Thursday 28 July 2016

U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad: 'I'm just your basic Hijabi Zorro'

So, as she's jokingly said, "I'm just your basic Hijabi Zorro."
There will be other athletes in Rio who are better known than Muhammad, though she is a legitimate medal hopeful in the team and individual sabre events. But it is hard to think of anyone whose symbolism is more important. She has taken her messages of tolerance and what life as a Muslim-American woman is like everywhere she goes, be it "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (where she did a hilarious fencing demonstration with DeGeneres' sidekick Andy Zeron), to interviews she did after she was named to Time Magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2016. In February, she was invited to a private meeting that President Barack Obama held with other prominent Muslim-Americans before he gave a speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit in office to an American mosque.
"Where's my Olympian? Stand up," Obama said before his talk, scanning the audience of hundreds that Muhammad was sitting among, wanting her to rise and hear the applause.
She constantly says, "I'm blessed to be in this position."
Muhammad prefers to emphasize positive examples like that when describing what her path to the Olympics has become. But she does not shrink from asserting Muslims and minorities should enjoy the same rights and protections in America as anyone else because, "I feel like I owe it to my community, I owe it to people who look like me and fight struggles every day, to hear something different. It's up to all us to combat these things. I have to speak up because I know there were people before me that did it."
And this: "I wasn't going to allow other people's misconceptions to change my journey."
So, when reporters inquire about what kind of online harassment she receives on her Twitter or Instagram accounts, Muhammad smiles and says, "Oh, sure, there are internet trolls everywhere. But that's what the delete button is for. And I use it." If asked for examples of prejudice she's experienced, she often diverts the discussion instead to the "hundreds of positive messages that cancel them out," or how after taking up fencing for the first time as a 13-year-old girl, she felt wearing the masked headgear and full-length uniform that covered her body had much the same effect as wearing the hijab: She feels it "liberates" her.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Mass murderers have one thing in common - and it's not a 'women's problem'

One night last week, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel deliberately drove a lorry into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the seafront in Nice. Eighty-four people died, including 10 children. The terrorist organisation Isil claimed responsibility for the attack but French investigators have not disclosed any direct evidence of a link.
What has emerged in the days since, is Bouhlel’s undisputed history of domestic abuse. "He beat his wife, my cousin, he was a nasty piece of work’" said a relative of his estranged spouse. Similar stories emerged last month after Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at gay club Pulse in Orlando. His ex-wife claimed that he beat her and denied contact with her family and friends during the four months they lived together. She was rescued by relatives, who she says literally dragged her from his arms.
A third would-be jihadist, Man Haron Monis, was on bail after being charged with more than 40 counts of sexual assault when he took hostages in a coffee shop in Sydney in December 2013. Monis was also charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, who had been stabbed 18 times and set alight in the stairwell of an apartment block. Monis and two of his hostages died when the siege was ended by armed police.
These ‘lone wolf’ attacks are a nightmare for the police and intelligence services, who are more used to tracking groups of young men in contact with known jihadists, or who have returned from Syria. Men who are planning attacks apparently out of the blue are harder to detect, which is why the common factor of domestic abuse is so important. In each case, these mass attacks on strangers appear to represent an escalation of violent impulses they liberally indulged at home until their wives (understandably) left them.
Crucially, it links them to other mass killers who don’t try to dress up their murderous rage as a political act. It's important to spell out: this isn't an issue focused on those with Muslim backgrounds. Violence against family members and deep-rooted misogyny have been implicated in several of the worst mass shootings in the US, including the school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in December 2012.
When Adam Lanza opened fire on teachers and children as young as six, he had already left his mother dead in bed at home. Nancy Lanza, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was shot four times in the face by her son, offering a shocking glimpse into his matricidal fury.
Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in California two years ago, made no secret about his seething hatred of women in a video he left behind. Rodger stabbed and shot his victims, as well as hitting several people with his car before killing himself. "I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it," he declared on film. "You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male."
Islamist terror groups offer young men with a record of petty crime an opportunity to re-invent themselves first as victims and then as holy warriors. They are exploiting men who flatly refuse to come to terms with the modern world, with results almost too horrific to contemplate.
Other angry men don’t even bother to claim an ideology, but the link between domestic violence and acts of inhumane political terrorism can no longer be ignored.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

