Friday, 3 July 2020

Are Good Deeds Rewarded in This Life Too?

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Anti-Racism: Prophet Muhammad’s Example

Relations between different ethnic and religious groups are deteriorating at a rapid pace. Muslims are pitted against non-Muslims and black and brown people are pitted against white.

What is needed now more than ever is a role model whose teachings counter bigotry and whose acts serve as a model for coexistence. I believe that role model is none other than Prophet Muhammad.

Approximately 1,400 years before the Civil Rights movement in the US and the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa, the Prophet Muhammad dealt with the issues of xenophobia and prejudice in Arabia. In this short piece, I highlight how the Prophet fought against the idea of judging individuals and groups based solely on their skin color and ancestry.

Prophet Muhammad’s anti-racist views are seen in his friendship with Bilal ibn Rabah, a black slave who rose to a leading position within the Muslim community of 7th century Arabia. One story relates how Muhammad defended Bilal after Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari, one of the Prophet’s companions, called Bilal “the son of a black woman.” Annoyed with this emphasis of identifying people by skin color, Muhammad criticized Abu Dharr by stating “you are the man who still has the traits of ignorance in him.”

The Prophet’s reference to Abu Dharr’s ignorance refers to the “pre-Islamic” state of jahiliyyah, an Arabic term meaning “the state of ignorance of Divine guidance.” This period of Arab history before Muhammad’s arrival was marked by “barbarism” and “lawlessness,” as described in the Quran. The Prophet’s anti-racist mentality helped lead Arabs out of this darkness and into the light by guiding them onto the path of justice and equality.

Bilal, who other Muslims referred to as “master” because of his knowledge and grace, became the muezzin of the Prophet, meaning that he was responsible for calling Muslims to the five daily prayers. In choosing Bilal for this honorable role, Muhammad demonstrated that social exclusion and subordination based upon skin color was not to be permitted in an Islamic society.

Before Muhammad revealed his message, Arabs were overly proud of their tribal and ethnic identities, so much so that tribes and ethnic groups became the social standard of society. The Prophet’s teachings changed all of that. He emphasized the importance of piety as the hallmark of respect. In challenging Abu Dharr, Muhammad showed that he was willing to rebuke even his closest companions if that person denigrated someone because of his or her ethnicity. The Prophet believed that this form of “tribalism,” or al-asabiyyah in Arabic, was cancerous because it drove people to ethnic loyalties even if that meant they supported oppression and injustice.

The Prophet’s Last Sermon at Mount Arafat in 632 AD is perhaps his most noteworthy manifestation of anti-racism.

In his speech, Muhammad stated that “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab ... a white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

The Last Sermon is the culminating point of Muhammad’s life. He challenged a disunited population that was constantly engaged in warfare by calling on people to unite under a banner of humanity. By distancing himself from the tendency to categorize others based upon ethnicity, the Prophet preceded the words of Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I Have a Dream” speech called for African Americans to be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Muhammad’s message of anti-racism is especially important now in the US. Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the African American civil rights leader who is more commonly called Malcolm X, reflected Muhammad’s insistence on harmony. After he performed Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage, El-Shabazz wrote home to his friends that all Muslim pilgrims in Mecca accepted the “Oneness of God.” He added that white people in the US should echo the Muslim pilgrims and “cease to measure and hinder and harm others in terms of their differences in color.” El-Shabazz’s anti-racism perspective mirrors Muhammad’s spirit of friendship and inclusivity. Like the Prophet, El-Shabazz is a role model for the anti-racism movement.

I consider Muhammad to be a quintessential anti-racist figure because he promoted peace and equality. Without a doubt, he advanced human rights in an area of the world that had no previous experience with this practice. Non-Muslims who belittle the Prophet have certainly not considered the examples highlighted above.

To further promote better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims as well as people of different skin colors, it is imperative that media outlets highlight Muhammad’s anti-racist ethos. Rather than being a divisive figure, Muhammad is an inspiration for those working to rid the world of the evil of racism.

Dr. Craig Considine is a scholar, global speaker, media contributor, and public intellectual based at the Department of Sociology at Rice University. He holds a PhD from Trinity College – University of Dublin, an MSc from Royal Holloway – University of London, and a BA from American University in Washington, DC. Dr. Considine is a U.S. Catholic of Irish and Italian descent.


Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Palestinians mourn death of a Bangladeshi war hero

Palestinian activists are mourning the loss of Saiful Azam, 79, a Bangladesh fighter pilot who died of natural causes in the capital, Dhaka, on Sunday.

