Monday, July 31, 2006

differences between schools

I'm intrigued by the prospect of trying to understand the differences between the madhabs. I know that people often try to gloss over the differences between the madhabs and say they are insignificant, but I'm not sure if that's right. Don't get me wrong. Unity is important. And it is important to have good adab when it comes to these issues and see them in their proper perspectives. The differences between the madhabs are issues where pious, sincere, intelligent and knowledgable Muslim scholars can disagree, so they shouldn't be cause for arrogance, takfirs or insults.

At the same time, they are rooted in differences in methodology and principle. And even thought more than one position can be "correct", in some sense only one is "right".

One interesting group with which to illustrate the above are the Murabitun. They are sometimes called "extremist Malikis" because their shaykh (Abdalqadir as-Sufi) has some strong things to say in favor of Imam Malik and the example laid down by the early Muslim community in Medina. To be honest, I think they definitely cross the line in terms of not being tolerant enough of the other Sunni schools

From The Recovery of True Islamic Fiqh (the title almost says it all) by Abdalhaqq Bewley:
The received position regarding the madhabs is that they are virtually identical with certain insignificant peripheral differences and the whole business is really a matter of geography so that if you live in Malaysia or Indonesia you are automatically Shafi'i, if you live in India or Turkey you are Hanafi, and if you live in North or West Africa you are Maliki, and it doesn't matter which because they are basically all the same. When he investigated the matter, however, Shaykh Abdalqadir rediscovered something which proved crucial in his search for the genuine Book and Sunna. What he discovered was that the madhhabs were by no means identical and in actual fact represented quite divergent methods of deciding what constituted the Book and Sunna.

The madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifa, may Allah cover him with mercy, was formulated in Iraq, a very different environment to that of Madina al-Munawwara where the deen had been laid down, and the number of Companions who had settled there had been too few to allow a complete picture of the Sunna to emerge. For this reason Hanafi methodology involved the logical process of examining the Book and all available knowledge of the Sunna and then finding an example in them analogous to the particular case under review so that Allah's deen could be properly applied in the new situation. It thus entails the use of reason in the examination of the Book and Sunna so as to extrapolate the judgements necessary for the implementation of Islam in a new environment. It represents in essence, therefore, within the strict compass of rigorous legal and inductive precepts, the adaptation of the living and powerful deen to a new situation in order to enable it take root and flourish in fresh soil. This made it an ideal legal tool for the central governance of widely varied populations which is why we find it in Turkey as the legacy of the Uthmaniyya Khilafa and in the sub-continent where it is inherited from the Moghul empire.

[...] With Imam Shafi'i... the practise of Islam ceased to be a matter of oral transmission and behavioural imitation and became, instead, based on written texts from which the actions of the deen were derived. Imam Shafi'i's system was brilliantly devised and the Muslims owe a great debt of gratitude to him because there is no doubt that it is the rigour of his methodology which preserved so many of the sources of Islam in such a remarkable way over all these centuries.

Shaykh Abdalqadir's desire, however, was to have direct access to the Book and Sunna in their primal form as they were first implemented by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, and both these methods presented the phenomenon at one remove so they were clearly not what he was seeking. It was with Imam Malik, may Allah have mercy on him, that the shaykh found what he had been looking for.

I would want to say a couple of things. First I would note that Abdalqadir seems to believe that through Imam Malik one can have "direct access to the Book and Sunna in their primal form" as if this was impossible with the other madhabs. In fact, there are other passages in his writings where he is more negative about the other schools of thought.

But secondly, I was really attracted to his description of the Hanafi methodology (at least in the above passage). I actually like the idea of Islam not being tied to a particular community in a particular time and place. It is a living and powerful deen which can be adapted to new cultural soil. There are some specific ways that the Hanafi school does give a little more weight to reason and is flexible in certain areas (while, of course, being stricter in others) In fact, I'm tempted to say that I'm a Hanafi almost in the same way that the Murabitun say they are Maliki... although hopefully I'm a lot mellower about it than they are.

For a more balanced, but still meaty, description of the development of different schools of fiqh and the differences between them, I would recommend: Source Methodology In Islamic Jurisprudence: Methodology for Research and Knowledge by Taha Jabir Al 'Alwani which is available free online.

Another good book (which I've linked to before) is the Ethics of Disagreement in Islam, also by Al 'Alwani. There are useful comparisons between the schools throughout the book, but the most concise and inclusive descriptions are found in chapter 6 on juristic perspectives.

Also here is a brief article: Which of the four orthodox madhabs has the most developed fiqh for Muslims living as minorities? by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (his answer, basically Maliki and Hanafi) Interestingly enough, apparently when Sheikh Keller had to decide which madhab to follow, the story goes, that he put the four names into a hat and randomly picked "Shafi".

