Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi

February 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Syed Aslam, science@muslimobserver.com

Idrisi

Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi  was born in Andalusian city of Ceuta,  in 1099 C.E. He was the descendant of Idrisid the ruler of Morocco who were said to be the direct descendant of Hazrat Hasan (ra) the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (s). Al-Idrisi received his  education in Cordoba.  He traveled to many distant places, including Europe, Africa and Asia to gather geographical data and plant samples. After  traveling a few years he gathered enough information and accurate measurements of the earth’s surface to complete a rough world map. His fame and competence eventually led to the attention of Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, who invited him to produce an up-to-date world map.  He left Andalusia and moved to Sicily and worked in the court of the Norman king till he died in the year 1166 CE.

Mohammad al-Idrisi was a great geographer, cartographer, botanist, traveler and poet. In the West he is best known as a geographer, who made a globe using a silver sphere for King Roger of Sicily.

Al Idrisi’s contribution to geography was tremendous.  His book; ‘Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq,’(The Delight of Him Who Desires to Journey Through the Climates) also known as Roger’s Book, is a geographical encyclopedia which contains detailed maps and information on European countries, Africa and Asia. Al-Idrisi completed his encyclopedia in a very unique way.  In addition to his personal travel and scholarship, he  selected some intelligent men who were dispatched to distant lands  accompanied by draftsmen. When these men returned, al-Idrisi inserted the information in his treatise.  On the basis of these observations made in the field, and from data derived from  earlier Arabic and Greek geographers,  he brought the data up to date. The book and associated maps took 15 years to complete.  It is unquestionably among the most interesting monuments of Arabian geography. In addition, the book is the most voluminous and detailed geographical work written about 12th century Europe.

Al-Idrisi compiled a more comprehensive encyclopedia, entitled ‘Rawd-Unnas wa-Nuzhat al-Nafs’ (Pleasure of Men and Delight of Souls). Al-Idrisi’s knowledge of the Niger above Timbuktu, the Sudan, and of the head waters of the Nile was remarkable for its accuracy. For three centuries, geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes form which the river Nile starts its journey, as mentioned in his work, does not differ greatly from the modern map.

Al-Idrisi built a large global map made of silver weighing approximately 400 kilograms. He meticulously recorded on it the seven continents with trade routes, lakes and rivers, major cities, and plains and mountains. It is known to have been a colossal work of geography, probably the most accurate map of Europe, north Africa and western Asia created during the Middle Ages. The presentation of the Earth as a round globe was revolutionary idea in the Christian world because they believed that the earth was flat. Al-Idrisi knew that the earth was round, and he even calculated the circumference of the earth to be 22,900 miles, a difference of eight percent from the present value, and explained the revolutionary idea about earth like this;  “The earth is round like a sphere, and the waters adhere to it and are maintained on it through natural equilibrium  on the surface of the earth, the air which suffers no variation. It remained stable in space like the yolk in an egg. Air surrounds it on all sides.

Al-Idrisi’s book, Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq, represents a serious attempt to combine descriptive and astronomical geography. This book was not as grand as his other books, apparently because some truths of geography were still veiled from the author, nevertheless it is also considered a major geographic monument.

He also made the world map on a great disk almost 80 inches in diameter and weighing over 300 pounds–fabricated out of silver, which was chosen for its malleability and permanence.

Al-Idrisi’s other major contribution was his work on medicinal plants, which he discussed in several books, especially Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. (Simple Book of Medicinal Plants) He studied and reviewed all the literature on the subject of medicinal plants and came to the conclusion that very little original material had been added to this branch of knowledge since the early Greek work. He started collecting  medicinal  plants wherever he he traveled. Thus, he is credited for having added a large number of new medicinal plants, together with their evaluation to the medical science. He has given the names of the herbs in many languages like Greek, Persian, Hindi, Latin, Berber and Arabic.

Al-Idrisi was a traveler who wrote about what he saw–some historians compare him to Marco Polo–but al-Idrisi’s work was much more scientific, and generally more objective, than Polo’s work. While al-Idrisi’s books have survived in their original manuscript form, whereas Marco Polo’s writings exist primarily as later transcriptions which were often altered.

Al-Idrisi, no doubt, was a great geographer and traveler who produced original work in the field of geography and botany. Some historians regard him as the greatest geographer and cartographer of the Middle Ages. His books were translated into Latin and became the standard books on geography for centuries, both in the east and west.

11-9

Breaking the Gaza Siege

November 13, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzi Kysia

2008-11-10T163944Z_01_JER25_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

An international activist waves a Palestinian flag as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

GAZA CITY, FREE PALESTINE (29 October 2008) – This morning I walked to the Indian Ocean and made salt in defiance of the British Occupation of India. This morning I marched in Selma, I stood down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and I helped tear down the Berlin Wall. This morning I became a Freedom Rider.

