Tuesday, 12 December 2017


The worst and the lowest of human effort is the effort of those who seek out fellow-human beings in desperate need – it may be grave sickness, dire poverty or ignorance – and exploit that need to extort money from them and enjoy dominance over them. Moreover, many who do this do it with the pretence that they are helping those whom no one else will help. If they believe this pretence, if they believe that they are good and intend good, then they are deluded. A clear, common example of this is the practice of loan-sharks who lend desperate people money at cruelly high rates of interest and claim to be providing a valuable social service. Even among Muslims there are people who do this though they well know that God has condemned lending in this manner: it is against the law of God to charge rent for the use of money, as if it were just a simple commodity like land or buildings or tools or other property of the kind that can be lawfully rented out. Nevertheless, the loan-sharks claim to be doing normal business, seeking an honest profit by renting out their property and carrying a business risk. This is a lie. If they really do believe this lie, it is as God has said (Surat al-Baqarah, 2:274): they have been so disoriented by the touch of Satan that evil appears to them as good, and goodness appears to them as foolishness: ‘Those who live on usury shall be raised before God like men whom Satan has maddened by his touch.
Satan and the evil jinn who obey him have no power to dispossess human beings of their will, but they do have power to course through their veins, to whisper suggestions into their hearts and minds. Thus the jinn can tempt and torment human beings but they cannot compel them. If a Muslim intends a good deed, the jinn cannot erect a physical barrier to his carrying out that intention, still less take possession of his will and make him commit an evil deed instead, or postpone or not do the good deed. What the jinn can do is, by their whispering, distract the Muslim from what he intends so that he does something else, or make him doubt his capacity to do the good he intends, or make him suspect his sincerity in what he intends. All that I have just said of what the jinn can do by way of ambushing human beings and urging them to deviate from doing the good they intend, human beings can also do – they too can do the work of the evil jinn. And yet, no one has ever claimed that one human being can ‘possess’ another human being, that is, control them from within so that they are no longer themselves.
In the Qur’an and Sunnah there is strong emphasis on Muslims encouraging one another in good deeds, and on preferring the company and the lifestyle of believers whose behaviour is consistent with their belief, who steadfastly preserve their religion through both teaching and practice. It hardly needs saying that when sickness of body or mind, or some disaster or grief, causes someone to lose their self-command, the duty of those around them is to offer comfort and kindness, to stand by and help them, to act for them until they regain their dignity and self-command as human beings. Through the whole of the way of life of Islam, private, individual acts of kindness or worship have a counterpart in public, collective acts of kindness or worship. The latter are mandatory, the former voluntary, and the pairing is mutually supportive – zakah and sadaqah, to give just one example. As Muslims we are not answerable only for our private thoughts, intentions and actions, but also for the culture and ethos in which our thoughts, intentions and actions have some influence. What we think and do informs what others think or do. If a person takes intoxicants (which is forbidden to Muslims) but never to the point of becoming intoxicated himself, he nevertheless contributes to the tolerance of intoxication in the culture around him, and is party to the consequences of intoxication in the lives of others.
It is fundamental to a sound conception of God to know that He is essentially and always good. It follows necessarily that His creation of life, especially human life, is also essentially and always good, even when that life is subjected to severe trial, and indeed every life is subject to its unique burden of trial and proof. It does not follow that trials and sufferings are in themselves desirable. They cannot be. But they are eventually good in that they bring out the best in human qualities of endurance, co-operative effort, ingenuity, and adaptiveness. God has endowed human beings collectively with quite extraordinary capacities and powers, enough to colonise every kind of environment on this planet, which indeed He created in such a way that it is hospitable to the exercise and development of those human capacities and powers. We are the only species that can survive well in extreme climates like arid deserts and ice-bound lands where vegetation disappears for most of the year. This versatility is made possible by the gift of language by which God distinguished properly and fully human beings from any others like them before.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Muslim foster parents: ‘We'd never had a Christmas tree - it made them so happy’