And finally another good text is: The Fundamental Principles of Imam Malik's Fiqh by Muhammad Abu Zahrah. Obviously it is written from a Maliki perspective but what is interesting (to me at least) is that it gives a sizeable list of the various principles and considerations a mufti would keep in mind when evaluating whether a particular action is halal/ haram/ sunnah/ makruh/ etc... I think it gives a really good sense that fiqh is not just a matter of finding the right ayat of the Quran or finding a single hadith and acting on it. A lot of thought goes into such decisions which is why the schools developed in the first place.

And for some early comments related to the Hanafi school, check out: people of direction

murabitun gathering

I've been thinking about the Murabitun movement recently. A few days ago someone mentioned them to me out of the blue, and I was actually already planning to blog a little about them momentarily when I found the following from You Tube: Footage of a Murabitun Sufi dhikr session in Granada, Spain during the 1980's

Grenada's past:
islam in latin america

Sunday, July 30, 2006

islamic ecumenism

From The American Muslim, I thought I would include Shia-Sunni Dialogue: Maulana Kalbe Sadiq's Theology of Islamic Ecumenism by Yoginder Sikand as another "obligatory" su-shi piece to contribute to the Su-shi blog ring. Just a bright spot and example of Muslim unity.

willie lynch: the next chapter

Rand Report's attempt to change Islam lets the cat out of the bag and describes explicit plans on the part of Western policy-makers to divide-and-conquer the Muslim world. Old dog. Old tricks.

fatima's hand


For a while now I've been kind of intrigued by the image of Fatima's hand (Jews call it the hand of Miriam). First, it is interesting that both Jewish and Muslim cultures would share a common "religious symbol" (really more of a good luck charm). And it is interesting to me personally because growing up, my family would occasionally make references to "mal de ojo" or the evil eye (a concept which exists in Muslim, as well as Latino cultures). The idea behind Fatima's hand is that it protects you from the evil eye by "looking back" at the source of the curse. I don't think of myself as superstitious and am not interested in "amulets" but I think I would like to use the image for decoration, maybe on a ring.

religion or ideology?

Imam Zaid Shakir recently wrote an article called Islam: Religion or Ideology? on the dangers of viewing Islam superficially as a political ideology:
Reducing Islam to an ideology threatens to subordinate those laws and principles to political imperatives that have little to do with Islamic teachings. If this happens consistently enough, the social foundation of our religion may be lost. As Muslims we may well continue in our various struggles. However, those struggles would be better informed by the revolutionary teachings of Bakunin, Georges Sorel, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, and others than by the revelation given to our Prophet Muhammad, Peace and Blessings of God upon him. In some circumstances, we could possibly muster a credible defense against any number of threats confronting us. However, at the end of the day, we may find that we have very little left to defend.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

quran and woman

I recently finished Amina Wadud's book Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective. It was basically an exemplar of how to look at the Quran in a way which is consistent with justice and equality between men and women. The first part of the book was well done but in some respects it was similar to things I've read before... empahsizing female equality in the Quranic story of Adam and Eve, or Bilqis (the Queen of Sheba) or the high station of Mary.

The latter part of the book gets into the nitty gritty of Quranic social roles and gender and here Wadud gives some careful but plausible explanations for how certain texts can be read in ways which maximize women's rights. So she spends a couple of pages each on key terms like "darajah", "faddala", "daraba" and "qawwamun".

And I thought she had a particularly fresh perspective on the subject of female witnesses:

In 2:282 the Quran says:
O you who believe! when you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down [...] but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other [...]

And a typical patriarchal reading uses this passage as evidence that a woman's testimony is less valuable or reliable than a man's. But Wadud suggests that the second woman is there, not because of female inferiority but as a corrective to the pre-existing patriarchy.
"If one goes wrong, or is persuaded to give untrue testimony, the other is there to support the terms of the contract. However, considering that women could be coerced in that society, if one witness was female, she would be easy prey for some male who wanted to force her to disclaim her testimony. When there are two women, they can support each other [...] The single unit which comprises two women with distinct functions not only gives each woman significant individual worth, but also forms a united front against the other witness."

All in all, I would recommend the book as providing good food for thought.

I want to say a lot more but I still need to get my thoughts together. For the past couple of years I've become more appreciative and respectful of the idea of tradition and orthodoxy (especially in terms of acts of worship and theology) but I'm still not absolutely certain what that means in terms of "progressive" values. A while back this tension became more salient for me when Amina Wadud raised the issue of female imams leading prayers for mixed congregations. I tended to think that if one could produce a scholarly, methodologically-sound argument based on authentic sources that was one thing... but I got the sense that many of the laypeople who argued against Wadud's position weren't necessarily motivated by such objective considerations.

More later... perhaps...

Grenada's past:
amina wadud interview
gender jihad
zaid shakir and female imams

my journey as a muslimah

I just "discovered" a new blog called My Journey as a Muslimah from Sumayah Fayed, a Hispanic Muslim woman writer. Say hello.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

latino muslims seek answers

"Am I still a Chicano?" he asked. "We have this Islamic identity and, being Latino, we have this Catholic background. I'm not Christian anymore, but am I still Latino? We're redefining what Latino is."

