Tuesday, September 28, 2010

sidney, ny wants local muslims to dig up their graves

A town in upstate New York is trying to force a local Muslim religious community to dig up a small cemetery on its property and never bury anyone there again because it says it's illegal. Part of the "problem" is that there are no laws in Sidney -- or New York state, for that matter -- covering cemeteries on private land -- religious cemeteries included. Plus, the town approved the cemetery in 2005.

The cemetery is part of the Osmanlı Nakş-ı'bendi Hakkani Dergahı led by Shaykh Abdul Kerim al-Kibrisi.

For more details about the facts of the case, you can check out: Tiny Upstate New York Town Wants Local Muslims to Dig Up Their Cemetery

For me the case raises a couple of different issues. Obviously on one level its just a basic (and all-too-frequent) example of Islamophobia. What makes this case especially frustrating is that Sufi groups like the above mentioned Naqshbandis are supposed to be among the "good Muslims" and yet they are still facing difficulties finding acceptance.

Monday, September 27, 2010

islam, catholics and st. francis

Just today I got a nice note from one of my Catholic aunts in the mail. It was an article from her Church bulletin: Franciscans Lift Voices Against Tide of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric. The piece makes a number of interesting points. The article parallels the prejudice faced by American Muslims now with the difficulties faced by Catholics in an earlier period.

Pastor Jones' teaching that "Islam is of the Devil" is contrasted with the orthodox Catholic teaching out of Lumen Gentium which after describing the role of the Church and the children of Israel says:
the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

The Islamophobia around the Ground Zero mosque is contrasted with Dignitatis Humanae's statement that:
religious groups . . . must be allowed to honor the Supreme God in public worship ... and promote institutions in which members may work together to organize their own lives. ... Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered by legislation or administrative action by the civil authority ... in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of the property they need.

The piece also referred to an interesting anecdote about St. Francis' meeting with the Sultan, al-Malik al-Kamil during the Crusades. "Francis was not able to win the Sultan over to the Gospel of Christ, but returned to Europe impressed by the faith he had experienced among the followers of Islam, convinced that he had met other worshipers of God like himself."

It turns out that the details of the meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan are contested so the story tends to be an inkblot for how the storyteller feels about Muslim-Christian relations. Some accounts talk about St. Francis' mission to convert the infidel Saracen while others (like the statement above) emphasize the mutual respect across religious communities. In fact I would argue that Catholic doctrine generally is somewhat of an "inkblot" in the sense that one could probably identify a number of exclusive statements to counter-balance the above inclusive teachings. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that in contemporary times some voices in the Church are making the former choice instead of the latter.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

green party candidate killed by an suv while riding bike

Huff Post: Natasha Pettigrew, Green Party Senate Candidate, Dies After Being Struck By SUV While Riding Bike Like they said on South Park, if irony was made of strawberries we'd be drinking a lot of smoothies right now. Condolences to Natasha's family.

is glee racist?

Here is a mini-roundup of some articles on Glee. My take on the issue is that the first season definitely engaged in some edgy but entertaining "self-aware racism" and was mostly limited to the outlandish comments of Sue Sylvester. But based on the premiere episode of the second season, the "racism" is less self-aware, more gratuitous, and may not have quotes. It is certainly less entertaining. Let's see how the rest of the season shapes up.

The Stir: Is Glee Racist? by Brittney Drye
Charice on Glee, Racism and the Corporate Media by Yfur Porsche Fernandez
Feminist Frequency: Top 5 Problems with Glee: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Season 2 Premiere

the f-word: feminism in islam

Religion Dispatches: The “F” word: Feminism in Islam by Amina Wadud

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

mooz-lum on npr

NPR: Film 'Mooz-lum' Confronts Public Perceptions Of Islam is an interview with film creator Qasim Basir and actor Roger Guenveur Smith. I liked hearing more from Basir and I hope the film does well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

pardon my dust

For a while I've started to be more appreciative of the fluid nature of the internet, specifically, the annoying habit of links to die. And since I've been blogging for over five years now, my older blog posts are certainly not immune to this problem. What is especially embarrassing is when I realize that someone has come to my blog specifically searching for a song or a clip or an article I was once linked to but they end up frustrated because the appropriate link is no longer useful or functional. I'm slowly trying to fix old links but wouldn't mind getting a heads-up from readers if they notice dead links too. (You can leave a comment to let me know). Thanks.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

the arab league of hip-hop

Recently I've been mulling over the words at the top of my blog and I've been trying to develop a deeper, more fleshed out notion for myself of what they mean. Just what does a global anti-hegemonic counter-modernity look like and how does it provide an alternative to global imperialism? In what sense is Islam at the heart of this emerging culture? For the moment, I'm finding it more difficult to answer this question on the political level, but easier to elaborate in the realm of culture.

For example, a recent piece in Foreign Policy, The Arab League of Hip Hop gives a nice survey of some recent developments in Arab (mostly Muslim) hip-hop. Prominently featured in the article is UK-born Palestinian MC, Shadia Mansour, the "First Lady of Arab Hip-Hop".

