Tag Archives: Islam

what’s changed since then?

As’ad AbuKhalil faces off against a liberal actor, a white woman who proclaims herself as a “voice for Middle Eastern Women”, a huffing anticommunist Cuban ex-pat polemicist, and the very personification of smug white male privilege himself – Bill Maher. What’s surprising about this “discussion” is that so little of the discourse has actually changed since November 2001. The panel makeup remains the same and Bill Maher (and by extension his constituency) continues to know more about Islam than Muslims:

the white convert to Islam

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

The Prophet Muhammad, 632 ACE

Despite these famous and remarkable words, in today’s world there is an interest and fetishization of white converts to Islam, especially females. Whether plastered on tabloids such as Lauren Booth or Yvonne Ridley or admired among progressives such as Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) or Shks. Hamza Yusuf and Suhaib Webb, there seems a particular fascination with Muslim converts from white, western backgrounds. This interest is particularly white nationalist in nature, whether positive or negative. White female converts are often exposed to soft accusations of “race traitor” or painted as unstable, recovering from trauma, while male white converts are propped up as “ideal” Muslims for conducting East-West and interfaith dialogue.

Amazingly, the clip above is translated into Arabic and presumably used for dawa (outreach) purposes. Yet the language is laden with prejudices, asking “why” she would convert when she “had it all” – assuming they mean she is white and from a middle-upper class family, beautiful, etc and so why would she choose to convert from this background.

Female converts such as Lauren Booth and Yvonne Ridley are often mentioned as being former alcoholics, Muslim sympathizers, and women without successful love lives. A common assumption within the white community is that these women have met Muslim men and converted only half-willingly, recalling the dizzying spectre of miscegenation which is still an issue both in the Muslim world and in the West – but only when power positions between “races” are assumed to be unfavorable.

On the other hand, male convert figures such as Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf, and Suhaib Webb are singled out to act as bridges between their “new” identities and their former communities. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf acted as advisor to former USA President Bush’s administration and co-founded the “first American madrassa” in California (Zaytuna Institute) while  Sheikh Suhaib Webb is involved with dawa initiatives throughout the United States and runs a wildly popular blog with hundreds of thousands of readers. Besides a hiccup involving the Salman Rushdie scandal in the 1980’s, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) has been considered an icon of moderate and peaceful Islam, quick to speak out against “Islamic” violence. These men, as white converts, are presented in their work and through the Western media as voices of reason in otherwise “unreasonable” Islamic scholarship.

These presentations of white converts to Islam implies a continued obsession with white nationalism and male patriarchy in the Western countries, but also belies a racial or cultural complex within the Muslim world as well. While white converts from the West certainly have contributions to make to the multicultural-linguistic-racial fabric that is a global community of Muslims, we must take care that they are not being valued for the wrong reasons, as tokens or warnings as such. This is not to say that white western converts have not contributed mightily to the Muslim world. Indeed, Shkhs. Yusuf and Webb are accredited and intelligent scholars of Islam and have helped countless Muslims in the West navigate between worlds. Yet when a white convert – no matter their fame or activism – is asked to discuss matters of Islamic jurisprudence or culture simply because of their skin color or cultural/national background, we must be wary that we are not appropriating or emulating white nationalist motivations. Perhaps a scholar would better answer questions or deliver talks rather than someone who can “speak the language” of the West.

There is no doubt that cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue should take place, but we should choose those who are most qualified rather than who looks the best in front of a camera. Likewise, there should be a serious scholarly examination of the hysteria surrounding the media portrayal of female white converts to Islam.

A Muslim is first and foremost a Muslim, and generally Muslim converts will understand this fact well. I would be interested to see if there are any scholarly papers or serious articles addressing this cross-cultural phenomenon of “the white convert to Islam”.

sharia law is not a cultural practice

Too many in the West equate Sharia’ (the road or the way) law to cultural practices. This is incorrect and does a disservice to Islam. Islam and Sharia, after all, are systems that exist very separately from culture, if not antithetical to it. Islam came along in the time of Jahaliyyah, the dark ages of the Arabian peninsula where blood feuds were the way of law and women were treated as cattle and slaves, if not buried alive in the desert. Islam quickly raised up the status of women, children, and the poor in ways unrivaled by the West until less than a hundred years ago. In addition, Islam was an expanding religion and within a hundred years of Muhammad’s death it ruled nearly everything between the Himalayas and the Pyrenees. It’s success was partially due because it would seek to eradicate every injustice done in a system while leaving intact the aspects of culture deemed inoffensive. People kept eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, living their same lives … so long as everything was halal (acceptable in Islam). They kept their own languages and forms of art, their poetry and music, and the basic traditions that kept them whole as a distinct community. In this way, Islam was both throwing out the religions of the fathers while keeping that which made the world diverse. In the Quran it is even mentioned:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (43:19)