Riffat and her husband Sajjad, at their home in Slough
Just before Christmas seven years ago, Riffat and Sajjad were at home when the phone rang. It was the foster agency letting them know that three children they’d never met would be arriving shortly. The children – two sisters and a brother – were in urgent need of short-term care. Sajjad and Riffat had been approved as foster carers only two months earlier and these would be their first placements.
“We were excited, but I was also a bit nervous,” recalls Sajjad, 50. The couple had tried to start a family after they married, but fertility problems led to six failed cycles of IVF. They considered adopting, but eventually decided to sign up as foster carers.
Both are observant Muslims of Pakistani heritage. Riffat, 46, was wearing a headscarf when we met, and prays five times a day. How did they cope with the arrival of three white English children raised in a Christian household?
“I will never forget that day,” recalls Riffat, who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Britain after marrying in 1997. “It really was like being thrown in the deep end.” They bought chicken and chips from the local takeaway for the children and the support worker told the couple about the children’s bedtime routine.
Once the children were asleep, Sajjad headed out on an urgent shopping mission. “We are Muslims and we’d never had a Christmas tree in our home,” says Riffat. “But these children were Christian and we wanted them to feel connected to their culture.” So he bought a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. The couple worked until the early hours putting the tree up and wrapping presents. The first thing the children saw the next morning was the tree.
“I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and excitement on a child’s face,” remembers Riffat. The children were meant to stay for two weeks – seven years later two of the three siblings are still living with them.
Riffat has grown used to surprised looks from strangers and people asking if the reason she has such fair-skinned children is because she married a white man. But she focuses on the positives – in particular how fostering has given her and Sajjad an insight into a world that had been so unfamiliar. “We have learned so much about English culture and religion,” Sajjad says. Riffat would read Bible stories to the children at night and took the girls to church on Sundays. “When I read about Christianity, I don’t think there is much difference,” she says. “It all comes from God.”
The girls, 15 and 12, have also introduced Riffat and Sajjad to the world of after-school ballet, theatre classes and going to pop concerts. “I wouldn’t see many Asian parents at those places,” she says. “But I now tell my extended family you should involve your children in these activities because it is good for their confidence.” Having the girls in her life has also made Riffat reflect on her own childhood. “I had never spent even an hour outside my home without my siblings or parents until my wedding day,” she says.
Just as Riffat and Sajjad have learned about Christianity, the girls have come to look forward to Eid and the traditions of henna. “I’ve taught them how to make potato curry, pakoras and samosas,” Riffat says. “But their spice levels are not quite the same as ours yet.” The girls can also sing Bollywood songs and speak Urdu.
“I now look forward to going home. I have two girls and my wife waiting,” says Sajjad. “It’s been such a blessing for me,” adds Riffat. “It fulfilled the maternal gap.”

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Dangerous Myths About Sufi Muslims

Whirling dervishes perform an Egyptian Sufi dance in Cairo.

The birth of the purist Salafi movement (which many pejoratively describe as “Wahhabism”) saw preachers inspired by the message of 18th-century figure Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab attacking Sufism writ large in an unprecedented way. While presenting themselves as the orthodox, these types of purist Salafis were actually engaging in a heterodox approach. Many of these figures had to ignore or rewrite large chunks of Islamic history in order to present Sufism and Sufis as beyond the pale.

Ahmad bin Taymiyya, a commonly quoted authority for Salafis, for example, was reportedly a member of the Sufi order of Abdal Qadir al-Jilani. The Sufi affiliations of many medieval authorities have been airbrushed from history in several modern editions of their texts published by Salafi printing houses. Yet, there were virtually no prominent Muslim figures who cast aside Sufism in Islamic history. When followers of ibn Abdul Wahhab attempted to do so by describing Sufis as outside the faith, they were themselves decried by the overwhelming majority of Sunni Islamic scholarship as indulging in a type of heterodoxy because of their intolerance and revisionism.

While some who portray Sufis as heterodox do so with malicious intent, many fans of Sufism in the West seem to agree that Sufis are heterodox—it’s just a type of heterodoxy that they prefer to the normative mainstream of Islamic thought, which they seem to think is different from Sufism. Ironically, the well-meaning nature of this misinformed perspective echoes the fallacy that extremists promote.

And it is an extraordinary fallacy. Until relatively recently, it would have been unthinkable for students in Muslim communities to consider Sufism anything other than an integral part of a holistic Islamic education. The essentials of theology, practice, and spirituality—that is, Sufism—were deemed basic, core elements of even elementary Islamic instruction. And religious figures known for their commitment to Sufism would not have been considered a minority; they would have been by far the norm. Indeed, the very label of an Egyptian “Sufi minority” being bandied about since the mosque attack is a peculiar one: Sufism isn’t a sect—it’s integral to mainstream Sunni Islam.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Muhammad and Rumi on Sexual Harassment

