Omar Barghouti unnerved but undeterred by Israeli vow to act against him.
By Hiba Akhtar
Someone texted a friend of mine a few weeks ago looking for khutbah topics. “Flint,” she replied. It seemed obvious. We live in a country in which elected representatives of a state have actively and quietly made the decision to harm their own residents by forcing them to consume and bathe in water polluted with lead. What else would you talk about?
To him, however, it wasn't so obvious. “Um… is that a Muslim issue?”
When one-third of the American Muslim population identifies as Black or African-American, the premise of such a question is in itself a reflection of a fundamental disconnect– one which hurts us at our core, extending past a lapse in inclusion, a careless “forgetting,” to a space of silencing and erasure which is debilitating to our community as a whole. Dehumanization of any kind, I am learning, is a two-way street. Those who are silenced suffer in a space of invisibility… and those of us who create that space also suffer, from our own self-inflicted inability to humanize.“Um… is that a Muslim issue?”
There is a moment in between asking the question and awaiting the answer. It is powerful but fleeting, demanding self-reflection, curiosity, vulnerability, and even fear and discomfort. What, after all, does render a social issue about the collective suffering of a group of people as worthy of “our” concern as Muslims? In these times of pervasive trial, such moments are gems with the potential of making or breaking us– individually, within our Muslim communities, and in society as a whole.
Such moments existed in another time of intense trial and revolution: the life of the Prophet . In one instance, a companion named Abu Dharr , known for his piety, chided another companion: Bilal . “Oh son of a Black woman…” he called Bilal.
It is narrated that when the Prophet saw Abu Dharr after hearing this rebuke, he became visibly upset. His face turned red and he grew silent. Abu Dharr picked up on the change, and asked the Rasul if he was unhappy with him and why. “You still have ignorance in you,” reportedly responded the Prophet(s), referring to the incident with Bilal. Abu Dharr, overcome with remorse, approached Bilal, placed his head on the floor, and asked Bilal to step on it. Bilal , of course, couldn't bring himself to. That was the beauty of Bilal.
But so too was there beauty in Abu Dharr, who, even after making a mistake, lived up to his reputation as a pious man. The mistake led Abu Dharr to the uncomfortable place of recognizing the ignorance within himself, taking a moment to reflect and step outside of his own self; and then make the choice to self-correct and re-align his outlook with that of the Prophet . The Rasul , upset at Bilal's disrespect by Abu Dharr at the hands of a system which subjected Bilal to oppression due to the color of his skin, challenged Abu Dharr to renounce a pattern of thinking, speaking, and acting in complicity with ongoing cultural and societal structures of racial injustice. In his complicity, Abu Dharr chose his own humanity over his ego.
What does this have to do with Muslims and Flint? Everything. We are living through a pattern of racial crisis followed by anti-Muslim crisis, followed by racial crisis, followed by anti-Muslim crisis, and on and on, to the point where a young Somali American Muslim boy was thrown from a building, and three African teenagers were found dead in a house. It seems as though the question of race and religion for Muslim America is blending tragically that I cannot help but wonder in awe at the way our Creator seems to want us to open our eyes and step away from our own shortsightedness and compartmentalized understanding of humanity.
Us and Them
Flint is the current circumstantial embodiment of institutionalized injustice against the innocent, helpless and underprivileged, blaring at America in a way that we cannot ignore. The CDC has called for over 8,000 children under the age of 6 to be tested for lead poisoning, simply because of a decision lawmakers made to save themselves money and allow lead-polluted water to contaminate some of the poorest (mostly Black) bodies in the state of Michigan. The gross deployment of injustice is blaring here, and yet we still wonder whether Flint is a “Muslim issue.”
After one of the major battles during the lifetime of the Prophet which the Muslims won, the Sahabah were looking at the dead bodies of the enemy party sprawled throughout the battlefield, cheering. The Rasul made the same walk in the battlefield, but did so crying for the dead. Even for the group of people he had just fought in battle, the Prophet's humanity and pain didn't know an “us” or “them.” It knew loss of life and pain, and so it mourned.
