Archive for the ‘Islam around the world’ Category

Boris Burkas

August 14, 2018

With the Name of God, the Apparent, the Hidden

BORIS BURKAS

 

 

  1. The “Boris Burkas” controversy is a good opportunity to further debate around the Islamic veil in a civil way. A key issue is that the niqab or face-veil does not (currently) have the social acceptability in the UK that it does in some Muslim-majority countries. There needs to be more civilised dialogue to help wider society understand why thousands of British women choose to wear a face-veil in public. Conversely, the principles of Islamic ethics and law dictate that public security and safety is of paramount importance: we also need an internal dialogue amongst proponents or defenders of the face-veil about this issue.
  2. It is important to summarise what Boris said: he critiqued the Danes, some of whom still swim stark naked in public, for banning the burka (or correctly, niqab). He expressed the wish that the fringe practice of face-veiling, at which he poked fun, would disappear in Britain, but opposed a ban. He also echoed Jack Straw’s 2006 call for face-veiling to end.
  3. I recently spent an hour in a residential area of the Highfields district of Leicester, and observed that about half of all women walking on that street wore the niqab. Several had teenage daughters with them who covered their hair but not the face.  There are clearly a few parts of UK cities, such as Birmingham, Leicester, Blackburn and elsewhere, where the niqab is quite common, although nationally it is a fringe practice.
  4. Face-veiling was clearly known in pre-Islamic Arabia, including amongst men. Reasons for it included simple environmental ones such as the problem of sandstorms – Arab horsemen riding with their faces covered are a familiar sight in the desert. Cultural practices often become divorced from their origins. It is for this reason that Tuareg men still cover their faces with the tails of their turbans, sometimes even when indoors. At the Marrakech Declaration conference in 2016, the most senior Islamic cleric of Niger attended wearing this traditional Tuareg dress.
  5. Aside from culture, veiling also of course has religious and spiritual dimensions. Islamic culture and tradition continued and adapted many Jewish, Christian and Arabian pre-Islamic practices. The veiling of women in Islam came to fundamentally symbolise higher theological and metaphysical truths, the most central of which is that God is veiled by creation, and the veil (hijab) between humanity and God is lifted in the Hereafter for those who purify their souls sufficiently. Now, God has the Most Beautiful Names: a traditional Islamic idea is that the masculine represents and manifests Transcendence, Majesty and the Outer whilst the feminine represents and manifests Immanence, Beauty and the Inner. (These metaphysical concepts related to gender are explored in ‘The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought’ by Sachiko Murata, 1992.) Of course, there are other, non-traditional views on the subject, especially more modern ones.
  6. Thus, the Muslim woman became veiled because she represented the Divine Beloved and the Divine Beauty. Her veiling in public also became an extension of her home-based role, where she remained in purdah (a curtain or veil), a term that has ironically been borrowed for the suspension of UK parliaments before elections. Occasionally, veiling applied to men too: we can also be beloved sometimes, and there is a minority South Asian Muslim practice of veiling the bridegroom – I have witnessed this at a wedding in the UK. Of course, the Christian practice of veiling the bride is well known in the UK. The Muslim caliph, sultan or local emir was sometimes veiled in public, to preserve an element of mystery, respect and power. His doorkeeper was literally known as “the veiler” (hajib). Metaphysically, the ruler here represented the Divine Majesty and Divine Power. Of course, there is a gender-asymmetry here that may be mistaken for, or perverted into, gender-inequality, as Munira Mirza alludes to in her article on this subject.
  7. Boris was wrong to comment that he could find no scriptural justification for face-veiling in the Koran, on two counts. Firstly, his comment is inaccurate, since traditionally, some Islamic authorities have interpreted some verses to include face-veiling, as I described in detail in my 2011 paper, Islam and the Veil. Secondly, his comment implies that scriptural literalism is justified, whereas scripture was always supposed to be read alongside considerations of history, society, morality, spirituality and ethics. NB: at least Boris was closer to the mark than the Prince of Wales, who famously and inaccurately said in his 1990s lecture at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, that “veiling was a cultural tradition, and not from the Prophet of Islam.”
  8. Clearly, face-veiling is not fully accepted in UK society, as politicians’ comments from Jack Straw (2006) onwards illustrate. However, it is not totally unknown, so there are cultural blindspots in operation. I have already mentioned the bridal veil, a beautiful Christian tradition. There is also the practice of entertainers and party-goers wearing masks. In 2013, I attended an interfaith meeting at Lambeth Palace, that was also addressed by Baroness Warsi: in his closing remarks, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to “masqued parties” in previous centuries at the palace, that he said were a euphemism for wife-swapping parties. To this day, British newspapers continue to report about private sex parties where all participants wear masks. This again raises the question of private vs. public practice.
  9. In contrast to the UK, face-veiling is clearly socially-acceptable, and even the norm, in some parts of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority countries, where people might invert Boris’ comments and speak of “bank robbers dressed as women.” In Saudi Arabia, I noticed that niqabs were of different levels of opacity and transparency, and saw young girls having great fun lifting and lowering their veils as they peered out at the world in preparation for a religious, socially-conservative adult life. During my years of teaching at mosque, college and university in the UK and Pakistan, the female students adopted diverse dress-codes with regard to covering or not covering their heads and faces, and there was always social acceptance from other students and teachers, both male and female. I have also come across face-veiling teachers in Islamic schools in the UK and Pakistan. In Pakistan, “Burka Avenger” is a popular cartoon series promoting education and female empowerment.  It was so successful that it was bought by Nickelodeon Pakistan. Islamic face-veiling has come to the UK via British multiculturalism and needs to be understood seriously, rather than treated with knee-jerk reactions.
  10. Having grown up in the UK since the age of five, I was at first uncomfortable talking to women in niqabs, but I learnt to respect their choices and to gauge basic emotions such as sadness or joy from their eyes. To return to a spiritual aspect of this question, I find sunglasses, that are obviously worn by both men and women, annoyingly including indoors, to be far more of a barrier to meaningful contact: in many spiritual traditions around the world, the eyes are a window into, and a mirror of, the soul. Clearly, eye-contact is prohibited by ray-bans, whereas at least you can tell if a niqab-wearer is smiling from the twinkling of her eyes. If we can’t see each other’s eyes, we can’t see into each other’s souls.
  11. Having said all of the above, there is a clear principle of Islamic ethics and law that public welfare (maslaha) overrides most other considerations. In western, (post-)Christian societies, there are genuine concerns about social acceptability and public security. This must be considered in the debate, especially by defenders and proponents of face-veiling.
  12. Anecdotally, I have come across several western non-Muslim men, who describe the veil as being “sexy” and “mysteriously attractive.” This raises another internal question for some Muslims: if the veil is supposed to symbolise and promote modesty and chastity, how do we guard against it becoming counter-productive?

