Hassan’s Tale, Part 11 – A Tragic Flaw

Muslim Matters - 6 August, 2014 - 05:00

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.

I returned to The Western Door in a daze. I felt as if my heart had been crushed in a giant fist. All this time I'd been getting by with fantasies of what my life would be like once Lena and I were united. Now I'd found her and she was nothing like I remembered. Were my memories false? Was it a daydream I'd concocted and convinced myself was real?

I couldn't work. A customer ordered lamb with apricots – one of our specialties – and I brought her jam and toast instead. I moved slowly, as if I were underwater. Mehmet thought I was sick and told me to take the day off.

I went to Beyazit Mosque and prayed, then sat on the plush red carpet with my back to a massive stone pillar. Even though I'd been there many times, I was still struck by Beyazit's interior beauty, with its soaring ceilings, vast circular chandeliers, stained glass windows and painted ceilings.

A group of Tablighi Jamaat brothers sat in one corner of the masjid, visiting from India or South Africa, probably. I'd seen such groups in the masjid before and once I'd even gone with them on what they call ziyarah, where you knock on doors and give people bayan – kind of a short talk about Allah, the aakhirah, iman, the Prophet or the Sahabah. I know some people criticize the Jamaat, but when I'm around them it changes my heart.

So when I saw them in the masjid I went and sat with them. A short brother with a white beard stood in front of the others and spoke quietly but earnestly. He said that iman – faith – has to be acquired. You have to work for it, sacrifice, even suffer for it. You can never take it for granted. And he said that we should never think that the trials of this life are a punishment. Rather, they are a gift. They are Allah's way of purifying us from sin and raising our iman. The stronger we become in faith, the more Allah tests us, just like a weightlifter who must lift heavier and heavier weights as his muscles grow. The fact that we are challenged is a sign that Allah loves us. Indeed, no one was challenged more than the Prophets.

This was like a light bulb turning on in my head. I began to wonder:  was Allah challenging me with Lena to see how I would respond? I decided that I would not give up on her. I would go back out and find her. I would take her away from that sleazy boyfriend one way or another. I would meet this challenge and save her. She had believed in me and loved me when I was nothing but a teenaged soldier, lost in confusion and darkness. Now I would believe in her, love her, and bring her to Islam.

I doubt this was what the Tablighi brother had in mind. But it was what occurred to me, right or wrong. I left the masjid filled with a new determination and sense of purpose.

The truth, of course, is that no one can “bring” anyone to Islam. Even the Messenger of Allah, sal-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, could not convince his uncle Abu Talib to utter the shahadah. Only Allah can change the heart. But that's the folly of youth, thinking that we're always right, and that the world will change to conform to our reality.

As it turned out, I didn't have to look for Lena. I went to the cafe early the next morning, intending to work hard to make up for the previous day, then look for Lena after my shift. When I arrived, Lena was already there waiting, sitting at an indoor table in the rear corner. She stood to throw herself into my arms again, but I stopped her.

“Please sit,” I said.

“Simon, I'm so sorry about yesterday – “ she started to say, but I cut her off.

“First of all, my name is Hassan now. Hassan Sulayman. So forget that other name. Secondly, I am Muslim. Lena, I love you. I've waited for you and searched for you. But now you're with this other guy.”

“He's not my boyfriend, Sim – I mean, Hassan. He's not my boyfriend. He's a friend. He helped me out when I first arrived, that's all. I didn't know what happened to you, Hassan. I didn't know if you were dead or alive.”

“Your father never told you?”

“Told me what?”

Should I tell her that her father had betrayed me and set me up to be killed? Her eyes were red, and the bruise on her cheek still showed. Life had not been kind to her since our separation.

“Nothing,” I said. “I went to Homs like you told me to,” I said. “I worked for your uncle. Why didn't you come, Lena? I waited for you.”

“I didn't know, Simon.”


“Sorry. Like I said, I didn't know. My father had a stroke a month after you disappeared. I didn't know where you had gone. There were rumors that you'd been killed in Tel-Az-Zaytoon. I had to drop out of school to care for my dad. He lost all function on the left side of his body. I mourned for you, I thought about you, I dreamed about you. I didn't know.”

A stroke. That explained a lot. But not all of it.

“How is he?”

“He died last year. He left me the house and a little cash. I bought a car and came here.”

Where are you staying?

Lena looked away. “I… I sleep in the park. Anton and I have a tent…”

“Where's the car?”

“It was stolen. Listen, Simon. Hassan. None of that matters now. I'm done with Anton. I came here today because I want to be with you.”

I sat back in my seat and looked at Lena. I didn't know what to think. She and Anton were friends but they shared a tent? And what had happened to her dream of studying at the University of Istanbul? Why was she drawing caricatures for tourists?

In my naivete and in my love for her, I pushed those concerns aside.

“We'll have to be married,” I said. “I'm a Muslim now. I can't be your boyfriend. It's not allowed. Also, I want you to join me in Islam.”

Her face lit up with joy. She almost looked like the Lena I remembered. “Yes!” she said. “We'll be married. That's all I ever wanted. But give me time on the Islamic thing. I have to think about that.”

