Conservative conference fringe meeting was no ‘Muslim-bashing fest’ | Letter from Peter Tatchell

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 October, 2019 - 18:09
I defended Muslim communities and made concrete proposals to protect Muslims against discrimination, writes Peter Tatchell, who was on the panel at the meeting

Sayeeda Warsi is wrong to say the Policy Exchange fringe meeting at Tory party conference was a “Muslim-bashing fest” (The Tories do not care about Islamophobia, Journal, 1 October).

I was a panellist and can confirm that not a single speaker attacked the Muslim community; though some did critique Islamist extremism. Every speaker, including two Muslim women, condemned anti-Muslim prejudice. Two of us questioned parliament’s sweeping definition of Islamophobia as a potential threat to free speech. That’s all.

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The Guardian view on the People’s Republic of China at 70: whose history? | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 September, 2019 - 19:23

Seven decades of Communist rule have seen notable advances but at horrific cost

The 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, which will be marked on Tuesday by a mass military parade in the heart of Beijing, is less a historical commemoration than a political event. The Communist party of China (CPC) has understood the power of history ever since it seized the reins in 1949: in its earliest days, it encouraged citizens to “recall past bitterness”, to make the New China all the sweeter. Xi Jinping understands history’s importance better than any leader since Mao Zedong. Not long after taking power, he warned his colleagues that “historical nihilism” was an existential threat to the party’s rule on a par with western democracy.

The tanks, planes, troops and missiles tell a story: in 1949, the republic’s 17 aircraft were ordered to fly over twice, to make the display look more impressive. This time the west will watch closely as the People’s Liberation Army unveils new missile, stealth and unmanned vehicle capabilities. The PRC has outlived its big brother, the Soviet Union, and outgrown western economies. Yet it now faces new challenges.

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Richard Thompson at 70: on love, loss and being a Muslim in Trump's US

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 September, 2019 - 09:13

The master of British folk music has weathered a second divorce and lives in the US where ‘Trump has ramped up bigotry considerably’. At least ex-wife Linda has forgiven him

Richard Thompson is drinking mint tea in a Hampstead coffee shop – he doesn’t touch coffee or alcohol – and between Islam and cricket, he’s discussing the remarkable guest list for his upcoming 70th birthday celebration at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “I don’t like being the centre of attention, strange as it sounds,” he insists. “I just want to have a few friends over.”

The man the LA Times once hailed as “the finest rock songwriter after Dylan” and “the best electric guitarist since Hendrix” will switch between electric and acoustic guitars, and hopes that “most guests will have time to do a couple of songs”. The 15 guests will include Pink Floyd hero David Gilmour, who has featured alongside Richard in a Rolling Stone magazine best ever guitarist list, and who, as a soloist, covered Richard’s 1975 song Dimming of the Day. “He’ll do that,” says Richard. “And then do something of his … or Floyd’s. He has always been a nice guy and we share a love of all things Fender.”

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Ignorance and poverty, not religion, lie behind abuse

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 September, 2019 - 18:32
Picture of a pink painted building with what looks like a metal double door guarded by two policemen. The name of the school, "Daru Imam Ahmad bun Hambal" with an Arabic inscription, is displayed above the door.Daru Imam Ahmad Bun Hambal (sic), the school at the centre of this scandal

Yesterday the Mail Online website published a story about a “Qur’an school” in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, from which 300 boys and men were rescued last week having been held in chains in squalid conditions (the article is based on this Reuters piece which has more background). The school was named after Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, ironically as he was subject to torture himself for refusing to accept innovated beliefs the Abbasid rulers were trying to impose on the people at the time. The inmates had been sent to the school by their parents from other countries besides Nigeria, including Mali and Burkina Faso and alleged that as well as being chained up and whipped, they had been subject to sexual abuse by their captors, who claimed that only those who had attempted to run away were chained. A western Muslim scholar posted a link to a Reddit discussion of the story which had a few digs at Islam itself or religion in general, and someone else commented on the same thread that “Muslims lack a sense of justice”. This is unfair, and inaccurate.

Institutions like this exist in a lot of African countries. In 2015, a British TV presenter called Sophie Morgan made a documentary about the treatment of disabled children in Ghana, which she had heard was possibly the worst place in the world to be disabled (see earlier entry). What she found was that in many rural areas there were “prayer camps” run by cranks operating under the guise of religion (Islam and Christianity as well as local religions) keeping inmates chained to the furniture and “fetish priests” feeding disabled children poisoned alcohol and then chucking them in rivers. Parents would sometimes shun proper rehabilitation facilities, some of them run by western charities, in favour of these prayer camps because they had been taught to believe that prayer would cure their relatives. Politicians were aware of the problem, but blamed it on people not following the law rather than the government not enforcing it.

