City of Brass

City of Brass

why don’t they condemn?

posted by Aziz Poonawalla


Ever since 9-11, and well before it, this is the litany of accusation that ordinary Muslim Americans have had to endure:

  • Muslims do not condemn – there is no million Muslim march against terrorism.
  • Islam is an inherently violent religion.
  • There are no moderate Muslims – only potential terrorists.
  • The Qur’an promotes violence.
  • Muslims need to reform their religion.
  • Your first amendment right of freedom of religion is not absolute.
  • Radical jihadists speak for all Muslims.

The very people who claim to be defenders of liberty are almost eager for an attack on a soft target like a school by Al Qaeda/Itranian/Shabab/ISIS/threat du jour to justify taking away the rights of religious freedom and due process from their fellow citizens. They pose as Islamsplainers, experts on a religion they despise, whose ijtihad is in curious sync with that of radical Islamists, which allows them to dismiss the living Islam of their neighbors.


This is why the gun ownership debate is so ironic. Let’s shift mindsets for a moment. There is a non-negligible overlap between Islamophobic authoritarians and gun ownership radicals: right-wing, conservative Republicans who profess unfettered freedom for themselves – primarily but not exclusively white, male, Christian – and claim victimhood by everyone else who dares assert a desire for those same freedoms.

Certain questions are worth asking:

  • Do responsible gun owners condemn gun violence?
  • Are gun owners inherently violent? Is there such a thing a a moderate gun owner?
  • Are all gun owners potentially mass murderers?
  • Does the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment promote violence?
  • Do we need to reform the Second Amendment?
  • Is the second amendment right to gun ownership an absolute?
  • Do gun ownership radicals speak for all gun owners?

I personally find the parallels to be striking. And I don’t think the answers to all of the above questions is necessarily yes.


Let’s be clear. It is just as unjust to force Muslims to bear responsibility for the actions of murderers who share their religion, as it is for gun activists to bear responsibility for the actions of murderers to share their convictions.

The difference however is that ordinary Muslims have stepped up to the plate. Muslims *do* condemn – loudly, and often. Muslims are indispensable partners in the fight against preventing domestic terrorism. Muslims endure restrictions on their rights of freedom of religion that no other religious community must bear – for example, the Park 51 project in New York is dead. Compromises are made by Muslim communities in every state as they seek to build their own places of worship – usually in response to “concerns about traffic“. Christian and Jewish holidays are recognized by schools without complaint, but when NYC give kids a day off for Eid, or the Empire State Building glows green, it’s seen as “creeping shari’a”.


To date, responsible gun owners have not followed the example set by Muslims. They are silent in the face of mass shootings – and allow gun ownership radicals to speak for them, turning every somber tragedy into another excuse to push the obscene political talking point that “more guns would have prevented the tragedy”. Unlike Muslims, who understand that there is a problem, gun owners pretend there isn’t one – even though 10,000 Americans die every year from gun violence, whereas if you include 9-11, the average is 300. If you treat 9-11 like the obvious outlier it was, then the average deaths from terrorism is actually 30 per year (Keep in mind this definition of “terrorism” is only limited to radical Muslim violence – rightwing supremacist terrorists have killed twice as many people as radical Muslims since 9-11). Unlike Muslims, gun owners do not accept even the slightest infringement of their 2nd Amendment right in principle. Unlike Muslims, gun owners have not played any role in working with law enforcement and local police to prevent gun violence, even with respect to simple common sense policies like closing gun show loopholes.


The bottom line is, more guns equals more deaths.

Gun ownership per capita vs deaths from guns, by country - click to enlarge

Gun ownership per capita vs deaths from guns, by country – click to enlarge

When gun owners begin to take the problem of gun violence as seriously as Muslim Americans do the threat of radical jihadism, then they will literally save thousands of lives.