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Abbott defends new anti-terrorism laws as Islamic groups warn of witchhunt

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 August, 2014 - 04:51

Tony Abbott says new laws are needed to stop Australian-born jihadists who exultantly hold up severed heads of enemies

Tony Abbott has defended the need to force people returning from declared conflict zones to prove they were there for legitimate purposes, saying Australian-born fighters were exultantly holding up the severed heads of surrendering members of the Iraqi security forces.

The prime minister intensified his rhetoric over planned national security reforms on Wednesday, as some members of the Islamic community warned of the potential for a witchhunt against Muslims and of the practical difficulties flowing from the effective reversal of the onus of proof.

Continue reading...

Cruel déjà vu for Sikhs in US: a racial slur, followed by an attempt to murder an innocent man wearing a turban

Loon Watch - 5 August, 2014 - 22:15


Another Sikh man has been targeted by ignorant hate-mongers.

Cruel déjà vu for Sikhs in US: a racial slur, followed by an attempt to murder an innocent man wearing a turban

By Sujeet Rajan

NEW YORK: As efforts to stem hate crimes against Sikhs in the US, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have increased – including support on Capitol Hill with resolutions and bills, an ad campaign by Gap featuring turbaned actor Waris Ahluwalia, promises by the Justice Department to create more awareness all over the country and ongoing efforts by committed Indian American organizations to profile Sikh culture and their deep roots in communities – hate crimes against Sikhs have only increased.

The most recent example of a cowardly attack on an innocent Sikh man, based solely on his appearance – a turban and long beard – has left a father of two in critical condition, after being run over by a truck by an unidentified perpetrator in Queens, New York City.

According to a report in the Village Voice, last Wednesday, just after midnight, the victim Sandeep Singh, who owns a construction business, and three of his friends were crossing 99th Street at 101 Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens when they crossed paths with a man in a pick-up truck. Witnesses say the driver called Singh a “terrorist,” and yelled at him to “go back to your country.”

Singh didn’t walk away in the face of such threats. He stood his ground, in fact right in front of the truck and engaged the driver in conversation, telling him that he was not a “terrorist”. His friends in the meantime called 911, to report the incident.

The scumbag who had racially abused Singh, panicked. All his false bravado vanished. And in a murderous attempt, he revved up his truck and ran right over Singh in a bid to escape. Singh got caught under the truck and was dragged for 30 feet, sustaining grievous injuries. He survived the brutal incident, has had around 30 stitches, and will need a skin graft surgery.

“He clung to the bottom of the pick up truck, so most of his injuries are along his back and his side,” says Amardeep Singh, director of programs for the Sikh Coalition, adding: “There’s a lot of outrage in the community. It’s a tightly knit Sikh community and they’ve experienced a lot of hate crimes,” Amardeep Singh says. “There is this frustration about lack of action [on the part of the NYPD].”

Despite numerous surveillance videos capturing the deliberate hit-and-run incident by the white pick-up truck, police have yet to find the culprit.

Read the rest of the article…

Warsi resignation: an astonishing charge sheet against No 10 over Gaza

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 August, 2014 - 22:02
Sayeeda Warsi's sudden departure and biting challenge to David Cameron's policy on Israel may have long-term repercussions for the Conservatives

Sayeeda Warsi's resignation may yet prove to be a passing summer storm. But the vitriolic tone of her attack on David Cameron's policy towards Gaza, and her status as the first Muslim cabinet member, suggests her departure has the potential to inflict both political and moral damage on the Conservatives months before the general election.

More importantly, she may have opened the possibility that longstanding, unequivocal British political support for any Israeli government is now under question.

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Rowan Williams says Islam makes positive contribution to society, ‘secularist’ groups disagree

Loon Watch - 5 August, 2014 - 22:00


I’ve always liked the former Archbishop of Canterbury. He seems to represent the best of British society. Those eyebrows are fantastic as well!:

Rowan Williams says Islam makes positive contribution to society, ‘secularist’ groups disagree

Islam is restoring traditional British values such as shared responsibility and duty, a former archbishop has said.

Rowan Williams said that Muslims had brought back “open, honest and difficult public discussion” in one of their “greatest gifts” to Britain.

He used a speech yesterday to criticise sections of the press for portraying Muslims as “un-British” and complained of “illiteracy” about religion among figures in government.

Secularist groups accused Dr Williams of “foolishness”, but his remarks were welcomed by British Muslim organisations.

Keith Porteous Wood, the executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “I’m still smiling about the comments he made about Sharia law a few years ago. You’d think he’d have learnt his lesson.”

In 2008, when still Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams provoked controversy by stating that the application of some aspects of Islamic law in British courts was “unavoidable”. He also drew both praise and criticism after telling a literary festival in 2012 that the hijab gave some Muslim women strength.

Yesterday, Dr Williams, who stood down as the head of the Church of England to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 2012, told the Living Islam Festival in Lincolnshire that Christianity and Islam were shifting British values back towards the community.

He said that Britain was an “argumentative democracy” where “we are not just individual voters ticking boxes but individuals and communities engaging in open, honest and difficult public discussion. One of the greatest gifts of the Muslim community to the UK has been that they have brought that back to the people.”