Indeed, the diversity within the Islamic world – even today in the age of Saudi globalization – is truly breathtaking. However, just because these societies are Islamic in character – meaning, many of their population is Muslim – do not for a second think that Islamic societies represent Islam or Sharia. For instance, despite the fact that a staggering rate of Egyptian women have been vaginally mutilated, this is a practice frowned upon in Sharia’ and Islam, as women are supposed to feel pleasure during sex as a gift from God. Beating women and children is against the Sunnah (way of the Prophet) and suicide of any sort – including self-immolation and suicide bombing – is forbidden as well. Keeping women from leaving the house or learning to read, marrying off children to each other without consulting them at a proper age, and honor killings are all issues people in the West traditionally associate with Islam and Sharia’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sharia’ law is a legalistic school of philosophy based around the Qur’an, Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), and Sunnah. A very small percentage of the global Islamic community is qualified to make rulings on what Sharia’ is or what it entails, but it basically breaks down into being a set guideline for living life – issues like marriage, inheritance, contracts, etc. It is something designed to bring a set standard of justice to people all over the world, regardless of their culture. Sharia’ law and Islam in general respects the diversity of people and their cultures, but not at the expense of justice.

the almighty dollar, part 2: global islamist strategy

Part I of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

Turkish water, Arab Gulf capital, Egyptian labor, and Israeli know-how will join hands in a sheer material enterprise with no identity or sense of direction. Consequently, there will be no feeling of pain caused by loss of dignity.

from The Imperialist Epistemological Vision” by Abdulwahab al Masseri

The Muslim world is a giant untapped well of power. Geo-strategically, the Middle East has always been important – straddling important trade routes and acting as a bridge between several continents. Even the Muslim minorities of the world, that is where Muslims make up a minority stake in a society, contain roughly 40% of the global ummah. Acting as a unified actor, the Muslim world is over a billion strong and contains much of the world’s capital and resources.

The issue is a splintering of the ummah that followed the rightly guided caliphs and the Golden Age of Islam. At one point, the Muslim world was one unified empire stretching from the Himalayas to the Straits of Gibraltar. Societies kept their identities and ways of life provided they were not against basic principles of Islamic governance. Identities were forged within the Muslim world – indeed, Egyptians in particular have always been fiercely nationalistic – but the kind of nationalism imported since the end of direct colonialism in the area is new and unfamiliar to many Muslims who still see themselves as Muslim first – Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi, Filipino second.

At the top of this Islamic world sits some of the greatest concentration of capital in the Gulf countries. Glimmering skyscrapers towering over empty streets, air-conditioned stadiums, and the sheikhas gliding through malls covered in black and gold, their filipino servants trailing behind buckling under the weight of shopping bags. It’s no wonder this Islamic elite has come under attack in recent decades by AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) as both an attempt at capital accumulation and an ancient drive from sects from the Sufis to the Khajarites who sought to deliver divine justice to the corrupt heads of the Caliphate. These today being those who control the capital and the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.

Yet the strategy has shifted in recent years and rage has grown considerably in these offshoot groups. Instead of seeing the House of Saud as solely responsible for their predicament of addictive shopping and rampant tastes of luxury, the global Islamic resistance movement have lifted their eyes to the very top – America and Europe. By smashing at the dollar they are forcing the rich and corrupt among them to either reconsider their lifestyles or run for the hills, as seen recently in Tunisia.

What part does Israel play in such a strategy? Abdullah Azzam, famous mujahid in Afghanistan, became somewhat disillusioned as he was told to keep his desire for jihad against Israel on the back-burner and continue his focus against the Soviets. Is it any surprise that he and others who shared his view suddenly turned up dead in Peshawar – their suspected killers being Iranian Intelligence, Mossad, or even Osama bin Laden himself? Why is Israel so protected from the brunt of Islamic militarism? The simple answer may be that it represents a strategic interest to foreign colonial powers. Considering that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment is kept in storage in Israel and their physical presence as a thorn in the side of the Middle East, this could be true. Yet they are becoming more and more brave, unafraid of keeping their American masters pleased with their progress. Why is this? I’ve come to understand that Israel poses little threat and possesses no real strength in its current position – it’s very presence in the Middle East is part of the strategy.

The decaying, autocratic Middle East and the Muslim world in general is propped up by a wilting dollar. Israel is the gun held to the heads of the Arab capitals, ensuring that they will not jump ship. Imagine an intricate game of mouse-trap, with the final string of yarn tied around the trigger of a Tavor held by the Israeli government. It is in their interest as well that the dollar sustains, considering much of their foreign capital is held abroad and – if one is to imagine (as Israelis themselves do) that Jews worldwide are simply expat Israelis, a large portion of their population and subsequent charitable income and moral support depends on it as well. The methods Israel uses for colonial advancement are dollar-heavy and follow traditional, if not sloppy, methods of free-trade strategy.