In many of the countries of the world, the mentally ill are treated abominably, locked up and chained up rather than treated, often because their illness is blamed on spirit possession rather than physical illness or trauma. In Africa and Asia the use of physical restraints such as chains is often widespread and unconcealed; in many western countries with their sophisticated, scientific mental healthcare system, drugs are the restraint of choice and the environment is prettier and makes more use of technology such as surveillance cameras and electronic locks (though it often does not allow patients to use their own mobile phones or anything with Internet access), but it is just as much a prison as those makeshift camps in Nigeria or anywhere else, and reports of cruelty and abuse, of soulless regimes, of needless blanket restrictions on people’s activities and what possessions they can have with them, make headlines every week or so. In the US there is a well-documented network of private “boot camps” which hold children with parental consent but against their will and without access to any legal redress, supposedly because they were “out of control”, and anyone tempted to condemn “barbaric Muslims” for similar places in (as has been reported) Somalia should take this into account.

In many countries in Africa and Asia, education and healthcare are not free and are often beyond the reach of people who are not very rich unless they can access charitable schools or clinics, which leaves ignorance and superstitious beliefs unchallenged and the field open to abusive cranks and witch-doctor types to exploit vulnerable and desperate people. Many of the countries are burdened with debt, or their wealth is held in foreign banks. Yes, corruption is often a problem, even in ostensibly democratic countries like Ghana and Nigeria. These are not the product of religion; these are political and social problems. Bigots will, of course, take one look at a story about abuse at any Muslim school and go to their preferred forum and spout nonsense, but Muslims who have no links to the country where this happened, who have no influence there, have no reason to apologise for every abuse that goes on everywhere in the name of Islam.

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French education minister reignites row over Muslim headscarf

The Guardian World news: Islam - 25 September, 2019 - 17:57

Minister says he wants to avoid having mothers in hijab as volunteers on school trips

A fresh political row has erupted over the Muslim headscarf in France after the education minister said he wanted to avoid having mothers in hijab as volunteers on school outings.

Jean-Michel Blanquer criticised the country’s largest parents association for using a picture of a mother in a headscarf on a pamphlet under the words: “Yes I go on school trips, so what? Secularism is about welcoming all parents without exception.”

Une plainte justifiée. Plein soutien à la @FCPE_nationale qui elle connait la réalité de terrain et agit vraiment pour nos enfants. Cette stigmatisation ne peut plus être tolérée.

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Amazon refuses to stop selling Tommy Robinson merchandise

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 September, 2019 - 15:42

Online retailer continues to sell merchandise including T-shirts with #freeTommy logo

Amazon has refused to pull merchandise in support of Tommy Robinson after it and other online companies were accused of profiting from products promoting far-right extremism.

Items including T-shirts bearing the image of Robinson – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – were removed by eBay after the Guardian approached the company about the listings. The former English Defence League (EDL) leader was released this month after serving nine weeks of a nine-month sentence for contempt of court.

Related: Tommy Robinson banned from Facebook and Instagram

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On Labour’s private school dissolution policy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 September, 2019 - 22:23
Eton College, Berkshire

This evening, the Labour party’s national conference passed a motion to make the party committed to the dissolution of Britain’s private schools. The three-clause motion commits the party to include in its next general election manifesto a commitment to “integrate all private schools into the state sector”, which includes removing their charitable status, requiring that universities admit no more private school pupils than their proportion in the general population, and to redistribute “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools … democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”. It is this third clause which is likely to provoke the most controversy.

When some Labour front-benchers (e.g. Clare Short) broached the idea of abolishing private schools’ charitable status in the 90s when Tony Blair was party leader, the idea provoked outrage from the Tory press and was quickly slapped down by Blair. This goes a lot further, and it reflects the emboldening of the anti-private school lobby that has resulted from two charming but incompetent Old Etonian prime ministers and years of scandals involving abuse at British boarding schools, including some very prestigious ones (though not Eton). The notion that boarding school, particularly at primary school age, robs people of the ability to empathise by separating them from parental love and family ties at an early age has grown more and more popular, as has the awareness that much of our media, in particular, has become saturated with private school products as has popular culture; while there have always been pop stars who attended private schools (the early members of Genesis, for example, were Charterhouse boys), the numbers seem to have increased in the last 20 years or so.