I already gave a shout-out to the new blog on Latino Muslims in the Bay Area. Now, Inside Bay Area magazine has recently published a story: Latino Muslims seek answers on a group of Latino Muslims which has started to come together with the help of the Zaytuna Institute.

"the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"

The previously mentioned connection between Star Trek and (the allegedly Jesus-inspired) A Course in Miracles also reminded me of the following scene from the South Park episode, "Spontaneous Combustion":
Stan: See, at first, Jesus was all like, "Why me?" And he was all pissed off and stuff. But then he saw that what mattered most was everybody else. So he stopped thinking about his own misery, and did what had to be done. Right as Jesus was dying he raised his hand [Stan makes the Vulcan salute] and said, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

Randy: You're right, Stanley. You're absolutely right. Hey, that Bible sounds like kind of a good book.

Stan: It ain't bad. You should try reading it some time.

Kyle: Dude, that was "Star Trek" again! "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"—that was Wrath of Khan!

Stan: Oh... Bible, Wrath of Khan, what's the difference?

cause he is the truth

I was just struck by the fact that as I was finishing up the previous piece on what is "real" and what "isn't" India.Arie was on the radio singing:
Cause he is the truth
Said he is so real
And i love the way that he makes me feel
And if i am a reflection of him then i must be fly
Cause his light, it shines so bright

Although, if you listen to the whole thing, I think it becomes clear that the subject of the song is more biological than theological.

nothing unreal exists

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who is in the middle of reading A Course in Miracles, a popular spiritual self-help book which was allegedly authored by Jesus and transmitted through a medium, a clinical psychologist named Dr. Helen Schucman.

While hanging out with my friend, I skimmed through the book and found that the central principles are summarized as:
Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.

And eventually the conversation moved around to discussing deep subjects like pantheism, Christian Science and wahdat al-wujud (which are all related to redrawing the line between what is real and what is not). But I'm such a big geek that the first thing I thought of was that scene at the beginning of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where Spock is being tested by a computer which asks him a series of rapid-fire questions, including: "What was Kiri-kin-tha's first law of metaphysics?" and the answer, of course is, "Nothing unreal exists".

A Course in Miracles has been circulating at least a decade before The Voyage Home came out so I wouldn't be totally surprised if ACIM influenced the Star Trek writers. In fact, real religions often inspire fictional philosophies and belief systems (Dune and Star Wars are two examples which come to mind and which we've discussed here before).

But what is even more surprising is when the influence goes the other way and fiction influences reality.

For example, some of the Church of Scientology's closely guarded beliefs resemble a science-fiction adventure. And some have even suggested that Scientology was invented as the result of a bar bet between the two science fiction authors L. Ron Hubbard and Robert Heinlein. It seems like this most entertaining version of this legend is false, but there seems to be more substantial evidence that L. Ron Hubbard rather cynically suggested starting a religion as a way to make money [1] [2]

A less well-known fact is that Robert Heinlein's science fiction classic, Stranger in a Strange World also inspired the creation of an actual religious group known as the Church of All Worlds.

And of course there was the Jedi census prank a while back, where in several English-speaking countries a large number of people answered "jedi" when asked their religion on the census. ("Jedi" came out as the second largest religion in New Zealand and fourth largest in England and Wales, beating out Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism) I actually knew I guy once who did Qi Gong and in a light-hearted way he called it his "jedi training".

So sometimes, fiction can seem remarkably substantial and have a surprising amount of impact on the world. And conversely, sometimes the things we take for granted, or are frightened of, or take "seriously" turn out to be unreal at the root. (I think I'm going to stop babbling now before I fall into my navel, and will just do a link dump).

wahdat al-wujud explained by Ustadha Umm Sahl (it is actually more a defense of Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi, a traditional Hanafi scholar on a number of points, including wahdat al-wujud). Interestingly enough, the Deobandis, whom I have been mentioning recently, also seem to have a strong belief in this mystical doctrine.

Official Site: A Course in Miracles
Wikipedia: A Course in Miracles

Screenplay of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Tongue-in-check discussion and extrapolation of Kiri-Kin-tha’s Laws of Metaphysics

The Pagan Library: The Church of All Worlds, A Brief History

Grenada's past:
unusual churches
only human
religion in science fiction
a coincidence you think this is?
so i finally saw it

Monday, July 24, 2006

"i saw the bullet cry, i heard the man fall"

I've included a number of references to Louis Reyes Rivera (aka the Janitor of History) before on Planet Grenada, but this is probably the most "Grenada-esque" (An Afro-Latino writer giving a "contributive note" to a Black and Muslim and human hero). It is a beautiful spoken word piece by Rivera on the assassination of Malcolm X which he performed on Def Poetry Jam. I also have to admit that Def Jam is where I first heard of Rivera... which is a shame since he has been around for a while.

see also:
louis reyes rivera
inside the river of poetry
filiberto ojeda rios

more on heru, the pan-african spoken-word artist

I already blogged about Heru a few months ago but here is a second helping. To be honest, I'm actually kind of proud of him. I guess I could see the some of the seeds back in high school, so I can't say that he's totally re-invented himself, but still... he's managed to bloom. Now he's Heru the dreadlocked poet "from Miami", with a daughter no less. Here's to new beginnings and second-chances.

