City of Brass

City of Brass

12 years later – the post 9-11 world

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

World Trade Center Sculpture

Today, again is the 12th anniversary of 9-11. I honestly think I’ve already said everything I’ll ever want to say about it. We are living in a post-9-11, post-global-terrorism, post-boots-on-the-ground, even a post Osama bin Laden world. Terrorism nowadays is the cultivation of grievances and the most significant threats are domestic ones, not foreign jihadis. The balance between liberty and security has been irrevocably shifted towards security for the forseeable future. And the archaic 2003 vision of democracy flourishing across the Middle East has been partly realized – with the obvious modern result of Islamists coming to power. And we have a President who makes a technical, wonky political case for war, not a fear-mongering one.

That’s the world we live in and though it has its origins in 9-11, it’s also a reality wholly separate from 9-11, and one our current conservative-vs-liberal and democrats-vs-republicans political structure is incapable of addressing or changing. The Establishment won the War on Terror.

In a nutshell, I am more interested in commenting about the reality of today. 12 years A9 (after 9-11). But I have been writing about 9-11 since I started blogging, and here’s a sampling of what I’ve had to say over the years.

1st anniversary (2002): I couldn’t bring myself to say anything on the actual anniversary itself. A few days later though I wrote about 9-11 and the 2000 election:

I confess I did not fly a flag of any kind. I wanted to, but for two reasons. One to express my [pride] in my country, but the other out of fear, to avoid the stares I was starting to receive, to appease the demons of my own paranoia, which even now I have no way of knowing was what part justified and what part imaginary. That part of me that wanted to fly a flag to say to the world, “look! I’m not a terrorist! Target your anger elsewhere!” seemed to taint the part of me that said, “look! I’m an American too! Include me in your resolve!”. In the end, I chose not to fly one at all, reasoning that the emotion needed to be pure.

2nd anniversary (2003): I remembered Rick Rescorla:

9-11 was an American tragedy, not a Jewish one. nor a saudi one, either. It’s our heroes who gave sacrifice that day, it’s our blood that was spilled, and it was our nation that was targeted for its past perceived sins. The memory of Rick, the Minutemen of Flight 93, and the FDNYPD are American heroes whose heroism shall not be claimed by others to further their ends.

3rd anniversary (2004): 9-11 fell during the holy month of Rajab, so I didn’t pay as much attention:

Saturday was also the third anniversary of 9-11, but this year it didn’t really register. I hope I never live to see another day like 9-11 again. I haven’t forgotten it, and never will. But this year, the weekend was one of celebration of faith, and spiritual hope. There will be many anniversaries of 9-11 ahead, and I will give it it’s due then. But not this year.

4th anniversary (2005) and 5th anniversary (2006): In 2005, Hurricane Katrina had just occurred, and Hurricane Rita was looming, so I simply never got around to writing about 9-11. However, I did note that a fellow Dawoodi Bohra muslim from Texas was killed in Iraq. In 2006, I also did not mention 9-11, as Pope Benedict’s comments about Islam pretty much dominated the Islamsphere.

6th anniversary (2007): 9-11 coincided with the start of Ramadan, the very same day according to the Fatimid calendar. My friend Shahed Amanullah, writing a Ramadan series for Beliefnet, wrote about it more effectively than I could:

…this Ramadan has been heralded by images of Osama bin Laden taunting us from his cave and exhorting non-Muslims to accept Islam, obviously unaware that the actions of him and his kind have done more to bring curses down upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad and turn people away from Islam more than anything in Islam’s history. It’s imagery and words like this, and the strong feelings they evoke in me, that I have to push aside in order to focus on starting this month right.

The terrorism that I read about in the news represents the polar opposite of what Ramadan stands for. Ramadan is about opening yourself up to God’s mercy, enduring patience in the face of discomfort and adversity, and providing assistance to those less fortunate. Extremism and terrorism is just the opposite–the ultimate exercise of self-indulgence and inflicting merciless hardship on the innocent.

7th anniversary (2008): 9-11 was squarely within Ramadan. I felt the need to point out how muslims keep condemning terror, and referred to the ongoing accusations that we do not condemn as the “silence libel” :

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 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.

I also offered rare praise for Sarah Palin, for her comments in an interview with Charlie Gibson:

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.

(Palin repeated these sentiments the next year in 2009, saying we are not at war with Islam)

8th anniversary (2009): 9-11 was on the eve of Laylatul Qadr, the Night of Power. And with the serenity of Ramadan as my aid, I finally attained a serenity about 9-11 that had eluded me until then:

The past few years, the anniversary of 9-11 has coincided with Ramadan. As I wrote last year, 9-11 usually elicits a defensive posture in muslim Americans, because of the lingering suspicion and distrust by our fellow citizens. But with the advent of Ramadan, I’ve felt like I’ve finally managed to take ownership of 9-11 like any American, and look at it without consciousness of my religious identity.

…this night is Peace. There is no better refutation of the crazed ideology of those who sought to divide us in terror. This is the time to look forward, at how precious little time remains in Ramadan, not look backwards.

A few days later, I engaged in a cross-blog debate about whether terrorism was still a threat and whether 9-11 was an outlier.

9th anniversary (2010): I had just completed Ramadan and was more focused on observing Eid than observing 9-11:

Today is 9-11, which was an American tragedy, and a Muslim tragedy – but I am both American and Muslim, and yet the day finds me strangely disconnected. Perhaps the acrimony over the “ground zero mosque” debate has left me cold, or perhaps it’s the way in which 9-11 long ago ceased to be anything but a political football. It’s practically Al Qaeda ex machina.