Thinking in terms of “us” and “them” is subtle yet debilitating, like any life-threatening disease. Yet, in failing to notice the very plain racial segregation which goes on every day in American mosques, Sunday schools, and community events, we deepen that disconnect; effectively numbing the deployment of humanity, which should be reflexive for Muslim, a knee-jerk reaction even, in the process. As the hadith goes, the ummah is like a body. If one limb hurts the entire body hurts. What is the state of our collective heart?On Politicizing Pain
These times are not easy. We recently crossed the one-year anniversary of the horrific murders of three of our brightest and most humane: Deah, Yusor, and Razan. The mayhem and backlash following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino still have many of us, myself included, reeling. Recent news from Ankara, Istanbul, Brussels, and Lahore makes one want to reach for a pause button for life somewhere, take a break, and then return: shoulders hunched to our ears, walking on eggshells, praying for a year without more news of death and destruction. The icing on the cake is that its election year, and therefore open season on Muslims once again. Republican presidential candidates are doing what they do, stumping for votes armed with violent and inciteful anti-Muslim rhetoric. These times are not at all easy, and we are no doubt in pain.
But it is also in these moments that we are presented with the opportunity to self-reflect. There have been few other times in my own life where I've been overloaded enough with jadedness to sit down and wonder where we've gone wrong. The sting of otherization hasn't prickled and burned more than its seemed to these past few years.
We need to start somewhere. More and more, I find myself in conversations with other South Asian Muslims about the prevalence of racism, silencing, and erasure within our mosques and faith communities. Organizations like MuslimARC are addressing this head-on, highlighting the roots of these issues.
Mosques in suburban Muslim communities tend to be dominated by particular ethnic groups. In my area, this group is my fellow South Asian-immigrant community, while in neighboring Virginia, many of these are Arab-dominated. Uninclusive and racially aware politics tend to set a particular “culture” within the mosque which is built on the silencing and erasure of other groups, women included. Mosque and Sunday school boards will rarely be intentionally diverse. In this way, internal mosque hierarchies so prevalent throughout Muslim America eerily recreate the white heteronormative-dominated narrative which dominates our lives and erases us in greater society as communities of color.Think intersectionally
The current discourse about Flint heavily intersects with that of ongoing current-day social justice movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. This makes #BlackLivesMatter a Muslim issue. The New York Times discussed in an article about Flint the perpetuations of “environmental racism” displayed in the actions of Michigan governor Rick Snyder and his staff to allow contaminated water to flow through the faucets in Flint. This makes environmental racism a Muslim issue. Understanding and challenging the intersecting mechanisms which allow for racism to perpetuate and oppress the lives of people on a national scale will only help increase awareness and set a chain of motion, prompting American Muslims to do the work of cleaning these diseases from our own communities.
God does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves. The work of stepping back and observing the self to evaluate we move about the world, in search of those silent hierarchies, those silent moments where there is enough level ground stand and look around, wondering where there is something in this internal terrain which is a breeding ground for the divisions and lack of empathy we find ourselves immersed in, is hard work. But it is rewarding work.Conditioned Model Minorities
In my own house, we've had many conversations about racism and its manifestation in our own communities. My parents' arrival to this country is product of American immigration policy which for a few decades, privileged the intellectual promise of scientists and engineers educated in Asia while segregating schools and relegating Black students to abysmal standards in educational attainment. Racism is written into the very structure of my existence as an American-born South-Asian Muslim woman. My parents' immigrant Muslim generation was conditioned to operate as model minorities, whose silence and assimilation privileged them over the Black community, which caused societal disruption with their unrelenting cries for freedom and equality. We have to contextualize how we got here. But that doesn't mean we don't do the work of connection, conversation, and rebuilding our hearts.
Last year, my dad came home after having a long conversation with a Black co-worker who was complaining about the embarrassment he felt watching Black communities in Baltimore set fire to buildings and revolt in the streets after the shooting Freddie Gray. “I told him what you told me… man, there's a lot of history, and a lot of anger. Man, those people are rebelling against a system that leaves them with no options to advance.” We have to start somewhere.
