City of Brass

This is a guest post by Taha M. Raja.

Post 53. Today I started my journey on Arbaeen, a 53 mile walk from the city of Najaf to Kerbala. An annual event that marks one of the largest human gatherings in the world. I am at the 1/3 mark and I have experienced the best of the human spirit. The selfless giving camaraderie and the connection to the human experience, as the rich and the poor, the young and the old march for this destination. Along the way thousands serve you for your needs with no expectation from you except that you accept their humble help in assisting you on your walk. All in the name of Imam Husain AS. It has been an unbelievable experience so far. Arbaeen has 10 to 15 million walking this year possibly more. The event just started so who knows what the numbers will when it ends on Nov 9th.

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 222. It is maghreb. The sunset prayer time for Muslims. We have reached Post 222 where we had late lunch and rested. It was 104F today. So we decided to rest until maghreb and then proceed on our walk. Looking forward to seeing what the evening walk brings. The wave of humanity continuous 24hrs here during Arbaeen. We had just now a truck stop from the highway and the gentleman said “LaBaik Ya Husain” and then handed us fresh oranges and some ice cold water and sweet dry dates. A classic combination on this dry desert heat.

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 286. 7:30pm two hours after maghreb. Hungry we were hoping for a good meal. Many were serving but nothing looked interesting. Then we saw a large Iranian camp serving Koobideh and rice. Wow! Freshly cooked and they were serving to hundreds. The beauty of arbaeen, you just go to the food stall and pick up your meal. No questions asked. Whether you believe or not believe today you are part of Arbaeen.

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Photo by Taha M. Raja

Post 440. 10pm. We have completed almost 21 miles today. We have another 4 to 5 miles before we will rest for night. We will start back again at fajr (sunrise). Having hot lemon tea at a station relaxing on couches as helpers message your feet and help you along.

Taha is an avid professional photographer, and the founder of Brambleberry Tours, specializing in photography safari trips to East Africa. The next post in this series is Arbaeen, Day 2.

Call it the Weinstein Effect: other serial abusers are being systematically outed, not by single accusers by by legions of women speaking out in solidarity. This is why the #MeToo campaign exists, to provide collective voice and solidarity to women who are victims of sexual abuse but fear the consequences of speaking out alone. I truly believe that this is an inflection point in our culture.

Unfortunately, the success of #MeToo provides an irresistible bandwagon. Consider the headline of an essay in the New York Times by Asra Nomani: “The Weinstein of Islam.” Her piece is just a retread of a credible accusation against Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic professor in Europe who is no stranger to controversy. Nomani’s choice of headline, however, betrays her real agenda: not lending her moral support to #MeToo, but using it as a vehicle for her crusade against Islam.

Of Islam? What bearing does Ramadan’s, or Weinstein’s, or director James Tobak’s, religion have on their actions? Precisely none. Nomani deftly changed the conversation, from sexual abuse against women by men, to Islam. The editors subsequently changed the title to “avoid a misreading.” The original title should never have been published at all, but better late than never.

(Also worth reading: Hamid Dabashi’s piece at ALJ about the “astoundingly racist headline”)

Nomani is clearly unaware that the Muslim American community is not silent on this topic, and has confronted its own Imams accused of sexual misconduct and abuse. Has she not read Omer Muzaffar’s epic Facebook post outing Nouman Ali Khan? (this MuslimMatters article provides a comprehensive overview) Is she aware of the case against Imam Saleem in Chicago? Despite her feminist rhetoric, she is essentially AWOL from the front lines in the Muslim community she claims to represent. I doubt that she even knows HEART Women & Girls exists.

Nomani self-identifies as a Muslim activist and feminist. However, her recent claims to fame include proudly voting for Trump, encouraged Rep. Peter King’s “hearings” on American Muslim radicalism, supporting government surveillance of Muslim citizens and mosques, argued in favor of racial and religious profiling, and defended the illegal Muslim Ban executive order. Nomani even claimed to speak for “mainstream” Muslim women in making a religious case against hijab – and defines hijab as a symbol of a “dangerous purity culture, obsessed with honor and virginity.”.

(Also see Hoda Katebi’s post at Muslim Girl about the intrinsic Orientalism of Nomani’s hijab arguments; they were co-panelists at the Chicago Humanities Festival for a session on Hijab and Fashion).

In other words, Nomani consistently chooses authoritarianism over civil rights and freedom of religion when it comes to Muslims. Has Nomani spoken out about headscarf bans in Europe? Has she had any comment about the Uyghurs being forced to surrender their copies of the Qur’an and forcibly prevented from fasting? Has she expressed any sympathy for the Rohingya? I hope so, and would credit her for it. But I haven’t seen any evidence that her ideals on human freedom extend to Muslims in any part of the globe.