She Was Bullied for Being Muslim, Now She’s an Advisor for The White House

President Barack Obama holds American Muslim leaders meeting prep in the Oval Office, Feb. 4, 2015. Participants are:  Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Rumana Ahmed, Advisor to the Deputy National Security Advisor, NSC. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Rumana Ahmed is the daughter of Bangladeshi parents raised in Maryland, close to Washington D.C. As a kid, you could find her at the basketball court. She also loved traveling and hanging around with family and friends. Everything went well but things changed after the attacks on 9/11. There were days when her identity as a Muslim American became a struggle. She was a young girl wearing a headscarf, but people threw names at her and were saying all kinds of things only because she’s a Muslim. But Ahmed said she never had an issue with it.
Ahmed says she experienced the opposite thing at the White House: “I actually felt empowered being a hijabi, because I think people came to me to ask for my perspective and valued my perspective, because they knew that I brought a different perspective.”
As a young girl who was once mocked and called names, she never thought about the fact that she could end up working at the White House wearing a hijab in the West Wing. At first, she didn’t aim for a government job, but everything changed after she heard current president, Barack Obama, speaking about hope and change. In 2009, she started working at the White House as an intern in the Office of Presidential Correspondence. Later she got promoted as staff in the Office of Public Engagement. She worked on the Champions of Change program and was trying to uplift and empower everyday Americans.
Rumana Ahmed said: “I believe if you work hard and if you play by the rules, you can make it if you try in America, no matter who you are or how you pray. It’s how a young girl – once mocked and called names – can pursue her dream and proudly serve her country as a head-covering Bengali Muslim American woman in the White House.”

15 Important Muslim Women in History


Nusayba b. Ka‘b al-Anṣārīyya (d. 634). Also known as Umm ‘Ammara, she was a member of the Banū Najjār tribe and one of the earliest converts to Islam in Medina. As a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, there were many virtues attributed to her. She is most remembered, however, for taking part in the Battle of Uhud (625), in which she carried sword and shield and fought against the Meccans. She shielded the Prophet Muhammad from enemies during the battle and even sustained several lance wounds and arrows as she cast herself in front of him to protect him. It is said that after she sustained her twelfth wound, she fell unconscious and the first question she asked when she awoke (a day later in Medina) was “did the Prophet survive?” a testament to her loyalty and commitment to the new faith.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Prophet Muhammad stood for humanity in Medina, while IS tries to destroy it

Here is one of my favourite stories about Prophet Muhammad. It is noted in a hadith that he and several of his companions were sitting down along a street in Medina. Suddenly, a companion spotted a funeral procession approaching the group. In respect of the dead human body, Muhammad stood up as the procession crossed in front of him. At that moment, a companion, who was still sitting down, said to the Prophet, "This is a funeral of a Jew. He is not a Muslim." Upon hearing these words, Muhammad became upset and said to the companion, "Is he not a human soul?" The message here is clear: Prophet Muhammad respected human beings irrespective of their religion. He taught mankind that every human soul is important, whether alive or dead. This is Muhammad’s concept of dignity. He defended humanity.
Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) militants or their sympathisers do not care about humanity. In fact, they are the antithesis of humanity. In the very city where Prophet Muhammad stood in respect for the Jewish funeral procession, several people claiming to be Muslims blew themselves up at the Prophet’s mosque, one of the two holiest sites in Islam. The suicide attack killed four members of the Saudi Arabian security force. In comparing the two events, we can see that Prophet Muhammad honoured people who have passed away, while IS and their sympathisers are the reasons why funeral processions happen in the first place.
Any person in their right mind understands that there is nothing "Islamic" about blowing yourself up and murdering other people. After all, the Quran is unequivocal: "You shall not kill yourselves" (4:29). Suicide is so far outside the boundaries of "normative" Islam that some people – Muslims and non-Muslims alike - have started to seriously question whether IS and their sympathisers are "anti-Islamic", and not simply "un-Islamic", as they are popularly described. There is a difference between these concepts. "Un-Islamic" means that Muslims are acting in a way that opposes the basic principles of Islam. "Anti-Islam" means that the actions of some Muslims are actually a threat to other Muslims and to the very essence of Islam – mercy, compassion, justice and peace.
We can notice Prophet Muhammad‘s love of humanity in how he instructed his followers to respect the People of the Book, as commanded in the Quran. In the year 622CE, the Prophet produced the Medina Charter, also known as the Constitution of Medina, which contained the rights and responsibilities of the Muslims, Jews and other tribal communities in Medina. As the head of state, Muhammad guaranteed all citizens of the city the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. The charter declared that Muslims and Jews were equal members of a new political community. Indeed, even polytheists were granted equal rights. Moreover, Muhammad’s constitution did not treat Jews as a monolithic entity; he recognised and respected their ethnic and cultural diversities. All Jews were granted the rights of freedom of movement, freedom of worship and the freedom of assembly.
Some consider the charter to be the first written constitution in the world. Whether or not that is true is besides the point – the document is a 7th century model for religious pluralism and civic rights. Muhammad envisioned a society where people were united not by race or religion, but rather by citizenship rights.
Jews were not the only religious community that Muhammad peacefully reached out to in Medina. In 631CE, he sent letters inviting various communities of the region to his city. One group, the Najran Christians of modern-day Yemen, travelled 450 miles to meet the Prophet and his companions in Medina. The Christian delegation consisted of about 45 scholars and 15 assistants.
After their diplomatic meeting, the Najran Christians needed to pray. They exited Prophet Muhammad’s mosque and headed towards the street, aiming to pray there. Uncomfortable with the idea that his Christian guests had no place to pray, the Prophet told them that they could use his mosque to worship. The Najrans accepted Muhammad’s offer. An important bridge was made that day between Muslims and Christians.
And it is these kind of interfaith bridges that IS and their sympathisers want to destroy.