Azam, also a former legislator from Bangladesh's mid-northern Pabna-3 constituency, was regarded as a legendary figure for Bangladeshi people, thanks to his record as an ace fighter pilot.

How the US and Israel exchange tactics in violence and control
A unique figure in the history of Bangladesh, Azam fought in wars as a fighter pilot in three different countries - Jordan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, he was the only pilot to have downed four Israeli aircraft.

Mourning him on Facebook, Palestinian historian Osama al-Ashqar hailed Azam as a great airman.

"Our brothers in Bangladesh and Pakistan were our partners in resistance and defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque," the holy site in Jerusalem, he added.

The Palestinian professor Naji Shoukri posted on his Twitter prayers mourning Azam.

"Saiful Azam loved Palestine and fought for the sake of Jerusalem," said Shoukri, saluting him and wishing him God's grace.

Renowned Palestinian journalist Tamer al-Mishal lauded Azam, calling him "the Eagle of the Air".

Downing four Israeli warplanes
On June 5, 1967, four Israeli jets were descending on Jordan's Mafraq airbase to smash the country's tiny air force, shortly after the entire Egyptian air force had been destroyed.

Jordanian air force commanders deployed Azam to thwart the attack, shooting down two aircraft. He was shifted to Iraq two days later to defend air bases, where he shot down two more Israeli planes.

In recognition of Azam's contributions, he was conferred with military awards by Jordan and Iraq. The United States also gave him the Living Eagles title in 2001 for his outstanding skills.

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the veteran pilot joined the Bangladesh Air Force to serve his homeland. In 1980, he retired and joined the civil service and later took up a political career.

Describing Azam as the pride of Bangladesh, former chief of Border Guards Bangladesh, Major General Fazlur Rahman, said his name will remain a part of Bangladesh's history.

"He is a source of inspiration for every soldier in the battleground on how to defeat the big enemy with limited weapons. He set a milestone in optimum use of skills and courage during war," Rahman said.

Born in a remote area in Bangladesh’s central district of Pabna in 1941, he spent his childhood in the Indian city of Kolkata with his father. After the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, his family migrated to Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).

According to the South Asia-based analytical website Roar Media, Azam left home at the age of 14 for higher secondary education in then West Pakistan (now Pakistan). In 1958 he was admitted to Pakistan Air Force Cadet College, where he completed his education as a pilot officer.

Popular defence blog Fighter Jets World also recorded that after learning the fundamentals of aviation in Pakistan, Azam was sent for advanced air combat training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war he also downed an Indian warplane, encouraging Pakistani forces to stand against India with limited warfare tools.

The act was widely applauded in Pakistan, which awarded Azam Pakistani's Star of Courage (Sitara-e-Jurat) medal, the third-most prestigious award of its military.


Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Hadiths of the day; Do good

 Verily, God will not change the condition of a people until they change that which is within themselves." The Holy Quran, 13:11

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "Whoever sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart - and that is the weakest of faith." Sahih Muslim

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong. But (instead) accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil." Al-Tirmidhi

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Shall I not inform you of something more excellent than fasting, prayer and charity?. . .It is putting things right between people." Sunan of Abu-Dawood

A person once asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who is the best of humankind. The Prophet replied: "A person whose life is long and whose deeds are good." The Prophet was then asked which deed is best. He responded by saying: "That you should leave this world with the mention of God fresh on your tongue." Al-Tirmidhi

Thursday, 25 June 2020

British Muslims held for two months in India claim religious persecution

Eight British Muslims detained in India for more than two months face criminal charges after getting caught up in a court case in which thousands of foreign Muslims are accused of violating the coronavirus lockdown.

The men allege they are victims of religious persecution by the Indian government, which is led by the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), known for its anti-Muslim agenda. According to a petition filed to Delhi high court on 20 May, their treatment is “tantamount to illegal detention”.

More than 2,500 foreign Muslims, from 35 different countries, are being charged in the case. Last week, the Indian government agreed to release and deport detained foreign Muslims but only if they accepted guilt for visa violations and “wilfully” disobeying lockdown orders.

“We haven’t done anything wrong. We don’t deserve to be treated like this,” said Shamsul, 39, an optometrist from Lancashire who had travelled to Delhi in March to attend an Islamic gathering.

Speaking by phone from the Delhi centre where he is being held, Shamsul added: “When you are locked away like an animal inside a room and you get treated like a piece of dirt, it mentally just breaks you completely.”

The UK Foreign Office has been accused by the men and their families of abandoning its own citizens to prejudice at the hands of the Indian government and of “caring more about diplomatic relations than the appalling human rights violations”.