Asked if he meant that Islam was rejuvenating British values, Dr Williams said: “Yes. I’m thinking of the way in which, for example, in Birmingham we have seen a local parish and a mosque combining together to provide family services and youth activities, both acting out of a very strong sense that this is what communities ought to do. ”

Earlier this year, David Cameron began a debate when he warned that a failure to be “muscular” in promoting British values had led to the rise of extremism.

Dr Williams appeared to offer a riposte yesterday. “It’s really important that we respect and try to understand diversity of conscience and belief and conviction in our environment,” he said. “These are not just about what makes us British, they’re about what makes us human.”

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, warned that the speech could undermine the UK’s social cohesion.

“Narratives that promote the view that religious belonging is necessary for social responsibility may be comforting to those for whom the promotion of religion is a profession, but in the UK they are totally unsupported by evidence,” he said.

Muslim groups praised Dr Williams’s intervention. Dilwar Hussain, chairman of the Muslim charity New Horizons, said: “That is a sentiment we would agree with, very much. We would also be concerned about any of those values being taken to extremes, whether it’s communitarianism or individualism.”

The Times, 2 August 201

See also “‘Muslim Glastonbury’ challenges perceptions of Islam in Britain”, Guardian, 1 August 2014

According to the Guardian report: “Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, one of a number of non-Muslim speakers, gave a talk entitled ‘What do British values look like and is there room for Muslims?’ He expressed his unease about focus on British values rather than values of human beings generally. ‘The setting-up therefore of British values against any kind of values, whether Muslim or Christian, just won’t do,’ he said.

Gaza’s Christians and Muslims grow closer in defiance of Israeli attacks

Loon Watch - 5 August, 2014 - 21:55

Gaza_Christian_Muslim Gaza’s Christians and Muslims grow closer in defiance of Israeli attacks

By Mohammed Omer (Middle East Eye)

GAZA CITY – Without prior warning, an Israeli missile hit the house of the Ayyad family last Saturday. The Ayyads, who are Christian, were the first family among the tiny minority in Gaza to be targeted since the offensive began three weeks ago.

The Ayyad’s home was severely damaged. Furniture was ruined and family belongings such as children’s toys were strewn everywhere as a result of the missile’s impact. But naturally the human cost was much greater.

Jalila Ayyad was known among the people of Gaza as a woman that had nothing to do with any militia groups.  “We are a Christian minority and have no links to Hamas or Fatah – we keep to ourselves and avoid problems,” says Fouad Ayyad, Jalila’s nephew.

Fouad is also the name of the bereaved husband of Jalila Ayyad. Standing in a white T-shirt stained with the blood of his wife and son – who was also seriously injured in the attack – he watches on as the nephew is interviewed.


Many tears were shed among the Christian minority at the service (AA)

A memorial service was held on Sunday for Ayyad at Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday. The church has become a haven not just for Christian but also hundreds of Muslim families seeking shelter there as the offensive drags on.

“The church has been our hosts for the past two weeks, offering food, clothes and whatever we needed, their loss is our loss, their pain is our pain,” says 45-year-old Abu Khaled.

At the memorial service for Jalila, Archbishop Alexios said: “Another human being, an innocent one, has lost her life.” In the pews, crowds of Palestinian Christians sobbed as first from their tiny minority to be killed in the conflict was laid to rest.

In something that surprised local journalists, Jalila’s body was carried by both Muslims and Christians to the grave. It seems the shared wounds, mourning and rage are bridging past divides in war-ravaged Gaza.

Last week, Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Church also sustained damage by Israeli artillery shelling. Fifteen graves were damaged and damage was also caused to the Church’s sole hearse, says Kamel Ayyad, a parish member.

“The world must realise that Israel’s missiles don’t differentiate between Christians and Muslims,” said Abu.

At the memorial service a sad young man surrounded by attendees dressed in black gave a speech on behalf of the Greek Orthodox community and questioned the position of the international community in dealing with Israel’s crimes.

“Here is a Palestinian, an Arab, a Christian woman, martyred by Israeli shelling,” he said. “Bombs slammed into us and killed without differentiating between civilians and combatants,” he adds.

Christians and Muslims both helped to carry the coffin to the grave (AA)

Father Manuel Musallam, a former priest of the Latin Church, has always been an advocate for Palestinian unity.

“When they destroy your mosques, call your prayers from our churches”. 

There are approximately 1,500 Christians in Gaza. Mosques stand next to churches along the thin coastal enclave. George Ayyad, a relative of Jalila, rejects the idea that Christians will leave Gaza after this incident.

“This is exactly what the Israelis want, but where should we go?” he questions, before he continues “This is my homeland and we are Christians here in Gaza for more than 1,000 years and we will remain.”

During the memorial, bible scriptures were recited before Ayyad’s body was carried out and placed in a simple white coffin that had been decorated with a black cross.

Homeless Christians and Muslims brought out her remains together in the same community where Jalila will be buried, in the town she was born: in Gaza.

A Virgin Mary icon was placed in Jalila’s coffin while her relatives sang “Hallelujah.”

- See more at:

WWI Centenary: What should Muslims learn?

