A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

11-30

Racial Profiling Still Pervasive: ACLU Report

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Chris Levister, Black Voice News.com

U.S. authorities detain and harass thousands of people each year solely on the basis of religion, race or nationality despite efforts by senior law enforcement officials and the government to stop it, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

An ACLU report said racial profiling was often applied to immigrants from South Asia and to North Africans suspected of being Islamic militants following the September 11, 2001, attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda militants.

The report, submitted on Tuesday to the U.N. Committee to End Racial Discrimination, said profiling could involve harassment, detention, arrest or investigation. Many Latin American immigrants were also targeted for immigration violations while others, including Black Americans, were profiled as suspected drug offenders, said the report, which did not provide precise figures.

President Barack Obama’s government upholds the policy of the previous Bush administration that such profiling should end, but related laws contain a significant gray area, said Chandra Bhatnagar, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s human rights program.

According to 2003 federal guidelines, it is illegal to detain or investigate someone solely on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, but there are exceptions in the context of national security and border control.

“While there is a political consensus regarding the problem and a need for a solution it has not translated into concrete action,” Bhatnagar said. He referred to the End Racial Profiling Bill first introduced in 1997, but which had not passed into law.

One factor that had increased the profiling of Latin Americans was a federal program to shift responsibility and resources for immigration enforcement to local and state authorities, according to the report.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that an increasing number of people had been targeted under profiling for possible immigration offenses over the past eight years, it said.

“Police officers who are often not adequately trained and in some cases not trained at all, in federal immigration enforcement, will improperly rely on race or ethnicity as a proxy for undocumented status,” the report said.

The involvement of local police in this was having a “devastating impact” on some communities, Bhatnagar said.

In April the ACLU of Southern California filed suit against Moreno Valley police and city officials and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology claiming racial profiling.

The suit filed on behalf of three Moreno Valley barbers in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleged that “five of the six barbershops selected as targets for raid-style inspections on April 2, 2008, were owned by, operated by, and primarily frequented by African Americans.”

The officers, city employees and members of the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology allegedly targeted six shops in warrantless raids because of race, said lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit also alleges innocent clients waiting for haircuts and other services were detained, harassed and forced to produce identification.

ACLU alleged the officers and other agents targeted the businesses “based, in part or in whole, on the race of the barbers and their clientele.”

Police, city and state officials have denied the claims. The case has attracted national attention for what ACLU lawyers and many in communities of color call blatant evidence that racial profiling is still pervasive.

11-29

The Muslims of Sri Lanka

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–It is scarcely known that there is an ample society of Muslims caught within the middle of Sri Lanka (Ceylon’s) recent tragically war-torn civil insular nation-State. 

There are three major groups of Muslims in that island’s nation – the “Moors,” Indian (originally from the Subcontinent) Muslims and the Malays.  The two Islamic non-South Asian subminoritities – one from the Middle East and other from Southeastern Asia, with the long-standing immigrants from India, make up about the same percentage as European descendant settlers, the Burghers at 8%.  The rest of the population is made up of the ultra-orthodox Hindus in the Tamil areas, and the majority 70% are Buddhists.  The total population of all main groupings within the island is between 19 through 21 million (2009) persons.  In 2005, the Islamic “Moors” represented 2 million of these souls.  The “Moors” were descended from a troupe of traders from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to Colombo’s island between the Eighteenth until the Fifteenth Century (CE) supposedly (by tradition) from the Arabian Peninsula.  In fact, one source I evaluated claimed that the “Moors were traversing the Indian Ocean between Lanka and Mecca before the Hijra (622 CE).  Nonetheless, the “Moors” had settled partially on Lanka bringing Islam to their ancient culture to the island.  Yet, the earliest came late in the Seventh Century as traders between the Middle East and South Asia.  Yet, most did not settle down on this Southern Asian Island, and took up the culture of the Tamils after they established a permanent residence upon the soil.  Although they first employed Tamil as their “Father” tongue — that parole (speech) used outside the house — (they soon devised Awi, which, in turn has become archaic, was a mixture of Tamil and Arabic.)   By marrying converted wives, they became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural people — Tamil, Sinhalese and English — while maintaining their religion inviolate:  They are largely Sunni Muslims of the Shafi School.  Although they can be described as a multi-ethnic, and religious alliance, they lack a linguistic cohesion, though, anthropologically (since they are tri-lingual).

