DAVID ATTENBOROUGH MADE ME SAY “ALLAH-HU-AKBAR”

BLUE PLANET II

I was watching the brilliant BBC TV wildlife program Blue Planet II, narrated by broadcasting legend David Attenborough, and they were showing these amazing crystal-like coral reef sponges. They showed a shiny silver coral known as Venus’s flower basket, which lives several miles down in the bottom of an ocean trench. Living inside this particular sponge were two shrimp who had crawled in when they were young but were now too big to crawl back out the same way they came in. These shrimp, one male and one female, had mated and the female was now pregnant. You could clearly see it was carrying several eggs. As I was watching this I just sat there amazed and dumb founded, so much so that I involuntarily whispered “Allah-hu-akbar” under my breath. I said this Arabic phrase because I was genuinely astonished at what I was seeing. Now, here is my question: does saying this Arabic phrase make me a terrorist?

The reason I ask is this phrase has once again hit the headlines because a certain Muslim was heard shouting it repeatedly as he killed eight people in New York on the 31st of October 2017. As can be imagined the phrase has been widely discussed and dissected in the media since the attack. Even the Sun, a right wing British newspaper, felt the need to write a somewhat positive article about it. Likewise, CNN’s Jake Tapper, who said the phrase was “sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances,” got caught up in then trying to defend his comments from various Fox News pundits:

As someone who says “Allah-hu-akbar” many times each day (I did the math and can confidently say that I have said this phrase over 1.1 million times in my life so far, and continue to say it over 150 times per day), I personally believe this phrase should not be so violently misaligned just because some hoo-haa-numb-nut decides to yell it loudly (and probably with incorrect syntax) before killing innocent people for a twisted ideology that, under close scrutiny, makes no sense whatsoever. (For more on this please read the brilliantly satirical article ISIS Wondering Where Insane Medieval Fantasy Project Went Wrong by the always hilarious Daily Mash). As Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR-Florida, said in response to this recent terror attack in New York, “That is the biggest act of heresy, to shout God’s glorious name when committing the worst crime against God.”

Unfortunately one can choose from a plethora of morons who over the years have committed atrocities while shouting “Allah-hu-akbar” at the top of their lungs. Another recent example that springs to mind is that of a man who was arrested outside Buckingham Palace in August 2017, armed with a 4-foot sword. He was shouting (you guessed it) “Allah-hu-akbar” as he struggled with London’s Metropolitan police officers. Three unarmed officers suffered minor injuries as they detained the 26-year-old man, whilst two were treated at a hospital for cuts. The man drove his car at a police van and stopped in front of it in a restricted area near Buckingham Palace. He was eventually incapacitated with CS spray.

In order to try and bring some reasoned context to the debate surrounding the phrase “Allah-hu-akbar”, I thought it best to examine what it actually means and what Muslims actually feel about it.


What it looks like in Arabic…

Before we get to the deeper meaning, this is what it looks like when written fancifully in its original Arabic form:

Allah-Hu-Akbar


How to pronounce it…

And this is how to actually say it:

The phonetic transliteration is “Al-law-hu-ak-bur” and the simplest translation is “God is great.” However, after the New York terror attack, it is noticeable that various news readers clearly not versed in the Arabic tongue were mispronouncing this as “Aloo-ak-bur” which literally means “potatoes are great.” This small and weird bit of comic relief, in the context of a horrific tragedy, was noticed by the likes of journalist Aisha Sultan, lawyer Rabia Chaudry, and the journalist Mehreen Kasana. Chaudry even offered her services to help those in linguistic need, tweeting:


What it does and does not actually mean…

Before we get to what it really means, let us start with what the phrase is not. Contrary to the bigoted views of some, the phrase is not the war cry of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He first uttered the phrase whilst praying and meditating in the mountains around Mecca. Likewise, when translated by some as “God is greater” or “God is greatest,” this is not meant comparatively to other gods and religions. Muslims are not saying Allah is greater than your God. These words are therefore not, to refute the magazine American Thinker, “a statement of Islamic supremacism and war.”

There is indeed a comparative nature of the phrase which is explained simply as follows:

Allahu Akbar means “God is greater than…”; it suggests that Allah is greater than any noun with which one might choose to complete the sentence. – from the book The Complete Idiots Guide To The Koran by Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar and Brandon Toropov

And here are a few other definitions that hopefully bring greater depth to what this phrase actually means:

Allah is Allah-hu-akbar, Allah is greater than anything I could ever say about Allah. We can’t praise You as You have praised Yourself. You are as You praise Yourself. Anything I say about Allah, it’s deficient. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

For the record, “Allahu Akbar” has no inherent political/violent connotation meriting instant terror diagnosis. I say it like 20 times a day…If you understand how it is used in common parlance amongst Muslims for nearly every single situation maybe it would make sense…Favorite team wins? You say it. Fav team loses? You say it. Something wonderful happens? You say it. Something terrible happens? You say it. – Rabia Chaudry

In the West, “Allahu akbar” is commonly confused for only being a battle cry but in reality, millions and millions of Muslims say this phrase in a variety of situations. From extraordinary contexts like when someone gets cured of a debilitating disease to everyday and ordinary situations like praying or even getting up from bed, there is no fixed situation for which “Allahu akbar” must be uttered…In the wake of the Tuesday terror attack in New York City, there’s going to be a ton of discussion on the phrase, its meaning, and how in some cases it has definitely been used by terrorists. But the resounding majority of Muslims use “Allahu akbar” for innocuous matters and things that are utterly harmless. – Mehreen Kasana

“Allahu Akbar” is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. It is a celebration of life, not death and destruction, the first words fathers whisper in the ears of their newborns. They are used to indicate gratitude when God bestows something upon you that you would have been incapable of attaining were it not for divine benevolence. It is a prayerful phrase that reminds us that, no matter what our concerns may be, God is greater than them. – Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

The phrase Allahu akbar has a long history of use within Islam. It expresses a sentiment that is at its heart a theological reflection about humanity’s place in the world: That no matter what trials or victories people face, God is greater than it all…Allahu akbar is an affirmation of a belief in a monotheistic God…since it suggests that God has no partners. Belief in absolute monotheism is a core part of orthodox Islamic theology. – Carol Kuruvilla


When do we say it…

We Muslims say this phrase all the time, in a myriad of different situations. Aside from the example above of Sir David making me involuntarily say it several miles deep in the ocean, here are a few more examples just to illustrate the wide and varied usage of this phrase.