Muslim Matters - 5 August, 2014 - 05:00

100 years ago, the world witnessed a catastrophic event that was to spark global repercussions. In many parts of the world its legacies fuel violence and conflict to this day. World War I (or the Great War)[1] was the greatest event of its time; it marked a distinct shift in warfare, ideology and international relations and became the prototype of subsequent wars. At the time, it was the bloodiest war in human history and claimed the lives of nearly 10 million combatants and just over 20 million combatants were seriously wounded, not to mention the civilian death toll.[2]  As well as being a tragedy in its own right it became a pre-condition for further calamities such as WWII, which claimed even more lives. No previous century witnessed the same amount of bloodshed as the 20th century.

This week, Britain along with many other countries will begin to commemorate the First World War Centenary. What led to WWI? Why did it last for four years? What was the result? And what should we as Muslims learn from this event? This article will aim to briefly answer these questions.

Background to WWI:

In the 19th century, the Great Powers – Britain, France, Germany, Hungary-Austrian Empire, Prussia and Russia – lived in relative peace due to the “Concert of Europe”, which was a system of regulation of international affairs. It emphasised their shared goals and created stability largely due to the fact that each power had more to gain by upholding it.[3] This stability allowed Europe to focus their energies abroad and they began to dominate and colonise other areas for their own gains (see map 1). Towards the end of the 19th century, the rapid pace of modernisation was striking. Modernisation flowed as a consequence of scientific, French and industrial revolutions characterised by rationalisation, urbanisation and industrialisation. They exported their steam engines, machine guns and administration to sustain their supremacy abroad. With new technologies and industrial capabilities they also began to develop their own armies and weapons in what became an arms race between the Great Powers.

 Colonial empires in 1900. From the map one can see Britain was the largest and strongest empire (their colonial territory was over 100 times its home territory) and this gave rise to the famous phrase “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Africa was 90% under European control mainly by Britain and France.

Map 1: Colonial empires in 1900. From the map one can see Britain was the largest and strongest empire (their colonial territory was over 100 times its home territory) and this gave rise to the famous phrase “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Africa was 90% under European control mainly by Britain and France. [4]

Furthermore, powers began to shift at the start of the 20th century.  Europe was increasingly divided into two factions: Germany and Austria-Hungary collaborated to form the Central Powers; and France, Russia and Britain joined to form the Triple Entente. Other powers were allies of this main division, for example Italy allied with the Triple Entente and the Ottoman Empire allied with the Central Powers (see map 2). Germany feared isolation and attempted to break the Triple Entente, which ironically had the opposite effect of strengthening it further. Secondly, due to the weakness of the Ottoman Empire (labelled as the “sick man of Europe”), the European powers were all waiting for the right time to conquer the region. As a preemptive measure, Russia used this opportunity to assert their authority over the Balkan region. This sparked fears within the Austria-Hungarian Empire as the decline of the Ottomans meant the rise of Serbia (who were allied with Russia), which would be a potential threat to their empire.

 Europe in 1914 before WWI.

Map 2: Europe in 1914 before WWI. [5]

The final trigger to this volatile situation was the murder of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sarajevo on the 28th of June 1914 by the Serbs. Austria-Hungary hastily declared war with Serbia, having full backing of Germany (due to their alliance) despite knowing that war with Serbia was war with Russia. On the 1st of August 1914, Germany used this as an opportunity to gain European supremacy and launched an offensive attack against Russia and France. As late as the 1st of August Britain remained neutral, as they were preoccupied with internal Irish dissent. However, after considering their own strategic interests decided to join their allies for fear of either German supremacy or the anger of Russia and France for abandoning the alliance. By the 4th of August 1914, Britain – along with its vast empire – had joined the war. This time 100 years ago, all of the Great European Powers were at war with each other and it was the beginning of a full-scale, four-year struggle between armies, economies and societies.

Who was to blame? 

Broadly speaking historians differ on the extent to which Germany is to blame for the war. Some say Germany was fully responsible since even pre-1914 they had prepared offensive war plans to dominate Europe– known as the Schlieffen Plan. Also, after Austria-Hungary declared war with Serbia, Germany put this offensive war plan in action and declared war with Russia and France just three days later without exhausting other non-military options.[6]

However, other historians locate the aggressive German policy within a much broader picture of the changes in international relations and the race to develop high tech arms bolstered by industrialisation and modernisation (mentioned above). Therefore, this group states that each Great Power contributed to the increasingly tense atmosphere, but Germany is to shoulder more of the blame.

The War

The war lasted four years despite constant attempts for peace talks. As casualties mounted diplomatic solutions were rejected as it became difficult to end the conflict without significant gains to justify the war. Nevertheless, national solidarity for the war effort remained firm. 1917 was the turning point. Parts of the French armies mutinied and Russia underwent an internal communist revolution, which knocked them out of the war. America also intervened however only as an “associated” power, initially declaring war only on Germany and not their allies. America only entered the war as President of the U.S., Woodrow Wilson, had his own progressive ideas for the new world order and saw that Germany's defeat was essential to his plan. Britain and France were also an obstacle to Wilson's ideology, however Germany was a greater threat. Only by entering the war could America have influence in the final treaty. From July 1918 onwards, counter-attacks and the growing American army reversed the military situation. Germany's armies retreated and the war ended on the 11th November 1918.

How should we commemorate WW1?