The second group of Muslims, the Malays, came with the Dutch military during the period when Amsterdam controlled the island, and settled there over Ceylon’s Netherlandish period.  The Malays (originally from) Indonesia, and, thus from insular Southeast Asian origin (Ja Minissu), are some of the most orthodox of Muslims in the world today, but, unlike the “Moors,” they did not take up the surrounding Tamil culture, but they resolutely stuck to an adapted Malay cultural and religious norm.  They make up the smallest of minorities – 5% of the total Lankan Islamic citizenry only.

The third group was an alignment of mainly – although not exclusively — South Indian Muslim merchants, who emigrated southward over several centuries and naturally integrated well into the predominantly Tamil (Hindu) culture there on the other side of “Adam’s Bridge” from Tamil Nadu.

The Muslims were well assimilated and accepted into Ceylonese society, but, during the recent civil war, the Tamil Tigers systematized a process of ethnic cleansing that the once flourishing “Moorish” and other Muslim masses are not represented in the Northern Province anymore.  Most of those inhabitants have been forcibly cast largely into the Puttalam Region.  Also, a small Diaspora has been arising in the Middle East, Australia and even North America.  Now, that the Tigers have been defeated, will Islam be allowed back into their former (own) homes with full property rights restored?  Much of this depends upon us individually, and the pressure we can exert upon our own governments plus the Sri Lankan government, and, thereby, institutions of the International Communities – the U.N. et al., and especially Islamic groupings!

The pictures of those large numbers of noncombatants wretchedly entrapped between the Government and the Tigers’ forces during the former’s last stand last stand are staggering.  Amongst them is a significant number of Muslims, and the Islamic charities must especially address their needs, and become involved in their resettlement back to their ancestral homes with other (First World/Western) International NGOs.

11-26

Indo-Pak Nuclear Diplomacy Continues, Unaffected By Mumbai-Terror Strikes

January 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-01-06T175157Z_01_DEL50_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-PAKISTAN
 

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the war-hysteria raised on both sides over Mumbai terror-strikes, they have not refrained from pursuing agreements inked regarding their decision to abstain from being engaged in open conflict. Adhering to the nuclear deterrence pact, India and Pakistan inked in 1988, the two countries exchanged lists of nuclear installations and facilities through diplomatic channels simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad on 1 January. Since their becoming nuclear powers and subsequently inking the deterrence pact, though Indo-Pak ties have ranged from being cordial to tense- as they are at present over the Mumbai terror strikes- they have continued the practice of exchanging these lists. The “Agreement on Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities” was signed between India and Pakistan by the then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto on 31 December 1998. It entered into force on 27 January 1991.

“Under the agreement, the two countries, on first January of every calendar year, are to inform each other of Nuclear Installations and Facilities to be covered by the agreement,” a press release from Indian ministry of external affairs stated. “The first such exchange of lists took place on 1 January 1992. This is the eighteenth consecutive time that both countries have exchanged such a list,” the statement said.

The agreement details the location of nuclear-related facilities in the two countries. Despite the two countries having come close to war, the exchange of lists has not stopped, sources said. Even when the two countries were in state of high alert in 2001, they exchanged the lists. Defying apprehensions raised about their nearing a conflict or conflict-like stage over the Mumbai terror strikes, they exchanged the lists this year too.

