City of Brass

City of Brass

Yikes, Ike … Remembering Rita

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Gulf Coast region – especially my family there and all the friends I accumulated over the 9 years I spent living there before moving to Wisconsin in June 2007.

It looks like Ike is going to hit Houston and Galveston hard:

Ike_091208.gifI pray that this storm has as little effect as Hurricane Rita did. I
still vividly remember the nightmare of our Hurricane Rita experience,
and that was just the evacuation and city-wide shortages of gasoline,
milk, eggs, etc for weeks afterwards. There wasn’t even any monster
rainfall with Rita, though she was a Category 5. A few years earlier,
though, Tropical Storm Allison turned Houston into a gigantic bayou,
causing billions of dollars to infrastructure and buildings, and
irreplaceable loss of research and data at the Medical Center.
Hurricane Ike is more analogous to Allison than to Rita – the primary
concern is a storm surge of 20 feet in the Galveston lowlands, and then
area-wide severe flooding throughout Harris county. Unlike Rita, Ike
hasn’t been deflected at the last minute, and given Ike’s far greater
extent (500 miles wide!) even if Ike were to be deflected by the hand
of God now, Houston would still get hit.

I had actually blogged the whole ordeal of Hurricane Rita (whenever access permitted) back in 2005 when we were evacuating and dealing with the post-Rita mess. I had chronicled the events as follows:

Rita’s comin’ to Texas, folks
(Sep 19, 2005). I was one of the very first Texas bloggers to declare
that Rita had our number. That post was updated numerous times over the
next couple of days as the reality began to sink into the wider media.

Batten down the hatches
(sep 21, 2005). I started planning our escape route. At that point in
time it wasn’t clear whether my wife, a resident at UTMB Galveston,
would have to stay on duty or not.

update
(Sep 22, 2005). A grueling 9-hour drive to go 60 miles. We were part of
the largest evacuation in US history, the great mother deity of all
traffic jams. A nightmare of overheating brakes and low gas and
frustrating cell-phone outages and endless mile after mile of highway,
one foot at a time.

contraflow
(Sep 23, 2005). Having escaped Galveston county, but still in northwest
Harris, we were deciding whether or not to try and make it to san
antonio or not. We ultimately decided to stay in Katy rather than take
our chances on the highway and repeat our experience of the previous
day.

shelter in place (same day, 23rd). The evening of landfall. We went to our community masjid for shelter, anticipating the worst.

the power is ours
(late that evening, 23rd). A report from the masjid, waiting out the
storm. It became pretty clear that evening that Rita wouldn’t pose the
threat we all feared – thanks to the divine providence of a sudden
change in Rita’s course.

Houston makes it through (Sep 24, 2005). A guest post from my friend Taha. We made it safe and sound and Taha expresses the thanks we all felt.

sitting dry
(that same day, 24th). We did lose power but only for about 10 hours.
We returned to my inlaws’ place in Katy and now begin the waiting for
normalcy.

Aggie joke (Sep 26th 2005). Some welcome humor at Texas A&M alumni expense.

Houston reawakens
(same day, 26th). The city comes back to life, though finding eggs and
milk was pretty hard. We were glued to the radio listening for when the
local WalMart would reopen!

home (Sep 27, 2005). Made it back to my house in Galveston, where apart from a few shingles, everything was ok.

My
posts didn’t get into a lot of detail about the preparations we made to
leave our home, the work involved in getting it all back together
again, etc. Overall it was a grueling and insane week, one I’d never
want to repeat. We were truly blessed to have escaped with as little damage and injury, and as much sanity intact, as we did. I pray sincerely that the good people of the Gulf Coast fare as well now as we did then. In this month of holy Ramadan, may our prayers be amplified accordingly for their sake.

UPDATE: Ubu has been hurricane-blogging extensively at Houblog. He’s way better prepared for this than 99% of the rest of the Houston metro.

Sarah Palin on God

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My Beliefnet colleague Rod Dreher watched the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson and came away a bit less than impressed. He described her performance as “scripted and overprepared” which doesn’t bode well for assuring the independent vote that McCain must court to win. Personally, I haven’t watched the interview but I did read the excerpted transcripts online, and I was actually somewhat reassured by her answer to at least one question:

GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, “Our national leaders
are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.” Are we fighting
a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.

PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s
words when he said — first, he suggested never presume to know what
God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak
God’s words.

But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments,
was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time,
but let us pray that we are on God’s side.

[…]

GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln’s words, but you went on and said, “There is a plan and it is God’s plan.”

PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for
this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great
potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with
inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe
that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.

That, in my world view, is a grand — the grand plan.

