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  • Lessons of the Red Mosque

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    As the dust from the Red Mosque slowly settles on the ground and the decapitated body parts of Jamia Hafsa’s female students are sullenly picked up from the smoking rubble, the prevailing mood in Pakistan is anything but jubilant. An army reared to protect and serve the country deliberately used brute force against a largely innocent people caught in the imbroglio. Moreover, many who had been following the Red Mosque crisis for days are now left with dozens of unanswered questions surrounding the official version of the event. Reports are now surfacing that General Musharraf had planned to raid the mosque complex back in February but then decided to delay it so as to bring maximum PR advantage to his government – a government heavily discredited inside the country for failing its people and which now readies, after having won a shameful victory, for an undeclared war against its citizenry. A recent Stratfor report predicts that the Red Mosque operation ‘is likely the beginning of a long confrontation’ and such operations will inevitably lead to a clash involving ‘nationwide social unrest’. Way to go, General Musharraf!

     

    The Red Mosque administration got on the wrong side of Musharraf when its imams pronounced the Pakistani soldiers dying in battles in the tribal areas as non-martyrs and therefore undeserving of religious sanction for Islamic burials. In truth, the Pakistani soldiers are being used by Musharraf and his cabal of self-serving generals to act as expendable pawns under foreign pressure and wage a war against their own people. While the continuation of illicit wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being mulled over in the West, Musharraf and his ilk feel absolutely no guilt or shame in sending the nation’s soldiers to raid, terrorize, imprison, kidnap and kill its own people. Thousands of mystery disappearances of students, political workers and journalists in Baluchistan, carpet bombings on border towns and cities in the NWFP, scores of Pakistanis bound, beaten and shipped to secret torture camps in foreign lands, not to mention terror tactics employed against the nation’s serving Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, in order to force him to resign after his heroic stand against the government’s decision to sell Pakistan Steel Mills to one of PM Shaukat Aziz’s buddies rests as a testament to the true nature of Musharraf’s Enlightened Moderation.

     

    Were the imams of Red Mosque wrong in their understanding of the fallen soldiers as non-martyrs? One might as well ask: How can a Pakistani Muslim soldier who fires arms against another Muslim and dies in the process all the while serving the Bush agenda for Pakistan become a martyr? He is a mercenary – a meager tool to carry out foreign designs, not a shaheed. Even the possibility of a moral ambiguity in the matter is surprising.

     

    Following the imams’ statement, the military government had the CDA declare that the mosque complex, which included the largest religious school for girls in the Islamic world, had been constructed on an illegally acquired land and hence needed to be immediately razed to the ground. Incidentally, the mosque, built in 1965, is one of the three oldest mosques in the city (Dr. Israr Ahmed of Tanzeem-e Islami, believes it to be the oldest). During the row, seven other mosques in the city were successively demolished under Musharraf’s orders under the same pretext. Why would it take over 40 years to realize the illegality of a mosque site, and even if it had been built illegally, why wasn’t the matter taken to court? The reality is that Musharraf wanted the mosque complex destroyed at all costs. Most of the student population of Jamia Hafsa belonged to the tribal regions of Pakistan where sentiments against the army in light of the current military operations run high. So Musharraf did exactly what any tinpot dictator of a client state does when facing overwhelming pressure from his paymasters to kill his own people. He killed.

     

    The decision to raid the mosque complex was certain. The only question was of the right timing. Starting July 5, the Pakistan army prepared for “war”: the mosque-seminary complex was barricaded from all four sides, all major roads leading to it were blocked, bunkers were dug up, barbed wire fences were laid out, 111 brigade of the army replete with Armored Personal Carriers (APC), Special Services Group commando force, the ninth wing of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force, the elite anti-terrorism squad of Punjab Police, and the then Deputy Superintendant of Police replaced by DSP Malik Mumtaz, notorious for breaking riots and conducting raids, were called to duty. In addition to placing four helicopter-gunships in the sky, a spy drone with a state of the art infra-red technology to locate the exact positions of the complex occupants, most probably with its counterpart HIMARs (High Mobility Artillary Rockets) in positioned areas, was flying at the time the “negotiations” were going on.

     

    Once the military preparations were complete, the next step was to spin negative propaganda against the mosque caretakers through the media in order to validate a commando style operation in sight of the thousands of seminary students still inside. The challenge of free information was dealt with by barring all media organizations from covering the operation independently; CNN was not even on the scene. All journalists were told to stay away from the city hospitals under shoot-to-kill orders. Fleets of whizzing ambulances would take alternative routes to carry the unknown dead and the wounded to completely sealed hospitals. The mosque neighbors were strictly warned by army personnel to remain away from their balconies and even closed windows of their homes that were facing the mosque. Hence, the reporters heavily depended on the army spokespeople to provide them with the way the military operation was being carried out.

     

    The only two other sources were the fleeing students and Maulana Ghazi who, in a limited capacity due to intense shelling, had kept insisting in his talks through his cell phone that the soldiers had killed hundreds of seminary students inside the building (The army admitted to killing 50 people at first but, strangely, requested 1200 burial shrouds from Abdul Sattar Edhi of the Edhi Foundation). Outside, the army told the public that it was for the safety concern of the students being used as “human shields” by Maulana Ghazi that the operation was taking its time. How could the students, if held as hostages at all, manage to sporadically and daily exit the premises in large numbers? Why wouldn’t even ten students testify to their condition of being “human shields” inside the complex after being free? All the more surprisingly, the same army which claimed to show restraint towards these students mercilessly killed innocent civilians last year in Kaohlu, Dera Bugti, Gwader and Turbat districts of Balochistan during its massive crackdown using helicopter gunships, tanks and F-16 jet fighters (85% killed in Dera Bugti were women and children) . Nor was the safety of civilians a worry during the army operation in the autonomous tribal regions last year where medium artillery and fighter jets were liberally used to bomb the locals into submission.

     

    And then emerges the allegation of the presence of dangerous foreign militants inside the building. Ijaz ul Haq, the minister of Religious Affairs, claimed them as “wanted terrorists inside and outside the country”. Initially, Musharraf was reported as saying: “al-Qaida is sheltering in it” which later became “the mosque sheltered militants linked to al-Qaida”, still later, the army spokesperson Gen. Wahid Arshad denied the presence of al-Qaida or Taliban altogether. The eventual line was concerning the presence of “foreign militants” whose names and country of origin would not be revealed. How is it that the military government which takes the most extreme measures to ensure Islamabad’s security discovered the presence of wanted foreign militants only during the operation? After the operation, the army clumsily pointed out to some completely charred bodies as those of the foreign militants, some of whom were later identified by their relatives as Pakistanis.

     

    The claim of an incredible stash of weapons in possession of the militants inside the mosque complex also appears to be a blatant lie. In a country where AK-47s are as common as credit cards, thanks to the Pakistani army, Maulana Ghazi admitted the presence of fourteen AK-47s but completely denied the government’s claim and offered the army to allow the media to enter the complex and see for itself. The army claimed the militants had light and sub-machine guns, rocket launchers, AK-47s, hand grenades, plastic explosives, petrol bombs and land mines. After the operation, journalists taken on a guided tour expressed surprise at the sight of ‘unused rocket launchers’ found inside the complex. If our efficient ISI could locate within hours the rooftop of a Rawalpindi house from which the anti-aircraft gun was fired at Musharraf’s plane on July 17, 2007, how could they not have known a large presence of weapons inside the Red Mosque complex which was frequented by the ISI and is located a few miles away from the Presidency and the intelligence head quarters?

     

    Views of the rooms later opened to journalists showed completely blackened walls, ceilings and floors, produced by heat of such a degree that it managed to melt the ceiling fans. Dozens of dead bodies according to the official report were charred head to toe beyond recognition. This was no ordinary fire. In all likelihood the army used some sort of a banned incendiary weapon inside the complex as a desperate measure to quicken the pace of the operation. The deceased were then shipped in sealed wooden boxes to their burial sites. The relatives’ request to see the faces of their loved ones before burial was stringently denied. What was the army trying to hide: The number of the dead or the traces of weapons used? Or both? One Indian intelligence observer believes that the soldiers used nerve gas against the complex occupants. (Curiously, Wahid Arshad, the army spokesperson kept talking of “sanitization” of the area before media could be allowed in for guided tours).

     

    The death of Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi is shrouded in mystery as well. He was made the ultimate villain of the whole drama for allegedly holding hundreds of seminary students against their will to assure his own safety and escape. Yet the army spokesperson Brig. Javed Cheema described his death as such:

    “Ghazi came out with four or five militants who kept firing at security forces. The troops responded and in the crossfire he was killed”.

    If true, Maulana Ghazi would have to be the dullest hostage taker in history. Why would he isolate himself from the ‘hostages’ (his security) and come out from the basement with a handful of men to face SSG commandos in a firefight? In all possibility, he was killed right after surrender or he fought the forces by himself till death. According to Maulana Ghazi, his 80 year old ailing mother in bed, however, was killed by bullets fired by a team of commandos from the rooftop. Her body as well as Maulana Ghazi’s son’s dead body later turned out to be burned beyond recognition.

     

    The Musharraf government never wanted the negotiations to succeed. Maulana Abul Rashid Ghazi had accepted to surrender, return to his ancestral village under house arrest, be judged by a judicial inquiry against him with a possibility of arrest if found guilty, aid in the arrest of 15 militants to the government and handover the Red Mosque complex to Wafaq-ul Madaris. The ulama delegation claims that the draft of the proposed agreement was unilaterally amended by Musharraf at the last moment. Maulana Ghazi rejected the amended draft which apparently called for the unconditional arrest of 50 of his acquaintances, leading to Musharraf’s signal to initiate the attack. The News (July 23, 07) reported that minutes before the raid Ghazi’s telephone was jammed by the intelligence agencies cutting him off from contact with the outside world, thus derailing the negotiations for good. The Red Mosque and Jamia Hafsa were stormed by troops thereafter. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, along with hundreds of seminary students, was killed. The chief civilian negotiator on behalf of Musharraf, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein, was widely reported as having blamed the government for derailing the talks.

     

    According to the reports, the last words of Maulana Ghazi were:

     

    “We did not commit any crime, for which we are being punished in such a way; the government is using reckless blind force against us with aggressive designs…this is gross injustice; the people conducting the operation are American agents and carrying out this operation on USA bidding…Now I am sure to be martyred”

     

    Musharraf and his supporters kept harping at the ‘writ of the state’ argument through out the killings which, according to them, was challenged when brothel owners were taken and detained in the mosque and the neighborhood shops were purged of pornographic paraphernalia by the seminary students. Perhaps. But we ask them: Where was the writ of the state at work when the Islamabad police officials were approached a dozen times by the Red mosque administration to close down the flesh trade of Aunti Shamim and to arrest the perpetrators but were largely ignored? There are reportedly over 43 brothels in Islamabad alone. Where was the writ of the state when Dr. Shazia Naz was brutally assaulted and raped by the son of Musharraf’s longtime friend - only to be eventually honorably acquitted? Where was the writ of the state on May 12th when the MQM rogues openly brandished weapons on the streets and fired on people under news cameras killing 50 and injuring hundreds? Where is the writ of the state to ensure protection against hundreds of armed robberies that occur daily in all major cities of Pakistan? Where was the writ of the state when Musharraf detained and tortured Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in the presence of three heads of intelligence agencies in order to force him to resign?

     

    Of course, Musharraf ensures that the writ of the state applies only when Islamic values are supported and fought for. Incidentally, the renowned political analyst and reporter, Hamid Mir, mentioned in his recent Jang article of a female minister taking part in the inauguration ceremony of a dance club with a wine bar at F-10/3 Islamabad the very next day of the Red Mosque military operation. Indeed, it is a time for celebration according to the creators of ‘Enlightened Moderation’.

     

    While it was true that some of the seminary students had kidnapped alleged brothel owners for a time and then released them, raided a few shops selling banned items, and talked of implementing Islamic Law in all of Pakistan by force (sheer naiveté, if you ask me), they could not understand why the army had treated them like the nation’s enemy – a nation founded in the name of Islam. Perhaps Maulana did not fully realize that under Gen. Musharraf the Pakistani army had become a paid servant of its masters in Washington. Musharraf after having earned the ‘victory’ over Red Mosque was instructed by the US to immediately take the war to the tribal areas where tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are being deployed in order to initiate a ruthless and a bloody campaign against local farmers condemned as “the Taliban”. In order to encourage and reward Musharraf in wake of his proud massacre, the US recently supplied Pakistan with 2 F-16 fully-refurbished fighter jets with 23 more F-16s to be delivered within a month. These jets are widely expected to be used in the bombing missions in the tribal areas in the near future. The US has also doubled the bounty on Bin Laden to $ 50,000,000 dollars and it is being hinted by the US administration that the American troops in Afghanistan may enter Pakistan’s tribal areas in order to search for and freely kill suspected Taliban. How distressing it is that the nation’s army reared and maintained by Pakistani taxpayers to protect them against a foreign threat has itself became a major source of threat for the Pakistanis.

     

    Gen. Musharraf, who took over power of a nation unconstitutionally by ousting a democratically elected Prime Minister, recently called Talibanization as “the greatest threat to Pakistani society”. Talibanization is not and never was ‘the greatest threat’ to Pakistani society but it is the military intrusion in the political process, the judiciary and foreign and domestic policy of a nation for the past 60 years which has proved disastrous for its economy, national image, and the rule of law time and time again. Talibanization, if there is such a thing, is a mere symptom of a corrupt system where opportunity and justice favor a select few – usually in uniform. This intrusion has been profitable for the army generals indeed. Ayesha Siddiqua’s latest book, Military Inc. – The Politics of Military Economy in Pakistan, looks closely into the military’s vast commercial and economic interests in economic predation since 1953. In a country where half the population does not have access to clean water and 40 million live below the poverty line, a major general in the Pakistani army is worth 300 million rupees and a full general is worth 500 million rupees plus. According to colonization of land Act of 1912, the bulk of the 10 percent of land anywhere in Pakistan goes to the army generals. Compare 2 percent of GDP spent on education to over 40 percent spent on Defense. Currently under Musharraf, generals and brigadiers after being retired are being appointed as directors of civil departments, thus blocking the growth of civilians who slog away their whole lives for such posts. The retired army officials earn full pensions and salaries and, on top, attempt to make as much money as possible in as little time as possible through corrupt measures. It is of no wonder that according to Transparency International, Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Pakistan rated at 92 in 2003 has risen to 142 under Musharraf rule and is the highest in all of South Asian countries.

