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City of Brass

City of Brass

the Day of Arafat: renewal

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Today is the Day of Arafat, where the pilgrims arrive and engage in prayer while standing and facing towards the sun. Then in the evening they will depart for muzdalifah in time for Eid ul Adha the next day.

The Day of Arafat is a critical one, because it is at this point that the muslim is truly reborn, washed clean of sin and forgiven. It is a symbolic Judgment Day, and no muslim who experiences it comes away without at least some resolve to reform and renew themselves in their faith.
Interestingly, the Hajj as a whole has played an analogous role for Islamic culture as the Plain of Arafat does for the individual muslim. Those who embark upon Hajj, and stand upon Arafat, are changed, and they return to their homelands with that change in tow. The result is that Hajj reshapes the hajji, and the hajjis reshape the Islamic world.
My friend Razib Khan noted this trend a few years ago, while reading A History of Muslim Societies:

In the chapters in the above book on 19th century Indian Islam I noted something interesting: reformist neo-orthodox movements are repeatedly attributed to hajjiis, those who made the pilgrimage to Mecca,
in particular those who had resided in the city for long periods of
time. The prestige that they attained upon their return resulted in
their initiation of “reforms” to bring local practices (often loosely
classified as “Sufi”) into line with Meccan norms. The same “reforms”
were initiated by Hui
who had returned from Mecca. And sure enough, the chapter on Southeast
Asian Islam notes that the modernist reformist Muslims who rose to
challenge the traditional expressions of Javanese Islam were also
inspired by movements founded by hajjiis!

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The impact of hajjis upon their home cultures is undeniable – hajjis are accorded a deference and respect simply by virtue of having literally completed a fifth of their total lifetime religious obligations in one grueling physical marathon. Razib assumes that hajjis tend to act as a normative force, bringing their diverse societies more into line with what they observed in Mecca, but I think he is mistaken – hajjis do not imbibe Meccan Islam, they actually bring their own traditions with them, so if anything Hajj is where the diverse strands of Islam mix and meet and evolve. The hajjis then take a bit of that diversity and adaptation home with them, where it influences their home cultures. 
The Saudi establishment may think it is succeeding in enforcing its normative vision of Islam during the Hajj, but all they really succeed in doing is inculcate a resentment against them and an undermining of whatever religious authority they may possess. For example, my friend Taha Raja, who performed Hajj in 1427, lamented how the Saudi authorities prevented Shi’a from paying their respects at the sacred burial ground of Jannatul Baqi:

the Saudi local police has a huge banner outside which says that one
should not consider coming to the gravesite anything but a reminder of
death and what it means to you. It says, paying respects to the dead
should not be more than just that. They misuse a hadith to make this
point. This is all well and good, but again Islam is a huge body of
people with many different interpretation. We are not here to debate
who is right and wrong but rather to allow muslims of various
traditions to express himself freely and show the beautiful diversity
of our culture. Why keep the Baqi grounds closed at all times except
for a meager 3 hours in a day? Why prevent people from allowing them to
pay their respect their way at the gravesite? What purpose does it
serve for the police other than impose and opress their own Muslim
brothers? 
[…]
It is sad that the Saudi government is trapped in
their Wahabi principles and are missing the opportunity to serve their
fellow brothers and show the diversity and yet unity in Islam. Instead
of receiving barakaat (blessings) of prayers from their Muslim brothers
for serving them, they receive the wrath of Millions of Muslims feeling
a little disappointed after every Haj. What a missed opportunity
indeed!!!

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That resentment against the rigid doctrine of the Saudi authorities is a source of energy that helps keep these traditions alive. 
However, it is also true that performing Hajj does tend to increase the muslim’s religious orthodoxy (and thus, orthopraxy). The muslim comes away from Hajj with a sense of purpose and renewed determination for their religion. But the association between religious orthodoxy and religious intolerance of the kind promoted by the Saudi establishment is a false one:

Our recent study of Pakistani pilgrims shows that while performing
the hajj leads to greater religious orthodoxy, it also increases
pilgrims’ desire for peace and tolerance toward others (to read the
study, go to http://ssrn.com/abstract=1124213). And this greater tolerance is not just toward fellow Muslims  –  it also extends to non-Muslims.

