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Studying Islam Overseas: Nadwatul ‘Ulama in India

Muslim Matters - 26 August, 2015 - 05:17

This article will go over benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas, institutions of learning in India, and my own experiences and goals in studying at Nadwatul 'Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year.

Choosing to Study Islam

I consciously decided to pursue Islamic studies at a full-fledged level in my last year of undergrad at Montclair State. I was initially planning on pursuing law school as a career path; I can happily say I found my niche in the academic study of religion, more so of Islam. Though generally the eastern and western traditions of studying Islam have been at odds with each other ever since the days of British colonization, I found that in today's day and age there is a dire need to synthesize both of these philosophies to an extent in which they become workable realities.

In summary, the eastern study of Islam is focused on classical textual understanding in which the soul of Islam is understood and envisioned as absolute truth—commonly taught in madrasas and Islamic universities in the Muslim world. The western study of Islam is focused on orientalist analyses of the religion, anthropological, historical, and sociological factors that affected the adherence of Islam in those frames. This form of study is common in western universities that teach religion in a deconstructionalist form while ignoring the matter of absolute truth.

I had already been looking at Nadwatul 'Ulama prior to pursuing Islamic studies as a research career. I was seeking spiritual gratification through the traditional Islamic sciences. After being accepted into the Hartford Seminary's Master's in Islamic Studies program, I decided to make this a full-time endeavor.

But why Nadwa?

Nadwatul 'Ulama: Why Did I Chose to Study Here?

Firstly, being an overseas citizen of India (OCI) and possessing a lifetime visa to the country had made my task of studying 75% easier. The biggest issue students of the sacred Islamic sciences face with studying overseas is constantly getting a visa renewed. Though the Hartford Seminary had accepted me and allowed me to pursue extracurricular research, they were not funding my trip nor had I asked them to do so. With the OCI, I did not need to do specific field research where the contingency of my visa's validity was dependent upon a university, nor was I really eligible to spend a large chunk of time in any other country due to the visa issue. With the OCI, I can enter and exit India as I please.

View of old Lucknow from the roof of Nadwatul 'Ulama.

nadwa

Secondly, Nadwatul 'Ulama seemed like the easiest institution to be admitted into for a foreigner while not having to worry about an unstable political climate and tough admission guidelines. Madinah University, Jāmiʿat Umm al-Qura, imam Muhammad, Qaseem, and the other Saudi universities are acceptable options as places to study as a student who has an idea of Islamic thought, but admissions take a year (sometimes even more) and there is no guarantee that I would get in. The Islamic University in Madinah also has a strong population of American students, which is a huge plus to keep a student from a Western country socially engaged (though Nadwa is lacking in this regard and can significantly negatively affect someone, I came here knowing this). Sadly Yemen, Syria, and Egypt have all fallen into a great amount of political turmoil in recent years which deterred/prevented me from studying over there, so Dar al-Mustafa, Al-Azhar University, and Abu Nour Institute were all out of the question.

Due to my Indian ethnicity and the post-2008 politics between India and Pakistan because of the Mumbai bombings, Jamia Darul Uloom Karachi, Jamia Binoria Almiyah, Jamia Ashrafia or Ashrafia Islamic University, the International Islamic University of Islamabad, and all the other Pakistani institutions became very limited choices for me. The only places left were maybe some universities in Jordan or the Qasid Institute, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, the European Institute of Islamic Sciences in France, or Darul Ulooms in England or the United States. I did not look into universities in Jordan much; Qasid seemed to be mainly focused on Arabic and did not have a complete Islamic studies program (someone can correct me if I am wrong here), Malaysia was not on my radar since I did not know anyone from there at the time. I got word from people that the EIIS in France was not at its peak that it was known for, and because I am a former student of the madrasa system within America, I wanted to get a different experience of studying Islam outside of that environment (England is included here).

There were also some institutions in the gulf countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, but I was not too interested as the curricula were not my cup of tea for what I needed. Not to mention I wanted a feel of what it was like to live outside of the United States —which I would not have achieved by living in a Gulf country that looks, feels, and operates very much like America. But some places like the Qatar Institute of Islamic Sciences seemed to show an advanced curriculum with famed Muslim philosophers as visiting professors such as Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Dr. Jasser Auda.

The Rumi Darwaza: An entry gate to Lucknow built by the Mughal dynasty.