Removing the charitable status of schools which overwhelmingly educate the children of the rich for a hefty fee might strike many as a good thing; however, there must be some accounting for what services these schools provide. Many schools provide full or partial scholarships or bursaries, but even ‘full’ bursaries often only cover fees, not on-costs such as uniforms. Some of these schools require pupils to have equipment that families in poverty often cannot afford, such as computer tablets; some also remind the scholarship child of their status as a recipient of charity. The appalling story of the young girl who obtained a bursary to “The Grammar School At Leeds” a few years ago and left after just a year because she was “made to feel unwelcome”, with her mother having acquired debts to pay for the uniform and special bus pass, is a good example of the kind of ‘charity’ which gives the concept a bad name. Cold charity, delivered with a razor blade in the hand.

I have heard it suggested that the policy would contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically protocol 1, article 2 which states: “The State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. The problem is that, while many private schools do provide for religious education not provided in the state system, many are based in churches such as the Anglican and Catholic churches already well-represented by state schools; they just provide an elitist education for children whose parents can afford it. Many religious private schools have accepted integration into the state school system, particularly through the grant-maintained system favoured by the Thatcher/Major Conservative governments (subsequently abolished), such as some Muslim and Greek Orthodox schools. Similarly, some private schools offer alternative modes of education such as Steiner schools, but many do not: many are simply grammar schools. The state already interferes in private religious school provision by trying to force them to provide sexual and relationship education which contravenes their religious teaching; abolishing private schools would mostly affect the education of the rich.

As for ‘redistributing’ the endowments of private schools, this is simply theft. Besides being simply immoral, it will send a clear message that any private asset belonging to an individual or organisation that the state finds disagreeable can simply be seized when they feel like it. It is clearly tempting to many people on the Left but it will not fly with the electorate. It is a very different proposition from nationalising a business that has received enormous amounts of state aid which has enriched its owners while delivering poor service, or which is on the verge of bankruptcy and this bankruptcy would cause widespread hardship or unrest. It is far better to legislate that assets such as land held by charities be used for charitable purposes, not merely to better the interests of wealthy fee-payers and their children — a good example being that sports facilities and the like be available for use by local schools a certain proportion of the time.

While reducing the influence of the privately-educated in British society is not a bad thing in itself, Labour in office should be dedicated to making sure state schools are funded properly, at ending the flight of teachers from the profession, at stabilising the curriculum and ending fragmentation, and at ending the undemocratic academy regime and recovering those schools which were converted against the wishes of the community (since these were public assets to begin with, not legitimate private ones such as bequests). The state should also assist home-educating families, especially where a child was unable to attend mainstream school because of disability. I support the idea of private schools having to justify their charitable status to retain it, and boarding before secondary age (and possibly even before about age 13 or 14) being banned. However, we cannot simply go down the route of seizing private assets where there was no criminality involved in obtaining them. It’s theft, it’s tyranny; it’s Henry VIII meets Stalin, and it will leave Labour in the wilderness.

Image source: Julian Osley, from Geograph. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence.

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The Stallman affair and what it means for Open Source

Indigo Jo Blogs - 21 September, 2019 - 12:31
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Last week the founder of the Free Software Foundation, Richard M Stallman, who was also a visiting professor at MIT (right), resigned from both of those roles after remarks he had made on an MIT email list about one of the people implicated in the Epstein affair were made public, first on Medium and then through the Vice news site. The remarks were to the effect that the 17-year-old that this individual may have had sex with (at one of Epstein’s ‘retreats’ in the Virgin Islands) may have appeared willing, and that her being technically under the age of consent does not make it rape. Some of his comments were arguably true; there is a tendency to refer to any breach of age-of-consent laws as rape, regardless of whether the age in that particular state or country is above average (e.g. 18 rather than 16), whether the law even calls it “statutory rape”, whether force was used or whether the ‘victim’ was in fact quite willing, whether the two participants were close in age or indeed whether the ‘perpetrator’ was also under the age of consent, and if these comments were the only issue, I would regard his firing from his positions as an injustice. However, in the wake of this revelation, a whole lot of Stallman’s past writings about such things as paedophilia and people with Down’s syndrome (i.e. that they should be aborted) but also about his long history of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour with women at MIT and the conferences he attends came to light which I am sure many people in tech but outside MIT, or the US tech scene, were unaware of. It also led to calls to shut the Free Software Foundation he founded down and to abandon the whole concept of Free Software or Open Source and to stop using software such as Linux. These calls are misguided, in my opinion.

I’ve been on the fringes of the tech community for some time as a one-time Linux user and occasional application developer. I’ve attended a few Linux events here in the UK and read interviews with Stallman as well as other pioneering but controversial figures such as Eric Raymond (who has also come under criticism this past week for a past blog entry in which he stated, correctly, that sexual activity with someone in their teens was not paedophilia and that the distinction matters). Stallman is well-known as a divisive figure in the tech community. He originated the idea of “free software”, which meant software which was free to redistribute and modify. Later on, a younger group of developers coined the term “open source”, which in terms of the licences under which the software is distributed is identical but is based on a different philosophy: that openness means more scrutiny, which means better software. Stallman despised this concept and, although he could not change the fact that this became dominant in the tech scene, insisted that his organisations did not use the term “open source” or that community’s coinages except when criticising them. The upshot is that we hear phrases like “FOSS” (free and open source software) used in community publications as authors and editors seek to dance around Stallman’s and his fans’ preoccupations and resentments and minimise emails from the electronic equivalent of the “green ink brigade”.

