Tuesday, 31 August 2010
Monday, 30 August 2010
Sunday, 29 August 2010
Narrated Abu Hurairah (RA) Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him)said,"Whoever says, Subhan Allahi wa bihamdihi, one hundred times a day, will be forgiven all his sins even if they were as much as the foam of the sea." [Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 8 Hadith No.414]
The Qu'ran reminds us animals and birds are 'communities like you'. So why do so many Muslims break their fast with meat?
For most of the billion-plus Muslims who sit down each evening to break their Ramadan fast, meat will be on the menu. Lots of it. But how Islamic is eating meat?
Not very, according to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, who argues that historically Muslims ate so little meat they were almost vegetarian. "Meat is not a necessity in sharia, and in the old days most Muslims used to eat meat – if they were wealthy, like middle class – once a week on Friday. If they were poor – on the Eids."
In today's world, meat-eating has taken on a new fervour, with many Muslims demanding animal flesh as part of their daily diet. Just the other day, an Egyptian journalist was relating to me how he attended a dinner at a local organisation here in Cairo. When people arrived, questions began to fly across the hall: "Where is the meat? We aren't going to have enough for everyone."
According to a recent study by the Egyptian cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre, 89% of Egyptians eat more than 2kg of meat monthly. This figure rises along with social class. The study revealed that wealthy Egyptians often consume more than 8kg of meat each month.
The prophet Muhammad was not an advocate of daily meat-eating. Instead, the Islamic Concern website says, he warned his followers against constant meat consumption as it could become "addictive". It seems that 1,500 years later his concerns are not being heeded.
Early Islamic leaders and scholars repeatedly emphasised that animals were to be cherished and treated in a humane manner, but many Muslims nowadays view animals as the dominion of people. A sheikh at the Egyptian ministry of religious endowments told me: "Animals are slaves for human purposes. They were put here for us to eat, so talk of vegetarianism is un-Islamic."
This statement by the ministry official goes against everything the prophet stood for, in the opinion of Gamal al-Banna, a prominent Islamic scholar who has come under attack in recent years for his "liberal" stance. Al-Banna told me that being a vegetarian and Muslim does not break any tradition and is in no way un-Islamic.
"When someone becomes vegetarian they do so for a number of reasons: compassion, environment and health reasons," he began. "As a Muslim, I believe that the prophet would want the followers to be healthy, compassionate and not destroy our environment. If someone believes not eating meat is that way, it is not like they are going to go to hell for it. It may be the right thing to do."
Al-Banna continued, when I asked him about the Eid al-Adha sacrifice (which many argue is obligatory), that any Muslim who believes in being vegetarian does not have to slaughter a sheep. "In today's modern world, ideas and religion change and Islam is no different. We must not remain rigid in our understanding of faith to mean the blind acceptance of anything, killing living beings included. There is no obligation to kill."
Others disagree, arguing that meat-eating is part of the Islamic tradition and, thus, vegetarianism is a foreign notion for the Middle East. Muslims who eat meat at every iftar (fast-breaking evening meal) this month undoubtedly believe they are doing the right thing. On the other hand, the idea that animals are merely slaves to humans is not only abhorrent to animal-rights advocates, but seems to be at odds with the prophet's teaching.
Some would argue that the prayer said before halal slaughtering is part of Islam's humanity when animals are killed for food. This may have been true historically, but in today's "halal" slaughterhouses, a pre-recorded prayer often blares nonstop as the animals are lined up and killed. That is a cop-out from what Islam teaches about "humane" slaughter.
Ultimately, the argument is simple. The Qur'an reveals that all living animals are sentient beings, just as human beings are.
"There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings – but they are communities like you." (Qur'an, 6:38)
Saturday, 28 August 2010
How far away is it permissible to be a Muslim? Maybe there should be special guidelines - for example, three blocks before you can whistle anything by Cat Stevens
To give yourself a stressful and futile day, try telling people there are no plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero. You'll get nowhere, although the truth is there are plans to build an Islamic centre, with a swimming pool open to everyone, two blocks away from Ground Zero. So if this is a continuation of the terrorist agenda as claimed, it's been a peculiar plan, and Bin Laden must have started by telling his followers "First we will destroy their buildings – and then, oo it's so deliciously evil, we will get people to swim near to where the buildings were... mwaHAHAHAHAHA."