Rumidarwaza

Thirdly, Nadwatul 'Ulama has quite a jubilant history within the subcontinent in the areas of unity within the Muslim community, academia, comparative studies, all while rooted in the traditional textual understanding of Islam. In the late 1800s, some forty to fifty years after the Great Mutiny (the Indians call it the First War of Independence) where thousands of Indians—regardless of religion, were massacred at the hands of British imperialists, Muslims were figuring out what direction they wanted to take their educational institutions. In a nutshell, India's largest and most influential Muslim educational institutions at the time—Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Darul Uloom Deoband presented two approaches to preserving Islam which each side disagreed with. AMU was more concerned about teaching the secular sciences within a Muslim shell, while Deoband was entrenched in understanding, teaching, and preaching the textual tradition of Islam.

oldlucknownadwa

In the midst of these two schools, a conference of scholars from each side (and from outside these two groups) formed a think tank of sorts called the Nadwatul 'Ulama (the conference of scholars). They had a conference which eventually blossomed into the institution which we have today in Lucknow. The premise was to be open and inviting to Muslims of all backgrounds, schools of thought, associations–be it Deobandi, Ahle Hadith (Salafi), Sufi, Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali, Jamaat-e-Islami, and others–as well as recognize the academic needs of the time and provide solutions for them. This sense of unity and functionality within the subcontinent really struck me in a positive light, as this institution preserved the Muslim community at a time of great strife and turmoil while not limiting their intellectual abilities of growth. I have studied in various traditions throughout my short life and learned to be critical of whatever religiously-political reactionary establishment of Islam that I had taken from. Hence, Nadwa just seemed like the right fit for me. I felt these similar values are what American Muslims are in need of, hence after visiting in 2014, I applied and got into Nadwatul 'Ulama.

Academics

There are various streams at Nadwa to study from according to the student's liking. All of these streams fall under the traditional Dars al-Nizami curriculum with some tweaks from the institution. Though foreign students are usually not turned away, officially you need to have a valid visa to stay in India to be given admission, A student should be able to converse either in Urdu or Arabic (you can learn either during your stay) so that you are not placed in the first year of the program. (Though my personal recommendation, it is better to get a good grounding in your basics back home before coming to large institutions where you are not given individual attention due to the large volume of students). Though a “section” is the English rendering, the following are all technically traditional 'alimiyyah programs with respect to the curriculum. Here is the break down:

The 'Aaliyah Section (BA Equivalent)

This section is four years long and is Nadwa's main stream. Many students that study here usually come from another madrasa branch of Nadwa in India, have studied before the beginning of the first year of this program, and are given the most attention from the BA equivalent streams. The strong points of this section and the khusoosi are Arabic, Fiqh, and Hadith. This section is taught fully in Urdu

The Khusoosi Section (BA Equivalent)

Though similar to the 'aaliyah section, the khusoosi is mainly for students that are coming from a high school (10+2) or BA program. Basically, the students here have not studied in a madrasa for a majority of their lives (do not forget that India has very clean-cut delineations for students studying specific majors. What you study is what you will be working in for the rest of your life). I have a lot of respect for many students in this section as they went from studying commerce, finance, or engineering to Islamic studies. This section also has a large amount of students who may be in between certain milestones in their life, so many may not stick around for next year. Some are studying in this program because they failed other majors in college and are trying to establish themselves in a completely different field. Students spend three years here and then automatically transfer into the 'aaliyah section in the last two years. This section is also taught fully in Urdu.

The Arabic Section (BA Equivalent)

This section mainly caters to foreigners who do not have a stronghold in Urdu. All subjects mirror the khusoosi section, except that all classes are taught in Arabic, Shafi'i fiqh is learned by the students instead of Hanafi fiqh, and there is much more emphasis on Hadith over Fiqh. I initially took admission here but transferred into the Urdu section later as I felt the studies were stronger in terms of academic rigor in the latter. At the same time the students in the Urdu section were much more inclined towards in-depth study as their environments and teachers sought to do that much better. Do not think you will not learn Arabic in the other sections, rather I have seen better Arabic speakers come from the Urdu section compared to the Arabic section. As mentioned before, the only plus advantage is that all classes are taught in the Arabic language.

For those wondering, there is no dedicated one year for dawrah al-hadith (a complete reading of all six books of hadith) at Nadwatul 'Ulama in the BA Equivalent ('alimiyyah) sections. Though you begin studying the six books of hadith, Nadwa wants you to finish the Fadeelah program if you would like to finish Bukhari and Muslim, the two main canonical works of Prophetic traditions in Sunni Islam.