One of the articles about Stallman’s fall from grace claimed that he regarded his life’s work as a failure: his operating system, which he called GNU (GNU’s Not Unix, a reference to the system it was meant to replace), has never been completed although large parts of it are used in Linux-based operating systems daily. (He insists on calling these systems GNU/Linux, another of the stipulations he makes to anyone who works with him or uses the FSF’s facilities.) It is more true to say that he achieved something other than what he set out to, a little bit like Upton Sinclair who said that his book, The Jungle, about conditions in the Chicago meat industry was aimed at the nation’s heart, but hit it in the stomach instead; it was intended to prompt a movement for workers’ rights and conditions, but instead resulted in improvements in food hygiene and safety. Stallman’s ideas were about the right to share code, the right to know how the computer you own and the software that runs on it works, and to change it if you like, or if necessary, but the majority of computer users now, even if not in the 1970s or early 80s, have neither the time nor the inclination to do any of this or to learn how; they just want to get things done. The “right to share code” is not an ideal that would inspire many young people to join a campaign when there are human rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights and the environment to consider. Stallman has never accepted this, but the fact that his work has made software development much more accessible to many people (and certainly cheaper) and has made it a lot easier to develop better programs is hardly a failure.

However, as many of us found out last week, his attitude and behaviour, and that of a number of others in the industry, actively put women off entering. Women at MIT had strategies to deter advances from him, often based on exploiting his eccentric dislikes (e.g. of plants, water, and rival software to his) while women visiting were advised to avoid the floor where he worked if possible. He was on a number of conferences’ “do not invite” lists partly for this reason (and, no doubt, partly because of his divisiveness). He was known to shower rarely and to have other disgusting personal habits which he did not hide; he preferred to stay with hosts rather than in hotels when attending conferences, and imposed on them to a ridiculous extent, issuing a rider which was pages long. A number of people who worked with him tried to make him see that the way he treated people, especially women, was inappropriate, but to no avail. It might anger or upset some people to see people on Twitter demand that the whole edifice be torn down, that the FSF be closed, that the open-source or Free Software concepts be abandoned, but one can hardly blame them if they had been kept out of a career in something they had previously enjoyed because the industry and academia tolerated obvious sexual harassment just because the perpetrator was a major innovator. However, this does not mean we should tear it down.

As for abandoning Linux or anything else licensed under the FSF’s General Public Licence: to do this is to cut off your nose to spite your face. Neither Stallman nor the FSF benefits at all materially from you using a piece of software licensed that way; nobody pays royalties on the use of the licence. The FSF and GNU project are more than just Stallman; he contributed to some of the software but not all, and some aspects of the system have nothing to do with GNU, including the Linux kernel, the X-Window system and KDE desktop. Get hold of any Linux distribution (e.g. Ubuntu) or any other open-source package (e.g. LibreOffice) and you can install it on as many PCs as you like. The alternative is software developed on a closed basis that you may pay hundreds of pounds for, which you then may use only one copy of, and which comes out of a company whose internal culture you know nothing about; it may have a sexual harassment problem at least as bad as anything Stallman has been involved with, or a bullying problem, or it may pay its cleaners a pittance and employ them on zero-hours contracts.

One of the first and loudest voices advocating for Stallman’s dismissal and discredit works for Salesforce, a company accused of facilitating sex trafficking through one of its clients (a website called Backpage, closed by US federal officials in 2018); the lawsuit from women victims of this practice was dismissed yesterday on a technicality though the plaintiffs are appealing. I saw a tweet yesterday that read, “If someone would have told me in the 2000s that Bill Gates would be the hero and Richard Stallman would be the villain…..”, but Bill Gates’s foundation has announced that it is giving a humanitarian award (for sanitation improvements) to Narendra Modi, the Hindu chauvinist Indian prime minister, whose terms as both Gujarat state governor and prime minister have been marked by Hindu nationalist violence against religious minorities: a pogrom in Gujarat, lynchings of Muslims by “cow protection” vigilantes in the north-west, state atrocities in Kashmir, an ongoing campaign to expel Muslims from Assam. Gates’s association with this man makes Stallman’s defence of his friend look mild by comparison and he made his money peddling sub-standard, buggy closed software in the 90s and 2000s (his operating system had no major update for seven years); he helped water the swamp that Stallman operated in.

