As always, I’ve been reading articles online and off. Below are five carefully chosen such articles that I hope you will enjoy. The first one deals with what Islam historically has done for Judaism. Much has been written in the press recently about Israel and various pro-Muslim countries signing agreements with the Jewish state. Depending on how you see this, it is either a historic step in the right direction, or an insulting slap in the face to Palestinians and Muslims around the world. Whatever your viewpoint, this article provides a wider perspective on the relationship between these two great Abrahamic faiths over the centuries.
The second article is a personal piece about life and faith during the holy Muslim month of Ramadhaan earlier this year. As we all know, this year we had to deal with a global pandemic which, at least for this writer, weirdly enhanced her sense of community, despite the loneliness felt by all Muslims during the holy month in 2020.
The third article is all about a fortune-teller in Kabul called Arab Shah (his email signature reads “Sayed Arab Shah, Hypnotherapist”). We often hear of Muslims all over the world using the nefarious practices of people such as fortune-tellers, and this brilliant article goes into detail about how such practices actually work in the Afghan capital.
Fourth on the list, we have the excellent Tim Harford writing about how, all too often, our feelings get in the way of how we deal with facts. This, I’m sure we can all agree, is an important topic in this current age of increasing division, where we fail to agree on basic factual truths due to our increasingly volatile emotions.
Lastly, we have Imam Omar Suleiman, a calm voice of spiritual reason, giving us his take on the father of Jacob Blake reciting the opening chapter of the Qur’an in a vigil held for his son, who was shot seven times in the back by American police officers.
Whilst only the second and last articles are presented in full, all are well worth reading in full. As best as one can given, you know, everything going on in the world right now, enjoy…
So, What Did The Muslims Do For The Jews?
David J Wasserstein, 24 May 2012, thejc.com
Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.
Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.
But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.
Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.
In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.
Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.
In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere – in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.
The Islamic world was not the only source of inspiration for the Jewish cultural revival that came later in Christian Europe, but it certainly was a major contributor to that development. Its significance cannot be overestimated.
Lessons From A Ramazan In Quarantine
Maham Hasan, 22 May 2020, vanityfair.com
The month of fasting and reflection can be difficult in America. But as the global pandemic froze life across the world this year, it also deepened one writer’s sense of community.
Eid-ul-Fitr in the summer is confusing to my senses. The Eid I grew up with in Rawalpindi, Pakistan was always cold. The more I grew, the more the Islamic calendar moved through the seasons, the less cold it became. But my senses have always revolted, craving the cold in my Eid. It never snowed in Pindi. But it was close enough to the north, the last flat urban area before the mountains of Kashmir, that the cold bit and stung. My most vivid memory of Eid is being woken up early by my mother—you never slept-in on Eid—and dozing in front of the gas heater, while bathing water was heated for me on the stove by my nani. To know Pindi’s cold is to have bathed yourself squatting next to a bucket filled with boiling hot water, teeth chattering, steam rising in the cold air, diluting it with cool water, and then dousing yourself with a cup. To know the joy of Eid and Ramazan (with a soft z and not d—native to my Urdu) is doing that happily, even eagerly, as a kid.
I’ve watched the cold slip away quietly from inside this year—Sunday’s Eid will mark the end of my seventh Ramazan in America, third in New York City. And it’s comforting, bizarrely, to realize that perhaps the loneliest Ramazan in recent memory for all Muslims has been the least lonely for me in America.
Ramazan is not a solitary experience. It’s a celebration of restraint and remembering human limitations, even human waste, together. I’ve always rebelled against communal displays of religion, finding them rooted in obligation, pressure, and display. Rebelled so hard at times that I’ve sat on the prayer mat, daydreaming, pretending to pray, rather than actually pray every time I was told to as a teenager. But Ramazan is different. I’ve come to adore Ramazan for its honesty. The socialist in me loving its anti-capitalist nature. If one were to hold up a mirror to people (not unlike what coronavirus and the lockdown have inadvertently done) confronting them with their excess, their capitalistic fervour, the wild waste of lives, even the careless unkindness within relationships, that mirror would be Ramazan.