You Tube: Heru on the tv show, Spoken

a deobandi with a difference

Also from The American Muslim site is the article A Deobandi With A Difference: Waris Mazhari on the Imrana Affair by Yoginder Sikand.

This is an old story, but the piece is a good example of how one can interpret the Shairah in ways which take social realities into account while remaining orthodox and faithful to tradition. If you aren't familiar with Imrana's case, it has to do with a Muslim woman who was raped by her father-in-law. Subsequently the religious authorities, based on Hanafi legal principles, made the contraversial declaration that her marriage to her husband was dissolved (and thus she could no longer live with him). But Waris Mazhari, a Hanafi scholar, argues that the situation constitutes an unbearable hardship on Imrana and justifies following one of the other three sunni schools (where the marriage would not have been dissolved).

I found the piece especially interesting because I've recently been trying to get a better understanding of the Hanafi madhab (including the Deobandis, Barelwis, and certain Turkish movements as well)

See also:
HU: Imrana and the Shariah Controversy
Hardnews: a matter of opinion

Saturday, July 22, 2006

spanish muslim woman jailed in florida

This story is a couple of months old but it is really ironic and somewhat fitting for the blog. I only recently found it at The American Muslim Online page (And I plan on including a few other links to their articles over time. It's a pretty good collection).

TAMPA, FL, (4/13/2006) -A Spanish Muslim woman was allegedly interrogated for more than six hours, strip-searched and placed in a maximum security lock-up following her arrival at Tampa International Airport on Tuesday. She was also forced to remove her religiously-mandated head scarf, or hijab, while in detention. Her ex-husband once spent time in an Iraqi prison for speaking out against Saddam Hussein and has been recognized by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a symbol of progress in Iraq.

St. Petersburg Times: Surprise turns sour for Iraqi-born woman
The American Muslim: Spanish Muslim Denied Entry to U.S., Jailed in Florida

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

ideology and temperament (the habashis)

A sufi response to political Islamism: Al-Ahbash of Lebanon by A. Nizar Hamzeh and R. Hrair Dekmejian is an interesting article, a bit on the old side (10 years) but I've been thinking about it again for various reasons.

Firstly, Lebanon is obviously in the news and so I've wondered to what extent the Habashis (more correctly known as Association of Islamic Charitable Projects) are still active and relevant to the situation over there.

Secondly, on a more personal note, about a year before I started practicing Islam, one of the individuals I had a lot of religious conversations with was this recently converted African-American in the AICP who worked in the local Afrocentric store. I really didn't have much of a notion of the various ideological currents among Muslims so at the time. I only had the sense that he was "orthodox". I also knew that somehow he was "Sufi" but I definitely had an overly romanticized notion of what that meant. Although I have to admit that he really struck me as a pretty deep and calm brother.

On the other hand, shortly after I became Muslim I ran into him and we talked a bit about Islam. It was nice to see him again but at the same time it was a bit disillusioning. Mainly because he was freely declaring takfir on all sorts of people from Seyd Qutb, Ibn Taymiyyah and Abdul-Wahab (who I'd hardly heard of at the time) to Warithdeen Muhammad (for allegedly saying that Allah has a nose) and Yusuf Ali (for writing in his translation of the Quran that "Allah is the light"). This brother made NO allowance for poetry or metaphor. Then my Hasbashi friend emphasized, to an extraordinary degree, the importance of wudu (He didn't say anything that was incorrect as far as I remember but I don't think he appreicated how he sounded to a new Muslim.) The other thing which was really weird about our conversation was that he also made a big deal about how the proper qibla is southeast. ("We are west of Mecca and north of Mecca so we should pray south and east"). Even at that point I understood something about geodesics and actually told him "but the world isn't flat" but I didn't want to be pushy so I let the matter drop. (And before we laugh too hard at his reasoning, I've read on multiple occasions that when Muslim immigrants first came to the US in large numbers, they also tended to pray southeast instead of northeast.)

To this day, I'm still not completely certain how much of his rigidity was a product of the typical convert's initial zeal (his temperament) and how much of it is representative of Habashis as a movement (his ideology). I have the sense that it was a little bit of both.

