Advertisement

City of Brass

City of Brass

Valentine’s Day Mubarak!

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

4352135116_5968f26b8e_m

Happy VDay to all! Or, belated VDay depending on your madhab – according to Saudi moonsighting Valentine’s was yesterday 😉

The Gujarati origins of what was then known as “Velan-time Day” are well-established in the historical record. Rather than buy into the predictable Dour Mullah narrative, let’s celebrate the virtues of mohabbat on Valentine’s Day. And part of that is to take a somber moment to remember the victims of domestic abuse, exemplified by Aasiya Zubair.

Advertisement

Then, go out there and get your loved ones candy and flowers. Or in my case, a most excellent “The Answer is 42″ t-shirt, since it’s also my birthday and per Douglas Adams, this blog is officially the home of Deep Thought.

candy_heart_with_crescent_moon_and_star_sticker-rd77a2f0679d34c5aa61f4805d92c44c1_v9waf_8byvr_512

Advertisement

Obama quoted my letter about my daughter

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

PastedGraphic-1

This is a guest post by Ali Asghar Alibhai.

There is no question that the America my generation grew up in is much different than the America of now. I grew up in West Texas, a place that some might consider as among the most conservative in the country; yet, I don’t ever remember my parents having to shield my ears from anti-Muslim rhetoric blasting over news channels or cover my eyes from protesters standing outside my community center openly carrying guns. I never once remember seeing a news headline on TV as ridiculous as “Does Islam Promote Violence?” I went to school, I was loved and nurtured by my teachers, and although I understood there were some cultural differences between myself and my peers, I never was made to feel like a social anomaly. I was raised to believe that all opportunities were available to me and my religion or race would never be a factor that could prevent me from reaching my goals.

Advertisement

American society in a post 9/11 environment has changed drastically. The right for American citizens to feel secure has in turn quashed many other fundamental rights of all Americans – especially American Muslims. For instance, the right to privacy was diminished through a call for surveillance; national borders and airports were made unwelcome by ‘random screening’ or in other words a right to discriminate openly. Airplanes and public transport have all become uncomfortable for Muslims and even for those riding with them because of a false perceived notion that all Muslims are potentially dangerous. A smoke screen has been deployed in the name of national security, bolstered by politicians and the media for the past fifteen years which has made it impossible for many to draw clear lines between what is bigotry, hatred, racism, and prejudice at one end, and what is lawful vigilance, safety, and security on the other. Most of all, we have given up our basic human right to trust the goodness in one another.

Advertisement

I now have a seven year old daughter and she’s a bright girl. I know all parents think their child is the smartest, but her aptitude to analyze, solve problems, and provide compassionate solutions surprises me each day. She’s a genuinely kind and gentle human being. Being a father, I now clearly understand what people mean when they talk about childhood innocence, as I see her grow each day. Her aspirations and goals are amazing, too. She’s truly excited about life and, everyday, she wants to be something new when she grows up – sometimes a writer, an astronaut, and even the President of the United States. Although I support Bernie Sanders she recently told me she would like to support Hillary Clinton because she thinks it is amazing that a woman might be the President and her husband will “have to live with her” in the White House. I truly admire my brewing little feminist.

Advertisement

However, after witnessing all of this positivity and energy emanating from her, I actually get disheartened. I never imagined she would have to grow up in an America where you have actual people, running in a presidential election, who openly declare that my daughter can never be President because her religious values, her upbringing, and her integrity are somehow less stellar than those of her classmates at school, that her goodness is somehow un-American because of her faith. Because some people who lead this country openly discriminate against Muslims in their speeches and rhetoric, I worry every day that she will have to bear the burden of having to choose between how she can express herself through her faith and the opportunities that might come across her way in life. For instance, what will happen if she decides to wear a rida (the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim version of the hijab) like her mom? Will she want to wear it confidently with pride or be scared because the environment she is surrounded by is hostile to her clothing? I worry – because this is the America I see now on the media each day. It is no longer that wonderful innocent environment that I remember from my early childhood days in Texas.