To choose an open heart, and an attitude of humility and self-reflection in the battlefield of a paranoid, wounded, and overwhelmed society is to choose courage in a world which tells you to self-protect and worry about your own. It is to consciously take one step closer to embodying the legacy left to us by our Prophet . It is to walk towards victory in the arena which we cannot see on the news or read about on the internet, but which can incite a lifetime of change and revolution. It is victory in the most sacred, most difficult, and most tender arena of all: the arena of the internal. The arena of the heart. A collective heart. A societal heart.
As we go about our lives, we are blessed with moments which demand us to choose. They find us every single day. Our legacy as members of the ummah of the final Prophet is to choose humanity, every single time. To reevaluate, to reclaim, to repurpose. It is the merciful and most compassionate route, that challenges the way you come to see the world and asks you to self-correct and take a better path. On days when you are hurting, choose to do something for someone else. It seems counterintuitive at first, but in helping to heal others we tenderly remove our own bandaids and expose our wounds for divine healing as well.
May Allah bring healing and justice to Flint, Michigan, and allow us to be better in supporting the oppressed in our societies and around the world.
Hiba Akhtar is communications professional and a graduate student of gender studies in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. She tweets @_7iba
In July of last year, the editor of Charlie Hebdo told Entertainment Weekly the French paper would no longer draw Muhammad-themed cartoons.
Critics decried the decision, accusing editors of caving in into “radical Islamists” in the wake of the murderous attacks on their offices the preceding January. The paper insisted they had done their job in defending the “right to caricature” and questioned why they were, “expected to exercise a freedom of expression that no one dares to.”
Now it seems they were neither caving in nor moving on, but rather dropping the mask of “satire” alltogether. Painting all Muslims with a broad brush, they ditched their longstanding ruse in favor of a straighforward assault, launched in an article entitled, How did we end up here?
Below is an excellent analysis by Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian, Teju Cole, cross posted from Facebook:Teju Cole: Charlie Hebdo Finally Steps Away from the Mask
Charlie Hebdo was given last year’s PEN/James and Toni C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, despite the objections of hundreds of members of PEN. Now, the people of Charlie—who in my view were simultaneously the victims of a terrifying, unspeakable crime, and the producers of an antic and gross publication (nothing wrong with that) that was at the same time deeply prejudiced—finally step away from the mask of “it’s satire and you don’t get it” to state clearly that Muslims, all of them, no matter how integrated, are the enemy.
Historical analogy can be tiresome and too easy, but sometimes it’s the sharpest thinking tool around. Reading this extraordinary editorial by Charlie, it’s hard not to recall the vicious development of “the Jewish question” in Europe and the horrifying persecution it resulted in. Charlie’s logic is frighteningly similar: that there are no innocent Muslims, that “something must be done” about these people, regardless of their likeability, their peacefulness, or their personal repudiation of violence. Such categorization of an entire community as an insidious poison is a move we have seen before.
Read the piece yourself—don’t just react. Read the piece and think through who you wish to be in relation to the kinds of arguments it presents. If I hadn’t carefully scrutinized the url (and thus confirmed that it really is legit), I’d have thought someone was doing a cruel parody of laïcité. The fact that the essay itself is written in English also indicates very clearly that Charlie is aware of its global audience now, of the bigotry that is increasingly popular here in the US, disguised and undisguised.
Meanwhile, you might remember that SOS Racisme, a French “anti-racist” organization, was brought to New York last year to defend Charlie from accusations of racism. One of the founders of SOS Racisme was Laurence Rossignol, the current French minister for women’s rights. This same Rossignol said last week that women who wear the hijab are like the “nègres américains” (American negroes/ American niggers) who accepted slavery.
So, SOS Racisme gets on stage and, on behalf of PEN, gives an award to Charlie Hebdo, and everybody applauds and congratulates themselves for their fine understanding of satire. The same Charlie, in this new editorial, writes: “From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts.”
What thoughts? The wish to discriminate freely against Muslims without having to be called out on it. The freedom to draw everyone who is Muslim, or comes from a Muslim family, or is connected to North Africa, or “looks” Arab, into one big universal blood guilt that makes them literally responsible for the horrors perpetrated by a few maniacs. The desire to have this hatefulness lauded as courage.