The Fadeelah Section (MA Equivalent/Takhassus/Specialization)

This is probably the crux of Nadwa's academic offerings. After completing one of the above sections and having a grasp in Urdu and Arabic, students are given the choice of specializing in a science —Prophetic traditions (hadith), Quranic exegesis (tafsir), Islamic law (fiqh), Islamic evangelism (da'wah), completing the remaining portions of the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and learning to research texts, write articles, and the like. This is a two year program and comes highly recommended by many people such as Shaykh Akram Nadwi of the United Kingdom.

A view of the Nadwa masjid from the Athar hostel.

hostel

Nadwa definitely has the environment needed for a student of Islamic sciences to progress in whatever they are studying.  These are the base programs. Students are expected to read books outside of class, engage in short research projects, as that is the actual point of coming to Nadwa in the view of all the teachers. Though it takes time to break in to the culture, food, and people, once you get into the swing of things you will be able to drink from the wells of knowledge therein. My own personal out-of-class educational endeavors took me to Mazahir al-Uloom in Saharanpur where I sat with Shaykh Yunus Jaunpuri (India's most senior scholar of hadith) for two days, Darul Uloom Deoband, and various madrasas in Gujarat. Just to show how big of a deal Shaykh Yunus is, Shaykh Akram Nadwi is also currently in the midst of authoring a book on him and his accomplishments in the sciences of hadith.

I will be continuing this series every week on the different aspects of my venture to study Islam in the motherland. Within this series on MuslimMatters, I hope to show readers how life is in India for an American through speaking about my experiences with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions I've visited.

Hadani Ditmars: The Rape of A Nation

Loon Watch - 25 August, 2015 - 20:59

ISIS

An important read.:

By Hadani Ditmars, RT

Why is the dominant media narrative still portraying Iraqis as either terrorists or victims the West should fight or rescue? Once again the oppression of the binary dialectic rears its ugly head as ISIS has put Iraq back on the media map after a long hiatus.

When I first travelled to Iraq in 1997, to write about the humanitarian disaster of the sanctions regime for the NY Times, right wing pundits called me an evil Saddamist for my efforts.

No matter how hard I tried to convey the complexity of the situation – a client regime where sanctions hurt everyday Iraqis and entrenched Saddam’s power; a booming theatre scene that could critique the ruling class via clever double meanings; a higher status for women than most places in the Arab world slowly being eroded by the excesses of the embargo – I could feel people’s eyes gloss over – All the nuance wiped away by an unblinking ‘but Saddam is evil- no?’ response. It was as if the entire nation was reduced to a single image of an archetypal Arab dictator.

The other day at a reception, an American woman academic asked me about my plans for the fall. When I mentioned I’d be travelling to Iraq to research my next book – a political travelogue of ancient sites that subverts the traditional touristic narrative with stories of widows, orphans and the displaced – I felt the same blank stare. “Oh great, so you plan on ending up as an ISIS sex slave then?” she deadpanned – as if ISIS were the singular narrative – and singular evil – in a country of some 33 million souls.

A decade ago, the caricatured reduction of 33 million people to mini-Saddams that once typified mainstream media portrayals of Iraqis before the invasion was replaced by a terrible new cartoon: Iraqis as mad suicide bombers magically transformed from secular to sectarian within a few years of occupation. The victims of the new terror were labeled as its perpetrators.

For years Iraqis have had to live with this bizarre conflation and ISIS provides a whole new opportunity.

“ISIS sex slave” is the new neo-liberal dinner party circuit catchphrase – the 2015 equivalent of “Saddam is evil” that eviscerates context, complexity and any sense of Iraqi agency.

Why must the dominant media narrative continue to portray Iraqis as either terrorists or victims the West is either fighting or rescuing? Once again the oppression of the binary dialectic rears its ugly head as ISIS has put Iraq back on the media map after a long hiatus.

In the past decade so many foreign news bureaus have been shut down in the country that on the ground reports have been few and far between. It was as if Western audiences were satiated by horror stories and could consume no more. That is until ISIS – the ultimate conflation of Western fears and neo-colonial fantasies about the region, straight out of a Hollywood action movie and starring characters from central casting – came along and hogged the media spotlight.