A friend of mine used to work for the computer giant Cap Gemini. He was part of a test team working on a complicated project. They were testing a particularly complex piece of code. My friend hit the button and several people from the project team, including a few managers, stood there anxiously waiting to see what would happen. After a few minutes the computer returned a result: success! The stunned silence was punctuated by the voice of my friend, who just uttered “Allah-hu-akbar!” My friend said this made a few people laugh, and everyone present was pleasantly surprised, as such an intricate piece code worked first time. The phrase was uttered and no one died.

In an episode of the BBC TV program Have I Got News For You, Adil Ray (aka Citizen Khan) explains how context really is everything:

Here we have a few more differing examples:

After every sneeze a Muslim is taught to say “Alhamdulillah” (thanks be to God). – Faisal Kutty

I say “Allahu akbar” out loud more than 100 times a day. Yesterday, I uttered it several times during my late-evening Isha prayer. Earlier, during dinner, I said it with my mouth full after biting into my succulent halal chicken kebab. In the afternoon, I dropped it in a conference room at the State Department, where I’d been invited to address a packed room of government employees about the power of storytelling. Specifically, I expressed my continuing gratitude for the election of Barack Obama, whom, in a joking nod to the Islamophobic paranoia that surrounded him, I called “our first Muslim American president,” adding “Allahu akbar!” People in the crowd laughed and applauded, the world continued to spin, no one had an aneurysm, and only a few people seemed to wonder with arched, Sarah Sanders-like eyebrows, “Wait, is he …?” I even confess to saying “Allahu akbar” two days ago in a restroom after losing the battle, but ultimately winning the war, against a nasty stomach virus. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, from a brilliant article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

It is a powerful expression that can also lend strength and fortitude in difficult times. In his final days, before succumbing to the cancer that lent us nineteen years with him, my father often invoked the words. In the midst of enduring unimaginable pain, we’d find him calmly and quietly reciting “Allahu Akbar. Sabr aur shukr.” God is the Greatest. Be patient, be grateful. – Dr Zainab Chaudry

In fact, we say it so many times that Eric Nagourney may be right when he says:

Allahu akbar is so commonplace a saying as to be utterly unworthy of note. It’s quite an innocuous expression. – Eric Nagourney


When not to say it…

Here we have a few examples of the phrase being used way out of context. We start with Ahdaf Soueif who, somewhat incorrectly, uses it for less divinely inspired and rather more prosaic matters:

Let’s say your football team is mounting an attack. You can say, ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’ and you’re pushing them along, like, ‘Go for it, go for it, go for it.’…You see a really beautiful woman or a good-looking guy, you go, ‘Allahu akbar.’ – Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian author

Another bizarre example of the use of this phrase comes from the 1987 movie Beverly Hills Cop II, where Axel Foley (iconically played by Eddie Murphy) says the phrase in order to wriggle his way out of a difficult situation:

And here we have the animated TV program Family Guy using it rather controversially as a literal wakeup call with their Palestinian alarm clock:


What other Muslims are saying about it…

Sarah A Harvard uses this phrase and Muhammad Ali as daily inspiration:

In my room, hanging on the wall across my bed, is a framed poster of Ali holding a copy of Muhammad Speaks, once the official journal for the Nation of Islam, with a headline that reads “Allah is the Greatest.” It serves as a reminder every time I wake up in the morning that even Ali—who, at the boiling point of the Civil Rights Era, convinced America that a black man was “the greatest” and also submitted to one God. He was never afraid to shout “Allahu Akbar.” Ali was proud to say it and the world loved him for it. – Sarah A Harvard

Ali Newspaper

She goes on to say:

“Allahu Akbar” unites over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, who all speak different dialects and languages, as well as Arab Greek Orthodox and Christians who use the expression. It’s a versatile, humble phrase, said about 100 times a day during our five daily prayers. It’s whispered into a newborn’s ear. It’s muttered as the last words before one’s death. It’s said at the sight of a beautiful sunset or a starry night, and roared during moments of chaos and strife. It’s a reminder that no matter how invincible or vulnerable we feel, God—the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful—is greater than all other powers and has always sought out the best for us. – Sarah A Harvard

Mehreen Kasana explains why is it important to understand this phrase properly:

Social vilification of such a common phrase among Muslims is dangerous because it gives a distorted portrayal of a religious minority’s practices. It depicts an ordinary phrase in exaggerated and negative light, only leading to more animus against a community that has already been witnessing Islamophobia for years now. A phrase can be used in both good and bad contexts, and remembering to take a nuanced stance on that as opposed to panic and paranoia will help people learn more about a community and bridge divisions. – Mehreen Kasana

And here we have Karim Shamsi-Basha who grew up with the phrase:

I grew up saying “Allahu Akbar” numerous times every day. And no, I wasn’t, and am not, a terrorist. I wasn’t someone who blew buildings up, killed people or shot a missile from my rocket launcher. As far as the West is concerned, those are the events associated with the saying when something bad is about to happen. People of the West are terrified of the phrase…The phrase is to remind Muslims that God is supreme. That’s it. It was never to be used as a battle cry during horrendous actions furthering political agendas with evil motives. – Karim Shamsi-Basha


Final point…

After all is said, done, and written by myself and others, be they Muslim or otherwise, the truth of the matter is that this murderous idiot in New York and all the other zealot idiots can say what they like as it actually makes no difference in terms of body count. This cold harsh reality was pointed out by Nathan Lean, author of such books as The Islamophobia Industry and Understanding Islam And The West:

This sentiment was also shared by the aforementioned Wajahat Ali and Imam Omar Suleiman:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy. – Wajahat Ali

We mustn’t allow terrorists or agendas of fear to own any of the words, concepts, or devotions found in the sacred text of a quarter of the world’s population. That would give them exactly what they want. And God is far greater than the ugliness committed in His name. “Allahu Akbar…” – Imam Omar Suleiman

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NEW YORK HIGHLIGHTS THE SAME OLD DOUBLE STANDARDS

Saipov Varvel

On Tuesday 31st October 2017 Sayfullo Saipov, a 29 year old immigrant who moved to the US legally from Uzbekistan in 2010, drove a Home Depot rental truck southbound into a pedestrian and bike path along the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan in New York City, close to the Hudson River. He killed eight people and injured eleven in the deadliest terror attack on the city since 9/11. Six people died at the scene, while two others died at a nearby hospital. Five of the dead were friends from Argentina celebrating a graduation anniversary. An unnamed Belgian mother of two was also among the dead.

Saipov was shot in the abdomen by a New York City police officer at the scene, and was then taken in custody to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. As he exited his truck he was heard to shout “Allah-hu-akbar”. He left a note in the truck, written in Arabic, that said the “Islamic State will endure forever.” As expected, ISIS are more than happy to take credit for this atrocity, calling Saipov a “soldier of the Caliphate.”

The truck driver started his rampage near Houston Street, tearing down approximately 20 city blocks on a bike path along the Hudson River, a site popular with cyclists and runners. The truck came to a stop after it collided with a school bus near Stuyvesant High School, near Chambers Street, the location of several schools which were letting out children for the Halloween evening. He then is said to have waved a pellet gun and a paintball gun in the air while pledging himself to Allah. It was at this point that he was shot by police. At least four passengers — two adults and two children — were on the school bus when the pickup driver slammed into it. The children were among the injured.

His sister, Umida Saipova, speaking with Radio Free Europe from her home in Uzbekistan, said her family had not noticed any signs of radicalisation in her older brother. She claimed they had a “normal” conversation with him the day before the attack, in which he said he was eating his mother’s favourite pastry, and was on his way to pick up a client at the airport (Saipov worked as an Uber driver). She went on to say: “We don’t know who has brainwashed him. We don’t know his circumstances. We don’t know. Perhaps he’s become part of some organised group. My mother said she would have brought him back to Uzbekistan had she noticed anything. I don’t know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I’m sure he will come to his senses, God willing.”

She also added: “We don’t think he should be given the death penalty immediately. We are hoping for a fair trial. We are ready to go there, if it’s possible, to talk to him. Please pass my message to Trump, if possible.” Good luck with that.

Whilst ISIS maybe losing real ground in the physical world, this attack in New York shows how it is gaining virtual ground in the digital world. Saipov was found to have about 90 videos and 3,800 images on his cell phone featuring ISIS propaganda, including a video of a beheading, shootings, bomb-making instructions and several images of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He also wanted to hang the group’s flag in his hospital room after the attack. Again, good luck with that. He has also told prosecutors he was inspired to carry out the truck attack by watching these ISIS videos on his mobile phone.

An imam in Florida who knew Saipov was increasingly worried that he was misinterpreting Islam. “I used to tell him: ‘Hey, you are too much emotional. Read books more. Learn your religion first,’” said Abdul, the imam, who does not want his last name used because he fears reprisals. “He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community. He had a character problem. He became more obsessed with the physical trappings of Islam: the long beard, the ankle-high pants. He never spoke of violence, though.”

As has become the norm with such atrocities, the talk of double standards rears its ugliest of heads. Below are just a few things I have come across that refer to the hypocrisies that arise in the media coverage of these types of events:


Moustafa Bayoumi

Writing in the Guardian, Moustafa Bayoumi, in an article entitled We Must End The Terror Double Standards, talks of the misguided logic used by some when analysing attacks carried out by Muslims:

The White House is also pushing a position of collective guilt that will only bode ill for Muslims and foreigners and is completely unlike its reaction from just weeks ago. The Las Vegas shooting prompted the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, to say that since “there is an ongoing law enforcement investigation” then “it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t know all of the facts.” And yet, here again, a gross double-standard stares us squarely in the face, as Donald Trump exhibits no such restraint when it comes to this attack. “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” the president tweeted last night. He is now also targeting the Diversity Visa Lottery, a system established in 1990 with the laudable goal of expanding the pool of immigrants that are admitted into the country. In their rush to connect this attack to international terrorism, journalists and politicians are missing a key fact. It takes no special training to run people over with a vehicle. You don’t need to be a dangerous foreigner to buy fake weapons like a paint gun or a pellet gun. Anyone can shout “Allahu Akbar”. It’s easy to say you claim allegiance to ISIS. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017

He goes on to say:

In American culture today, terrorist attacks by Muslims are still reflexively seen as the expression of a problem shared by all Muslims worldwide, hence the kneejerk demands that Muslims everywhere denounce all attacks by individual Muslims anywhere. Terrorist attacks by white Americans, by contrast, continue to be seen as individual psychological puzzles that are begging to be solved with sympathy and care. This logic is as dangerous as it is misguided, since it feeds the notion that Muslims, who are nearly a quarter of the world’s population, are a unique threat who require their own special set of security measures. To adopt such measures would be to abandon the very principles of equality that our society is supposed to hold dear. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017


Stephen Colbert

Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert commented on how President Tweets-A-Lot reacted to the incident. Colbert tweeted himself that “The terrorist attack in the Big Apple is quickly politicized by the Big Orange.” Very clever word play, I am sure you will agree. In his talk show he went a little further:


Trevor Noah

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah also made some rather poignant remarks about how Trump has reacted to the New York city attack.