There’s nothing quite like the communal annual reset of doing that together. A spiritual rebooting. I grew up knowing that everyone in my school, every stranger on the street, all the shop owners in the market, all family members, even the people on the news were all fasting together. Many were going through the motions because that’s what you do: in Ramazan you fast. But just as many were also trying to be better. In Ramazan you acknowledge your failings and try to do more than you normally would.
The point has never been to starve yourself. But feel the hunger so many live with, its earthly control over us, and acknowledge it. In the hope that we’d be compassionate and charitable toward others’ hunger; examine the imbalance and injustice of what we have and others don’t. My nani used to remind me as a kid to not lie, gossip, or backbite in Ramazan. To not feel angry or cuss. To forgive easily and to love deeply. The trick would be to tell the child the angels are keeping score, giving you extra blessings for the good deeds in this month (70 times the regular amount FYI). The hope would be that the behaviour bleeds into the rest of the year.
I still believe that. Ramazan makes me a better person. And I’ve desperately missed that yearly, earnestly, that beautiful call to do better, while building my life in America. It’s hard to not let the hunger be resentful when you’re the only one fasting in an office, in school, or in an apartment with roommates. Harder even when many don’t know it’s Ramazan, what it is, or why one would fast when it’s not for a diet fad.
Ramazan is lonely in America. I know there are robust Muslim communities in the country. But they pale in comparison to having an entire nation fast with you. It’s lonelier yet when I’d see my family and friends in Pakistan and Oman, both home countries to me, gather night after night to break the fast, to prepare for Eid, to cook beautiful feasts for loved ones. Meanwhile I’d watch people eat and drink in front of me all day. Remembering with an ache how in high school, cliques (the most formidable teenage bond) would be abandoned in Ramazan so the girls not fasting (you can skip fasting while you’re on your period) would find quiet corners in the back of classrooms together to eat during break time. This was never to protect or risk offending those fasting, it’s meant to test you after all, but to be gentle and compassionate.
Knowing that this year all my family and friends are bereft of community, stuck at home, and fasting by themselves has selfishly made me feel less alone. This year, they are not celebrating Ramazan in all its usual glory. They’re celebrating it how I’ve had to do in America by myself: cut off from loved ones and everyone else. Being alone, together, has made me want to fast again this year. It’s brought back the joy of Ramazan.
So, when it gets close to the iftar hour in New York City, I call my aunt in Lahore, Pakistan, and she tells me what she just cooked for sehri. Then we reminisce about the times we’d wake up at 3 a.m. and go to Pizza Hut in our pyjamas—which would be packed with bleary-eyed people, also in their pyjamas. Then I call my other aunt and she tells me how sick of cooking she is and she misses the cooking break she’d get from iftar parties. Shortly after my cousin from Paris calls to tell me how painfully long the fasting day has gotten. Then I text my baby brother in Muscat, Oman, who gleefully informs me about the complete junk he’s eating at 3 a.m. to begin his fast. Other times my mother will call me and complain about how my brother doesn’t let her pick from his plate during iftar. These calls still happened the past few years, albeit at a lesser rate, but we all needed each other less. I didn’t want painful reminders of everyone being together for Ramazan and Eid. They had less time and more worldly commitments. Now, coronavirus has equalized the experience of Ramazan. We’re all fasting alone, together.
The Fortune-Teller Of Kabul
May Jeong, 01 Sep 2016, theguardian.com
For centuries mystics have channelled the hopes and fears of Afghans. With the nation in turmoil, their services are as popular as ever. But can they survive the latest crackdown by religious hardliners?
The man named Arab Shah is a fortune-teller – a falbin, a taweez naweez mulla, a djinn hunter – who belongs to a long tradition of men who practise magic said to predate Islam. Spirit mediums inhabit the interstices between the old and the new: in one neighbourhood in old Kabul, a row of falbin fortune-tellers sit receiving visitors just outside a modern medical clinic, to serve those who want to cover all bases. These men – and the occasional woman – are living manifestations of Afghanistan’s complicated relationship with Islam. Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century, Afghanistan was home to many other belief systems: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as pagan traditions. These beliefs left their marks on Afghan culture and still resonate today.