The Freedom Riders of the 21st Century are sailing small boats into the Gaza Strip in open defiance of the Israeli Occupation and blockade. This morning I arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity, part of a Free Gaza Movement delegation of twenty seven doctors, lawyers, teachers, and human rights activists from across the world, including Mairead Maguire – the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

When I close my eyes, I still hear the crash of ocean waves, I still feel the warm sun on my face, and I still taste salt from the sea spray. When I close my eyes, I can still see the Israeli warship that tried to intimidate us when we reached the twenty-mile line outside Gaza, and I can still see a thousand cheering people crowding around our ship when we refused to be intimidated and finally reached port in Gaza City. Today, the proudest boast in the free world is truly, “Nam,  Nehnu Nastatyeh!” – “Yes, We Can!”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sailed aboard the Dignity, along with six other Palestinians from the West Bank, from 1948/inside the Green Line, and from countries in Europe. What should have been a ninety-minute drive from Ramallah to Gaza City became a three day odyssey as he travelled from the West Bank to Jordan, then flew to Cyprus, before finally coming aboard the Dignity for the fifteen hour sea voyage to Gaza.

“We’re challenging Israel in a manner that is unprecedented, “said Dr. Barghouti. “Israel has prevented me from visiting Gaza for more than two years now. I am so pleased that we managed to defy Israel’s injustice so that I can see all the people I love and work with in Gaza. Israel’s measures are meant to divide us, but it is our defiance and resistance which unite us. “

Photos from Gaza:  Hamas sailors watch as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed. Other pictures of the boat, and of Palestinians in Gaza.

Reuters

This is a resistance which can and should light the fire of all our imaginations, and bring hope not just to Palestinians, but to peoples suffering the terrible tides of oppression and injustice the world around.

After watching the Dignity’s arrival, Fida Qishta, the local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, said “If Gaza is free then it’s our right to invite whomsoever we wish to visit us. It’s our land and it’s our sea. Now more groups must come, not only by sea but also the crossings at Erez and Rafah must be opened as well. This second breaking of the siege means a lot, actually. It’s the second time in two months that people have come to Gaza without Israel’s permission, and that tells us that Gaza will be free.”

For over forty years, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip. Despite the so-called “Disengagement “ in 2005, when they shut down their illegal settlements here, Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, severely limiting the free movement of goods, services, and travel. Israel is still an occupying power.

For over two years, Israel has maintained a brutal blockade of Gaza. Less than twenty percent of the supplies needed (as compared to 2005) are allowed in. This has forced ninety-five percent of local industries to shut down, resulting in massively increased unemployment and poverty rates. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed, and eighty percent of families are now dependent on international food aid just to be able to eat. An hour after we arrived, I watched a teenage boy digging through the garbage, looking for something he could use.

Israel’s siege isn’t simply illegal – it’s intolerable.

Renowned human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly also sailed aboard the Dignity, and will remain in Gaza for several weeks as Project Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. But, said Butterly, “My feelings are bittersweet. Although we’re overjoyed at reaching Gaza a second time, that joy is tempered by the fact that the conscience of the world has been reduced to a small boat and 27 seasick activists. This mission is a reminder of not only the efficacy of non-violent direct action, but also of the deafening silence of the international community.”

Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action.

Today, the Free Gaza Movement has a simple message for the rest of the world: What are you waiting for?

——-

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org <http://www.freegaza.org/>

10-47

Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

ibn rushd Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes in  Europe, was born in 1128 A.D. in Cordoba, Andalusia (now Spain). He came from a prestigious family  of lawyers and judges.  Ibn Rushd received his education in Cordoba and lived a quiet life, devoting most of his time to pursuing knowledge. He studied his familial profession, specializing in law and medicine, making good use of the magnificent library of Cordoba with its half million books.   After graduating, he practiced in al-Andalus as well as Marrakesh in North Africa. The Berber sultan offered him a judgeship in Seville, and with the patronage of the ruler, he soon moved to Cordoba as a judge–the position his father had once held. Here he passed a pleasant life for fifteen years and authored many books including a commentaries on Plato’s Republic. In 1195CE sultan’s son al-Mansur became the new ruler who banished Ibn Rushd from Cordoba and burned all his books on philosophy because of his  criticism of the Berber rulers in his commentaries. However, as a result of intervention of  leading scholars he was forgiven. He lived  another two years and died in 1198 CE in Marrakesh, capital of the Berber kingdom. Three months later his body was brought back to his beloved Cordoba to fulfill his wish.

By education, Ibn Rushd was a physician and lawyer, but he proved to be the greatest philosopher and thinker of Europe in the middle ages. He also made remarkable contributions in the fields of medicine, music, astronomy, physics, jurisprudence and psychology.

He authored more than 100 books and treatises in his life time, in which twenty were in  medicine and the rest on philosophy and other subjects. His well known treatise  Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb, Compendium of Medical Knowledge, was written while he was working in Marrakesh.  In it Ibn Rushd throws light on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of diseases. The treatise was divided into seven books arranging in it the works of the best physicians from the classical Greek and the Islamic world and contains several original observations of his own. Its Latin translation was known as Colliget and it became the standard text in the European universities  for several centuries.

Given his family history, it was perhaps obvious that ibn Rushd would devote some his time to jurisprudence (fiqh). His grandfather was a major figure in the Maliki school of fiqh, and so was he. By his own account it took twenty years to complete his book Bidayat al Mujtahid wa al Muqtasid; Beginning of the Independent Jurist and End of the Mere Adherent of Precedent, an excellent work on fiqh. As the title shows, he favored ijtihad or independent thinking in the areas of fiqh without specific guidance from Qur`an and ahadith.      

