ISLAM SAVED JEWRY. THIS IS A HISTORICAL TRUTH

Fatiha

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.

WE HAVE NOTHING TO STOKE BUT FEAR ITSELF

2020 has seen certain uncommon words become common place amongst our everyday vernacular, words such as COVID-19, coronavirus, lockdown, and asymptomatic. Another word that I have heard over and over is apocalypse. In the original Greek, apokalypsis, it means more a revelation or unveiling. Apocalypses are not really the end of the world, even though they can be, so much as they are moments in which a curtain gets drawn back and we see reality more clearly. Many of us have found ourselves thinking about this a lot as March’s lockdown became April’s cabin fever became May’s claustrophobia boiled over into June’s civil unrest, unleashed by people who took to the streets, some seemingly for the first time (welcome white people), to call for justice after a black man was slowly murdered on camera.

Like any apocalypse, this pandemic is indeed pulling back a curtain that was hung to hide many uncomfortable truths about our society. Race is one such uncomfortable truth. Race was a key theme throughout the recent Republican National Convention. The RNC took place a few weeks ago in the States, both virtually and in person on the grounds of the White House (which apparently is illegal but, hey, in the last 4 years the Republicans seem to be making and breaking rules on a daily basis).

For those of us who saw it all or even part of it, the RNC was many things. At times it felt like an other worldly séance marked by an orchestrated festival of lies, distortion, fear mongering and cult-like worship of Trump. This Trump-engineered coronation blasted out pro-Trump propaganda on every broadcast network and news channel, even the ones who claim to dislike him (here’s looking at you CNN).

At other times the convention tried to create a Disneyland administration out of a dystopian nightmare, which made it a perfect epitome of spectacle, a notion devised by the French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord in 1967. Debord said a central theme of spectacle was that it was a “glaring superficial manifestation.” The RNC was nothing but.

The satirist John Oliver commented that, like almost every other week in 2020, the week of the RNC was another week of incredible darkness, and for many reasons, the RNC being the main one. He went on to say that the main theme of the convention seemed to be “telling lies in front of flags” as it was four days of a full-throated denial of objective reality. As Trump and his media ecosystem continued to deliver their blizzard of lies, the gulf between the RNC and objective reality visibly grew right before our very eyes.

The RNC was also Trump’s gift of himself to a grateful party and to the 30% of the electorate who are still with him. The whole thing had the feel of a cable TV ad for an extravagant Las Vegas resort hotel development that one Donald J Trump is bringing to the market. But keep in mind that when you work in casinos, you’re always betting on one thing: that the people lose.

But mostly the RNC was a desperate attempt by mainly white people to reassure the country that America isn’t racist, while simultaneously fear mongering about violent crime threatening law-abiding citizens, and by law-abiding citizens please read white people who live in the suburbs (as opposed to black people in the inner cities).

Oliver ended his analysis of the RNC thusly: “The RNC this week actually ended up being a pretty good reminder that where we still might end up going is genuinely terrifying. Because if it showed us one thing this week, it’s the danger in continuing to be governed by an administration that encourages the ugliest forces in American society, that lionizes threats of violence against peaceful protest, that tells us there is no conflict between supporting law enforcement and “our African-American neighbours,” and that insists that the “best is yet to come,” which, given everything we’ve seen in the last four years, is sounding less like a promise and more like a fucking threat.”

During his speeches Trump once again proved that it’s not just that he’s lying. It’s the fact that he doesn’t care at all for the truth. What he says is only meant to make him look good. That’s the context in which he claims time and time again that he’s passed laws he never passed and built border walls he never built. And that is also why when he speaks, it’s perpetually difficult, nigh on impossible, to say if he’s telling the truth or merely reciting self-serving bullshit.

His closing speech may have been a rambling 70-minute mess, but the optics of it were powerful, but for all the wrong reasons. His posture, his demeanour, the underlying subtext to pretty much everything he said, was Trump trying to play the tough guy, the all-American hero. It was so bad that the journalist Matthew Stevenson wryly remarked that “Trump is a radio shock jock, not an orator, and reading his speech he sounded like a fourth grader trying to recite the Gettysburg Address. He paused for punctuation marks as if they were German umlauts.”

But the problem with such grandiose macho alpha white right-wing posturing is that you can see clearly just how fake it really is. I watched the movie Molly’s Game recently (highly recommended), and there is a line in it that says “Tough guys try to look tougher when they’re insecure.” This describes Trump perfectly. The tougher he tries to look, the more insecure he gets. The more insecure he gets, the more fear mongering he projects. The more fear mongering he generates, the more scared his base become, and thus rely on him even more to save them. And around and around we keep going. Or to put it another way, fear strengthens tribalistic instincts and tribalistic instincts amplify fear.