     

    The worst blotch however on the face of this military government is not the public looting or undermining the judiciary but the policy of mystery disappearances and whole scale murder of its own people under foreign dictates. A decade ago, the fat-bellied generals earned billions by handing guns to the madrasah orphans and kicking their backs into battle against the Soviets in the name of jihad, and who now make billions by shooting them down under the garb of Bush’s ‘War against Terrorism’. As expected in the history of military rulers in Pakistan, the US will exploit Musharraf to the fullest in this bloody war and, ultimately, after having caused enough carnage through him, will have him ‘eliminated’ from within his own ranks. Musharraf will be replaced; the show will go on.

     

    All Pakistan-loving people over the world pray that the patriotic and religious element in the army stands up against the role the entire army is being led to play by a select few in this ugly war. The time has come for the junior officers to answer the call of duty and conscience by refusing to take any part in the slaughter of fellow Muslim Pakistanis. The nation has trained you, groomed you, and affords you while holding high expectations from you to defend it against those with evil designs against it – not to ally with those who wish to see Pakistan weak and destroyed. The top brass of the army has always led the country towards battlefield defeats and humiliation in the past, but it is you, of the junior ranks, who have sacrificed with their lives whenever called upon by the nation to protect it from harm.

    Today, the same nation calls upon you for protection. So,

     

    Say NO to picking up the gun against another Pakistani.

    Say NO to kidnap and torture of your own countrymen.

    Say NO to allowing Pakistan’s enemies to use our resources to attack us.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • On Gay Pride in Islam

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    People should be very free with sex; they should draw the line at goats. ~ Elton John

     

    About a week ago I received a news story of an interview of a prominent gay activist with a mission to reconcile his “gay-ness” and those of others with God’s final message of Islam. He established and now directs an organization whose objective is to empower gay Muslims. Welcome to al-Fatihah: A US-based non profit gay support organization founded in 1998 that started out as an online discussion group and now runs over ten chapters in three countries. Its founder, the 28-year old Faisal Alam, says that at the age of sixteen he began to realize that something was wrong – “something I didn’t have a word for”. Alam was attracted to his own gender. A few years later he began venting his homosexual urges at local gay clubs during his university days in Boston where he would be “Muslim by day and homosexual by night”. An engagement with a Muslim girl came to a crashing halt when she discovered “that there was something wrong with their relationship”. After a nervous breakdown in 1996, Alam started an online mailing list with a mission to “advance the cause of homosexual Muslims”. Today al-Fatihah boasts of thousands of Muslim members around the world. It has created a 12-member “scholarship committee” that has produced a booklet that challenges the “traditional interpretations” of the mainstream Muslims. For future it plans to create homosexual friendly curriculum and arrange workshops in Islamic schools and centres.

     

    There is no secret concerning the existence of Muslim homosexuality in history. Even if in history it was mostly secret. The fact that homosexual Muslims normally kept their affairs hidden was a proof of their tacit self-admission that their orientation was not socially approved and/or divinely blessed. This is beginning to change. The contemporary homosexual activists, who often portray a flaming presence in the workplace and public arena, are now demanding their inclusion in our mosques, religious schools and centers.

     

    And yes, we have all heard the recent arguments in support of homosexuality. Some cite animal species that engage in homosexual acts in order to prove that it is natural behaviour. However some animal species also eat their young and their own excrements. The Quranic worldview portrays angels of possessing reason but no desire; and of animals having desire but no reason. So why must humans look towards the animal kingdom for sexual guidance? Others claim that homosexual behaviour is part of one’s genetic makeup and thus should be excused. There is no concrete evidence to prove that homosexuality is congenital. If it were so, we would not see cases of identical twins, who share the same genetic makeup, exhibiting opposite sexual orientations. Furthermore, if a homosexual could justify his behaviour by referring to his genetic programming, what would prevent a committer of incest or bestiality to also justify his behaviour on similar grounds? The society would have to cater to such claimants – because hey, it’s genetic! Even if the ever-so-evasive “gay-gene” is discovered some day, the fact that homosexual behaviour must uncontrollably result from it will remain to be proven.

     

    The homosexual groups like Iman, al-Fatihah, etc, not only want the mainstream Muslims to accept them as they are but, also, most appallingly, bring Islam and the Quran as evidence in support of their behaviour. Islam backs their homosexuality, they insist. Alam claims that “Islam has…never intruded into the bedroom of its followers” – a blatent lie. “We are fighting ...1400 years of interpretation”, says Alam, laying the blame squarely on “straight, homophobic men” in charge of textual interpretation. Pervez Sharma, the gay director of the documentary “A Jihad for Love”, profiles two Turkish lesbians in his movie who he describes in an interview as “sufis”. What travesty! Is it the same sufism that goes at lengths to teach one restraint over one’s carnal desires and direct one’s love towards God? Some advocates cite “homoerotic” poetry of the Sufi tradition to lend legitimacy to an Islam-approved idea of homosexuality. Do they not know that the traditional Sufi masters used metaphors and similes to express their love for the religion and religious symbols, not clandestine homosexual relationships? Hence recurring words like “wine” stood for divine love; “the cupbearer” for the Prophet (S); “the beloved” for God/the Guide; “the lover” for the poet himself, etc. Sharma’s comment in an interview that “the Wahhabis and the Tablighis have looked down upon the Sufis” is also incorrect. While it is true that Wahhabis (properly known as the Salafis) warred against Sufi innovations, the Tabligh movement on the other hand seeks inspiration from age-old Sufi ideas and practices.

     

    I believe that most gay activists who wear the Islam label know the right path. They know in their heart that the Quran explicitly condemns their behaviour. But instead of admitting their wrong and seeking help from God to overcome their inclinations, and we all have inclinations, they commit further sin by seeking to legitimize their behaviour in Islam. Ali Orhon, a Turkish homosexual who had a troubled marriage lasting ten months, is at least honest enough to admit that the Quran is anti-gay. “If there was any pro-gay interpretation, I would have seized on it”, he says. Yet consider Muhsin Hendricks, “the first gay Imam” from South Africa, who after graduating from a Pakistani madrasah and then coming out as gay, now counsels Muslim homosexuals in an effort to reconcile their Islam with their sexuality. “Let Allah be the judge in the end of the day” he says in an interview. But, Allah did judge, Mr. Hendrinks. The destruction of Lot’s people on account of their brazen homosexuality is mentioned over twenty times in the Quran. God’s displeasure towards Soddom is best reflected in the way they were destroyed; the land on which they dwelt was first pelted at night with “marked stones from Heaven” followed by the land being flung into midair, turned upside down and then smashed onto the ground crushing and burying everyone by sunrise (11:82, 15:74). Furthermore, God leaves the Soddomite region, in form of the non-life giving Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth surface (1,378 ft below sea level), as a warning and reminder to humanity to never repeat Soddom’s lowly and lifeless ways (37:137-138, 15:75-77). But see how Faisal Alam chooses to interpret the Soddom account. He makes the dishonest claim that Soddomites were destroyed because they were “stealing and were not hospitable to their guests”. Prophet Lot rebukes the townspeople at several Quranic instances for forsaking women in preference of men (27:55, 26:166, 7:81) – even offering his daughters for marriage (15:77). Moreover does it make sense that God of Islam would curb free heterosexual sex by enforcing stringent laws (24:2) but condone free homosexual sex? The verses clearly comment on the Soddomite involvement in consensual “filthy acts” (al-Khaba’ith) (21:74) especially during their parties and social gatherings (29:29).

     

    Because no homosexual was ever punished by the Prophet (S) this proves, Alam reasons, that homosexuality is permitted in Islam. The Prophet (S) did not punish any homosexual because none was ever brought to him for judgement. All we have is reports of effeminate men called Mukhannathun (such as ad-Dalal, Tuways etc) in Jahili Arabia who resembled women in their gestures, manner of talk and gait owing to their natural disposition and therefore carried no blame. Only one such man is reported to have been banished by the Prophet to the suburbs of Medina for deliberately imitating women by wearing henna on his hands and feet (Sunan Abu Da’ud, Book 41, Hadith 4910).

     

    Yet the legal efforts towards legalizing homosexuality are gaining momentum in the Islamic world, with Lebanon leading the struggle. Gay issues are freely shared in a popular weekly TV programme called “ash-Shater Yahki”. The Lebanese gay magazine “Barra” alleges 35 percent of Lebanese men to have had sex with other men. It is ironic that a nation only a short car-ride away from the Biblical region of Soddom should boast of “Acid – the first gay nightclub in the Middle East” among queer cafés, bathhouses, cinemas and bars. Who can forget the summer of 2006 when the first ever gay Arab rights conference organized by Helem, a Lebanese gay advocacy group currently active in a homosexuality legalization struggle, was held in Beirut for three straight days? But this is not to pick on Lebanon alone. The 2005-closure of a UAE nightclub for its gay night, the 2002-arrests of 52 alleged homosexuals on a pleasure boat in Cairo, reports of homosexuality occurring in religious madrasahs in Pakistan and other similar accounts disclose a disturbing trend: the Islamic World is undergoing softening attitudes towards illicit sex and sexuality, especially among its youth. “Imam” Hendricks cites only two options available for a Muslim homosexual: “leaving Islam or suicide”. We say there is, and always was, a third option: restraint and repentance – something not unfamiliar to the mainstream heterosexual Muslims of the world. But to attempt to justify homosexuality in the Quran and Hadith is not only dishonest, it also brings to question one’s status as a Muslim (Not my fatwa. Please refer to fiqh on the issue).

     

    Indeed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has said, “Allah has forgiven my Ummah of the whisperings of their souls so long as they do not talk about it or act accordingly.”

     

    And for those among us who are struggling with their nafs while admitting its shortcomings, there is perhaps no better verse than the following to bring hope to their situation:

     

    Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (az-Zumar 39:53)

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

     

  • Calling Spade a Spade

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    “Please don’t judge someone’s Iman (faith)” – is what we often hear in social circles, as was the main message of some email responses I received. I’d like to challenge this statement by arguing that we not only judge other’s Iman when it is called for, but, as a Quranic principle, this is exactly what we ought to do. Of course this should not give way to attacks on basis of suspicion or hearsay, but it also does not mean that we become blind to others’ Iman as reflected in their expressed thoughts and actions. An ideal Islamic social order awards the right to citizens to marry, give court testimony, join public office or the military, narrate a hadith etc. – all dependant on the judgment based on one’s professed thoughts and actions (reflecting Iman) beyond any other consideration.

     

    What should matter most is for one to see whether the criterion one employs to judge Iman is tenable Islamically or not. If we feel embarrassed or fearful of speaking the truth about our Deen when called upon to do so then why should we feel upset when accused of being deficient in our Iman? Let me be clearer: I feel that some people want to paint the whole idea of polygamy in Islam so as to show how closely Islam caters to the socially approved idea of gender equality. Hence they come up with lousy excuses to rationalize its Islamic allowance (first wife’s permission, only for supporting widows and orphans, not for a Western society, etc.). There is no need to do this. It is a dishonest policy not only towards ourselves and to our Creator, it is unconvincing and uncompassionate to the audience we are trying hard to please. People must be shown the true picture of Islam before given a choice on whether they’d like to accept it as a way of life or not. And if you yourself don’t like the true picture of Islam then, yes, perhaps you need to question your membership of a religion that stands for ‘submission to God’s will’. I have not invited anyone to leave Islam but to honestly evaluate one’s commitment level to what one claims to profess. Be thorough, whether in kufr (rejection) or Iman.

     

    My initial response to Noor Javed’s articles was admittedly spirited and harsh toned. I felt she had already made up her mind on how she wanted to portray polygamy before she set out to gather material on the issue (If Noor is honest I’m sure she will agree).

     

    An objective reader would note that the author:

     

    a. Cites multiple opposing voices speaking against polygamy in Canada (Syed Mumtaz Ali, Shahina Siddiqui, Rik Bala, Alia Hogben, Beverly Baines, Andrea Horwath, Ted McMeekin, public poll results and herself) but mentions only one source supporting it: Aly Hindy (the Imam we all love to hate). Of course she had to mention Hindy’s “friendship” with the family of a Gitmo youth detainee (innocent or not). Aly Hindy claims in a recent article that during an interview with Noor he stated his preference for the Islamic law over Canadian only in a hypothetical case of the government’s decision to force him to fight in Afghanistan. He insists that it was not in reference to polygamy. Did Noor Javed deliberately misconstrue Hindy’s words to paint him more sinister than life? The balance is certainly not in her favor.

    b. Includes a poll in one of her articles asking the readers whether they’d agree with the enforcement of the polygamy law in Canada, not on whether the law itself should be revised, as it is “un-enforceable”.

    c. With high drama, illustrates the personal stories of the “victims” of polygamy (Safa Rigby, Fouad Boutaya) but conveniently ignores their ex-spouses’ side of the story.

    d. Entitles one of her articles with the caption “Multiple spouses are fine, just not in the West” on account of it being a “foreign exotic practice…brought by newcomers” but perhaps forgets that a similar argument could be made against homosexual marriages, also ‘foreign’ to mainstream society yet legally accepted.

    e. Mentions the 2005 report by the Justice Dept. and Status of Women Canada, but fails to mention its eye-opening observation: The polygamy law does nothing to protect women and children in Canada.

    f. Lastly and most regrettably, Noor Javed renders a dishonest translation of a relevant Quranic verse in her articles.

     

    Another aspect of Noor’s writing was its bad timing. Post 9/11, certain social elements in society who have publicly confessed their Islam-hate in the past have become worryingly active. Do we really need a Muslim at this point to unfairly add to the feelings of anger, shame, contempt and hate towards Islam and Muslims under the garb of claiming to address a “common problem”? (Note the word unfairly. I am not against just self- criticism).

     

    “Wonderfully Ignorant”

     

    This is how Noor Javed described my article – only without an explanation. I would have preferred had she presented an alternative solution (other than polygamy) to deal with the surplus women population over men in Western societies. According to UN population stats for 2007, women outnumber men in the US by 4.8 million, in Russia by 10.6 million, in France by 1.5 million, in Germany by 1.8 million and in Canada by 311,000 – to cite a few. Of course the above societies armed by law normally deal with the issue by tacitly forcing the excess females to live as mistresses, lesbians or lonely spinsters. It is remarkably ironic that those who label polygamy as demeaning to women contribute to female degradation by allowing them options that are far more dishonorable and vile.

     

    Nevertheless, as Muslims our ignorance on Islam is worrisome; ignorance often coupled with an arrogant, yet misplaced, sense of what Islam is. This is why the polygamy opponents are tangled up with each other on defining its status in Islam. For example, Sarah Zubeiri advises me “go back and read (the) Quran – it’s quite clear that polygamy is not prescribed at all”. Noor Javed says it is allowed: “Islam allows a man…to marry up to four wives…” only not in Canada. Presumably Arzoo Zaheer considers it allowed in Canada therefore plans to protect herself through “a prenuptial”; Naeem Siddiqui says it was once allowed in the past “to provide for widows and orphans” but “not any more”; Farzana Hassan, President of Muslim Canadian Congress, calls it an “unfair institution” because the Quran calls it “unfair” (Does she not know that the Prophet (S) and his eminent Companions were polygamous?). But if some don’t know the Sirah, others seem to know it too well! Arzoo Zahir claims that “Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed (had) specified in her prenuptial that Ali may not wed another while married to her”. Arzoo was apparently upset at me for not including this ‘fact’ in my article. I’m sure the Sirah specialists would love to know this hitherto unknown fact.

