Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Will the Far Right Succeed?
Turning the War on Terror into a War on Islam

The Far Right has finally found a clever way to arrest America’s march towards asserting its foundational principles of equality, religious freedom, and the rule of law. Their strategy is to transform the war on terror into a war against Islam and use security needs to subvert constitutional protection.

The Far Right draws its ranks from the fringes of the Christian Right and the neoconservatives, particularly those who see in the indigenization of Islam and the presence of authentic Muslim voices in the United States a direct threat to their ability to manipulate the public and promote their narrow religious and foreign policy agenda.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Spiritual Essence of Ramadan

Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims the world over. Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk for the duration of Ramadan. For some, fasting may appear as a form of deprivation and of bodily exertion. On one level, abstaining from sensual needs and pleasures is indeed a physical experience. But those who stop at the physical aspects of fasting miss the essence of Ramadan and its purpose.

Fasting the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. These are the foundation upon which the entire structure of Islam is built. These consist of the declaration of faith, prayer, fasting Ramadan, paying of Zakah [the annual charity payment], and performing the pilgrimage to Makkah, known as hajj. Three of the five pilars of Islam are rituals, that is, prescribed religious acts whose rationale is not immediately available for understanding. These are prayer, fasting, and hajj. Muslims are required to do them because they are part of their religious duties, that is, they are part of their covenant with God.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Neocon Pundits Malign American Muslims: All Faiths Must Face their Demons

Three militant neocon pundits spoke vehemently against the Bush administration’s gesture to include American Muslim leaders in discussions on how to deal with the rising tide of anti-Americanism and to restore the level of trust and support the United States enjoyed prior to the missteps the administration took under the neocons’ urging.

Frank Gaffney issued a warning to Karen Hughes, the newly appointed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, demanding that she does not attend the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention. Ignoring the false alarm he set in a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Times, Ms. Hughes met with Muslim leaders and discussed her ideas for bridging the deepening divide between the United States and Muslim countries.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Beyond the Condemnation of Terrorism

London terrorist bombings elicited familiar response: Islamic organizations and Muslim communities in Europe and North America condemned the terrorist attacks and stressed the dissonance between the deplorable acts of the terrorists and the humane principles of Islam. Tony Blair paid tribute to the intrinsically peaceful teaching of Islam and reminded his countrymen that the British Muslims are law-abiding and contributing members of the British society, as he condemned the militant ideology espoused by the terrorists. “We know that these people act in the name of Islam,” Blair stressed, “but we also know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law abiding people who abhor terrorism every bit as much as we do.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Towards Women Friendly Mosques

The Islamic Social Services Association and Woman in Islam have released a guide underlining a set of principles rooted in Islamic sources that outlines the rights of Muslim women to have full access to the masjid, and calling on Muslim leaders to privilege Islamic principles and values over cultural habits and traditions. The guide is entitled “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our Heritage.”

The guide presents a serious attempt to deal with an issue that requires an immediate attention by Muslim communities: the place of women in the masjid and the community. I personally faced the issue for the first time two decades ago when a Muslim Student Association board member objected to the inclusion of women in an executive meeting. He based his position in Islamic traditions, but his argument was found lacking by everyone else on the board. The meeting went on without him but with the two sisters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Can the United States Lose the Whole World and its Own Soul Too?

Under a tremendous pressure from the White House, the Newsweek finally retracted its story on the desecration of the Qur'an at Guantanamo prison, and apologized for being sloppy in verifying sources. Rather than convincing the world that the interrogators at Guantanamo are innocent of the charges of abusing Islam's holy book, the Newsweek's retraction reinforced the perception that US media is toeing the government's line and that it has become impotent to challenge government's excesses.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Breaking the Vicious Circle of Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia

Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia share a common denominator: they both serve as a strategic weapon in the war of ideas between Muslim and Western extremists and bigots. On one level, anti-Americanism and Islamophobia stem from ignorance, deception, and misrepresentation. On a deeper level, however, they stem from a very basic human instinct: the will to power unrestrained and undisciplined by moral values; they stem from human greed and the will to dominate, exploit, and abuse.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hardliners in Search of Moderate Muslims

A moderate is one who is given to moderation in views and practices, and who avoids extravagance and excesses. Moderation is considered a virtue in both ancient philosophy and revealed religions. Greek philosophers regarded moderation as one of four fundamental moral virtues.

The Qur’an, which acknowledges the Torah and the Gospel, directs Muslims to seek moderation in religious practices and spending, and warns Muslims against fanaticism and extravagance. The Prophet of Islam, likewise, warned Muslims not to commit excesses, and took every occasion to remind them to be moderate. “Seek religious duties with care and avoid hast,” he stressed, “for the hasty often fails to complete his journey and destroys the vessel that carries him.”