Ever since the two countries conducted nuclear tests, the western powers – particularly United States- have expressed concern about their nuclear prowess leading to a nuclear war in South Asia as India and Pakistan are known as permanent enemies with their being no sign of their resolving differences over long-standing disputes, including the Kashmir issue. Though since 1998, they have come close to war, once over the Kargil-issue and war-hysteria has been raised after the Mumbai terror strikes, India and Pakistan have not been engaged in any open conflict since achieving nuclear prowess. In this context, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy, resting on their bilateral understanding of nuclear deterrence defies fears raised earlier about their nuclear-status leading to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in South Asia.

Undeniably, apprehensions still prevail on whether nuclear weapons would contribute to stability in South Asia. Concern has been voiced over unintentional/intentional targeting of nuclear facilities by militants in either country and/or access to the same falling in wrong hands fuelling nuclear tension in the sub-continent. To date, however, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy only stands as a commendable illustration of their deterrence ensuring military restraint and a check on their moving towards open conflict. This may be illustrated briefly by the role played by nuclear prowess of the two nations, taking their ties from the stage of conflict to no-conflict in the first stage. Without doubt, there was a period when India remained suspicious about Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. The first major step in taking their ties to a positive level was the six-point accord reached between the then President of Pakistan General Zia-ul-Haq and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December 1985 in Delhi. Their agreement on not attacking each other’s nuclear installations was hailed as a significant step in establishing mutual confidence. This principle was re-emphasized when Gandhi and Bhutto signed the agreement in December 1988 in Islamabad.

Strangely, but definitely, there is a parallel between nuclear ambitions of India and Pakistan and a decisive improvement in their bilateral ties. It would not be wrong to state that their respective nuclear drives’ impact on the upswing in their relations fits into the theory of “classic deterrence.” Earlier than this, the two countries -known to shift between the stage of conflict, no-conflict and/or avoidance of conflict- had not even given serious consideration to the idea of entertaining cordial and/or friendly ties. The very principle of not attacking each other’s nuclear installations marked the beginning of some sort of nuclear dialogue between the two. Had they not taken this step, that of considering the deterrent factor, the past two decades may have been marked by constant threat of a nuclear holocaust erupting any moment in the subcontinent. Equally significant was their decision to resolve their nuclear tensions bilaterally. This also implied their accepting each other’s nuclear development. Had they criticized each other’s nuclear intentions and designs unilaterally, the issue may have assumed serious proportions for multilateral deliberations. With the two nuclear powers sharing border, notwithstanding their disputes, they opted for a strategy that best suited their interests, unilaterally as well as bilaterally, that is work towards normalization of Indo-Pak ties. Interestingly, notwithstanding all the diplomatic hype raised over the Mumbai-terror strikes, India and Pakistan have ruled out prospects of going to war on this. This only suggests that they are not likely to backtrack- for quite some time- from the wise and rational nuclear diplomacy they have pursued so far.

11-3

Sufism in South Asia

December 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

hadithSan Francisco–I am in the midst of the insanity of moving, but I am trying to keep up with my basic compilations early in the morning or late into the night.

I would like to discuss three presentations made last year (Summer of 2007) –in the Asian Art Museum — as part of the bi-annual meeting of the American Council of Southern Asian art in this City here on the Western shores of San Francisco Bay.  I found the talks to be slight in news content; thus, I have previously refrained from composing on them, but because of circumstances, they have become a practicable article, and make an acceptable historical feature on an ancient vital Islamic tradition.  An article on this form of piety stated that Sufism “…is a…mystical dimension of Islam” where meditation plays an integral part.

People talking about Islam usually mention Sunnis and Shi’a; among Sunnis are also Sufis – there is mutual tension between Sufis and Wahhabi/Salafis.  Salafis accuse the Sufis, saying “…[Sufism] has never played a part in normative Islam.” 

A position with which your author extremely disagrees!

First, your journalist acknowledges that his main sources for his background on the Sufis in an historical and contemporary context are an excellent unsigned, thorough yet concise article on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  My second source is a review essay I wrote on a book that is considered the main Western source on Sufism. Unfortunately, I do not have the piece at my fingertips; therefore, I am paraphrasing it ex aqua.