Pilgrims are more observant of orthodox religious practice even five
to eight months after returning from the hajj. They are 16 percent more
likely to pray, 26 percent more likely to do so regularly in the
mosque, and double their likelihood of non-obligatory fasting.
Interestingly, however, pilgrims are less likely to believe and
participate in localized religious practices, such as using amulets.

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What may be surprising to some is that the hajj makes pilgrims more
tolerant of both fellow Muslims and non-Muslims. The experience of
diversity on the hajj really does seem to matter: Hajjis have more
positive views about people from other Muslim countries and are more
likely to believe that different Pakistani ethnic and Islamic sectarian
groups are equal and that they can live in harmony. Despite non-Muslims
not being part of the hajj experience, these views also extend to
adherents of other religions: Pilgrims are 22 percent more likely to
declare that people of different religions are equal and 11 percent
more likely to state that different religions can live in harmony by
compromising over their disagreements.

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Paralleling the findings on tolerance, hajjis report more positive
views on women’s abilities, greater concern for their quality of life,
and are also more likely to favor educating girls and women
participating in the workforce.

Hajjis are also less likely to support the use of violence and show
no evidence of any increased hostility toward the West. They are more
than twice as likely to declare that the goals of Osama bin Laden are
incorrect, more likely to express a preference for peace between
Pakistan and India, and more likely to declare that it is incorrect to
physically punish someone if they have dishonored the family. Hajjis
also become more sensitive to crimes against women.

It is clear therefore that Hajj represents an annual infusion not just of religious devotion, but also religious compassion and tolerance, into the broader muslim polity. 

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giving aid and comfort to terrorists

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Rod Dreher approvingly quotes Steve Emerson about what an outrage it is that the various news channels omitted the adjective, “Islamic” from all descriptions of the extremists who terrorized Mumbai last weekend. Emerson argues that the omission is “craven” and “politically correct”:

It is time to stop caving in to the PC crowd. If we refuse to use the term Islamic terrorist, we conveniently take away any onus of responsibility for Islamic groups to halt the murderous ideology they propagate. In fact, in nearly EVERY claim of responsibility, which I studied, for hundreds of violent Islamic attacks which took place since 9/11, the common justification by the Muslim terrorist perpetrator was that there was a “war against Muslims” by the West and the Jews that had to be avenged. The real truth is that there is war against the West and the Jews by Islamic jihadists. And no amount of territorial withdrawal or peace negotiations will assuage them.

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Emerson says that the “onus of responsibility” for these murderous ideologies rests upon muslim groups as a whole. I reject that categorically; muslims have condemned and rejected the terror ideology time and again, and we will not submit to the loyalty test mentality. A million muslims marching in the streets would not dampen the murderous resolve of even one armed fanatic. We muslims who are loyal, law-abiding and patriotic citizens have no responsibility for the actions of these barbarians, nor should we apologize for them.
I also do not comprehend why Emerson finds the ravings of terrorist madmen barbarians so credible. Yes, these thugs “justify” their actions (slaughtering innocents, in direct contravention to Qur’an 5:32) by claiming that the West is waging a war against Islam. Does Emerson believe that to be true? Does Emerson think that the average mainstream muslim like myself believes that to be true? And what benefit does our usage of the word “Islamic terrorist” actually confer with regards to that specific belief, anyway? Emerson never explains the relevance, his argument is essentially just hand-waving.
Emerson says that there is a real war being waged on the West (and Jews) by these madmen. Well, I agree with that. But given that we are waging war against them in return, and them only (and not all of Islam as they like to claim), doesn’t use of the phrase “Islamic terror” actually cloud the issue rather than clarify who our enemies are?
Emerson simply has no argument that these phrases would confer any benefit. In fact, using the terms “Islamofascism” and “Islamic terror” etc actually do more harm than good, because they confer religious legitimacy upon the terrorists that they desperately seek. They try to claim they are waging a holy war (jihad), but in actuality they are committing hirabah, not jihad. The use of these terms helps them in their own propaganda that they are acting on behalf of Islam and that the West is engaged in a war against the faith. Ironically, the very reasons that Emerson quotes as for why we should use these terms, are actually the very reasons we should not!
Related reading: My affirmation of four principles of freedom, supported by Qur’anic citation. Also, an important followup to my initial hirabah post, titled hirabah, the muharabib, and hujjat. Also, I am fond of this post which discusses the issue of whether collateral damage is morally acceptable and whether there is any such thing as a civilian.

