Reading this op-ed on the caste system in India made me immensely sad, especially this honest and sincere but still utterly nonsensical defense by an educated, modern, upper class Brahmin:
For the last two years, I have been speaking with a Brahmin from Bengal, a philosopher and a teacher of ancient logic, a man conversant with both Eastern and Western intellectual traditions. I admire him in many ways — his immense learning, his defense of tradition in the face of Western influence — but when I questioned him about the prohibitions of caste he gave me an answer that turned my stomach.
“If a person is suffering from a communicable disease, you would not let him touch your utensils,” he said. “You have this one idea of contamination, but you refuse to accept that there might be certain spiritual conditions …” His voice trailed off. He seemed to know that he had lost me. As if wanting to clear the air, he said: “You have to understand that modern European culture is based on the idea that all men are born equal, and later become differentiated. The Indian idea is different. We believe that men are born unequal, but we are all — Brahmin, sage, cobbler, outcaste — heading toward the same destiny.”
It was a valiant attempt at a defense, but in the end absurd. It would mean that millions of lower-caste Indians, like Rohith Vemula, had to forfeit the aspirations of this life in exchange for the promise of some ultimate destiny, many lifetimes away, in which all differences would be obliterated.
For the record, the man’s summary of what western culture is based on is as propagandic as his own defense of caste. I think all societies are based on one kind of inequality or another. In the West, the explicit equality for “all men.. created equal” hinged on the definition of “men” which both implicitly and explicitly excluded some men, and all women.
Caste is India’s original sin, like slavery is America’s, occupation is Israel’s, Communism is China’s, etc. A nation can overcome its sin on paper – usually legally – but at a social level, the repercussions continue to reverberate down through its life.
There’s no salvation for a nation in the divine, or forgiveness, either.
The year 1438 is upon us, and I am in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to attend the annual Ashara Mubaraka sermons of his Holiness, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husain at Karbala.
We mourn Imam Husain’s AS sacrifice on behalf of Islam, not as Shi’a, but as Muslims. Husain AS made an unthinkable sacrifice to defy the defilement of Islam by the tyrant Yazid LA, whose depraved reign as Caliph would have destroyed Islam from within. The grief we express during Ashara is not just out of our mohabbat (love) for the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt (household), but also for the necessity of his sacrifice.
“I learned from Hussain how to be wronged and be a winner, I learnt from Hussain how to attain victory while being oppressed.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Ashara is not just for Shia or just for Muslims. Like all fulcrum points in history, Ashara belongs to all of mankind. The incomprehensible contrast of divine guidance versus human fallibility, of mankind’s inherent nobility versus mankind’s learned cruelty, comes alive in the story of Karbala with a universal relevance. Ashara transcends time and space, such that wherever a people strive against tyranny, whenever a hero sacrifices himself and all he/she holds precious for the sake of something greater than himself/herself, that place is Karbala and that day is Ashura.
“The principles of Hussains’ revolution became an approach to every rebel who want to take his rights from his oppressors.” — Victor Hugo
Mourning is amplified when mourners assemble. In every jamaat (congregation) around the world, mourners gather to remember Husain AS. Individually, we are like fragments of a stone inscription, shattered by the cynicism, temptations, and distractions of the material plane. Gathering together in remembrance of Husain AS reunites us, nourishes and heals our faith, and allows the message of Islam that was defended at Karbala to be read once more upon our souls. The act of gathering together bears living witness to the ultimate victory of Husain AS, who died for Islam in the most literal sense. We, his mumineen (faithful), will not allow his sacrifice to be in vain.
“If Husain had fought to quench his worldly desires…then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.” — Charles Dickens
We mourn because we love. The stronger the love, the greater the mourning; the indifferent do not mourn. Love is the basis of our humanity; the very word insaan (human) is the root of the word anasat (intimacy) in Arabic. When anasat is betrayed, the human soul never fully recovers. The truer the love, the deeper the wound. Imagine, then, the wound upon insaniat (humanity) itself, when the truest love of all, that of the divine, was betrayed at Karbala? The violent irony of humanity’s own capacity for inhumanity is truly heart-breaking.
Related: My last visit to East Africa was also for Ashara, in Mombasa in 2008. Also, see TheDawoodiBohras.com for a comprehensive overview of the Ashara Mubaraka event. Elsewhere, Aamer Jamali draws an analogy between the Holocaust and Karbala for emotional significance. Finally, a deeply personal reflection on Ashara’s symbolism by Durriya Badani.
I saw the tragedy in Nice yesterday and like everyone else with a conscience, I despaired. My prayers are humble but I offered them regardless for the victims and their families, and the people of France. I hope that the investigation concludes with real answers as to why the driver of the lorry acted and provides a path forward to prevent such a horrific tragedy again. This was France’s Oklahoma City.