Sufism has gained much of its doctrine through accretion from the mystic environ of religious clusters that Islam absorbed in its Eastward expansion.  Accordingly, to several Western scholars, Sufism arose initially in the Western Mahgreb in a region of present-day Morocco where Christianity had been repressed three hundred years before.  There was a yearning for the type of mysticism found in monasteries of the old religion, but in the Qur`an there is a strong injunction to marry and procreate!  The early “Order” solved this “problem” by creating brotherhoods of married men who followed Muslim law carefully.  As their Society traveled into new lands, they met new converts.  For instance, the Sufic poet, Rumi, who has had a considerable influence over contemporary thought here in the West’s, name derives from the word “Roman” (i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Byzantine) in the local language of Anatolia at that time.  The Turks had held that province from which Rumi wrote for a comparatively short time.  Thus, his family must have been fairly recent converts.  Sufic thought gained much when it crossed into India.  The great poet Kabir, who some scholars claim was a Sufi was not fully Islamized, even though he did accomplished the hajj, for he referred to God both in the Hindu terminology as Ram and, also, as Allah interchangeably in his poetry! Traditionally, in the Sufi-dominated Districts of India, the Hindus revere the Islamic Saints as much as their own.

Yet the traditional Islamic scholarship on the Sufis view their development in quite a different manner.  The Sufic thinkers trace their origins through the Prophet (Blessed be his Name!) himself.  To quote an early Sufi, their teaching “…is a science through which one can know how to travel in the presence of the Divine…”
Their beliefs and persons have been persecuted by more fundamental (and, thereby, less mystically inclined) individuals.  Consequently, their writings and practices took on an esoteric, secretive tone.

In the early centuries, Iman Al Ghazali answered that Sufic doctrine was compatible with Islamic law conclusively.  In fact, “Sufism…is the central organizing principle of many…[other] Islamic groupings.”

With the rise of more strident forms of Islam, Sufism is currently under duress.  In many regions the repression made them illegal, and forced them underground.  For instance, the Turkish government compelled the whirling dervishes into a mere entertainment.  Yet there are areas in the Muslim world where they are still strong.  To understand the attitude for an inquirer, a Sufi master was quoted as saying, “…the seeker must not self-diagnose” the situation.

The Islanicists have no sympathy for the Sufi reverence for saints, and their pilgrimages to the holy tombs for religious merit.  In my following comments, these pilgrimages and the places of devotion and worship will be placed in context.

Persianate culture had a dominant position in the old Hindustan even before the rise of the Mughal Empire.  An Indo-Persian culture dominated from western Persia well into the Subcontinent after the Muslim Empires in India, and Sufism had dominated Persian thinking before it crossed from Southwest into South Asia.  Now, Sindh (presently in Pakistan) had been Islamic since the Ninth Century of the Common Era (i.e., A.D.). Sufism came forward with the Islamic conquest, but not from the top to the bottom.  It burst through at the “grassroots” level (i.e., bottom up), and was greatly embedded in the evolving Indo-Persian Islam.  The “Missionaries” were the humble, holy Pirs, a type of holy men with which the Medieval Indians could easily culturally identify.  Soon, converted Indians adapted Islam and the Persian Worldview of Islam – even though they may not have chosen Shi’a religious views.

An Afshan Bokari pointed out that female devotees upheld the high ideals of religiosity within the Timurid Empire, and were the mainstay of the Mosques during this period which not only included India, but Iran into Mesopotamia – even into Syria — and a good extent of Central Asia.  The Empire, founded by the Sunni military genius Emir Timur (Shakespeare’s Tamerlane) was comparatively short-lived.  Most of the acquisition of territory occurred during the late Fourteenth into the early Fifteenth Centuries (C.E.). This brief Imperial sway not only spread S.W. Asian ideas, but mystical Islam. as well.  This can be termed a Timurid “ideology.”  Mystical Islam centered on feminine participation, also.  This is markedly at odds with the modern Islamicists’ dogma.  A site was shaped into the sacred by an association with a saint or a sacred act, etc.  This confine almost became a “…second Mecca!”