What does this mean for open source? My prediction is that the whole concept of “free software” will come to be seen as a dinosaur and that the circumlocutions the community uses to avoid offending Stallman and his dwindling group of supporters will be abandoned: we will see no more uses of “GNU/Linux” or “Free/Open Source Software”. It’s true that Stallman is not the only guilty party and there have been controversies about sexist behaviour and underrepresentation of women in other open-source projects, and some Linux events such as expos and conferences have been notable by a laddish culture which does not respond positively to criticism. People who object are often told to toughen up and not be so sensitive, even by women (as I saw in Linux Format after a previous sexism scandal). However, most of this behaviour has been verbal rather than physical. Open source has demonstrable advantages: it not only opens up important software to scrutiny of its source code, allowing the elimination of both bugs and backdoors, but also offers opportunity for developers to better their skills in their own time, to make improvements which, if accepted, become matters of public record, unlike in a closed software company, and just because some people find a community or project unwelcoming does not mean it should be closed down if it is doing good. To destroy all this because of the behaviour of a small number of unpleasant individuals would do everyone a disservice even if not everyone knows it.

Image source: Nick Allen. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 licence.

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Indonesian president postpones plans to outlaw extramarital sex

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 September, 2019 - 10:36

Apparent climbdown follows wave of anger and criticism over draconian draft laws

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has ordered his government to postpone the ratification of a deeply controversial criminal code that would outlaw living together outside marriage, extramarital sex and insulting the president.

The apparent climbdown came in a surprise address at the state palace on Friday afternoon, and follows an outpouring of anger and criticism about the draconian draft laws.

Related: Outcry at Indonesia draft criminal code that could see unmarried couples jailed

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Ministers accused of 'radio silence' over LGBT school protests

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 September, 2019 - 09:50

Louise Casey says Birmingham demonstrations have been put in ‘all-too-difficult box’

The former integration tsar, Dame Louise Casey, has accused ministers of “radio silence” over protests against the teaching of LGBT equality at a Birmingham school.

Casey said the government had failed to act on what she described as homophobic demonstrations because it was in the “all-too-difficult box”.

(June 6, 2018) 

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Hamza Yusuf was not famous just for being White

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 September, 2019 - 22:07
Black and white picture of Hamza Yusuf, a middle-aged White man wearing a white turban on his head, with a white shirt with no tie, and a dark-coloured jacket over it. He is standing against a wall decorated with small tiles.Hamza Yusuf

In the aftermath of the Hamza Yusuf Syria controversy (see previous entry), a Medium post by Umar Lee, once a fixture on the Muslim blogging scene of the 2000s, has been circulated on social media with many claiming that it is a work of great insight or some such thing. The post has some useful observations on the state of the Muslim community in the USA and in particular the white convert element, but in regard to Hamza Yusuf it reflects the hostility towards him that we saw in his previous writings, including a piece ten years ago (on his old Muslim blog, most of it since deleted) on so-called Rand Institute Muslims of which he called Hamza Yusuf the most prominent. Lee claims in his article that Hamza Yusuf’s fame and status comes from his skin colour, which I dispute.

He claims:

Hamza Yusuf is in the position he’s in because he’s white and he is far from alone. In city after city there are white Muslims on the boards of mosques, occupying key roles within local CAIR chapters, and generally overrepresented in leadership roles. In nearly all of these instances there are better qualified Muslims of color to occupy these positions who’ve been passed over. While many people point to the (South Asian in particular) inferiority -complex in my estimation this overrepresentation is due to other factors. The first being that white Muslims, particularly those that haven’t changed their names, make for good PR props (particularly in the post-911 era where Muslims are obsessed with “reframing the narrative”). The second factor is that white Muslims also make for good props in the machiavellian schemes of Ikhwani political organizations and protests.

Hamza Yusuf converted in 1977 at a time when there were few white converts in America. I have met some from that era for sure including those handful that were in the Dar al Islam: but there’s no doubt a young Mark Hanson was a novelty. What followed was a well-funded and orchestrated rise by various benefactors who wanted to see his white face as the face of Islam in America.

I’m 42 years old, and converted to Islam in 1998, so I caught the tail end of the pre-9/11 era. Any Muslim who is a young adult now would have been born around the time I took the shahada; they would have no memory of the time before 9/11 and would have been around 10 years old or even younger when Barack Obama was elected. Hamza Yusuf being white helped, but it was not the only or even most significant reason why he was widely respected, why people would travel hundreds of miles to attend a conference headlined by him at a big convention centre, and why tapes of his speeches sold very well in Islamic shops in every English-speaking country. Indeed, there were other American preachers at this time, including some African-American ones, who were also very popular on the same circuit and whose tapes sold through the same shops, such as Abdullah Hakim Quick, Muhammad Sharif and Zaid Shakir. As I recall, people of every ethnicity listened to all the speakers; people gained inspiration from stories about Muslim achievements, personalities, reform movements etc everywhere, including Africa. People in the West were introduced to some of the major scholars in the Muslim world through encounters with these western scholars, which was part of their intention.