Monday 18 July 2016

Hate Group in Texas Threatens to Kill Muslims – And Nobody Asks Where the Group Was Radicalized

One BAIR member in the video stated, “A lot of us here are using either pig’s blood or bacon grease on our bullets, packing it in the middle so that when you shoot a Muslim, they go straight to hell”. Another member insisted, “Don’t f*ck with white people.”
David Wright, spokesperson for BAIR, said he was “going to start doing something about Muslims… now”. That’s code word for “I’m going to threaten Muslims with violence”.
Clearly, members of BAIR are misinformed and uninformed. One member told AJ+, “the next step in jihad does not involve random, sporadic attacks… They start killing people”.
Actually, no. That’s not true.
I teach the course “Muslims in American Society” at Rice University in Houston, not too far from Irving, where BAIR is based. Our class, composed of Muslims and non-Muslims, takes a careful look at the various dimensions of jihad. The students, I should add, get alone perfectly fine despite coming from largely Christian and Muslim backgrounds.
Jihad has many meanings. It’s often misinterpreted to mean “holy war”, obvious in the case of BAIR, but jihad really means “to struggle” or “to strive”. A jihad might be waking up when your alarm goes off in the morning. A jihad might be putting up with an annoying relative on a holiday.
A jihad might be turning the other cheek when blatantly Islamophobic groups like BAIR openly call for the murder of Muslims.
It’s true there is an offensive or “violent” form of jihad, but it’s for purposes of self-defense.  The Quran, the Islamic holy book, calls on Muslims to “jihad” against the use of violence. The Quran (5:32) states, “if anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the whole of humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of humanity”. In another Quranic passage (2:190), Muslims are told, “fight in the case of God those who start fighting you, but do not transgress limits (or start the attack); for God loveth not transgressors”.
Full article

Thursday 14 July 2016

In Pakistan, gruesome ‘honor’ killings bring a new backlash


Parveen Rafiq closed her hands around the neck of her youngest daughter, Zeenat, and squeezed and squeezed until the girl was almost dead.

Then, in the tiny apartment where the family lived, she doused the 18-year-old with kerosene and set her on fire.
Neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to the home. Someone inside, apparently one of Rafiq’s daughters-in-law, was screaming, “Help her! Help!”
But the door was bolted from within. Moments later, they heard Rafiq scream from her rooftop: “I have killed my daughter. I have saved my honor. She will never shame me again.”