Newt Gingrich saw the tragedy in France and thought to himself, how can I leverage this tragedy for my own ambitions? The result was an impromptu audition for Donald Trump’s VP on Fox News, where he called for “deporting” Muslims who believe in Shari’a:
“You have to monitor the mosques,” Gingrich said Thursday evening on Fox News’s “Hannity.” “Where do you think the primary source of recruitment is? We should … test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Shariah, they should be deported… Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia — glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door.”
Since he is a valid contender for the office of the Vice President of the United States, we are obligated to respond to him rather than dismiss him as the unprincipled opportunist that even his political allies know him to be. So, a few thoughts.
1. Which Shari’a?
Gingrich’s knowledge about Shari’a likely comes from Fox News. If we are going to establish a test, then we need to define what Shari’a means in context. If we are talking about the actual Shari’a that Muslims follow, it has 4 sources, in the following rank of priority: The Qur’an, The actions and words of the Prophet Mohammed SAW (The Sunnah), consensus from the community of scholars, and legal reasoning. At every stage of this chain of authority, there are different interpretations, compilations, schools of jurisprudence, and analyses. The result is not a linear, black and white ideology as some fringe Muslim sects insist, but a diverse tapestry of thought and practice, that spans the globe and time and race and culture.
When you ask a Muslim if they believe in Shari’a, they will probably answer yes, not because they support ISIS but because they are part of that global tapestry and they have their own unique position within it. The only answer is yes.
2. The First Amendment
It is painful to admit that a potential candidate for the Vice President of the United States needs schooling on this, but here is the full text of the First Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights ratified as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States on December 15th, 1791.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
3. Which Muslims?
Gingrich did not specify which Muslims he would subject to his test. Donald Trump’s infamous Muslim Ban only applied to Muslim non-citizens, either seeking immigration status or already here. But taking Gingrich at his word, given his reputation as the thinker and intellectual he is, suggests no such distinction. Without clarification from him, we must assume given the context of his remarks about “incompatibility” that he means all Muslims, regardless of citizenship status.
4. The Fourteenth Amendment
The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified after the US Civil War, on July 9, 1868. The relevant part of the Amendment is the Due Process clause, which reads as follows:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Note that “any person within its jurisdiction” applies to citizens and non-citizens alike.
5. Which mosques?
Gingrich blithely states that mosques are the centers of radicalization, but the truth is that Muslims are radicalized online, not in mosques. Muslims with access to mosques are exposed to the full scope of the tapestry of Shari’a and traditional teachings by trained imams and scholars, which overwhelmingly condemn terrorism and violence. Further, Muslim American communities in the United States are cohesive and a bulwark against radicalization – in fact, Muslims themselves have a long history, gratefully acknowledged by the FBI, of assisting authorities and informing on radicals to prevent terror attacks. Contra Gingrich’s assertion, having a mosque next door full of Muslims who will say they believe in Shari’a, is a good thing for preventing terror.
6. Which Western civilization?
Today’s terrorist attack in France is a horrific reminder of the threat facing Western civilization. This must end.
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) July 15, 2016
Western civilization survived two global wars and nuclear brinkmanship. (And McVeigh who killed 168 with a truck). https://t.co/pfLez1olLh
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) July 15, 2016
ISIS and other radical Muslim groups are not acting randomly. They are acting deliberately. To paraphrase Marco Rubio, let’s dispel once and for all with the fiction that ISIS doesn’t know what they are doing, they knows exactly what they are doing. ISIS is undertaking a systematic effort to change this civilization, to make the West more like the rest of the world… it is a systematic effort to change the West – by eliminating the Gray Zone.
Fools like Gingrich play right into ISIS’ hands. Comments like his are the true “fifth column” in our midst.
7. Muslim Go.
To Newt Gingrich, this is all an augmented reality video game, like Pokémon Go. Gingrich thinks he can just run around and capture all the Muslims in his Poke-ball. It won’t be as easy as all that. The United States fought a war of Independence and a Civil War for the Amendments that he so casually tramples on – he devalues an immeasurable sacrifice paid in blood by true American patriots for these rights.
I stated it in the title of this essay and I conclude with it here. Mr. Gingrich, I believe in Shari’a. Come at me, then, and make your attempt to deport me or do unto me as you will. My ally is the Constitution and the American People. Yours is Donald Trump and a legion of red hat-wearing racists and xenophobes. Even if you prevail over me, you won’t prevail over America or the West, because you don’t understand what America is, or what the West really is. For all your erudition and intelligence, you don’t understand what the Founders or the North or the Allied Powers were really fighting for. And that is why you will lose. I’m honored to be your target. Let’s play Muslim Go, Mr. Speaker. Your turn.
Well, Mr. Gingrich, looks like your hail-Mary gambit backfired:
I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate. News conference tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2016
— Howard Fineman (@howardfineman) July 15, 2016
This is a guest post by Samar Kaukab.
“Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.” — James Joyce, Ulysses
By design, Ramadan moons are meant to illuminate truth. Spiritual understanding in this month arrives independent of where you started, where you ended, or even based on the quantity and quality of worship engaged.
In Ramadan, especially towards the end, you always find that you learn something, land somewhere, pinpoint something solid to hold onto and hope for. Yet, the atmospheric quality of Ramadan that brings us to these truths differs, summoning us every time to seek out some new process to “find Ramadan”. Sometimes, Ramadan feels fast – the days and nights move at a breakneck pace, leading discovery to be similarly efficient and swift. Sometimes Ramadan is lenient – halcyon days and tranquil nights uplift and revive at a downtempo pace like an elegant song that steadily trails into its crescendo.
This Ramadan didn’t follow any recognizable pattern. The month was flooded with a deluge of disruptive information and irreconcilable experiences. With 29 days gone by, the poetic slowness of what it means to fast (to abstain from elemental needs, abstain from food, abstain from drink, abstain from ill thoughts, abstain from coherence, to watch the clock for hours, to count the minutes, to note the days and nights in a way that the passing of time does not normally call for) was punctuated by the fast and ferocious. The beautiful and timely death of Muhammad Ali, the greatest heights we have seen of lived Islam in America, met the unsparing, grotesque horror of unimaginable, rapid fire violence and loss: Orlando, Chicago, the Mediterranean Sea, Yemen, Karachi, Mogadishu, Oaxaca, account after account of domestic and sexual violence, Istanbul, Chicago, Afghanistan, northern England, Dhaka, Baghdad, Chicago.
Light upon light; violence upon violence. Just as the moon appears larger near the horizon – an optical illusion playing tricks on our perception – truth also felt illusive, shattered into a million, crimson pieces. Slowness became fast.
In Ramadans past, the nights – and not bloodshed – were usually the inflection points. Night brought water, food, caffeine, and an oasis of coherence between long and sleepy days of deprivation. Night brought with it the seductiveness of redemption: prayer, focused desires, the distinction of and good conscious of feeling faithful. This year the inflection points have been chaotic waves of disruptive violence both near and far. This month the Ramadan moon’s magnificence shed light upon human darkness so great it scattered evil without the aid of any devil.
Lurking below the pursuit of seeking God this month has been something undeniably grotesque and frightening. Our impotent protests squashed, this faith of ours, this faith of many, this faith of more than a billion people continues to be branded with the madness, bloodshed, and violence of lost souls. Deep in the belly of the beast, we scream aloud that we are not of them, we are not like them, that violence hits us hardest but fewer and fewer listen. Further in, we point out that the violence of the ‘civilized’ is never measured, that the violent consequences of slavery, colonization, and the “new Jim Crow” is nothing new, never noticed even as it devastates many whose lives don’t seem to matter.
As another tree falls in the forest of our protests, violence continues to circle in on people who look like us, people who believe like us. As we seek and beg for protection from evil that cannot be chained, we are made conscious that far too many others see the devil when they see us. What a wretched fate. Are we really to find ourselves – let alone God – in this overwhelming sense of chaos?
And yet, in the incongruous fast and slow of this Ramadan, in this flood of digressive information, begins to surface a lesson I know I’ve seen before: within chaos lies unique strength. Maddeningly reductive storylines and popular, fear-based narratives coalesce with the freight-train momentum of crimson violence, unleashed bigotry, and the fear of uncertainty to bring a strange sort of spiritual climax – a magnified spiritual loneliness that could never be born out of order. This digressive course strangely brings us to what we hope most for in Ramadan, a pathway to God.
While the madness has been anything but a virtue for the suffering – what comes out of it is a beseeching like no other. Without the languid distraction of impeccable, immaculate, and easy to perform worship, a dynamic worship is possible. It is in these days that God and that which God loves becomes most magnetic.
Poets have written about this for centuries, before ink even existed. Great discovery arises out of chaos, from entering the space that is riskiest, least certain. Nothing that happens would have been possible without it, in fact. In chaos, lies another chance, coherence even. Stability flows out of disorder. The fleeting, the spectral, sheds light on the Eternal. It is of such moments – such times – that the thing is made in us that endures, that lasts, that brings us to eternity and God.
Chaos upon chaos; light upon Light. Freedom is the choice that arises out of rejecting enslavement and apathy. May our beseeching this Ramadan bring us to another more lasting place. This Ramadan, as in every Ramadan that came before and every Ramadan that will come after, the suffering and the spectacle are not for nothing. Tell God everything.
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Samar Kaukab is the Exective Director of Arete, a research accelerator at the University of Chicago. Passionate about the intersection between gender, Islam, and the lived experiences of Muslim women, she writes and serves on the Advisory Board for AltMuslimah. You can follow her on Twitter at @samarkaukab.
Related: Ibadat in Ramadan: process as piety