Mr Fish

The always controversial cartoonist Mr Fish makes an indirect point about the attention these killings are receiving as opposed to others in America.

Saipov Ourselves


Wajahat Ali

In a brilliant article that is well worth reading in full, Wajahat Ali made the point that we need to reclaim the phrase uttered by Saipov as he was shot:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy…If only the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, leaving American citizens in desperate need of power, food or water, could have yelled, “Allahu akbar,” triggering that kind of tough response. Perhaps our president would have been able to see the storm as evil. Perhaps he would have been energized by a “them versus us” rage to insist on swift action to repair the damage. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, nytimes.com, from an article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

MY CULTURAL WEEK AS A MUSLIM

It can be rather overwhelming trying to keep up with all that is going in the world. I find it difficult enough trying to keep with everything going on in the Guardian newspaper. So, what to do? Especially when you want to highlight certain news stories that you think others may have missed? A possible solution is my attempt at a newsletter. Please find below a handpicked selection of my cultural highlights from the past week or so. The aim is to perhaps highlight stories that either passed you by or were lost in the sea of digital information that washes over us on a daily basis. Anyways, here goes…


My Week As A Muslim…

My Week

One of the most controversial programs on British TV this year has been the Channel 4 documentary My Week As A Muslim. The program followed white 42 year old Katie Freeman, who now works as a healthcare assistant in the NHS. Katie lives in Winsford, Cheshire, and is frightened of Muslims. So how does she try to overcome this? She ‘brownfaces’ to become a pretend Pakistani Muslim and lives with a Muslim family for a week to see how the other half live.

Some people hated it, other loved. Reviewing the show in the Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson said it was:

A cynical concept…a documentary so spectacularly odd in every respect that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t conceived as a dare. – Rebecca Nicholson

However, the producer of the show, Fozia Khan, in response to all her critics said (again in the Guardian):

Our use of ‘brownface’ is nothing to do with mockery – it’s about opening the eyes of someone who has misconceptions about Muslim life…I wanted the new show to bring to a wide audience the harsh realities of what was happening…I was determined to make something that would reach people who wouldn’t normally watch a programme about Muslims…People have suggested that we could have used a different approach – such as giving Muslim women hidden cameras to show their experiences. This has been done before, and we wanted to try something different. Something you are taught as a Muslim from a young age is that intention is the foundation of every action. We were very clear what our intention was in making this programme, and I believe we achieved what we set out to do. – Fozia Khan

My personal opinion is that, once you get past the controversial ‘brownface’ make up and prosthetics applied to a white woman, this is a brilliant documentary that truly does change perceptions in the right way, and it does so right in front of our very own eyes. If you get the chance to see it please do.


American politics is broken…

If you follow American politics you will know who Republican Senator Jeff Flake is. He is one the many thorns currently in the side of President Trump. The good senator recently announced he will be stepping down after finishing his current term, and he did so in rather spectacular style. Not only did he verbally broadside Trump in a speech on the senate floor, but he also wrote a cutting opinion piece in the Washington Post:

There is a sickness in our system — and it is contagious. How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced? How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off? How many more childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the senseless danger of it? How much more damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty do we need to witness in silence before we count ourselves as complicit in that damage? Nine months of this administration is enough for us to stop pretending that this is somehow normal, and that we are on the verge of some sort of pivot to governing, to stability. Nine months is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough…more is now required of us than to put down our thoughts in writing. As our political culture seems every day to plumb new depths of indecency, we must stand up and speak out…It’s time we all say: Enough. – Senator Jeff Flake, 24 Oct 2017, washingtonpost.com


Hollywood is also broken…

I find it interesting that the Islamic world is criticised for how Muslim women are treated. Such criticisms strongly imply that the west is somehow better in the way they treat their women compared to how we Muslims treat our women. And then along comes Harvey Weinstein. Whilst much has been written about power, privilege, the casting couch, the male dominance of Hollywood, and much else besides, I found this article from Ezra Klein to be worth a read:

When a culture produces this much sexual assault, it’s not an accident…This isn’t just about Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump…It’s America that has the problem. Pick an industry and you’ll hear stories…There is a pervasiveness to sexual assault in America that defies the word “problem.” When a system creates an outcome this consistently, this predictably, in this many different spaces, you have to at least consider the possibility that the outcome is intended, that the system is working as designed…something must be done, and it needs to be bigger than a few scapegoats. – Ezra Klein, 23 Oct 2017, vox.com, from an article entitled When A Culture Produces This Much Sexual Assault, It’s Not An Accident


And social media is broken as well, and it is scary…

The brilliant British comedian Russell Howard commented on his recent TV program about how pressure on young girls, mainly in the form of social media, is taking a dangerously unhealthy toll…