This is precisely the logic also of the masses who praise Trump for his “honesty”—as though only ugliness could be honest, as though moral incontinence were any more noble than physical incontinence. But when someone sh*ts their pants in a public gathering, we do not immediately congratulate them on their freedom, on their honesty.
I don’t enjoy writing about this—and I certainly didn’t enjoy the endless insults I inevitably receive for daring to even write about it. But the situation is f*cking absurd. It is deeply consequential for Muslim people in France, in Europe, and everywhere where they are minorities. It is consequential for their safety, for their daily lives, for their well-being in the countries they call home. I’m more convinced than ever that PEN, a fine organization whose fierce advocacy of persecuted writers I’m proud to continue to support, in this case got it very, very wrong.
Read the original Facebook post here.
London college head’s meeting with Mark Regev seen as effort to counter BDS.
100 writers protest PEN American Center’s acceptance of Israeli government funding for 2016 World Voices Festival.
Alternet’s Grayzone project on Islamophobia has an excellent article by Maha Hilal on how the recent congressional panel on “women and terrorism puts women in the War on Terror’s crosshairs. It is a must read.
Islamophobia-enabler Asra Nomani was among those testifying at the hearings. Nomani, was there to put forward the discredited argument that increased outward religiosity, in the sense of starting to wear hijab is a sign of a trajectory toward terrorism and a potential threat indicator.
Next, Asra Nomani, a Muslim, provided personal anecdotes of her own family’s path to radicalization. She spoke about book after book that documented Muslim women victimized by the brutal patriarchal culture of the Islamic world, using the hijab, or headscarf, as a specific token through which their oppression is made visible. Nomani then constructed a scenario in which hijab serves as a warning sign of terrorist intentions.
“On the conveyor belt of ideas, what you end up with is Libya, ISIS putting up billboards telling you how thick it has to be,” said Nomani. “You end up with women beating women who do not comply with these regulations, you end up with mandatory laws that require that women live with this partition. Because hijab does not mean headscarf, it means separation.”
“It’s a very dangerous trajectory,” Nomani continued, “and it’s one in which we hear disturbing comments in which mothers in the Islamic state are forcing some of these sex slaves to have abortions so that their sons can continue to have sex with these sex slaves.
According to Nomani, putting on a headscarf can set women on a path that eventually leads to martyrdom. “It is a virtue then to kill,” she declared. “For all the reasons that have come before us on the conveyor belt, a woman is virtuous if she then becomes a shaheed, or a martyr.”
On the Bride’s Side traverses across Europe and beyond the “refugee crisis” headlines.
As global brands begin targeting Muslim consumers, many still underestimate huge spending power of burgeoning sector
Global brands are waking up to the massive opportunities of the worldwide Muslim market but many still misunderstand or ignore the potential of a burgeoning sector that is young, highly educated and collectively has enormous spending power.
The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims constitute a largely untapped market, the Muslim Lifestyle Expo conference in London heard on Thursday. The halal market alone is worth $2.1tn (£1.5bn) annually in the US alone, and is increasing at $500bn a year.Continue reading...
Ahmadiyya Muslim leaders in Glasgow say ‘we must not let mindset of hate and violence take root’ after murder of shopkeeper, by Tanveer Ahmed
Glasgow’s Ahmadiyya community have called on all Muslim leaders and imams in Britain to publicly condemn Asad Shah’s killer, who defended the fatal stabbing of the popular Glasgow shopkeeper because he “disrespected” Islam.
Describing the killer’s words as “deeply disturbing”, community leader Ahmed Owusu-Konadu said: “It justifies the killing of anyone – Muslim or non-Muslim – whom an extremist considers to have shown disrespect to Islam.”Continue reading...
The Texas senator is notorious for not being well liked by his colleagues but he will need to build those relationships if he is to become the Republican nominee. Doing so may undermine his anti-Washington shtick
Ted Cruz has emerged as the strongest alternative to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump after this week’s decisive victory in the Wisconsin primary.
But as the party establishment rallies reluctantly around the Texas senator, the Republicans’ apparent last hope of stopping Trump remains far from the party mainstream.Continue reading...