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The terrorists must not win

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
This is a guest post by Zeba Iqbala real estate development advisor who lives and works in NYC. In her free time she is active in supporting and promoting causes that are close to her heart. As a Muslim American with deep ties to India – she has no dearth of causes! 

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have really shaken me to the core. I lived in India for 13 years – and love it dearly. I know and love (and hate too – of course) the Maximum City aka Mumbai – and cannot bear to think of this vibrant, generous city under seige. 

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Religion is pretty much a taboo topic in India – and I grew up a pretty secular Indian. In the past 10 years, I have become more thoughtful about religion – and have always been torn between my Muslim and my Indian identities. And now – – I am even more torn. As an Indian – I am extremely angry and upset.  India is a secular country with great promise and extremists are trying to tear it apart – ruining it for all hardworking decent and honest Indians. I am deeply worried for the safety of close friends, family and fellow Indians because quite honestly – I think this is only the beginning of attacks like this in India. India is vulnerable as a target and unfortunately this attack on ‘posh’ India was quite successful. 

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As a Muslim though – my feelings are so much more complex. I will not be apologetic for my religion. In my mind these were not religious attacks in the name of jihad. And  – I do not want Indian Muslims or Pakistanis or any Muslims to be punished in any way for the acts of extremists. I hope that South Asians (in South Asia not just in America) will unite in light of this tragedy. And globally – I hope that Muslims/Muslim countries do not suffer because of these attacks. But my deepest and most immediate worry is for Indian Muslims. They are on the ground, very vulnerable and very misunderstood. Muslims (the poorest are affected the most) are suffering desperately in India from underrepresentation in government, high levels of illiteracy and poverty, and rising levels of communal tension. Attacks like these do not help. I hope that as a result of these attacks South Asian Muslims will unite as Muslims not just South Asians. I hope that Indian Muslims will invest in  the future of Muslims in India and not run from the religion or from association with the religion. 

Only time will tell.

Related reading – As the Fires Die: The Terror of the Aftermath by Biju Mathew in SAMAR

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The imminent Hajj: journey to Arafat

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The Hajj begins today. Millions of pilgrims gathered in Mecca are donning ehram and leaving for the journey to the Plain of Arafat today. Tomorrow, the pilgrims gathered upon Arafat will pray all day, while standing and facing towards Kaaba. Actually, given how many millions of pilgrims are en route, and that the final stretch of 2 miles must be on foot, the bulk of the pilgrims won’t even arrive until late tomorrow afternoon.

The journey to Arafat is in many ways the most literal part of the pilgrimage that is Hajj. Pilgrimages are possibly the most sacred form of piety, right up there with fasting, common to all religions and faiths. Muslims do the Hajj, Jews go to the Wailing Wall, Hindus to the Ganges, Christians to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, even the Baha’i and Buddhists have mandatory pilgrimages of faith. All share the common theme of purification and cleansing and forgiveness, of transcending the human condition and attempting to join with the divine.
As the pilgrims on Hajj make their way to Arafat today, it’s incumbent on all of us who are left behind to seek to make that journey in our own heart and try to attain as much of that cleansing and resolve for piety as we can. 
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