America now has a female Muslim superhero…

Tala Ashe

The always on point Dean Obeidallah wrote an interesting article in which he mentioned the popular American television program DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. The show is cashing in on the current popularity of awesome superheroes and as such features many of them. However, one of the most recent additions is rather interesting. Only last week the show unveiled a character called Zari Adrianna Tomaz, a Muslim female superhero who also happens to be played by the Iranian-American actress Tala Ashe. This caused Obeidallah to comment:

So Trump can decertify the Iranian deal all he wants, but he can’t stop Zari. – Dean Obeidallah

Later on in the article Obeidallah also mentions how Zari will be a break from the stereotypical norm of what we currently see on TV:

Zari will not have Muslim-esque super hero skills like the ability to haggle endlessly over prices…you won’t see the cliché American TV depiction of a Muslim woman in a burka and silent. Instead, you will see Zari—a person who is proud to be both Muslim and American. And that is big step for both American television and for American Muslims…Today it’s a Muslim superhero, tomorrow it’s a Muslim president! – Dean Obeidallah


And Israel honours a real life Muslim hero…

During World War II the Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy, based in Berlin, risked his life by hiding several Jewish people from the Nazis and thereby saving their lives. Such was his bravery that Helmy was recognized in 2013 by Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust) as a Righteous Among The Nations (an honorific used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis). Helmy was the first Arab to be recognized as such and only recently did he posthumously receive his award.

KUMAIL, ISMAEL, KHALID…AND JOE

Kumail SNL

After doing a rather serious blog post about suicide, depression, and loneliness, I thought it best to do a blog post to uplift the spirits. In that regard please find below 21 minutes of glorious stand up comedy, all with a slightly Islamic stance. As usual, I have tried to transcribe some of my favourite moments. I do hope you enjoy!


Kumail Nanjiani

In his stand up monologue on the legendary TV show Saturday Night Live, aired on 14th October 2017, Kumail tackled the ever prevalent disease of Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is really on the rise right now. It never really went away but it’s really having a moment right now. Islamophobia is kind of like “Will & Grace”, it was huge a while ago and then we thought it was gone and done and now it’s back and bigger than ever. Thursdays on NBC! They make me say that.

I saw a guy be like “Of course all Muslims are sexist. The Qur’an says women can’t drive.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure the Qur’an never said that. Because if the Qur’an had said women can’t drive cars 1400 years ago, I would be at the mosque right now. And so would all of you. Because that would mean the Quran predicted cars. If 1400 years ago the Qur’an was like “Some day there will be a metallic box that will carry you wherever you want, and it will have four wheels, and you’ll have to put gasoline in it, and it’ll have a little speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, and it’ll have a Bluetooth connection, and women shouldn’t drive it,” I would be like “I know two things for sure: Islam is the only true religion, and women shouldn’t drive.”

I am so glad you laughed at that, because otherwise it sounds like I’m just giving a very divisive speech. “Islam is the only true religion! Women shouldn’t drive!” That would definitely be the quote on the internet tomorrow.

Sikh people get attacked all the time for being Muslim. Spoiler alert, they’re not. But they’re brown and they were turbans so people attack them for being Muslim, which must put them in such an awkward position, because they’re like “I’m not Muslim. Not that you should attack Muslims, but if you’re looking to attack Muslims, which you shouldn’t, I’m not one. There is a Muslim right over there. Don’t attack him. Unless somebody’s definitely getting attacked, in which case get it right, which is wrong.”

Which brings me to my problem with most racism. Here’s my problem with most racism. It’s the inaccuracy, that’s what bugs me. I’m like “Do the research! Put in the work! You will see the benefits!” I’ll give you an example. If someone yells at me “Go back to India” I’d be like “That guy’s an idiot.” But if someone was like “Go back to Pakistan, which was part of India until 1947 and is now home to the world’s oldest salt mine” I would be like “That guy seems to know what he’s saying. I’ll pack my bags.” Just because you’re racist doesn’t mean you have to be ignorant. An informed racist is a better racist.

 – Kumail Nanjiani, 14 Oct 2017, from Saturday Night live


Ismael Loutfi

Here is Ismael Loutfi making his TV debut on the world famous American TV chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live!

I’m a Muslim. That hasn’t been fun. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Last 16 years have been pretty stressful for us. I can’t watch the news, just the way they talk about us is so demeaning. The buzzwords they use, they’re always talking about moderate Muslims. That’s their go-to. They’re always like “Hey, I want to see one moderate Muslim. Show me one moderate Muslim denounce terror. I wanna see what it’s like…” Screw you dude! First of all, who came up with that term moderate Muslim? What an objectifying label to give to a billion and a half people. It’s like “Well, you got your moderate Muslims, your mild Muslims, your sweet-and-sour Muslims, you got your lemon pepper, your teriyaki.”

And also, we do denounce terror all the time but nobody puts a camera on that. Nobody wants to see people be moderate, that’s boring. You want to see people jump up and down and be crazy, that’s the whole point of the news system is just to sensationalize everything. It makes me so mad. I just want to blow some stuff up. I just want to…I get so angry! Anybody else have that instinct in their blood? I don’t know. I don’t know what that is. Probably nothing to worry about.

 – Ismael Loutfi, Oct 2017, from Jimmy Kimmel Live!


Khalid Rahmaan

A talented American comedian on the double meaning of the word Chad.

Do you guys think it’s weird that Chad is the whitest name ever, and the blackest place on the planet? No one in Chad has a friend named Chad. Being from Chad, West Africa is like being from Mohammed, Wisconsin.

My full name is Khalid Abdul Rahmaan. So obviously this is my going-away show.

My parents converted to Islam back in the 60s, because just being black people in the 60s wasn’t difficult enough. They had to get that negro extra credit.