"hamdulillah" by the narcicyst (ft. shadia mansour)

Beautiful song. Beautiful video.
(h/t to islamicate)

muslims, islamic law and public policy in the united states

Muslims, Islamic Law and Public Policy in the United States By Sherman A. Jackson is an interesting discussion of the duality and double-consciousness which comes with being a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, specifically how can one reconcile the demands of a "traditional" rulings of Sunni fiqh with the living in the U.S. under a secular constitution.

al qaeda also fed up with ground zero construction delays

kind of like jews

Over at Killing the Buddha, Kind of Like Jews by Gordon Haber is an article about a group of former Messianics who converted to the Noahide faith. The article is a nice glimpse of the modern community of Shomrey Tzedek. The main reservation I would have is that Haber seems to view Noahidism only as a "new" religious movement which he traces back to the nineteenth century Italian rabbi Elijah Benamozegh and his French Gentile disciple, Aime Palliere. But even in the Bible, the book of Acts mentions the Gentile Godfearers who had some attachment to Judaism in ancient times.

See also:
"god gave noah the rainbow sign..." (part four)
"god gave noah the rainbow sign..." (part one)

Friday, September 17, 2010

one person's america-hating radical is another person's patriotic good ol' boy

Recently I was thinking about how odd it is that some folks on the right wing (e.g. Tea Partiers and the usual suspect of Fox News pundits) are so willing to show contempt and suspicion for the President, the Speaker of the House, Congress in general, various provisions of the US Constitution, basic principles of American democracy, the current policies of the government and then turn around and criticize others (usually liberals, Blacks, Latinos or Muslims) for being unAmerican. Among the most extreme we even have people like Sharron Angle suggesting the possibility of "Second Amendment remedies" to government "tyranny".

On the more apocalyptic side, during the US Presidential election we were endlessly confronted with the loop of Jeremiah Wright saying "God damn America" but most white evangelicals are willing to accept (or even celebrate as a cautionary tale) Ruth Graham's statement "if God doesn't soon bring judgment upon America, He'll have to go back and apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!” source

As a more entertaining and contemporary way to highlight this kind of right-wing hypocrisy as it relates to how we speak about 9/11, the Center for American Progress put together a Blaming-America-for-9/11-Quiz where you can try to match a set of "controversial" statements about 9/11 with the person who said them. Enjoy.

h/t to Islamicate

salaam ladies. look at your man. now back to me. now back at your man. now back to me.

I'm not trying to start rumors about his religion (or birthplace or political affiliations) but I think it is cool that the "Old Spice Guy" is named Isaiah Mustafa. Some superficial facts about him (his first name, his appearing half-naked on tv, serving and drinking liquor on the red carpet) suggest he's probably not Muslim but I'm still curious about what the story is. I'm guessing that his father or grandfather was in the Nation of Islam.

On other fronts, some writers have found interesting things to say about the "Old Spice Guy" from a racial lens:

The Root: Why the Old Spice Guy Is Good for Black America
The Daily Beast: The Post-Racial Commercial Genius

Farai Chideya especially (in the Daily Beast) does a good job of tracing how American thinking about Black male sexuality has changed from Emmett Till to Billy Dee Williams to Terry Crews (who was the "Old Spice Guy" before Mustafa) to Isaiah Mustafa.

Imdb: Isaiah Mustafa
Wikipedia: Isaiah Mustafa

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

i'm just hoping blair underwood doesn't end up sounding like al pacino in scarface

I was already intrigued by the ads I saw for the new NBC series The Event. The mix of science fiction and political conspiracies seemed right up my alley. Now I just found out that in the fictional world of the show, the president is an Afro-Cuban-American named Elias Martinez. Should be interesting. I think he's probably the only Afro-Cuban character on national (English-language) television since Gina Torres (who is Afro-Cuban herself) played Anna Espinosa on Alias.

The Grio: Playing a black president gets complicated in age of Obama by Ronda Racha Penrice

Monday, September 13, 2010

coalition of african american muslims

The following is from the recently-formed Coalition of African American Muslims. (h/t to Seeker's Guidance) It seemed like a generally positive gathering with a lot of good things being said. It will be interesting to see what this group produces in the long run. I'm especially curious about the Nation of Islam and what implications there will be for relations between African-American Sunni Muslims and the followers of Farrakhan.

Mission Statement

The controversy over the Park 51 Project (Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan) is indicative of a general rise in racist bigotry towards people of color in this country. While the issue has its particular and unique distinctions, it cannot be separated from the rising violence against African Americans and Latinos, or the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and exclusionary politics driving the national debate on immigration.

As African-American Muslims, we feel our unique perspective has been missing from an emerging national discussion. We wish to join that discussion by first of all affirming that among our forbears are Muslims who have lived peacefully and productively in this country since its inception. They, and others among our people have sacrificed too much, both in enduring the horrors and brutalities of chattel slavery, and during the long march to freedom, civil and human rights for us to silently accept a return to Jim Crow exclusionary practices and policies that relegate either ourselves or our co-religionists from other ethnic backgrounds to second-class citizenry.

We commend all of those Jews, Christians and members of other faith and ethnic communities who have raised their voices in defense of the constitutional rights of all Americans. We also laud the work that other Muslim organizations have done in response to the current situation. We add our voice to theirs and will work for a country that reflects the diversity of its people and extends full and equal rights to all.

CAAM Will:

* Work to expose the underlying foreign and domestic agenda being served by the ongoing demonization of Muslims;

* Be a voice for those who have been intimidated into silence;

* Establish networks between organizations representing those elements of the population, regardless of race or religion who are suffering as a result of the politics of fear and exclusion.