In retrospect, I think his sincere zeal for "orthodoxy" gave him an enviable sense of place and confidence. He would rattle off: "We are Ash'ari in aqida, Shafi in Fiqh and Rifai in Tariqa." Everything is in books. Every question has an answer. It is a stark contrast to my own path, tentatively and more slowly gaining an appreciation in turn for being Sunni, for the Hanafi madhab, and the Maturidi aqueeda. As far as tariqats go, at this point I've only had contact with Naqshbandis and Shadhilis but haven't really made a strong commitment to either.

The third reason why I think the Habashis are worth mentioning is because they are interesting in terms of su-shi issues. In spite of their apparent rigidness, they apparently take positions which could conceivably help bridge some of the disagreements between Sunnis and Shias. From the Hamzeh and Dekmejian article:
The complex structure of Shaykh Habashi's belief system blends elements of Sunni and Shi'i theology with Sufi spiritualism. The outcome of his doctrinal eclecticism is an ideology of Islamic moderation and toleration that emphasizes Islam's innate pluralism, along with opposition to political activism and the use of violence against the ruling order.

And the article goes on to explain how the Sunni Shaykh Habashi argues on behalf of the status of Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussayn and is critical of Mu'awiya as a transgressor.

Finally, something I wonder about, and would like to see more discussion on is what is going on with their nickname, "the Habashis" (the Ethiopians)? Are they really the dominant Islamic movement in Ethiopia? Or are there no other prominent movements coming out of that area which exist in the Muslim world? That's just weird when I stop and think about it.

If people have their own experiences with "the Habashis" I'd be happy to hear them.

Monday, July 17, 2006

roots in the sand

This is just so random that I felt like sharing. Roots in the Sand is a film on Punjabi-Mexicans in Southern California about a hundred years ago.

ideology and temperament

Something I've been thinking about for a long time is the tendency for some folks to frame significant differences between Muslims in ideological terms. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, Hanbali, Khawarij, Salafi, Wahabi, 12-er, 5-er, 7-er, Quran-only, Islamist, Reformer, Orthodox, Traditional, Liberal, Conservative, Moderate, Progressive, Modern, etc.

I feel like talking about this over a couple posts, but one thing I wanted to get across is fixating on labels can be dangerous. And in any case, temperament is a more significant distinction than any ideological label.

What do I mean by that?

It used to be that your basic anti-Islamic bigot would just say "I hate Muslims." and be done with it. But now in the enlightened 21st century, it is harder to say that in polite society so the educated person will say "No, Muslims aren't all the same. Some are good Muslims, and some are bad Muslims. You should say 'I hate Wahabis'".

And on television it is not uncommon to see the bigot who wants to sound more sophisticated saying such things.

Now, I'm not a Wahabi (follower of the interpretations of Abdul-Wahab) but in spite of the feelings I have about that movement, I also think there are plenty of Wahabis who are perfectly wonderful people. And in spite of my various disagreements with Wahabi ideology, I'm more than a bit worried at the prospect that somebody in the State Department trying to distinguish between the "good Muslims" and the "bad Muslims" on the basis of that distinction.

I'm not sure if I should be saying this, but right now there is also a very widespread idea that the "Sufis" are the "good Muslims". And from a certain point of view, I wouldn't want to put much energy into opposing this notion. "The Sufis" tend to emphasize the mystical, spiritual aspects of Islam and are in certain respects less legalistic. They have tended to express themselves in poetry and music and are associated with some of the more creative aspects of Islamic civilization. Rumi, Al-Hallaj, Hafiz and other "Sufis" are also very appealing to non-Muslims. And in general, throughout Muslim history, Sufis have played a very important role in spreading Islam to non-Arab peoples. (In fact I would say that Sufism is basically "just" the essential and very orthodox aspect of Islamic spirituality)

Furthermore, among the 4 sunni schools of law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali) the Hanafis are often described as the most liberal and the most rational. (And I generally don't get into talking about madhab issues on this blog but I'm basically a "Hanafi" myself. I have two crates of Hanafi books, mostly from Turkey and the sub-continent which I use as references if I have fiqh questions).

The "funny" thing is that the Taliban were both Sufis and Hanafis. So much for labels. In fact, if you consider Al-Qaedah (sometimes problematically identified as "Wahabi"), the Taliban (strict Hanafis) and Hezbollah (Shia) or even the Paris rioters (many of whom were secular) the groups are very distinct in terms of ideology. What makes them "militant" has more to do with their attitudes (towards the West, towards various Muslim governments, towards the use of violence) than the specific ins and outs of their theology. I just hope that the various Western governments can keep that in mind before anyone is tempted to round up the Wahabis, or the Hanafis, etc.

Friday, July 14, 2006

scholars ask why latinos view blacks poorly

Diverse Online: Scholars Ask Why Latinos View Blacks Poorly by Christina Asquith summarizes a 2003 survey of blacks, whites and Hispanics (mostly Mexican) in Durham, NC. The "punchline" is that Hispanic attitudes towards blacks were more negative than white attitudes towards blacks. It would be interesting to see if the same results were replicated in a sample which includes more Afro-Hispanics (Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, etc.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"other than that ms. lincoln, how was the play?"