Afghans have been going to see fortune-tellers for centuries but reasons for visiting have changed over time. When Arab Shah began telling fortunes nearly two decades ago, most visitors came to see him about matters of love or money; now they chiefly come to ask how they can leave the country. They want Shah to use his vatic powers to tell them which smuggler they should use, and what would be a reasonable fee. Shah serves as a receptacle for the hopes, dreams and desires of Afghans who have lost faith in their country and want to get out.
According to his estimation, Shah sees as many as 1,000 customers a month. Most hear of his service by word of mouth, but others find him through the TV commercials Shah regularly airs on local networks. On these adverts – triumphs of psychedelic music and computer graphics – he promises prospective clients that he could help them quit addictions such as “cigarettes, hashish, or wine”. His clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds. During the time I spent with Shah, his visitors included a man who came to get his daily ration of water blessed, another who worked as a security guard at the presidential palace, a woman whose husband had taken a second wife, a civil servant who came to get his palm read, a boxer who came to seek help for his migraines and a middle-aged woman, a judge, who came complaining of depression.
Shah’s most popular service is a taweez, a tailor-made amulet containing Qur’anic verses that serves as a talisman. The rolled up paper can be used as a good-luck charm as well as for black magic.
Facts V Feelings: How To Stop Our Emotions Misleading Us
Tim Harford, 10 Sep 2020, theguardian.com
The pandemic has shown how a lack of solid statistics can be dangerous. But even with the firmest of evidence, we often end up ignoring the facts we don’t like.
When it comes to interpreting the world around us, we need to realise that our feelings can trump our expertise. This explains why we buy things we don’t need, fall for the wrong kind of romantic partner, or vote for politicians who betray our trust. In particular, it explains why we so often buy into statistical claims that even a moment’s thought would tell us cannot be true. Sometimes, we want to be fooled.
We often find ways to dismiss evidence that we don’t like. And the opposite is true, too: when evidence seems to support our preconceptions, we are less likely to look too closely for flaws. It is not easy to master our emotions while assessing information that matters to us, not least because our emotions can lead us astray in different directions.
We don’t need to become emotionless processors of numerical information – just noticing our emotions and taking them into account may often be enough to improve our judgment. Rather than requiring superhuman control of our emotions, we need simply to develop good habits. Ask yourself: how does this information make me feel? Do I feel vindicated or smug? Anxious, angry or afraid? Am I in denial, scrambling to find a reason to dismiss the claim?
Before I repeat any statistical claim, I first try to take note of how it makes me feel. It’s not a foolproof method against tricking myself, but it’s a habit that does little harm, and is sometimes a great deal of help. Our emotions are powerful. We can’t make them vanish, and nor should we want to. But we can, and should, try to notice when they are clouding our judgment.
“Motivated reasoning” is thinking through a topic with the aim, conscious or unconscious, of reaching a particular kind of conclusion. In a football game, we see the fouls committed by the other team but overlook the sins of our own side. We are more likely to notice what we want to notice. Experts are not immune to motivated reasoning. Under some circumstances their expertise can even become a disadvantage. The French satirist Molière once wrote: “A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.” Benjamin Franklin commented: “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables us to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to.”
Modern social science agrees with Molière and Franklin: people with deeper expertise are better equipped to spot deception, but if they fall into the trap of motivated reasoning, they are able to muster more reasons to believe whatever they really wish to believe.
If emotion didn’t come into it, surely more education and more information would help people to come to an agreement about what the truth is – or at least, the current best theory? But giving people more information seems actively to polarise them on the question of climate change. This fact alone tells us how important our emotions are. People are straining to reach the conclusion that fits with their other beliefs and values – and the more they know, the more ammunition they have to reach the conclusion they hope to reach.
It’s far easier to lead ourselves astray when the practical consequences of being wrong are small or non-existent, while the social consequences of being “wrong” are severe. It’s no coincidence that this describes many controversies that divide along partisan lines.
It’s tempting to assume that motivated reasoning is just something that happens to other people. I have political principles; you’re politically biased; he’s a fringe conspiracy theorist. But we would be wiser to acknowledge that we all think with our hearts rather than our heads sometimes.