Coalition Members

Abdul Jalil Muhammad
Imam Abdul Malik
Amir Muhammad
Asma Hanif
Hodari Ali Imam
Johari Abdul Malik
Attorney Kareema
Al-Amin Imam Khalid Griggs
Minister Louis Farrakhan
Imam Nadim Ali
Nisa Islam Muhammad
Imam Siraj Wahhaj
Imam Talib Deen
Imam Umar Ibn Khattab
Imam Yahya Cason
Imam Zaid Shakir

Imam Zaid Shakir

Mahdi Bray

Asma Hanif

Imam Abdul Malik

Imam Siraj Wahaj

Minister Louis Farrakhan

Farrakhan Part 2

Farrakhan Part 3

"machete" and xenophobia

Interesting. I was already intrigued by the fake trailer in Grindhouse and surprised when I saw the trailer for the real film in the movie theater. I may not wait for the DVD on this one:

Southern Poverty Law Center: The Xenophobic Right's Weird Reaction to Hollywood Blockbuster 'Machete'

um... so is newt gingrich trying to defend white imperialism?

How Obama Thinks by Dinesh D'Souza is the original piece which started this mess. In it, D'Souza, rather presumptuously tries to psychoanalyze Obama and explain his foreign and domestic policy decision in terms of the "anticolonial" (read "foreign", "unAmerican", "socialist") dreams of his father. The piece also strikes me as unnecessarily insulting in parts.

Here is the National Review piece with Newt Gingrich's comments on the issue: Gingrich: Obama’s ‘Kenyan, anti-colonial’ worldview

And here is a report from the Huffington Post: Newt Gingrich Slammed For Saying Obama May Hold 'Kenyan, Anti-Colonial' Worldview

black muslims hear echoes of jim crow in anti-muslim furor

Huffington Post: Black Muslims Hear Echoes Of Jim Crow In Current Anti-Muslim Furor

are blacks less islamophobic?

The Root: Is There Less Anti-Islamic Sentiment Among Blacks?
Recent data about how black and white Americans view the New York City mosque controversy suggest that this is true, but opinions vary as to why.

a few more thoughts on the mosque

Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/11... in moments of crisis, positions become clear

This spoken word video is a collaboration between artist Anida Yoeu Ali and filmmaker Masahiro Sugano with over 50 diverse volunteers, participants and community members in the Chicagoland area. It is part of an ongoing project that engages art as a form of intervention against the racial profiling of Muslims in a post 9/11 era. The larger project titled “The 1700% Project” uses a multi-faceted artistic approach to educate the wider public about the diversity within the Muslim community. The number 1700% refers to the exponential percentage increase of hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim since the events of September 11, 2001.

1700% Project Website
Anida Yoeu Ali's blog: Atomic Shotgun

see also: the day after

Saturday, September 11, 2010

immortal technique on immigration, slavery and religion

aside from the whole quran-burning issue, some other reasons why afghans might be less than totally pro-american...

Huffington Post: U.S. Soldiers Allegedly Killed Afghan Civilians, Kept Body Parts As Trophies

muslims and islam were part of twin towers life

To be honest, the more I study and reflect on the "Ground Zero Mosque" issue the more difficulty I have accepting or respecting the whole "sensitivity" argument. First of all, the 9/11 families and victims organizations don't all speak with one voice and several of them (like September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Not in Our Name) are opposed to war and Islamophobia. Secondly, if people can tolerate strip clubs and pizza places on "sacred ground" they should be able to tolerate Muslims practicing their religion there. But thirdly, the never stated, and therefore unquestioned, assumption behind the opposition to the Park 51 project is that all Muslims in the US should be equated with the terrorists behind 9/11.

One of the more persuasive counter-arguments (I think) lies in also pointing out the extent to which Muslims are and have been an integral part of American life. Not only does the nearby African Burial Ground hold Muslim bodies. Not only was that part of lower Manhattan historically "Little Syria". Not only is there already a mosque there for Muslims who work nearby. Not only were there Muslims who were victims and heroic responders to the World Trade Center attack. On top of all that, the World Trade Center originally had a Muslim prayer space for the Muslims who were an integral part of the life of the community.

see also
Planet Grenada: "refudiating" islamophobia: park 51 / cordoba house / the (not-really-at)-ground zero mosque

Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life
New York Times
September 10, 2010

Sometime in 1999, a construction electrician received a new work assignment from his union. The man, Sinclair Hejazi Abdus-Salaam, was told to report to 2 World Trade Center, the southern of the twin towers.

In the union locker room on the 51st floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam went through a construction worker’s version of due diligence. In the case of an emergency in the building, he asked his foreman and crew, where was he supposed to reassemble? The answer was the corner of Broadway and Vesey.

Over the next few days, noticing some fellow Muslims on the job, Mr. Abdus-Salaam voiced an equally essential question: “So where do you pray at?” And so he learned about the Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower.

He went there regularly in the months to come, first doing the ablution known as wudu in a washroom fitted for cleansing hands, face and feet, and then facing toward Mecca to intone the salat prayer.

On any given day, Mr. Abdus-Salaam’s companions in the prayer room might include financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers. There were American natives, immigrants who had earned citizenship, visitors conducting international business — the whole Muslim spectrum of nationality and race.

Leaping down the stairs on Sept. 11, 2001, when he had been installing ceiling speakers for a reinsurance company on the 49th floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam had a brief, panicked thought. He didn’t see any of the Muslims he recognized from the prayer room. Where were they? Had they managed to evacuate?