Like the housing bubble, nearly anything will be done to keep the system afloat in the Middle East, to keep the money from the Gulf tied up in luxury yachts and the rest of it tied up in weapons. In such a high pressure situation – that is to keep this attempt to keep the bubble inflated – nearly everyone’s interests will be to sustain the status quo, especially when it comes to the dollar. The Saudis want to stay in power, the Assads want to stay in power, the Hashemites want to stay in power, Mubarak wants to stay in power, and the Israelis want to continue making money and building settlements. Everything about Middle East diplomacy is about keeping thirty cats from scratching each other to death while someone else keeps stealing all the cheese. So where do those who want to change the status quo hit the hardest?

Maybe it takes years for the seeds to sprout, but as unrest begins to ripple across the Maghreb from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt, we can see the house of cards start to tremble something terrible.

Fitrah – part 2

If fitrah is defined as what keeps us in a state of equilibrium, keeps us “in the garden” so to speak, then every progressive social movement is a movement towards gaining this lost equilibrium.

A commenter asked about Part 1:

I also have to say that little ‘c’ communism cannot succeed because adherence requires us to work against our free will, no?

First of all, the existence of free will is up for debate. Scientific studies have shown that humans react to their conditions on a basis that is not conscious, therefore the decision making process we engage in as human beings is simply to refine this unconscious process. We simply engage in the process to educate ourselves. All of our decisions are the product of previous experience – where you were born, who you were raised by, what your environment can offer, what history you know, etc. Therefore, human ideas are simply the refined process of examining previous decisions and reformulating knowledge.

Yet there are differences between ideas, and we can assign moral qualities to different streams of thought. For instance, willful destruction of the planet can be seen as a morally negative act because it would annihilate life on earth – therefore, we can assume policies working for this end would be considered “evil”. Likewise, actions that would take human life or keep humans in bondage to other humans would be considered morally negative because of the sanctity of human life and personal autonomy we take for granted all too often. We can go through all sorts of examples, but one thing that is a common factor in most moral thought is that what is bad for the goose is bad for the gander – that actions that work against a just society are considered bad.

All progressive human movements seek to wrangle humanity away from evil and into line with a more natural state of being, whether this is to be described as a communist utopia or complete submission to god. Communism attempted to do this by emphasizing communal good over the good of the individual – namely by fighting capital and the social ills (racism, classism, sexism) that capital created. Citizens living under such a system were required to submit to a power greater then themselves.

In reality, any human living in a society is required to submit to greater powers, but the importance was on the individual understanding and accepting the importance of such an action. Capitalism enslaves en masse but requires both the illusion of individuality and free will to sustain itself. Humans are lured away from the community to focus on themselves. This is why marketing, advertising, political discourse, and culture in general is geared towards the individual in a capitalist society. It is such a weak structural point in the human experience that one can find women slitting open their breasts to stuff them with plastic bags of liquid instead of donating money to those less fortunate.

One could describe fitrah as a passive denial of self – namely, that humans who have no sense of self cannot exercise “free will” and must therefore submit to their natural state, that being of pre-historical existence. Most of the world religions have an acetic component. Even hedonistic Islam (as compared to the foundations of other religions) requires charity and a month of self denial to reinforce the principles of submission. Indeed, communism also requires a denial of self to be understood and implemented properly.

The root challenge of humanity is the fight between self and others. It is in our biology to procreate and secure a place for future generations. However, a counter-movement is found in the message of capital, which encourages gain at the expense of others and of future generations. As stated before, all progressive human movements have sought to bring humanity in line with the principles of fitrah, it being the key to salvation. Therefore, as the Abrahamic religions reiterate over and over, the message of progressive human development is the denial of self and desire to submit to god’s will – that being the natural way of life. Whether that is through communism, national struggles for liberation, or through religion, the common factor is the stress on the common things found in humanity’s base state – that is, desire for self preservation by encouraging the denial of self.

Fitrah – part 1.

Fitrah ( فطرة) is an Arabic word meaning nature, disposition, instinct. The root of the word is f-T-r, forming the verbal nouns fatrun, meaning to split, cleave, rend, and fatarahu, meaning “he created it”. According to Islam, all human beings are born with fitrah, as are animals and even non-animate things. Everything has a fitrah, and this fitrah is in perfect obedience to God’s will. This is why in Islamic theology all animals, plants, and earthly objects (such as mountains) are Muslim. A human being is “born Muslim”. Since the word muslim comes from the root S-L-M, meaning to submit, something that does not have the notion of free will can do nothing but submit to its inherent nature, it’s fitrah – and by logical extension, God.