It's been a while since I filled-out one of these blog quizzes.
I'm cracking up about getting this result. It fits on multiple levels.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"i've seen ethiopians knocking out rome" (part 2)

As I said earlier, the recent case of the Seas of David got me reflecting on the Black Hebrew Israelites and other loosely related groups.

At least as far back as the mid-eighteenth century, Africans in the Americas were making metaphorical connections with the experiences of the enslaved children of Israel in Egypt. But later in the nineteenth century this had developed from identification with to identification as the children of Israel. And more generally, there have been a number of Black religious movements (like the Hebrew Israelites and Rastafarians) which, for whatever reason, play up and emphasize the Judaic aspects of the Bible.

In addition to the Hebrew Israelites and the Rastafarians, there is also the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (one of the most ancient forms of Christianity, predating every single Protestant group as well as the Great Schism which seperated Roman Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy).

I would say that a broad range of groups and individuals share the following beliefs or characteristics:

1. A belief that the original Jews were "Black"
I don't know if Moses (as) looked like Wesley Snipes. But according to the Bible, Jacob (Israel) and his sons went into Africa as a group of 12 households and hundreds of years later they came out of Africa as a nation of millions. Either the children of Israel are really really really inbred or they intermarried with the people around them and became basically an African group. The Bible even explicitly says that Abraham, Joseph and Moses married African (Egyptian and Cushite) women [Genesis 16:3, Genesis 41:45, Numbers 12:1].

2. The Old Testament Laws are still valid today
Most modern Christian groups downplay the commandments of the Old Testament. In some cases, I would even say it approaches a bizzare kind of anti-semitism. Many Christians see the commandments, at best as useless, at worst as burdensome and punitive things which were mercifully removed by Jesus. In contrast, the groups I'm talking about tend to see the Old Testament way of life as providing valuable guidance for today. Many prohibit pork, lean towards vegetarianism or adopt other aspects of the Jewish dietary code. These groups make some attempts to follow the various rules about grooming and hygine, regular prayer, learning a sacred language, animal sacrifice, fasting, pilgrimages etc.

In a lot of ways these groups are actually very similar to African-American Muslims. And it seems to me that one could probably find a great deal of solidarity and understanding among people who follow "Black Religion" (in Prof. Jackson's sense), are "Abrahamic" and follow a rich law-based lifestyle. Personally, I've tended to hae really positive interactions with the Rastas, Hebrew Israelites, Black 7th Day Adventists, etc. I've met. Furthermore, I would say that in terms of coming to Islam, I rode a certain "train of thought" but I also see that it is totally possible that if I had "gotten off at a different stop" I might have joined one of these other groups.

3. "We" are the Chosen People
Many of these groups have a strong sense of distintive peoplehood. To be a child of Israel is to be set apart, to follow a different way of life. The covenant is not for everyone, it is just for a few. Some groups are very dualistic and emphasize the contrast between "Israel" and the pagan Gentile/Babylon/Rome way of life. In the most extreme cases a siege mentality can develop and this is clearly exemplified in the Seas of David expressed interest in killing as many "devils" as possible.

In terms of the whole "train of thought" metaphor, this is one point where I definitely zigged instead of zagged. The Bible has a very strong emphasis on bloodline which comes a little too close to racism for my tastes. The curse of Ham. A God who makes bargains with individuals and their descendants. Tribalism. Hereditary priesthoods. Even genocide. Among the traditional rabbinical enumeration of the 613 commandments of the Torah one can find:

596. Destroy the seven Canaanite nations Deut. 20:17
597. Not to let any of them remain alive Deut. 20:16
598. Wipe out the descendants of Amalek Deut. 25:19
599. Remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people Deut. 25:17

I'll pass.

4. The authority of the Bible
Again speaking personally, if I had a stronger belief in the Bible I probably would have been some flavor of Afrocentric/Judaic Biblical religion follower. But because I had too many doubts and questions, I came to the conclusion that the Biblical tradition needed a reboot and so God returned to the purity of Abraham's faith with Muhammad who left behind the Quran and Sunnah.

Black Hebrew Israelites, Rastafarianism and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity are the main religious movements I had in mind with the above discussion. Of some interest is also a tendancy known as Ethiopianism in American religion which predated and influenced Rastafarianism. But examples similar to these movements can also be seen in the Longhairz, Lauryn Hill's lyrics, and the Seas of David.

Planet Grenada's past:
the lemba

being latin and black

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Being Latin And Black: Afro-Latinos Grapple With Labels In U.S. By Janita Poe is another decent overview from a few years back.

what does "afro-latino" mean?