An exclusive extract from award-winning satirist Elnathan John tells the story of a young man caught up in religious extremism
“Too many times the headlines from northern Nigeria read ‘Boko Haram’, but there are several other stories that beg to be told,” says award-winning writer and satirist, Elnathan John.
In London to launch his debut novel, Born on a Tuesday, John says it’s time to shine a light on a different narrative of the region.Continue reading...
Israeli revenge demolitions resume after court lifts pause.
“This all happened for one reason and no other issues and no other intentions.
“Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet.
“When 1400 years ago the Prophet of Islam Muhammad peace be upon him has clearly said that ‘I am the final messenger of Allah there is no more prophets or messengers from God Allah after me.
“‘I am leaving you the final Quran. There is no changes. It is the final book of Allah and this is the final completion of Islam. There is no more changes to it and no one has the right to claim to be a Prophet or to change the Quran or change Islam.’
“It is mentioned in the Quran that there is no doubt in this book no one has the right to disrespect the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and no one has the right to disrespect the Prophet of Islam Muhammad Peace be upon him.
“If I had not done this others would and there would have been more killing and violence in the world.
“I wish to make it clear that the incident was nothing at all to do with Christianity or any other religious beliefs even although I am a follower of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him I also love and respect Jesus Christ.”
It is a truly horrifying statement.
The murdered man, Asad Shah, was an Ahmadi – a sect which believes that a 19th century Indian religious teacher called Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, was a prophet. Ahmadis are routinely persecuted in Pakistan. To find evidence that the scourge of that same vile sectarianism that has so riven Pakistan now arising in the UK, is frightening.
There has long been a problem with almost all modern interpretations of Islam and the concept of freedom of speech. The Salman Rushdie Affair demonstrated just how much of a problem many Muslims still have with freedom. Often it is argued away by saying “We believe in freedom but not the freedom to insult religion.” But that is a nonsense – freedom of expression has to include the right to say things which others might find very distasteful about religion, otherwise it is hardly freedom. That is the only way a world which contains followers of so many different religions can function. That is a key lesson of the Enlightenment – which sadly has yet to cast its light on much of the Muslim world.
People are free to regard Ahmadis as being non-Muslims – that is their right. To persecute them on that account, however, is just revolting.
One can only hope that those who are prepared to use this kind of violence to try and intimidate others who disagree with their beliefs are brought to justice before they can commit their awful crimes and that they are given a very long prison sentence indeed where they can coolly reflect on their interpretation of religion and the harm it can cause others.
The Government of Serbia has scorned Serbian public opinion in shamelessly signing agreements with NATO which constitute de facto Serbian membership in NATO. The latest agreement, which was signed with NATO in February 2016, guarantees diplomatic immunity and freedom of movement throughout Serbia for NATO troops.
In consequence of this agreement, I can no longer enter the territory of Serbia since I must abide by Allah’s command in the Qur’ān pertaining to Muslim relations with the (Zionist) alliance of Christians and Jews (Qur’ān, al-Māidah, 5:51). NATO is the military arm of that satanic Judeo-Christian Zionist alliance. I deeply regret not being able
Queensland’s planning and environment court dismisses appeal, citing demand for parking during Friday prayers
A court has rejected the construction of a proposed Gold Coast mosque because it deems the Muslim place of worship simply “too big”.
Queensland’s planning and environment court dismissed an appeal from the mosque’s proponents on Wednesday, 18 months after the proposal was knocked back by Gold Coast city council.Continue reading...
By KN Gratwick
Some of us excel in math, some in fine arts (and there is of course the rare talent who does both). Our interests may be equally if not more so disparate, as environmental activists and coin collectors. And our professions may differentiate us still further, as neurosurgeons, homemakers and school principals. Nonetheless, there is a clear, singular goal for Muslims: aspiring to the character of Prophet Muhammed . At the end of the day, and the beginning, life is not complicated if we follow this prescription. Few of us will play the esteemed role of sheikh, but each has the capacity to model our lives along that of God's blessed, final messenger.