Muslims are often lectured by Islamophobic authoritarians that the patience of the American people is finite. Just one more large-scale attack by radical jihadis will mean the end of our rights, and persecution of Muslim Americans (even internment) will be justified in the name of safety and self defense. The Constitution is not a suicide pact, we are told. (I happen to agree – but I interpret that phrase in exactly the opposite way). Well, gun owners: if the patience of the American people is indeed finite, surely you are closer to testing its limit than we Muslim Americans. Your fellow believers have inflicted much more death on this nation than ours. I urge you to follow our example in taking the threat seriously rather than crying victim. The real victims are those who were murdered.


So, when presented with the irony above, what’s the solution? One appealing idea – more Muslims need to join the NRA. I am absolutely serious. At the very least, it will make any mob inclined towards violence against us think twice. Islamophobia is not harmless – Bisara village in India is just one example of where we are potentially headed. But it would also be useful in blurring the lines between rigid ideological camps, and make everyone more receptive to pragmatic compromise. As a Muslim liberal, I cannot justify persecution of gun owners rights while asserting my own – and I sincerely believe that if gun owners come to the same conclusion, then we can actually make progress in terms of policy, and ameliorate two problems (Islamophobia and gun violence) at once. Together, we can save lives.


Related resource: The Mass Shooting Tracker, which accurately and reasonably defines a mass shooting as “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” Also, President Obama has had 6 speeches in 6 years about gun violence – he’s right. Enduring this violence is a political choice.


a Republican, Muslim Mayor of St Louis?

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Umar Lee is running for Mayor of Saint Louis. Visit his Facebook page at for more information

Umar Lee is running for Mayor of Saint Louis. Visit his Facebook page at for more information

Umar Lee is many things – a native son of Saint Louis, a veteran of the Ferguson street protests, a white man who embraces populist politics, and a convert to Islam with a penchant for political activism. His memoir on The Rise and Fall of the Salafi Dawah in America is a must-read. His eponymous blog and associated YouTube channel is a provocative, unedited stream of consciousness. The essential truth of Umar Lee is that he is unafraid of speaking his mind – and has paid the price for doing so.


He used to be a cab driver – and ferocious critic of Uber as a vehicle (pun intended) of gentrification and class warfare. He was fired last month, however, for speaking out against a case of police discrimination against a black family that moved to a white suburb.

And he’s running for Mayor of Saint Louis. As a Republican.

His mayoral platform is on his blog – as yet he has no official campaign website apart from a facebook page – and consists of a 15-point plan that is ideological and ambitious to say the least, but also politically diverse. He’s a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and also supports a 40% pay increase for teachers. He proposes to feed the poor en masse and welcominhg Syrian refugees to Saint Louis as an infusion of fresh blood to the ailing economy; fuding these initiatives mostly derives from poroposed tax increases on the wealthy and large corporations. My favorite part of his platform is his defiance to the St. Louis Rams, which is exactly the attitude that every city in America should have when faced with the stadium extortion racket from the NFL and other major sports leagues.


The first obvious question I have is, Why a Republican? He already answered that briefly on his announcement post:

I’ve been asked why I’m running as a Republican. In all honesty party label is not that important to me. There are good people on both sides of the aisle and enemies of progress on both sides of the aisle. In the past I’ve voted for both parties. In the city of St. Louis the Democratic Party is a well-oiled and heavily-funded machine often hostile to change. A machine that has been at the helm during six decades of decline in our city. The Republican Party of St. Louis City is detached from power and open to new ideas and energy. I run as a Republican in the spirit of GOP lawmakers who fought segregationist Dixiecrats to pass civil-rights legislation and in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. Not in the spirit of a Jesse Helms or Donald Trump.


I think the GOP in Missouri may have other ideas, once they read his platform.

The other question is, is he serious? How far can raw ideology and idealism carry you – and in a marlet like Saint Louis, is there enough disaffection from the working class to propel him to victory? To put it bluntly, Umar is not a kindly grandfather like Bernie Sanders. But his passion is impossible to deny.

It’s definitely worth learning more. He deserves to be heard. To that end – Umar has graciously agreed to do a Q&A with me here on City of Brass. Stay tuned.



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.

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