     

    Then, Br. Naeem Siddiqui from CAIR-CAN enters the arena with his article “Divorcing Polygamy”. The Quranic ban in Naeem’s mind is as simple as: one-two-three. Naeem says that polygyny is “allowed only if a man can be just to all wives.” But wait. He then discovers another verse in the same chapter saying, “it is not within the power of men to be just to all wives”. Hence, Naeem concludes: “Polygyny isn’t merely discouraged” with a clear implication that he considers it declared Haram (banned) by the same Quran. What he ends up showing is that the god of the Muslims likes to legislate merely for fun all the while knowing that humans can’t follow his laws. But then later in the article Naeem presents his own ruling on why polygyny should be outlawed today. He says: “it was designed as a safety net for widows and orphans. It certainly was. It isn't any more.” Of course Noor Javed appears to disagree with Naeem Siddiqui’s implied idea of an eternal ban on polygamy as she informs us of the “conditions that would justify polygamous unions in Islam”. In her view these are in cases of “a widow, a divorcee, or a woman in need of financial or emotional support”. While everyone speaks on the Quran colored by one’s pre-conceived notions, sadly, no one bothers to check the Quran’s clear words on the issue. By this I also mean to draw attention to Noor’s repeated presentation of erroneous translations of the relevant verse. She quoted: "If you deem it best for the orphans, you may marry their mothers – you may marry two, three, or four. If you fear lest you become unfair, then you shall be content with only one, or with what you already have," (4:3). In its Arabic original, there is no mention of marrying mothers of the orphans; and there is a mention of ‘what your right hands possess’ i.e. concubines (also mentioned in 23:6 as a category distinct from wives). But of course, had Noor cited the verse from any one of the 1001 authoritative translations (not from the Quran translation of the false prophet, Rashad Khalifah) it would have spoiled her agenda.

     

    At times, the agenda also spoils if you cite the entire verse. So it is better to cherry-pick and cite only the part relevant to one’s argument. I am referring to Noor’s quotation of 4:129: "You have it not in your power to do justice between the wives, even though you may wish it." The verse goes on to say “…so do not incline too much to one (wife) so as to leave the other hanging. And if you do right and be conscious (of Allah), then Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” Any layperson can see that instead of banning polygamy, the verse in its entirety (which Noor conveniently misses) consoles men fearful of not being able to do perfect justice between wives. It reassures them that so long as they are not deliberately unjust to women, Allah is “oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” to failings beyond their control.

     

    The Legal Argument

    Some people felt the safest position on the issue was to hide behind the legal argument, which goes something like this:

     

    a. Islam enjoins us to abide by the law of the land

    b. Polygamy is against Canadian law

    c. Therefore, Islam enjoins us to oppose polygamy.

     

    Such position also taken by the Imam Council and Haroun Siddiqui was weak and disappointing. How quick we are to sacrifice divine guidance and recommendation at the altar of public approval and professional image! It is true that polygamy is “illegal on paper” but that is soon to change – thanks not to the big and brave Muslims out there, but to the secular legal experts realizing the law’s redundancy and ridiculousness. Imagine three or more people being jailed for 5 years or fined $50,000 for the ‘crime’ of taking part in a consensual religious ceremony of marriage. The same penalty would also befall the attending guests and those who facilitate/consummate the ceremony – at a time when the term ‘marriage’ is redefined, as it should’ve been, to better reflect the present social picture. It is of no wonder that top constitutional experts consulted by the Attorney General’s office in 1995 regarding the Bountiful case unanimously stated: “(the polygamy law) is in direct conflict with the freedom of religion guarantees in Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Another expert and retired justice, Richard Anderson, called it “obsolete” and “inadequate to solve the real problems confronting society” – a view shared by chief justice Allan McEachern. All crown lawyers agree that no charges would stick on the accused under the polygamy law. Eventually, this 19th C law will not survive a constitutional challenge. Due to its un-enforceability, polygamy in Canada is de facto legal.

     

    Thus we expect the Muslim public figures to grow a backbone and support efforts to fully legalize polygamy. Most importantly, the legalization would ensure the rights of those women who although enter a polygamous relationship consensually but must endure an unjust relationship with a man relative to the first wife.

     

    The legalization of polygamy in Canada would not generate a class of women upset at their husbands for having taken other wives under their newly found freedom. This is a scare tactic used by the anti-polygamists to ensure the status quo. Polygamy is, and in all likelihood, will remain on the fringes of our society regardless of the change in its legal status in future. After all it is exceedingly rare in Muslim countries where it enjoys far greater legal and cultural support.

     

    To those who advised polygamous couples to emigrate elsewhere as recourse, we say: It is time you rid yourselves of your immigrant inferiority complexes. Consider the pride Gina Powell, a revert, takes when she says: “if I (have) the chance to be a co-wife, I would be very honored”. Another lady, J. D. Costa, a co-wife, says: “Mashallah…I hate it when Muslim women denounce the things prescribed by Allah”. Does it behoove Muslims to knowingly go against what is allowed by God only to appear more ‘modern’ than the unbelievers?

     

    The Difference-of-Opinion Argument

    Some people felt that what Noor expressed through her articles was voicing “another perspective”, “difference of opinion”, “another interpretation” etc. and is therefore legitimate. Sadly our lack of knowledge renders us impervious to what constitutes a legitimate difference of opinion in Islam and what is plain out wrong. For example, if a person supports 6 daily fard prayers instead of 5, his view cannot be taken as a legitimate difference of opinion in shari’ah. “Al-ikhtilaf” in fiqh is known as the disagreement/difference of opinion among jurists over the interpretation of a matter of law. It is not meant for laypeople that generally have no idea about the basic principles (al-arkan), conditions (al-shurut) and the rules of conduct (adab) of fiqh – whereby matters are distinguished on the basis of supporting evidence from the primary sources – to hop on the ijtihad-buggy. Nor for those who are unacquainted with juristic istidlal (argument/reasoning), tarjih (giving preference), tatbiq (conciliation) or takhrij (deduction) as established by our tradition spanning 1400 years. Skimming a Quran translation over the net or attending half-baked Islam 101 classes at the university is not enough. Over the years I have noted that the ones who start by saying “in my opinion…” are the usually the ones most unqualified to speak on juridical matters. Blurting out personal opinions based on faulty understanding does not turn one into a jurist and his ideas do not automatically acquire validity within the recognized difference of opinions among those trained in fiqh. In short what I am saying is that one needs to have a minimum level of understanding and knowledge of religion before one can form a correct view and responsibly disseminate it in public. This criterion is not restricted to religion but to all fields of knowledge known to humanity.

     

    As Allah is my witness I do not carry malice toward anyone either mentioned in this article or those who sent their feedback as critics. However, if people continue to speak ignorantly on religious matters propelled by shady agendas, I will continue to disagree with them and voice my disagreement with them as a matter of principle. The best course for us to take as a community is to make a resolve not only to learn about the religion we so passionately speak about, but also, rise for its defense when an occasion calls for it.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • When One woman isn't the One

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    Muslim or not, the family institution in our society is in peril. Yet the pathetically ignorant, self-styled “Martin Luthers” of Islam find no other preoccupation worthier than to use fringe issues to take stabs on Islam at a time when attacks come from all sides – and for what: a paltry 2-minute publicity?

     

    The latest example is that of a hijab clad Muslimah, Noor Javed, who felt it a duty to write a scathing article on polygamy practiced in the GTA in a recent Toronto Star article entitled: “GTA’s Secret World of Polygamy”.

     

    Javed’s article, spun around a single case, starts off with the story of a Safa Rigby who discovers that her husband had taken two other women as wives during her 1-year stay in Egypt. Angry and upset, Safa felt she needed to opt out of marriage. And she does. No one says that Safa had no right to be upset, most women would be, but what bothered me was that Noor Javed used this one particular case to indict something she knows fully well to be permitted in Islam. Moreover, Javed repeatedly and erroneously cites the “illegality” of an Islamic polygamy in Canada in her article. Perhaps she forgets that a second additional marriage that is undeclared and unregistered with the city does not bear any legal recognition. Hence, it can not be “illegal” as no enforced law is broken. It would be similar to a person having one legal wife and ten girlfriends on the side with whom his relationship can not be called illegal. One wonders whether Noor Javed would write a similar article in condemnation of adultery, which victimizes Muslim families on a much grander scale and which thrives as an acceptable institution in society.

     

    Polygamy (or more correctly polygyny), although discouraged (Surah an-Nisa: 4), is clearly permitted in the Quran. We neither apologize to anyone about it nor do we feel ashamed about what we believe to be a right given by the Almighty. So here is an advice: If you are a Muslim man or a woman who finds the Islamic allowance of polygyny irreconcilably abhorrent, then we advise you to choose a life-path other than Islam that is more acceptable to you. But if you remain in Islam, then integrity demands that you accept and submit that unruly nafs (self) to what you dislike as being revealed from your Creator. The Quran reminds the believers:

     

    O You who believe! Enter Islam fully and do not follow the footsteps of Satan; he is to you an open enemy (al-Baqarah: 208)

     

    But even if you were to leave Islam for another religion, the polygyny-issue would not leave you. Founders and holy figures of major religions apparently had no qualms with it. The Jewish Old Testament mentions 40 Biblical figures that were polygynous, including Abraham, Moses, Jacob and Solomon. The Tibetan Buddhism readily allows for taking on a consort under the Consort Practice. The Hindu Vedas specifically proscribe laws that regulate polygyny. Ram and Krishna were both polygynous; the latter having 16,108 wives. The great St. Augustine struggled with its permissibility whereas the Protestant reformer Martin Luther once wrote in a letter that he could not forbid polygyny “for it did not contradict Scripture”. The Ethnographic Atlas Codebook notes that out of 1231 societies around the world a mere 186 are monogamous.

    Noor Javed’s second Star article “I do, I do, I do. The Last Taboo” seemed to suggest albeit in an amateurish way that even if polygyny was practiced in the past, it should certainly be banned in today’s day and age.

     

    I can cite numerous reasons for why the practice of polygyny makes sense in a present day society. A nearly twice as high male birth mortality rate as compared to the female birth mortality rate naturally leaves more women in society than men. All Western societies comprise of female populations that outnumber the male – sometimes in millions. Polygyny as a way of life makes sense for some, if not for all, of those single women. Beyond the higher birth mortality rate, we must also take into account the unavailability of existing men in society for potential marriage; men fight and die in wars, automobile accidents and by natural illnesses, risk long-term imprisonment, or prefer a homosexual lifestyle – all in far greater numbers than do women! On top, marriageable age for a woman as defined by society is considerably less than that of a man. The point: a society based on strict monogamy is impractical. Thus, the allowance of polygyny makes good sense in today’s day and age. Yet the single most powerful reason for me to accept its allowance is simply because the scripture that I hold to be from God allows it. And so should you, if you are indeed Muslim.

     

    And remember that allowance for polygyny is just that: an allowance. Marmaduke Pickthall (a British revert to Islam) once said: "In Christianity, celibacy is the ideal and monogamy is a concession to human needs. In Islam, monogamy is the ideal and polygamy is a concession to human needs." The permission of polygyny certainly does not require every Muslim to go out looking for another spouse. We know that only a tiny minority of Muslim men opt to take another wife. Perhaps it is so because in a society in which adultery thrives as the norm, it is far more tempting for a dodgy man to have multiple affairs outside marriage without having to pay any spousal support. In order words, reap all the benefits of marriage without having to shoulder any of its financial obligations as prescribed by Islam.

     

    So at a time when it has become rather fashionable to go out and reform Islam, one would advise Noor Javed and her likes to reconsider faith as a life-choice or focus on issues that affect the common Muslim and not seek cheap publicity by raising alarm bells on a side-issue and, as a result, unwisely add to the already existent Islam-hate in society.

     

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • The Shoes that made History

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog”, the young man shouted as he threw the first shoe at the American president, George Bush. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq”, he hurled the second shoe. In seconds, the Prime Minister al-Maliki’s security guards and US secret service agents pounced on him and began beating him violently before he was whisked away to an unknown location. This incident occurred on Dec 14, 2008, at a press conference held at the Prime Minister Palace. The 29-year old, Muntazar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi broadcast journalist from al-Baghdadia TV and no stranger to his fellow Iraqis for his journalistic contribution, thus became an overnight global hero. At the time when Zaidi who could be heard screaming outside on account of the beating that left a large trail of blood behind him on the carpet, Bush sadistically remarked: “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves”.

     

    And attention he did receive. Hundreds of lawyers, including American lawyers, around the world offered to take up Zaidi’s case which may carry an imprisonment for up to 15 years upon conviction. The next day of the incident thousands of Arabs led protest marches in major Arab cities demanding Zaidi’s freedom. On Dec 17, the Iraqi law makers called for the Iraqi legislature to take up the issue. The Iraqi government felt pressure to produce an apology letter ascribed to Zaidi which he supposedly penned in prison. Zaidi has been awarded a bravery award by a Libyan charity group headed by Qaddafi’s daughter. Malaysian Foreign Minister, Rais Yatim, called his act “the best show of retaliation so far”. Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, sent an official invitation to Zaidi’s family members, who have received many threatening calls after the incident, to come and live in Venezuela if they so wish. Songs and poetry eulogize the imprisoned Zaidi who is offered a 6-door Mercedes, marriage proposals and handsome job offers by his global admirers. Muntazar al-Zaidi currently holds a “cult status” in the eyes of his supporters some of whom presented shoes to American embassies around the world.

     

    The question arises as to why the world lauded Zaidi’s act of shoe-hurling at George W. Bush as a form of protest? The answer is because the world is tired of lies, tired of wanton destruction, tired of terrorism perpetrated by Bush and the Gang. No war has been protested against in greater numbers around the world in history than the Iraq war. An estimated 36 million global protestors held around 3,000 marches against the war, reaching their peak on Feb 15, 2003. A BBC poll conducted last year found that 2/3 of people around the globe want US forces to leave Iraq. A vast majority of Iraqis want American soldier out of their land in a war which the ex-UN General Secretary called “illegal”. Bush has successfully made America the single most hated and feared nation around the world. Under a garb of lies, he is responsible for shedding more Muslim blood than any other American president. The greatest tragedy is that while the criminal Bush now admits to having been “unprepared for war” (Time Magazine, 20 Dec, 2008), his cronies continue to support his invasions and the resulting occupations that have inflicted suffering upon an untold millions.