The major contemporary art historian, Catherine Asher, from Minnesota spoke on the “Sufic Shrines of Shahul Hamid in India and Southeast Asia.”  The basic style of the Sufic shrines spread into Peninsular and Insular S.E. Asia forming a consistent Southern Asian approach to sacred space.  On the emigration of the righteous Pirs, it is hard to determine fact from legend.  The Enlightened man often died in his travels.  South Indian Islam, from which Southeast Asian cultural religiousness derived, assumed many traits of traditional Hinduism – in this case the veneration of exceptionally piously devout men, and this practice advanced ever eastward.  Males were encouraged to go to the tombs, besides, for a sort of “darshan,” or, in the Islamic cognizance, a type of religious merit.  Basically, the Sufis’ influence flowed over three different faiths because the Pirs exhibited extraordinary powers to do miracles in their lifetime, and to bequest assistance from the tomb to his devoted believers – whatever the saint’s follower’s religiosity!

Kishwar Rizvi talked about a shrine in the present Pakistani Punjab that was built around circa 1300 (C.E.).   Most of the devoted came from the minority Shia community there.  Further, there are many Sufic elements in the shrine, for it revolves around the casket of a Saint endowing the building as sared space.  Women still retain a great responsibility in sustaining the shrine’s sacredness.  On the other hand, sexual degenerates are attracted to the location because of the laissez faire attitudes of the worshippers which may detract from the great postiveness of the greater Movement to more mainstream Muslims.

In this essay, your scribe has tried to describe a living tradition in Islam in historical and conteporary terms that has been repressed by the main thrust of the religion today, but is still strong among the common people in particular localities all over the World, and, furthermore, has brought many Westerners to the Qur`an, for its mystical saving methodologies.

10-50

South Asian Traditional Islam vs Western Islam

April 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy “Yursil”

After reading through a number of works discussing South Asian Islamic history, and also many of the references, I have thought a lot more deeply about the traditions of South Asian culture than my last series of posts on this subject. Every time I read the numerous moving stories, I marveled at how totally lost Muslim South Asians, especially expatriates and their children, have become from their traditional past. While the first Masjid in India was built in Kodungallur by Malik Bin Deenar(R), a Sahabi (during the Prophet’s (s) lifetime), it certainly seems that most of what occurred after that point has been forgotten by South Asian Muslims living abroad.

The Islam that I experienced in American South Asian dominated mosques and organizations was so utterly disconnected from the traditional understanding of Islam of India, that without being mentally prepared, I would certainly have considered what I was reading as pure fiction. The attraction of Muslim South Asians in America to various agenda-driven forms of Islam (and their lack of awareness as to their shifted reality by these agendas) has been complete and total. This has made the alien into the norm and the norm into the alien.

The sheer volume of information on the subject of the spirituality, plurality, tolerance and strength of South Asian Muslims, combined with the natural understanding as to how South Asian society flourished with Muslim and Hindu interaction for over the 1400 years, makes it clear that the fiction was that which I was sold most of my youth.

In fact, it was the desire and clearly defined curriculum of organizations such as ICNA and early administrations of the various masjids that I attended (dominated by South Asians at nearly all levels of organization) that Muslim youth study the life and works of Seyyid Qutb, Maududi, and Bilal Phillips.

This created an entire generation (including most of my friends) that had never heard the name of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (R) much less the name of a single one of the countless saints buried in South Asia. The importance of knowing those names (and therefore, understanding and respecting their teachings) is vitally important for immigrant South Asian Muslims in the West for a proper return to the spiritually moving faith connected to the Prophet (S), as practiced by these holy people who carried Islam to us.

The difference between what has become ‘modern Islam’ and the traditional Islam of South Asia and other traditional Muslim communities is striking.