He staggered out to the gathering place at Broadway and Vesey. From that corner, he watched the south tower collapse, to be followed soon by the north one. Somewhere in the smoking, burning mountain of rubble lay whatever remained of the prayer room, and also of some of the Muslims who had used it.

Given the vitriolic opposition now to the proposal to build a Muslim community center two blocks from ground zero, one might say something else has been destroyed: the realization that Muslim people and the Muslim religion were part of the life of the World Trade Center.

Opponents of the Park51 project say the presence of a Muslim center dishonors the victims of the Islamic extremists who flew two jets into the towers. Yet not only were Muslims peacefully worshiping in the twin towers long before the attacks, but even after the 1993 bombing of one tower by a Muslim radical, Ramzi Yousef, their religious observance generated no opposition

“We weren’t aliens,” Mr. Abdus-Salaam, 60, said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he moved in retirement. “We had a foothold there. You’d walk into the elevator in the morning and say, ‘Salaam aleikum,’ to one construction worker and five more guys in suits would answer, ‘Aleikum salaam.’ ”

One of those men in suits could have been Zafar Sareshwala, a financial executive for the Parsoli Corporation, who went to the prayer room while on business trips from his London office. He was introduced to it, he recently recalled, by a Manhattan investment banker who happened to be Jewish.

“It was so freeing and so calm,” Mr. Sareshwala, 47, said in a phone conversation from Mumbai, where he is now based. “It had the feel of a real mosque. And the best part is that you are in the epicenter of capitalism — New York City, the World Trade Center — and you had this island of spiritualism. I don’t think you could have that combination anywhere in the world.”

How, when and by whom the prayer room was begun remains unclear. Interviews this week with historians and building executives of the trade center came up empty. Many of the Port Authority’s leasing records were destroyed in the towers’ collapse. The imams of several Manhattan mosques whose members sometimes went to the prayer room knew nothing of its origins.

Yet the room’s existence is etched in the memories of participants like Mr. Abdus-Salaam and Mr. Sareshwala. Prof. John L. Esposito of Georgetown University, an expert in Islamic studies, briefly mentions the prayer room in his recent book “The Future of Islam.”

Moreover, the prayer room was not the only example of Muslim religious practice in or near the trade center. About three dozen Muslim staff members of Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower, used a stairwell between the 106th and 107th floors for their daily prayers.

Without enough time to walk to the closest mosque — Masjid Manhattan on Warren Street, about four blocks away — the waiters, chefs, banquet managers and others would lay a tablecloth atop the concrete landing in the stairwell and flatten cardboard boxes from food deliveries to serve as prayer mats.

During Ramadan, the Muslim employees brought their favorite foods from home, and at the end of the daylight fast shared their iftar meal in the restaurant’s employee cafeteria.

Iftar was my best memory,” said Sekou Siby, 45, a chef originally from the Ivory Coast. “It was really special.”

Such memories have been overtaken, though, by others. Mr. Siby’s cousin and roommate, a chef named Abdoul-Karim Traoré, died at Windows on the World on Sept. 11, as did at least one other Muslim staff member, a banquet server named Shabir Ahmed from Bangladesh.

Fekkak Mamdouh, an immigrant from Morocco who was head waiter, attended a worship service just weeks after the attacks that honored the estimated 60 Muslims who died. Far from being viewed as objectionable, the service was conducted with formal support from city, state and federal authorities, who arranged for buses to transport imams and mourners to Warren Street.

There, within sight of the ruins, they chanted salat al-Ghaib, the funeral prayer when there is not an intact corpse.

“It is a shame, shame, shame,” Mr. Mamdouh, 49, said of the Park51 dispute. “Sometimes I wake up and think, this is not what I came to America for. I came here to build this country together. People are using this issue for their own agenda. It’s designed to keep the hate going.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

"none but the purified shall touch it"

This has been rattling in my head for the past month (and longer actually) but now that the month of the Quran is over it seems a little bit late.

One of the more controversial debates in Islamic theology has to do with the nature of the Quran and whether it is created or uncreated. The dominant orthodox position is that "it" is uncreated. But what does it mean to say that "the Quran is uncreated"? The physical Quran made of paper and ink is obviously created. When the Quran is recited, the sound waves of the recitation are similarly created. The letters and sounds of human language, Arabic included, are arguably created as well. (although some schools of thought might begin to disagree with this point).

One of the most satisfying explanations I've found on this topic comes from Belief and Islam (I'tiqad-nama) by Mawlana Diya ad-din Khalid al-Baghdadi. Some of the linguistic and psychological claims may be controversial but, I would argue, they still work for the purposes of analogy (also note that Syriac is a form of Aramaic):
When a person wants to give an order, to forbid something, to ask something or to give some news, first he thinks about and prepares it in his mind. These meanings in mind are called “kalâm nafsî,” which cannot be said to be Arabic, Persian or English. Their being expressed in various languages does not cause these meanings to change. Words expressing these meanings are called “kalâm lafzî.” Kalâm lafzî can be said in different languages. So, kalâm nafsî of a person is a pure, unchangeable, distinct attribute that exists in its possessor like other attributes such as knowledge, will, discernment, etc., and kalâm lafzî is a group of letters that express kalâm nafsî and that come out of the mouth of the person uttering them and that come to the ear. Thus, the Word of Allâhu ta’âlâ is the eternal, everlasting, non-silent and non-creature Word existent with His Person. It is an attribute distinct from the as-Sifât adh-Dhâtiyya and from as-Sifât ath-Thubûtiyya of Allâhu ta’âlâ, such as Knowledge and Will. The attribute Kalâm (Speech, Word) never changes and is pure. It is not in letters or sounds. It cannot be differentiated or classified as command, prohibition, narration or as Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Turkish or Syriac. It does not take such forms. It cannot be written. It does not need such apparatuses or media as intelligence, ear or tongue. Nevertheless, it can be understood through them as a being distinct from all beings we know; it can be told in any language wished. Thus, if it is told in Arabic it is called the Qurân al-kerîm. If it is told in Hebrew it is the Tawrât. If it is told in Syriac it is the Injîl.