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that £50m will be allocated for historic commemoration of the event and to “ensure the lessons learnt live with us forever.”[7] But what is this legacy? What are these lessons to be learnt? As the centenary approaches, new books, TV shows, school trips and websites about the war are developed. But what story will be told? What narrative? More importantly, for us as Muslims, what should we learn from this event?

There are two distinct narratives for WWI. The first is that it was a just war that the British can look back with nationalistic pride. The second highlights the tragic loss of life, the sorrow and futility of war; it showcases the war poets and the anti-war campaigners. Immediately after the war the former narrative dominated, however in 1964 with productions such as “O What a lovely war” the sentiment began to switch to the latter. 1964 was the beginning of a debate on how the British should remember the war and since then each anniversary resurrects this tussle.

However, this centenary some academics are calling for rising above this shallow good vs. evil binary view of war and replacing it with a nuanced forward-looking approach that sheds light on our contemporary modern world. Sir Hew Strachan – Oxford Professor of the History of War – calls us to use this centenary for a deeper analysis on war as a whole such as discussing difficult questions such as when is it right to go to war or intervene in a civil war by using WWI as a case study. [8]

In my humble opinion, in this four-year period, we as Muslims should also rise above this simple analysis of war and start to examine in more depth the effects of WWI. Today, it seems that the Muslim world is on fire, from Iraq to Palestine – to name only two. A lot of these issues have their roots in WWI.[9] Therefore, we need to analyse WWI in two interconnected ways. Firstly, by gaining a deeper understanding of how WWI shaped the modern world we live in today on a macro level, especially in terms of international politics and ideology. Political institutions such as the League of Nations (predecessor to the current United Nations) and ideologies such as nationalism, self-determination and modernity were either developed or underwent significant changes in this period. Ideological innovations guiding the course of politics is one of the key characteristics of the 20th century. These institutions and ideologies are the foundations of our contemporary world. Moreover, WWI was directly linked to the rise of Nazism, Fascism, the 1929 depression and WWII. Thereafter WWII terminated European world primacy, which ushered in the battle of the next two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the U.S. known as the “Cold War.” It culminated in the final supremacy of the U.S., which is where we are today.

Secondly, on a micro level understanding how these changes has affected us as Muslims. Post WW1 the most significant outcome for Muslims was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its division of land by the European powers. The Muslim world was quite literally carved up into new segments. To take a few examples, modern Iraq was originally three distinct Ottoman provinces. Yet the British arbitrarily combined the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis and Shias in the centre and south resulting in an unstable Iraq wracked with inter-communal tensions. Moreover, Palestine was promised to the Zionists despite warnings from the Americans – known as the King-Cramer report – that it will cause ethnic conflict. Lebanon's borders were expanded by the French, which drastically shifted its demographics turning it into an area of religiously and ethnically diverse people. Originally dominated by Christians, the expansion of Lebanon and the influx of Palestinian refugees shifted the balance towards Muslims who – now more populous – began to voice their dissent against the dominant Maronite Christian government. [Note Christians were also divided into smaller sub-groups such as Greek Orthodox, Catholics etc. and Muslims were also divided into Sunnis, Shias and other groups such as the Druze.] The sheer diversity was one of the factors that contributed to the long Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990.

 Middle East before and after WW1

Map 4: Middle East before and after WW1 [10]

 Europe before and after WW1

Map 5: Europe before and after WW1 [11]

To conclude, WWI is a vast and complex study. In this four year period, as the world looks back at this ground-shaking event, we too should take an intellectual approach and examine in detail what changes were set in motion and how it is impacting us today.





[1]WWI was originally called “The Great War.” Only after the Second World War the name changed to WWI to create a distinction.


[3] Smaller wars did break the general peace from time to time, such as the Crimean Wars, but they were small in scope and fought for limited objectives.



[6] It is important to note that all European powers also had war plans by 1910, yet the key difference is that they prepared for their own defence rather than an offensive attack.


[8] See Sir Hew Strachan's speech

[9] It is important to highlight that this is not the same as saying the Western powers are fully responsible for the current turmoil. Rather the political decisions that resulted from WW1 were a precondition for the problems that were to come. Events did not have to unfold in the way they did because of WWI. The same applies to the macro level changes, WWII was not a direct consequence of WWI – other outcomes were possible – but it was a necessary precondition.




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The Arab Revolt of World War One

Lost Islamic History - 5 August, 2014 - 01:58

No war has had as big an impact on the modern Middle East as the First World War, which lasted from 1914-1918. The war signaled the end of the Ottoman Empire, a major world power since the fifteenth century, and the final victory of Western European imperialism. In the aftermath of the war, almost the entire Muslim world was occupied by foreign forces, something that had never happened before, not during the Crusades, the Mongol invasion, or the Spanish Reconquista. One of the most important (and most debated) aspects of WWI was the revolt of the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire. Was this revolt a manifestation of overwhelming Arab resistance to the Turkish Ottoman Empire, or just a small band of warriors who did not represent Arab sentiment at large?