Advertisement

When you have so many institutions in America openly spewing hate about you, your culture, and your way of life it isn’t unreasonable to feel a certain sense of hopelessness. Most Muslims, in whatever capacity they identify with Islam, don’t see any connection between their values, culture, daily lives, and religious beliefs with issues like terrorism and national security. Yet on a daily basis we are forced to hear from external entities that we are part of the violence from terrorism and that we should apologize for our faith. No matter which denomination of Islam one follows, our faith is foremost a call towards keeping good character, praying, exerting patience, giving charity, and doing good deeds. It is a way of life and gives those who choose to practice it a sense of inner peace. Yes, there are Muslims who have carried out violent attacks and justified them through their perverted interpretations of Islam – but anyone with common sense knows that this doesn’t account for the majority of Muslims. But because of the disproportionate misunderstanding of Muslims and Muslim culture within American society, and because of the power that fear can generate, Muslims have become the targeted culture for political scapegoating at this moment in history. Evidently, given the current political environment this isn’t going away any time soon. Because of all of this, I began to feel that I might never be good enough – that Zahra might never be good enough. I was suddenly truly a second class citizen, not by metaphor but by reality.

Advertisement

When President Obama gave his final State of the Union address and called out against the bigotry and hatred being hurled at Muslim Americans by Republican presidential candidates, the looming cloud of hopelessness which had gathered in my head started to disperse. Having honestly felt the sincerity of the President’s words I was compelled to write him and thank him for standing up for me, for Zahra, and all other Muslim Americans who love this country yet feel that their voices, their accomplishments, and their contribution to society is being deliberately masked by the current anti-Muslim climate and rhetoric in the country. My letter to the president was an abridged version of all the sentiments I have expressed here, and I specifically told him how I feel like a second class citizen.

Advertisement

A few days ago I was walking to work. My phone is usually on silent and most of my friends know that calling me is pretty useless because it’s a miracle if I actually pick up. This time my phone happened to be in my hands and I saw that there was an unknown caller on the screen. I picked up and Terry from the White House greeted me and informed me that he was calling regarding a letter I wrote to the President in January. He told me that the President would like to speak about it when he visits the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday. He specifically mentioned that the President would like to mention the part where I said that I feel like a second class citizen.

As you can imagine I was speechless. When I wrote to the President in January I knew that he only reads about ten letters a day, so although I was hopeful I never imagined my message of gratitude and concern about American Muslim society would make it to his desk. So it is surprising when you get a phone call from the office of the most famous and powerful man in the world saying that the President read your letter and would like to reference it in his speech. Somehow I found the poise to carry on the conversation and say that I was truly honored and of course the President may mention my letter. I expressed that what I had written in my letter was the truth of how many Muslim Americans besides myself feel.

Advertisement

Although my letter’s reference might have only received a sound bite or two during the President’s entire speech, he addressed all my concerns in his speech. Most of us Muslim Americans are worried about our children, and how they shouldn’t have to struggle between identity and acceptance. They should be judged on their achievements and merits – and certainly not on their personal beliefs. We don’t want our children growing up in an America where they have to hide who they are or forfeit their right to self-expression. And for many of us in our third and fourth generations as Americans – this country is and will always be our only home. Therefore, as Muslims, we must equally do our part to make our communities more vibrant while strengthening their weave within the fabric of American society. We have to take steps at educating our neighbors and friends about our faith and culture – in whatever forms we can. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to rising bigotry and hatred, and I thank the President for helping us take the first step. Now it is up to us to find the most effective ways to bring back one of our most fundamental rights as not only Americans but as human beings – and that is the right to be able to trust one another and let compassion drive our actions and thoughts rather than bigotry, hate, and prejudice.

Advertisement

Ali Asgar H. Alibhai is a PhD candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Harvard University. He works on socio-cultural history and material culture, particularly in the western Mediterranean. His project, The Arabesque, seeks to educate people about medieval Islamic history through craft. He currently lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife and daughter.

Advertisement

Who was Saudi Shi’a Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr?

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Shi'a cleric executed in Saudi Arabia

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Shi’a cleric executed in Saudi Arabia

Yesterday, the Saudi government executed the Shi’a cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as an enemy of the state. His nephew, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr (who was 17 when arrested), is in prison and sentenced to death by crucifixion, though there is still time for diplomacy to intervene.

Advertisement

Naturally, Shi’a worldwide were enraged, and the Iranian government did its part to fan the flames of outrage, including burning down the Saudi embassy in Tehran. I personally am skeptical that this is the straw that breaks the back of the House of Saud, but we will see. Nimr is being used as a geopolitical pawn between Iran and Saudi Arabia sectarian rivalry:

Nimr’s case also became a cause celebre across the Shia world, framed in geopolitical as well as humanitarian terms. His fate was linked to the broader, region-wide struggle for power and influence between the Sunni sphere, championed by the House of Saud, on the one hand, and the theocrats of Iran, the most powerful majority Shia state, on the other. Iran repeatedly demanded Nimr’s release, warning Riyadh in October, when his death sentence was confirmed, that executing him would place a “heavy price on Saudi Arabia”.