I shouldn’t complain. It is tough being black and Muslim but I shouldn’t complain. My younger brother is black, gay, and Muslim. The day after the election I called him up and I said “Hey bro, you might want to drop one of those.”

 – Khalid Rahmaan


Joe Lycett

Currently one of the best British stand ups around, here is the always brilliant Joe Lycett, a non Muslim who understands and explains so eloquently the fine line between ‘terrorist’ and ‘knobhead’.

I want to talk about Birmingham because I am from Birmingham. I was watching Fox News the other week, the reputable news source that is Fox News! And they described Birmingham as “100% Muslim”. As-salaam-Alaikum. “Wa-laikum-Salaam” is what you say back, but don’t worry, we’ll work it out.

I was interested in that because they said “100% Muslim”. It is a sort of truth. There are a lot of Muslims in Birmingham. There are a lot of all cultures there. We are known for being multicultural. We are quite good at it. One of the most famous Muslims in Birmingham is Malala Yousafzai. I don’t know if people are familiar with her? Yes, she’s brilliant. If you don’t know who she is, she’s an 18-year-old schoolgirl who was shot at by the Taliban for wanting to be educated. She now goes to Edgbaston High School for Girls. It is a private school. I don’t think she pays the fees! I personally would hate to go to school with Malala Yousafzai. Can you imagine Show and Tell Day with Malala?

“OK, class, what have you brought in? Sally, let’s start with you.”

And Sally goes, “I’ve brought in a papier mache cat that I made”.

“OK, anyone else bring anything in? Malala, did you bring anything in?”

“This Nobel Peace Prize.”

“Sally…You’re a piece of shit.”

I’d hate to be a teacher, as well. You’re not going to tell Malala off for anything.

“What are you doing with that phone Malala?”

“Texting Barack Obama, actually, so…”

“Oh, sorry. Um, Sally…you’re a piece of shit.”

Poor Sally. No, I made her up. I was annoyed about that. I was annoyed when they said we were 100% Muslim, because when they say things like that, there is a subtext to that. What they are saying is that we should be worried about that, that there is something terrifying, frightening about Muslims. I think we have got a problem. I think we are using the word “Muslim” far too quickly to describe people doing atrocities, when they do not represent Muslims any more than I do. I think we should be using a more accurate word for those people, which I am going to argue is “knobhead”. It’s a political rally now.

There would be levels of knobhead. You would have a moderate knobhead, all the way up to fundamental knobhead. And if we all did it, the news would have to catch up. They would have to go, “Today, two knobheads bombed a car.” They would have to do it…No, I don’t have a problem with Muslims in Birmingham, at all. Happy to have them. I think they add to our city and to our culture.

– Joe Lycett, from the BBC TV show Live At The Apollo

RUSSELL BRAND AND THE DRUG OF CONNECTION

Not The Only One

I have always found Russell Brand to be an interesting sort of fellow. He is in a similar vein to the likes of Frankie Boyle and Charlie Brooker, satirists who think well beyond normal conventions, shining a much needed harsh light on our modern consumerist societies and our stagnant politicians. I have read his books My Booky Wook, Booky Wook 2, and Revolution, all strongly recommended.

Recovery

Brand has a new book out that I am looking forward to reading, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions. As part of the promotional tour Brand did for this book, he appeared on the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher. He had the host, the guests, and the audience in fits of laughter as well providing deep insights into his own personal life:

In the interview Brand touches on subjects such as addiction and depression. These topics, along with the topics of loneliness, mental health, and suicide, are all unfortunately spread prominently across the news spectrum right now. With regards to all this, Richard Carlton-Crabtree, director of services with Insight Healthcare, provided the following stark reality of where society is right now:

The reality of it is that one in four adults will experience a mental illness at some point each year in the UK. Something we never hear is that we only expect to help 15 per cent of them…one in four of the UK’s adult population is roughly 13 million people. – Richard Carlton-Crabtree

It does really seem that these issues are everywhere right now…

Tuesday 10th October 2017 was World Mental Health Day.

Princes William and Harry, along with Kate Middleton, have been heavily involved in raising aware around mental health by promoting the Heads Together mental health campaign, the London Marathon’s charity of the year.

Recently the singer Sinead O’Connor posted a video online that offered raw insights into her daily battle to control her inner demons. Filmed in her hotel room in New Jersey, the weeping singer sobbed to the camera: “My entire life is revolving around not dying, and that’s not living.”

Other celebrities have also spoken about these issues, such as singer Selena Gomez, comedian Roseanne Barr, author Ruby Wax, boxer Frank Bruno, footballer Chris Kirkland, and actor David Harewood.

We also have continuous newspaper headlines such as British Teenagers Among Least Satisfied In Western World, Loneliness Is Harming Our Society. Your Kindness Is The Best Cure, and Man Down: Why Do So Many Suffer Depression In Silence? You need not search for too long to find such articles, especially in the age of Trump.

We have also seen the suicides of celebrities such as Robin Williams from a few years ago, to more recently Chris Cornell (lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave) and Chester Bennington (lead vocalist for the rock band Linkin Park). I find it interesting that certain celebrities, including Kurt Cobain from over 20 years ago, were living their dreams, yet it seems the reality of that dream coming true did not fulfill expectations. Speaking about Bennington’s death, the journalist Richard Taylor said:

When you’re mentally ill, “normality” becomes meaningless and the world reflects the distorted and warped version of reality you project through bloodshot eyes…Suicide is the biggest killer of men in Britain between the ages of 20 and 50, but we seem only to talk about it when famous men die. – Richard Taylor

Aside from all this, it is the thoughts of Russell Brand that I find most interesting. Here is someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, addiction, loneliness, and suicidal tendencies. Here is someone who has tried to find meaning and happiness in copious amounts of drugs, sex, money, and fame. None of these things fulfilled him in ways that made long lasting sense. Instead Brand has decided to focus on connecting with people through real emotions, “the drug of connection” as he describes it, something that seems to have worked for him.

