealthy immigrant Muslims were simply voting their pocketbooks and went Republican. Perhaps they believed the family values rhetoric. Anti-Semitism against Gore's choice of Lieberman as a running mate played no small roll. Perhaps a naiveness about how America treats non-white immigrants was also an issue. Allegedly one factor was that in one of the debates, Bush made a few comments suggesting that he was going to address the secret evidence laws, while Gore was relatively silent on the issues. And so somehow by some bizzare "thought" process some came to the conclusion that the Republican party would best defend their civil rights... go figure. Of course many African-American Muslims generally voted Democratic and in the wake of the umbrella endorsement of Bush, Black Muslims founded a few progressive Muslim political organizations to express dissent.

But this is all a rehash. But in the future I think it still remains an open question how the Muslims will fit into the American political spectrum. One possibility is that traditional concerns for family values along with a concern for social justice will put Muslims in a balanced position where they would be courted as a group because they would form a swing block. In some sense that would be the ideal. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Muslims will assert themselves in the US political spectrum.

Anyway.. enough for now.. more later.

It's a black thing?

According to the Nation (of Islam), Islam is the natural religion for the original Asiatic Blackman, the maker, the owner, the cream of the planet earth, father of civilization, God of the universe. And for them, Christianity is the white slaveowner's religion.

I'm not sure that I would say all that, but it is *slightly* more true than not true.

But I really don't mean to embrace the exclusive aspects. It would be better to frame this as a rejection of the Afrocentrist (in particular Asante's) argument that Islam is an "Arab" religion and that Blacks who accept Islam have somehow gotten off-center. Blackness and Islam interweave much too tightly, too intimately, too frequently, too deeply for Asante to make his claim.

I once saw the National spokesman for the Hebrew Israelites being interviewed on tv (cable public access) by Munir Muhammad. He basically said that the Middle East should be thought of as Northeastern Africa. In alot of ways, I think that is the correct argument to make. Islam and "Afrocentricity" can be reconciled because the Muslim world overlaps with the African.

At the same time, Islam manages to be universal. As Schuon puts it, Islam is about the meeting between God as such, and man as such. And to show this it should be sufficient to point to the various groups of ethnic Muslims outside of the Middle East, in Subsaharan Africa, in China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia, in the United States, and of course in the former Soviet Unions. Just think about the situation of the Chechens, who are ethnic Muslims from the Caucus region... where the Muslims are so white that they named white people after them... lol... By no means is Islam merely bound to 7th century Arabia.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

not tonight...

I didn't make it to dhikr tonight. But today was otherwise decent.

I wonder to what extent clubs and dancing and drunkeness really are a quest for the divine. Rumi's hymns for a love to deep for idolatry, are quickly converted to anthems to ass and titty.

For a change of gears: Making some reasonable progress on the academic front. But consistency is important now. Slow and steady wins the race.

My name is Kunta

To continue with the theme, blackness appears from the very beginning of Islamic history. Not just with a token appearance from Bilal (ra) but in more significant ways. I mean just look on a map and consider how close the Arabian Peninsula is to Africa. Bilal wasn't the only "Black" companion. There were many people from Ethiopia. The Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia were part of the same cultural world. From the incident of the elephent which occured the year the prophet (saaws) was born and which was mentioned in the Quran. To the time the companions were refugees in Ethiopia before the community of Medina was established. According to some accounts, Umar was part Abyssinian. In fact according to one Black "Iraqi" classical writer, Al-Jahiz, Abd al-Muttalib, the guardian of the sacred Kaaba, "fathered ten Lords, Black as the night and magnificent." One of these men was Abdallah, the father of the Prophet Muhammad (saaws).