CONCLUSIONS

  1. Boris Johnson should apologise for the offence caused by his comparing face-veiled women to pillar-boxes and bank robbers. Perhaps in the future, such comments will not be offensive because the national debate will be mature and integrated enough for face-veiled women themselves to laugh along with the jokes. But with all the racial and religious tensions in the UK, particularly around Islam, visibly-different Muslim women are one of our most vulnerable minorities, especially those who wear the niqab. A senior politician, a possible future Prime Minister, should display higher standards in public and be more responsible: for example, he probably knows that he would never get away with similarly mocking the characteristic dress of British ultra-orthodox Jews.(DISCLAIMER & APOLOGY: On a private electronic discussion group of salafi activists c. 2009-10, I once made a flippant remark about our men and women dressing like “clowns and ninjas.” I was making a serious point about integration and traditional dress, by which I stand: public perception and respect for local society is important in Islam. But the comment was made public and used against me by my opponents during the 2011 Tawhid Mosque controversy, so for the record, although many salafis told me that they found the comment funny, I would like to apologise for any offence caused.)
  2. We need more civilised and mature debate in the UK to address at least two major aspects of this issue. Firstly, I hope that more proponents of the niqab, especially face-veiled women themselves, articulate their thinking and experience so that wider society understands the practice better, leading to more social acceptance and less fear around it, as exists already in many Muslim-majority countries. Secondly, I hope that the proponents and defenders of the face-veil consider genuine concerns in wider society around security and facial visibility, since the niqab has not been native to these shores in the past.
  3. Those insisting that the niqab be discarded are taking an illiberal position: it is better to have a respectful debate. If, as a result, some or all women remove their niqabs, then all well and good from the perspective of opponents of niqab, but those women’s free choice must be respected. I know of several British Muslim women who used to wear a niqab, but stopped doing so for reasons of social cohesion after 9/11 and 7/7. On the other hand, I was told anecdotally that more young women wore the niqab as a defiant response to Jack Straw in 2006. And in the same year, a white British female convert to Islam who had worn the niqab for 10 years, gave Channel 4’s alternative Christmas Day message.
  4. It is better to debate a matter without settling it, than to settle it without debating. I hope and pray that this whole controversy leads to a better understanding of the issue in the UK through constructive debate.
  5. Boris Bikes were a huge success. There might be a lucrative commercial opportunity right now for someone to market a suitable line of “Boris Burkas.” But joking aside, I would genuinely love to see Boris discuss this issue with a niqab-wearer, especially one that could match his wit and stand up for her free choice. It would be very helpful for both sides to have such an interaction. I hope someone can arrange such an encounter.

 

Usama Hasan

London

14th August 2018

 

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Islam and China

December 13, 2017

Niu Jie Mosque – Beijing. The mosque was established in 996 CE, so it is over 1,000 years old, in its successive manifestations. The mosque front faces due west, which is used as the approximate qibla. The man in the foreground is a Chinese Muslim trader from Xinjiang province, fluent in Arabic.

