City of Brass

City of Brass

NYPD’s illegal spying on Muslims was legal, says legal system

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I Always Feel Like.. Somebody's Watching Me

This is profoundly disappointing but not entirely unexpected:

In a decision filed Thursday in federal court in Newark, U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed a lawsuit brought in 2012 by eight Muslims who alleged that the NYPD’s surveillance programs were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race. The suit accused the department of spying on ordinary people at mosques, restaurants and schools in New Jersey since 2002.

Martini said he was not convinced that the plaintiffs were targeted solely because of their religion. “The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies,” he wrote.

The judge added: “The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself.”

The simple truth is that civil rights are not guaranteed by the Constitution, they exist solely as a function of society’s willingness to permit them. You have no inalienable rights, you only have the rights that the cultural majority (which itself has decided to assert those rights) permits you to share. The Constitution is just paper.

The only way that muslim Americans can ever attain equality in civil rights is not via legal means but social ones. Increased integration and outreach and civic participation are what will ensure our civil rights. I am an optimist in that regard.

Put our faith in Allah, not pieces of paper.

Related: I’ve covered the NYPD spying case in detail – here’s a link to my previous posts on the topic.

Valentine’s Day and Islam – the virtues of mohabbat (love)

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I am biased towards appreciating Valentine’s Day not just for it’s Gujarati origins but also because it’s my birthday. However, not all Muslims share my appreciation. Here’s a typical example:

In its official Friday sermon text distributed to mosques in the Muslim-majority country, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department blamed Valentine’s Day for everything from alcoholism to abortion.

“Social ceremonies such as this are a stepping-stone towards greater social ills such as fraud, mental disorder caused by alcohol, abortion and baby-dumping, and other negative ills that can invite disaster and moral decay among youths,” it said.

Known by its Malay-language acronym JAKIM, the department is an official watchdog of Muslim values. It regularly denounces Valentine’s Day as encouraging vice and promiscuity

This attitude is hardly limited to Malaysia. A simple google search for “Islam valentine’s day” brings numerous articles to the fore from online islamic dispensaries, all starkly disapproving (with the exception of Suhaib Webb’s piece, which strikes a neutral tone).

Where their mistake lies however is in equating Valentine’s Day with sex. It’s actually about love, which is a concept that is central to Islam. The archetypical love story of Layla and Majnun serves as a parable for Man’s love for God, and the Qur’an is filled with expressions of God’s love for Man.

Love, or mohabbat, is a foundation of faith. Muslims’ mohabbat for the Prophet SAW is why we celebrate Milad al Nabi (much to the disapproval of the same dour mullas who tsk about Valentine’s Day). The mohabbat we have for our spouses, parents, siblings and children forms the bedrock of our values, not to mention the sense of community that arises from our mohabbat for our friends and fellow citizens. Mohabbat is a virtue and it’s wonderful that there’s a whole day devoted to it.

The truly pious would do well to embrace Valentine’s Day, as an opportunity to affirm our relationship with Allah. And to appreciate your own loved ones – friends and family. Only someone truly incapable of love would find fault with that.

Farewell to Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (RA)

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA

On Friday, January 17th, his holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA passed away in Mumbai. Syedna Burhanuddin RA was a visionary intellect and pious guardian of the Deen of his followers, the Dawoodi Bohra community, to which I proudly belong. In his time, he renovated great architectural landmarks like Al Jamea Al Anwar masjid in Cairo, renewed the institution of Al Jamea tus Saifiyah, inaugurated the magnificent Saifee Hospital in Mumbai, and was the first officeholder of al Dai al Mutlaq to visit Europe and the West, starting in 1978 when he resided at my parents home near Chicago and culminating in the Ashara sermons in Houston in 2001. But by far his most lasting legacy will be we, his Mumineen, whose religious values he cultivated and strengthened immeasurably, even as he encouraged and promoted modernity, education and literacy. The Bohra community’s reputation as enlightened and modern, yet pious and orthodox, is owed entirely to Moula Burhanuddin’s RA leadership and wisdom. The book Mullahs on the Mainframe by Jonah Blank portrays in detail that balance of deen and dunya which Burhanuddin Moula RA so carefully fostered.

For anyone under the age of 50, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA was the only Dai we ever knew.

Last week, Aqa Moula Burhanuddin RA was laid to rest in the breathtaking Raudat Tahera mausoleum, the only structure in the world with the entirety of the Qur’an inscribed inside, in gold leaf. He will rest for the ages alongside his own father, Syedna Taher Saifuddin RA. I was privileged to travel to Mumbai last week and pay my last respects.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA with his successor and mansoos, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA with his designated successor and mansoos, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s RA rightful successor, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS, is no less a visionary than his father. In just the few short years since being named Syedna Burhanuddin’s RA mansoos, he has pushed new and groundbreaking initiatives like the thaali program which provides healthy meals to every Bohra family worldwide, which has relieved tens of thousands of women of the daily burden of worry about what to feed their families and reducing the physical labor of cooking. And it will fall upon Syedna Saifuddin TUS to continue the work of upliftment that Syedna Burhanuddin RA began, most notably in the Bhindi Bazaar redevelopment project in Mumbai, which will transform an aging and decrepit, overcrowded section of the city into an oasis of modern apartments and retail. This project will greatly lift the standard of living for thousands of residents of Mumbai, Bohra and non-Bohra alike, and revitalize the economic center of Mumbai.

Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS

Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS

I cannot express how much I will miss my Burhanuddin Moula RA. But even as I mourn along with the rest of my community, we are grateful that we have Saifuddin Moula TUS to show us the way forward. Now as ever, I am proud to call myself abde Syedna TUS.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin's RA janaza procession, with the casket draped with the Indian Flag, surrounded by thousands of his beloved followers and accompanied by his successor, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s RA janaza procession, with the casket draped with the Indian Flag, surrounded by thousands of his beloved followers and accompanied by his successor, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS

Related: The Syedna was a “beautiful contradiction” (Mumbai Mirror)

Have yourself a very Merry Mawlid al-Nabi

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Mohammed Rasulullah SAW

Mawlid, also known as Milad al-Nabi, is the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed SAW. In celebrating Mawlid, Muslims express their love for the Prophet SAW, with recitation of salawat, processions, and congregating with family and friends, as well as the tradition of Na’at, devotional poetry and hymns that praise the Prophet’s SAW life and virtues.

Mawlid is essentially the Muslim version of Christmas, though of course the difference is that Muslims do not consider Mohammed SAW (or Jesus AS for that matter) to be divine. I am actually quite sympathetic to the “put Christ back in Christmas” movement, because there actually is a “War on Mawlid” being waged by authoritaian schools of thought that denounce Mawlid as an innovation and blasphemy. I’ve written in detail about the controversy over Mawlid before so won’t rehash it here, but suffice to say that Islam has its share of Grinches, too.

Let’s put the Mohammed SAW back in Mawlid. Milad Mubarak! Merry Mawlid to all!

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