In astronomy ibn Rushd wrote a treatise on the motion of the sphere, Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak. He also wrote a commentary on Almagest, the great book of mathematics and astronomy written in Alexandria Egypt in 200 CE.  He rejected the Ptolemaic model of the universe and argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe.  He wrote an excellent commentary on Aristotelian physics and was the first to to define and measure force. He defined force as the rate at which work is done–this is also the modern definition.  He wrote a valuable commentary on Aristotle’s treatise, De Anima, which deals with the nature of living things.

Ibn Rushd started his philosophical work while he was in Marrakesh, and he produced his first book; Kitab  al-Jawami fil Falsafa; The Compendium of Philosophy. Here he touched on subjects like physics, earth, meteorology, logic and metaphysics, some of these topics would occupy him for the rest of his life, His most important work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut, Incoherence of Incoherence, was written in response to Ghazali’s book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Here he counterattacked al-Ghazali  objections one by one in a conciliatory manner. He advocated the harmony between religion and philosophy and argued that they need each other to seek the same truth.   Ibn Rush was criticized by some Muslim scholars for this book, which nevertheless had a profound influence on European thought and gave them a jump-start in reason and rationalism which ushered in the west’s “Age of Enlightenment.”

He wrote three commentaries on the works of Aristotle, the shortest, Jami, may be considered a summary of the subject. The intermediate was Talkhis and the longest was the Tafsir. These three commentaries would seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupils; the short one was meant for beginners, the intermediate for students familiar with the subject, and finally the longest was for advanced studies. The longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qu’ranic concepts. These commentaries are considered as one of the greatest intellectual reservoir ever developed in philosophy.

After confronting conservative theologians, Ibn Rushd became a bit bold and tried to take on tougher  opponents–the rulers and kings. Close to end of his life he choose to write a commentary on Plato’s Republic, one of the  great masterpieces of Greek thought. He could have explained all those wonderful ideas of this excellent work; further, he described the Andalusian rulers as decadent tyrants. Ibn Rushd’s criticism of rulers and his political philosophy in the commentary got his book burned. He had advocated revolutionary ideas like public education, even distribution of wealth, and women’s rights; it was a plea for social justice.

When the Latin translations of his  work reached Europe in  the 13th century, they were like arrows hitting a bull’s eye. The European intelligentsia were hungry to look at the world in a new way, which Ibn Rushd provided in a big way with his commentaries and his philosophy. A new phenomena of Averrosim derived from his Latin name Averroes started to take hold among the learned people of Europe, especially the professors of newly opened universities. The Catholic church was horrified and saw the storm cloud gathering. The Pope formed a commission to look into this new phenomenon, and by 1231 CE Aristotelian philosophy, all the Ibn Rushd commentaries and his books on philosophy were banned through all of Christendom.  But it was too late, the genie was out of the bottle. The sparks of this new flame drifted northward and eastward.

One of the staunchest Averroists, Pietro d’Abano, a professor of medicine and philosophy in an Italian university, defied the decrees of the church and brought Aristotle and Ibn Rushd into the University of Padua’s curriculum in 1306 CE. He argued that experiments, observations and logic were new machines for finding truth.  This use of machines invented by Greek and Muslim philosophers was too much for the Catholic church to take- the Inquisition was formed by the Church to combat Averrosim,  and it condemned d’Abano on numerous counts. He died in 1315 CE before the Church could get him but that did not stop the Inquisition, they eventually ordered his dead body burned at the stake.

Ibn Rushd’s philosophical work, which fascinated, inspired and influenced the West, were of little interest to the Muslim world, where he is remembered as a great physician. The Islamic rejection of Ibn Rushd as a thinker and philosopher is no doubt partly because of his criticism of religious orthodoxy.       

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

10-39

A Saudi Arabian University with a Western Feel

July 17, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

kaust classroom artist

Artist’s rendering of a classroom at KAUST.  King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will feature coed classes, a curriculum in English and other touches seen as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

THUWAL, SAUDI ARABIA — Up the corniche, along a coast where boats carrying pilgrims bound for Mecca sailed for centuries, a thicket of cranes rises over whitewashed mosques along the Red Sea.

Steel flashes and blowtorches glow as 20,000 workers build a $10-billion university ordered up by a king who hopes Western ingenuity will revive the economy of this ultraconservative Muslim nation. When finished next year, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will offer coed classes, Western professors, a curriculum in English and other touches loathed as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

The West may be dependent on Saudi crude, now as high as $145 a barrel, but this campus outside an ancient fishing village is recognition that the country that is home to Islam’s holiest shrines needs the likes of USC, Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survive globalization.

An architect’s rendering shows a campus of canals and reflecting pools running along sleek silver and glass libraries and laboratories. A marina with slips for 140 boats stands in a cove lighted by a tapered beacon. Students and professors will live in villas and apartments looking out on date palms and furnished with eggshell and white Swedish-style sofas and chairs.

Saudis have studied in the U.S. and Europe for decades, bringing back expertise without directly exposing the kingdom to Western classrooms and professors. But the new university is inviting the secular West a step closer in another ideological battle between Saudi reformers led by King Abdullah and the Wahhabi sect of puritanical Islam that has resisted outside influences since the days of desert caravans.

“Saudis are beginning to realize they are not the center of the universe,” said Tariq Maeena, a writer and aviation expert. “The king hopes that a young Saudi will be in a class with an American professor. The king is jabbing the conservatives from all sides. He’s not doing it with a massive decree, but incrementally, and all the radicals can do is roll their eyes and say, ‘Uh-oh, we’re losing more power.’