Inflammatory memes or tub-thumping speeches invite us to leap to the wrong conclusion without thinking. That’s why we need to be calm. And that is also why so much persuasion is designed to arouse us – our lust, our desire, our sympathy or our anger. When was the last time Donald Trump, or for that matter Greenpeace, tweeted something designed to make you pause in calm reflection? Today’s persuaders don’t want you to stop and think. They want you to hurry up and feel. Don’t be rushed.
In The Fatiha, Jacob Blake’s Father Cried For Justice And Healing For His Son
Imam Omar Suleiman, 26 Aug 2020, religionnews.com
In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
All Praises be to God, Lord of all the worlds
The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
Master of the day of judgment
You alone we worship and from you alone, we seek help
Guide us to the straight path
The path of those who have earned your favor, not those who have earned your wrath, nor those who have gone astray.
On Tuesday (Aug. 25), as the father of Jacob Blake spoke to the press, he began with a Muslim prayer from the beginning of the Quran, recited in Arabic, before tearfully reminding the nation and the world that his son matters.
Seven verses to match the seven bullets fired at his son.
Though those who listened may not have understood the words, they felt the anguish in a father’s voice and the cry for healing and justice.
Whether or not Jacob Blake Sr. or Jr. is a Muslim is irrelevant to the situation. What happened to their family is another sign of the systematic dehumanization of Black people in America, and the ever-recurring and unremedied incidents of police brutality.
As Malcolm X said to a Los Angeles audience in the wake of the police killing of Ronald Stokes in 1962, “We’re not brutalized because we’re Baptists. We’re not brutalized because we’re Methodists. We’re not brutalized because we’re Muslims. We’re not brutalized because we’re Catholics. We’re brutalized because we are Black people in America.”
So, to begin, we lend our support to the cause of justice not only for Jacob Blake, but Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson and so many more.
The prayer that Jacob Blake Sr. recited, the Fatiha (which literally means “the opening”), is the first chapter of the Quran and contains seven short verses that are recited at least twice in every Muslim prayer.
In it is an affirmation of God’s supreme mercy and power, and the uttered longing of the sincere servant for God’s guidance and aid.
It is a supplication that defines our relationship with God, and how we are to approach the entirety of the glorious book. It is the “mother of the book” in that it sets the foundation, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), referring to it as the “seven oft-recited verses,” affirmed that it is indeed the greatest chapter in the Quran.
The entirety of the Quran is described as a healing and a mercy — but the Fatiha is specifically recited upon the one who is ill.
Muslim theologians explain this in two ways.
First, that it is the greatest portion of the Quran and preferred for its many virtues. And second, that it specifically contains the words “You alone we worship. And from you alone we seek help.”
As Muslims, we affirm the necessity of taking all means to help ourselves, yet yield in complete humility to God’s wisdom and power once we have done our part.
This is also expressed in a supplication of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that we are taught to say in the morning and in the evening: “Oh Ever-Living One, Oh Ever Sustaining One, in Your Mercy I seek relief. Set all of my affairs right, and do not leave me to myself even for the blink of an eye.”
A tradition behind the Fatiha as a healing prayer also gives us an important concept in Islam — the encouragement to pray for the health of one who is ill, even if they aren’t Muslim.
A companion of the Prophet by the name of Abu Said Al Khudri recounts that while on a journey, a group of companions came across a tribe among the tribes of the Arabs, and that tribe did not show them hospitality.
Suddenly, the chief of that tribe was bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion. The leader asked the same companions if they had any medicine or anyone among them who could treat the wound.
The companions obliged, reciting the Fatiha upon the wound of the chief. Not only did the cure work, earning the companions on that journey a flock of sheep, but generations of Muslims after them now have an enhanced understanding of the power and breadth of this oft-recited prayer.
It is common to see Muslims reciting the prayer for themselves and for their relatives, Muslim or otherwise, in homes and hospitals with the understanding that God alone ultimately cures.
But what shouldn’t be common is the news conference in which Jacob Blake Sr. had to stand, as so many Black mothers and fathers have had to before him and prayed for their children.
When Jacob Blake Sr. recited the Fatiha for his own son who may never walk again, many were moved by the pain in the recitation of “the cure,” and in it, they heard the cry of generations of Black mothers and fathers.
Seven verses for seven bullets.
May God cure Jacob Blake fully, comfort his family through these difficult days and grant justice to them and the countless other victims of police brutality.