What made Hamza Yusuf popular, including in countries where being white was nothing like the asset in the Muslim community that it was in the USA, was the quality of his output. He offered a vigorous critique of the modern western media and educational systems and extolled the virtues of the classical Islamic education which was where all the major Islamic scholars learned what they knew, and attacked the modernist response which was to blame Islamic education for the conquest of the Muslim world. He also published books, including translations of classical texts which were of good quality and beautifully presented. Some might find his fondness for connection-drawing to be too close to conspiracy theory for comfort, but he did foster an interest in and a love of knowledge in Islam. In the UK, many young people were looking for an alternative to the very divided religious culture which had come over from South Asia which was heavily based on the Urdu language which many young people did not speak (especially if their parents did not do so either) as well as to the aggressive “Salafi da’wah” which dominated many university Islamic societies at that time. Contrary to Umar Lee’s claim that “it’s unreasonable to believe a converted Catholic from Michigan could advise Punjabi families better than a fellow Punjabi”, many Punjabis here (as well as other South Asians) looked to scholars like him for guidance in preference to scholars of their own background. What has come to be known as the neo-traditional movement filled those gaps. A lot of the intellectual heavy lifting in refuting the claims of the ‘salafis’ was done by Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Abdul-Hakim Murad, but Hamza Yusuf made the world of Islamic knowledge look exciting to many young people back then.

That does not mean he, or any of the others mentioned, is above criticism today, but many of those who criticised him for his remarks about Syria last week, or about other issues arising out of the Arab Spring, are people who would have been in those coach parties back in the 90s and early 2000s and did not go to just see any “white shaikh”, they went to see someone who inspired them and made the deen and religious knowledge accessible. He was not a nobody who was elevated to a prominence he did not deserve because of his colour, even if such people existed in the US Muslim scene (they certainly did not here); he was a scholar who earned his position through his teachings and his service to the community.

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Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition

Muslim Matters - 15 September, 2019 - 14:43

In recent years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a notable Islamic scholar from North America, has gained global prominence by supporting efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deal with the fallout of the Arab revolutions. The UAE is a Middle Eastern autocracy that has been the chief strategist behind quelling the Arab revolutionary aspiration for accountable government in the region. Shaykh Hamza views himself as helping prevent the region from falling into chaos by supporting one of its influential autocratic states. However, more recently, he has become embroiled in another controversy because of comments he made regarding the Syrian revolution in 2016 that surfaced online earlier this week and for which he has since apologised. I will not discuss these comments directly in this article, but the present piece does have a bearing on the issue of revolution as it addresses the question of how Islamic scholars have traditionally responded to tyranny. Thus, in what follows, I somewhat narrowly focus on another recent recording of Shaykh Hamza that has been published by a third party in the past couple of weeks entitled: “Hamza Yusuf’s response to the criticism for working with Trump administration”. While it was published online at the end of August 2019, the short clip may, in fact, predate the Trump controversy, as it only addresses the more general charge that Shaykh Hamza is supportive of tyrannical governments.

Thus, despite its title, the primary focus of the recording is what the Islamic tradition purportedly says about the duty of Muslims to render virtually unconditional obedience to even the most tyrannical of rulers. In what follows, I argue that Shaykh Hamza’s contention that the Islamic tradition has uniformly called for rendering obedience to tyrannical rule—a contention that he has been repeating for many years—is inaccurate. Indeed, it is so demonstrably inaccurate that one wonders how a scholar as learned as Shaykh Hamza can portray it as the mainstream interpretation of the Islamic tradition rather than as representing a particularly selective reading of fourteen hundred years of scholarship. Rather than rest on this claim, I will attempt to demonstrate this in what follows. (Note: this article was sent to Shaykh Hamza for comment at the beginning of this month, but he has not replied in time for publication.)

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

Shaykh Hamza argues that “the Islamic tradition” demands that one render virtually absolute obedience to one’s rulers. He bases this assertion on a number of grounds, each of which I will address in turn. Firstly, he argues that Islam requires government, because the opposite of having a government would be a state of chaos. This is, however, to mischaracterise the arguments of the majority of mainstream scholars in Islamic history down to the present who, following explicit Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings, opposed supporting tyrannical rulers. None of these scholars ever advocated the removal of government altogether. They only opposed tyranny. For some reason that is difficult to account for, Shaykh Hamza does not, in addressing the arguments of his interlocutors, make the straightforward distinction between opposing tyranny, and opposing the existence of any government at all.

