City of Brass

City of Brass

Obsession

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The movie Obsession is a polemic for the modern age, the digital equivalent of a Jack Chick tract, only directed at muslims rather than Catholics. The movie is somewhat ironically named, because if anything it reflects the obsession that the Islamophobes in western society have with Islam as the bogeyman threat to their romanticized concept of perpetually-threatened Western civilization – muslims as Orcs.

Naturally, tens of millions of copies have been distributed for free in newspapers to voters in critical swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. And segments will be shown on Fox News, which reaches tens of millions more viewers.

Actually, one newspaper has refused to run the paid insert DVD – the Greensboro News and Record in North Carolina. The editor, John Robinson, explained the decision at his blog:

We did not distribute it. I was not involved in the decision; it was an advertising call, in keeping with advertising policies.

I asked our publisher about it. He said it was divisive and plays onpeople’s fears and served no educational purpose. The revenue it wouldhave brought in was not a motivator.

As I’ve said on other occasions about news decisions, just because you can publish doesn’t mean you should.

In a follow-up post, Robinson goes on to note the backlash that his papers’ principled decision has provoked from the Islamophobic right,

We’ve been called true Americans. We’ve been called politically correct. We’ve been called a lot of things.

One man from Miami called to ask why I was sheltering readers fromthe evils of Radical Islam. I told him I didn’t think anyone wasunaware of the events of the past seven years.

A blogger called us gutless. Jihad Watch wanted me to “explain what exactly we should do with those jihadist preachers preaching death and destruction in the video.”

Hmmm. A better question for Obama and McCain.

Indeed.

I, for one, believe in the fundamental decency of the American people.In many ways the DVD is an (expensive) excercise in preaching to thechoir. The political strategy is simple – to play off the “Obama is amuslim” smear and associate Obama with capitulation to and associationwith the terrorist threat. It’s fear-mongering 101. But the people whowill buy into it are the ones who were not going to vote for Obamaanyway. We will see who wins Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio…we will see. In fact, I am embedding the video right here in the interest of transparency and free speech.

The promoters of this video and I are in agreement about this much: the video speaks for itself. I have more faith in my fellow citizens than they do, though.

Incidentally, I have argued that Obama could have defused the power of the muslim smear against him, if he was not so afraid to take a stand against the fundamental logic of it, and say clearly, “I am not muslim, but even if I were, there would be nothing wrong with that.” Instead Obama stops short at the insistence that he is not muslim, and then talks about how the smear is offensive to muslims as well, but fails to connect the dots. In so doing he has left breathing room for the smear to propagate, and it’s that opportunity that Obsession seeks to exploit. I think there is still time for Obama to make that statement, but the longer he waits, the less impact it will have.

Laylatul Qadr

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

[Yusufali 97:1] We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
[Yusufali 97:2] And what will explain to thee what the night of power is?
[Yusufali 97:3] The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
[Yusufali 97:4] Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:
[Yusufali 97:5] Peace!…This until the rise of morn!

97:1-5 (Listen to Recitation by Husain Saifuddin DM)

Last year, I wrote a bit about the intense preparation for Laylatul Qadr and described the ibadat that we perform all night, from after sunset to sunrise, on that holiest of nights. That night is nearly upon us again and all my energies are focused upon it. In many ways, Laylatul Qadr represents a spiritual climax of Ramadan. After it, there is the definite sense that Ramadan is drawing to a close. We must marshal our energies not only for the intense ibadat of Laylatul Qadr itself, but also for the remaining week of Shehrullah that comes after it, because time is truly precious and this holy month is fast slipping from our grasp.

The fish market

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Steven Waldman makes an interesting point, quoting a hadith of the Prophet SAW,

“Do not buy fish in the sea, for it is gharar .”

and suggests that this could be applied to financial transactions like sub-prime mortgages. That’s a great tassavur (exegesis), one that I hadn’t heard before, but will certainly quote from now on.

Proper tassavur is actually essential with most aspects of Shari’a law, which is why it lends itself so readily to abuse. Economic issues in Shari’a are a great example – the fundamental ban against riba (usury) in the Qur’an (summarized nicely here), for example, is laid out in broad brush strokes, and so most of the burden of actually applying it to one’s own fiscal affairs is rests squarely on the shoulders of the individual. Even islamic authorities, be they fiqh councils or learned imams, are unable to render anything but the most general advice in these matters. The safest route of course is to shun all obvious forms of interest, but that is easier said than done – for example, social security checks are drawn upon the social security fund, which is interest-bearing, so is social security haram? Since most public companies are heavily reliant upon interest to manage their balance sheets, does owning stock from these companies (becoming an owner, essentially) haram? What about mutual funds, where you buy a share of a stock portfolio and not the stock directly itself? What about exchanging money at a bureau de change, where a standard fee is charged for the use of money? Some people take the maximal posistion against usury, and forswear all of the above, while others argue that usuary strictly only relates to “excessive” interest, and that only on personal loans. Most muslims fall somewhere in between. The variance of tassavur in this regard is extremely high.

It should be noted that the Islamic Finance industry is a burgeoning one, with “Islamic-friendly” invest funds, anks, mortgages, etc all being offered in parallel to the interets-based economy. Whether or not these vehicles are truly “safe” or whether they are really just excercises in rationalization is again a matter of individual tassavur.

We often hear, from critics of Islam and other polemicists, that the “gates of ijtihad (interpretation)” are closed for muslims. However, as with most aspects of Shari’a, the gates of ijtihad swing wide open indeed, at the level of the individual muslim.

Incidentally, with respect to the ongoing economic crisis in the financial markets, the words of the Prophet SAW and the injunctions in the Qur’an take on a particular relevance. Daniel Larison characterizes the crisis as our collective cultural obsession with credit as a way of life rather than a tool and means to an end. Larison goes on to note the social impact of this credit-centric worldview:

As virtue is the moderation or even denial of appetites, moral
integrity in society as a whole weakens as this culture gains ground. 
When limits to our consumption seem to fall away, the desire for
acquisition and domination becomes stronger and it begins to be
expressed in our relations with the rest of the world.  We begin to
define our interests to satisfy unbounded desire, and so the scope of
what we believe is rightfully ours expands until it encircles most, if
not all, of the globe, and we are then violently offended when our
claims are challenged.

And so we come full circle to Ramadan and fasting – for the purpose of the fast is to instill a discipline that moderates our appetites and preserve our moral integrity. These ideas do scale from individuals to societies. Perhaps a better concept of Islamic banking would be one which follows this principle rather than simply finding loopholes around usury in name.

Related: Forbes’ special report on Islamic finance, via Talk Islam.

Ceylon circa 1890

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

There are sometimes treasures to be found at Flickr. Look at this set of vintage photos from Ceylon from before the turn of the (previous) century. Modern Sri Lankans are casual, friendly, outgoing, and quick to smile, but these photos show a reservedness, almost noble air. For example:

I’ve long marveled at the strength of the Sri Lankan character – you’d think that the long years of civil war would have taken their toll, and yet they remain unbowed. The strength that this woman’s descendants display today in the face of terror and violence is etched on her face.

(via UltraBrown)

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