One is focused on a singular attempt at ‘authenticity’ and ‘purification’ of Islam using new understandings of Hadith and discussing their authenticity, the other is focused on the application of the immediate tradition for the purpose of bettering the soul.

One is focused on the political, absorbing worldly power and doing so with various levels of crassness, looking for religious and legal legitimacy the entire time, while the other has always been about building bridges between hearts with subtlety and care.

The Islam of South Asians in the West has mirrored that of converts. Many converts were in love of the faith of Islam primarily due to its claim of textual authenticity of the Quran (and hence the faith), which was unchanged for centuries. This was in stark comparison to the faiths of the West which suffered from deep questions of relevancy and authenticity, faiths which they had left for just those reasons. There is no doubt that the weight of the extreme desire for textual authenticity led to the ‘off’ switch of South Asian immigrants in examining the Islamic faith as understood by their families for generations.

The lack of textual information about Islam in South Asia certainly did not help. Modern South Asians were brought up appreciating the written word much more than that spoken word, a side effect of making education the largest priority in their lives (a means to escape poverty of the homeland). The idea of following a way of life which couldn’t be immediately checked, verified, and looked up for confirmation led most to the path of various forms of Wahabism.

Of course, most of groups eschewed the name ‘Wahabi’ itself, preferring to claim the title ‘Muslim’ for themselves. Interestingly enough their use of ‘Muslim’ was to the exclusion of their ‘grave worshipping’ ancestors or family members, which they considered to be misguided and confused. Most likely, however, the situation was actually tragically reversed, with modernized South Asians being extremely confused about their faith and the ‘ignorant’ visitors of graves seeing with a spiritual clarity.

Many South Asian parents had not bought into their own intellectual superiority, and hence many had not adopted the Wahabi ideal in order to critique the problems ‘back home’. These parents were quiet on the subjects of question (saints, graves, intercession, etc), and very few had the ability to respond back to the arguments presented by Wahabi philosophies from their children. Growing up their entire lives in that society, it was difficult for parents to forsake that which they had learned was de-facto Islam, an Islam which had run their lives and so many loved-ones lives could not easily be discarded… Saints, Milad, Naats, Qawaali, and all. Largely, they kept their distance from argument and supported the now adjusting faith of their children.

Interestingly enough, this comfortable nature of the different Islam between father and son, mother and daughter, in matters of practice of faith was a direct consequence of the open nature of the parents Islamic faith. It is this same South Asian pluralism which had created large periods of relative peace between Hindus and Muslims over a span of centuries, which now allowed children to look, dress, and act radically different from their parents, with hardly more than a word spoken.

This is not to say that parents did not fear the children would become ‘Christian’ in the West, indeed such fears existed and were a large part of growing up South Asian in the West. However, I would argue the fear towards Christianization was much more focused on the change in culture, and what that would mean for marriage, dress and social standings than what it meant to their soul. The pluralistic values of South Asia centered around a common culture, where often the weddings of the Muslim were not so dissimilar from that of the Hindu, in terms of dress and celebration. Exiting this culture was much more profound an issue than disagreements over details of faith.

After coming to terms with the reality of the rigid nature of a singular interpretation of Islam, the American convert experience, a struggle and challenge in its own right, seemed to need an understanding of how Islam survived with pluralistic flexibility in order to continue and progress in their faith. The first struggle for those espousing a return to the traditional understanding of Islam was to establish authenticity. This was done by focusing on the Madhabs, the schools of Islamic Law. Within these Madhabs lived the intellectual contribution of all Muslim legal scholars for centuries.

However, the reality was that the average South Asian Muslim had never heard of Madhabs in any Islamic sense. Since the overwhelming majority of their society was Hanafi, there was no need to even learn the names of other approaches in matter of form or externals. So, in fact, in American Masjids, it was those espousing “Madhabs” who ended up looking as if they were speaking of something new.