Too often we take this prescription literally, arguing about the merit of the miswak over the toothbrush, or insisting that our turban is a closer approximation to what Prophet Muhammed wore. Disagreements ensue all too often about beard length. Reliving his life is not, however, our mission; instead, replicating his behavior is, and that is why he is as relevant to men as he is to women. Of course, at times, in aiming to replicate behavior we may venture into history and its minutiae. Yet it is incumbent on all of us to constantly question form, content and the wisdom underlying them. Does, for instance, our use of miswak, donning of the turban and measuring beard length ultimately help us model prophetic qualities of cleanliness, modesty and taqwah, or are there alternate forms that are equally viable to help achieve these same prophetic characteristics?
And what relevance does this daily exercise in modeling behaviors, and struggling with form and content, have to do with preparing oneself and one's Qur'an for the holy month of Ramadan? Otherwise stated, how does the act of trying to replicate prophetic character relate to our engagement with our mushaf for 30 days and nights while fasting?
Prophet Muhammed has been described as a living Qur'an; his thoughts and actions were all guided and inspired by Allah and he proved among the most obedient and perfect servants of us all. This perfection was in turn intended as a mercy and guide for humankind: to help navigate life, peacefully, productively, and in constant remembrance of the Creator. The Qur'an was sent down with the same purpose. Thus we received both living model and book, complements of each other, and a complete strategy for how to approach life (regardless of what time period we may live in, or the interests and the professional paths we choose). We were gifted a truly universal message embodied in the person of the Prophet and the Qur'an.
If the Prophet is a compliment of the Qur'an and vice versa, then, to reiterate, what should we do specifically during Ramadan to engage with both the living model of the Qur'an and the Qur'an itself? There are well documented accounts of communal and individual ibaadah for Ramadan, from the taraweeh prayer to the i'tikaf, all of which were undertaken by the living Qur'an and his companions. It is not the goal of this short essay to replicate those efforts.
Ramadan is meant as intense character training and its lessons are applicable year-round. Therefore what follows is a short and hopefully simple series of recommendations to consider as we approach Ramadan. These recommendations seek to build on the main points above and are informed by elders and teachers modeling the Sunnah; the points are potentially relevant to 'reading' the Qur'an in Ramadan, but go beyond a mere literary experience to one which seeks embodiment of prophetic character insha'Allah:
- In the month leading up to Ramadan, throughout all the holy month and thereafter, may we attempt to focus our gaze on both the wisdom of the Qur'an and the living model of Prophet Muhammed , and recognize that they are in fact compliments of one another.
- For some, meditation and study may occur best in the early hours of the morning; for others, it will be mid-day; whatever may be the time and its duration, may we attempt each day to engage with the two greatest miracles of our life, through prayer, tilawat, reflection and action.
- Just as the Qur'an is matched with a perfect example and teacher, our own reflection and growth is enhanced by an instructor. May we therefore seek out a trusted and qualified teacher and guide, in an effort at striving toward the actual character of Muhammed , the living Qur'an.
- Related, every time we interact with the Qur'an and the model of Prophet Muhammed , may we do so in an effort to improve our own character, not the character of our spouse, our non-Muslim neighbor, or our co-worker etc; the journey is one of inward perfection, and not outward judgment, as we each aspire in our own right to be living Qur'an as well.
- To the world, may we be of service, for that was the Sunnah of the Prophet , and that is what is outlined ayah after ayah in the Qur'an. Just as we excel in different ways, service may take myriad forms. The nurses among us may heal; the artisans, craft; the architects, design; the relief workers, rescue etc. Regardless of what form it may take, striving toward the ideal of service, as a way of life, is what is key.
I pray that we are always in remembrance of Allah and that our striving to become living Qur'ans ourselves is unceasing. I pray that all our ibaadah are accepted and that there is profound healing and enlightenment before, during and after the blessed month of Ramadan, insha'Allah.
KN Gratwick, aka Umm Muhemmed, has been actively studying the deen for more than a decade, and prior to her own conversion in 2003. She began a more focused study of hifdh Al Qur'aan starting in 2010. She works as a development economist and is based in Texas. She is also the author of A Qur'aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz Amma (Greenbird Books, 2012) and Ya Sin: Towards the heart of the Qur'aan (Mindworks Publishing, forthcoming 2015), which describe a home-based hifdh experience with young children. Among her favorite activities is gardening.