“Amira Kashgary, a literature professor at a women’s college, said, “We are part of the global world now. Whether we like it or not, and regardless of our political and religious systems, there are changes seeping through our lives.

“The radicals ran a wicked Internet campaign against the university. They said it is another sign liberals are invading us.”

The kingdom’s huge oil reserves cannot mask Saudi Arabia’s problems: 40% of its population is younger than 18, its schools are backward and its economy is not diverse enough to compete in a high-tech future balanced between the West and the rising powers of China and India.

King Abdullah is building the university, along with six multibillion- dollar Economic Cities, to provide jobs and open the country to global markets. Conservatives fear that these international voices, from South Asian construction workers to Western scientists, will change the religious fabric.

“Men and women learning together should remain forbidden,” said Mohammed Ben Yehia Nogeemy, a member of the Saudi Juristic Academy, a religious organization that issues fatwas. He said that such an atmosphere could be regarded as sedition and “if any Saudi official has the intention to allow the establishment of a coeducational university, that will be a big mistake that will need to be corrected.”

But the king, for now, is a step ahead of the conservatives. Nogeemy was not in attendance on a recent afternoon when oil money seduced brainpower at a hotel along the Red Sea in Jidda.

Silver trays of hors d’oeuvres and alcohol-free champagne glided through a crowd of Western academics gathered for a conference on the university’s goals. Soldiers with Humvees and .50-caliber machine guns stood guard outside to scare away would-be terrorists, while inside mathematicians and molecular biologists tried on blue university ball caps and pocketed Lamborghini pens left on seats as gifts.

The university, known as KAUST, is promising academic freedom, the mixing of cultures and religions, and subjects as varied as nanotechnology and crop development. The country’s ubiquitous and often abusive morality police will not patrol the campus, depicted on the university’s interactive website with unveiled women. Going unveiled is a crime in Saudi society that could lead to lashings and imprisonment.

kaust artist's rendering KAUST will be “a new house of wisdom,” Ali Ibrahim Naimi, the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources, told the guests. He said world research projects and the Saudi economy, with a 12% unemployment rate, would benefit from the “easy flow of ideas and people into and out of the region.”

To ensure that, KAUST is not under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry, which is controlled by fundamentalists and often forbids the teaching of music, art and philosophy.

The project is overseen by Aramco, the Saudi oil company founded by US firms in the 1930s. Aramco has experience in creating a parallel world: In its gated communities in the eastern part of the country, alcohol is available but hidden, there’s a pee-wee baseball winter carnival, and Western women drive cars, a practice forbidden to Saudi women.

With a chocolate-scented cigar in one hand and a honey-flavored coffee in the other, Maeena sat in his favorite Jidda cafe, nodding hellos to young men with laptops and waiters who know his preferences. This is the world he likes, a place to write, a den of intellectual freedom in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city.
He said KAUST, which is being built 50 miles north of the cafe, is another sign that the country’s religious and ideological barriers are weakening.

“It’s an act of opening us up to a better side of education,” said Maeena, who, like many of his generation, attended college in the U.S. “The West has planted those seeds of liberalism in me and thousands like me. We were young Saudis educated in the West in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but this slowed as the seeds of fundamentalism took hold here in the 1990s.”

10-30

Wary serenity in Berlin mosques

January 4, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Submitted to TMO by independent journalist Frank Payne

Bombings in Madrid and London, riots in Paris. At issue are geopolitics, class and ethnicity. In Germany, it is not terror attacks but alleged plots, police raids, and continuing suspicion. For young Muslims in Berlin, the response to such scrutiny is to be at once welcoming but hyper-vigilant of outsiders.

Neukölln

Scattered groups of Muslim men and women make their way toward Nür Mosque, their faces aglow in the orange light of the setting sun. I watch them through the window of a coffee shop, where American hip hop and R&B music are the soundtrack to an afternoon’s end. The friendly owner of the place is Nayaf, a Palestinian in his mid-thirties who jokes with customers in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English.

This is Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood in Southeast Berlin, populated by Turkish and Arab immigrants sometimes down to the third generation. Finished with my coffee, I too make way toward the mosque. The exterior of Nür Mosque is painted a clean white but like nearly all places of worship for Muslims in Germany is otherwise nondescript. The interior, however, fits the classic image of a mosque: a light green, ornate oriental rug covering the entire floor and wide pillars supporting the roof and walls. There is a store, a small library, and an upstairs kitchen and eatery where one finds traditional foods like baklava and falafel.

In the mosque’s washroom, the lights are off, but rays from a single large window illuminate the room and balance calm shadows. Cool water flows from a row of aluminum faucets while Zaher, a North African, demonstrates the Muslim purification ritual to me. I mimic his motions as he bathes his hands, arms, face, insides of his nose, and feet. Curious onlookers, also washing, ask Zaher about me with friendly smiles.

I take a seat on the floor among dozens of young men, or brothers, as the mosque fills up. All but a few appear to be under the age of 30. The majority appear to be in their teens. Each wears his own style of dress: traditional robes, shirts pressed and tucked, leather jackets, or sports jerseys hanging over baggy jeans a la hip hop style. Flowing beards and shaven heads mix with gelled, slicked-back and spiked hair.

