City of Brass

City of Brass

Abrahamic Convergence – inspiration, forgiveness, and tragedy

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

This week is a truly portentous one for Muslims, Jews, and Catholics. In one week, we have Yom Kippur, the Day of Arafat and Eid ul Adha, and Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States. I like the term “Abrahamic Convergence” for this sort of thing – it emphasizes the commonality of themes in our faiths.

For example, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement – the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, in which Jews undertake a day-long fast from sunset to sunset, no food or water. This is a day of repentance for Jews, seeking forgiveness for their sins. The Day of Arafat is a day of rebirth, in which Muslims pray for their sins to be cleansed, and emerge renewed – the spiritual climax of the Hajj pilgrimage. Muslims worldwide observe a fast on Yawme Arafat, with the exception of those actually on the Hajj. These parallels are not mere coincidence – we share our worship of Creator and as Muslims and Jews alike are beneficiaries of His mercy and love.


This week was marked by an amazing moment of inspiration: yesterday the Pope’s motorcade in Washington DC was charmingly interrupted by a 5-year old girl who got the blessing of a lifetime:

This week also saw a horrific scene of tragedy: a stampede in the tent city of Mina that resulted in over 700 pilgrims crushed to death. Here is just one example of a (relatively tame) photo making rounds on social media of the immediate aftermath:



Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un.

Despite the tragedy, there is also cause for celebration. Eid ul-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, follows Arafat and is a time of family and food and coming together. The seminal activity of Eid ul adha is the zabihah (humane slaughter) of goats and lamb, to feed the poor. The day after we have renewed ourselves of sin, our first duty is charity. And this week, that essence of charity was best articulated by Pope Francis, who said in his address to the US Congress, “I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”


This has been a week of hope, despair, innocence, humility, atonement, and rebirth. Whether pilgrims are flocking to see their Pope or engaged in the rituals of Hajj, Whether the faithful are congregating in synagogues or in their homes, the raw faith that that motivates them is a testament to the power of our shared belief in God and the enduring legacy of our religions’ teachings. Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike have much to reflect on this week.

Related: Pope Francis’ message to Muslims, and the convergence of Eid ul Adha and Thanksgiving a few years ago.


Anticipating Ashara: Reflections on Grief and the Remembrance of Imam Husain SA

posted by Aziz Poonawalla


This is a guest post by Durriya Badani.

Ek Husain na gam si va, koi gam na dikhave.” (“May you know no other grief than the grief of Husain.”)

An exquisitely simple, yet deeply profound prayer for mumineen by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS, the same wish uttered by his father, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA and his father before him.

We hear this simple statement so often, and so as the days of Ashura and the remembrance of Imam Husain come closer, I wanted to take a moment to reflect and ask, why do we grieve? Why do we mourn? Why must we remember? Is there a purpose for our grief? In particular, what is the purpose of our grief for Imam Husain?


Though Aqa Moula wishes for us otherwise, many of us have come to know grief personally, intimately. For myself, a tragic death claimed the life of someone I love, and since that time Grief entered my life permanently. Grief has been a constant companion, my friend – the one I would much rather do without, but who refuses to leave me. Some days she is quiet and still, other days outspoken and demanding attention. Some days she consumes me. There are days I embrace her, and other days I ignore her. Most days we fight. However, she has been with me for some years now and though painful, it is through her – my companion Grief that I am always reminded that I lost something precious, that I am changed, that who I was before is not who I am now.


My own loss taught me not simply of the nature of grief, but of its significance – its ability to heal, to cleanse, and powerfully to transform. Yet, this loss is only a personal loss, one which cannot be measured against the depth of the collective loss of Imam Husain. And Imam Husain was not an ordinary man, nor his death an ordinary death. Our Dai, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, uses the words of his beloved father to remind us “Husain to Husain che.”. Imam Husain’s uniqueness permeates each detail of his childhood, his upbringing, his family, and most importantly his death, details which are lovingly recounted during the much anticipated days of Ashara. And as they are recounted, we grieve, we mourn, we cry, we do matam, and we are transformed.


Throughout his life Imam Husain was exceptional, but with his death, Imam Husain made our lives exceptional. He transformed us. His selfless sacrifice and infinite sabr (patience) is best exemplified in his final moments where despite his countless wounds, Imam Husain finds the strength to perform his final sajda – thus ensuring with his Dua that generations and generations of mumineen will flourish.

We grieve Imam Husain SA to honor, to remember, and to pay tribute. For Imam Husain, our grief for his death should rightly be our ever constant companion, for it is his enduring sacrifice and sabr that serves as the core of who we are as mumineen. Yet, our beloved Moula only asks us to embrace this grief for the nine days of Ashara alone. Nine days in which every niyyat, word and action should be enveloped in the grief of Imam Husain. Nine days after which we emerge enlightened and guided, rejuvenated and recharged, cleansed and transformed.


Surely, we can respond to our Dai’s call. Surely, we can answer, surely we can say wholeheartedly to our Moula, Labbaik Ya Dai Allah Labbaik!

Amate Syedna,
Durriya Shk. Zoher Ghadiali (Badani)

Durriya Badani serves as Director of Near East and South Asia at the Global Initiative for Civil Society and Conflict at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.


the 12th Annual Brass Crescent Awards – nominations open

posted by Aziz Poonawalla


It’s that time of the year again!