So one of the more interesting corrolaries of the above is that from "God's perspective", from the view of kalam nafsi, the Quran, the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms (at least in their original forms) are actually the same book! Al-Baghdadi goes on to write:
The ’ulamâ’ of the right path unanimously say that al-Kalâm an-nafsî is not a creature but it is qadîm (eternal). There is no unanimity on whether al-Kalâm al-lafzî is hâdith (created) or qadîm. Some who regarded al-Kalâm al-lafzî as hâdith said that it was better not to say that it is hâdith for it might be misunderstood and come to mean that al-Kalâm an-nafsî is hâdith. This is the best comment about it. When the human mind hears something that denotes something else, it simultaneously remembers the denoted thing. When one of the ’ulamâ’ of the right path is heard to have said that the Qurân al-kerîm was hâdith, we must understand that he referred to sounds and words which we read with our mouth. The ’ulamâ’ of the right path have unanimously said that both al-Kalâm an-nafsî and al-Kalâm al-lafzî are the Word of Allâhu ta’âlâ. Though some ’ulamâ’ considered this word metaphoric, they all agreed that it was the Divine Word. That al-Kalâm an-nafsî is the Word of Allâhu ta’âlâ means that it is Allâhu ta’âlâ’s Attribute of Speech, and that al-Kalâm al-lafzî is the Word of Allâhu ta’âlâ means that it is created by Allâhu ta’âlâ.

When I try to contemplate what it means to say that the Quran, Gospel and Torah are the "same" in their pre-eternal forms, the concept which comes to mind is what I would call the "telescopic" aspect of different Abrahamic scriptures.

For example, there is the famous story about the time the great rabbi Hillel was asked by a prospective convert to teach him the entire Torah while he standing on one leg and Hillel said "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this--go and study it!" (An interesting side note: Ludwig Zamenhof, more famously known as the inventor of the language Esperanto also tried to develop and promote his own religion/ethical philosophy which he called Hillelism)

Using similar language, the New Testament attributes to following to Jesus (as):
So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets (i.e. the Tanakh). (Matthew 7:13)

In Islam there are many texts (both authentic and authoritative texts and secondary writings as well) which vividly describe the merits, the significance, the oceans of meaning associated with "La ilaha illa Allah" (no god but God) and some would even argue that the entire Quran is merely a commentary on this phrase.

Alternatively, according to one of the Naqshbandi saints:
All of the knowledge which God gave to humanity is contained in the four heavenly books (the Quran, the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms). All the knowledge of the four books is found in the Quran. All the knowledge of the Quran is found in Al-Fatiha (the first surah). All the knowledge of Al-Fatiha is contained in the Bismillah (the first verse). All the knowledge of the Bismillah is found in the Ba (the first letter). And all the knowledge of the Ba is found in the dot underneath it.

The above reminds me of an argument I had with a Christian friend of mine a few years ago. He claimed that the Bible was a "good" size, but that the Quran was too short a book to be a suitable guide to life. I had to explain to him that if length was the important yardstick, that if you add the hadith collections to the Quran the Islamic scriptures are actually several times longer than the Bible. But I also tried to make the more important point that length of scripture is a really bad yardstick. Religious language is uniquely capable of packing large amounts of meaning in a few words. Hillel's Golden Rule or "La ilaha illa Allah" could fit on a sheet of fortune cookie paper and that would be "sufficient". Everything else is just commentary.

Of course, if you are Muslim you will be more "at home" with the distinctive features of the written Quran. It's structure will be more understandable. It's stories more familiar. It's verses more comforting and inspiring. But I'm still intrigued by the possibility that in a "telescopic" sense different religions can "contain" one another. I might have to wait for another post to develop that idea further.

Finally, I've been thinking about all of the above while following the news about the Dove "World" Outreach Church and Pastor Terry Jones' Quran-burning stunt., especially in the context of the ayat "None but the purified shall touch it [the Quran]". On one level it is a proscriptive statement which alludes to the requirement that one be ritually clean before handling the physical text of the book. On another level it is a metaphysical statement that only the angels will have access to the copy of the book in heaven. On a spiritual/intellectual level it suggests that only the person of pure intention can truly understand the book. And so in the end, regardless of whether or not Jones decides to burn copies of the Quran made of paper and ink, on multiple levels he has no "grasp" of the real Quran which is safe from his ignorance and bigotry.

eid mubarak y'all

Wow, the month is over. I have no idea what I'll have for lunch.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

immortal technique on gaza flotilla

immortal technique on social change, terrorism, afghanistan, and the nature of democracy

immortal technique on the iraq invasion, afghanistan, 9/11, obama and the music industry

immortal technique on haiti

I just got turned on to the Russia Times YouTube channel which has a surprising about of hip-hop content, including a series of interviews with political Afro-Peruvian rapper/activist, Immortal Technique. This interview begins and ends with a discussion of Haiti in the wake of the earthquake but also touches on the role of the US in Latin America generally.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

9/11 happened to us all

conversations with history: abdullahi ahmed an-naim

An interesting hour of conversation between Abdullah Ahmed An-Naim and Harry Kreisler on the subject of Islam and the secular state. I still haven't made up my mind about An-Naim. I have too many books on my reading list at the moment and haven't gotten to his yet. However his website is pretty well-stocked with articles and video clips expressing his ideas.

down with fanatics!