The media attention of course feeds right back into the ISIS agenda, so much so that an odd collusion of right wing Islamophobes and the brutal terrorists they decry has emerged as a fresh new monster. Pamela Geller and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would seem a match made in heaven- with a marriage performed on YouTube.

Continue reading…

Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part One

Muslim Matters - 24 August, 2015 - 23:03

As ISIS continues its murder and violence across the provinces it controls and seeks to control, and as it continues to plague the conscience of the great majority of Muslims around the world, what's worth recalling is that we've seen this before in history with the sect called the Khawarij (anglicized to Kharijites). So before tackling ISIS, let's look at their forerunners; the Kharajites, to whom their pedigree can be traced.

I

The hadith canons relate that shortly after the battle of Hunayn while the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was distributing charity to a few people whose hearts needed to be reconciled, there came a man with a thick beard, prominent cheek bones, deep sunken eyes, protruding forehead and shaven head. He exclaimed: Fear Allah, O Muhammad! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) responded: 'Who will obey Allah if I were to disobey him? Am I not [sent as the] most trustworthy person on earth; and yet you trust me not?' The man then turned back, whereupon one of those present asked for permission to kill him. But the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: 'Verily, from the progeny (di'di) of this [man] shall come a people who will recite the Qur'an but it won't pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.[1]

isis1

Another hadith records that this man's name was Dhu'l-Khuwaysirah, from the tribe of Tamim, about whom the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) alerted: 'Leave him; he has comrades whose prayer and fasting will make your prayer and fasting seem insignificant. They recite the Qur'an but it doesn't go beyond their throats. They shall pass through the religion as an arrow that pierces clean through its prey such that, on inspecting the head; then the shaft; then the fletching; then the nock, would see no traces of blood or viscera on it whatsoever.'[2] Ibn al-Jawzi said: 'The first of the Khawarij, and the most wretched of them, was Dhu'l-Khuwaysirah … His problem was that he was too puffed up with his own opinion. Had he been granted grace, he would have realized that no opinion was above that of Allah's Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The followers of this man were those who fought against 'Ali b. Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his face.'[3]

A few decades after this post-Hunayn happening, and as had been prophesied, Dhu'l-Khuwaysirah's ideological comrades and offspring took on the shape of the very first sect (firqah) to deviate from the main body of the Muslims: the Khawarij (culled from the Arabic word kharaja – “to go out” or “to leave” the main body of Muslims). Indeed, their very name was mentioned by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself, who said: al-khawarij hum kilab al-nar – “The Khawarij are the dogs of Hellfire!'[4] The emergence of the Khawarij as a sect occurred during the caliphate (khilafah) of 'Ali, in the immediate aftermath of a civil war and its arbitration at Siffin.

Ibn al-Jawzi tells us: ''Ali returned from Siffin and entered Kufah: the Khawarij did not follow. Instead, they settled in Harura. There were 12,000 of them, and they were declaring: la hukma illa li'Llah – “There is no judgement, except Allah's.” This is how they initially started.'[5]

Imam Muslim narrates from 'Ubayd Allah b. Abi Rafi', a freed salve of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), that the Khawarij came out against 'Ali, and declared: 'There is no judgement, except Allah's.' So 'Ali replied: 'A word of truth, intended for something false (kalimatu haqq urida biha batil).'[6]

Imam al-Nawawi explains: 'Meaning, the basis of their statement was true. Allah says: The judgement is for none but Allah. [12:40] What they intended by it, however, was to reject 'Ali's [acceptance of] arbitration, may Allah be pleased with him.'[7]

As with Dhu'l-Khuwaysirah who, blinded by his warped piety and self-righteousness, thought he had a keener sense of justice than the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the Khawarij were also possessed of holier-than-thou pretensions and smug convictions. It is this puritanical, embittered self-righteousness – devoid of any true glimmer of knowledge or spiritual wisdom – that is the hallmark of the Khawarij and their ideological cousins who drink from the same murky theological waters today. Of course, along with such fanatical zeal, their other great infamy was takfir – declaring other Muslims to be disbelievers, and spilling their blood because of it.

II

The historians al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir chronicle alarmingly precise accounts of their intimidation, violence and terror. Under the events of 37H/657CE they detail how the Khawarij began terrorizing the countryside around Nahrawan, Iraq, subjecting those whom they caught to an imtihan or “inquisition”. If the answers failed to satisfy their zeal for purity, or agree with their understanding of things, then the punishment was death. Things came to a head when they chose 'Abd Allah, son of an early companion, Khabbab b al-Aratt, as their victim.