In a statement, the FCO said: “We are supporting a group of British people detained in India. We are in close contact with prison officials and the Indian authorities to secure consular access for those who remain in detention.”

Most of the detained British citizens had travelled to India to visit the headquarters of a Muslim organisation, Tablighi Jamaat, located in the Delhi neighbourhood of Nizamuddin. They attended a gathering between 10 and 15 March, alongside thousands of Indians and other foreigners.

The day after the gathering ended a notice was issued limiting events in Delhi to 50 people to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Just over a week later, all international flights were grounded and a strict nationwide lockdown was imposed with four hours’ notice. More than a thousand visitors, both Indian and foreign, found themselves stranded in Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters.

Documents show that Tablighi Jamaat had been given permission to hold the event. Other religious gatherings were still taking place around the country at the same time, including a Hindu religious ceremony in Madhya Pradesh on 20 March attended by 800 people, from where multiple coronavirus cases later emerged.

However, Tablighi Jamaat became embroiled in controversy after it emerged that dozens of attendees at the gathering had contracted coronavirus and then travelled back to towns and villages across India, or stayed in the Nizamuddin headquarters without following physical distancing.

Across India, a public campaign of hate began to build. Driven in part by anti-Muslim sentiment, Tablighi Jamaat was singled out and accused by Delhi police, BJP politicians and the media of not only conspiring to violate lockdown but also encouraging its Muslim congregation to fight “corona jihad” and purposefully spread the virus, something Tablighi Jamaat vigorously denies. Tablighi Jamaat’s leaders were arrested and face charges of culpable homicide and manslaughter for their alleged role in spreading coronavirus.

On 31 March, about 950 foreigners – including at least four British citizens – who were stuck in the Nizamuddin building were rounded up by police. They were told they were being taken into standard coronavirus quarantine.

Shamsul was among those detained. A lifelong follower of Tablighi Jamaat, he was making his first trip to India.

“After lockdown was announced in India I tried to get home but there weren’t any flights and the embassy was no help,” said Shamsul. “So I just stayed in Nizamuddin and when the police took us into quarantine I wasn’t worried. We all presumed it was normal procedure. We didn’t know we would never be allowed to leave.”

According to Shamsul, for the first 50 days the men were locked in their small rooms, shared between three people, for 24 hours a day. He said water regularly cut out for two days at a time, they were given no soap or toilet paper and were fed the same meal of rice and lentils every day, twice a day. He said their passports were taken from them, and then their mobile phones, under the guise of sanitation. When the phones were returned a week later, photos and messages had reportedly been deleted and sim cards were missing.

According to Shamsul’s accounts, and the court petition, the detainees were tested twice for coronavirus, and after the second test were all proved to be negative, but still were not released.

The detainees have since been shifted to more relaxed quarantine centres but remain locked up, and say they still do not have their passports.

At the same time in late March, at least four other British citizens who had been sheltering in mosques and buildings due to lockdown restrictions in other areas of India were arrested. Some had attended the Tablighi Jamaat gathering but had travelled out of Delhi before lockdown. Others were tourists.

Four remain detained, including Mohsin, a British citizen who is being held in a jail in Ranchi, Jharkhand, and another man, Thalha Siddique, from Bradford, who had not attended the Delhi Tabhlighi Jamaat gathering and is being incarcerated in Bhopal jail.

In a recent update given to his family by an FCO caseworker, who was denied permission to see Siddique in person, it was confirmed Siddique had twice tested negative for coronavirus. Siddique asked for the message to be passed to his family in the UK that “he loves them and misses them a lot”.

The men were held for over 50 days with no charges. It was only after a court petition was filed on 20 May, challenging the government for keeping 1,000 foreigners in “illegal detention”, that charge sheets were filed. In court, Delhi police denied the foreigners were even in custody. The case has since been expanded to blanket-charge more than 2,500 foreign Muslims.

“It’s targeting one religious group,” said Ashima Mandla, a lawyer representing the accused foreigners collectively. “Why were they held for two months with no charge, even after they tested negative for coronavirus? It is quite clear that was illegal detention and a clear violation of the constitution and the fabric of liberty.”

The next court date is 25 June. The accused have been charged with disobeying lockdown orders and violating their tourist visas by carrying out religious missionary work, even though no missionary preaching occurred at the Tablighi Jamaat gathering. However, a few days ago, the government added “indulging in Tablighi activities” as a specific tourist visa violation.