As a completely wayward path, the Wahabi agenda of puritanical groups looking to take over Islam in the West was rebuffed with this larger understanding of Islamic Law. The only escape for American converts from this type of Islam, was a broader understanding of the faith with multiple legal opinions. This has become to be known as “traditionalism”, espoused by famous converts and speakers such as Sh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir, and Sh Nuh Keller.

However, this following of converts, with their own issues of reconciliation of culture cannot be followed by South Asians descendants who plan on keeping their own culture alive. It seems the South Asian child’s only two choices today are assimilation into three categories: the secular West, the Western Islamic discourse dominated by anti-traditionalists, or the Islamic discourse of Arabized traditionalists. As noted in my previous articles, it is clear that a traditional South Asian Islam has been ignored by the West. Revivalists of traditional sciences in the West have ignored the South Asian contribution for too long.

A focus on historical personalities and works of South Asian descent is a personal priority of mine. It is time the Milad, Ghazal, Naat, and Qawaali was understood and loved again, not simply analyzed through the lens of a protracted argument about good and bad “innovations”.

“That is so 90’s.” It’s time to move on.

10-18

Syed Adil Husain Wins MIT Business Award

February 14, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Award Recognizes Student’s Company for Top Consumer Service

By Rabiah Ahmed and Adil James

Cambridge, MA–Syed Adil Hussain, a Harvard graduate student, is a recipient of the world-renowned MIT $100K Executive Summary Competition (ESC) award in recognition for the high-quality online tutoring his company, uProdigy, begins delivering this week to American college students.

The MIT $100K ESC award is one of the world’s leading entrepreneur competitions and is designed to encourage students and researchers to act on their talent and ideas. It has produced hundreds of successful ventures since its establishment in 1990.

The winners of the ESC competition were announced Friday, February 8, at the Business Plan Competition kick off held at the Strata Center. Eight student-managed companies were selected from over 100 entries and were awarded cash prizes.

“I started this company because as an undergrad student, I could never afford the $60-$70 normally charged for help in higher-level math,” said Hussain, 26, CEO of uProdigy. “The MIT award recognizes the important social impact uProdigy can make by delivering quality and affordable academic tutoring services to American college students.”

Hussain’s company, based in Massachusetts, was selected from a panel of judges from the MIT and Boston venture communities. Judges were asked to select business plans that showed high growth potential, market leadership potential, stage of idea development, and quality and breadth of team among other things.

As part of it services, uProdigy offers live, around-the-clock homework assistance from highly educated, English-speaking tutors in South Asia.

The niche for uProdigy is college students who need low-cost emergency one-on-one help with understanding concepts from very qualified people. Mr. Husain explained that “We are just launching the business to the public–we just launched yesterday. We had an alpha release in November.”

He explained that “In India, there is so much talent, so many brilliant people. Most of the people we selected as tutors are professors at universities. There is really no shortage of them at all. We accepted only about 5% of those who applied to be tutors.”

As for the future, Husain explains that “this is really a huge huge market–what we are seeing now is only the beginning.” The biggest player in online tutoring now, he explains, is Tutorvista, which focuses on elementary school and middle school tutoring rather than the college students that uProdigy aims to serve.

Students will be able to use uProdigy’s services for only $15 per hour–and the first hour is free. People who join uProdigy as members will also (in the future) have access to general academic instructional videos. Visit their website to learn more.

For more information on uProdigy, visit www.uProdigy.com.