A number of the Khawarij rode into his village for supplies and thought to make an example of him. They fired their loaded questions at him. They first asked him about the caliphates of Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman. 'Abd Allah extolled them all and praised their successive caliphates. So far, so good. They then asked him about 'Ali, and his state before and after the arbitration or tahkim. 'He has far greater knowledge about Allah than you do,' replied 'Abd Allah, 'and has much more piety in terms of his religion and possesses greater insight.' With that, his fate was sealed. They bound and dragged him and his pregnant wife to an orchard laden with date palms, next to a river.

As they were proceeding to kill him, a date fell to the ground, so one of the Khawarij picked it up and put it in his mouth. 'Do you do that without the owner's permission and without paying for it?' said one of his Kharajite comrades. He spat it out instantly. Another Khariji, wielding his sword in threatening circles, accidentally killed a cow that had been wandering behind him. His comrades insisted he should go and find the owner and pay him the full price of the animal. They waited whilst he did so. Thus, having acted most righteously in the matter of the date and the cow, they slit 'Abd Allah's throat and then disemboweled his wife. Date spat out, cow paid for, husband, wife and unborn child butchered; and with the clearest of consciences, they purchased their supplies and went on their way.[8]

Theologians have differed as to the precise meaning of the Prophet's words ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him): 'They will pierce through the religion (yamruquna min al-din) as an arrow which goes clean through a prey.' The idea of maraqa – an an arrow 'piercing' or going 'clean through' its prey with such force and velocity that it exits its prey without any trace of blood or flesh sticking to its tip or shaft, describes emphatically how the Khawarij immerse themselves in religion, but exit straight through it. The question, however, is do they exit the fold of orthodoxy (and become heterodox, deviant Muslims), or do they leave the actual fold of Islam? A minority of scholars went with the latter view; most went with the former.[9] The majority view takes its cue from 'Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, who was asked: Are the Khawarij mushrikun? He said: 'They flee from shirk.' Are they munafiqun? He said: 'The hypocrites remember Allah only a little.' Then what are they? He said: 'They are our brothers who transgressed against us (ikhwanuna baghaw 'alayna), so we fought them for their transgression.'[10]

Brother Who Attacked Homeless Latino Man Also Have A History of Islamophobic Hate Crimes

Loon Watch - 24 August, 2015 - 19:45

Dennis Van Tine/ZUMA

Dennis Van Tine/ZUMA

Scott Leader, one of the Leader brothers who assaulted a homeless Latino man drew inspiration from Donald Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. It turns out Scott Leader has a history of hate crimes. After 9/11 the elder Leader attacked a Muslim man and called him a “terrorist.”

Mother Jones

“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

Boston police believe two brothers are responsible for a brutal attack Wednesday evening that left a homeless Hispanic man with a broken nose and covered in urine. One of the men, 38-year-old Scott Leader, told police he was inspired by presidential candidate Donald Trump’s message on immigration.

“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” Leader allegedly told cops when he was arrested with his brother, 30-year-old Steve Leader.

The Boston Globe reported that a witness saw the brothers beating the 58-year-old victim with a pole three or four times as he attempted to defend himself.

This isn’t the first time the Leader brothers have been charged with a crime. After the attacks on September 11, Scott Leader was convicted with a hate crime after he assaulted a Muslim man and called him a “terrorist.”

Continue reading …

Train gunman ‘dumbfounded’ by terrorist tag, says he was hungry

Loon Watch - 24 August, 2015 - 19:24

French soldiers patrol at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP)

French soldiers patrol at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP)

Is this a post-fact defense tactic to try and exculpate himself from the crime or was he really attempting to rob the train? What doesn’t make sense is why do you need an AK to rob a train and who just finds AK’s lying around in a park? Also we need to learn more about what actually went down on the train.

By Reuters | Paris/Algeciras, Spain
Sunday, 23 August 2015

A gunman who attacked passengers on a high-speed train in France two days ago is “dumbfounded” at having been taken for an Islamist militant and says he only intended to rob people on board because he was hungry, his lawyer said on Sunday.

As details emerged of the gunman’s early adult life in Spain, lawyer Sophie David said her client — now in detention near Paris — also looked ill and malnourished.

French and Spanish sources close to the case have identified him as a 26-year-old Moroccan named Ayoub el Khazzani who was known to European authorities as a suspected Islamist militant.