Down With Fanatics!

If I had my way with violent men
I'd simmer them in oil,
I'd fill a pot with bitumen
And bring them to the boil.
I execrate the terrorist
And those who harbour him,
And if I weren't a moralist
I'd tear them limb from limb.

Fanatics are an evil breed
Whom decent men should shun;
I'd like to flog them till they bleed,
Yes, every mother's son,
I'd like to tie them to a board
And let them taste the cat,
While giving praise, oh thank the Lord,
That I am not like that.

For we should love the human kind,
As Jesus taught us to,
And those who don't should be struck blind
And beaten black and blue;
I'd like to roast them in a grill
And listen to them shriek,
Then break them on the wheel until
They turned the other cheek.

-- Roger Woddis

the end of the covenant

God's Covenant, Judaism and Interfaith Marriage by Paul Golin starts off as a pretty unsurprising review of Jewish views on inter-religious marriage on the occasion of the Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky nuptuals. But I was definitely surprised by the second half the article which started to swim in much deeper waters:

In the 1970s, when radical modern-Orthodox thinker Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg grappled with the full implications of the Holocaust, he concluded that God's withdrawal from earthly affairs and failure to protect His chosen people meant, quite dramatically, that "the covenant was broken." However, Rabbi Greenberg suggested that "the Jewish people was so in love with the dream of redemption that it volunteered to carry on with its mission." And in fact those who took up the "voluntary covenant," as he called it, were even greater than those who acted "only out of command."

Personally I found the above intriguing for a number of reasons. First, while many (but not necessarily all) Christians, Muslims, Bahais, etc. might readily admit that God's covenant with the Jewish people is no longer in effect, it seems unusual (perhaps even contradictory) to find an Orthodox Jew making that claim.

Secondly, as horrible as the Holocaust was it really more theologically significant than other great tragedies in Jewish history like the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian Captivity, or the destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent diaspora?

Thirdly, the quote serves as a cautionary "tale", the article makes me wonder if Muslims attitudes towards the sharia will ever become comparable to Jewish attitudes towards the halakhah?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

green deen

For a while I've known that there were isolated Muslim environmentalists here and there. But recently it seems "Islamic environmentalism" has become much organized and fleshed out as a movement. If you are interested in the subject, here is a website for the book Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Saving the Planet by Ibrahim Abdul-Mateen.

Green Deen is also the name of an apparently independent set of group blogs. The older incarnation was on blogspot Green Deen (old) but a few years ago they switched over to wordpress: Green Deen (new).

Yet another blog is the The Ramadan Compact which touches on the environment but really emphasizes excessive consumption from a $$$ perspective.

And finally there is Green Zabiha an organic, halal/zabiha meat provider.

All the pages have interesting links for further exploration.

jihad and the modern world

Jihad and the Modern World by Sherman Jackson is a candid, and at the same time thoughtful and nuanced paper discussing the concept of jihad in Islam. While not denying that jihad has a role in Islamic law and affirming that the Muslim ummah has a right to self-defense, Prof. Jackson argues, with support from the Quran and later classical scholarship, that peaceful co-existence between the Muslim and non-Muslim world is possible.

book talk: the african caliphate

A discussion of The African Caliphate : The Life, Works, and Teaching of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio (1754 - 1817) by Ibraheem Sulaiman

Summary: This scholarly work focuses on the establishment in 1809, in what is today Northern Nigeria, of the celebrated Sokoto caliphate, which may well have been the last re-establishment, anywhere in the world, of Islam in its entirety, comprising all its many and varied dimensions.

brazilian slave results as a form of jihad

The title of The Islamic Slave Revolts of Bahia, Brazil: A Continuity of the 19th Century Jihaad Movements of Western Sudan by Abu Alfa Muhammad Shareef bin Farid is pretty self-explanatory. The link is to a 73-page book on the subject.

"it doesn't end with a period, it ends with a comma"

Heru: The Epic African Drama

rallying of the muhammadaic forces

Rallying of the Muhammadaic Forces by Imam Zaid Shakir

Now is not the time for Muslims in the West to hide or run away in the face of the abuses some elements in western societies are heaping on Islam and its adherents. Now is the time for us to stand up and become messengers and ambassadors of the truth we profess. This is the only way we will beat back the lies, distortions, and propaganda that have made even some Muslims question the possibility of a positive future for Muslims in the western world.