Advertisement

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei made the point clear – tweeting in support of Nimr:

Advertisement

This is a deeply ironic (ie, hypocritical) tweet considering that Khamanei was not so supportive of “Awakenings” during the Green Revolution six years ago.

Iran is also an unlikely champion for the rights of religious minorities, given their oppression of the Baha’i. (See BahaiRights.org for more).

The transmogrification of Nimr into a sectarian/geopolitical football was inevitable. But the real question is, who was Nimr al-Nimr? What did he really believe in and advocate? Almost no one with an opinion about him today on Twitter or Facebook has any real idea.

Advertisement

The answer is not to be found on mainstream news or social media. As it happens, there is a CIA telegram cable (08RIYADH1283_a) detailing an interview of Nimr in 2008 by intelligence and diplomatic personnel. This cable is now public domain thanks to Wikileaks, and contains a detailed background on Nimr, the results of the interview, and analysis. The entire cable is absolutely a must-read, but I will excerpt two sections: the executive summary, and final commentary.

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: In an August 13 meeting with PolOff,
controversial Shi’a sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr sought to
distance himself from previously reported pro-Iranian and
anti-American statements, instead adopting a less radical
tone on topics such as the relationship between Iran and the
Saudi Shi’a, and American foreign policy. Arguing that he is
portrayed publicly as much more radical than the true content
of his words and beliefs, the Sheikh also espoused other
conciliatory ideas such as fair political decision-making
over identity-based politics, the positive impact of
elections, and strong “American ideals” such as liberty and
justice. Despite this more moderate tone, Al-Nimr reasserted
his ardent opposition to what he described as the
authoritarianism of the reactionary al-Saud regime, stating
he would always support “the people” in any conflict with the
government. He also continued to argue for the right of the
Saudi Shi’a community to seek external assistance if it were
to become embroiled in a conflict. The Sheikh was also
cognizant of the increased profile that his strong language
has earned him, saying that his fiery words continue to
attract interest from an increasing percentage of the Shi’a
community, particularly young people. END SUMMARY.

Advertisement

Intermediate sections:

Background on al-Nimr (Sections 2, 3)
Al-Nimr on his Loyalties (Section 4)
Al-Nimr on Iran, the United States (Sections 5-8)
Al-Nimr on the Saudi Arabian Government (SAG) (Sections 9-12)

Then, the final commentary:

13. (S/NF) Al-Nimr’s private remarks were consistent with his
previous public statements in their disregard for the SAG,
their support of foreign intervention on behalf of the Saudi
Shi’a, and their inferences that the Sheikh at the very least
will not denounce the idea of violent uprising. On the
sensitive topic of Iran, however, the Sheikh eagerly
attempted to divorce himself from the image of being an
Iranian agent. Likewise, the Sheikh was much more
complimentary of the U.S. – perhaps even somewhat disarming
in his recounting of U.S. foreign policy in World War II, the
Cold War, and the Carter administration – than he has been
previously portrayed. Though it is certainly possible that
al-Nimr changed his tune on these issues for the company of a
U.S. diplomat, the pace, passion and certainty with which he
spoke seemed to reflect true belief, and not cold political
calculation or manipulation. In any case, his ideas seem to
be internally contradictory. While it might be possible at a
theoretical level to distance himself from Iran while also
arguing the right of Saudi Shi’a to seek foreign assistance,
at the de facto level Iran is certainly the only country at
this time that might work with the Saudi Shi’a to undermine
SAG control – a future Shi’a Iraq being the only other actor
of any possibility. It is perhaps this reality that leads
some local analysts to believe that al-Nimr would not
hesitate to join Iranian agents in a possible uprising.

Advertisement

14. (S/NF) Also notable for the purpose of predicting
al-Nimr’s future behavior was his recognition of his own
growing popularity, an observation supported by many in the
community. Post contacts have described al-Nimr as someone
who in previous years was largely an apolitical religious
figure, and is still a secondary player in local politics.
These contacts point to the death of Ayatollah Shirazi as the
moment when al-Nimr began to take more political stances, his
politicization a product of desire for greater community
influence. Assuming al-Nimr’s primary goals are greater
rights for Shi’a and greater personal influence, it would
seem his plan will be to continue forcefully calling for
reform and creating unrest, endearing him to the disaffected,
and fitting with his vision of instability as being the only
catalyst for real change in the Kingdom.

There is a real risk that Nimr’s execution will exacerbate sectarian tension. Therefore I think that it is vital that people have at least a general understanding of what Nimr himself believed, rather than allow him to be defined by either Saudi Arabia, or Iran.