“We were in love,” Khan said, his voice barely a whisper.
He fumbled through his phone until he found a collection of selfies that Zeenat had put together to the rhythm of their favorite song, an Urdu pop tune called “You Made Me Your Lover.”
She loved taking selfies, loved music and poetry, he said. As the music played, Zeenat in the photos struck different poses, sometimes coy, sometimes playful or teasing, but always smiling, her long black hair falling loosely past her shoulders.
She also taught the neighborhood children the Quran, Islam’s holy book. She could recite the entire book from memory.
Her mother knew about Khan, and she and Zeenat were constantly fighting. Zeenat told him her mother beat her. Over long hours on the phone, Zeenat pleaded with him to marry her so she wouldn’t be forced into an arrangement.
Finally, in May, they sneaked off and registered their marriage at the local courthouse and Zeenat moved into Khan’s home.
They had defied her mother. They were together.
Full article

Tuesday 12 July 2016

The Plague Within

Image result for shaeikh hamza yusuff

By Sh. Hamza Yusuf

According to a good hadith related by Ahmad and al-Tabarani, the Messenger of God, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him, said, “You will never believe until you show mercy to one another.” 
“All of us are merciful, O Messenger of God!” his companions responded.
The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, explained, “I’m not talking about one of you showing mercy to his friend; I’m talking about universal mercy—mercy towards everyone.” 
For those Muslims and people of other faiths who lost loved ones in the recent tragedies in Baghdad two days ago, in Bangladesh last Friday, in Istanbul the day before that, in Lebanon and Afghanistan last week, and in Yemen and Orlando last month, I am deeply saddened and can only offer my prayers, even as I am painfully aware of my state of utter helplessness at what has befallen our global community. As I write this, I learned about yet another bombing outside our beloved Prophet’s mosque in Medina, as believers were about to break their fast yesterday, unjustly killing four innocent security guards. Fortunately, due to the blessings of the place, the sound of the explosion was thought to be the boom of the cannon used to announce the time has come to break the fast, so the people in the mosque were not frightened nor panicked. The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, said, “Whoever frightens the people of Medina has the damnation of God, the angels, and all of humanity.” Needless to say, the horror of these atrocities is compounded because they are being carried out—intentionally—in the blessed month of Ramadan.
A plague is upon us, and it has its vectors. Like the brain-eating amoebas that have struck the warm waters of the Southern states in America, a faith-eating plague has been spreading across the global Muslim community. This insidious disease has a source, and that source must be identified, so we can begin to inoculate our communities against it.
New versions of our ancient faith have sprung up and have infected the hearts and minds of countless young people across the globe. Imam Adel Al-Kalbani, who led prayers in the Haram of Mecca for several years, has publicly stated that these youth are the bitter harvest of teachings that have emanated from pulpits throughout the Arabian Peninsula, teachings that have permeated all corners of the world, teachings that focus on hatred, exclusivity, provincialism, and xenophobia. These teachings anathematize any Muslim who does not share their simple-minded, literalist, anti-metaphysical, primitive, and impoverished form of Islam, and they reject the immense body of Islamic scholarship from the luminaries of our tradition. 
Due to a sophisticated network of funding, these teachings have flooded bookstores throughout the Muslim world and even in America, Europe, and Australia. For a case study of what they have spawned, we might look to Kosovo. Our “Islamic” schools are now filled with books published by this sect that lure the impressionable minds of our youth at an age when they are most susceptible to indoctrination. This sect of Islam, however, is not the sole source of our current crisis, and it would be wrong to place all blame on it alone; many of its adherents are peace-loving quietists, who want only to be left alone to practice their faith as they see fit. Their exclusivism is a necessary but not sufficient cause for the xenophobic hatred that leads to such violence. The terroristic Islamists are a hybrid of an exclusivist takfiri version of the above and the political Islamist ideology that has permeated much of the Arab and South Asian world for the last several decades. It is this marriage made in hell that must be understood in order to fully grasp the calamitous situation we find our community in. While the role that Western interventions and misadventures in the region have played in creating this quagmire should not be set aside, diminished, or denied, we should, however, keep in mind that Muslims have been invaded many times in the past yet never reacted like these fanatics. Historically, belligerent enemies often admired the nobility Muslims displayed in their strict adherence to history’s first humane rules of engagement that were laid down by the Prophet himself to insure that mercy was never completely divorced from the callousness of conflict. 
We need to clearly see the pernicious and pervasive nature of this ideological plague and how it is responsible for the chaos and terror spreading even to the city of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, in all its inviolability. Its most vulnerable victims are our disaffected youth who often live in desolate circumstances with little hope for their futures. Promises of paradise and easy-out strategies from the weariness of this world have enticed these suicidal youth to express their pathologies in the demonically deceptive causes of “Islamic” radicalism. The pictures they leave behind—showing the supercilious smiles on their faces, even as they hold in their hapless hands their Western-made assault rifles—are testament to the effective brainwashing taking place. 
The damage being wrought is not only within Islam but also to Islam’s good name in the eyes of the world. These now daily occurrences of destructive, hate-filled violence are beginning to drown out the voices of normative Islam, thereby cultivating a real hatred in the hearts of those outside our communities. In the minds of many around the world, Islam, once considered a great world religion, is being reduced to an odious political ideology that threatens global security; that, in turn, is proving disastrous for minority Muslim communities, who now abide in increasingly hostile environments in secular societies. 
What we need to counter this plague are the voices of scholars, as well as grassroots activists, who can begin to identify the real culprits behind this fanatical ideology. What we do not need are more voices that veil the problem with empty, hollow, and vacuous arguments that this militancy has little to do with religion; it has everything to do with religion: misguided, fanatical, ideological, and politicized religion. It is the religion of resentment, envy, powerlessness, and nihilism. It does, however, have nothing to do with the merciful teachings of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him. Unchecked, we will see this plague foment more such violence, until one day, God forbid, these hateful and vile adherents obtain a nuclear device, the use of which has already been sanctioned by their “scholars,” including one currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. If such a scenario unfolds, it is highly probable that the full wrath of Western powers will be unleashed upon a helpless Muslim world that would make even the horrendous Mongol invasions of the 13th century look like a stroll in the park.
Invariably, some will remark that a fear of Western retaliation is a sign of cowardice. For those zealots, I would recommend turning back to the Qur’an, specifically to reflect on the undeniably brave Messenger Moses, peace be upon him, who unintentionally killed an Egyptian after striking him with his powerful blow, only because he was considered an enemy, and then asked God’s forgiveness and “fled vigilantly out of fear” (28:21). This is a cautionary tale, and it behooves all of us to reflect upon it as a lesson of what not to do when oppressed, especially when we are without political authority or the means to redress our grievances. Imam al-Sahrwardi stated, “To flee from calamities is the Sunnah of Prophets.” It is best not to let our baser self, our lust for revenge, get the better of us.
We would do well to acknowledge that much of what is happening in the Muslim world and to Muslim communities in the West is from what our own hands have wrought. Muslims have been in the West for a long time and have done little to educate people here about our faith; too many of us have been occupied in our wordly affairs, while some of our mosques and schools have been breeding grounds for an ideological Islamism rather than Islam. The Qur’an clearly instructs us that when faced with calamities, we ought to look first at what we may have done to bring them upon us. Introspection is a Qur’anic injunction. Until we come to terms with this Qur’anic truth, we will remain mired in the mirage of denial, always pointing fingers in every direction but at ourselves. “Verily, God does not change the conditions of a people until they change themselves” (Qur’an, 13:11).
As Ramadan comes to a close, let us pray for the oppressed and the guidance of the oppressors, for those who have been killed, and for those who lost their loved ones, and most of all, let us heed our Prophet’s call and want mercy for everyone