Political and Intellectual Background

The Ottoman Empire had ruled much of the Arab world since Sultan Yavuz Selim conquered the Mamluk Empire in the 1510s. Syria, Iraq, and Egypt had been core provinces of the Ottoman State for centuries, but Ottoman control also extended to distant Arab regions in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

The Ottoman Empire at its peak in the 16th century

The Ottoman Empire at its peak in the 16th century

At its core, the Ottoman Empire was a multi-ethnic state. The ruling family was Turkish, but the population was made up of Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Bosnians, Serbians, Persians, Arabs, and others. And for the most part, this multi-ethnic empire did not suffer from its diversity. In the 1800s, however, a wave of European nationalism began to hit the Ottoman realm. In 1832, the Greeks (with strong British support) managed to gain independence from the Ottomans. The Serbs attempted to follow, supported by Russian arms and money.

Nationalistic feeling also spread to the Turks themselves. Many young Turkish students studied in European cities such as Paris and London in the 1800s, and adopted European ideas of nationalism, which conflicted with the multi-ethnic nature of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish nationalism was slowed somewhat by the reign of Sultan/Caliph Abdülhamid II, who reigned from 1876 to 1908. He emphasized pan-Islamism and the unity of the empire’s subjects based on their religious affiliation, not their ethnic identities.

But even Abdülhamid’s authoritarian rule could not turn back the rising tide of nationalist thought. A group of Western-educated Ottoman army officers, known as the Committee of Union and Progress, or the Young Turks, overthrew Abdülhamid in 1908. The Young Turks took control of Ottoman government and began a process of Turkifying the empire, at the cost of marginalizing the empire’s other groups.

Meanwhile, the empire’s Arab regions were not immune from nationalism either. Major Arab cities such as Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo became hubs of Western thought, where the concept of Arab nationalism began to take form. It was especially aided by American missionaries, who were unable to convert local Muslims to Protestantism, but succeeded in establishing numerous educational institutes that imbued a sense of national identity among Arab students.

It is important to note, however, that while nationalist though was beginning to take hold among Western-educated Turks and Arabs, it was hardly a mainstream ideology. Most Arabs and Turks were content to be a part of a multi-ethnic empire. Some simply demanded more autonomy for ethnic groups within the Ottoman State. A wide range of nationalist beliefs existed, but it is safe to say that those advocating for a complete break from Ottoman history and the establishment of ethnic nation-states were a small minority.

Sharif Hussein and the British

The European powers, however, believed it was only a matter of time before ethnic tensions would erupt into fully-fledged independence movements. Thus, when World War One began in the summer of 1914 and the Ottoman Empire found itself opposed to Britain, France, and Russia, the British figured they could use what they believed to be popular Arab sentiment for independence to their advantage. They believed that supporting a popular Arab uprising against the Ottomans would significantly help their war efforts in the Middle East.

Sharif Hussein of Hejaz

Sharif Hussein of Hejaz

The British did not have to look hard for an Arab man willing to lead this supposed Arab uprising. The disgruntled local emir (governor) of Mecca, Sharif Hussein, was a prime candidate. He was nominally appointed by the Ottoman sultan to his post, but had fears that they would soon replace him. He also had dreams of becoming an independent ruler of Hejaz (the west of the Arabian Peninsula), and perhaps even king of all the Arabs.

Due to Sharif Hussein’s descent from Banu Hashim (the same tribe as the Prophet Muhammad) and his willingness to revolt against the Ottomans, the British believed that he could rally the millions of Arabs of the Ottoman Empire to arms against their Turkish overlords. In a series of letters from late 1915 to early 1916, the British enticed the Hashemite emir to rebel, and promised to supply him with money, weapons, ships, and men, believing that this would snowball into a large-scale Arab revolt. Sharif Hussein and his son Feisal encouraged such British thinking, and even bragged to British agents that they would be able to get 100,000 to 250,000 Arab soldiers in the Ottoman Army to defect.

The Arabs Revolt…Or Did They?

Sharif Hussein declared his rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in early June of 1916. Word was sent out (with British help, of course) to Arabs throughout the empire to join Sharif Hussein as he built a new Arab kingdom, free from Ottoman domination. The response was lackluster, to say the least. Besides a few thousand desert warriors from Sharif Hussein’s own tribe, absolutely no Arabs flocked to Sharif Hussein’s side. In fact, the only non-Hejazi soldiers that took part in the Arab Revolt were Arab prisoners of war captured by the British and enticed to switch sides.

Further disappointing the British, Sharif Hussein did not seem to be interested in Arab nationalism at all. His only motivation seems to have been to create a kingdom that he would personally be the ruler of. The resurgence of Arab identity, literature, and culture did not interest him nearly as much as personal power. The British were not looking to create a powerful, independent monarchy. They wanted a mild form of Arab nationalism they could control as another part of their empire. But support for such an idea did not exist, contrary to their pre-war calculations.

But despite getting almost no support from the general Arab population, Sharif Hussein’s revolt was not unsuccessful. With British technology, money, and naval power, he was able to gain control of the Hejaz fairly quickly, with the exception of Medina, where the Ottoman commander Fakhri Pasha held the city of the Prophet ﷺ for the Ottoman Empire until 1919, well after the war ended. Thus, Ottoman army units were tied down in the Hejaz, instead of protecting other fronts in Palestine and Iraq, which were under attack by the British.