From Afro-Latina scholar, Tanya Hernandez: What Does "Afro-Latino" Mean? is a brief demographic overview with some good links.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"i've seen ethiopians knocking out rome"

I've recently been reflecting on the Seas of David and have been working (for a while now) on a post which looks at a broad class of groups which are similar in a very loose sense. That process of reflection reminded me of a group called the Longhairz Collective who aren't Rastas or Hebrew Israelites but they sing about living a natural lifestyle, keeping the Nazrite vow (growing dreads), Black Jesus etc. Their album Dreadlocks and Ponytails, features the song "1nce in a Lifetime" which contins one of my favorite lines of any song.

1nce in a LifeTime

You don’t have to know
Just as long as you let your hair grow
So ease your worried mind
Once in a lifetime you could let your light shine
Once in a lifetime you could let your light shine

Once in a lifetime I write rhymes upon holy topics.
MC’s blaspheme me… I say stop it.
Once in a lifetime, or maybe twice, I’m gonna be a prophet.
So listen to the message when I drop it.

Once in a lifetime you realize that there is something greater.
Too many lifetimes have gone by, back to the Creator.
In prime time the rhyme I display to make you savor
Your lifetime, and every breath.

‘Cuz I know lifetimes that ended within a blaze of anger
My brother by his own hands, or neighbor killing neighbor.
The flavor I discovered my cousin at the hands of her lover.
Love her? Word to the mother.

Speaking of mothers mines passed on. I was a youth.
So now I am a wanderer searching for the truth.
I doubt that I exist. I need to find some proof
In this lifetime. What’s the use?

Once in a lifetime I see my existence worthwhile
If I can make a difference in the life of a child
Provide an opportunity for cracking a smile
In a lifetime.

My folks be living Volume 2: The Hard Knock Life
Once in a lifetime is a feeling and you can’t put a price
On the right time, the right place, the right situation
Like Malcolm giving speeches to a standing ovation

Like King when he preaches
Or Ella when she sings
Madame Zora when she wrote
It was a beautiful thing

In my lifetime I‘ve seen pharaohs upon the throne
I’ve seen Ethiopians knocking out Rome
I’ve seen Nat Turner rise and claim his own.
In my lifetime the Prodigal Son is headed home.

The Prodigal Son is headed home.

You don’t need to know
Just as long as you let your hair grow
So ease your worried mind
Once in a lifetime you can let your light shine
Once in a lifetime you can let your light shine

Do you understand Aaliyah as the muse to the Pharaoh?
What the hell you think they mean by “His eye is on the Sparrow”?
Have you seen Biggie and ‘Pac in guerrilla apparel?
You think that camouflage is the shit that they wanted to wear?

In my lifetime, when we were stomping Europe led by Hannibal
All folks could do is run, hide and call us cannibals.
My father ruled Spain as the king of the Moors
The blackness of my skin is what the named the Dark Ages for

Wisdom is what we had sages for. Don’t ignore!
How can I be rich if my grandmother is poor?
In this lifetime each move we make is for a goal
And every step we take works for making us whole.

All the cheddar that we earn and the plots that we plan
It’s moving us to levels we can't yet understand
In this lifetime we move from surving to thriving
From taking up space to really being alive

If we be seeing each second we exist as a gift
Living life ready to die, and dying, ready to live
Living life ready to die, and dying, ready to live
In this lifetime.

First of all, the song is amazing overall. But on the most literal level, the line "I've seen Ethiopians knocking out Rome" makes me think of how Ethiopia under Hallie Selassie fought back and successfully resisted an invasion attempt by Italy under the Fascist leader, Mussolini. But in addition "Ethiopia" and "Rome" sit in the middle of incredibly rich sets of associations. "Rome" is the heart of the ancient "West". It was the center of a fallen pagan military Empire. Cosmopolitan. Exemplified by compromise. (After all, "When in Rome...") The Roman Catholic Church. Ceasar. Nero. Caligula. Technological achievements, power and force combined with brutality and violence. Fascism. The aqueducts and roads. Crucifix and the Colliseum.

"Ethiopia", on the other hand, is the spiritual homeland of the Rastafarians. Ethiopian Orthodoxy is arguably a more ancient form of Christianity than the Roman Catholic Church. Ethiopia protected the early Muslims when they sought asylum from the pagans of Quraysh. Ethiopia is one of the few countries in Africa which was never successfully colonized by Europeans. Ethiopia is also the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant. There is also a tradition that Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (called Bilqis in Islamic sources) had a child named Menelik who brought Judaism to Ethiopia and was the ancestor of the Ethiopian Jews. (So not unlike the Da Vinci Code we have a secret relationship of a major Biblical character which left behind a bloodline of prophetic and political significance since Halie Selassie/Ras Tafari claims descent from this union.)

I could probably go on but I don't want to bore y'all. InshaAllah, I'll blog on the other movements later. But it's just amazing how much meaning is packed into that Ethiopia/Rome pairing. What side are you on? Genius. What can I say.. I'm a fan.