Friday 8 July 2016

Saturday 2 July 2016

The Victorian Muslims of Britain

Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1867-1963) 

It was Lady Evelyn, later Zainab, Cobbold who was one of the last of the aristocratic Victorians to convert. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1867, the daughter of the 7th Earl of Dunmore, Lady Evelyn seemed equally at home in the fashionable salons of Mayfair and Paris as in remote camps in the Libyan Desert. She was a noted sportswoman, a deerstalker and a crack shot.

In 1933, at the age of 65, she announced her conversion and became the first Western woman to make the Hajj pilgrimage. She penned a bestselling book, Pilgrimage to Mecca, detailing her experience.
When she died in 1963 at the age of 96, she left instructions that her gravestone, on a hill in remote Inverness in Scotland, bear the words: "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth."
She spent much of her childhood in Algiers and Cairo, where she was raised with Muslim nannies, and later wrote about how she felt to be Muslim from as early as she could remember, but only decided to profess her faith during a personal audience with the Pope. She recounted the meeting in Pilgrimage To Mecca:
"Some years went by, and I happened to be in Rome staying with some Italian friends when my host asked if I would like to visit the Pope. Of course, I was thrilled. When His Holiness suddenly addressed me, asking if I was a Catholic, I was taken aback for a moment and then replied that I was a Muslim. What possessed me I don't pretend to know, as I had not given a thought to Islam for many years. A match was lit, and I then and there determined to read up and study the faith.