What I seek to explore is the commonalities between creation stories and the nature of evil as it relates to fitrah. All creation stories begin the same way, with a human being’s movement away from fitrah and towards “human-ness”, thereby being subjected to evil and the curse of toil. This is not simply referring to creation stories of a religious nature – though they are included. However, the picture that Chris Harman paints in his creation story included at the beginning of “A People’s History of the World” is incredibly similar to man’s fall from grace in the garden. After roaming the earth for 100,000 years and living in balance with the elements, human beings settled down and began subsistence farming. What followed was the creation of capital, a sharp spike in human population growth and development, formulation of religion, global warming, and the atom bomb.

Jordan Peterson argues that evil (a purely human phenomenon) is as a result of humanity’s distance from God – rather, their exercise of “free will” – or perhaps a lack of fitrah which causes humanity’s decline. After all, who are we to say that going to the moon is worth the kind of wholesale slaughter of innocents that pushed technological advancement along? As we stand at the 21st century, as the West mainly forgets the bloody century that birthed our current situation, the crushing of communism and the enslavement of billions under a standardization of economics, politics, culture, and means of communication under globalization, a new method of standardization must be discovered to counteract this procedure.

Communism, a method attempted mainly in the last century, took the world by storm and was the pinnacle of human achievement thus far. Billions of people rallied under the banner of communism and shot themselves into space without the same brutal methods that were required of capitalism to achieve the same end. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and classism were addressed in a serious way. Egalitarianism in many cases was little more than a slogan – yet, it was still a goal. However, communism failed to adequately challenge Capital and as a result, failed in its initial efforts less than 100 years after the creation of the Soviet Union.

Harman’s thesis is that the creation of Capital led to the major human miseries and achievements of history. Yet, the focus on economics and Capital as the source of human misery may have been short-sighted. Perhaps we should examine how our lack of fitrah, that which set us apart from the apes of the earth, has delivered us into such a position. War, poverty, famine, global warming, and the atom bomb are symptoms of a disease. Without treating the root cause of these problems, humanity will continue to suffer the symptoms.

collective guilt

Collective guilt is a funny thing and is often wielded as a weapon of privilege. Israelis, for instance, use collective punishment as a way to infer collective guilt upon communities they attack. Americans, too, have conferred collective guilt onto the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq due to support of “terrorist regimes”. I write about collective guilt today because of the current movement in the United States to force collective guilt down the throats of the Muslim-Americans. Muslims have been a legitimate part of American society since the era of slavery, when the first Muslims were shipped over in slave ships to work plantations in the south. Since then, their presence has been known mainly through the African-American community and more recently through Arab-American and Asian-American communities. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, home makers, teachers, and lawmakers. Recent immigrants from Muslim-oriented countries have been assimilated into American society far better than say, Muslim immigrants in Europe.

Despite this, Muslim-Americans have come under attack in because of 9/11. After 9/11, thousands of Muslim-Americans were imprisoned, attacked, and discriminated against by virtue of their being Muslim. A fatwah issued after 9/11 even suggested that Muslim women in America wearing the veil should remove it lest they be singled out for violence or discrimination. Now, nearly 10 years after the attacks, Muslim-Americans are still accused of failing to feel sufficiently guilty for these attacks that they had little to nothing to do with. After all, the Muslims who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were not American. Yet, with stories hitting the news about a mosque being built near “Ground Zero” and Muslims holding celebratory days at theme parks on 9/12 (which coincides with the end of Ramadan), the pressure is still there and it is still an emotional issue for Americans to cling to. Even the Anti-Defamation League, a group dedicated to fighting racism against Jews – and as they state, all people in general – has come out against the building of a mosque near “Ground Zero”.

The hypocrisy here is astounding. After all, there are too many Americans who would refuse to pay reparations or even apologize for hundreds of years of slavery, the genocide of indigenous Americans, the atomic attacks on Japan, the Vietnam War, and yes, the generations of Muslims abroad who have been annihilated by American aggression. The ADL will come out in support of the firebombing of Gaza and continued oppression of Palestinians at Israeli hands. To admit collective guilt as a community is to accept your place in the food chain of privilege. Who can blame Muslim-Americans for refusing to apologize for the attacks of 9/11? They have simply picked up an American trait during their process of assimilation. Despite many being absorbed as full members in American bourgeois society, Muslim-Americans have their patriotism questioned. Yet, there is nothing more American than a mosque built near “Ground Zero”. Perhaps a more American gesture might be to build a mosque on the ruins themselves à la the American embassy being built in Baghdad.

Either way, there is nothing new about fear-mongering near election season. What remains disgusting is the hypocrisy inherent in such a discussion, as Americans will still steadfastly refuse to accept any responsibility for anything, including the events that could have inspired 9/11 in the first place.