Wednesday, May 30, 2007

born in the fist of the revolution: a cuban professor's journey to allah

by Julio Cèsar Pino:
Are there many Muslims in Cuba? Why would a Cuban want to become a Muslim? These are the two questions I am most frequently asked when introducing myself, or in the case of old friends, re-introduce myself by my Muslim name, Assad Jibril Pino. The answer to the first query is a simple yes. Several thousand Muslims reside in Cuba, most of them descendants of Lebanese immigrants. However, the second question always makes me pause and ponder before I reply, even though I have heard it hundreds of times. It is a loaded question of course, because it presumes that religion is the product of ethnic identity, and that Muslim and Cuban only belong together on the restaurant menu of a Miami luncheonette: "I’ll have Moros y Cristianos, with a side of croquetas."

To see the whole account of Pino's conversion, check out Born in the Fist of the Revolution: A Cuban Professor's Journey to Allah


jamal said...

49,981 signatures have now been received on a terrible petition against the London 'Mega mosque' based on incorrect and inciteful information. This shows the existence of the intolerance and Islamophobia in Britain.

The mosque would provide a place of worship and show Britains tolerance and multiculturalism. It is now the duty of Muslims and evey citizen to sign the counter-petition to BUILD the ‘Mega Mosque’. Please sign at the link below, email it to your friends, post it in forums you visit and promote this on your site/blog.

sondjata said...

too bad his account has unwarranted attacks on Budhism and Christianity. So what if Christians don't arrange their life around prayer? And if he didn't understand Budhism (and his statement makes that clear), why even go there?

How is sending money to a Mosque in Nigeria helping Nigeria? Why is it more important to help Muslims in Nigeria than the Nation State itself come to terms with it's diverse religious bodies?

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I agree that his essay might have been better without those comments, but I also think he was just truthfully reporting on his thought process and that's just where he was at.

At the same time, I think over our own interactions you've said much more negative things about Islam in particular. So for all of us (myself included) before we make certain comments, we might benefit from asking ourselves "why even go there?"

Another idea to put out there, I think it is very very difficult to be perfectly respectful of every single religions. Our own capacity for tolerance will invariably have limits, and it will be easier to appreciate and respect some religious practices and perspectives more than others.

I would suggest that *anyone* who has a religion has more respect and consideration for their own beliefs and will in some sense prefer it to alternative beliefs. In that context, Prof. Pino's comments are really really mild.

sondjata said...

I agree he was being honest. In regards to my statements on Islam, etc. It should be noted that I am a critic of religion in general, including my own. Furthermore my own conversion to my current belief is not based on believing it to be superior to others in terms of it's "Correctness" or the percieved piety of it's adherants as the author, and other converts you've posted on have done.
I've been pretty clear that the prime motivating factor in my conversion was the return to African culture, with ample evidence presented on the "alien" nature of both Islam and Christianity to most of Africa.

But this isn't about me though. The problem that I have here is that I expect better from an educator. I wouldn't have a problem if, for example, Pino discussed why Budhism didn't appeal to him rather than the flip remark about "words". Seems to me that he's more interested in the outward appearance of piety and being "different" than of actual study. Again. I expect better from an educator.

Abdul-Halim V. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abdul-Halim V. said...

Just so that folks know what we are talking about, the author is describing how he responded to reading the Quran:

"What amazed me is that the book addressed everything - from usury to divorce to women’s rights. All religions claim they are more than just a religion but a complete way of life, but only in Islam is this vow fulfilled. Do Catholics arrange their day around prayer? I asked myself. Is Buddhism anything more than just playing with the meaning of words?"

Yes, he's an educator but he is not teaching a Buddhism class when he talks about "playing with the meaning of words". He is telling the story of his conversion in a non-scholarly Islamic online publication.

I mean, I guess I would take it in stride. Before I became Muslim, I read a lot about Buddhism. Zen Buddhism in particular. I won't pretend that I understood everything but it was interesting to read about koans and I had the patience and willingness to read a bunch of D.T. Suzuki books, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle, or other things on Eastern mysticism in general.

If I were writing an essay about converting to Islam nad I only had one sentence to sum up why I chose not to become a Buddhist instead, there are probably a lot more inaccurate and disrespectful things one could say besides dismissing Buddhism as "playing with words".

For my own path, I've sometimes tried to step back and think of what reasons I would give to sum up why I'm not some other religion. In my own head I would come up with things like:

Hinduism - the inequity of the caste system
Judaism - too ethnocentric
Christianity - theological contradictions
Taoism, Buddhism - not a strong objection per se, but all the positives are found in Islam anyway (Sufism in particular).