     

    One such figure is Salim Mansur, who teaches political science at Western University, and is best described as a hand licking lapdog of the Bush administration and a pet-media columnist for the Toronto Sun. At a time when even the hardest Bush-supporters fumble for words in backing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Mansur in his recent article condemns Zaidi for his action and blames the Iraqis for not being able to stomach the good the US occupation has brought to their lives. Like a typical Uncle Tom, Mansur further accuses the Iraqis for adhering to “a dysfunctional tribalism” and of being “fearful of modernity” by not blessing the American military presence on their soil, not minding the fact that Iraq under the Baathists (of which I am no fan) was once the most progressive of all Arab nations. Mansur, who is of Bengali origin, should know better as to why and when people throw shoes at tyrants while risking their lives. When General A. A. K. Niazi surrendered the West Pakistani forces in Dacca, East Pakistan to General Jagjit Singh Arora, the CIC of the Indian and Bangladesh Allied forces on 19 Dec, 1971, by signing the instrument of surrender, a small statured, skinny Bangali slipped through the crowd and struck Gen. Niazi on the face with two shoes in his hands in a well deserved act.

    Alas, Mansur’s twisted mind accuses one who hurls shoes not one who rains bombs, rockets, and missiles as the real criminal.

     

    The American invasion of Iraq started in March 20, 2003, but the war plans had been cooked up much earlier. A secret memo “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq” was discussed in Washington at the start of 2001. A Pentagon document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts” (dated March 5, 2001) contained a map of potential areas for oil exploration in a country with the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. The second stage was making a case for war. The Bush government waged war on Iraq by claiming that Iraq possessed WMDs that posed an imminent threat to the US and its allies. The story was that the Iraqis were ready to launch biological and chemical weapons on the eastern seaboard of US delivered by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), even though the US Air Force agency and the intelligence community denied any such capability. You will remember Collin Powell's shameless presentation to the U.N. on February 3, 2003 in which he held a vial of anthrax in order to influence U.N. members to believe that Saddam had WMDs. When neither the UN weapons inspectors nor the US-led Iraq Survey Group (Duelfer Report) found any WMDs, the allegation then turned the focus on to Iraq’s support for al-Qaidah. When the head of CIA, George Tenet, insisted in secret meetings with Bush that there was no link between the two, he was quickly discharged by Cheney and Rumsfeld. To feed false information to the public however, Dept Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, created Office of Special Plans (OSP) which made up lies such as Iraqi purchase of yellowcake uranium from Niger or Iraq’s attempt to acquire high strength aluminum tubes to enrich uranium. The Center for Public Integrity records 935 false statements related to Iraq’s threat to the US made by the Bush government in the 2001-2003 year period. Bush’s own treasury secretary, Paul ‘O Neil, said: “It was all about finding a way to do it…with the president saying: ‘Go find me a way to do this.”

     

    The criminal vigilantism may have been palatable had the Iraqi people fared better in the process. But history as witness, the US-led war and occupation is the worst thing that happened to Iraq since its inception in 1921. Today, we are at loss as to whether mourn the 1 million dead; or the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees; or the nearly 1 million babies who breathed their last on hospital beds as a result of crippling sanctions; or the underage girls-turned-prostitutes in Iraqi refugee camps; or the condition of tens of thousands of Iraqis in unknown jails held without charge. Once the most progressive and modern of all Arab nations, today Iraq fares fifth on the Failed States Index of 2008, with Red Cross calling its humanitarian crisis as “among the most critical in the world”. Around 100,000 Iraqi refugees pour into Syria and Jordan every month.

     

    Is it then of any surprise that a patriot journalist would hurl his shoes at a man responsible for ravaging his country? Iraq was not responsible for 9/11, was no threat to its neighbors or the US, had no connections with al-Qaida, and possessed no WMDs. Bush may be “an agent of change” for an Uncle Tom like Salim Mansur, but thousands of Iraqis expressed their cordial opinion of him when they burned his effigies in Baghdad Square on Nov 21, 2008. The Iraqi Parliament only recently rejected a draft law that would’ have permitted non-US forces to remain on Iraqi soil whereas the US government is facing increasing pressure by the Iraqi government to relieve them of their occupation by 2012 under the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement.

     

    The bigger issue in the shoe-tossing incident for Muslims in Canada and worldwide is the awakening to a situation in which a young Iraqi secular socialist, Muntazar al-Zaidi, whose hero happens to be Che Guevara, stuns the world with his martyrdom-like protest before the face of tyranny. Where are the Muslim ulema playing a similar role? The Prophet (pbuh) calls the ulema “the inheritors of the prophets”, meaning that they are not mere storage-houses of religious knowledge but must be the vanguard of opposition against any kind of social oppression, as were the prophets. Why is it that we find our ulema (with few noteworthy exceptions) the most meek, obsequious and socially passive individuals when it comes to bringing to light the most burning issues concerning Muslims? Sadly, the Imam Council of Canada which boasts of around 150 members had no more than 4 attendees in its annual Eid dinner held last week. I am told that this is the norm in most meetings. I would like to ask our holy fathers whether they do not find even one issue facing the community worthy of mutual discussion? For the sake of the divine knowledge that you possess in your bosoms, stand up and recognize the challenges of the day. Then, awaken the masses in your public engagements. Recognize what your community needs and what it expects of you. If you covet leadership, then know that it will be yours provided you act as leaders of your flock. But if you do not recognize your true role in society, then be ready for divine retribution that would encircle the entire community.

     

    As commoners, the least we can do now is lift our hands and pray for justice for Muntazar al-Zaidi, “the dearest son of Iraq”, who despite his youth and humble background jolted our collective conscience by his brazen act on the December 14th.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • Public Funding for Faith-based Schools

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    If you are a Muslim parent concerned about your child’s well being in this world and the next, a contentious issue to be decided in the upcoming provincial elections concerns you. The gist of the issue is: Should the Ontario government fund faith-based schooling as it funds catholic schooling with the public tax dollars. The present political leadership of Ontario believes that it is justified to support the education of catholic students, numbering 600,000 in the province, but not 53,000 students mostly of Jewish, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds. A fear mongering campaign is being waged to ensure the status quo which the UN brands as discriminatory towards other religions.

     

    As Muslims, however, this discriminatory policy is not what troubles parents the most. It is the fact that the children, their prime possessions, are being influenced by a school culture and education that promotes values in clash with those of the faith professed by the parents. When it is said that the Canadian system of education is second only to Finland’s, one is being fair to ask: Who is to judge? From the Muslim perspective child education (‘ilm) is about nurturing values in a child’s personality as enjoined by the one we believe to be the Creator of humanity. A child devoid of Islamic spirit is a child of poverty – no matter how many math formulas, correct word spellings, nature facts or historical dates clutter his head. An ideal learning environment holds central to it a faith-based purpose of human existence on earth: in our case, to live life in accordance with the model left by the Prophet (S). Any other system of education that does not infuse a faith-based value system and ideals, or worse, promotes those of the jahiliyyah, is unacceptable. I talk of values such as love for God and His Prophet, charity, modesty, sacrifice, truthfulness, integrity and a good will towards humanity as defined by our faith tradition. All prophets were sent to teach higher values as commanded by God. Did the Prophet (S) not say: innama bu‘ith-tu mu‘allima (I have been sent only as a teacher)?

     

    How can an observant Muslim feel comfortable with his child’s school environment that deliberately leaves God out the door; defines life success solely in terms of dollars and cents; endorses hedonism, immodesty, and consumerism; promotes disrespect of educators, parents and fellow students; shares/encourages methods of sexual “protection” over sexual abstinence; promotes intimate mixing of males and females and teaches homosexuality as a natural and healthy way of life? At worst, there is rampant physical and sexual bullying, racism, drug use, armed violence and murder occurring in places we send our children to with expectations to become refined human beings. One of the high schools I attended in my youth had an on-duty police officer on all of its three floors. There is talk now of having police presence inside the classrooms of some schools as a last resort to ensure discipline and safety.

     

    Then there are the philosophical issues. Cultural relativity and situational ethics taint the underlying spirit of the public school curricula. Let us remember that the first revelation of the Quran instructs Muslims to ‘read in the name of your God that created’ not in the name of secular humanism or popular socialism or whatever.

     

    Unfortunately the detractors draw the most horrific picture as the consequence of funding faith-based schools by citing its harm to the Canadian identity and social cohesion. Others say it would ‘Balkanize’ our schools into homogenous enclaves. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that faith-based school funding in Manitoba, New Foundland, Alberta and Quebec has led towards the formation of segregated communities. Student graduates from faith-based schools in other provinces proceed to universities and colleges and seek professional careers and lead normal lives just like others. And even though the presently attending students of faith-based schools are a growing reality they still constitute a tiny minority of all school-going students in Canada and in all likelihood will not in any way maleffect public schools. It may even be argued that public schooling might improve as a result of competition with greater parental choice on where they’d want to send their kids. Quite frankly, Mr. McGuinty, we find you self-contradicting when you deem public funding for faith-based schools as “taking us backwards” but then seemingly defend catholic school funding by giving a historical justification in your statement: “that’s the system we’ve inherited” – just as when you cite the majority of Ontarians as unsupportive of public funding for faith-based schools and at the same time call it “a defining issue” in the upcoming elections.

     

    Yet, to be fair, groundwork must be done before the government decides to blindly hand out expense vouchers to parents. We suggest that the government take the steps to formulate an Islamic school board as a regulatory body overlooking the quality of all Islamic schools under its jurisdiction. If we can have 37 Catholic school boards currently functioning in the province we can certainly use one Islamic school Board to cater to the phenomenon of rapidly mushrooming Islamic schools by the year. The funding should be tied not only to the membership of the Board but also to a sustained record of achievement according to a defined criteria set by the Board that should represent the interests of parents, teachers and the administration across the province at an equilibrium. The board should evolve into existence through an electoral process with proper checks and balances.

     

    The reasons why Islamic schools are in a state of chaos right now is partly due to the absence of a centrally governing body, such as a Board, whose primary job is to provide direction and guidance to an individual school and partly because most schools are running purely as private businesses whose ‘owners’ see little incentive for change. We all know too well of Islamic schools with boastful names that follow unethical practices in their administration and education. In some places, teachers are poorly paid, or none at all, or fired at whim or appointed without merit; at others, we find parents as either completely uninvolved in the child’s education process or demand to sit inside the classroom at whim in order to evaluate the teacher. There is no defined Islamic curriculum worthy of mention applied uniformly across all schools. There are Islamic schools that lack vision for why they exist – the same goes for some principals! I have come to know incidents of corporal punishment, unsanitary/unsafe conditions, and inappropriate and unruly behavior such as shouting and swearing inside some of the more well known Islamic schools in the city.

     

    An Islamic schools Board would ensure that in order to qualify for future funding a school would have to fulfill a criteria defined by an impartial body of elected Board members from the community. The schools would not only have to follow Ontario curriculum guidelines but Islamic curriculum guidelines according to each grade as defined by the Board as well. The hired staff would have to be professionally accredited and exhibit model behavior in terms of teaching methodologies as well as character and ethics. Only schools that fulfill the devised criteria would be granted public funding. The emphasis would be on raising the quality of institutions not their numbers. It is only when we proceed with our support for public funding for our schools with a clear vision in mind would it turn out as a boon for our community as it would for our nation.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • England’s Darkest Knight

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    The Queen of England, Her Majesty Elizabeth II, who was once likened by Salman Rushdie to a “smoked fish full of spikes and bones”, decided to honor Rushdie with knighthood for his “invaluable services towards literature”. The incident raises the questions of merit, timing and the Queen’s better judgment as well as that of a befitting Muslim reaction to an untoward provocation.

     

    Going through blogs and emails, I found that many British consider Rushdie a heroic symbol of the West’s commitment to freedom of speech against the deadly forces of Islamic fanaticism. While some feel that the author received the award for his symbolic importance rather than the literary quality of his work, others ask: “How has Rushdie contributed to the lives of ordinary Brits, who have dished out millions of pounds for his protection, to now be referred to as “Sir” Salman?”

     

    On the issue of freedom of speech, Muslims and many fair-minded people, British or not, note a double standard at play here. The freedom of speech is a cherished notion of the Western societies, and it should be, but it must be tempered in due measure with a sense of responsibility. It is not an absolute right. Imagine had Rushdie produced a novel depicting a fictitious people called The Slime as the curse of the world, warmongers, killers of Jesus and had celebrated Hitler as a hero-savior for eliminating them in large numbers, would the justifications had been:

     

    “Oh God, it is only a work of fiction…”

     

    “It is our notion of free speech, so live with it!”

     

    “Go and read the book first” etc.?

     

    Just to mention, merely denying the event of the Holocaust is a punishable crime in fourteen countries, including ours, precisely because we understand and accept that words, like bullets, have the power to hurt and are thus to be used responsibly in public. The Queen, whose honor is legally guarded in Britain, should know this more than anyone else. Would she have conferred the knighthood on Rushdie had Rushdie earned global recognition for insulting her person or her church?

     

    But what did Rushdie write that was so offensive to the Muslims? Rushdie deliberately entitled his book The Satanic Verses so as to highlight a historical incident reported by Ibn Sa’d and al-Tabari involving Satanic intervention during the Prophet’s revelation process. The two verses allegedly inspired by Satan lauded the three pagan goddesses worshiped at the time and were later discredited by the Prophet in the same report as not part of the Quran. (Modern Islamic scholarship however has proven the entire incident as fictitious). Rushdie intently chooses the name “Mahound”, a corruption of Muhammed considered synonymous with the Devil in Medieval Europe, for one of the characters who incidentally is a “businessman-turned-prophet”. Rushdie’s Mahound is so amorous of Medinan women that his beard turns white in a year due to “God’s own permission to f*ck as many women as he liked”. Hijab, a noble Islamic concept, becomes a brothel in Rushdie’s twisted mind housing twelve whores that take the names and attributes of the Prophet’s wives. Eventually the twelve whores become so known for their sexual ministrations that their eager clients perform a Tawaf – a term denoting the circumambulation of the holy Ka’ba – around the brothel. Using fantasy as cover, Rushdie’s seething pen subjects Islamic heroes and figures to the vilest abuse: Bilal becomes “the enormous black monster”, Salman as “some sort of bum from Persia”, Abraham as “a b*stard” and the Prophet’s Companions as “f*cking clowns. (Nastaghfirullah min dhalik – We seek forgiveness from it).

     

    Rushdie, who declared having “a childhood of blasphemy” and as an adolescent found perverse pleasure in drawing the Arabic script for Allah “so that it resembled the figure of a naked woman” openly admitted once in a televised interview that his book The Satanic Verses is “almost entirely” based on the Qur’an and Islamic history.