10-8

Houstonian Corner for Volume 8, Issue 17

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

First-Ever Mawlid Procession in Downtown Houston
“This effort is being done to show intense love for our Beloved Messenger Mohammad (Peace Be Upon him): Also this peaceful walk through the blocks of downtown calls all the world especially our neighboring Americans of all backgrounds to appreciate by learning and knowing about the humanity-loving personality of Messenger Mohammad (s),” said one of the organizers of this first-of-its kind march in downtown Houston, which was held in the honor of the glorious Messenger Muhammad (s) during this blessed hijra month, Rabi-ul-Awwal.
Many Muslims came to the event, where the atmosphere was buzzing with nasheeds and with Islamic Poetry sung in both English and Urdu. Slogans of “Allah Is Great” and “Naray Risala” were showered on the holiest messenger Muhammad (s).
The peaceful parade started at Market Square in downtown Houston, went up about four to five blocks along Milam, and then circled around back to the starting area.
There under tents all the participants listened to stories related by imams of the many beautiful aspects of the life of Messenger Muhammad (s).
The Shahnai Restaurant provided free food to show their love for the most beloved Messenger for the occasion.
For more information on similar programs, please call 713-779-1304. –
MYBA All-Star Basketball Benefit!
Don’t Miss This Treat Next Time
By Coach
Jamaaluddin J. Al-Haidar
On Sunday, April 2nd, a small but vocal group of supporters and basketball fans filed into Northwest Houston’s spacious air-conditioned Del Mar coliseum in anticipation of an afternoon of excitement and entertainment as six Muslim All-Star basketball teams took to the court for three highly-competitive games. Indeed these were the fortunate ones for they were to be a part of making history as the Muslim Youth Basketball Association (MYBA) held its first-ever-in-Texas-of-its-kind youth and young adult basketball competition.
The afternoon started with congregational dhur prayers followed by the first game of the afternoon, between the Mecca and Medina squads at the 14-and-under age division. This game was followed by the Mecca and Medina squads 18-and-under players, and then the main event, the ever popular and exciting 19-and-older young adult division.
Over the course of two months, tryouts were held at sites on the North and South sides of the city. The six 8-man rosters included some of the best talent from across the many ISGH-affiliated masajid and centers, as well as from Masjid Al-Farouk, Madrassa Islamiah, the Islamic Education Center, and the Nigerian-American Muslim community.
MYBA Commissioner Jamaaluddin Al-Haidar was himself very involved in the talent selection process. “While we wanted to access the best basketball talent available, we went out of our way to build Mecca and Medina teams that would showcase our ethnic and cultural diversity while developing strong bonds of kinship between brothers who under most scenarios would not likely be teammates or even attend the same Masjid.”
At times, the coliseum sounded like a Rockets game at the Toyota Center. MC and play-by-play announcer Badar Alam set the stage as he introduced the starting lineups at the start of each game.
As players jogged out to center court one-by-one, acknowledging and tapping fists with the three uniformed licensed referee officials along the way, it was truly a wonderful sight to see two teams of Muslims wearing the names of these two historic Islamic cities. Team Mecca wore white jerseys with black trim, while the Medina squad wore black jerseys with white trim.
Despite disappointing ticket sales and gate receipts, MYBA Treasurer Aijaz Ahmed was optimistic about the future of these kinds of events in the local Muslim community. “This is just the beginning. This is something very new for our community. Those who were here at the event can now go back and tell others how well-organized the event was, how clean and comfortable the facility was, and certainly how exciting and competitive the games were. Insha`Allah, with more planning and marketing, the next one will be much bigger.”
The excitement on the faces of the many young children who were in attendance and the cheers from their parents as their adopted teams scored points was something new….something that hasn’t happened in a long time in this community…..something that MYBA hopes to make happen with regularity.
MYBA wishes to express its special gratitude for the efforts of dedicated volunteers and donors like Latif Bhegani, Nazeer Malik, Shabana Motors, and event sponsors, Jerusalem Halal Meats, Shahnai Restaurant and Payless/Affordable Auto Glass.
Proceeds from the event after expenses amounted to $1,200 and were presented to ICNA Relief for its Helping Hands Relief work in the earthquake-stricken regions of South Asia.
Plans are underway for a super tournament featuring Muslim teams from the Dallas Ft-Worth and Austin communities as well as our local Houston teams. The spring leagues as well as the annual MYBA Hoopfest summer-long basketball development camp, league, and tournament are currently under development as well.
Stay updated by joining the MYBA mailing list at www.mybausa.org. -

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