Friday, September 03, 2010

shariah: between two popes

Sharî'ah: Between Two Popes by Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson looks at some interesting differences in how the Catholic and Coptic popes approach the Shariah. Pope Benedict XVI, viewing the issue through the lens of modern Western notions of the state and assumes the shariah will impose a uniform law without any accommodation for religious difference. On the other hand, Pope Shanoudah, understanding that the shariah actually allows for religious minorities to govern themselves according to their own rules, actually appealed to the shariah in order to enforce Coptic principles on Coptic couples.

the postcolonial condition of muslim states

A brief observation of the condition of the Muslim world by Abdullahi An-Naim

dr. jackson issues a challenge

Dr. Sherman Jackson, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at University of Michigan and author of several pioneering books, including “Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering,” has issued a challenge for supporters of IMAN (the Inner-City Muslim Action Network based in Chicago) in these final days of Ramadan. In a generous commitment, Dr. Jackson has agreed to match, dollar for dollar, all donations received online until the end of our Heal the ‘Hood campaign. Read more about the challenge here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

hip-hop artistry knows no borders

I was listening to NPR the other day and caught part of an interview with Ana Tijoux. Tijoux is a Chilean rapper, born in France to parents who fled there to escape the Pinochet regime. The interview also mentions Detroit MC, Invincible who has appeared here before. NPR also posted a clip Ana Tijoux: Tiny Desk Concert of Tijoux performing her raps in a small intimate space accompanied only by a single percussionist.

Aside from liking the music and her delivery, the other thing I was struck by is the degree to which hip-hop has become "respectable" in recent times. This year Invincible (Ilana Weaver) was awarded a Kresge Foundation grant. NPR is doing stories on rappers. And PBS is televising hip-hop shows. The times, they are a changing.

Planet Grenada:
invincible / emergence
mos def and k'naan on austin city limits

two folks getting ready for burn-a-quran day

h/t to islamicate

the king's torah and the roots (and branches) of jewish violence

What follows is mostly from Coteret with a few passages from Haaretz. But to make a long story short, Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur wrote a legal text called The King's Torah which discusses the circumstances, according to Jewish law, when it is permissible to kill non-Jews. The book is apparently a bestseller in Israel. Personally I don't find it all that shocking. Don't get me wrong, based on the excerpts, the book is definitely evil and racist and offensive. But it isn't particularly surprising. Even among mainstream rabbinic Judaism's traditional enumeration of the 613 commandments of the Torah you will 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

The above-listed commandments from Deuteronomy are clearly genocidal. And in the book of Joshua one can read about how they were implemented by the armies of the children of Israel who went from city to city "killing everything that had breath" in the "Promised land". And as far as the Old Testament is concerned those laws are still valid. Do I think all Jews and Christians are genocidal maniacs? Of course not. Christians typically teach that Jesus (as) abrogated those commandments (although I would argue it is still problematic to accept God would reveal such commandments in the first place) while many Jews today find creative ways to read those texts non-violently (e.g. saying that the Canaanite nations don't exist in the present-day, treating Amalek as a metaphor for the evil inclinations inside of everyone). Although in Israel today you definitely have more hawkish voices (like Netanyahu) who rhetorically invoke the label of "Amalek" to refer to the enemy of the day (Saddam Hussein, Iran, the PLO, Hammas, etc.)

So while the authors of the King's Torah are clearly extremists, they generally don't seem to be disavowed by the rabbinical establishment which makes it hard not to conclude that the apple isn't falling very far from the tree.

Something else which should be mentioned is that apparently US taxpayer money is being used to help support Rabbi Shapira's organization which definitely needs to be fixed.

[modified article begins]

The marble-patterned, hardcover book embossed with gold Hebrew letters looks like any other religious commentary you'd find in an Orthodox Judaica bookstore - but reads like a rabbinic instruction manual outlining acceptable scenarios for killing non-Jewish babies, children and adults.

The prohibition 'Thou Shalt Not Murder' applies only "to a Jew who kills a Jew," write Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. Non-Jews are "uncompassionate by nature" and attacks on them "curb their evil inclination," while babies and children of Israel's enemies may be killed since "it is clear that they will grow to harm us."

When is it permissible to kill non-Jews? The book Torat ha-Melekh [The King’s Teaching], which was just published, was written by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the dean of the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in the community of Yitzhar near Nablus, together with another rabbi from the yeshiva, Yossi Elitzur. The book contains no fewer than 230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guide for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.

Although the book is not being distributed by the leading book companies, it has already received warm recommendations from right-wing elements, including recommendations from important rabbis such as Yitzhak Ginsburg, Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef, that were printed at the beginning of the book. The book is being distributed via the Internet and through the yeshiva, and at this stage the introductory price is NIS 30 per copy. At the memorial ceremony that was held over the weekend in Jerusalem for Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was killed nineteen years ago, copies of the book were sold.

Throughout the book, the authors deal with in-depth theoretical questions in Jewish religious law regarding the killing of non-Jews. The words “Arabs” and “Palestinians” are not mentioned even indirectly, and the authors are careful to avoid making explicit statements in favor of an individual taking the law into his own hands. The book includes hundreds of sources from the Bible and religious law. The book includes quotes from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the fathers of religious Zionism, and from Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, one of the deans of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the stronghold of national-religious Zionism that is located in Jerusalem.