     

    It is of no wonder that the ex-President Jimmy Carter, a fair-minded Christian, was reported by NY Times as saying: “…we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgement that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated…” Predominantly non-Muslim countries like India, Kenya, Venezuela, Thailand and even South Africa banned Rushdie’s book owing to its offensive content within months of its appearance.

     

    Yet the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Robert Brinkley, denies that conferring knighthood on Rushdie was in any way an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammed. John Reid, the British Home Secretary instructs Muslims to be “sensitive” and flatly refuses to apologize for honoring Rushdie 18 years after the first publication of his Satanic verses. The director of research at London’s Chatham House think tank, Rosemary Hollis, insists that “they (the nominating committee) really didn't consider the potential reaction,” Right. The truth is that the timing of this episode is clearly no fluke. One can easily surmise that the British government, which is an arm-in-arm ally of Bush’s hopeless war on terrorism, would have anticipated a fervent Muslim reaction against the Queen, provoked or not, quite handy for sustaining and shoring up domestic support for the failing wars abroad – wars that are incurring daily costs in terms of British money and lives amid growing public anger. Possibly the provocation was also intended to divert attention from the current woes of a Western-installed puppet military dictator in Pakistan, General Musharraf, who faces nation-wide protests for undermining the judiciary.

     

    On the other extreme a tiny group of misguided Muslims never misses an opportunity to have a billion Muslims portrayed as highly irrational, unstable and reactionary to the slightest provocation from anywhere. Take for example Pakistan’s stage comedian-cum-religious affairs minister, Ijaz ul-Haq, who made a mockery of the 1200-year Islamic legal tradition by proposing a suicide bombing as the right response to uphold Prophet’s honor. What irony! The Islamic civilization that introduced to the world a proper court structure and seeking recourse through due process of the law finds itself tainted by ignorant calls for vigilantism and chaos (What, I wonder, the Barelvis made of Haq’s remark whose leadership regularly condemns the Deobandis, the academics and the Ahl-e Hadith for denigrating the Prophet).

     

    The best way to deal with the Rushdie affair, as our Executive Director, Farouq Khan, rightly pointed out, is to set up an International Islamic Court of Justice through the OIC representing a panel of top judges from 54 Islamic countries. The court would subpoena Rushdie from England by an international arrest warrant on charges of heresy and blasphemy against Islam. The accused would be given every right to present his case and if convicted guilty would then be sentenced in accordance with the Shari’ah. In the case of England’s refusal to hand over Rushdie diplomatic pressure and subsequent economic sanctions would be imposed by the Islamic nations until the British authorities understand the costs of holding on to Rushdie as far outweighing his benefit to them. Dealing through a collaborative legal channel, not noisy protest marches, will undoubtedly grant legitimacy and pragmatism to the cause. Even if England realizes the risk of losing nearly a billion dollar a year worth of Arab tourism revenue as a small motivating factor be sure to have Rushdie offered stripped naked on a plate – along with his girlfriend.

     

    Burning a British flag and chanting “Death to the Queen!” outside London’s Regent Park mosque, or any where else in the world for that matter, is not only impractical and an immature way to address the issue, it is bound to confirm to the world the many lies and fears perpetrated by the media against the Muslims. We must come to understand that we abide a world where books will be written, statements will be made, cartoon will be drawn, and movies will be produced, and unless we are able to deal with these instigations effectively, we might be better off ignoring them altogether. After all, the true status of Salman Rushdie does not change whether he is awarded knighthood once or a thousand times.

     

    But as a noted Islamic scholar recently put it:

     

    “They set a trap for us and we fall right in”.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • Death Threats or Medals of Glory?

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    And it happened.

    A few days ago Mr. Tarek Fatah, a media-prominent Muslim activist and a “moderate” Muslim, received his death threat from an unknown voice on his answering machine. The man threatened to kill Mr. Fatah for “smearing Islam”.

     

    One thing is certain. One of the two persons has only hurt Islam and Muslims with a show of sheer idiocy, irresponsibility, and a big mouth – not to mention his utter ignorance of the Islamic law. (No, I am not talking about Mr. Fatah).

     

    Of course, in reference to this threat-call, we will be constantly reminded by Mr. Fatah for the next few years of the shadowy dangers lurking around him as he heroically battles the deadly Muslim extremists who are a just a hair-breadth close to bringing down the entire nation… or the globe.

     

    You can visit the MCC website for a word-by-word transcript of the audio recording. And if you can not read, help yourself to an audio recording of the threat-call posted on the website. And just in case you forgot who Mr. Fatah and Mrs. Hassan are, a sombre photograph of the two crusaders spans the front page. Two articles related to the threat-call are also posted on the website…with much more to come!

     

    We all know that the threat most probably will not materialize. In all seriousness those who are about to kill someone (usually) do not go about announcing their plan on answering machines. In any case, this is not something new; Mr. Fatah claims that he has been receiving death threats for the last four years (See article: Fearing for safety, Muslim official quits by Sonya Fatah).

     

    Yet, the well-timed episode will probably give MCC a fresh lease on life it badly needs. Lacking a solid platform for its existence, MCC is showing some major ideological fissures from within and the incident of the threat-call might just unite its ranks for a while. On a sympathetic note, it can be easy to become frustrated when you know you don’t enjoy popular support in the community and claim to speak on its behalf at the same time. MCC President Farzana Hassan admitted in a recent Toronto Star interview that she tries to reach out “with respect to providing a different perspective on Islam and women's rights and progress in general and nobody seems very interested…”

     

    My main contention with MCC is that instead of pondering on ways of how they can connect with the Muslims and earn their goodwill by solving their day-to-day problems, its cadre engages in fruitless smear campaigns against the most toothless, docile, and passive element of our society: the mosque Imam. They know well that the mosque Imam with his steady repertoire of dull sermons in badly pronounced English is no revolutionary-in-hiding, yet they purposefully mislead the general Canadian public into thinking that every mosque is a simmering hotbed of anti-Canadian conspiracies – little caring for the far-reaching and all-engulfing effects of the flames of this paranoia. They also know too well that the only politics the Imam is concerned with is mosque politics. So long as his place at the pulpit is assured and he hears the sweet sound of tooneys falling in the boxes every Friday, he cares little for what happens beyond the mosque parking lot. I assume that running globally linked terrorist cells involves a bit more dynamism than what our dandy Imams are capable of. Involved in politics? I assure you that some do not even know the name of our premier.

     

    I have had lengthy email correspondence with Mr. Fatah on the issue of “terrorism in the mosques” and sadly, he was not able to provide an iota of evidence of how Saudi Arabia and Iran have hijacked our mosques. Perhaps Mr. Fatah carries some highly sensitive information on our mosques he is not willing to share with our all-too-efficient intelligence agencies.

     

    My advice to MCC is the following: Stop feeding the ugly demon of fear and hatred against the ordinary Muslim who is decent, law-abiding and only wants to be left in peace – all for a paltry gain. Try loving your community instead of being filled with spite all the time – disturbed childhood or not. Secondly, read up a bit of the Quran before tackling major theological issues with an aim to form a comprehensive approach towards faith rather than a purely issue-centric one. And lastly, if you are serious about change in the community lighten up on the fiery statements and media-hype and show your seriousness through practical work on the ground.

     

    And now I will do what we usually do when our organization receives a threatening message by a disgruntled member of the community – sigh and take a nap!

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • An Evening with Professor Muriel Walker

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    On heroism the American political journalist and historian, Theodore H. White, said:

     

    To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.

     

    The society we live in exerts tremendous demands upon all of us to conform to its unwritten dictates. At times we find our deepest and most cherished convictions put on trial against the tide of a majority-held opinion. We all have an inner moral voice, yes, but only a few brave souls among us listen to it and answer its call for action while most of us agonizingly attempt to silence it. Those who defy the crowd on a perceived wrong all the while knowing the consequences of their defiance truly possess moral authority and character. It is they who are the heroes of a society.

     

    Prof. Muriel Walker depicts nothing of the hero-image painted by popular media and movies; nor does she consider herself a hero, although some would disagree. On April 4, 2007, Prof. Walker decided to organize “Wear My Hijab” day at McMaster University by inviting all women, Muslim or not, to wear a head scarf all day to show support for those who regularly wear it. The purpose of this exercise was, in her words, to “sensitize people about Islam…that you should not be afraid of Muslims”.

     

    On June 4, 2007, we invited Prof. Walker for a talk at the NAMF Community Center in order to uncover why a non-Muslim university professor, a francophone, would organize a day on an issue that has become increasingly controversial in recent days.

     

    Prof. Walker commenced by sharing the first incident that startled her by the fear and insecurity afflicting the Muslims. She related that once a 12-year old Muslim child in her supervision refused to eat a slice of pepperoni pizza. When she inquired if his religion prevented it, he cast his head down and denied it at first. Later he confessed that he was not supposed to say to anyone that he was Muslim. When Prof. Walker met the mother of the child and shared the story, the mother immediately said: “Yes, we are Muslims but we are not fanatical or anything”. As a single-mom of two young boys, Prof. Walker said she felt heartbroken at the fact that someone in Canada in this day and age could feel so terrified of revealing a part of their identity.

     

    Was it an isolated case? Were they tenuous apprehensions of a mother and a child? It is only when Prof. Walker decided to experiment by donning the hijab in public did she experience the most incredible prejudice directed towards her. She recalls being pushed by students in the campus hallways who mistakenly took her for a Muslim student. She related of people’s s dirty looks, snickering remarks and/or complete disregard when she’d pass by in hijab. Once, while she was delivering a lecture in hijab, the campus security personnel rushed into the lecture hall unannounced and in frenzy. When inquired of the reason, they said they wanted to ensure the safety of everyone as the Muslims in this class happened to be too close to a nearby nuclear plant.

     

    At another instance, Prof Walker related one person saying to her: “You people have all the oil. You need to learn to share!”

     

    More upsetting than the attitude of students perhaps was the one of the faculty. When she cited the treatment meted out to Muslims as comparable to the one towards the Jews in the 30’s, one faculty member remarked: “Yes, but the Jews didn’t blow up buildings!”

     

    Prof. Walker believes that the few with vested interests in society need to direct hate and propaganda against ‘the other’, which in this case, are the Muslims. She expressed her revolt with the constant negative media focus on the Muslims and added that TV shows such as “Sleeper Cell” cast suspicion on the ordinary law-abiding Muslim.

     

    Why are Muslims singled out as targets among the many faith and ethnic groups?

     

    “Because everyone hates them: the Christian right, the Zionists, the feminists, the secular humanists, the atheists etc.”, she said. She expressed alarm at the current trend which if continued could eventually lead to, in her opinion, another holocaust. “No minorities would then be safe”, she stressed. “Look at the number of violent acts against Sikhs in the US and the burning down of a Hindu temple in Hamilton”.

     

    All in all, the evening of April 4 was one that did not deserve to be missed. Yet, unfortunately, after distributing hundreds of flyers, sending hundreds of emails, informing dozens of people about the event in person, only 10 people showed up as the participating audience (not counting the NAMF staff). What has become of our collective conscience? How pathetic it is that we Muslims flock in great numbers around comedians, singers, dancers and politicians on stage but simply ignore to hear and support someone who comes all the way from Hamilton to peel open our eyes and ears to what is around us.

     

    Muriel Walker, who regularly observes the hijab on Fridays while attending prayers and eventually plans to organize a nation-wide hijab day, is fighting a great battle; our battle – and that of many Muslim mothers, daughters and sisters. As a reward, she may have her contract revoked by the university. She is considered a social pariah, has had her office vandalized by hate-mongers and is currently a target of a vile on campus smear campaign. Need we be reminded that it is because of her and people like her, who value human dignity and fairness that we Muslims sleep peacefully in our homes. And for this she deserves our full support.

     

    I strongly urge you, the conscientious reader, to drop a line by email by telling her that you appreciate her courageous stand in support of those who observe the hijab. Secondly, make du’a for her to sustain her courage in face of open bias and bigotry – at a time when many Muslim academics, Imams and political luminaries disappoint us.

     

    I strongly urge you, the conscientious reader, to drop a line by email by telling her that you appreciate her courageous stand in support of those who observe the hijab. Secondly, make du’a for her to sustain her courage in face of open bias and bigotry – at a time when many Muslim academics, Imams and political luminaries disappoint us. A timely praise or a show of support is worth millions. Prof. Murial Walker can be contacted at [email protected]

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • Rallies R Us

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    What is the most effective way to appear to be working for a cause without actually working for it? Take the mic. at a public rally, of course.

     

    The procedure is simple. Gather a picket carrying mob together at a busy urban area, set up a stage arrayed with visible seating, dress up, look serious, and then when your turn comes up, stand at the pulpit and mouth off emotional rhetoric for about an hour. If you are lucky, the gullible among the crowd may actually take you for a prime community activist and a God-sent savior. Only make sure that the drama wraps up early enough at the day’s end, because, well, we all may have work the next morning!

     

    It is quite puzzling why some of our most “astute” community spokespersons have taken the route of organizing public rallies as some sort of vehicle for permanent social change, despite the fact that this is no pre-revolutionary Iran and they are no Ayatollah Khomeinis. Rallies produce results, yes, but only when the necessary ground work of creating a unified community consciousness and a strong sense of commitment has been laid (the hard part). Otherwise, they are a flimsy excuse to socialize on a sunny day, be entertained by colorful speeches, or for some, to project themselves as restless leaders for an Islamic cause. The practical worth of a rally can be judged from the fact that some of the worst totalitarian regimes in the Middle East tacitly encourage them on the streets (Saudi Arabia being a new addition) as a means to get frustrated masses to let out some steam, without posing a challenge to the system. The naive crowd gathers and marches all day under the sun, shouting slogans, honking cars, waving flags, and after having spent its time, resources and energy for the ‘cause’, eventually returns home for a good night’s sleep – until of course, the next call. The cycle is endless.

     

    On August 10th, 2006, I was present at a town hall meeting called by the Muslim Unity Group (MUG) set up at the Islamic Foundation for the purpose of ‘raising awareness’ of the Lebanon crisis. It was attended by the audience of post-Isha group of worshippers (around 200) and three panel speakers. There was a post-conference meeting, also hosted by MUG, attended by about twenty five people, the purpose of which (I assume) was to share ideas on how to stop Israeli bombing on Lebanon. There was no mainstream media covering the event.