It is a time of reckoning for men around the world who have disrespected and brought distress and harm upon women. Rumi, writing about what could be called the “sacred feminine,” quotes the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
“The Prophet said, “Woman
prevails over the wise man,
while the raw and ignorant prevail over her.”
Those men who lack tenderness and affection
are animals, not men.”
[see: [Mathnawi I 2421-2437]
To paraphrase: woman can dominate a wise man who can recognize the creative power and divine quality vested in the feminine and willingly choose to serve and protect that beauty, while the ignorant and insensitive man imposes his crude desires upon her. Such a man is actually enslaved to the power of woman, but is deaf, dumb, and blind to what woman might offer willingly if her freedom and beauty were respected.
Or as Rumi says it:
If outwardly you dominate your wife,
inwardly you are dominated,
seeking her love.
What pleasure can a man receive from “groping” a woman (or worse), oblivious to the fact that the greatest pleasure of human relationship is in reciprocity? These are some of the spiritual secrets that have been lost to worldly societies, East, Middle East, and West. Too many men, emotionally crippled by both Puritanism and salaciousness, enslaved to lust, numb to intimacy, violate the sacredness of eros.
Again, from Rumi:
She is not that kind of beloved most imagine;
she is a ray of God.
She is not just a created,
she is creative.
All Rumi quotes from Love’s Ripening, Rumi on The Journey of the Heart, Kabir Helminski and Ahmed Rezwani.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Distinguished New York City imam preaches tolerance, unity

Executive Director of the New York University Islamic Center and New York City Police Department Chaplain Khalid Latif delivered the annual MacVittie Theology Lecture on Tuesday Nov. 14. Latif  foregrounded intercultural dialogue and understanding between dissimilar peoples. (Keith Walters/campus photographer)
Religion has a galvanizing force that can catalyze both prejudice and social change. Geneseo highlights this power with the annual MacVittie Theology Lecture: “Racialized Religion.” 
Executive Director of the New York University Islamic Center and Chaplain for the New York Police Department Khalid Latif spoke on Tuesday Nov. 14 for the Robert MacVittie lecture series. 
“The reality that numerous minority populations in this country face … are things that we have to be acutely aware of,” Latif said. “Foundationally, in my opinion, we can understand the country to be rooted in anti-blackness.”
Latif clarified the insidious ways that prejudice can even affect people like him, despite his privileged position as a leader in the New York City Muslim community. 
“I’ve shared stages with the Dalai Lama, been interviewed by Stephen Colbert and Katie Couric, been on the cover of Newsweek,” Latif said. “I’ve still had the FBI up in my house … despite all that though, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be black in America.”
Latif further wove his own experiences, his theology and the perspectives of others into a series of interconnected stories. One of the main memories focused on the different ways people treated him and other Muslims who lived in New York City during and after the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001. 
As a Muslim student at NYU on 9/11, Latif was often shoved into the spotlight as people profiled and either verbally or physically attacked people they thought looked Muslim. Following 9/11, Latif experienced Islamophobia in the form of questioning at the ninth anniversary 9/11 ninth anniversary ceremony. 
“I was at the ceremony in my police uniform—an Inspector’s uniform—talking and mingling, but I still had my beard and my head cover,” Latif said. “Three men approached me wearing suits and said that Secret Service had spotted me from the top of a building and wanted to check my credentials ‘just in case.’” 
Latif urged the audience to use the tenets of love and religiosity when approaching injustice in the United States and the world.  Latif—who recently accompanied international aid organizations on a relief trip for Rohingya Muslims refugees in Bangladesh—emphasized the apparent Western disregard toward the ongoing genocide in Myanmar of Rohingya Muslims.
Above all, Latif implored the audience to really listen and try to understand other people, especially those who are unlike themselves. The only way to approach the crises and injustices that pervade the country and the world today is through a real love and devotion for other people, according to Latif.
“You are at a university—a space that embraces and appreciates dialogue and diversity,” Latif said. “You can sit down and become informed and then you think of yourselves as potential partners.”

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Mohammed’s Law: when in doubt, blame the Muslims