I think that to properly learn from an experience – be it Ramadan, or 9-11 – we have to allow ourselves to rediscover the center, to immerse ourselves and cast aside all the distractions. Physically, or emotionally, we must exclude the outside and try to seek the essence. Now that Ramadan will no longer overlap 9-11 next year, and next year being the 10-year anniversary, I think that it will be easier to reconnect with both.

10th anniversary (2011): I resolved to have confidence in America‘s future again.

It’s time to rediscover that feeling about America and ourselves … if we mourn today, it is for what we were before 9-11. Ten years after, during which we seemed intent on exploring being everyone other than ourselves, it’s time to finally reclaim our confidence and our resolve about who we are as a nation and as a people.

That year was the first anniversary after Osama bin Laden had been killed, and I wrote about the 5 stages of Muslim American emotion over his killing. I also refused to condemn Islam or America.

As I said at the top, we are in a post-9-11 world and the challenges we face today – as a nation, as Muslim Americans, as Muslims, as Americans – are profoundly different.

Gulf muslims almost had a 28-day Ramadan this year

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Earliest new moon caught on camera, July 2013

Earliest new moon caught on camera, July 2013

Arguably there is more drama surrounding when Eid starts than when Ramadan starts, because after a month of fasting the issue is a little more urgent :) This year was no different, but there was added drama in the Gulf region due to a startling near-admission of error from the Saudi religious authorities. It seems that some moonsighters claimed to have seen the moon on Tuesday (6th August), which would have had problematic implications:

The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia will meet on Tuesday evening to hear from people who may have sighted the moon, an announcement that has startled many scholars worldwide as it would mean that this year’s Ramadan would have lasted only 28 days instead of the requisite 29 or 30 days.

The statement by the court implied that there had been an error with the July 10th start date of this year’s Ramadan, and that the holy month of fasting should have started on July 9th instead. Saudi newspapers on Monday quoted a statement from the Supreme Court that encouraged members of the public to sight the Eid moon on Tuesday night.

The Court met on Tuesday evening and ruled that Tuesday sighting was impossible – after much outcry from other prominent scholars who adhere to the moonsighting tradition, including some who invoked astronomical calculations as further evidence.

translation: Tomorrow 29 Ramadan did not prove sighting in Saudi Arabia Crescent born at 1:15 after midnight tonight was impossible to be seen tonight

The problem here is that if the moon had been sighted on Monday, it would have implied a 28-day Ramadan, which contradicts the Qur’an – Ramadan must be 29 or 30 days. Therefore the implication is that the start date of Ramadan was in error, requiring Muslims to basically complete a “make-up” fast after Eid. The last time this happened in the Gulf was in 1984 when Saudi authorities admitted that they had indeed made an error in moonsighting the start of Ramadan.

A similar controversy arose last year for Muslims in Mumbai, as blogger motalib angrily recounted. He concluded,

The idea that the collective decisions of scholars and learned men can somehow correctly guide people through their spiritual lives has never been better illustrated as flawed than by moments like this. Here are the ‘leaders’ ignoring practice, precedent, logic and knowledge to ensure that their primacy is not threatened. Here is one of the most sacred times in the calendar, something that by definition cannot be changed, altered to cover human error.

I think that he is overly cynical here about the motivations of the scholars, but the plain truth is that human error afflicts humans, and committees magnify the error rather than minimize it.

I’ve made my own case for why I follow the calculation method in my debate with Irfan Rydhan on moonsighting, so I won’t repeat that here. However, I still do think that there is value in diversity of method. In motion, the believers reflect the heavens! There is a place for moonsighting in our tradition and for calculations, and well-intentioned calls for unity are I think subject to the same misguided impulse for perfection that eludes us all.

However, mistakes like this do underscore the glaring deficiency of the argument that calculations have no place whatsoever in moonsighting. Such mistakes – missing an entire day’s fast! – never occur with calculations. Never.

Related: my contribution to the moonsighting debate

Statement by President Obama on the Occasion of Eid al-Fitr

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

potus-seal

What is notable about this year’s remarks are the specifics in terms of dollar amounts. This isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind, but I think that it does show a responsiveness to the criticism.

Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr here in the United States and around the world. During the past month, Muslims have honored their faith through prayer and service, fasting and time spent with loved ones. At this year’s White House Iftar, I was proud to spend time with some of the many American Muslims whose contributions enrich our democracy and strengthen our economy. Many of us have had the opportunity to break fast with our Muslim friends and colleagues—a tradition that reminds us to be grateful for our blessings and to show compassion to the less fortunate among us, including millions of Syrians who spent Ramadan displaced from their homes, their families, and their loved ones. To help the many Syrians in need this Eid al-Fitr, the United States is providing an additional $195 million in food aid and other humanitarian aid, bringing our humanitarian contribution to the Syrian people to over $1 billion since the crisis began. For millions of Americans, Eid is part of a great tapestry of America’s many traditions, and I wish all Muslims a blessed and joyful celebration. Eid Mubarak.

a quote for Eid ul Fitr (Nelson Mandela)

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The season of Eid is upon us, and I’d like to share this quote from Nelson Mandela that came my way early this morning:

“There is nothing like returning to a place unchanged to find the ways you yourself have changed.”

What a wonderful sentiment. On Eid, we fully return to the routines of normal life, a place unchanged since when we left when Ramadan began. And yet, we ourselves are hopefully changed, by the 30 days of fasting and Qur’an, ibadat and dua.

The degree of the change is up to us, but this is the purpose of Ramadan, to show the contrast between a life engaged in worldly pursuit and one dedicated to the hereafter.

Nelson Mandela is not Muslim to my knowledge but the sentiment he expressed is one that all Muslims can take inspiration from.

Eid mubarak to everyone!

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