What are the Brass Crescent Awards? Created in 2004 by Shahed Amanullah and Aziz Poonawalla, they are named for the Story of the City of Brass in the Thousand and One Nights. Today, the Brass Crescent – bloggers, artists, writers – is the modern equivalent of 1001 Tales – our stories are not about genies and sultans, but our faith, our culture, and our identity. The Brass Crescent Awards exist to promote our modern storytellers, who are forging a new synthesis of Islam and modernity, and are the intellectual heirs to centuries of philosophy that were the hallmark of Islamic civilizations past. Islam transcends history, and the Brass Crescent is forging history anew for tomorrow’s Islam.


This year the BCA are revamped with categories more focused on how people use the web in the social media era. Of course we still have Best Blog, but there are new categories like Best Instagram Feed and Best Hashtag. The blogsphere isn’t the only footprint of Muslims online anymore and the BCA has been evolving right alongside.

Here are the category descriptions this year in full:

BEST MUSLIM BLOG: Even in the age of social media, blogs are still alive and relevant. Which one does everyone still need to read? This category honors the most indispensable, Muslim-authored blog there is. Period.

BEST FEMALE BLOGGER: The woman’s voice is often unheard, unless we make extra effort to listen. And online spaces are filled with talented and important voices. Which blogs best represents those voices and are deserving of attention?


BEST ARTICLE OR BLOG POST: Even in a world of social media, people still tend to share links to actual articles or posts that connected with them in some way. Which article or blog post provoked the most discussion this year?

BEST WEBSITE: Some of the best platforms to express Muslim identity are traditional websites that convey information in both traditional and innovative ways. Which websites did the best job this year in contributing to Muslim online spaces?

BEST MOBILE APP: Mobile apps allow you to take an experience with you, and can connect you with communities, information, and events. Which mobile apps are designed to best enhance the Muslim experience?

BEST CAMPAIGN OR INITIATIVE: We now have multiple tools to help organize people, raise funds, and bring awareness to situations that need our attention. Which campaign best exemplified Islamic values and made the most difference?


BEST TWITTER HANDLE: Twitter has become a powerful tool to project ideas, organize for change, and influence the influencers. Which Twitter feed has done this in creative, consistent ways over the past year?

BEST HASHTAG: Hashtags can be used on any social media platform to convey so much more than the sum of their letters: a social campaign, meta commentary, or layers of sarcasm. Which hashtag grabbed the attention of the world?

BEST TWEET: Sometimes a sentence of 140 characters or less can travel the world and touch millions of people in only a matter of hours. Which tweet from last year made an impact that generated a vital conversation?

BEST PHOTO OR GRAPHIC: Whether it is an unfiltered iPhone 6 photo, a filtered Instagram post, a creative infographic, or a Photoshopped composite, which one of these spoke the proverbial thousand words to its viewers?


BEST MEME: They are so simple to make – a photo with words on top and bottom – but they convey ideas and humor effectively over social media. Which ones really strike a nerve or funny bone among digital Muslims?

BEST PODCAST OR VIDEO BLOG: It’s one thing to put out great online content – it’s another thing to do it on a regular basis and keep people continually entertained and/or informed. Which podcasts, video blogs, and YouTube channels make the cut?

BEST VIRAL VIDEO: These days, anyone can take a GoPro, a laptop, and a copy of FinalCut/Premiere and make something amazing. What short video took creativity to a new level, spread like wildfire, and made people laugh or think?

BEST INSTAGRAM FEED: Instagram is not just for foodie pictures anymore – it is used by journalists, small business owners, and celebrities. Which Instagram feed is the most creative and engaging online photo feed?

Nominations are open until September 10th so get your picks in!!


Obvious: The Iraq War created ISIS

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Iraq War Consequences by Steve Sack

Iraq War Consequences by Steve Sack

This is something that is so obvious, it is in danger of never being said, in which case those who led us into war will try to pretend it isn’t true as they argue the case for the next one. Simply put – the Iraq War (a war of choice, irrelevant to 9-11, sold to the public on the basis of weapons of mass destruction that never existed) is directly responsible for the rise of ISIS:


In the broadest view, Isis seems the product of a catastrophic war – the Anglo-American assault on Iraq. There is no doubt that the ground for it was prepared by this systematic devastation – the murder and displacement of millions, which came after more than a decade of brutalisation by sanctions and embargoes. The dismantling of the Iraqi army, de-Ba’athification and the Anglo-American imprimatur to Shia supremacism provoked the formation in Mesopotamia of al-Qaida, Isis’s precursor. Many local factors converged to make Isis’s emergence possible last year: vengeful Sunnis; reorganised Ba’athists in Iraq; the co-dependence of the west on despotic allies (al-Sisi, al-Maliki) and incoherence over Syria; the cynical manoeuvres of Assad; Turkey’s hubristic neo-Ottomanism, which seems exceeded in its recklessness only by the actions of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.


The failure of the Arab Spring has also played a part. Tunisia, its originator, has sent the largest contingent of foreign jihadis to Iraq and Syria. Altogether an estimated 17,000 people, mostly young men, from 90 countries have travelled to Syria and Iraq to offer their services to Isis. Dozens of British women have gone, despite the fact that men of Isis have enslaved and raped girls as young as 10 years old, and stipulated that Muslim girls marry between the ages of nine and 17, and live in total seclusion. “You can easily earn yourself a higher station with God almighty,” a Canadian insurrectionist, Andre Poulin, exhorted in a video used by Isis for online recruitment, “by sacrificing just a small bit of this worldly life.”

Ironically, had we done nothing in Iraq, the Arab Spring might have succeeded – in Iraq first. And that might have resulted in different outcomes in Egypt, in Syria…

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