Here are some short videos from Brand exploring in more detail some of the topics touched upon in this blog. Each video is interesting in its own right, but collectively they shed much needed sanitized light on ‘we’ as a society. Not sure if they are therefore enjoyable, but they are certainly enlightening…


Chris Cornell: Suicide Epidemic – Why?

Chester Bennington: What Does The Suicide Epidemic Say About Our Culture?

Sinead O’Connor: Do We Live In A Mentally Ill System?

Addiction Epidemic – Why Is The World In Pain?

Why Are Mental Health Issues Increasing?

The GOAT Will Always FLABSLAB

 

Ali Fist

Early October 2017 saw the release of the book Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig. The publishers, Simon And Schuster, describe the book as:

The most comprehensive and definitive biography of Muhammad Ali that has ever been published, based on more than 500 interviews with those who knew him best, with many dramatic new discoveries about his life and career…a ground-breaking biography…a stunning portrait of one of the most significant personalities of the second half of the twentieth century…An epic tale of a fighter who became the world’s most famous pacifist…does full justice to an extraordinary man. – publishers Simon And Schuster describing the book Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

The book certainly looks impressive and has definitely made it to my must-read-bucket-list. Seeing the book reminded me that I was hoping to do a blog post based on the memorial service of the great man himself. I know it is more than a year overdue, but here goes…


2016 was a year that saw the passing of of many celebrities and VIPs. In these 12 months the world lost Prince, George Michael, Dame Zaha Hadid, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Fidel Castro, and many more. Arguably the most famous loss was that of Muhammad Ali.

It has been well over a year now since the great Muhammad Ali passed away. Shortly after his passing I wrote a blog post as a tribute to the Greatest, followed by a blog post of quotes from his moving funeral service. Ever since I have wanted to do a blog post about his amazing and uplifting memorial service.

On June 10th 2016 the town of Louisville, in the American state of Kentucky, held a memorial service for one of its own. Muhammad Ali, the towns most famous resident, had passed away some 7 days earlier on June 3rd in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Now it was time for the world to come together at his memorial service, to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of the greatest sports personality the world will ever know.

His status as a 20th century icon is in no doubt, alongside the likes of Elvis, Sinatra, Brando, JFK, and Michael Jackson. After all, he was named the athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. Just how prominent his stature was and still is could be seen by the luminaries attending his memorial service. Just some of those in attendance included:

Former President Bill Clinton, King Abdullah II of Jordan, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Reverend Jesse Jackson, comedian and actor Billy Crystal, actor Will Smith, actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, boxing promoter Don King, former NFL player Jim Brown, former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir, comedian Dave Chappelle, actor Whoopi Goldberg, director Spike Lee, Muslim scholar Sherman Jackson, leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, rapper Common, singer and song writer Yusuf Islam, musician and actor Kris Kristofferson, and former boxing champions Sugar Ray Leonard, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, and Bernard Hopkins.

With such a vast array of celebrities in attendance, the award winning journalist and author Jim Dwyer made the following point:

Ali was eulogized in a grand sports arena by, among others, a priest and an imam, a rabbi and a monk, a former United States president and a famous comedian. Protégées and daughters and his wife remembered him. As they spoke, all stood beneath the flags of the United States and the Olympic Games, symbols of a man who saw himself as a citizen of America and of the world. – Jim Dwyer

The memorial services began in Louisville on June 9th 2016, during the holy Islamic month of Ramadhaan, with an Islamic Janazah prayer service at Freedom Hall on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. The following day included a public funeral procession that saw Ali’s body carried through downtown Louisville, along the same streets as the homecoming parade that celebrated his 1960 Olympic gold medal win, back when he returned home from the Rome Olympics to a city that greeted him as a hero but still remained divided on racial lines.

Ali Procession Smith

After this procession there was a public memorial service held for Ali at downtown Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center in the afternoon, with more than 15,000 in attendance. The day would end with the funeral procession arriving at Cave Hill Cemetery, where the boxing legend was interred during a private ceremony alongside Union and Confederate soldiers, and President Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, among others. His grave is marked with a simple granite marker that bears only his name.

Ali’s funeral had been pre-planned by himself and others for several years prior to his actual death. Ali and his innermost circle started a document years ago that grew so thick they began calling it “The Book.” In the pages the boxing great planned in exacting detail how he wished to say goodbye to the world. “The message that we’ll be sending out is not our message, this was really designed by The Champ himself,” said Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic studies scholar who for years helped plan the services. The 74-year-old three-time heavyweight champion wanted the memorial service in an arena as he wanted multiple religions to have a voice. He also wanted ordinary fans to attend, not just VIPs.

Ali also wanted his memorial service to honour his Islamic faith, which is why the very first words spoken at his service were in Arabic and from the Qur’an. The American Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir said, in translation, “In the name of God, most Compassionate, most Merciful.” The service ended some 3 hours later, again with Imam Zaid Shakir, saying “God bless, and blessings and peace upon Muhammad. Good evening.” One would assume he meant Muhammad Ali and not the Prophet Muhammad, or perhaps even both.

In between these first and last words the service saw many amazing heartfelt eulogies, eulogies that took place before the world was dragged kicking and screaming into the era of the heartless Trump presidency, eulogies that somehow seem to have more resonance today than they did when they were originally delivered.