Bismillah. I visited the sacred land of China (Beijing) for the first time last week, by the grace of God. The sacredness and spirituality of the land and its people was palpable. Here are some reflections from my reading and experiences:

 

1. The alleged hadith, “Seek knowledge, even unto China,” is a traditional Islamic saying, but unlikely to be from the Prophet, peace be upon him.

As I wrote in the Introduction and Appendix to my father Sheikh Suhaib Hasan’s Introduction to the Science of Hadith, “This additional statement is found in a few of the (weak) narrations of the previous hadith [‘Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim’], and is declared as mawdu’ [fabricated] by Ibn Hibban, Ibn al- Jawzi, al-Sakhawi and al-Albani.” The views of these hadith scholars may be found in the following works by Albani: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da’ifah, no. 416; Da’if al-Jami’ al- Saghir, nos. 1005-6.

Furthermore, the text of this alleged hadith “otherises” China, whereas the Prophet was a mercy to the worlds (Qur’an, The Prophets, 21:107) and all languages in their diversity, including the Chinese languages, are amongst the Signs of God (ayatullah – Qur’an, The Romans or Byzantines, 30:22). At the most, “even unto China” is an Arab-centric phrase in this context, and does not fit with the universality of the Qur’anic and Prophetic message.

2. There are legends about the Prophet’s Companions visiting China, and even of up to four of them being buried there.

They include Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas. Since he conquered Persia, it is highly plausible that he could have ventured further east to India and China. If he was buried in China, this would be more widely known to the scholars of Hadith and Rijal, who compiled detailed biographies of the Companions. I would be grateful for learned contributions to this question.

The following is from Wikipedia (not the most reliable source I know, but this is a blog, not an academic paper), under Emperor Tang Gaozong (649-683):

Known by Islamic sources as Yung Wei, which was in fact the name of the first era in his reign (Yonghui era from February 650 to February 656; see era name), Islamic sources credit him with building the first mosque, a mosque that still stands in Guangzhou. According to those records, Islam was introduced to China and Emperor Gaozong by the visit of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, in the year 650. According to these sources, Emperor Gaozong is said to have respected the teachings of Islam greatly, feeling the teachings were compatible with Confucianism, and offered the building of the mosque as a sign of admiration. The emperor himself did not convert as he felt Islam was too restrictive for his own preferences, but according to those sources, did not stop him from allowing Sa`d and his company to spread the teachings throughout the region. These sources, however, were not corroborated by Chinese records.

[1]  Lan Xu, Tianfang zheng xue (The true learning of Arabia), Beijing: Niujie Mosque, 1925 edition (first edition 1852), juan 7; quoted in Zhang Xinglang, p. 744.

 

3. An anecdote from al-Mas’udi’s Meadows of Gold (Muruj al-Dhahab) about a Sino-Arab encounter

Reproduced from elsewhere on this blog: al-Masu’di of Baghdad (c. 276-344 H / 890-956 CE) wrote,

The story of Habbar bin al-Aswad, an Arab notable of Basra who left during the Zanj [negro slaves’] rebellion there, is entertaining. He went to China via India. A Chinese king showed his Arab visitor portraits of prophets including Noah, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. The king stated that Noah’s flood didn’t reach India or China.

He further showed him portraits of Indian and Chinese prophets’ portraits, depicting them as pointing the index finger to the heavens, warning of the power of God, or making a circle with the thumb and index finger, to indicate that creation is a circle.

[Muslims daily indicate the unity of God with the right index finger (cf. Michaelangelo’s famous painting depicting God and Adam). During prayer, they also sometimes make a circle with the thumb and middle finger, following the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Furthermore, according to a sound hadith: Umm Salama emigrated to Abyssinia with her first husband Abu Salama as part of the early sacred migration (hijra). In the churches there, she saw images of prophets with index fingers raised (cf. Michaelangelo again), a feature of daily Islamic prayers. See Albani, Sifah Salah al-Nabi or The Prophet’s Prayer Described, for these hadiths. – U.H.]

Al-Mas’udi continued:

The people of China are the most skilful in painting and arts. No other nation can compare with them in any craft whatsoever.

China was prosperous due to its justice until the Huang Chao rebellion of 878. He attacked Khanfu, massacring 200,000 Muslims, Christians, Jews and fire-worshippers [Zoroastrians/Parsees].

 

4. Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) was one of the great figures of Chinese history, and was Muslim.

As a child, I read a kids’ book about Admiral Cheng-Ho and his voyages, part of a series about “Heroes of Islam.” I remember nothing from the stories, except the striking name. I always thought that he was highlighted in this series simply because he was Muslim, and was amazed to discover later that he was the greatest Chinese admiral in history. (By the way, admiral is an English word derived from the Arabic, amir al-bahr: ‘commander of the sea.’)

Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Vintage, 2011) is described by its publisher as a ‘Number One Bestseller.’ In it, the author writes these glowing lines about Zheng He (Cheng-Ho), but unfortunately does not mention that he was an integrated Chinese Muslim who assumed a major leadership position, like millions of his fellow Chinese Muslims. Harari wrote:

Many scholars argue that the voyages of Admiral Zheng He of the Chinese Ming dynasty heralded and eclipsed the European voyages of discovery. Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng led seven huge armadas from China to the far reaches of the Indian Ocean. The largest of these comprised almost 300 ships and carried close to 300,000 people. They visited Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and East Africa. Chinese ships anchored in Jedda, the main harbour of the Hejaz, and in Malindi, on the Kenyan coast. Columbus’ fleet of 1492 – which consisted of three small ships manned by 120 sailors – was like a trio of mosquitoes compared to Zheng He’s drove of dragons.

Yet there was a crucial difference. Zheng He explored the oceans, and assisted pro-Chinese rulers, but he did not try to conquer or colonise the countries he visited. Moreover, the expeditions of Zheng He were not deeply rooted in Chinese politics and culture. When the ruling faction in Beijing changed during the 1430s, the new overlords abruptly terminated the operation. The great fleet was dismantled, crucial technical and geographical knowledge was lost, and no explorer of such stature and means ever set out again from a Chinese port. Chinese rulers in the coming centuries, like most Chinese rulers in previous centuries, restricted their interests and ambitions to the Middle Kingdom’s immediate environs.

(Harari, p. 324)

Harari (p. 325) then provides a striking, visual illustration of his comparison between the fleets of Zheng He and Christopher Columbus:

from Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Vintage Books, 2011, p. 325

5. The Niu Jie Mosque in Beijing has been a place of Islamic worship for over a thousand years, and is well worth a visit, including to non-Muslim visitors.

The mosque is easily reachable by subway to Guang’AnMennei: take the SE exit, turn left, heading due west and take the second major right onto Niu Jie Street. The mosque is clearly visible on the left, a couple of blocks down.

The mosque embodies “Islam with Chinese characteristics”: the pagoda- or Chinese palace-style is obvious. Many of inscriptions on the rock steles and in the ante-hall to the main worship hall are in Chinese. (Inside the main worship hall, all the calligraphy is in Arabic, in a distinctive font known as Sini [Chinese], influenced by Chinese calligraphy.) Look carefully, as in the photo of the mosque, and you will see small carved dragons on top of the mosque buildings, presumably to drive away evil spirits. This of course violates the traditional Judeo-Islamic prohibition on graven images, but illustrates the integration of Chinese Muslims: they seem to have tolerated small dragons, that certainly do not dominate the mosque buildings, most of which uphold the ban on graven images.

The mosque consists of several buildings: the main (men’s) worship hall with an ante-hall, a minaret and two pavilions, all pagoda-style. The main worship hall holds about 500 men, according to my estimate. There were some women attending prayers too, so presumably there must be a women’s prayer hall. There is an old sundial that can be used to tell the time generally, and specifically zawal (noon), and hence zuhr or afternoon prayer time. The sundial looks very similar to the one I saw in the Forbidden City, to the side of Tian’Anmen Square.

The qibla direction of the mosque appears to be due west, which is reasonable for China, although I would like to check this more precisely.

The main prayer hall effectively has three open and interconnected mini-courtyards within it, due to an array of pillars and arches. The outer sides of the pillars and arches are plain, but the inner sides are beautifully decorated with floral motifs and Islamic calligraphy. As you enter the mosque, the courtyard sizes are small, large and medium, in that order.

As one enters the main hall, the first archway has three Qur’anic verse inscribed in a series of six circular designs. I was unable to work out the first verse, reading from right to left. The middle verse is “Truly, God has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions, in exchange for their owning the Garden.” (Qur’an, Repentance, 9:111). The verse on the left is “Whoever brings goodness will receive ten times like it; whoever brings evil, will only be recompensed in like measure” (Qur’an, Cattle, 6:160).

The entire texts of the following surahs are written in gorgeous calligraphy on the remaining arches: al-Fath (Victory, 48), al-Rahman (Most Merciful, 55), al-Mulk (Kingdom, 67), al-Naba’ (News, 78) and al-Nazi’at (Tearers, 79). There is precise attention to detail, e.g. the small circle above the word s(ui)’at in 67:27 indicating that the first vowel is to be read initially as a damma (u), followed by a long kasra (i), in a one-third:two-thirds ratio, as is well-known in the science of Qur’an-recitation or tajwid. However, seven verses appear to be missing from al-Naba’, nos. 21-27, except that the last two letters of 78:27 are present, the long ba. This is something I’ve occasionally seen in Qur’anic calligraphy in old mosques, since it’s not easy to fit passages precisely onto buildings, especially when your canvas is a curved arch.