A complex tradition

Rather than support these tyrannical governments, the Islamic tradition provides a variety of responses to how one should oppose such governments, ranging from the more quietist—opposing them only in one’s heart—to the more activist—opposing them through armed rebellion. The majority of later scholars, including masters such as al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795/1393), and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) appear to have fallen somewhere between these two poles, advocating rebellion only in limited circumstances, and mostly advising a vocally critical posture towards tyranny. Of course, some early scholars, such as the sanctified member of the Prophetic Household, Sayyiduna Husayn (d. 61/680) had engaged in armed opposition to the tyranny of the Umayyads resulting in his martyrdom. Similarly, the Companion ‘Abdullah b. Zubayr (d. 73/692), grandson of Abu Bakr (d. 13/634), and son of al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam (d. 36/656), two of the Ten Companions Promised Paradise, had established a Caliphate based in Makkah that militarily tried to unseat the Umayyad Caliphal counter-claimant.

However, the model of outright military rebellion adopted by these illustrious scholars was generally relinquished in later centuries in favour of other forms of resisting tyranny. This notwithstanding, I will try to show that the principle of vocally resisting tyranny has always remained at the heart of the Islamic tradition contrary to the contentions of Shaykh Hamza. Indeed, I argue that the suggestion that Shaykh Hamza’s work with the UAE, an especially oppressive regime in the Arab world, is somehow backed by the Islamic tradition can only be read as a mischaracterisation of this tradition. He only explicitly cites two scholars from Islamic history to support his contention, namely Shaykhs Ahmad Zarruq (d. 899/1442) and Abu Bakr al-Tartushi (d. 520/1126), both of whom were notable Maliki scholars from the Islamic West. Two scholars of the same legal school, from roughly the same relatively peripheral geographic region, living roughly four hundred years apart, cannot fairly be used to represent the swathe of Islamic views to be found over fourteen hundred years in lands as far-flung as India to the east, Russia to the north, and southern Africa to the south.

What does the tradition actually say?

Let me briefly illustrate the diversity of opinion on this issue within the Islamic tradition by citing several more prominent and more influential figures from the same tradition alongside their very different stances on the issue of how one ought to respond to tyrannical rulers. Most of the Four Imams are in fact reported to have supported rebellion (khuruj) which is, by definition, armed. A good summary of their positions is found in the excellent study in Arabic by Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Dumayji, who is himself opposed to rebellion, but who notes that outright rebellion against tyrannical rule was in fact encouraged by Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767) and Malik (d. 179/795), and is narrated as one of the legal positions adopted by al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855). As these scholars’ legal ideas developed and matured into schools of thought, many later adherents also maintained similar positions to those attributed to the founders of these schools. To avoid suggesting that armed rebellion against tyrants was the dominant position of the later Islamic tradition, let me preface this section with a note from Holberg Prize-winning Islamic historian, Michael Cook, who notes in his magisterial study of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong that “in the face of the delinquency of the ruler, there is a clear mainstream position [in the Islamic tradition]: rebuke is endorsed while [armed] rebellion is rejected.”

But there were also clearly plenty of outliers, or more qualified endorsements of rebellion against tyrants, as well as the frequent disavowal of the obligation to render them any obedience. Thus for the Malikis, one can find Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148) who asserts that advocating rebellion against tyrants is the main position of the madhhab; similarly among later Hanafis, one finds  Abu Bakr Al Jassas (d. 370/981); for the Hanbalis, one may cite the positions of the prolific scholars Imam Ibn ‘Aqil (d. 513/1119), Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), and in a more qualified sense, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. Among later Shafi‘is, I have found less explicit discussions of rebellion in my limited search, but a prominent Shafi‘i like the influential exegete and theologian al-Fakhr al-Razi (d. 606/1210) makes explicit, contrary to Shaykh Hamza’s claims, that not only is obeying rulers not an obligation, in fact “most of the time it is prohibited, since they command to nothing but tyranny.” This is similar in ways to the stance of other great Shafi‘is such as Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani who notes concerning tyrannical rulers (umara’ al-jawr) that the ulama state that “if it is possible to depose them without fitna and oppression, it is an obligation to do so. Otherwise, it is obligatory to be patient.” It is worth noting that the normative influence of such a statement cited by Ibn Hajar transcends the Shafi‘i school given that it is made in his influential commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari. Once again, contrary to the assertions of Shaykh Hamza, there is nothing to suggest that any of the illustrious scholars who supported rebellion against tyrannical rulers was advocating the anarchist removal of all government. Rather they were explicitly advocating the replacement of a tyrant with a just ruler where this was possible.