     

    As expected, the conference was nothing more than a continual wail about Muslim victimization under the Israeli aggression and injustice. Mr. Zafar Bangash, succeeded and joined by Mr. Ali Mallah, pulled out a tall list of Israeli ‘wrongs’ against the Lebanese and the Palestinians – already covered by the media and half a dozen websites. Frankly I did not understand the purpose of this conference, which allegedly was to ‘raise awareness’ of what is going on in Lebanon. But the question arises: Who among us does not know of what is happening in Lebanon? Yes, Israel deliberately targeted homes, hospitals and aid convoys; yes, the Israelis used banned weapons on civilians; yes, the Israelis have 15,000 Lebanese prisoners languishing in jail without a trial. The most important question of the evening remained unanswered: What is the plan to stop it?

     

    It turns out that there was no plan except to call the attending two hundred people to show up on a day-long rally over the weekend.

    rishi ke faaqon se na tootay ga Brahmin ka talism asa-e kaleemi na ho to kar-e Musa hai bebunyaad

    (The hunger strikes of the holy man will not curb the (tyranny) of the Brahmin; without the staff, Musa’s mission is baseless)

     

    Are the tireless spokespersons of our community really that gullible? Do they not realize that they, along with their few hundred sympathizers, don’t matter a penny’s worth to the Prime Minister Harper, the national political spectrum, and the global stage – and certainly not to a thug-nation that can audaciously and purposefully bomb a UN post in front of the whole world – twice! In case we are under some illusion, let me inform you that the garbage bags filled with our petition cards are probably resting at some paper recycling plant in Scarborough; our email condemnations painlessly deleted by some high-school intern at the PM’s office.

     

    A call for funds could have helped but Mr. Bangash emphasized during his speech that Hezbollah does not need funds and we in Canada only need “to tell the truth”. The message was reinforced in the post-conference meeting by Mr. Ali Mallah who said: “I talk to Lebanon everyday and we don’t need anyone’s charity”. Subhanallah! Where are these people living? We have children buried and dying under rubble right now with little means to pull them out, billions of dollars damage to the country done in just three days, hundreds of thousands of refugees, some living under tree shades, surviving on meager food, not to mention, hospitals flooded with the injured everywhere, and they don’t need aid? Perhaps these guys need to visit the Sweden Aid conference to talk them out of sending relief for Lebanon as well. Yet, clearly ‘the other side’ did not hold such notions. I have come to know that the Israeli support groups have been vigorously campaigning for donations for the Israeli government and the people, and according to one report, have already collected 20 million dollars in relief funds in Toronto alone. This does not include a fleet of new ambulances sent as gifts to Israel through the courtesy of our government.

     

    To the leaders of Islamic organizations, I say it is time we curb our rally-fetish. Instead, let us join hands for two objectives if we are truly serious about community empowerment:

     

    1. The Muslim community in Canada urgently needs a representative media presence which can address its worries, concerns, fears and problems, as well as, create community consciousness and gradually nurture a unified community voice on many issues. It must be independently run by professional Muslim journalists (not maulvis, seculars, engineering professors or the self-appointed leaders of our Islamic organizations) and must be funded by the entire community. One local quality tv program in capable hands can do more to raise awareness than hundreds like ‘Let Shabir Ali Speak’ or the mind-numbing ‘Vision of Islam’.

     

    2. The Islamic Relief organizations must come together with mosques and each other for a unified plan to raise the necessary funds for wherever and whenever disaster strikes. Again, the funds collected must not be in the account of one organization and must be channeled judiciously in a pre-agreed upon manner. (It is saddening to mention that the jointly collected funds for the Tsunami relief were hurriedly deposited in the bank account of one Islamic organization which craftily used that funding received from everyone to obtain a matching funding from the government for itself; another Islamic organization promoted its own name overseas in form of banners while willfully neglecting other partners in the project) Yes, this may mean leaving the spotlight for some, but remember you are entrusted with the position by Allah to serve the community, not to solely earn dunya through it. Don’t become the fuel of the Fire for some despicable gain. If there is sincerity of purpose, I am sure we will form such a coalition without hassles.

     

    As the President of North American Muslim Foundation, I pledge that we are ready and willing to take our part in any initiative that works best for the community (even if it is aside from the two above mentioned objectives). If you want to contribute in any meaningful way, come in at our office or call us at anytime – and unlike most mosques – we will receive you.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • Islam For Today

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    Imagine a desert Arab from the time of the Prophet being transported and brought into our world skipping the fourteen-hundred year expanse in between. What would he see, hear and notice and how would he react to what he’d notice? He would gaze wide-eyed at the swiftly flying planes, fast-moving cars and behold marvelously the everyday technological tools like cellular phones, TVs, elevators, light bulbs and computer laptops. He would probably wander aimlessly in a stupefying daze inside a mega-shopping mall touching each and everything with his hand in an attempt to grasp its reality. After a few month period of euphoric discovery however I imagine that he would feel badly out of place in our world. I imagine that he would want to return to the austere desert environment and his tribal family where his existence had meant something to the people around him as had their existence to him; a place where his daily role in society was acknowledged and appreciated.

     

    What humanity has done to scientific knowledge and technological progress in recent years is widely appreciated – less so is what the latter has done to humanity itself. We tend to overestimate how the innovative breakthroughs of scientific research and ingenuity have enriched our lives, but tend not to reflect as much on how they have impoverished us at the same time in other ways.

     

    Let us now visit a nomadic tribe in the Prophetic Arabia. Each tribe was a tightly-knit family that lived and struggled together. Everyone knew everyone else. The harsh environment daily faced instilled in them deep impressions of their own vulnerabilities and limitations. A sudden bout of drought, epidemic, or an enemy raid was all that was needed to efface life-long friends and loved ones. Hence a belief in the Here-After and a God-figure – effectively in charge of the (their) worldly affairs and who required constant appeasement – came as natural to the tribal man as breathing itself. Moreover, the tribal man was respectful towards nature. His God-centered world view bestowed a degree of sanctity to other creatures which after all are the handiwork of the same God. He consumed but did not waste; he killed but within limits defined by the tribal code. Primarily his battle for survival was with his immediate nonhuman environment. Owning few possessions and hence owned by a few, he was charitable to strangers perhaps due to the subconscious realization of the need for human interdependence to survive. The small-knit tribal context also granted him a high degree of personal accountability for his actions. A socially disapproved act or a habit committed by one person could linger on in the memory of one’s tribe (or worse, of the enemy tribe) for generations and could be a cause for lasting disrepute. (One must appreciate Abu Sufyan in his jahili days for replying to Emperor Heraclius’ questions concerning the Prophet’s virtues in truth lest Abu Sufyan’s friends in the audience consider him a liar). It is this social framework in which the Islamic message had the most practical success.

     

    The modern Western secular context, in which we live, encourages not outright denial of God in our lives but His irrelevance. The scientific revolution has granted us considerable empowerment over our environment and has thereby turned life all too comfortable and secure for us to feel a real need to appease a higher power. Thanks to modern scientific breakthroughs we enjoy ready warmth in winter, coolness in summer, safety from harsh weather, protection from diseases, malnutrition and natural disasters – ills that have wiped away civilizations before us. In short, we have conquered some of our worst fears and needs. (In fact, there is research being conducted at the moment that aims to rid humanity of ‘negative’ human emotions such as guilt, grief, remorse, melancholy etc. through the use of ‘happy pills’). If a sense of vulnerability causes one to turn to God and keep one devoted to Him, then we, on account of the world-changing scientific wonders around us, have lost a part of that sense of vulnerability and helplessness. We have become largely self-sufficient, lending ear only to the scientist (or the ‘expert’) who plays the prophet role today.

     

    Yet this does not mean that man has lost all need for God. I would argue that we need Him today more than ever – although presently we need to form a different sort of relationship with the Divine than the one traditionally held. The modern scientific revolution may have made our existence safer but it has not necessarily made it happier or more fulfilling. Statistics suggest that global suicide rates are rising every year and are the highest in the First World countries. People in a modern society have access to every material comfort upon command yet feel they lack meaningful lives. Somehow the vast urban cities, huge corporations and workplaces, mega-institutions and organizations have robbed the individual of his individuality, his uniqueness. Only in the modern context has the human existence been reduced and devalued to a number, a name-entry or a ‘prospect’. Many individuals cope with this loss of self through injudicious diversion and suppression. Abuse of medication and intoxicants, binge-shopping, excessive TV viewing and cyber chatting, gambling, workaholism, teenage delinquency are coping mechanisms that attempt to fill the sense of emptiness in our lives. Science as a philosophy is devoid of lending meaning to our existence. Whereas Islam assures us that each human is unique, sent on earth for a purpose and is a center of God’s loving attention; a God who carefully fashioned you in the womb and takes deep interest in your daily activities, and wishes success for you at the end of life’s test; science invests no particular sanctity to human (or any) existence or life roles. As a result, the present world charted by the scientist is cold and barren; a spiritual wilderness. I believe that the prime ill of the Age is not physical harm from one’s environment but personal alienation and loneliness.

     

    The Islamic leadership and lay persons in the West must make attempts towards contextualizing Deen in their lives by highlighting aspects which may have up till now received unfair attention or neglect. (I do not advocate ‘snipping and clipping’ foundational tenets of Islam which don’t agree well with the secular modern ethos, like some modernists do). I do suggest community building efforts that bind us together on the basis of shared beliefs and a shared sense of mission. For example, in light of the present age, we must emphasize teachings of the Prophet on forming jama’ah and highlight the dangers of being isolated from our local mosque community.

     

    Let us begin by gathering together in our local mosques and centers – young and old, males and females, students and workers – at least once a week and jointly study the Quran in a serious manner in order to seek answers for life’s major questions. We can read and reflect upon one of the many contemporary tafsirs written by eminent scholars. Let our hearts and doors open up to the potent effect of the Book which has changed destinies of nations before us. Approaching the Quran in order to understand it through a committed joint effort may be the best investment we can make for ourselves, our families and our society. Once its meanings seep into our minds and permeate our limbs, right thoughts and right actions will naturally follow from them. And once this occurs, only then can we claim to have formed a true community.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • If Not You, Then Who?

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." The famed actor Mel Gibson then slowly turned to the deputy and inquired, "Are you a Jew?"

     

    His comments uttered on July 28th 2006 during his drunken arrest have brought him the seething wrath of Jewish community groups everywhere and a worldwide condemnation. He has said to have seriously undermined his career in Hollywood, and if convicted, could be sentenced to jail for six months.

     

    I do not agree with his comments about the Jews. War is a human concept, much bigger than the doings of one group. Nevertheless one cannot help but laud the activism of global Jewish organizations that forced Gibson to recant his comments and repeatedly apologize for the �hurt� he caused to the Jewish sensibilities. The career damage he has done to himself, however, is permanent.

     

    All this occurred in the backdrop of uninhibited Israeli bombing of innocent people in Lebanon. The global community, the UN, the global humanitarian organizations are utterly powerless to stop the power-drunk Jewish state from bombing the humanitarian relief convoys meant for the victims.

     

    Woh qatl bhi kartay hain to charcha nahin hota

    Hum ah bhi kartay hain to ho jatay hain badnaam

    (They commit murder and no publicity arises; we let out a sigh and are condemned)

     

    What has happened to the world�s sense of justice? The fact that human lives carry different worth is distressing enough, but more disturbing is the fact that today it is the Muslim whose life is the least worthy � and globally, anti-Islamism is alarmingly on the rise. Everyday the news headlines scream of a Muslim holocaust occurring somewhere in the world. The Muslim life and wellbeing have become irrelevant: Kill him and call it collateral damage. Throw him in jail indefinitely and call it a security measure. Rob his wealth and resources, invade his land, alter his leadership and call it bringing democracy. Exile his people en masse and smilingly entitle it �the emergence of a new Middle East�. Ban his hijab-observing daughter from attending school to protect secular values and on and on�

     

    We have in effect become the wretched Bani Isra�il of the Quran who were once struck with �humiliation and weakness�. Our detractors erroneously consider us one community, yet we are as divided as the beads of a broken sibhah. One can condemn US for the supply of bombs to Israel, which were quickly running out, but one wonders as to who supplies the currently active fighter-bombers of IAF with oil? (I don�t think it is Venezuela).

     

    Locally, our organization NAMF which, although a small relief organization, has left no stone unturned in attempts to send relief supplies to the refugees and injured at this time of crisis. The general response from the community in this effort has been disappointing. Our organization contacted over one hundred mosque Imams and leaders of community organization for a joint press conference; only four showed up � some of who were late. I personally called around thirty mosques in order to request the Imams to make donation appeals to their congregations for the relief of the distraught. As always I found none on the phone and as always none returned the calls.

     

    What are we afraid of? Apparently it is not our Creator, but the false gods we have foolishly set up at par with Him. If we fear being thrown into jails then let me assure you that by being criminally silent and passive in the face of the other Muslims� calamity and not working together in order to help them, we are only ensuring similar fate for our children and ourselves. It is only a matter of time before this false sense of security is dispelled. This is not a �political� issue, nor is it a Lebanese issue (if in doubt, visit www.aipac.org); this is an ummah-issue and Allah Azza wa Jall expects us to be active and forthcoming in help. Let us remind ourselves as we extend our hand to help that we are favoring none but our own selves. I strongly appeal to Canadian Muslims of good conscience to come forward and contribute any amount for this cause via any credible organization in order to purify and absolve them selves from Divine blame on that Day for not having done anything. Let us not wait, because the orphaned child � our child � dying from hunger in some decrepit refugee camp can�t.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • The Lebanon Fitnah

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    You may wonder why this article is entitled as such, as the Arabic term fitnah generally denotes negative connotations. In order to best describe the latest situation in Lebanon, frankly I could not find a better word, and here’s why:

     

    Linguistically, fitnah refers to the process of removing impurities from gold by exposing it to steady fire. The impurities gradually drip away leaving bright pure gold in your hand. Hence, the more intense and enduring the fitnah process, the more pure the gold attained.

     

    In Islamic parlance, a fitnah is a (suddenly appearing) element in our circumstances that causes one to lay bare our inner reality in terms of faith. In the absence of an alternative means or measure to judge faith (Iman), the social significance of fitan (pl.) in the Ummah can never be ignored. A fitnah provides us clues that reflect the other’s spiritual status (along with our own) and thus enables us to part and classify ‘real gold’ from the ‘impurities’ around us.

     

    Three Categories of Muslims

    Whenever Muslims or Islam take a hit, the Muslim community anywhere divides in terms of Iman into three major categories, as it did in the Prophet’s time.

     

    The first are those who are genuinely troubled and hurt by the situation, and as a result, seek ways with their wealth, lives and prayers to engage the fitnah at its root. They devote themselves entirely for Islamic causes. Islam to them is a divinely ordained ethical and legal source of human guidance for all waking hours. One feels their heart-felt acceptance of Muhammed as the imitable spirit of truth – a veritable giant among figures of history; of the Quran as the sole manual for global salvation. If there is one word that characterizes this lot, it is sincerity (ikhlaas). They are the cream of this Ummah and consequently, of the entire humanity. The socially permeating blessing of the existence of this tiny group insures us all against imminent Divine wrath and retribution.