Conversely, Islam plays an important role in Black spaces. From the convergences mentioned above we can look at the Black Muslim civilizations of Africa, the development of Swahili, to the diaspora where aspects of Muslim experience survived the middle passage experience (even if in some cases, it was difficult for certain practices to last more than a few generations.) But then we see a resurgance in more recent African-American experience as Blacks rediscover and reclaim Islam, through the Nation of Islam, the Five Percenters, Dar-ul-Islam, etc. We see Black Muslim political organizing with organizations like Project H.O.P.E (Helping Oppressed People Everyday) in LA or in cultural groups and movements (e.g. in the recent past there were the many African-American Muslim jazz musicians or the Last Poets, and more currently in groups or individuals like Mos Def, the Roots, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest or even Dave Chapelle)

The original Afrocentrist, Molefi Kete Asante, seems to think that Black Muslims are off-center (i.e. not centered on Africa as he thinks we should be) but he fails to see that there are real long-standing organic connections between the Muslim world and the Black world. It is interesting to note that in fact, a fair number of the individuals claimed by the "Afrocentric" movement themselves also identify with Islam; Malcolm X, Naim Akbar, Cheikh Anta Diop, and others.

Well, that should be it for now. More later

It's not easy being...

I just went for lunch at a Mexican restaurant today and the tortillas and rice were dyed green! I believe this is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

Wearing Green

Well, I just woke up and am about to go off to meet with my professor soon. Every year about this time I think about that line from the song, Split Personality. I think it is by an alternative black rock group called Basehead. And the line goes "My pride is racist/people say/ yet no one minds/St. Patrick's Day"

On a somewhat unrelated note, now in North America there seems to be an issue playing itself out in a number of ways. What does Progressive Islam mean? What does it mean to be a Progressive Muslim? The specific issue these days is whether it is permissible for a woman to lead a Friday prayer with mixed-genders and/or give the khutbah. Also, this is only "somewhat" unrelated to the above because, if I understood the story correctly, the woman in question this time was Amina Wadud, the African-American Muslim woman who wrote the book "The Quran and Women" about how to re-approach the Quran in ways that are more liberating to women.

When (Or if) America finally develops a specifically American Muslim culture, a very large component of that mix will be African-American. And it seems important and necessary to articulate what the relation is between being Muslim and being Black. There are wide, varied, deep, concrete intersections between the Muslim world and the Black world. But more work could be done to map out that territory.

Second Things Second

It is very early in the morning and I have been up late. I am getting tired and will probably close my eyes soon. In the evening I hope I will be in a position to go to the Shadhili dhikr in the area. I've only been a few times now but it is interesting. It is important for me to have some kind of serious spiritual practice that nurtures me and helps me to come back to where I should be. To remind me, after all that's what "dhikr" means.

Some interesting things about the Shadhilis. Their language is actually similar to the Bahais in some ways. It makes me wonder how deep the connection runs. Actually, I also wonder how close this particular group is to Rene Guenon's crowd. (which was also Shadhili)

Also, the first time I went for dhikr, that was the first Muslim gathering I'd ever gone to where everyone else was a white American. It makes me wonder how different the demographics of Islam in the United States would be if it weren't for groups like the Nation of Islam, Dar-ul-Islam, the Hanafis (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's group), etc.

Well, that's it for now. Good night.

First things first

This is the first post for Planet Grenada and my first attempt at "blogging". To be honest, I didn't spend a long time trying to find "just" the right name for this blog but I think this will do nicely. Grenada was last stronghold of the Muslims in Spain when the Christians took back the country in the Reconquista. Grenada is also the the name of the Caribbean country whose temporary Marxist regime was toppled by the Reagan Administration in the 1980's. (I can identify with both uses in interesting ways) Calling it *Planet* Grenada seems fitting to me since I've been thinking about and intrigued by the Afro-futurism movement recently and its ideas seem to resonate with some of my recent thoughts and activities. So for the moment, the name seems to evoke all the right things.

It also seems a bit fitting to get this thing going in the early hours of St. Patrick's Day. At least, according to one version of the the St. Patrick's day legend, the usual story of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland was actually a kind of bait-and-switch and the snakes are in reality a stand in for the Moors.

Anyway, this is enough introduction for now.

More to come later.