Whilst the full 3 hour plus memorial service can be seen here, presented below are my favourite moments. With so many to choose from I have tried to pick those that I found funny or uplifting or insightful. So, in honour of the GOAT (Greatest Of All Times) who will always FLABSLAB (Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee) I really do hope you enjoy!

Ali Procession


Reverend Doctor Kevin Cosby

Before James Brown said “I’m black and I’m proud” Muhammad Ali said “I’m black and I’m pretty.”


Rabbi Michael Lerner

The way to honour Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today.


Rabbi Joe Rapport

The living, breathing embodiment of the greatest that we could be.


Imam Zaid Shakir

I witnessed the power of sainthood.


Ambassador Attallah Shabazz (eldest daughter of Malcolm X)

When you believe in God, you should believe all people are part of one family.


President Obama (statement read by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett)

Ali was a radical even in a radical’s time; a loud, proud, unabashedly black voice in a Jim Crow world.


Lonnie Ali (wife of Muhammad Ali)

Muhammad Ali wants us to see the face of his religion, al-Islam, true Islam, as the face of love…It was his religion that caused him to turn away from war and violence. For his religion he was prepared to sacrifice all that he had, and all that he was, to protect his soul, and follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.


Natasha Mundkur

I am the disturbance in the sea of your complacency, and I will never stop shaking your waves.


John Ramsey

To me, he is the finest example of a great human being that I have ever seen.


Billy Crystal

It’s very hard to describe how much he meant to me; you had to live in his time. It’s great to look at clips and it’s amazing that we have them, but to live in his time, watching his fights, experiencing the genius of his talent, was absolutely extraordinary…He never lost his sense of humour, even as he lost everything else.


Bryant Gumbel

What does it say of a man, any man, that he can go from being viewed as one of his countries most polarising figures to arguably its most beloved? And to do so without changing his nature or for a second compromising his principles?


Bill Clinton

I think he decided very young to write his own life story. I think he decided, before he could possibly have worked it all out, and before fate and time could work their will on him, he decided that he would not be ever disempowered.


Imam Zaid Shakir

If reindeer could box, he would have fought Donner and Blitzen.

If presidents could fight, he would have fought Richard Nixon.

If Only Stephen Paddock Were A Muslim

Vegas Spent

Because of the media drenched age in which we live, where we float around in our biased digital bubbles, whenever an incident such as the shooting in Las Vegas occurs we are inundated with opinions, facts, and alternative facts. Ignoring all the idiotic conspiracy theories that abound whenever something like this occurs (such as Alex Jones and his claims of a ‘deep state’ cover up), it can be hard to find nuanced points of view that shed light on the madness that just occurred.

This particular tragedy is made even harder to digest because the shooter was a white, middle aged, retired, multi millionaire, former accountant, not on any watch list, and with no prior inclinations of such atrocities. In other words, he does not fit any known profile. No beard, no brown skin, no calls for jihad, and therefore no established narratives to politicize. Queue the usual discussions of why white skin equals lone wolf with mental health issues, whereas brown skin equals terrorist:

In my quest to find answers, to find solace, I came across two articles that really made sense. Journalist Jennifer Williams wrote an article explaining why in America white American men are more of a threat than Muslims:

White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners…in the eight months since Trump took office, more Americans have been killed in attacks by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners…In fact, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists, according to a study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC…The average American is more likely to die from their own clothing or a toddler with a gun than an immigrant terrorist. But we’re not banning guns and T-shirts from coming into the country. – Jennifer Williams, 02 Oct 2017, from an article at vox.com

The article gives at least five examples of horrific attacks that have occurred in America in 2017 that did not involve Muslims. Well worth a read. Another article well worth reading is from the Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author Thomas L Friedman. Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times controversially entitled If Only Stephen Paddock Were A Muslim. The article begins with this bold and daring proclamation:

If only Stephen Paddock had been a Muslim…If only he had shouted “Allahu akbar” before he opened fire on all those concertgoers in Las Vegas…If only he had been a member of ISIS…If only we had a picture of him posing with a Quran in one hand and his semiautomatic rifle in another…If all of that had happened, no one would be telling us not to dishonor the victims and “politicize” Paddock’s mass murder by talking about preventive remedies. – Thomas L Friedman, 03 Oct 2017, from an article at nytimes.com

The article only gets more daring after this, with Friedman pointing out the blatant hypocrisies of the American governments approaches to ISIS and the NRA:

On crushing ISIS, our president and his party are all in. On asking the N.R.A. for even the tiniest moderation, they are AWOL. No matter how many innocents are fatally shot — no matter even that one of their own congressional leaders was critically wounded playing baseball — it’s never time to discuss any serious policy measures to mitigate gun violence. – Thomas L Friedman, 03 Oct 2017, from an article at nytimes.com

Vegas Steps

This cycle of violence that America has just experienced is nothing new. We have unfortunately been here too many times before. To try and make some sense of it all, not only do I read from well established journalists, I also find myself increasingly turning away from politicians and instead turning to our comedians and satirists, to see what their take is on events. The reason for this is simply put thusly:

Our problem is our leaders are clowns and our ‘clowns’ (Frankie Boyle, Russell Brand, etc) should be our leaders! It’s just too tragic to be comedy. – YouTube comment from grassfuse3

In this light please find below 9 short videos that I found illuminating and moving, with personal comments from the biggest names in American TV talk shows. Real Americans (apart from James Corden), real voices, real emotions, all trying to bring some sort of hope into and make some sort of sense out of the tragic events of Las Vegas. As much as one can in these troubled times, enjoy…


Ellen DeGeneres

Jimmy Kimmel

Stephen Colbert

James Corden

Conan O’Brien

Seth Meyers

Trevor Noah