In addition, three of the arches are inscribed with a collection of about 45 salawat or blessings upon the Prophet. They follow an identical pattern: each is comprised of the formula, Allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammad sayyid … (Dear God, Bless Muhammad, Master of …). Each blessing is then completed with a plural noun: the first is al-mursalin (the Messengers); others are al-muttaqin (the Pious)al-tawwabin (the Oft-Repenting), etc.

 

6. The Sinofication of Chinese Muslim surnames from Arabic.

Some years ago, a Chinese imam called Sheikh Ibrahim Ma visited London and spoke at a number of locations, including Masjid al-Tawhid. This Wikipedia entry under “Islam during the Ming dynasty”, if correct, gives the origin of Chinese Muslim surnames such as Ma:

Foreign origin Muslims adopted the Chinese character which sounded the most phonetically similar to the beginning syllables of their Muslim names – Ha for Hasan, Hu for Hussain and Sa’I for Said and so on. Han who converted to Islam kept their own surnames like Kong, Zhang. Chinese surnames that are very common among Muslim families are Mo, Mai, and Mu – names adopted by the Muslims who had the surnames Muhammad, Mustafa and Masoud.

 

7. Are Allama Iqbal’s famous lines of poetry beginning with “Cheen (China)” imperialist or universalist?

Iqbal wrote these famous lines, known as Tarana-e-Milli or “Anthem of the Muslim Nation”, that begins:

Cheen-o-Arab hamara, Hindustan hamara
Muslim hain hum, watan hai sara jahan hamara

China and Arabia are ours; India is ours.
We are Muslims, the whole world is ours.

Touheed ki Amanat seenon mein hai hamare
Asan nahin nitana naam-o-nishan hamara

God’s unity is held in trust in our hearts.
It is not easy to erase our name and sign …

I first learnt this as a child in its Arabic translation, such was Iqbal’s influence:

al-sinu lana wa l-hindu lana

wa l-‘arbu lana wa l-kullu lana

adha l-islamu lana dinan

wa jami’u l-kawni lana watana

tawhidullahi lana nurun …

Since Iqbal was a poet, he may have meant all of this metaphorically and universally, in the sense that the earth belongs to God and therefore to the true people of God. But many people read these verses literally, and imagine that they have the right to conquer and dominate other people. The age of military conquests is largely over, and any non-Chinese person who visits China and sees a fraction of its billion-and-a-half population, should know immediately that it is ridiculous to pretend or dream that China belongs to anyone but the Chinese. And the same goes for India, Arabia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Oceania etc.

But such delusions do persist: in Pakistan in 2003, I met a LeT supporter who had helped to establish a mosque in Islamabad and told me that the “mujahideen” during the Kargil incident had come close to “liberating Kashmir” and that they would have gone on to “liberate India” !! We Muslims need to have honest conversations about such matters. The divisions and conflicts are such a shame, especially when it is obvious that Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese etc. have so much in common, not least their eastern-ness.

Which reminds me: there is a famous saying, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

But the reality is: “East is East, and West is West, and the twain have met many times in all kinds of ways, and continue to do so.”

8. Ibn Arabi’s curious visionary prediction that the the last human ever to be born will be a boy, immediately preceded by his twin sister, in China. This boy will also grow up to be the last saint or holy person of humanity.

This is in his Fusus al-Hikam (Bezels of Wisdom) under the bezel of Seth (Shith):

It will be in the line of Seth that the last true Man will be born, bearing his mysteries [of divine Wisdom], nor will such be born after him. He will be the Seal of Offspring. There will be born with him a [twin] sister who will be born before him, so that his head will be at her feet. He will be born in the land of China and will speak the language of that land. Sterility will then overcome the men and women of this land and, although there will be much consorting, there will be no bringing forth of children [as true men (?)]. He will call them to God without success and when God has taken him and those of his time who believed, the others will remain living like beasts with no sense of right and wrong, giver over to the law of the [lower] nature, devoid of intellect and Sacred Law [and Ethics]. The Last Hour will overtake them.

The above is in Austin’s translation, p. 70, with slight modifications by me. Austin summarises this prediction as follows (pp. 61-2):

Ibn al-‘Arabi concludes this chapter with a curious prediction concerning the fate of man as defined in his teachings. He says that the last true human, in the line of Seth, will be born in China and that he will have an elder sister. He goes on to prophesy that thereafter men will become as beasts, bereft of spirit and law, until the coming of the Hour. Thus, he indicates that that particular human synthesis of spirit and nature, of which we are all a part, will come to an end and the link be broken.

 

Usama Hasan (Ha)

London, UK

13/12/2017

Some thoughts on the Tunisia massacre, including why it is absurd to link an attack against a Muslim-majority state to Islam

July 1, 2015

Bismillah.

I would like to express my thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Sousse massacre, about 30 of whom are British citizens.