You know, that makes sense. Her original response that the war in Iraq was God’s plan echoed President Bush’s clumsy reference to the war being a “crusade”. This clarification, and evocation of Abraham Lincoln, sit well with me.

Another aspect of the interview that I also liked was her characterization of the big picture:

GIBSON: We talk on the anniversary of 9/11. Why do you think those hijackers attacked? Why did they want to hurt us?

PALIN: You know, there is a very small percentage of Islamic believers
who are extreme
and they are violent and they do not believe in
American ideals, and they attacked us and now we are at a point here
seven years later, on the anniversary, in this post-9/11 world, where
we’re able to commit to never again. They see that the only option for
them is to become a suicide bomber, to get caught up in this evil, in
this terror. They need to be provided the hope that all Americans have
instilled in us
, because we’re a democratic, we are a free, and we are
a free-thinking society.

Granted, she did not answer the question, but I like what she had to say here (emphases mine). Whether McCain’s administration would actually put deeds to these words, or follow the Bush example of rhetorical commitment alone,

Now, while I was pleased by these answers, the rest of the interview seems to have been a complete mess. The biggest glaring problem was that she seemed utterly unaware of what the Bush Doctrine was (and this was after her intense cram sessions in prep for the interview!). Her answer with respect to Iran and Israel was blatantly canned, she was completely wrong about previous VP’s experience, and her insistence that she had zero hesitation when asked to join McCain came off as smug and arrogant.

Will the interview make any real difference, however? I don’t think so. Not until the debates will we really see anything she says have an impact one way or another. September is still Palin’s alone.

muslims condemn terror… again and again

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

It’s a shame that for many muslims, the anniversary of 9/11 is an occasion to retreat into a defensive posture, rather than stand proudly alongside our fellow Americans with head unbowed to the threat that faces us all. One of the reasons for this is the refrain often heard that muslims do not condemn terrorism, even though it’s easily refuted and utterly wrong. I call this the “silence libel”.

The evidence is clear that muslim-americans as a group are loyal, patriotic citizens who disavow extremism.  Certainly there are individual exceptions, just as with any ethnic or religious subgroup in the US you will find whack-jobs and nutcases. But for the average muslim american, it’s insulting to be asked whether they support terror – it’s an impolite question because we deserve as much benefit of the doubt as anyone else.

Right here at Beliefnet, there’s a profile of ordinary muslim Americans who eloquently condemn terrorism in their own words. There’s also this exhaustive list of condemnations by individuals and muslim organizations compiled by Al-Muhajabah, one of the earliest muslim female bloggers. A similarly thorough list of condemnations has been compiled by The American Muslim magazine, as has another by Islam for Today. Numerous muslim organizations have also sprung up, including the Free Muslim Coalition and Muslims Against Terrorism.

And yet, muslims are still taken to task for “silence”.

Another variant of the silence libel is to ask, why don’t muslims march on Washington to demonstrate their opposition to terrorism in the name of their faith? Surely, the argument goes, muslim claims to be incensed over the supposed “hijacking” of their holy and sacred faith, should be backed by actions, not words. But this is nothing more than a loyalty test in disguise – no other subgroup in American culture is held to such a standard of expectation. My friend Shahed Amanullah addressed the question directly in his essay, “What would marches against extremism achieve?” Excerpt:

Muslims are understandably wary of any public displays of our anger
toward extremism. For one, such a display would reinforce a tired
stereotype: the “Rage Boy” Muslim who can find expression only by
pouring into the streets.

But the biggest reason behind a reluctance to march is that many
Muslims see it as a setup for failure. Even if a march drew tens of
thousands, would that mean that only those marching oppose terrorism?
In the current climate of suspicion, the rest of the 2 million to 3
million Muslim-Americans would be portrayed as pro-terror.

Take the demoralizing effect of years of suspicion, alienation and
hostility that have been absorbed by Muslims in our role as a proxy for
those “over there”; work in the geographic spread of Muslims in the
U.S.-we have no Muslim ghettos like the ones in Europe; and combine
that with a lack of the organizing skills needed to pull off a
demonstration, and you can easily see why such an event is doomed.

A weak turnout would confirm for some the presence of a Muslim “fifth
column” in the United States. The cycle of mistrust and fear would
worsen.

But if one still wishes to see mass protests against extremism by
Muslims-well, they have already happened, usually in response to tragic
attacks. After all, Muslims themselves are still the most likely to be
terror victims, whether it is in Bali or Baghdad.

So, too, have authoritative scholars issued rulings against the use of
political violence. But these actions have occurred in Muslim-majority
countries such as Morocco, Turkey and Pakistan. And yet the violence
continues.