“(I saw) somebody who was very sick, somebody very weakened physically, as if he suffered from malnutrition, very, very thin and very haggard,” David told BFMTV.

“He is dumbfounded by the terrorist motives attributed to his action,” she added.

David said the man was barefoot and wore only a hospital shirt and boxer shorts for the police interrogation in Arras, northern France, where the train stopped after the incident.

The Moroccan told David he had found the Kalashnikov he had taken onto the train in a park near the Gare du Midi rail station in Brussels where he was in the habit of sleeping.

“A few days later he decided to get on a train that some other homeless people told him would be full of wealthy people travelling from Amsterdam to Paris and he hoped to feed himself by armed robbery,” David said.

Continue reading …

No, we can’t hold all air shows by the sea

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 August, 2015 - 19:23

A picture of a Hawker Hunter jet in mid-air. The plane has been painted mostly blue with red, white and blue target symbols.I heard the most extraordinary and ridiculous interview on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. John Humphrys was interviewing John Turner from the British Air Display Association about the accident outside Shoreham, West Sussex on Saturday in which a 1950s fighter jet (a Hawker Hunter, right) crashed onto a highway, the A27, killing up to 20 people. In an interview with people around Shoreham, the last thing said was that local people wanted to make sure ‘something was done’ so that the annual air show could continue but that there were no future disasters. Humphrys started by asking him if he agreed with the sentiment that “something must be done”, and Turner responded by saying that his association had had 63 years of accident-free shows and that it was important not to speculate until proper investigations had been done.

Humphrys responded that he was not asking him to speculate, but rather if he agreed that the rules should be changed such that if another accident of this nature were to happen during a stunt, the plane would crash not onto a busy highway but into the sea. He said that air shows are important and that people love them, but they are entertainment and “don’t have to happen”, and accused Turner of not addressing his question as to why a pilot needs to be carrying out a stunt over a “built-up area” (which this was not; it was outside town). He kept repeating the point that the stunt should have taken place over the sea, especially as Shoreham is by the sea. Turner responded that “after 63 years of safe operation, this is a question of balance, I think”, that air shows are visited by millions every year, with an audience approaching that of football, and that they generated £79m last year for charities. Humphrys said that the long safety record is “in one sense” irrelevant, because when other aviation disasters happen, even after a long record of accident-free operation, the matter is investigated thoroughly and changes are made, and that it was “patently right” that if stunts happen over the sea, the number of casualties would be infinitely smaller.

Humphrys conducted all this with intermittent smirks and ‘patient reminders’ to his guest that he was not addressing the point he wanted him to address. Turner took time to respond each time, sometimes perhaps because the interview was “down the line” but also because he was perplexed at being expected to justify why air shows were not held to this stricture that nobody had ever considered before. Is Humphrys really suggesting that all air shows take place by the sea? We are not that small an island and most of our airfields are not near enough to the sea as to make this possible, and many of those do not have good rail or road links (Lydd in Kent springs to mind). Some airports that have long RAF histories (e.g. Farnborough) are used for air shows; Farnborough is a good 30 miles from the nearest sea. Even Shoreham’s airfield is not right by the sea; there is a railway line and another busy road (the A259), as well as some housing, in between. On the north side, there is the A27, a flood plain (through which runs another busy road, the A283) and one large building (Lancing College). It would arguably be less safe to have conducted that stunt on the south side of the airfield than it was on the north. And an air show does not have to be by the sea to avoid a plane crashing into a built-up area or onto a main road; it just has to be away from such hazards.

Google Map of Shoreham airfield areaAs it happens, there are new restrictions being imposed on air shows, with ‘vintage’ jets being restricted to flypasts with no stunts being performed over land, and all planes of the type involved (the Hawker Hunter) being grounded. But insisting that all such stunts happen over the sea is not only an unnecessarily draconian overraction but is classic “stable-door logic”, changing the rules to prevent a repetition of one particular disaster without considering how it might enable other types of disasters to happen in the future. The sea, especially near land, is not empty; a fighter plane crashing into the sea could come down on or near swimmers, boats or a pier, and could still cause loss of life and spill fuel; the explosion and materials projected could injure people on land. And there would be no point paying to go to an airfield to watch a flying show when you can sit on the beach and watch it for free.