This was a monstrous attack, accompanied by a disgusting statement of justification (see previous blog post). The Imperial Hotel was hardly a “den of prostitution, vice and unbelief” – it was a legitimate holiday destination authorised by the state of “Muslim Tunisia” (to use ISIL’s own phrase). Rezgui is not a gallant knight, but a coward who attacked unarmed men and women holidaying with their families and friends, often with little children, some of whom are now traumatised and emotionally scarred.  Many of the victims were old enough to be the killer’s parents or grandparents, but he still showed them no mercy during his attention-seeking, narcissistic rampage.  “Look at me!  I am a deluded, wannabe holy warrior!”

The previous week, another deluded young man massacred nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston.  Some of the victims’ families have already forgiven the killer.  I hope that at least some of the British victims’ families will find it in their hearts to forgive the Tunisia killer, although that is of course easier to say than do, and it will be a painful internal journey for all the survivors and relatives – life is a constant journey, outwardly and inwardly, of course.

We are just days away from the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 1995. The ringleader of that attack claimed it was on behalf of “his people,” i.e. the people of Iraq, even though he had never set foot in that country. British Muslims should all stand in solidarity with the victims of 7/7 and of the Sousse massacre, and make it clear in no uncertain terms to the members, supporters, sympathisers and apologists of Al-Qaeda and ISIL everywhere, that include hundreds of deluded Brits, that the British people are “our people,” as are the vast majority of decent, civilised people everywhere. And all British people should come together against the horror and barbarism being perpetrated by ISIL and similar groups worldwide.

The terrorist mass-murderer, Seifeddine Rezgui, was clearly a loser who became a monster. The attacker’s title al-Qayrawani is carefully chosen: it claims that he is from Qayrawan or a graduate of it, an ancient Islamic city in Tunisia, and site of one of the oldest mosques and universities in the world. Hence the symbolism: a holy warrior, steeped in prayer and learning, slaughtering the Crusaders to protect them from “Muslim Tunisia.” This illustrates the utterly delusional, fantasy world of ISIL, although unfortunately, given the right conditions, there are millions of people seduced by this stupid and monstrous, ahistorical narrative. In reality, “Muslim Tunisia, a 99% Muslim-majority country, has an overwhelmingly secular constitution, approved by a coalition of post-Islamists and Muslim secularists, and this “Muslim Tunisia” is an enemy of ISIL, committed to protecting itself and its economy from being ravaged by ISIL madmen. Rezgui was clearly, utterly ignorant of the centuries-old ethical tradition of Islam, including in regard to warfare, never mind somehow being al-Qayrawani, or a graduate of Qayrawan, one of the oldest universities and centres of learning in the entire world.

Muslim Tunisian hotel workers saved the lives of their holiday-maker guests at the Imperial hotel. Muslim Tunisian doctors and nurses, including veiled and unveiled women, saved lives and treated the injured in the hospitals of Sousse. Crowds of Muslim Tunisians chased the ISIL fanatic, putting themselves in great danger, and some of them threw rubble at him from rooftops. It was Muslim Tunisian security forces and snipers who finally shot him dead, cutting short his rampage and saving many more lives. Since the massacre, crowds of Muslim Tunisians have rallied in protest against the massacre, carrying Tunisian and British flags, making heart signs in solidarity with the victims, and holding candlelit vigils in their memory.

This reality destroys the fiction entertained by both Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim bigots, that somehow Rezgui represents Islam or Muslims in any meaningful sense. It also illustrates the absurdity of linking this terrorism, overwhelmingly rejected by a 99% Muslim nation on the basis of their faith, to that faith itself.  Similar logic applied when terrorists murdered Muslim schoolteachers and schoolchildren last year in Peshawar, Pakistan, a 95% Muslim-majority country.  Just as no serious Brit associated IRA terrorism with Christianity, knowing the sublime ideals of that religion, no serious Muslim has any doubt about the disgusting, filthy nature of takfiri terrorism.  It is only to people outside the faith, often swayed by ignorance, fear and/or prejudice, that such questions are unclear. Westerners associating ISIL with Islam is equivalent to Easterners associating Breivik, with his symbols of the cross and crusade, with Christianity.  Neither position makes any meaningful sense.

Tunisia has produced the most ISIL foreign fighters ‎because of the relative success of the democratic process there: takfiris go abroad to live out their fantasies. In neighbouring Libya, the civil war provides ample opportunities for takfiri violence.

Thus, Muslim Tunisia has embraced democracy and secularism as antidotes to both dictatorship and islamism. This ISIL attack is a pathetic, cowardly attempt by childish, attention-seeking islamists to stop the consensus of the good people of Tunisia in favour of liberty, democracy and religiously-neutral secularism: the separation of mosque and state, a principle praised by one of the leading Sunni Muslim theologians of our time, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, in his Sina’at al-Fatwa as far back as 1428 / 2007.  A full translation of his arguments may be found in my essay, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, available elsewhere.