Arab rebels with the British-designed Flag of the Arab Revolt

Arab rebels with the British-designed Flag of the Arab Revolt

It is important to note that the British were also in contact with the Hashemites’ arch rivals, the Saudis, who controlled the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis had revolted against the Ottomans before, notably in the early 1800s, but the British aimed simply to keep them neutral, to prevent them from hampering the revolt of Sharif Hussein. The Saudi role in WWI was minor, and attempts to attribute the entire fall of the Ottoman Empire to a Saudi revolt are based in no more than conjecture and conspiracy.

As the war drag on, British support for the Hashemite revolt continued to grow, especially as Sharif Hussein showed his inability to lead a major rebellion. His small group of tribesmen had no artillery or machine guns, which had to be provided and manned by British soldiers, usually from Egypt and India. Also instrumental was the role played by a young British army officer, who would later be famously known as Lawrence of Arabia. It is doubtful that without such British support, Sharif Hussein’s effort would have even survived the first few months after the revolt was declared.

As the British army made its way up the Palestinian coast in 1917, the Arab rebels helped by harassing Ottoman supply chains leading to the front lines. By December of 1917, the British captured Jerusalem as Ottoman resistance collapsed. The British and their Arab allies continued to advance as the war died down, capturing the ancient cities of Damascus and Aleppo in October of 1918. By then, almost all of the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire had been conquered and subjected to British authority. At this point, the promises the British made to Sharif Hussein regarding a united Arab kingdom began to be a big issue.

Aftermath and Conclusions

In exchange for his rebellion against the Ottomans, Sharif Hussein expected to be given control of the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, and Iraq by the British. But in keeping with British imperial traditions, their promises did not mean much. The Arab lands were partitioned after the war by the new League of Nations. Britain already had control of Egypt since the 1800s, but was now also given mandates over Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq, while the France got mandates over Syria and Lebanon.

The mandates that the League of Nations created after WWI

The mandates that the League of Nations created after WWI


Sharif Hussein’s son Feisal was crowned king of Syria in 1920 but was quickly overthrown by the French when he sought to establish true authority, independent from Europe. The next year, Britain installed him as king of Iraq, despite the fact that very few people in Iraq even knew who he was. Feisal and his descendants ruled Iraq with strong British support until they were deposed in 1958 by members of the Iraqi military.

Meanwhile, in the Hejaz where the revolt started, Sharif Hussein was still trying to establish himself as a powerful monarch. He declared himself caliph after Atatürk abolished the Ottoman caliphate in 1924, but just like his revolt a decade earlier, no one took Hussein’s pretensions seriously outside of his own tribe. He died in late 1924 and was succeeded by his eldest son Ali, but Hashemite control over Hejaz was coming to an end. In 1925, the Saudis conquered Hejaz and established the modern state of Saudi Arabia. The only place where Hashemite control lasted was in Jordan, where Sharif Hussein’s descendant, King Abdullah, still rules over the country today.

In conclusion, while the Arab Revolt was no doubt a major event in modern Middle Eastern history, it was not as impactful as many make it out to be. It was far from a general Arab rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, and the ultimate fall of the Ottoman Empire had more to do with British military ability, and the centuries-long decline of Ottoman power. Simultaneously, the politicians in charge of the Ottoman Empire at the time certainly created an atmosphere where revolts against the Turkish-dominated government were to be expected. Political and ethnic identities today drive much of the rhetoric regarding the Revolt, yet it may be better to view it simply as a minor historical event in the greater decline of the Ottoman Empire and rise of European imperialism instead of a bone of contention between Arab and Turkish Muslims.


Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: H. Holt, 2001. 

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Vol. 3. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1974. 

Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1991.

A guide to Middle East politics in 2014

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 August, 2014 - 18:56

From Egypt to Syria, Palestine to Iraq, the hopes of the Arab spring lie in tatters. And with the latest conflict in Gaza, the Middle East is more violent, volatile and complex than ever

Its complicated and extremely violent in the Middle East these days. Iraq is in a state of war again after Sunni jihadis conquered swaths of territory. US troops though now only advisers are back in Shia-ruled Baghdad. In Syria, next door, the conflict rages on bleeding into Iraq across a desert border drawn up during the first world war and now effectively erased by the Islamic State (Isis), the triumphant advocates of a seventh-century Islamic caliphate. Palestine, the regions oldest conflict, has exploded spectacularly with the latest bout of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In Damascus, Bashar al-Assad has the upper hand. But large areas of the country remain beyond his control. The US, Britain and their allies shied away from overt intervention even when Assad crossed Barack Obamas red line and used chemical weapons against his own people. Sunni Saudi Arabia and its autocratic Gulf allies want the Syrian president to go, and have armed the rebels fighting him though they fear blowback from Isis and al-Qaida. The Gulf states loathe Shia Iran, supporting Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad as well as Assad. The UK and other western countries fret about radicalised Muslims coming home from the battlefields of the Levant.

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A New Great Awakening: Traveling Scholars, Resident Imams, and Mosques

Muslim Matters - 4 August, 2014 - 11:00

The Muslim community has experienced a wave of intellectual revival of faith in the last five to ten years. More and more Muslims are re-introducing themselves to Islam in various capacities of their lives. Through a combined glance at American history, traveling preachers, and revolutionized clergy, we will examine how faith was revived in the lives of the colonists living in America in the 1700s. We will also compare how the Muslim community is experiencing a comparable revival today in a very similar fashion.