The centre will include a memorial to victims of the attack on the towers, but even so Sarah Palin has called upon "peaceful Muslims" to reject the building. So, as she's asking Muslims to oppose a centre open to everyone, and that commemorates the victims of 9/11, it seems likely she's a militant Jihadist who thinks the building will be a betrayal of true radical Islam. She's certainly got experience of being filmed with rifles so she's probably sat by one while making a video up a mountain right now, leaning into the camera and booming "The front crawl is the agenda of the infidel, my friends."
The centre will also include a basketball court, but that doesn't convince these people because it won't be proper basketball, it will be Muslim basketball, and there's bound to have been some senator on Fox News howling "We've got to ask ourselves why these guys want to learn an American sport like this. Now, you imagine you've got the tallest Muslims learning to jump up high, next time you want to bring down a tower you don't have to fly planes to do it, you just get these guys to jump up with whatever bomb they've smuggled in through Mexico and whack, you've got five million dead."
And it's two blocks away, which in Manhattan is another district. So how far away is it permissible to be Muslim? Maybe there needs to be specific guidelines, for example three blocks before you can whistle anything by Cat Stevens, five blocks away before you can stop eating during Ramadan and so on, so as not to offend the families of the victims.
One persistent argument of those who oppose the mosque that isn't a mosque on Ground Zero that won't be on Ground Zero is that Ground Zero should remain a special place of sombre tranquillity.
So instead of this centre there should be more buildings such as The Pussycat Club, which is next door to where the towers were, and boasts of being the area's premier strip joint. But that must be in keeping with the sombreness, presumably because the girls start their slide down the pole in a fireman's uniform in honour of the heroic firefighters of that fateful day.
Then there are the salesmen who hover round Ground Zero. As you contemplate the poignancy of the site, someone from this franchise stands soulfully by you, taps your shoulder and opens a leather-bound collection of photos of the Twin Towers on fire.
"Hi, I'm offering souvenirs of 9/11," I was told when I was there. What are you supposed to say to that? Are you meant to go "Oo yes, you've caught the contrast between the fire and the clouds on that one, what a delightful shade of crimson?" So wait until Fox News and the Tea Party hear about that level of dishonouring the victims. Oo they'll be cross.
A philosophical argument against the new building came from Mark Williams, chairman and spokesman for the Tea Party, who said "The mosque would be for the worship of the terrorists' monkey god." To start with he appears to have mixed up Islam with Hinduism, so it may be when he finds that out he'll change his mind, and say "Oh it's Hindus with the monkey god. Silly me, well in that case go ahead with the mosque, it's Hindus I have a problem with, it's all to do with being squeamish about monkeys."
Similarly, Newt Gingrich, who hopes to be Republican candidate for President, said "The folks who want to build this mosque are radical Islamists."
And this is where they're more honest, because they seem to believe all Muslims are terrorists. In which case they don't really care where a mosque or Islamic centre is built, just as if the Continuity IRA applied for planning permission to build an explosives-testing plant, you wouldn't say "Well alright but not if it's less than half a mile from Canterbury Cathedral as that would be insensitive."
So there have been protests across America against mosques, in places such as Tennessee and Wisconsin. Presumably the argument there is "Imagine if someone who was in the Twin Towers on 9/11 was still so traumatised that they sleepwalked, and by chance one night they dreamily ambled into Grand Central station and got a train to Wisconsin and got out and wandered through the state and woke up just as they were by the new mosque, well it could be quite a shock."
More likely is there's a section of America that hates Muslims, and those like Palin and Gingrich are delighted to lead them. According to the latest survey, 24 per cent of America believes that Barack Obama is Muslim, and the Tea Party politicians promote that nonsense.
Obama seems willing to try and placate characters such as Palin, but he might be better off saying "Alright then – nothing Islamic near Ground Zero, but that principle applies to everything. So every Catholic Church within two blocks of a school is being shut down, as it would be grossly insensitive to allow an institution with such a record of child abuse to worship near its victims.