Monday, April 18, 2005

Islam’s Encounter with American Culture: Making Sense of the Progressive Muslim Agenda

The Progressive Muslim Union (PMU)’s drive to realign Islam to progressive values has stirred a controversy that was felt beyond the American shores. While the immediate questions of the controversy evolved around the right of women to lead a mixed-gender prayer, the discussion revealed deeper and profounder issues and concerns. At the core of the debate lies the old question of understanding divine intent and relating the revealed word to social context and cultural practices. How does one interpret Islamic sources in the contemporary world? How can one differentiate the universal elements of Islam from cultural practices that have particular relevance to specific time and place? And, above all, how does Islam affects, and is affected by, American cultures and traditions.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Woman and the Masjid between Two Extremes

The masjid, better known in North America as the Islamic center, is the center of spiritual, social, educational, and, most recently, political activities of the American Muslim community. The masjid is also the place where Muslims of diverse cultural and ideological backgrounds meet and interact. The diversity of interpretations of Islamic sources and practices has created tensions, particularly in Islamic centers where the tendency is to impose strict interpretations about the appropriate place and role of Muslim women in the masjid and the community.

An increasing number of young Muslim women complain of restrictive arrangements and practices, impeding their ability to fully participate in educational and social programs. Many masjids today restrict the main prayer hall to men, and assign women to secluded quarters. Women are asking out laud: is this the place Islam assigns for us, or is it the imposition of cultural traditions? Some have even gone to the other extreme of rejecting all traditions and discarding all limits.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Democratic Reform in Muslim Societies: The Case of Egypt

The Bush Administration has made education reform in Muslim societies a key demand, and has earmarked considerable sums of money to fund democratic education. The substantial funds allocated to democratic education in Muslim countries have attracted many organizations involved in democratic training in South American and East Europe. The decision to spend money on democratic education signals a positive change in attitude, and the Bush Administration should be applauded for taking this forward-looking initiative, and for increasing the pressure on the autocratic Middle Eastern regimes to undertake democratic reform.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Faulty Generalizations: Freedom House Cries Wolf

How would the Christian or Jewish communities feel if a research group of some repute visits a dozen of churches or synagogues, finds few books out of several thousands that includes questionable statements about people of other faiths, and then produces a report entitled “Hate Ideology Fills American Churches and Synagogues?” I am sure Christians and Jews would be outraged by such a sloppy and irresponsible conclusion.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Islamic Law, Modern Critique, and Moral Choices

The democratization process in Nigeria, ushered with the demise of Gen. Abacha in 1998, brought with it new demands for the implementation of shari'ah (Islamic Law). By 1999. several Northern Nigerian states announced plans to adopt shari'ah code. The announcements created an uproar and civil strife, and resulted in fatal clashes between Muslims and Christians.

The issue of the implementation of shari'ah resurfaced again in 2002, when a shari'ah court sentenced Amina Lawal to death after being found guilty of adulterous relationship. The case generated great interest, and the shari'ah court's decision was met with international protest and condemnation. Many in the West saw death as an excessive and cruel punishment for an act that falls within the realm of individual and private choice in modern culture.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Confounding Patriotism and Bigotry in Post 9/11 America

A patriot is "one who loves, supports, and defends one's country." A bigot, on the other hand, is "one who is strongly partial to one's own group religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ," says the American Heritage dictionary. The difference between the two is obvious and enormous: Patriotism is borne out of love and generosity towards the country to which a person belongs, while bigotry is borne out of hate and a mean-spirited attitude towards those who are different.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Making Sense of the Tsunami Disaster

When calamity afflicts people they often ask: why? When the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster caused death and destruction, people asked why? "Why did you do this, God?" was the title of an article dispatched by Reuter on December 30, 2004.

"This is an expression of God's great ire with the world," said Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar. "The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude," was the answer of Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a priest of New Delhi's Birla Hindu temple. Azizan Abdul Razak, a Muslim cleric and vice president of Malaysia's Islamic Party, said the disaster was a reminder from God that "he created the world and can destroy the world."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Logic of History and Power

We all have perspectives on the world. Our vantage points-- determined by our social, communal, ethnic, and religious affiliations--influence our views and our perspectives. Our perspectives can be a source of enrichment or devastation. When we respect individuality and recognize each other, our varying vantage points make us see things better, and arrive at better answers and solutions. But when we see our differences as a threat, and insist to impose our views by force, distortion, or deception we all end up being losers.

America today faces another critical test as Islam and American Muslims are subjected to repeated episodes of discrimination, demonization, racism, and bigotry. Blacks, Irish, Italians, German, Japanese, East Europeans, Jews, and Catholics had all to go through this ordeal. Now it is the turn of American Muslims.

One would expect that people would learn from history, and realize that racism, bigotry, guilt by association, collective punishment, and profiling are both wrong and counterproductive, and that those who choose these means to win often end up being the losers. But, alas, it is the logic of power and arrogance, rather than the logic of history and rightness, that too often has more grip on human beings.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Discrimination and Aggression

It does not take much effort to see that cases of aggression, abuse, and exploitation often emanate from a single pattern: Dividing people into categories, and using the notion of "we are better than them" to justify aggression, exploitation, and violation of human dignity.

Tyrants, racists, and bigots always make sure before they embarked on a campaign of exploitation and abuse that the victims of their aggression are degraded and demonized. The ways of the Pharaoh of divide, degrade, and rule are the ways of all those who exploit differences and use ideology, both religious and secular, to justify claims of superiority. The Qur'an succinctly summarizes the Pharaonic ways: "Truly Pharaoh elated himself in the land and broke up its people into sections, overpowering one group of them: their sons he slew, but kept alive their females; for he was indeed a maker of mischief." (28:4)