What the individuals of such a varied group have in common, though, is a commitment to their faith, and at this moment, absolute attention to the words of the imam, Abdul-Adhim or Abu Abderrahman. This bond, so communal that exterior differences become seemingly null and void; shows one of the central beauties of Islam, and what some non-Muslims may fear so much about the religion. These are all obviously very different men. Yet, inside these walls, within the context of Islam, they are not disparate individuals. They seem to be indisputably one.

Today Abu Abderrahman, a small, Tunisian-born man between thirty-two and thirty-eight years of age, is speaking about the corruption of Muslim youth. In German, he sermons into a microphone from his own seated position at the front of the congregation. An animated speaker, Abu Abderrahman waves his hands and punctuates every sentence with a wide, jolly grin. His jokes often elicit laughs from the crowd.

I tightly frame the face of a bearded young man in the viewfinder of my camera. My finger on the shutter button, he turns and makes eye contact with me through the lens. In the exact same instant, the imam shouted in a sharp voice over the microphone “halo, no photograph in here!” Dozens of heads turn and hundreds of eyes focus in my direction. Abu Abderrahman is shaking his head in disapproval. I nod and quickly stow the camera away.

During a break in the service, several clerics dressed in white robes approach me one by one. With warm smiles, each says hello and offers a handshake. One man, a native German with chestnut-colored hair and full beard sits down. “There is no danger”, he insists. He talks on, asking questions about the U.S. and proudly admits that he was once a break dancer.

There has only been a misunderstanding. I had taken the imam’s invitation to Nür Mosque as approval to take also photographs. But approval from officials even higher than the imam were necessary in order to do so. “Kein problem”, or “no big deal”, Abu Abderraham insists.

Wedding

It is Easter Monday, and I am meeting the English-speaking Amr at Osloer Strasse U-bahn station for a youth prayer group in the predominantly Arab and South Asian neighborhood known as Wedding. Walking together, Amr tells me the story of Bilal, the namesake of the mosque that we are about to enter. Bilal, an Assyrian slave, converted to Islam then refused to repent even under torture. Moved by his devotion, another follower of the Prophet Muhammad (s) purchased Bilal’s freedom. “Racism existed hundreds of years ago too”, Amr says, but the Prophet Muhammad (s) preached that all men should be accepted into the faith.

In Bilal Mosque, I sit shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, within a circle of twenty men and boys. Amr consults with a leader of the prayer group about my presence and taking my photographs. A small man, with a light beard and gentle voice, he turns and responds in perfect English “let’s see, maybe after (the service), because I know that some brothers will have a problem with this.”

This evenings prayers and discussion is being led by another lightly bearded, married but altogether youthful looking man. Like the imam of Nür Mosque, he has notable abilities as a speaker. He makes eye contact around the circle and punctuates statements with a smile, as if to ask “You understand, yes? You do believe, right?”

After the service I snack on potato chips and soda, chatting with a couple of brothers on either side of me. Amr then calls me over to the main room to sit down on the carpet with him and two others. Their decision is no to photographs. They are seriously worried about negative media attention, specifically about alleged links between German mosques and terrorist activity. One of them mentions that state subsidies for the youth programs are at risk. Likewise, some well-meaning parents might keep their children from attending the mosque if they got the impression that extremism was being taught.

Later, I am struck by one of the men’s positive perception of Muslim life in the United States, based on anecdotes from friends and relatives in the country. Freedom of worship in the United States, he says, means fewer problems for women who wear veils than in Europe.

Burying a Brother

The Turkish Sehitlik Camii Mosque near Platz Luftbrücke is the only Berlin mosque with a dome, minarets, and other traditional Islamic décor. It used to be the Turkish embassy to Germany. Now, it serves a predominantly Turk-German congregation. I meet Amr, my host once again, this time for a funeral. Shorly on arrival, he interrupts our interview to say that we must be silent for the next few minutes. With a friend, he then distances himself physically to pray. He is two rows ahead as other figures gather. In total, we are six rows of about 120 total men. It is noon as the sun peaks from behind high, white clouds. Lying before us is the coffin, draped in black cloth with gold letters in Arabic.


The Sehtilik Mosque

The funeral is for a German convert to Islam. Remarkably, most of those attending did not know him personally. Amr claims to not have known him at all, neither what he looked like, nor how he died. He asks others and gets much of the same response. Yet, all have come en mass to pay their respects to a member of the community.

At the burial grounds, the graves are separated into Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sections. Only yards away from where the young man will be buried is a large headstone for Kaiser Wilheim II inside a small, fenced plot. The funeral continues, with preaching in Arabic. A man of Black African origins then summarizes what has been said in German. Amr translates for me, speaking softly. “The sermon was a reminder that we are all visitors on this earth. And a visitor must always leave the place that he visits. We came from nothing, dirt, dust, and will return to nothing: taking only our deeds with us as we go back to the Creator.”

The only sounds afterward are light street traffic, and occasional cries from the man’s wife. Her deceased husband’s parents comfort her. Then, the thumping of mounds of dirt against the coffin, as worshippers with shovels take turns filling in the grave. Muslims are generally buried in shrouds, but German law mandates the use of coffins.