The book opens with a prohibition against killing non-Jews and justifies it, among other things, on the grounds of preventing hostility and any desecration of God’s name. But very quickly, the authors move from prohibition to permission, to the various dispensations for harming non-Jews, with the central reason being their obligation to uphold the seven Noahide laws, which every human being on earth must follow. Among these commandments are prohibitions on theft, bloodshed and idolatry. [The seven Noahide laws prohibit idolatry, murder, theft, illicit sexual relations, blasphemy and eating the flesh of a live animal, and require societies to institute just laws and law courts]

“When we approach a non-Jew who has violated the seven Noahide laws and kill him out of concern for upholding these seven laws, no prohibition has been violated,” states the book, which emphasizes that killing is forbidden unless it is done in obedience to a court ruling. But later on, the authors limit the prohibition, noting that it applies only to a “proper system that deals with non-Jews who violate the seven Noahide commandments.”

The book includes another conclusion that explains when a non-Jew may be killed even if he is not an enemy of the Jews. “In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created,” the authors state. “When a non-Jew assists a murderer of Jews and causes the death of one, he may be killed, and in any case where a non-Jew’s presence causes danger to Jews, the non-Jew may be killed.”

One of the dispensations for killing non-Jews, according to religious law, applies in a case of din rodef [the law of the “pursuer,” according to which one who is pursuing another with murderous intent may be killed extrajudicially] even when the pursuer is a civilian. “The dispensation applies even when the pursuer is not threatening to kill directly, but only indirectly,” the book states. “Even a civilian who assists combat fighters is considered a pursuer and may be killed. Anyone who assists the army of the wicked in any way is strengthening murderers and is considered a pursuer. A civilian who encourages the war gives the king and his soldiers the strength to continue. Therefore, any citizen of the state that opposes us who encourages the combat soldiers or expresses satisfaction over their actions is considered a pursuer and may be killed. Also, anyone who weakens our own state by word or similar action is considered a pursuer.”

Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur determine that children may also be harmed because they are “hindrances.” The rabbis write as follows: “Hindrances—babies are found many times in this situation. They block the way to rescue by their presence and do so completely by force. Nevertheless, they may be killed because their presence aids murder. There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

In addition, the children of the leader may be harmed in order to apply pressure to him. If attacking the children of a wicked ruler will influence him not to behave wickedly, they may be harmed. “It is better to kill the pursuers than to kill others,” the authors state.

In a chapter entitled “Deliberate harm to innocents,” the book explains that war is directly mainly against the pursuers, but those who belong to the enemy nation are also considered the enemy because they are assisting murderers.

Retaliation also has a place and purpose in this book by Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur. “In order to defeat the enemy, we must behave toward them in a spirit of retaliation and measure for measure,” they state. “Retaliation is absolutely necessary in order to render such wickedness not worthwhile. Therefore, sometimes we do cruel deeds in order to create the proper balance of terror.”

In one of the footnotes, the two rabbis write in such a way that appears to permit individuals to act on their own, outside of any decision by the government or the army.

“A decision by the nation is not necessary to permit shedding the blood of the evil kingdom,” the rabbis write. “Even individuals from the nation being attacked may harm them.”

Unlike books of religious law that are published by yeshivas, this time the rabbis added a chapter containing the book’s conclusions. Each of the six chapters is summarized into main points of several lines, which state, among other things: “In religious law, we have found that non-Jews are generally suspected of shedding Jewish blood, and in war, this suspicion becomes a great deal stronger. One must consider killing even babies, who have not violated the seven Noahide laws, because of the future danger that will be caused if they are allowed to grow up to be as wicked as their parents.”

Even though the authors are careful, as stated, to use the term “non-Jews,” there are certainly those who could interpret the nationality of the “non-Jews” who are liable to endanger the Jewish people. This is strengthened by the leaflet “The Jewish Voice,” which is published on the Internet from Yitzhar, which comments on the book: “It is superfluous to note that nowhere in the book is it written that the statements are directly only to the ancient non-Jews.” The leaflet’s editors did not omit a stinging remark directed at the GSS, who will certainly take the trouble to get themselves a copy. “The editors suggest to the GSS that they award the prize for Israel’s security to the authors,” the leaflet states, “who gave the detectives the option of reading the summarized conclusions without any need for in-depth study of the entire book.”

One student of the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in Yitzhar explained, from his point of view, where Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur got the courage to speak so freely on a subject such as the killing of non-Jews. “The rabbis aren’t afraid of prosecution because in that case, Maimonides [Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135–1204] and Nahmanides [Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, 1194–1270] would have to stand trial too, and anyway, this is research on religious law,” the yeshiva student said. “In a Jewish state, nobody sits in jail for studying Torah.”

Coteret: Settler Rabbi publishes “The complete guide to killing non-Jews” — UPDATED
Haaretz: The King's Torah: a rabbinic text or a call to terror?
AlJazeera: The King's Torah
Alternet: How to Kill Goyim and Influence People: Israeli Rabbis Defend Book's Shocking Religious Defense
of Killing Non-Jews (with Video)
MyJewishLearning: Genocide in the Torah: The existential threat of Amalek by Shmuly Yanklowitz
City of Brass: Iran as Amalek: Netanyahu pulls an Ahmadinejad

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


It seems like every few years there are interesting and meaningful connections between days on the Islamic calendar and days on the Gregorian calendar. Unfortunately, it seems like this year, Eid al-Fitr may fall on 9/11. Ouch.

the rise of islamic rap

The Rise of Islamic Rap by Peter Mandaville focuses on how South Asian Muslim youth in the UK have chosen to express themselves using Black American musical forms. The article goes on to view this movement in the context of increasing cooperation between young Muslims and left-leaning movements (the World Social Forums, the Green Party, alter-globalization, etc.)

planet grenada and islam and hip-hop