     

    The second category (largest in numbers) is of those who couldn’t care less for a crisis and are rightly called ‘cattle’ in the Qur’an. To them, their jobs, livelihood, families, vacations, promotions, popular media shows, trendy consumer items etc. matter most in life. Nothing should spoil their base gratifications or cause them undue effort or disturbance on account of Deen. At most, a passing remark on the carnage of Muslims at a casual discussion among friends over tea or at lunch breaks is as far as their participation will go. They hardly fulfill the obligations of Deen and don’t much care to either. Their Islam is a collection of fragmented teachings awkwardly fused with cultural notions (of their country of origin) and contemporary secular ethos.

     

    One finds them at Friday prayers (if they ever go), drop a tooney in the donation box, and chat with friends outside under a tree shade. These include a large mass of everyday Muslims who in general have made an economic hijrah to the West and now pursue their lives and lead their progeny along the same spirit. If there is one word that characterizes this group, it is heedlessness (ghaflah).

     

    The third and the last category comprises of those who prance around at times of crisis as eminent community and religious spokespeople delivering emotional speeches and tall media statements. They deliver far less. In fact most are crafty opportunists who see any Muslim crisis under spotlight as a God-sent opportunity to further a personal agenda i.e. to project themselves upon the community as being in the middle of the action. One may be taken in by their appearance (meticulously geared to make impressions of sanctity and/or authority on a naive crowd) but investigate their record for serious community-work and you will find token services. Their deep-rooted obsession for recognition often comes with higher-than-thou status consciousness which they keenly maintain; in public however they constantly harp the strings of unity, equality and brotherhood. Because of the need of some sort of a social platform for their work, one often finds them in mosques, in the political arena and community-based organizations and comprise of university academics, community activists and representatives, Imams and Sufi sages of our community. It is this leadership that is hurting us locally and globally more than any external element. The word that best describes this group is hypocrisy (nifaaq).

     

    The Global Malaise

    The global situation of Muslims is sadly not much different. Let us look at the refuse that poured out of some mouths at high places in the wake of this crisis. At the start of the Israeli aggression, the Arab leaders clicked their heels and jointly rushed for “an emergency meeting” only to come out with a senseless, ridiculous announcement of “There is no peace process”. One wonders whether the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, would have still called Hizbollah’s actions “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible” had his own sisters been in Israeli jails for over 20 years instead of the Lebanese women-prisoners or, might I guess, there is a bit of confessional competition at work? Perhaps Mr. al-Faisal can show us in the coming days what an appropriate and a responsible action should be in view of the loss of one pleasure resort off the list this summer.

     

    Also deplorable is our Prime Minister Mr. Harper’s shameless description of Israeli terrorism as “measured”. One wonders what “measured” action causes the displacement of 1,000,000 people, cold-blooded murder of hundreds (one-third of the killed are kids), massive destruction to airports, bridges, homes, hospitals, roads – even targeting fleeing civilians, all in an attempt to free two soldiers? If it is indeed “measured” then why send 6 chartered ships, along the efforts of a dozen other countries, to rescue fleeing Canadians?

     

    The truth of the matter is Israel does not want to kill Arabs; it wants to humiliate them and it succeeds every time. It wants to break their will and debase them in acquiescing submission under the garb of self-defence. So the world witnesses a relatively small, ill-equipped Islamic group refusing to fit that role and challenging a mighty nuclear power in battle. As far as recognition is concerned, all Muslims recognize Israel fully - as a bloody symbol of tyranny, misappropriation and injustice spanning three generations. They feel its dagger-shaped existence on the map plunged deep into the heart of the Arab world as a painful symbol of oppression as well as of their own inability, ineffectuality and humiliation.

     

    How We can Cope

    How will Muslims at home react to the Lebanon crisis (or to many like-crises to come)? There will be lots of public rallies, honking cars, fiery statements, media relays, protest marches etc – all to melt to nothing at the end of the day. In a month it will all be forgotten. The real problem is that we Muslims have not built a proper community in the West to be of any consequence. We are a people in disarray represented mostly by opportunistic hypocrites who speak of community interests yet work silently towards personal ones. (Muslim figures in the Parliament mean nothing to us unless we as a community are able to exercise leverage on them to dutifully work for our interests)

     

    The change must start with our mosques and existing Islamic centers. These are the places we regularly visit, wherein we mutually interact and develop a sense of community. Unfortunately the leadership of these institutions is far from satisfactory. I have discovered with time that the principle of ‘putting the right person for the job’ is one principle that has granted the United States world hegemony and respect, yet sadly this principle is most blatently ignored during internal elections or Imam appointments in most Islamic institutions. The present considerations for mosque leadership lies in one’s ability to recite the Quran melodiously and by observing the ‘proper’ look; for community based organizations it is emotional rhetoric delivered at various Islamic events. How can we expect vibrant representation and community guidance when it is we who place unfit characters on the community platform? Do you think for a moment that if we had had strong visionary representation - well coordinated and rooted – the world would have taken us as frivilously as it does now? I don’t think so.

     

    We must take command of our mosques and Islamic organizations. We must become active in the institutions we have built and now run with our resources – and it must start by taking a surgical account of the present leadership with the aim to replace it if required. For example, measure your curent Islamic leadership against the following criteria.

     

    • Communication. We need a person on the podium who can communicate effectively and fluently to his own congregation, a group of supporters and the larger society. He must not only have command over the verbal language of the land, but more importantly, the cultural language as well. (Describing good wives as ‘obedient’ or ‘cooperative’ in public forum can provoke starkly different reactions). Many Imams address the crowd in their native tongues with an utter disregard towards the anglophones; many a community leaders are so heavy-accented that it is a near-impossible to understand them. This has got to stop.
    • Organization. How are the organizational skills of your community leader? Can he motivate and organize his congregation or supporters coherently towards a project or cause? More importantly, the need of the hour is the ability to form liason between different organizations and mosques towards mutually held objectives. At the present time, we have ‘ghetto-ization’ of Islamic institutions whose ‘rulers’ view each other as rival competitors. I remember that during the Tsunami disaster, the relief work initiative jointly undertaken by several mosques and Islamic institutions at the behest of the Islamic Foundation was so ill-coordinated (as were the meetings) that some relief supplies ended up piled in excess of others in sheer neglect of what was needed on the ground. Much wasn’t even received from the donors.
    • Management Skills. The world is changing by the minute. We need leadership that has solid management training. How to conduct meetings, discussions, chart agendas, organize follow-up meetings, resolve conflicts are matters which require learning and update. We must ask why our community meetings usually go haywire. Professorship in engineering or salesmanship at a car dealership does not grant by default sound management skills.
    • Media Projection. This can be a sub-category under Communication, however in our context, it deserves singular attention. The larger society will receive us in accordance with our image they see on the screen. Right now too many leaders propelled by their visible hunger for media exposure jump to find a spot under camera. The impact of the overall message is skewed, mushy and confusing. Here’s a hint: Several organizations can pool their resources to hire a properly trained journalist paid to serve community interests under a clearly defined agenda. Most ‘leaders’ should simply refrain from taking the mic. They look pathetic.
    • Approachability and Accountability.  How approachable are your local mosque Imams and community representatives? Generally our ‘leaders’ are impossible to get hold of in person, by phone or email. Most inhabit a world of their own. They need to be replaced with those that merge in the crowd yet at the same time hold an ‘aerial’ view of the community. Similarly, there is no accountability process at our centres and mosques. Where do the funds come from and where do they go? I suspect most are mismanaged or subtly misappropriated. Your dollar is a vote that keeps an institution alive and functioning, so vote for transparent organizations by funding them instead. Leadership that shys from giving account of the funds it receives from public is like wolf in sheeps clothing.
    • Knowledge of Deen and Society. Both are equally important. Sole knowledge of Deen serves nothing more than a historical curiosity; sole knowledge of the society sweeps one away by the waves of trendy notions and popular ideas of the day. Many ‘leaders’ have said some outragoeus things in public simply due to a faulty understanding of Islam (the fashionable call of the day is putting women up on the minbar and scoffing at the Sunnah). On the other hand, let us stop importing Imams from God-knows-where-istans and nurture home-grown religious leadership that knows us and the issues facing us locally, regionally and globally.
    • Devotion towards Islam. Alas, without this all social activism is mere deceit and loss. Because our leadership exhibits weak devotion for Islamic causes, this attitude trickles right down to the common man. The Islamic spirit exists in all of us, even non-Muslims, but it must be nurtured like a sapling until it assumes the shape of a towering oak tree through constant reflection upon the Quranic message. The Quran is shifaa’ (medecine) for corrupted souls, a stable anchor in confusing times and a Mercy from our Creator. Let us visit it daily with sincere intentions in our mosques and centers. We urgently need figures that make Quran relevant to our world.

     

    You may wonder as to how you can remember all of this? The first letter taken from each of the above terms forms C.O.M.M.A.N.D.

     

    Comminication

    Organization

    Management skills

    Media image

    Approachability and Accountability

    (k)Nowledge of Deen and Society

    Devotion towards Islam

     

    Taking command; this is the central theme of this article. No one will come and revamp our leadership save us. Unless we rise to the occasion and take matters into our own hands and choose ‘the right person for the role’ in our community affairs, circulating petitions, erecting lavish Islamic centers and more mosques, holding one-day rallies etc. are worthless endeavors.

     

    More importantly, who is to say that the crises we see on the media befalling other Muslims would not visit us in turn if we choose to stay wrapped up in bed with our eyes closed.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • The Morning After

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    As if the media image of Islam and the Muslims was not rosy enough, this Saturday morning the Canadian Muslims woke up to yet another incident that created headlines across the country involving youths of their community caught with 3 tons of fertilizer along with alleged links to al-Qaeda.

     

    In a hapless bid to prove themselves on top of things, our visionary leadership did what it always does in times of crisis: gather together under one roof (preferably, in Islamic Foundation) and yap aimlessly for the next two hours up until the point of consensual boredom with special references to their distinguished standing in the community and the “service” they or their organization are rendering for the Muslims of the universe.

     

    This meeting at the Islamic Foundation however was different. It actually had direction, thanks to the Police Chief Bill Blair, who instructed them in no uncertain terms to get their act straight and keep an eye on the members of their flock holding extremist views. Absolute humility before a man in uniform – a distinguishing feature of the neo-colonialist mindset – caused one luminary in the meeting to even suggest that the Police Chief should check the Prime Minister for making the “us against them” remark. Wonder of all wonders! Instead of approaching their political representatives, the media or writing to Mr. Harper himself, this fellow wanted the Police chief, a public servant, to reprimand the PM for offending him. I am sure that Mr. Blair must have worn a faint smile on his drive back home.

     

    Finally, the two hours passed and our work-wearied heroes returned home after having had a successful day comprising of media exposure and their two-minute fame. No agreement on a joint effort to investigate the problems among youth. No joint plan to engage “the extremist elements” our leaders keep disassociating themselves from. No discussion on a collaborated effort to prevent a backlash in form of vandalism that may affect every Muslim in some form after these arrests. No one even wondered how a group of youth under surveillance for a whole year by our efficient authorities managed to place an order and acquire 3 tons of explosives at a time when our government seeks to expand its role in Afghanistan from passive peacekeeping to active military operations.

     

    The “liberal” and “modernist” voices in the community along with a total of 32 supporters, always on crusade to invent a new Islam and a new Quran, were a bit more insightful in proposing the possible causes of these arrests. “This happened because of the school text books and the hateful speeches at our mosques”, they asserted with an air of smug assurance. These self-styled mujtahids with a incorrigible penchant for bashing the molvi fail to see that the problem of alienation of youth, if it exists, is home grown, having more to do with our complicit involvement in needless wars on foreign agendas, as noted by several observers.

     

    Yet the question before us remains: what should have been the reaction of the Muslim Community and how to go about preventing such incidents, if proven true, in the future? First, let us stop picking on the mosque Imams. They are not the stereotypical firebrand orators with a divinely sent mission to invade the world. I have been listening to the weekly khutbas (sermons) for the past 30 years and can picture none from the Imam lot ever holding a globe in his hand and letting out a vicious mwahahahaha. Generally speaking, what you have instead is a highly submissive, cowed down, introverted lot which aims to deaden the minds with its repetitive, mind-numbing weekly harangue on Saum and Salah and who now, after 9-11, has become insecure, to the point of paranoia, about its largely unaccounted-for earnings and reputation.

     

    What to do? In the short run, we should ensure that the boundary between a criminal and a suspect be maintained. Nothing is proven yet. These youths and their families should not be subjected to inhumane treatment and accusations by either the authorities or the people. In the long run, we should understand that the world we see in our evening 6 O’clock news is not a far-off place. What we do “there” has bound to effect us “here” sooner or later, in some form or another. Our nation has always stood out as a moral role model among the nations of the world and this image is being badly tarnished by its alignment with others who hunger for war and pillage of the poor – WMD or no WMD.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

  • The Nature, Scope and Objective of an Islamic Institution

    Farooq M. Khan

     

    Institutions of different modes and styles are the ultimate expression of a collective civilization. The purpose and objective is to organize men and material in a systematic and organized form in order to achieve a desired result. Human civilization provides numerous examples of such dimensions. From the ancient Greek & Roman civilizations of the past to the modern Information laden societies of the West, the Institutions have played the central most important roles in molding human existence. The World of Islam is not immune or alien to such phenomenon. The very edifice of Islamic Civilization rests upon the Institutionalization of society in the service of God Almighty.

     

    In the era of modern globalization the importance of Institutions has become even more critical and has taken a central position in preserving the very survival of civilization of different values and cultures. Societies and communities that will organize themselves in effective and efficient Institutions will have a better chance of endurance and coexistence in the flood of global hegemony dominated by the cultures and societies of the Imperialist West.

     

    In this thesis our primary objective is to take a critical review of the Islamic institutions in general by determining it�s very raison-de-etta. We will then examine the condition of Islamic Institutions in the contemporary era and consider the environment being faced by them. We will then conclude our observations by defining the role an Islamic Institution it should play in the West in safeguarding and advocating the rights and interest of the Muslim civilization.

     

    Nature of an Islamic Institution

     

    Like any Institution the nature of an Islamic Institution is unique and distinct. It is based on the fundamental principle that din and duniya is part of a complete cycle of life. That it should consist of individuals of credible worth. A collective effort organized to achieve the pleasure of Allah Subhanawatalah. Its very nature is founded upon the conviction that humanity should be served not only in its religious affairs but also in every facet of life. By design an Islamic Institution should be well organized, most disciplined and efficient in its affairs. In short, an Islamic Institution should be a model for all other Institutions of different shades and sizes.