But my real beef with this show was Humphrys’ manner. He sounded utterly sure that his solution was the obvious answer, and could not understand why the man who knew about air shows, having run their industry association for years, could not see that he was right. He treated his guest as an evasive politician trying to squirm off the hook when asked a difficult or potentially revealing question rather than someone dealing with an unprecedented situation, perhaps grieving, being presented with presumptuous demands to agree to an ‘obvious’ solution that had never occurred to anyone in 63 years of running air shows and being too polite to tell him that this was a ridiculous idea that would destroy the whole industry. John Humphrys may have a posher accent than BBC London’s old bully boy host Jon Gaunt, but he’s no less of a bully and in more than one case that I can think of, no less inappropriate. He should receive a stern dressing-down, but the BBC should be considering retiring him.

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As Gaza Lies in Ruins, The NY Times Blames the Victims

Israel’s attacks on Gaza ended a year ago, but the strip remains an expanse of rubble and devastation. Who’s to blame for this outrage? The New York Times has an answer: everyone but Israel.

Jodi Rudoren comes up with this response in a story that aims to whitewash Israel’s brutal treatment of Gaza by blaming the Palestinian victims along with the international community for the lack of rebuilding. It is all summed up in the story’s subhead, “Political Infighting and Lack of Funds Stymie a Reconstruction Mechanism.”

Her article takes pains to present the process as a collaborative project between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United Nations, and she is hazy about Israel’s role, describing it as nothing more than “involvement in approving projects and participants.”

Rudoren furthers her efforts in a single paragraph that absolves Israel completely: “[The Palestinian minister of housing], other Palestinian leaders and United Nations representatives all said that Israel had done its part in reasonable time and allowed cement into Gaza. Empty coffers, they said, are the primary problem.”

Times readers, however, never learn the direct quotes or the names of the “leaders” and “representatives” that would help substantiate this claim, nor does Rudoren explain what “Israel’s part” actually refers to here.

In fact, Israel controls everything that goes into Gaza, from people to foodstuffs to building material, and the agreed-on process for rebuilding the strip—the “reconstruction mechanism” referred to in the subhead—is built solely on Israeli demands. (Israel also blocks Gaza traffic by sea and has the full cooperation of the Egyptian government on that border as well.)

Although the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority have roles in the process, Israel determines who gets building materials, what they get and in what amounts. As Harvard-based Gaza expert Sara Roy notes, the two major documents outlining the reconstruction process “read like security plans, carefully laying out Israeli concerns and the ways in which the United Nations will accommodate them.”

Roy adds, “Israel will have to approve all projects and their locations and will be able to veto any part of the process on security grounds.” Moreover, she writes, “No mechanism for accountability or transparency will apply to Israel.”

Without doubt, Palestinian bureaucracy, donor fears of yet another attack on Gaza and other factors come into play in reconstruction efforts, but Rudoren ignores the major element, which is the Israeli blockade.

Her story, in fact, never refers to the eight-year blockade of Gaza and makes only vague mention of Israeli “control” of the enclave. Readers are left without any relevant context.

Rudoren’s article also omits other details that would place Israel’s role in a different light: the fact that by July of this year it had allowed the passage less than 1 percent of the construction materials needed to adequately house Gaza residents or that as of May, a total of 20 schools (kindergarten to college level) completely destroyed by Israel had yet to be repaired.

Readers never learn, for instance, that aid agencies in Gaza were forced to rely on temporary building materials as the Israeli-mandated process kept concrete, cement and steel supplies to a trickle. They also never learn the sequel to this chapter: that Israel stepped in to squelch the effort just as it was gaining momentum.

The project was run by Catholic Relief Services, which began using lumber to build temporary homes for the displaced residents this year, and media reports in February and March stated that 70 had been built and 40 families had moved into the new houses. CRS had plans to construct more than 100 additional wooden homes, but in April the program came to an end when Israel suddenly banned all lumber for housing.

Here we can see how Israel actually operates in the opaque rebuilding process mentioned in Rudoren’s piece. Times readers, however, never learn of this sad narrative nor of many others that would reveal how Israeli actions are destroying the economy and depressing the living conditions in Gaza.

And yet, the Times story would have us believe that Israel has “done its part” in the reconstruction of Gaza, ignoring the obvious: that Israel alone has complete control of its borders with the strip, and if Israel so willed, Gaza residents would have moved out of the rubble long ago.