The Foreign Office has been accused of negligence by those detained and their families, who say they have had barely any contact from the British embassy except assertions that it cannot interfere in Indian legal matters. They say that letters sent to the office of the foreign secretary and minister for Asia have been ignored.

The wife of another British citizen from London who attended the Tablighi Jamaat event and is being detained in Delhi spoke of her anger and frustration.

“How is it that British citizens have been locked up for two months and the government say there is nothing they can do?” she said. “I find it so upsetting that the Indian government is using this pandemic to target and exploit Muslim people.”

“I can hardly bear it,” she added. “My daughter keeps asking ‘when will dad be coming home’?”


Tuesday, 23 June 2020


How can we retweet #BlackLivesMatter with one hand while, in many countries in the region, we hold on to Kafala contracts with the other? Or, as British-Sudanese artist Rayan El Nayal phrases it, have the courage to post on Instagram, but not talk to our families about their continued use of the word 3abeed (Arabic for ‘slave,’ used colloquially to refer to black people)?

There’s a valid argument for the irony of our situation, how young Arabs could be ‘virtue signaling’—a far from perfect term itself—to appear woke and progressive on social media, while refusing to face what’s right at home. But there is also a more insidious voice that’s made itself heard, of Arabs trying to claim distance from the whole thing: in the vein of ‘let the US deal with its own problems.’ As if this does not directly affect us, as if Arab anti-blackness, both in the region and its diasporas, are not directly culpable.

“Dear amo, let it be known that the majority of white-Arabs are racist! I know it’s uncomfortable to read this amo. You might not be one of them. But listen! It’s in your homes, your movies, comedy, and your language, even in how your people would refer and regard us as 3abeed or aswad. It was never funny—and now we’re gonna talk about this.” – Remaz Khalaleyal.

From Morocco to Bahrain and every country in between, there’s no shortage of racist epithets normalised into everyday language. Yasmine Ghazzali, 23, a Moroccan graduate student, uses the example of la3b drawa, “which roughly translates to ‘black play’. It’s used when people playing around starts getting rough or hurting each other.”

And prototypically, one line of verse from legendary 10th-century Abbasid poet Al-Mutannabi has made its way into Arab (sub)consciousness as a veritable proverb, used at the drop of a hat. Originally written as part of an attack on Abu al-Misk Kafur, a black Egyptian vizier who did not award Al-Mutannabi the office he desired, the line reads: la tashtary al-3abd illa wal 3asa ma3aho—inn al 3abeed anjas manakeed, which translates into “Never purchase a slave without his stick…slaves are impure from birth.”

Over a millennium later, the use of the literal word for ‘slave’ in reference to blackness is still a part of our vocabulary. And yes, words matter. Language matters. Consider it the Political Correctness Police who ‘can’t take a joke’ or dare to take offence at people being called literal slaves. Because for one, ‘political correctness’ is really not the big bad Western-import wolf that we sometimes like to think it is.

More importantly, however, as should be clear by now, these words don’t exist in a vacuum. And even when they’re not immediately violent, when wielded against black people in the way they so often are, they carry very real threats.

Dani*, an African national in Saudi Arabia (who would rather not specify nationality), tells me the story of standing in line with their mother at a clothing store, when the boy in front of them left the line. “Once we reached the counter, this Saudi woman (the boy’s mother) started yelling at us, saying how disrespectful we are to have cut in line. She kept saying things like ‘wallah ara7alkom anto aslan ma taswoo shyy’ (‘I swear I’ll deport you, you are worth nothing.’)”

“None of the people standing even had the nerve to say something, because deep down, this is what they believe,” Dani continues. “That they are superior. They treat foreigners like they’re parasites. It is off the backs of foreigners that the Gulf has grown so fast, and yet we are still referred as 3abeed like we’re in the middle ages. I’m honestly so tired of the ignorance.”

Dani also tells me how they wish black people they grew up around would have taught anything other than: “don’t reply, you’ll get yourself in trouble,” a more than familiar sentiment in Gulf countries.

Charles*, 20, an African undergraduate student in Qatar who also wanted his nationality unspecified, says he was warned by older black students to watch what he says, and avoid getting on the wrong side of anyone. In his first week in the country, he tells me, two Qatari women called the police on him and two other African friends for walking behind them in a packed mall.

“I guess Karens exist everywhere when you’re black,” he quips. “There’s all the ‘I’ll get you deported’ jokes that people throw around. But you can never be sure as to whether these ‘jokes’ are banter or not, because their words carry power. For real, they know that they can get you deported. Because once it reaches the higher levels, you’re assumed to be guilty from the get-go.”