     

    Scope of an Islamic Institution

     

    As mentioned above the scope of an Islamic Institution is all facets of life from the spiritual to the mundane from heavenly to the worldly. A critical examination of the organization of Masjid al Navabi, established by the Prophet Mohammad SAW in 622 AD/I AH, demonstrates that it was not only a place of worship but also the center of all communal activities for the community of Medina. On one hand it was a place of Worship but on the other it was also the Supreme Court of Medina, a world Trade Center, a department for foreign affairs and Parliament. This Prime example provides the true scope of a Mosque in the traditional sense and an Islamic Center in the modern.

     

    Objective of an Islamic Institution

     

    The objective of an Islamic Institution can be broadly outlined as follows:

     

    a) To bring man closer to his GOD.

    b) To provide services of social, economical and political nature to the Muslim community.

    c) To defend the rights of the Muslims

    d) To assist Muslims in all aspect of life by providing appropriate training and development.

    e) To assist mankind in their hour of need.

    To achieve the above-mentioned objectives the right combination of men and material is a prerequisite.

     

    Contemporary Environment

     

    After broadly discussing the nature, scope and objective of an Islamic Institution we will now discuss the condition of Islamic Institutions prevailing in our time. Like any other immigrant community the Muslim population after settling down in the North American hemisphere started their respective Institutions from basements, garages, retail stores and eventually in industrial ware houses. These Institutions were limited to dealing with matters of religious affairs like offering Friday prayers and religious training especially of children. These Institutions also operated as a forum for social gathering, where families belonging to the same cultural and linguistic backgrounds interacted with each other to create friendships. As time progressed, the Muslim community expanded numerically and became economically prosperous thus the scope of their Institutions also started to expand. The trend shifted from basements and warehouses to purchasing of land and constructing buildings with Islamic architecture, i.e., domes and minarets. However it is with disappointment we observe that the planning of these organizations was very poor. There was no systematic need assessment conducted and neither anyone thought of a system of governance that these organizations will implement once they become operational. This short sidedness resulted in wastage of resources and in-house fighting. In our assessment this was largely due to the fact that the individuals who were in-charge of these organizations were poorly trained in administration and organizational behavior. They were suffering from the same plague of favoritism, nepotism, bigotry, intolerance, patronage and prejudice that their forefathers were for decades in their native lands. Their vision for the future was and is limited and they virtually lack no knowledge of their own history.

     

    This mix of uninspired individuals with Islamic Institutions resulted in great mismanagement of tremendous proportion. It is a matter of great concern that because the leadership of Muslim community was and is in such defective and incompetent hands that Islamic Institutions instead of becoming powerhouses for the Muslim civilization in the West, actually became political battlefields for different ethnic and linguist groups. These Institutions became so mush politicized that all kinds of unskilled and unqualified individuals became the masters of their affairs. For instance a very large Islamic School in Toronto whose Principal even though only had the qualification of an elementary school teacher and had no academic credentials and experience of being a Principal was retained because of her political influence. The eventual result was so unfortunate that it will require a book for us to narrate this account.

     

    The collective Muslim intelligence failed to realize that unless the best and the brightest from its community is mobilized and given the responsibility and the opportunity to manage the affairs of Islamic Institutions, the change of any significant proportion will not come. It is unfortunate to note that because of this leadership paralysis and we must emphasis that it is a self-appointed leadership the cherished dream of liberating the Muslim masses from the slavery of economic, political and social dominance of the West could not be realized and the Muslim emancipation remained a desirable objective. Instead, the Muslims have drowned deeper into the abyss of despair for generations to come.

     

    Conclusion

     

    As noted above the Islamic Institutions are suffering from the cancer of incompetence and flawed leadership that is outdated and out of touch with reality. And as noted earlier for the desired result to be accomplished, the right combination of men and material is required. To prove this point a good example we can sight in this respect is the Islamic Foundation Library (the writer had the honor of being the principal architect behind this project). In this instance a group of individuals who had vast experience in the field of Library Sciences was assembled and were given the responsibility to establish this project. Because of their relevant professional background, the outcome was flawless without any wastage. So much so that the IFL has now become a standard barer for other Islamic Institutions.

     

    By taking an assessment of the overall situation we can conclude that for any significant change to come in the lives of the Muslim community the following changes must be brought within the Islamic Institutions.

     

    1) The leadership of these Institutions must be revamped with more educated and competent individuals, especially those having professional background in management and organizational behavior. The Mirch Masala (spices) sellers, Dollar shop owners, Elevator Mechanics and Maderassa (seminaries) operators have done enough damage to the collective affairs of the Muslim community. This Banaspati (artificial) leadership must be dislodged.

     

    2) The Leadership must be elected and not selected or self appointed, therefore a system of checks and balances must be adopted in order to make the leadership accountable and transparent. It must be observed that the collective leadership called Majlis al Shurah (consultative assembly) which has become more like a Majlis al Chura (assembly of fragments) must be reorganized with a clear understanding that people elected are not sacred cows or divinely appointed but men of competence and integrity, elected to be responsible for the communal affairs of the Muslim community.

     

    3) The responsibilities between the elected representative and the administration are clearly defined with the later responsible for the day-to-day operation and the former for policy making.

     

    4) These Islamic Institutions must be managed by competent and educated individuals selected based on merit rather then on political grounds. Therefore, a modern system of managing human resources should be adapted. In this respect the services of professional HR consultants must be acquired.

     

    5) The Islamic Institutions should adopt a policy of pro-activism rather then re-activism as an operational strategy. What we mean by this concept could be best understood by the following event:

     

    When the massacre of Muslim population started in Bosnia and Kosova, the Islamic Institutions became reactive by mobilizing men and material. The Banaspati (artificial) leadership was proclaiming of climbing Mount Everest. We heard statements like we will rekindle the event of Hijrah when our brothers from Kosova will arrive here and when these poor souls did arrived, we saw infidels more active and organized in assisting them then our faithful. The cries of mobilizing resources and people to overcome this crisis came out to be mere slogans and shallow verbosity and as soon as the situation subsided the fever of emotional hysteria also vanished like a smoke. And so the divinely appointed leadership went into hibernation until the next crises. In short the Islamic Institutions under these Banaspati (artificial) Leaders failed to organize their efforts in a cohesive and coordinated fashion.

     

    When the country was going through the political frenzy of elections both at the federal and municipal level, we observed that Islamic Institutions under a short-sided leadership was reacting without any cohesive planning or well thought out strategy. It was obvious that this amateur leadership of Islamic Institutions was more interested in photo opportunities and rhetoric of no substance, without having any understanding of policy issues that are confronting the Muslim community. In our view that was the moment to realize that Islamic Institutions should carve out a well-balanced strategy, develop proper understanding of policy issues confronting the Muslim community and identify resolution objective for these issues before plunging themselves into the arena of politics both at the local and at national level.

     

    Therefore the Islamic Institutions must develop themselves by gathering scholars and thinkers of repute around then by providing an environment and initiating a coordinated approach for research and analysis of policy issues confronting the Muslim community. To understand this phenomenon lets takes an example of Khalid Usman a local councilor from the city of Markham. Though his personal achievement to win a council seat is commendable but his winning alone will not have a profound effect upon the policy makers of dominant political environment. Whereas if there exists a reputable Islamic Institution of credible worth that consist of Muslim intellectuals and scholars who can provide him the necessary literature and discourse based on solid research that outlines major policy issues concerning Muslims the effect on dominant policy makers would be substantial. Therefore, we suggest that the Muslim community must organize their Institutions on the lines of Brooking Institute of US or Fraser Institute of Canada to achieve the desired results.

     

    6) Without economic independence the Muslim community will never achieve political or social emancipation. To understand this doctrine the example of the Prophet Mohammad SAW can be sighted. After migrating to Medina the very first initiative that was taken by the Prophet SAW was that he purchased a water-well from a resident Madni Jew and allocated it for every citizen of Medina. The rationality behind this initiative was very clear and distinct, i.e., the Prophet SAW wanted to emancipate every Muslim in Medina from the economic enslavement of the Jews. Thus the Muslims can concentrate on other aspect of their lives, i.e., moral, social and political. By extrapolating from this example it becomes apparent that the collective responsibility of the Muslim community in the West should also be to relieve their brethren from the economic woes of life and this could be accomplished through Islamic Institutions. This sovereignty could be achieved by establishing services such as small business venture initiatives, Career counseling, IT training programs, Language courses, Legal Aid, Educational bursaries, Scholarship programs for higher education etc. And once the Muslims will become independent in their economic lives they will be more effective in other sphere of life as well. Inshallah.

     

    To conclude this thesis we can safely assert that unless the collective psyche of the Muslim people will realize that Islamic Institutions are the very bases of their own survival in the West and unless these Institutions are managed by most talented and competent individuals embedded with the zeal of Islamic revival and resurgence on one hand and trained with all the modern sciences on the other, the realization of Muslim liberation from the shackles of capitalistic slavery can not be realized.

     

    The writer is the former Administrator of Islamic Foundation of Toronto and is currently the Executive Director of North American Muslim Foundation.

     

  • But Who Will Bell The Cat?

    Sheharyar Shaikh

     

    In one of Aesop’s fables, it so goes that all the city mice got together in a council meeting in order to seek ways to protect themselves from a neighborhood cat. After a long and heated discussion they finally agreed upon the idea of tying a bell around the cat’s neck while she is asleep so the bell’s sound would alert the unsuspecting mouse of the cat’s approaching presence. Roar of cheers and applaud followed the consensual approval of this brilliant idea. Then, suddenly, one old mouse raised the question: “But who will bell the cat?” Unable to find a willing volunteer to tie the bell around the cat’s neck, all mice eventually melted away in shameful silence.

     

    I appreciated the moral of the above story only after I attended the Muslim Strategy Meeting chaired by Dr. Muhammed al-Masri, the President of CIC, on Monday, 3rd July, at Zafar Bangash’s Islamic Society of York region’s community center. The purpose of the 6-hr meeting was to think of challenges facing the Canadian Muslims and come up with short and long term action plans. The 60 or so attendees formed 10 groups consisting of at least 5 members per group and brainstormed for an hour, the results of which would be shared with everyone in the end.

     

    I had expected that it would be a serious gathering of Muslim community leaders who, after deliberating the problems of the Muslim community, would chart concrete plans and distribute duties and responsibilities to appropriate individuals whose progress towards the agreed-upon targets would then be reviewed in successive meetings. After all, isn’t this how brainstorming meetings in all professional organizations go about?

     

    Not so here. Instead, what occurred is sadly all too common at Islamic gatherings. Ideas, all-too brilliant ideas, started flying haphazardly from one end of the hall to the other leading to no conclusive plan or strategy. “Brother, we must have a strong media presence”

    “No, brother, we need an Islamic School Board”

    “But first, brother, let us do good da’wa and support the Liberal Party”

    “No, brother, we must involve our youth and women in our mosques”

    “I say, we need a community legal fund to help victims of false charges by the authorities” and on and on…

     

    Perhaps the highlight of the event was the last hour when each group’s ideas that had been penned down by a female moderator were collectively put on a slide for everyone to view. In breach of all norms of etiquettes and modesty, the attendees kept standing up from their seats and shouting at the moderator for not having accurately recorded their group’s “brilliant” ideas. Some took upon themselves the editorial duties and started screaming at her the needed corrections. Others became spiritually inspired by more brilliant ideas in their heads and kept hurling them wildly at the stage.

     

    To say that the occasion resembled a desi fish-market would be a polite understatement. The confused and helpless moderator was promptly replaced by Dr. al-Masri who, in a professional wrestler-like manner, managed to carry along the ill-disciplined lot of our “community leaders” until home time at 4. During the event, few incidents stuck out. Before the group assignment, Mrs. Vahida Valiante, the Vice President of CIC, read for the audience a prepared list of her 47 “solutions” for all Muslim community problems (or was it 48? I lost count after 15).

     

    Mr. Zafar Bangash went near-berserk upon discovering a tape recorder left on a table recording the event and demanded that the recording stop immediately. Upon inquiring the reason, he simply said: “Recording is not allowed here”. I could be wrong but I doubt he is recording-shy. It is strange that such an important community event would be held in media-secrecy. Perhaps even more strange is that this curious policy is enforced by Mr. Bangash, who is himself a fiery critic of the West’s policy towards free media (See article: Press Freedom Day shows limitations to the West’s commitment to free speech)

     

    And of course, no event is complete without the “enlightened” input of the liberal-progressive Muslims. Navine Reda, a Phd. Student and a former class-mate, presented her bit on why we must distance ourselves from the 1200-year understanding of Islam handed to us by the traditional Islamic scholarship and must judge everything Islamic in light of Qur’an and reason (presumably, her reason). She claimed, albeit without supporting evidence, that we are guilty of taking our traditional scholars as arbab (sing. rabb), just as the Jews have taken their rabbis, by failing to question their views.

     

    The liberal-progressives always begin with the innocent appeal to question one’s beliefs and finally arrive at the point of asserting the illegitimacy of hadith, jihad, huddud, polygany, hijaab, jizya, and even some verses of the Qur’an. In any case, who is to say that aspiring Phd. students on Islam in the Western academia (such as Ms.Reda) have not taken their non-Muslim Phd coordinators and advisory academics as arbab by choosing to measure the entire Islamic scholarship by a criteria devised by them?

     

    All in all, it was a day filled with just great ideas. One guest in the food line bitterly expressed his sentiment: “I have been here in Canada for 15 years, and during this time, all we have done is discuss ideas”.

     

    What he said wasn’t wrong. For how long will we keep discussing lofty ideas with little will or the capability to implement them? It often seems at such occasions that the attendees aim to be heard and seen. Dr. al-Masri’s response to the question of a possibility of another meeting was in the negative: “No body will come. We are here only to think of ideas. To implement them is the job of individual organizations”.

     

    But no one “significant” was at the meeting anyways. We left our table wondering at how the ideas of an Islamic School Board, greater participation of women and youth, changing the TV image of Islam etc. were expected to bear fruit at a meeting devoid of Islamic school principals, Islamic youth & women group representatives, mosque Imams, and Muslim journalists and speakers. Does it make sense to leave the most needed element for change – a collaborated action for community good – to the arbitrary will and desire of individual organizations? Wasn’t the idea of pooling our resources and working for a jointly-defined community cause the prime reason for this gathering?

     

    We certainly don’t need any brilliant ideas. We need people who can take the ideas we have and implement them through a concerted effort for the betterment of the Muslim community. What we need is the will to set aside our petty desire for self projection, and seriously work for the community’s gain.

     

    Unless, of course, our ultimate goal at such meetings is to eat, drink, to make a public appearance and to come up with flimsy ideas, and that’s that. In that case, the mice were a better community than us for having at least reached a unified consensus.

     

    Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity.

     

 

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