Barbara Erickson


Filed under: Gaza reconstruction Tagged: Gaza, Israel, Media Bias, New York Times, Palestine, Palestinian Authority, United Nations

Sydney siege gunman was not seen at mosques, imam tells inquest

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 August, 2015 - 10:18

Man Haron Monis was also unlikely to have been given the titles of Muslim scholarship he claimed, senior imam tells the inquiry

Related: Sydney siege inquest recap – episode 13

None of the Muslim clerics consulted by a senior Australian imam ever saw Man Haron Monis at their mosques, an inquest has heard.

Related: Sydney siege: prosecutor accused of being unprepared to oppose Monis bail

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Islamic Council of Queensland condemns insulting video of mosques

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 August, 2015 - 09:38

The video tour made by a far-right group has been condemned by the Islamic Council of Queensland, which says local Muslims are being terrorised

The Islamic Council of Queensland has condemned a contemptuous video tour of Brisbane mosques by a far-right group as the latest incident in a “concentrated campaign” of harassment that was “terrorising” Muslims.

Council spokesman Ali Kadri said the video, posted online by the Australian Defence League on Monday, had fanned fears among congregations already uneasy about hate mail and the presence of unknown people in mosque carparks for hours at night.

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Working Ourselves Out of a Job

Muslim Matters - 24 August, 2015 - 07:42

Voices

Muslim Voices Matter

My name is Ruth Nasrullah. I am a convert to Islam, a journalist, a blogger, a New Jersey native living in Houston, Texas. I have a masters degree in journalism and a master of fine arts in creative nonfiction. I was one of the first seven bloggers on MuslimMatters back when it was an itty-bitty blog and it is my honor to return to what is now an international, award-winning web magazine.

From 2013 to 2015 I served as the Communications Coordinator for the Houston office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). While with CAIR I heard from colleagues that our goal should be to “work ourselves out of a job” – in other words, to create a world so just that no one need fight for basic civil and human rights.

Is that possible?

America is a paradox, a nation that has historically allowed injustices yet has also succeeded in correcting them. Ours is a country founded in slavery that now has a black president. Ours is a country where legal segregation was transformed by the Civil Rights Act.

America is also a nation built on a bedrock principle of fairness. When the majority of Americans see issues clearly they make fair judgments and decisions. The key to sustained freedom is to bring a message of truth to the public, loosening them from the grip of bigoted ideologies. It is only through a vapid rhetoric that a presidential contender can be hailed as a leader even after proudly declaring that he has bought influence with a prominent member of the opposing party. But I'm getting ahead of myself by talking about Donald Trump.

As we face increasing anti-Islam sentiment it is our obligation and privilege to share the message that will make a difference, as we are compelled as Muslims to do. Hence Muslim Voices Matter.

This column will insha Allah be a platform to explore issues around politics and government, civil rights and social justice, xenophobia and security.

It will not be a complaint column, nor will you hear my own opinion every other week. I hope to prompt an informed conversation about the state of American justice, especially in spheres where Muslims are impacted. I want to hear the voices of MuslimMatters readers of all religious, national and political backgrounds.

What kind of stories will you read here?

I wrote recently about an incident that's typical of recent protests against planned Islamic centers. The outcry against a Muslim cemetery in a north Texas town demonstrates hallmarks of Islamophobia in action: blind bigotry; propaganda spread by community leaders; repetitive and uninformed anti-Islam rhetoric; and, importantly, the muting of citizens who support Muslims, whose voices are often not as loud as the detractors'.

The phenomenon of businesses – primarily gun shops and ranges – declaring themselves “Muslim-free” is spreading across the country, from Arkansas to New Hampshire. Make no mistake: refusing service based on religion is a violation of the Civil Rights Act. In a time when some of the Act's provisions face erosion, the public must be reminded that “Muslim-free” is illegal and is as unacceptable as the “whites-only” and “no Irish need apply” policies of the past.

There is good news too, which we can celebrate and learn from. For instance, so-called “anti-shariah” bills (now known in many states as “anti-foreign-law bills”) have been successfully protested in several states, including Texas, where I was proud to personally see the grassroots efforts to fight these bills, two of which died in this year's Legislature.

Here are some of the topics I plan to examine going forward:

  • Propaganda: what is it and how is it used against Muslims?
  • Use of planning and zoning regulations to prevent development of Islamic centers and cemeteries
  • What contemporary Muslims can learn from the historical civil rights struggle
  • Election coverage
  • Ways in which Muslims can successfully engage in politics
  • Positive and negative media engagement by Muslims

I look forward to having some robust conversations. Muslim voices do matter. Let's hear them.

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