Friday, July 07, 2006

the egalitarian face of islamic orthodoxy

New study finds religious orthodoxy associated with support for progressive economic reforms

In research based on survey data from seven predominantly Muslim nations (Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) the authors found that Islamic orthodoxy -- identified as the desire to implement Islamic law (shari'a) as the sole legal foundation of their nation -- is associated in every country with support for such progressive economic reforms as increasing the responsibility of government for the poor, reducing income inequality, and increasing government ownership of businesses and industries.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

latino muslims of the bay area

Wow, new blog. Say hello to: Latino Muslims of the Bay Area

muslims march with latino community - july 18th

As part of IMAN’s ongoing commitment and work with the Latino community, a key group of IMAN staff and leaders have formed IMAN’s Immigrant Rights Committee (IRC) with the intention of forging a long-term strategy to advocate and mobilize on behalf of immigrant rights and to develop meaningful grassroots collaborations and connections between urban communities and issues.

Towards that end, IMAN’s IRC will be joining Centro sin Fronteras and other key grassroots Latino organizations and media outlets in several weeks to mobilize for a march on Wednesday July 18th. Many key social justice issues concerning the fate of millions of undocumented peoples have yet to be resolved and the call for justice, mercy and human dignity must continue to be heard from all our communities. IMAN feels compelled to make certain that the Muslim voice remains loud and clear on these issues.

Wednesday July 18th
Immigration Rights Struggle Continues
Bus Leaves 7:45am-Returns 2pm
From New IMAN Office
2744 W. 63rd Street
Chicago, IL
Reserve a Seat Today!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

terry howcott

I just found I was given a link over at Terry Howcott's: Strongly Recommended Sites (albeit under the name "Tokens Aren't Just for Buses") so I thought it would be cool to return the favor.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

su-shi simplified

From Lantern Torch: Su-Shi Simplified is a Shia response to egypt and the shias from Tavis Adibudeen who is the latest new contributor to the Third Resurrection group blog. (Did you notice how I worked in the subtle plug for Third Resurrection?)

african aspects of the puerto rican personality

African Aspects of the Puerto Rican Personality by (the late) Dr. Robert A. Martinez covers some familiar ground and rehashes some well-known topics like the African contribution to Puerto Rican music and popular religion. What I found a bit more interesting is how the paper touched on Arab/Spanish racial attitudes as well as some of the economic factors which determined the course of Black enslavement in Puerto Rico.

Monday, July 03, 2006

ranks of latinos turning to islam are increasing

Puerto Rico Herald: Ranks Of Latinos Turning To Islam Are Increasing by Daniel J. Wakin

"when in the course of human events..."

A holiday sampler from Grenada's past with words from Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Filiberto Ojeda Rios and an alternative perspective on Black Freedom and the American Revolution. Also, if you want to read more broadly, I also found an interesting list of Movements for National, Ethnic Liberation or Regional autonomy. I often wonder to what extent we as Americans believe in the ideals and principles of the Declaration of Independence. Do we celebrate the 4th of July because it is simply the national birthday? Or is there a real affirmation of the idea that government authority depends on the consent of the governed?

Planet Grenada:
what to the slave is the fourth of july?
for the fourth of july
"querido fbi"
black loyalists

Sunday, July 02, 2006

egypt and the shias

Since I'm on the Su-Shi web ring, every once in a while I feel obligated to blog on the subject every once in a while. To be honest, I don't think I've significantly deepened my thoughts about how to understand the Sunni-Shia split since the last post. I'm basically Sunni but I'm intrigued by the idea of how close to Shia Islam a Sunni can get. I occasionally recall how almost all the Sunni Sufi tariqats trace their lineage through Ali (ra) and some of the exalted titles given to Sufi Shaykhs (like Insan al-Kamil or perfect man) seem to come awfully close to the Shia concept of Imamate. So even though Abu Bakr (ra) was the valid khalifah, a Sunni could still say that a unique spiritual characteristic was transmitted through Ali (may allah enoble his face [1] [2]) and touched several of his descendants. (Some of the Shia imams also appear in the chains of Sunni tariqats).

I'm rehashing some of this, because I recently came across the following article from Al-Ahram: Egypt: Sunni but Shia inclined which discusses the role of Shia Islam to the history of Egypt.

Grenada's past:
sushi revisited: part one
sushi revisited: part two

mumia abu jamal: hispanics, latin america and the struggle against the empire

Hispanics, Latin America and the Struggle Against the Empire an interview with Mumia Abu Jamal by Rafael Rodriguez-Cruz on the Black Panthers, Cuba, COINTELPRO, the Patriot Act, the immigration movement and other issues.

See also: mumia abu jamal - death blossoms

a "new" look at engagement?

In A "New" Look at Engagement? Motazz Soliman looks at African-American and Hispanic-American struggles for inclusion in order to gain insights to guide Muslims in American society.

black versus brown

MSNBC: Can the venerable black-Latino coalition survive the surge in Hispanic power?

the senselessness of guantanamo

In These Times: The Senselessness of Guantanamo