In a genius marketing move or a brainfart, Greggs the Great British High Street bakery did a sausage-of-Nazareth nativity scene for its Advent calendar that went viral. As a form of self-flagellation, I listened to the backlash about this unexpected pork-based blasphemy on a radio phone-in. It was pretty early on into the festivities that the phrase “They wouldn’t do this to the Muslims” was proffered as reasoned, un-seasoned and a very seasonal form of analysis by callers to the aforementioned radio show.
This religiously incorrect “they wouldn’t do this to the Muslims” straw man could have been dispelled by the host of the show – Jesus (Isa AS) is a revered prophet for Muslims, and as any self-respecting patriot knows, pork-based products are kryptonite for Muslims and especially Mosques, yet it was treated as Informed Comment and echoed by many callers during the show.
Now, I’m not privy to the private machinations of Greggs HQ, but I am willing to bet my steak bake that this bangers and nativity scene probably wasn’t an actual unholy trinity between ISIS, Iran and the bakery’s PR team, to make Dave with the crusader knight profile picture incandescent with rage. So why mention Muslims and Islam at all, and more importantly, why no pushback from those who should know better?
In trying to explain the phenomenon of linking Muslims with something as innocuous and non-Muslim related as a pasty-based marketing ploy, you have to name it, so I did. I call it Mohammed’s Law, named after my favourite uncle who is always complaining “what’s that got to do with Islam?” upon reading something in the papers that had nothing to do with Islam or Muslims but nonetheless mentions either or both.
Mohammed’s Law asserts that as an online discussion grows longer or a radio phone-in on LBC gets to its third caller, the probability of a comparison involving Muslims/Islam approaches; that is, if an online or radio discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare something non-Muslim related (sausage rolls) to something Muslim related (Ramadan).
Mohammed’s Law is an offshoot of blaming British Muslims for everything that 1.6 billion Muslims around the world might do, to just blaming Muslims for everything because it just feels right. It’s the jumping of the figurative gun in relation to the Oxford Circus panic, whereby the Daily Mail and an assortment of far-right agitators started to speculate/salivate that it was terror-related and/or most probably Muslim related, or at the very least something to do with gangs of rampaging immigrants – when the vast majority of publications and responsible tweeters (apart from Olly Murs) rightly held back on speculation.
So what is the genesis of Mohammed’s Law? You can trace its baby-in-the-manger birth to the comment section of any number of “there’s halal in our water!” stories in national papers and far-right publications. It gained further traction on social media championed by far-right celebrities their figurative hats upturned for donations and glory. For a while, Mohammed’s Law was underground: a punky, edgy take. Then it gained respectability and has in the past few years gone mainstream.
But in 2017 it’s reaching a dangerous tipping-point now we’re talking about a ‘Muslim Problem’, a term straight out of the Nazi playbook used to demonise Jews in the 30’s.
This obsession with commenting about Muslims and anything Islam-related is not just confined to British Muslims as some amorphous and foreign “other” to be scrutinised and linked to something on a Greggs menu at Christmas. Attacks on visible Muslims are also the norm. If you follow the likes of Mehdi Hasan on Twitter and read the comments left for him when tweeting something mundane; within a couple of minutes you’ll see responses like “Your Prophet is a paedo.”
But it goes further than Islamophobic comments on social media; Muslims are increasingly being questioned for being Muslim and doing a job, even if it has nothing to do with their religion, as witnessed in an op-ed piece by Kelvin McKenzie on Fatima Manji that asserted that because she was a visible Muslim in a headscarf this was offensive and she shouldn’t be doing her job and reporting on the Nice ISIS-inspired terror attack.
Islamophobia has, as Baroness Warsi once suggested, passed the dinner table test and is now prevalent in every comment section or radio phone-in, even if recipient or subject matter has no connection to Islam. It’s in the non-threatening actions of Nadiya Begum sharing Christmas recipes and getting backlash for being Muslim and appropriating Christmas from the same vocal sectors of society who for the preceding months and days share stories about Muslims from Birmingham – and its always Muslims from Birmingham – trying to cancel Christmas and not integrating enough.
The Muslim community in the UK has become a recognised measure of how bad or good a certain topic is, or whether or not it deserves prominence in the news cycle of the day depending on whether it has a Muslim protagonist. “We wouldn’t do that to the Muslims” and its bedfellow “But what about the Muslims?” has become a lazy trope, a yardstick for how all society is now judged.
Full article

Friday, 1 December 2017

Exclusive: The Crusader Sub-Culture in the US Military

USMC Marine with "Kafir"/Infidel Tattoo
The US military’s “Islam problem” captured news headlines even before Wired.com ‘s 2012 breaking story about a military course teaching soldiers that the USA was at “war with Islam.” Since 2007 the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and its founder Mikey Weinstein have diligently documented violations of religious freedom within the military. During that time many of MRFF’s documentation of violations have included cases of anti-Islam/Muslim propaganda and activities.
In addition to these very troubling stories reported in the mainstream press and by rights organizations, Islamophobia Today has uncovered facts indicating that the pervasive “Crusader” sub-culture within the ranks of Islamophobes isn’t limited to internet forums and blogs but also exists within the US Military.
Anti-Muslim/Islam and pro-Crusader themes tied to military-use paraphernalia, including: T-Shirts, insignias, bullet coating, rifle scope cases as well as tattoos inscribed “Kafir,” and “Infidel” have become common within a sub-set of the US military.
Full article