I end with my translation of a few selected phrases from the new Tunisian constitution (2014) that illustrates this “Islamic civil secular democracy”: for study, discussion and analysis. Note that this constitution has been endorsed by (the party of) Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi [Rashid al-Ghannoushi], who has a Muslim Brotherhood background, but is effectively post-islamist:

Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state …

Islam is its religion. Arabic is its language. Democracy is its system …

It is a civil state, based on citizenship, the will of the people & the primacy of the law …

The people are sovereign, and are the source of authority, which they practise via elected representatives …

State slogans are: freedom, dignity, integrity, order. [hurriya, karama, ‘adala, nizam – all of which are maqasid or universal objectives of the ethical and legal tradition of Islam known as Sharia]

And because ISIL and their apologists do not believe in freedom, dignity, integrity and order, and have effectively lost the intellectual argument about the future of Islam, they will continue threatening their childish attacks and terrible violence whilst throwing a massive, global tantrum. And they will lose, because this madness is unsustainable in the face of the millions of decent, civilised people who will continue to stand strong for truth, justice, mercy and beauty, all of which are reflections of the Names of God, and will therefore always attract Divine help, intrinsically and extrinsically.

Three Upcoming Lectures in Cambridge, God-willing

January 31, 2012

Bismillah

1) Wednesday 1 February – The Libyan Revolution and its Future

Aref Ali Nayed in conversation with Edward Stourton

5.00 pm – 6:30 pm

Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9BS

Aref Ali Nayed is the Ambassador of Libya to the United Arab Emirates and was the Chief Operations Officer of the Libyan Stabilisation Team. In Cambridge as a Visiting Fellow with the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Dr Nayed is in conversation with the distinguished BBC print and broadcast journalist, Ed Stourton.

A reception, open to the audience, will follow the event.

This event is FREE but booking is essential: book now at libya.eventbrite.co.uk or call 01223 763 013.

In February 2011, Islamic scholar Aref Ali Nayed took part in demonstrations in Tripoli, where he was born. There, he witnessed first-hand the brutality of the Libyan regime against its own people. Together with other religious scholars, Nayed established the Network of Free Ulema. In their first press release, on 19th February, they wrote, “STOP THE MASS KILLINGS OF PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATORS IN LIBYA”. As the days progressed, their statements became more desperate, calling for international action, until on 2nd March, they called for the world to recognise Libya’s new Interim National Council and Government.

 Nayed was one of the first prominent Libyans to publically decry Gaddafi. He set up a Support Office for the Executive Team of the new National Transitional Council (NTC) in his Dubai premise, which worked around the clock towards the transition to NTC authority, working on matters which included humanitarian, financial, diplomatic, telecommunications and security issues.

In June, Nayed was appointed coordinator of the Tripoli Taskforce.  When Tripoli was liberated in late August 2011, the remit was broadened and he was made the lead coordinator of the Libya Stabilization Team.  Nayed’s team worked intensively and restored electricity, telecommunications, and water supply and fuel. In early August the NTC announced Nayed as the new Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and he was given possession of the Libyan Consulate buildings in Dubai. He was the first ambassador to be officially appointed under the NTC.

Dr Aref Ali Nayed is a Libyan Islamic scholar, and Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. He is also the founder and director of Kalam Research & Media, based in Tripoli, Libya and Dubai. Until the outbreak of the revolution in Libya he lectured on Islamic theology, logic, and spirituality at the restored Uthman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli, and supervises graduate students at the Islamic Call College there.

Aref Nayed is also Senior Advisor to the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Fellow of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute in Jordan, and was appointed to the Board of Advisers of the prestigious Templeton Foundation.

 

Cambridge Muslim College – Lecture Programme: Lent 2012                                                          

Cambridge Muslim College is pleased to announce its public lecture programme for the Lent Term 2012. The College welcomes distinguished speakers, each addressing a timely and scholarly topic.

Both lectures take place at the Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity and will begin at 6.30 pm.

2) Wednesday 22nd February

The Islamic Garden: An Opportunity for ‘Bridge-Building’ Between Cultures

Emma Clark, Garden Designer and Senior Tutor, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts


3) Thursday 8th March

Images of People with (Mental) Disabilities in the Islamic Tradition

Mohammed Ghaly, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, Leiden University

New research on UK converts to Islam

December 18, 2011

Bismillah

PRESS RELEASE: INCREASING NUMBER OF BRITONS CONVERTING TO ISLAM FACE HOSTILITY

17th December 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. PLEASE DISTRIBUTE.