"We're withdrawing every branch of Macdonalds and Starbucks from Vietnam, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama or anywhere else we've ever bombed, and we're telling Wall Street that it has to move to New Jersey, as the Twin Towers were called the World Trade Center and the bankers were the ones that stopped the global economy in it's tracks."
Friday, 27 August 2010
An African-American man who was mistakenly thought to be Muslim was harassed at an anti-mosque rally yesterday in New York City. A crowd shouting "no mosque here" confronted the man and called him a "coward." The man is led away by rally organizers while one man shouts "Muhammad is a p*g." One person shouted "he must have voted for Obama." When some rally participants seek to defuse the confrontation, one man says, "we're against the Muslims, not each other."
"(Since) good and evil cannot be equal, repel (the evil deed) with one that is better. Then you will see that he with whom you had enmity, will become your close friend."
The Holy Quran, 41:34
It was the sight of peach juice dripping from the chin of a teenage French female nudist that led a Cambridgeshire public schoolboy to convert to Islam. Thirty-five years later, Timothy Winter – or Sheikh Abdul-Hakim Murad, as he is known to his colleagues – has been named one of the world's most influential Muslims.
The hitherto unnoticed Mr Winter, who has an office in Cambridge University's Divinity Faculty, where he is the Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies, has been listed ahead of the presidents of Iran and Egypt, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mahmoud Abbas. "Strange bedfellows," he concedes.
Tall, bookish, fair-skinned and flaxen-haired, a wiry beard is his only obvious stylistic concession to the Islamic faith.
To the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC), which is based at the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Winter is "one of the most well-respected Western theologians" and "his accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world". Winter is also the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust, director of The Anglo-Muslim Fellowship for Eastern Europe, and director of the Sunna Project, which has published the most respected versions of the major Sunni Hadith collections, the most important texts in Islam after the Qur'an.
He has also written extensively on the origins of suicidal terrorism.
According to the RISSC, the list highlights "leaders and change-agents who have shaped social development and global movements". Winter is included because "[his] work impacts all fields of work and particularly, the religious endeavors of the Muslim world".
In the 500 Most Influential Muslims 2010, Mr Winter is below the King of Saudi Arabia – who comes in at number one – but ahead of many more chronicled figures. He is ranked in an unspecified position between 51st and 60th, considerably higher than the three other British people who make the list – the Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi; the UK's first Muslim life peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed, who was briefly jailed last year for dangerous driving; and Dr Anas Al Shaikh Ali, director of the
International Institute of Islamic Thought – making him, at least in the eyes of the RISSC, Britain's most influential Muslim.
"I think that's very unlikely," says Winter, seated in front of his crowded bookshelves. "I'm an academic
observer who descends occcasionally from my ivory tower and visits the real world. If you stop most people in the street they've never heard of me. In terms of saying anything that makes any kind of sense to the average British Muslim I think they have no need of my ideas at all."
The son of an architect and an artist, he attended the elite Westminster School in the 1970s before graduating from Cambridge with a double first in Arabic in 1983. His younger brother is the football correspondent Henry Winter. Tim says: "I was always the clever, successful one. Henry just wanted to play football with his mates. I used to tell him, ‘I'm going to make loads of money, and you'll still be playing football with your mates.' Now he's living in a house with 10 bedrooms and married to a Bond girl." (Brother Henry insists on the telephone later: "She was only in the opening credits. And it's not as many as 10.")
If this seems an improbable background for a leading Muslim academic, his Damascene moment on a Corsican beach is unlikelier still.
"In my teens I was sent off by my parents to a cottage in Corsica on an exchange with a very vigorous French Jewish family with four daughters," Winter recalls. "They turned out to be enthusiastic nudists.
"I remember being on the beach and seeing conjured up before my adolescent eyes every 15-year-old boy's most fervent fantasy. There was a moment when I saw peach juice running off the chin of one of these bathing beauties and I had a moment of realisation: the world is not just the consequence of material forces. Beauty is not something that can be explained away just as an aspect of brain function."
It had quite an effect on him: "That was the first time I became remotely interested in anything beyond the material world. It was an unpromising beginning, you might say.
"In a Christian context, sexuality is traditionally seen as a consequence of the Fall, but for Muslims, it is an anticipation of paradise. So I can say, I think, that I was validly converted to Islam by a teenage French Jewish nudist."