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

A final example may be taken from the writing of Imam al-Ghazzali, an exceptionally influential scholar in the Islamic tradition who Shaykh Hamza particularly admires. On al-Ghazzali, who is generally opposed to rebellion but not other forms of opposition to tyranny, I would like to once again cite the historian Michael Cook. In his previously cited work, after an extensive discussion of al-Ghazzali’s articulation of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong, Cook concludes (p. 456):

As we have seen, his views on this subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism. In this Ghazzālī may have owed something to his teacher Juwaynī, and he may also have been reacting to the Ḥanafī chauvinism of the Seljūq rulers of his day. The duty, of course, extends to everyone, not just rulers and scholars. More remarkably, he is prepared to allow individual subjects to have recourse to weapons where necessary, and even to sanction the formation of armed bands to implement the duty without the permission of the ruler. And while there is no question of countenancing rebellion, Ghazzālī is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands and rebuke unjust rulers in harsh and uncompromising language.

Most of the material Cook bases his discussion upon is taken from al-Ghazzali’s magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Such works once again demonstrate that the Islamic tradition, or great Sufi masters and their masterworks, cannot be the basis for the supportive attitude towards tyrannical rule on the part of a minority of modern scholars.

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

But modern times give rise to certain changes that also merit our attention. In modern times, new technologies of governance, such as democracy, have gone some way to dealing with challenges such as the management of the transition of power without social breakdown and the loss of life, as well as other forms of accountability that are not possible in absolute autocracies. For their part, absolute autocracies have had their tyrannical dimensions amplified with Orwellian technologies that invade private spaces and facilitate barbaric forms of torture and inhumane degradation on a scale that was likely unimaginable to premodern scholars. The stakes of a scholar’s decision of whether to support autocracy or democracy could not be higher.

Modern scholars like Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1345/1926), someone who Shaykh Hamza’s own mentor, Shaykh Abdullah b. Bayyah (b. 1353f./1935) considered a teacher until fairly recently, has advocated for an Islamic conception of democracy as a possible means to deal with the problem of tyranny that plagues much of the Muslim world. He is hardly the only scholar to do so. And in contrast with some of the scholars of the past who advocated armed rebellion in response to tyranny, most contemporary scholars supporting the Arab revolutions have argued for peaceful political change wherever possible. They have advocated for peaceful protest in opposition to tyranny. Where this devolved into violence in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this was generally because of the disproportionately violent responses of regimes to peaceful protests.

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

For Shaykh Hamza, the fault here appears to lie with the peaceful protestors for provoking these governments to crush them. Such a conception of the dynamics of protest appears to assume that the autocratic governmental response to this is a natural law akin to cause and effect. The logic would seem to be: if one peacefully calls for reform and one is murdered in cold blood by a tyrannical government, then one has only oneself to blame. Governments, according to this viewpoint, have no choice but to be murderous and tyrannical. But in an age in which nearly half of the world’s governments are democracies, however flawed at times, why not aspire to greater accountability and less violent forms of governance than outright military dictatorship?

Rather than ask this question, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf appears to be willing to defend autocracy no matter what they do on the grounds that government, in principle, is what is at stake. Indeed, in defending government as necessary and a blessing, he rhetorically challenges his critics to “ask the people of Libya whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Yemen whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Syria whether government is a blessing?” The tragic irony of such statements is that these countries have, in part, been destroyed because of the interventions of a government, one for which Shaykh Hamza serves as an official, namely the UAE. This government has one of the most aggressive foreign policies in the region and has been instrumental in the failure of representative governments and the survival of tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

Where do we go from here?

In summary, Shaykh Hamza’s critics are not concerned that he is “supporting governments,” rather they are concerned that for the last few years, he has found himself supporting bad government and effectively opposing the potential for good government in a region that is desperately in need of it. And while he may view himself as, in fact, supporting stability in the region by supporting the UAE, such a view is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the evidence. Given his working relationship with the UAE government, perhaps Shaykh Hamza could use his position to remind the UAE of the blessing of government in an effort to stop them from destroying the governments in the region through proxy wars that result in death on an epic scale. If he is unable to do this, then the most honourable thing to do under such circumstances would be to withdraw from such political affiliations and use all of his influence and abilities to call for genuine accountability in the region in the same way that he is currently using his influence and abilities to provide cover, even if unwittingly, for the UAE’s oppression.

And Allah knows best.

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Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

Muslim Matters - 15 September, 2019 - 05:22

This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.

Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.

Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.

In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.

Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.

Based on the above, here are some recommendations:

In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.

Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.

Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”

Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.

This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)

In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.

Use illustrated books and field trips.

Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.

Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.

Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

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