A Historical Perspective

Traveling scholars play a vital role in refreshing the faith of Muslims living in the American and European landscape. In understanding how faith is learned and practiced in this country, a brief study of the Great Awakening[1] (1725-1750) in colonized America will show us that Christianity was revived as a faith through a series of traveling preachers who taught a message of binding together, regardless of denomination, and reaching out to those who were not directly involved in the faith community. This was the pre-movement that prepared America for the official revolution in 1776, by fueling the will-power of the colonists to fight for their freedom and laying the foundations of Evangelism as a predominant denomination of Christianity.

The Great Awakening came at a time when preaching was done in a spontaneous fashion, without regard to motivate. Dense theology was taught, along with academic opinions of the old, on subjects that did not affect the masses. Due to the combination of the two points above, the masses had gradually begun to drift away from Christianity as a faith. Though there were many preachers that took part in the Great Awakening, George Whitefield was of the first to direct his message to the general masses through styles of emotion and vigor while preaching the message of the Bible in a rhetoric and manner everyone understood.  Benjamin Franklin noted that when Whitefield came to Philadelphia to preach, over thirty-thousand people were in attendance at his sermon. In a short period of fifteen months, Whitefield had traveled over five thousand miles and had preached over one hundred times to more than a quarter of the country. The importance of the likes of Whitefield and his message was evident in that people were no longer interested in hearing any message of faith from their local churches or tenured clergy members. Eventually, after traveling for some years, the traveling preachers revolutionized churches throughout the country and produced clergy with a new focus towards using faith to effectively empower the masses.

Importance of Traveling Scholars in the Muslim Community

Without a doubt, scholars that travel have had a profoundly positive effect on the faith and morale of the Muslim community. We should harness the influence and expertise of traveling scholars instead of pushing them away and being overly critical towards them, solely due to their lacking alignment to one specific congregation. For those not directly connected to a mosque, traveling scholars may be the only link left between “non-congregationalist” Muslims and Islam.

Just as the colonists that settled in the New World had a faith restoration through traveling clergy, it is important to note that a similar awakening is and has been taking place at a macro level in the Muslim community, through the speeches and classes of traveling scholars. They have been blessed with the opportunity of bringing a beautiful and enlightening faith-experience to hundreds of Muslim communities throughout the world. By simply glancing at the thousands (and in some cases, millions) of likes, fans, and views on social media platforms, it is an indisputable fact that traveling scholars have the ear of most Muslims throughout the world.  Imams and scholars seeking to enrich their da'wah should consider traveling the country and providing their expertise in education to the greater Muslim community. This will help them get a better pulse of the community and better elate the faith of the masses, while also preparing themselves as Muslim leaders who specialize in a specific direction when the time comes to settle down in one community.

Lasting Faith Occurs through Institutionalization

It is important to note that the traveling clergy of the Great Awakening eventually settled in one congregation after the faith revolution had been set in motion. Being effective in an established manner in their ministry required eventually settling down with a congregation. With the vast amount of settled Western Muslim communities in urban and suburban neighborhoods, the role of the imam/Resident Scholar has never been more in demand than today. It is important to understand our need for sustained scholarship to mature spiritually, academically, and mentally as a religious community in America. Though traveling scholars provide the fundamental framework of faith for Muslims in their individual communities, local scholarship will be the means to develop and nurture the faith of the common Muslim. Without on-the-ground, accessible, and authentic institutionalized scholarship, it is difficult to develop communities deeply rooted in the spiritual and intellectual framework of Islam.

Understanding Long-Term and Short-Term Persuasion 

From a Social Psychology perspective, to change attitudes and mindsets one must execute one of two routes of persuasion: 1) central 2) peripheral. The central route is based on facts, logic, critical thinking, and elaborate arguments, while the peripheral route is based on certain cues and surface characteristics, such as the prestige of the person disseminating the information. When the matter is relevant to them, people are more influenced by the central route, but when it is not relevant, the peripheral route suggests a greater impact, simply through the command of the speaker and his/her expertise.
In regards to long-term attitude change, the central route of perception is successful in creating a lasting effect through discussion about the arguments presented. Though the peripheral route serves an important purpose in the initial phase of making the situation relevant, it will not be able to bring lasting attitude change in the audience it is targeting. Achieving that change will require the persuader to switch to a central mode of teaching. In conclusion, traveling speakers will ignite the initial flame of desire to learn one's religion through peripheral routes of persuasion, but sustaining and growing that faith will happen from institutionalized scholarship through central routes of persuasion.


Though there is much more that can be written on this subject, as a growing community it will be very helpful to navigate our narrative in a positive direction. By understanding the history of how faith came to fruition in the United States, we will get a better understanding of similar methodologies of teaching Islam to the masses. Instead of criticizing an imam for traveling every weekend versus being tenured at a mosque, or vice versa, we need to understand where our strengths lie and serve the Muslim community accordingly. Nurturing the Muslim community is a team effort for sure, not an individualistic one. Putting (not bumping) our heads together and working as one will bring the maximum amount of benefit to our communities.


[1] The Great Awakening generally refers to several time periods where faith was revived among the masses. For the sake of this article, I have focused only on the first awakening.

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