The Fundamentalist

Amr and I sit down for an interview and a kosher Muslim lunch of roast hen, french fries, salad, and Coke. His beard has grown significantly since I first met him a couple of weeks ago. “By the way, you’re looking at a fundamentalist” he says from across the table. Amr says this with a keenness of how much the term fundamentalist is a watch word for terrorist in Western media and popular culture. However, he brushes off my attempts to distinguish it from the alternate, perhaps more politically correct fundamentalist extremist. These days, most legal authorities, media, and the general public do not bother to make the distinction anyway, he says.

Amr was raised in a devout Islamic household. He is familiar though, with the ways of the Western world from his education in an English-speaking school in Germany and his travels abroad. He speaks four languages – English, German, Arabic, and French – and is well-versed in the nuances of United States society. “I am a Muslim fundamentalist by choice”, he explains, a man who finds genuine insight and intellectual stimulation from the Koran and religious observance. One surmises from talking to him that he gets as much stimulation from Islam as he does from academia and his worldly appreciation of foreign cultures.

So how is Amr, a young fundamentalist Muslim treated by Western society? Echoing the others I spoke with, he feels generally respected by other Germans, but within an undercurrent of fear. On Berlin’s streets, trains, buses, and shops, Amr senses in others a wariness of his Arabic features and traditional, Islamic beard. He is particularly wary of trying to visit the United States for fear of being entered on a terrorist watch list; of being mistakenly detained and interrogated by authorities. Like so many other Arabic and Turkish men in Berlin that I spoke to, he asks that his true name and other specifics about his identity be omitted from this article.

“Islam is peace. If only people would dig deeper, they would find that”. On this point, Amr is most emphatic, stressing that this is what he wants me to leave with. He leans forward, holding his hand eloquently to the side of his face, expressing himself as a professor or an imam would. His large brown eyes hold steadily and benevolently.

Before lunch, Amr and I climb the white marble steps into the dome of Sehitlik Camii Mosque. Inside, an imam in a black, gold-colored rimmed robe and white cap is speaking in Turkish. Rows of adult men sit or kneel in front of him. A few elderly men sit on chairs or on steps at the back. Amr joins the men toward the front to listen and pray.

I absorb the view of the courtyard outside through large windows with wooden doors and the expansive interior. The dominant colors of the mosque are white, green, and gold on the high dome ceiling, marble columns, and wall to wall oriental carpet. The decor is intricate and inspired. Many spiritual people, religious or agnostic, would be moved by such a mosque’s beauty; it’s physical manifestation of man’s quest for spirituality and tranquility.

Amr returns from the front sits on the floor nearby, watching me as I observe everything else. From the nearest window, a white column of light shone down, illuminating his face and everything around him. The other figures closest are partially lit or remain in shadows.

Sitting down too, I see white prayer beads strewn beside a neatly coiled microphone on the rug next to one of the marble columns. It is time for everyone to pray as one. The imam sings the call from the front of the mosque. Then, a teenage boy with black-rimmed glasses, a white Muslim cap covering the black hair on his head, and a moustache and beard sprouting from his face stands directly beside me. He picks up the microphone beside the prayer beads and sings alternatively with the imam. Making neat rows, our feet adjoined, we all pray together, lifting our hands and bowing our heads in rhythm. For the moment, there is no tension with the outside world: only serenity among ourselves and God.

9-2

SE Michigan News for week ending May 31, 2006

June 1, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

UMSA Sponsored Seminar/Conference Held at IAGD

Troy—May 28—The UMSA Udruzenje Muslimana Sjeverne Amerike), the Society of Bosnian Muslims of North America, held a conference this weekend with the support of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD).

About 300 people were in evidence this past Sunday at IAGD, part of a loyal following that attended the entire 3-day-long event. Most of those in attendance were from out of town, from as far away as Florida, Missouri, and elsewhere—reflecting the wide diaspora to which Bosnian immigrants to America have spread.

UMSA is an organization that is not particularly well-known among American Muslims, but which has had a growing presence since its founding in 2001. UMSA maintains an extremely well-organized website in the Bosnian language at www.umsa.org.

Speaking with The Muslim Observer on behalf of UMSA was its Secretary, Mirsad, who declined to give a last name. Mirsad is a huge bear of a man with a dark spot on his head from his prayers, who wore through the beginning of our meeting an artist’s beret, with a flowing beard that extends at least eight inches below his chin and that moves in chance breezes. He immigrated to the United States from Serbian Belgrade in the very early part of the war (1993), without himself serving in any military capacity because he was from the start on the wrong side of enemy lines. He had worked as a rock ‘n’ roll producer before the war, but prompted by Serbian and other antipathy to him during the war faced inward and embraced his own Islam.

Bosnians who came to the United States ended up, says Mirsad, in wildly different parts of the country. Some in Grand Rapids Michigan, some in Jacksonville Florida, some in Phoenix Arizona, some in Dallas Texas, some in Amarillo Texas, some in Hamtramck Michigan—in short a huge community of Bosnian refugees scattered across the US in cities—which cities that have nothing in common other than that they have Bosnian refugees.

According to Mirsad, there are within the United States about 500,000 Bosnian immigrants, refugees from the war, many of whom have had large families here. Therefore, he estimates that in the US (counting immigrants and their descendants) there are “more than one million” Bosnians, most of whom have taken American citizenship—a huge portion of the estimated 4 million Bosnians inside Bosnia itself. He estimates that 30% of Bosnians in America actively practise Islam.