The sad truth is that hardened extremists are immune to this kind of pressure, and deep down, we all know it.

The muslim-American community is in fact fighting extremism every day, in a far more meaningful way than any march or endless condemnations upon demand. Instead, we are being good citizens, running businesses, working in professional fields, and raising our children to be loyal and patriotic citizens of this country we all love, to which we arrived as immigrants, lured by the promise unique to America that anyone can come here and succeed. We are the American dream, and we don’t need to prove it to anyone.

Warith Deen Mohammed and the mountain

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Yesterday, iconic muslim-American leader Warith Deen Mohammed passed away. I want to reflect a bit on the significance of this man’s achievement and note what a landmark his life’s work was on the landscape of American Islam. But to understand the impact of what WD Mohammed achieved, it is necessary to remember another man, who died almost 44 years earlier: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X.

Anyone who has read Malcolm X’s autobiography will recall that when X performed the hajj in April 1964, it was like a new revelation, completely transforming his militant views on racism. The spectacle of Hajj, with all race and class stripped away as men and women alike perform the simple acts of piety en masse, left an indelible impression upon him. As X wrote,

“There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world.
They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans.
But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit
of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to
believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.

You
may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage,
what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of
my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my
previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my
firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and
to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge
unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the
flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent
search for truth.

During the past eleven days here in the Muslim
world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass and
slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)-while praying to the same
God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose
hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of
white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the
‘white’ Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black
African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.

We are truly all the same-brothers.

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”

The act of Hajj gave X the cumulative strength of Islam as his weapon against racism, and inspired him to embrace mainstream Sunni Islam. He had broken with the Nation of Islam only a month prior to embarking upon Hajj, and on his return established his own organization. The tension between him and the Nation of Islam ultimately led to his assassination, most likely at the direct command of Elijah Muhammed, then-leader of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm’s closest mentor, until their parting of ways.

Elijah Mohammed is W. Deen Mohammed father, and upon the former’s passing in 1975 it was WD Mohammed who took the reigns of the Nation of Islam. Consider the following facts about the Nation of Islam at the time:

  • NOI was a black supremacist, black separatist organization.
  • One cornerstone of NOI belief was that the white race was a genetic experiment gone awry.
  • The Negro race is believed to be God’s chosen people upon the earth.
  • NOI doctrine held that Wallace Fard Mohammed, the NOI founder, was literally Allah.

These views and beliefs are explictly stated in the official platform of beliefs written by Elijah Muhammad and published in 1965.

That was then.

Today, the black muslim-american community overwhelmingly embraces mainstream Sunni in its belief, apart from a splinter minority group (led by Louis Farakhan) that still holds onto the original Nation of Islam name. The mainstream black muslim community affirms the equal value of all races under God and seeks to work side by side other Americans of all faiths in doing good works for the community. And most importantly, the followers of WD Mohammed embrace the true shahada, that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad SAW is his only, and final, prophet.

It is said that if Mohammed SAW would not come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed SAW. Literally, it was WD Mohammed who moved that mountain to the doorstep of the Holy Prophet SAW. It is hard to convey the enormity of the task that WD Mohammed had undertaken in his lifetime. Here is how his biography page at The Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam describes the task:

The change and growth which has characterized Imam W. Deen Mohammed´s leadership since 1975 has been a progression toward satisfying the essentials of Muslim life and identity, and in the measure required by the authentic sources of the religion of Islam – the Holy Qur´an and the life example of Muhammed the Prophet (the prayers and the peace be on him).

Through the arduous steps of evolution from the ´Nation of Islam´ (1930-1976) to the ´World Community of Al-Islam in the West´ (1976-1981) to the ´American Muslim Mission´ (1081-1985) Imam Mohammed has piloted his people to what is today a de-centralized and thriving society of Muslim Americans. With Mosques and schools in every major city in Ameirca, and in parts of Canada and the Caribbean, he has garnered a respect and acceptance for Islam in the West not known before. The facts and details of his record of transforming a people depicted at the extreme of a “proto-Islamic” idea which combined Black nationalism and religion, into a community of Muslim Americans esteemed in the international following of Muhammed the Prophet, stands as testimony to his courage, dedication, wisdom, and firm faith in G-d.

Arduous steps of evolution, indeed. In a sense, WD Mohammed followed the path of Malcolm X instead of the path of his own father, and in many ways is the true heir to Malcolm’s legacy. But I think WD Mohammed’s task was greater, and harder. May Allah reward him for his khidmat to his fellow man and the American ummah as a whole.

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