Meanwhile, Nomani sees feminist campaigns as mere vehicles for her main point: that Islam is flawed. That’s a fair opinion to have, though certainly unusual for someone who claims to be in the “mainstream” of Islam. There is a disturbing cynicism in her appropriation of #MeToo, made all the more clear in contrast with the intersectional method of Linda Sarsour’s activism.

The Weinstein scandal is a moment of real opportunity for lasting change. Similarly, the Muslim community is undergoing its own evolution and maturation in real time. It would be nice if Nomani were part of that wave of change, instead of just riding it.


Shabana Mir’s blog is (at least) a decade old! Congratulations, Shabana – Koonj (The Crane) is one of the pioneers of the Islamsphere, and earned a runner-up Brass Crescent Award as far back as 2006.

Shabana is just as relevant as ever though. Her latest post is a courageous piece inspired by the #MeToo movement on Facebook and Twitter. She is unsparing in her recollection, painful though it must be. However, there is truly a hero moment that I can’t resis excerpting, even though it is a spoiler of sorts:

He entered the shoe store, with ammi and me scuttling close behind, and turned and looked at me. “Which one?” he said. “Which one?” I pointed. And abbu rained on that man a shower of blows and kicks that he would never forget. I got the feeling that it wasn’t just to teach him a lesson, but to teach me as well – never to imagine that any man could get away with treating me like a piece of meat.

Yes, we normal men may be oblivious to the experiences of women as they face sexual assault in a thousand ways every day. These predators operate in the shadows of our obliviousness. Take that away, however, and see what happens.



Traveling to Karachi from the US is not easy. But traveling back is even worse.

I returned a couple weeks ago from my trip and have been coping with the usual jet lag and GI/respiratory baggage that comes from an extended trip to the far side. The pace of events during Ashara itself was too hectic for me to have any time to post while I was there, but now that I am back and mostly recovered, I can retrospectively write about the experience. And in retrospect, Karachi deserves a spotlight all its own.

Karachi is the living heart of Pakistan. It is Pakistan’s New York, its Mumbai, its London – the sprawling metropolis where everything happens, where everything matters. We were in the heart of the city, in the Saddar district, and to be honest there were few architectural landmarks visible from street level that were notable. The most important feature of the landscape, Jinnah’s tomb (above), was only visible from the hotel’s upper floors, and dominated accordingly.

The difference between Karachi and Mumbai is subtle at first, then gradually grows – the eyes first see similar things like juxtaposed high-end boutiques and street vendors, parks and dumps, condos and slums, with roads full of cabs,cars, and rickshaws. But the nastaliq script is everywhere, which immediately gives a sense of identity. Small signs on street medians that say “subhanallah” or “mashallah” convey the entanglement of faith and culture in a familiar instead of alien way. Instead of mandirs there are mosques, mosques everywhere – but still outnumbered by the shops and the old buildings. The sea glitters in the distance, glimpsed from an overpass, but seaside is far more industrial.

There is energy here and there is ambition. It is not a cynical place, Karachi, nor a world-weary one. It is not as cosmopolitan, but this is in a way a reason for its focus and its drive – it doesn’t need to cater to everyone, the city knows it audience and focuses accordingly.

Of course, there was the security. The Pakistani government was highly aware of the significance of Ashara sermons being conducted in the city for the first time in 21 years, in addition to the local Shi’a processions that are an annual tradition. Entering the environs of Taheri Masjid, where the sermons were conducted, was a bit like playing Call of Duty in real-life – large shipping containers blocked off all major access roads, with armed guards atop and below, and sniper nests on nearby rooftops. For the final days of Ashara, the city disabled all cell services, which would be unthinkably inconvenient in the US but simply accepted as necessary by the entire metropolis of 15 million people.

Karachi – and Pakistan – have a negative perception here in the US because the only filter is the lens of terror and conflict. And there is a reason for that filter. But it hardly captures the living reality of this amazing city, and proud nation. Pakistan is unique among Islamic countries, because it was conceived as an expression of Islamic democracy at the outset (setting aside the chaos of Partition, a gross and tragic failure of implementation). The founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, himself articulated his vision in various radio broadcasts as follows:

“Pakistan is the premier Islamic State and the fifth largest in the world. . . The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of men, justice and fair-play to everybody.”

The great majority of us are Muslims. We follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him). We are members of the brotherhood of Islam in which all are equal in rights, dignity and self-respect. Consequently, we have a special and a very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it.”

“You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of Islamic democracy, Islamic social justice and the equality of manhood in your own native soil.”

Jinnah did not conceive Pakistan as a theocracy, but rather a republic, and that vision has endured. Imperfect though it is, Pakistan tries, and by its own existence proves that Islam as a political entity is not limited to Caliphates like the Ottomans, Kingdoms like Saudi, or theocracies like Iran. This is why Pakistan matters, and this is why Karachi exists, because Karachi could exist nowhere else in the Islamic world.