But, surprisingly, he says that despite the Bosnian historical trend that most marriages crossed religious lines, within the diaspora that trend has become minimal and in fact Bosnians usually marry within Islam. Mirsad cites himself as an exception to that rule, as he married an American Christian woman who then converted to Islam—the couple has now had five children.
UMSA’s stated ambition is to “patiently work with our community to help them preserve and restore our Muslim identity,” therefore it was established in May of 2001 as an Illinois religious not-for-profit organization “for the purpose of da’wa in Islam.” Da’wa here refers primarily to preaching to people who are already Muslim, because UMSA focuses its efforts on reaching out to the Bosnian-American community.

The Bosnian community under communism lived under constant threat, and was unable to practise Islam fully; under the war of genocide of the 90’s, again Muslims were forced back on their heels. Now that Bosnians have come to the United States, they are faced with a different threat, that of assimilation. Being white and better able than other Muslim American communities to fade quietly into the American mainstream, they face a choice as to whether they wish to retain their Muslim identity or instead distance themselves from it and quietly merge with mainstream Americans. It is these threats to the Islam of Bosnians that UMSA was intended to counter.

Mirsad said that UMSA receives no outside funding for its activities, despite its having been very active since its inception—this week’s conference (though modest in its budgetary requirements—being held at a sympathetic mosque and with few speakers) was its sixth annual conference (UMSA also claims the ability to pay for tickets for Bosnian scholars to travel to the US)—UMSA also sports a publishing house which has already published two books independently, and the professional website mentioned earlier. Mirsad also claims that UMSA has distributed 100’s of thousands of audio tapes on Islam.

UMSA’s website shows that the organization sees the modern world through the prism of the Balkan war of the last decade. It features prominently ten-year-old pictures of murdered Bosnian civilians over whom stand merciless Serb paramilitary members or army soldiers. Random clicking around on the site leads to a disclaimer in English, which specifies that “any mention in any article of any type of weapons is for information purposes only. Udruzenje Muslimana Sjeverne Amerike and the maintainers of this website do not encourage you to commit any illegal acts anywhere, and disclaim liability for the same.”

The website is huge and well-organized—despite its being in Bosnian it is clear that through the website (which Mirsad claims has had millions of visitors since its beginning) viewers can easily access video, audio, and more.

The conference itself featured only three speakers who each spoke multiple times. They are: Dr. Anwar Hajjaj, Dr. Ibrahim Dremali, and Imam Edip Makic. Dr. Anwar Hajjaj is the President of the American Islamic Information Center, which advocates involvement in electoral politics by Muslims. Dr. Ibrahim Dremali is a proponent of the Wahhabi school of thought, featuring prominent and adoring references to the education and background of Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, and the usual detailed explications of what is bid’a and haram.

Mirsad, asked whether Dr. Dremali was representative of the thought of UMSA as a whole, answered absolutely not, that there were many speakers and in fact the speakers originally selected by UMSA had not been allowed to come to the US because of visa restrictions to their travel from Bosnia. Asked what their names had been, Mirsad declined to specify.

Imam Makic, another speaker, is the imam of a Grand Rapids community mosque. Grand Rapids, he explains, is the home of approximately 10,000 Muslim Bosnians, and is intending soon to build a new mosque. Imam Makic spoke in Bosnian to his primarily Bosnian audience—he spoke of the many benefits of Ottoman rule in Bosnia, of the linguistic abilities of historical Bosnian scholars (who spoke Arabic, Turkish, and other languages in addition to their own native tongue) and especially of the many scholars who have come from that area over the past 500 years. Scholars he mentioned prominently included Hasan Kafija Pruscak (1544-1615) and Mehmed Handzic (1906-1944). Imam Makic also mentioned the Rais-ul-ulama of Bosnia, who is Dr. Mustafa Ceric, who follows in the tradition of those great scholars by speaking many languages including Arabic and Turkish.

Describing the benefits of Ottoman rule in the Balkans, Imam Makic explained that since Ottoman rule was withdrawn from Bosnia, there have been 10 attempts at genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims.

In fact, the analogy which Mirsad applies to Bosnia is that of Andalusia, which likewise was a Muslim state in Europe, and which was over the course of a few centuries completely and bloodily hijacked away from the influence of Islam.

Imam Makic expresses his hope for Bosnians in America, saying that in fact their position is improving every day, with more schools and mosques. He says that Bosnian Muslims are also creating good relations with other refugees who somehow arrived in Grand Rapids (whose immigrant community is composed of Bosnians (the majority), Somalians, Ethiopians, and Kosovar Albanians), as well as with the other non-Muslim inhabitants of that western Michigan city.

The imam explained that his mosque is run out of a small rented building now, but that the community recently bought land for a large $1.5 million project intended to include a school, funeral home, and to be the home for many activities for young people.

Asked why the conference did not feature better-known speakers, Mirsad explained first that UMSA wanted to bring Bosnian scholars to speak, but was prevented because the scholars they chose were not granted visas. Secondly, he explained that UMSA wishes to sponsor speakers that speak as da’ees on political and social issues rather than imams who speak humbly on religious issues.

Mirsad explained that the nationwide Muslim organizations like ISNA and ICNA are not interested in UMSA because its base is relatively small, being able to pull only a few hundred people for one of its conferences rather than the tens of thousands attracted by ISNA or the thousands attracted by ICNA.