Advertisement

Hijab Wars

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

queen-amidala-hijab

It’s fundamentally problematic for a man to weigh in on hijab. That hasn’t stopped me from wading into the topic before (see: The Burka and the Bikini), but the only conversation of substance that can happen on the topic is between Muslim women, particularly those who wear it and those who don’t. Any discussion about hijab where a male is doing the talking is probably a waste of your time, my efforts included.

Advertisement

In the past 24 hours, however, a genuine debate about hijab, between Muslim women, has indeed arisen. It started when a woman professor at an Evangelical Christian university donned hijab in solidarity with Muslim women, and got fired (though not technically for wearing hijab, but rather expressing the Catholic view that Allah and God are one, which contradicts the Protestant view). There’s a whole spontaneous movement of non-Muslim women wearing hijab, in fact, which sparked its own tangential debate about the tension between American feminism and hijab. (Essential reading: the dangers of modesty-shaming by Nadiah Mohajir).

Advertisement

Muslim women who wear hijab are, by virtue of the iconic headscarf, on the frontline when it comes to Islamophobia, which is at an all-time high due to the Presidential election. Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab are not identifiably Muslim and thus they do not experience Islamophobia the same way that hijab-wearers do. This is why the act of solidarity of wearing hijab is so powerful.

Enter Asra Nomani, who decided the real issue is not Islamophobia, but an “Honor Brigade” who force Muslim women to wear hijab. Nomani falls squarely into the “Islamic feminism is an oxymoron” category of thought, and the movement of hijab solidarity offended her enough to provoke her to op-ed in the Washington Post: “As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the ‘hijab’ in the name of interfaith solidarity”.

Advertisement

Dilshad Ali, editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos, and an absolutely badass feminist who puts Furiosa and Rey to shame, wrote a response to Nomani, entitled “Please Do (If You Want) Wear the Headscarf in the Name of Interfaith Solidarity”

I think that the best thing men can do here is to sit down, look pretty, and shut up. Actually, there is one way in which I can contribute meaningfully – Let’s get some data! I am running two polls on Twitter, which will expire in 24 hours. You can vote in the appropriate poll below. It should go without saying, but please do not vote in this poll if you are male, or if you are a non-Muslim. Obviously this isn’t a scientific poll but it does at least ground the debate in some empiricism.

Advertisement

Step 1: read the two essays

  • Asra: As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the ‘hijab’ in the name of interfaith solidarity
  • Dilshad: Please Do (If You Want) Wear the Headscarf in the Name of Interfaith Solidarity
  • Step 2: vote in this poll if you are a Muslim woman who wears hijab:

    Step 3: vote in this poll if you are a Muslim woman who does not wear hijab:

    Advertisement

    … step 4, thank Donald Trump for being the prime mover in triggering this debate.

    UPDATE: Haroon Moghul has a landmark series of tweets that take Asra Nomani to task for trying to change the subject. It’s worth emphasising that Haroon is not commenting on the hijab – he is commenting on the call for “reform” by Asra.

    Previous Posts

    Valentine's Day Mubarak!
    Happy VDay to all! Or, belated VDay depending on your madhab - according to Saudi moonsighting Valentine's was yesterday ;) The Gujarati origins of what was then known as "Velan-time Day" are well-established in the historical record. Rather ...

    posted 10:45:17am Feb. 14, 2016 | read full post »

    Obama quoted my letter about my daughter
    This is a guest post by Ali Asghar Alibhai. There is no question that the America my generation grew up in is much different than the America of now. I grew up in West Texas, a place that some might consider as among the most conservative in ...

    posted 1:30:00pm Feb. 04, 2016 | read full post »

    Who was Saudi Shi'a Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr?
    Yesterday, the Saudi government executed the Shi'a cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as an enemy of the state. His ...

    posted 2:12:32pm Jan. 03, 2016 | read full post »

    Hijab Wars
    It's fundamentally problematic for a man to weigh in on hijab. That hasn't stopped me from wading into the topic before (see: The Burka and the Bikini), but the only conversation of substance that can happen on the topic is between Muslim women, ...

    posted 3:13:28am Dec. 22, 2015 | read full post »

    Misquoted verses in the Qur'an (and the Bible)
    This is a popular graphic that makes the ruonds on Facebook from time to time, so I thought I'd publish it here for reference. These five verses are among the most common ones that Islamophobes use to justify arguments that Muslims are evil ...

    posted 12:15:12pm Dec. 15, 2015 | read full post »

    Advertisement


    Report as Inappropriate

    You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

    All reported content is logged for investigation.