After graduating, Winter studied at the University of al-Azhar in Egypt and worked in Jeddahat before returned to England in the late eighties to study Turkish and Persian. He says he has no difficulty reconciling the world he grew up in with the one he now inhabits. "Despite all the stereotypes of Islam being the paradigmatic opposite to life in the west, the feeling of conversion is not that one has migrated but that one has come home.
"I feel that I more authentically inhabit my old identity now that I operate within Islamic boundaries than I did when I was part of a teenage generation growing up in the 70s who were told there shouldn't be any boundaries."
The challenge, he feels, is much harder now for young Muslims trying to integrate with British life.
"Your average British Asian Muslim on the streets of Bradford or Small Heath in Birmingham is told he has to integrate more fully with the society around him. The society he tends to see around him is extreme spectacles of binge drinking on Saturday nights, scratchcards, and other forms of addiction apparently rampant, credit card debt crushing lives, collapsing relationships and mushrooming proportions of single lives, a drug epidemic. It doesn't look very nice.
"That is why one of the largest issues over the next 50 years is whether these new Muslim communities can be mobilised to deal with those issues. Islam is tailor-made precisely for all those social prolems. It is the ultimate cold turkey. You don't drink at all. You don't sleep around. You don't do scratchcards. Or whether a kind of increasing polarisation, whereby Muslims look at the degenerating society around them and decide ‘You can keep it'."
It is not this, though, that contributes to some young Muslim British men's radicalism, he says, since their numbers are often made up of "the more integrated sections".
"The principle reason, which Whitehall cannot admit, is that people are incensed by foreign policy. Iraq is a smoking ruin in the Iranian orbit. Those who are from a Muslim background are disgusted by the hypocrisy. It was never about WMD. It was about oil, about Israel and evangelical christianity in the White House. That makes people incandescent with anger. What is required first of all is an act of public contrition. Tony Blair must go down on his knees and admit he has been responsible for almost unimaginable human suffering and despair."
He adds: "The West must realise it must stop being the world's police. Why is there no Islamic represenation on the UN Security Council? Why does the so-called Quartet [on the Middle East] not have a Muslim representative? The American GI in his goggles driving his landrover through Kabul pointing his gun at everything that moves, that is the image that enrages people."
Is there a similar antagonistic symbolism in the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero?
"If the mosque represented an invading power they would have every right. Muslims in America are there as legitimate citizens with their green cards, with jobs, trying to get by. They are there in humble mode.
"Would you oppose the construction of Shinto Shrines at Pearl Harbour, of which there a number? How long must the Muslims of lower Manhattan have to wait to get a place to pray five times a day? With Islam there are certain liturgical requirements. It's not like a church that you can build on the top of a hill and say, we've only got to go once a week and it looks nice up there. Muslims need to pray five times a day, they can't get the subway out and back. It should be seen as a symbol of reconciliation not antagonism."
Last year Winter helped set up the Cambridge Muslim College, which offers trained imams a one year diploma in Islamic studies and leadership, designed to help trained imams to better implement their knowledge and training in 21st-century Britain. This year's first graduating class have recently returned from a trip to Rome where they had an open audience with the Pope.
In an increasingly secular Britain, sociologists suggest with regularity that "football is the new religion". Winter understands the comparison. "Football has everything that is important to religion," he says. "Solidarity, skill, ritual, the outward form of what looks like a sacred congregation. Except it's not about anything." Just don't tell his brother.
Converts to Islam
Cassius Clay, widely considered to be one of the greatest boxers, shocked America when he revealed in 1964 that he had converted to the Nation of Islam (becoming a Sunni 11 years later) to discard the name of his ancestors' enslavement.
Born Steven Demetre Georgiou in London, the singer, best known as Cat Stevens, converted to Islam at the height of his fame in 1977. Two years later he auctioned all his guitars for charity and left his music career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes.
The British journalist was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in September 2001 having crossed the border anonymously in a burqa. After her release 11 days later, she explained that she had promised one of her captors that she would read the Koran and it changed her life. She converted to Islam in the summer of 2003.
The ex-Russian agent, who fled to London, fell ill in November 2006 after being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210. Two days before his death on 23 November he told his father he had converted to Islam.