UMSA’s Mirsad says he is Hanafi, the madhhab claimed by the overwhelming majority of Bosnians.

He dislikes the celebration of Mawlid, which he claims is a cultural celebration which in Bosnia is celebrated with dancing and alcohol. Confronted with the suggestion that Mawlid is a world-wide Muslim phenomenon not confined to Bosnia, Mirsad bristles and appears deeply offended but retreats to his claims that he does not accept it because its Bosnian practitioners use alcohol. He does not debate that Mawlid and alcohol are two completely separate issues.
He proudly explains that UMSA’s participants take an active role in discussions with their lecturers or imams. They “demand the proof” for anything they hear and question, which itself is different from the absolute acceptance given Prophet (s) by sahaba, given sahaba by the tabi’een, given tabi’een by the tabi’ tabi’een, and so on—in fact this tradition of acceptance and following is an unquestioned one still practised by most Muslims and at most legitimate schools of Islamic instruction, that has only recently been upended by modernist reformers.

Mirsad sheds new light on the present situation of Bosnian Muslims, saying that in fact the entire war was decided in favor of the Serbs by the Dayton accords, which ceded huge lands to the Serb aggressors and which hamstrung Bosnia by appointing an EU “High Representative” with executive powers, able unilaterally to veto or ram through any change in Bosnia. He cites the Bosnian flag as the best example of this. Bosnia’s flag, he explains, was imposed on Bosnia by the EU—it is not a reflection of what the Bosnian people themselves wanted. While he avers his belief that the government’s employees are doing their best, whatever they do is subject to outside control and therefore in fact there is no autonomy.

Asked whether Bosnia now endures a lot of corruption, he argues that in fact corruption is everywhere around the world and perhaps less prevalent in Bosnia than in the United States itself.

As a further symptom of unfairness, Mirsad argues that the majority of prisoners brought to the Hague for war crimes trials have been Muslims, despite Muslims being absolutely the victims of the Bosnian war and despite Ratko Mladic and other prominent Serb war criminals living out their lives in hiding in Serbia with apparently very significant government support.

8-23

Muslims Among Highest-Achieving American Women

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslims Among Highest-Achieving American Women
Courtesy Donna Gehrke-White, Miami Herald
April 17, 2006
She should be one of those red-white-and-blue success stories: An immigrant, she worked her way through med school and now directs the laboratories of two Florida hospitals. She passed her career drive on to her daughters: One just graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing; the other is an investigator for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
This feminist vision of a successful family, though, has a flaw: Shahida Shakir and her daughters, Sadia and Sofia, are Muslim.
They’re supposed to be downtrodden. Or so that’s what most Americans think.
In a Washington Post/ABC poll last month, nearly half of Americans admitted that they have a negative view of Islam. In a poll conducted for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, most people also said that they would feel better about the religion if they thought Islam treated women better.
The evidence is in our own back yard: While researching my book, “The Face Behind the Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America,” I found Muslims are among the most achieving women in the United States. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, social workers and artists.
Indeed, we should be exporting the success story to the rest of the world.
I found Muslim women achieving from coast to coast. They are leading worldwide humanitarian groups in Washington, presiding over juvenile court in Baltimore, delivering babies in Los Angeles, teaching in Miami and helping the homeless in Las Vegas.
Just like other American women, the Muslimah — or Muslim women—have made startling progress in the workplace in the last 30 years. In fact, except for the recent refugees, Muslim women are among the most educated in the United States. Most of the 50 women profiled in the book have at least college degrees. And they are far from the stereotype of the secluded Muslim woman. One ran for county office in northern Virginia while a University of Louisville professor crusades against “honor killings” of Third World women suspected of adultery or premarital sex.
Another risked her life to help women under the thumb of Afghanistan’s oppressive Taliban.
These women should reassure many Americans in these anxious times. They are intensely achieving — as well as patriotic. After all, they have as much to lose as any other Americans if our economic and political systems come under attack.
Since 1990, the United States has welcomed more than 300,000 Muslim refugees fleeing war and persecution. They have come from 77 nations.
Unlike the poor North Africans who went to Europe for a better life, our Muslim poor have been given more opportunities to better themselves, and have become part of the American fabric. The Arizona Community Refugee Center in a Phoenix suburb, for example, teaches many women to read and write for the first time. The center also provides programs for their children.
The great majority of these new refugees insist that their children study hard. Batool Shamil is an Iraqi Shiite single mom working two jobs in Phoenix. She demands A-studded report cards from her teenage son and daughter.
“I am working so hard,” she told me. “My dream is for my children to go to college.”
In Erie, Pa., Senada Alihodzic, a refugee from the Bosnian violence, is just as determined that her two sons and daughter will go to college.
“They can have a better life here,” she said.
Meanwhile, more American mosques are making an effort to ensure women are treated equally. In northern Virginia, Cathy Drake, an
American-born, home-schooling mom, told me that she would not have converted to Islam had she not felt comfortable.
Does more work need to be done? Yes, judging from several Muslim women who have come up to me while on a recent book tour to complain about their own mosque’s inadequacies. But Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, promises that change is coming.
“I believe,” she said, “the struggle is now out in the open and that it will get better soon.” -
Donna Gehrke-White is a features writer for the Miami Heral and the author of “The Face Behind the Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America” (Citadel). Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or oped@freepress.com.

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