Not to be outdone Vice President Mike Pence ended his main RNC speech by asking the American people to let him and Trump “Make America great again, again.” In context, it was essentially a request for a mulligan on COVID-19, which is truly absurd. Also, how on earth can any satirist hope to top such lines as that?

I guess history will reveal if 2020 indeed is apocalyptic, but I think we can all agree it hasn’t exactly been the best of times. In an attempt to make sense of it all, and to have a bit of a laugh, please find below a peerless collection of wit and whimsy. It is a taxing job paying the slightest bit of attention to the societal collapse we’re currently living through, which is why I feel it is my solemn duty to share other people’s jokes whenever I can. As you may suspect, there are quite a few quotes about the RNC. As best as one can given, you know, everything, enjoy…


The US election will decide who gets to rule the burning embers of America from a morphine drip in a concrete silo. Finally, America will have a real choice this election, between narcissistic personality disorder and Alzheimer’s…It’s just going to be a campaign about who seems the least senile. I sort of wonder if the most powerful person in the world might be the carer of whoever wins. – Frankie Boyle, Sep 2020

Trump is at the limit of how weird a person can be and not die. – Frankie Boyle, Sep 2020

I was watching the RNC this week. It was a great week if you love reality shows but hate reality. Did you see Trump’s speech last night? By the end of it three fact checkers were taken into the concussion protocol. The people in the crowd were chanting “Four more lies! Four more lies!” It was so bizarre how at the convention they just kept talking about rioting and looting and vandalism that you can expect under a Democratic rule, except that’s happening now under Trump. And yet their theme is that all of the rioting and the violence you’re seeing now wouldn’t be happening if somebody like Trump was in the White House. This guy is some salesman because in 2016 it was like “I will end American carnage.” And in 2020 it’s like “There’s only one person who can stop what’s happening under me. Me!” And that’s why we must re-elect Trump so we can re-gratify America again again. – Bill Maher, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, 21 Aug 2020

During the RNC Trump was doing what he always does, which is to narrow cast to white non-college voters with all the scare tactics that are involved, in that all the crazy antifa anarchist communists are coming to make you get gay sharia married. You know, the whole crazy talk…A lot of those things in the speech were just Trump going through a checklist, what I call the cultural Alamo, where he’s playing to the insecurities of the Trump base and the insecurities that Republicans have built up inside their own political silo. So Fox News is always telling people they’re going to cancel Christmas, they’re going to take away your guns, they’re going to take away your religion, they’re not going to let you do this and this and this. And so he was just going through that checklist. – Rick Wilson, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, 21 Aug 2020

The Trump re-election strategy seems to be to argue that only Donald Trump can save America from Donald Trump’s America. – Dan Rather, 27 Aug 2020

Every RNC speech is like “This dangerous national unrest that is occurring now, three years into the Trump presidency, will NOT happen when Donald Trump is president.” – Zach Schonfeld, 28 Aug 2020

DON’T LET DEMOCRATS KEEP RUINING AMERICA WHICH IS STRONGER THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN BUT ALSO MUST BE SAVED BY DONALD TRUMP WHO IS THE BEST PRESIDENT EVER AND HAS BEEN HINDERED AT EVERY TURN. ANY BAD THING NOW IS FROM THE BIDEN FUTURE AND UNLESS YOU VOTE TRUMP THE CHAOS WILL CONTINUE. – Alexandra Petri, 28 Aug 2020

I must say, did not expect the message “This country is a violent, shit-laden hellscape” from the party that’s been running the show for 3.5 years. – Justin Shanes, 25 Aug 2020

Weird, the closed captioning on Don Junior’s speech is just “Daddy, love me” over and over. – Shauna (@goldengateblond), 25 Aug 2020

I’m trying to watch the RNC Trumpathon but my eyes keep popping out of my head and trying to jump off the balcony. – Dave Foley, 25 Aug 2020

Why have I heard more about cancel culture during this convention than coronavirus? Which is weird because coronavirus has, actually, cancelled our culture. – Amanda Carpenter, 25 Aug 2020

The RNC is a collection of the country’s most culturally and financially powerful people complaining that people they dislike aren’t completely powerless. – Zach Heltzel, 26 Aug 2020

RNC: We have nothing to stoke but fear itself. – A.D. Miles, 26 Aug 2020

I’ve lost the packaging for my anti-stress medicine. I don’t know how much more I can take. – T’Other Simon

Just had a run in with a grammar Nazi. Turned out to be horribly anti semantic 😦 – Vivienne Clore

I am NOT a grammar Nazi! I’m alt-write. – Wilde Thingy

It’s called denial, maybe you’ve heard of it and then pretended you didn’t? – Nate Usher

The most memorable part of this pandemic has been washing 80,000 dishes. – Leah Spigelman, Aug 2020