Yes, the above list is dismissive and more detailed and nuanced statement would be more appropriate and better, but if I was forced to express myself in a limited time and space, that would pretty much sum it up.

Your comments about Christianity or Islam being foreign to Africa are similar. They are dismissive and ignore a lot of detail. And then when we go back and forth on the subject, we can bring out some of those details.

sondjata said...

Your comments about Christianity or Islam being foreign to Africa are similar. They are dismissive and ignore a lot of detail. And then when we go back and forth on the subject, we can bring out some of those details.

Completely untrue, especially since I've given detailed documentation regarding my position, none of which is under dispute. But that's neither here nor there.

I'll agree that under limited circumstances one may be inclined to give relatively flip remarks regarding other religions. But if I may bring the topic back to Pino. The NY Times has an interesting article on the desire for "native" Imams in the US. One of them interviewed Imams said that the issue with many Arab or "old school" Imams was the ridgid piety by ritual. I found that pretty interesting since my critique of Pino was partly based on his comment about "Do Catholics arrange their lives around prayer" as if that in and of itself is some kind of indicator of piety. It could be argued that OBL prays often and still gets Islam wrong. Thus the real issue ought to be the quality of the prayer/meditation and not the quantity.

So in my mind that reveals a real lack of "study" by the professor which bothers me more than if he was an "average joe". But I'll admit that is my own projection.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I think that "rigid piety by ritual" needs to be viewed in context because it can be very relative.

For example, it is a basic pillar of Islam that you are supposed to do salat (specific prayers) 5 times a day. That's not just an "Arab" thing or a "fundamentalist" thing. That's just basic Islam.

But within that, you might have Muslims who emphasize the minute details (where you put your hands, how loud do you recite certain phraes, how do you stand, etc.)

I don't know if OBL prays often. I'm not sure how important an issue he is. To make an analogy, it is pretty clear that regular exercise is good for your health. At the same time, there are probably people who exercise regularly but also drink, smoke, do drugs who end up not so healthy. They still don't disprove the benefits or regular exercise.

sondjata said...

I get you, but maybe I'm not being clear in my line of thinking. I know that Salat is required, my position relative to Pino is his inference that somehow Salat makes Islam better than a religion (specifically Catholicism) that does not require set numbers of prayers. The reference to OBL is that presuming he actually prays as obligated, then prayer requirements do not neccessarily translate to a more "pious" individual. in that vein I agree wholeheartedly with your exercize example.

The other side of that critique is that one could be of the opinion that people who are not ritually required to pray a set number of times, but pray numerous times a day (in whatever capacity), as many Christians I know do, are more pious because the motivation for prayer comes from within' rather than a "dictate" of a specific belief system.

I hope that clarifies what I'm trying to get across.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Personally, I would go back to the idea that it is *really* hard to be *totally* tolerant of religions in the way you seem to have in mind.
One religion might have rules governing a certain practice (prayer, fasting, etc.) Another religion might have fewer or no rules about the same practice.

Most folks who follow the first religion and feel good about their religion might think that the second religion is too lax, on that point. Most folks who follow the second religion and feel good about it might think that the first religion is too rigid or strict. So it goes.

I think I would agree with you that if we can agree that a certain practice is a good thing, then the person who does it freely out of love is probably at a higher level than the person who does it grudgingly with a sense of obligation. But I'm not sure if that's the issue here. The question is whether we should have the rule or not. To frame it in terms of the exercise analogy, yes the person who gets up naturally to go jogging because they love it is probably better than the person who only gets up because they are nagged by a personal trainer. But at least the nagged person is getting excercise. And in the long run s/he's going to be better off than the lazy-butt with no personal trainer who sleeps in all day.

make sense?

Talibah said...

I thought that the story was really compelling and made great sense. Its interesting to see what people focus on. Our experience is all about paradigms and perspectives and the language we use to articulate what is happening. Anything anyone says can be deemed problematic or inaccurate. People are just people doing what they can do, and understanding how they can understand. As a "scholar-activist" I have yet to understand this completely, because much of my life is defined by social analysis, criticism, and contemplating the implications of this and that. And even though I may have a valid point, be well read, or seemingly more perceptive than the status quo, there is still a way that I can use my supposed knowledge and psycho-social analysis to always have the one up; maybe I don't know what I am talking about . . .