CONTACT: DR. LEON MOOSAVI, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY
A four year study has just been completed that has examined the experiences of the growing number of Britons who are choosing to convert to Islam. Estimations suggest that as many as 100,000 Britons have converted to Islam in recent years. Some of the key findings of the study which was conducted by Dr. Leon Moosavi in the Sociology Department of Lancaster University are as follows:

• Britons from all backgrounds are choosing to follow Islam. There appears to be a tendency for younger people and women to convert to Islam. Some of these Muslim converts retain an Islamic identity for many years whereas others abandon the faith after a brief period.
• People are converting to Islam for a host of reasons, including because of a decreasing relevance of Christianity in Britain and in order to find a sense of community in a lonely ‘broken Britain’. 9/11 and 7/7 has also had an impact in triggering more questions about Islam for many non-Muslims, some of whom decide to convert to Islam after investigating Islam. Many of those who convert to Islam claim it is because Islam offers a suitable alternative to Western capitalism, the need for which is more pronounced during the current worldwide economic crisis. Some of those who convert to Islam do so after being targeted by Islamic preachers who seek to convert them. Others convert to Islam for the sake of legitimising their intimate relationship with a lifelong Muslim.

• Muslim converts can find it difficult to attain acceptance in the Muslim community. Many lifelong Muslims are suspicious of Muslim converts and exclude them from mosques, events and other events. Black Muslim converts in particular face rejection in the Muslim community indicating some racist attitudes in the Muslim community. Muslim converts often have to go to great lengths to prove their sincerity and worth to lifelong Muslims. The War on Terror climate has generated increased suspicion towards Muslim converts who are often suspected as government spies.

• Muslim converts are often disowned by their family and friends after converting to Islam. Their conversion to Islam is often ridiculed and treated with contempt by non-Muslims. This is indicative of a widespread attitude of Islamophobia towards Muslims in Britain. However, unlike previous studies which describe Islamophobia as blatant and rampant, this study has found that Islamophobia often operates more subtly and discreetly.

• Muslim converts often have to contend with stereotypes that their conversion to Islam is related to their sympathy with Al Qaeda or extremist views. While some Muslim converts do chose an extremist path, the majority are comfortable in identifying as British Muslims, and are often fiercely patriotic. They often describe themselves as ‘bridge builders’ who seek to act as ambassadors in bringing harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Dr. Leon Moosavi, who conducted the four year study, said: “In a time when numerous questions are being asked about the role of religion in 21st century Britain and the place of Islam in the Western world, the growing number of non-Muslim Britons who are opting for Islam reminds us of the permanent status of Islam in Europe. The challenges faced by these converts also demonstrate persistent Islamophobia and racism in British society amongst both non-Muslims and Muslims”.

For more information, please contact Dr. Leon Moosavi on l(dot)moosavi(at)lancaster(dot)ac(dot)uk

Islam in Japan

June 7, 2009

A brief history and overview of Islam in Japan by Sheikh Dr. Salih al-Samarrai.

Biographical note: Sheikh Samarra’i is originally from Samarra’ (pronounced Saa-marr-raa’) in Iraq, as his name suggests. Around the 1950’s, he was studying at the Agricultural University in Faisalabad, Pakistan, which claimed to be the largest agricultural university in Asia when I visited it in the 1980’s.  (Impressive: instead of high-tech buildings and labs, one of the most important resource is vast fields growing different crops!)  At that time, my grandfather was living in Faisalabad with his children and Sheikh Samarra’i was one of my father’s Arabic teachers during this period.

Under Saddam Hussein throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Iraq persecuted the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) so Sheikh Samarra’i went to Japan, where he helped set up the Islamic centre.  He later held a professorial position at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, in the department of agriculture, since his PhD was in that field.

I first met Sheikh Samarra’i when I accompanied my father to KAA University when he went to visit his old sheikh around 1990.  I still remember the imam of the university prayer room reading out ahadith from Riyad al-Salihin after one of the afternoon prayers.  The prayer room was packed with faculty and other staff. I was into the hardcore salafism of the JIMAS variety at that time (JIMAS of 20 years ago, that is), which my father mentioned to Sheikh Samarra’i, who said to me, “We need constructive criticism, not the destructive type.”  He also said, “Coming together is goodness, all of it.  Splitting apart is harmful, all of it (al-tajammu’ kulluhu khayr, wa l-tafarruq kulluhu sharr).”  We had dinner at his house, where I met two of his sons.  The eldest is called Qutaybah, and it was the first time I’d met someone with that lovely name.

Some years later, they visited us in London.  Once, I introduced Abu Muntasir to Sheikh Samarra’i at our house in Tottenham.  The Saudi-based Iraqi professor was dressed in a suit and tie, whilst we British Muslims were in robes and turbans.  He immediately said that since we were living in the West, we had to adopt local dress.  At the time, we immediately dismissed this as “a typical Ikhwani inferiority complex” in our youthful boisterousness and arrogance.  How times have changed! 🙂

Sheikh Samarra’i later retired from KAAU and returned to Japan to head up the Islamic Centre again.  As far as I know, he is still there.

Islam in Japan