I’m reading a book called “The History of Guacamole”. It’s not the best I’ve ever read but it’s ideal for dipping into. – Tony Cowards

Urologists are always looking after number one. – Gary Delaney

Trump made it to the White House on his third baby mama. That is impressive, white dudes. You can make it to the White House on your third baby mama. Can you imagine a black dude running for president on his third baby mama? And if you’re Latino then we’re not even going to discuss that. And a third baby mama that barely speaks English. Yeah, I said it, she barely speaks English. I’m not the only one who stares at the TV, squinting every time Melania opens her mouth. We all know good and goddamn well if she was black or Latino there would be subtitles under everything that came out of her goddamn mouth. No way they would let a black or Latino lady on TV talking like that. – Jon Laster, Apr 2020


As a bonus, if you want just a brief introduction to the mentality of the type of people who show up to the RNC, then look no further than the always funny and on-point Jordan Klepper on just how holy is Trump…

IN 2020 THE OUTDOORS IS LAVA

White Suits

Step right up. Welcome one and all to the carnival of horrors that is 2020. Unfortunately, we are all tall enough to enjoy this ride, a ride that takes us hurtling over a global political landscape that is a wasteland of increasing nationalism. Just how much of a wasteland it is was made clear by Captain America himself, the actor Chris Evans, who in a recent interview said “It’s become such a toxic landscape. It breeds this exhaustion. People just can’t be bothered. These are intelligent people that I’m speaking about, people who understand it’s their civic duty but it still feels so daunting. Life as it is is overwhelming enough, so to dive into a pool where everyone is just so horrible to one another, there’s no interest.”

Welcome also to a world where the most powerful man on the planet is literally a white supremacist troll who kow-tows to his old, white tribal base by scaring the bejesus out of them at every possible turn. America’s dump-brained president mispronounced the name of Thailand during a speech a few weeks ago. And yes, he did indeed call it Thighland. And no, I don’t think it’s all that funny because this man’s existence is simply too depressing and infuriating to really find anything in his orbit all that funny.

And so we continue to circle the drain we call politics in the Trump-Boris era. Matters are so infuriating that the previous first lady Michelle Obama recently said all of his shenanigans are causing her to suffer from depression. In a recent podcast she lamented “I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression, not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting.”

Her depression is probably going to get worse when she realises that Trump, in a recent interview with Fox News, continued to propagate his long-held belief that the coronavirus pandemic is overhyped. When asked about nearly 1,000 daily deaths in the States, his response was simply to say “It is what it is.” How you feeling now, Michelle?

2020 is also a year that has so far seen, among other terrifying things: the benign impeachment of the president; the mishandling of a public health emergency by many governments; the resultant loss of more than 160,000 Americans and 45,000 Brits due to this global pandemic (which continues to rage virtually unchecked throughout the world due to our own selfishness, stupidity, and incompetence); the worst economic crisis since records began; the gruesome on-camera killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which then sparked the most widespread protest movement for racial justice since the 1960s; followed by the inevitable brutal crackdowns by police on people protesting against police brutality. Role on 2021!

In the controversial 2019 movie Joker, Arthur Fleck (aka the Joker, played superbly by the Academy award winning Joaquin Phoenix), asked the poignant question “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” No Arthur, it ain’t just you, for it is indeed getting crazier out there. And people are coping with this in their own way. For example, in early July Donni Saphire tweeted that he is “watching a movie about nuclear war to relax.” He later tweeted “Just put me under general anaesthesia until 2021.” Whatever works, I guess.

Sure, everything is on fire and the line between parody and reality is so blurred that this somehow is such a dumb time to be alive. But no matter how bad things get, it is never too bad to read funny quotes, such as these hand-picked gemstones. As best as one can given, you know, all that is going on, enjoy…

Moving Targets

“Cancel culture has people afraid to voice their opinion.” Are you kidding!? You people never shut the fuck up. Ever. Not once have you held back on your dumb ass nonsense. – Grimbo, Jul 2020

“Is my cholesterol too high, Doctor?”, he asked with a heavy heart. – Gary Delaney

“Who wants to be a millionaire?” would be a better show if the only contestants were billionaires. – Judah Friedlander

A magician asked me a trick question. I still have no idea how he did it. – Aaron Naylor

A version of you in a parallel universe didn’t make it to today, so make the most of still existing for their memory. – Desus Nice, Jun 2020

Anyone as rich as Jeff Bezos should be legally required to be Batman. – Kate Sidley, Jul 2020

Aside from the fascism, pandemic, and having no sense of when I’ll see my family again, I can’t figure out what’s making me so anxious. – Jesse McLaren, Jul 2020

Billionaire: Anyone can get rich if they work hard. / Me: How did you get rich? / Billionaire: Underpaying people who work hard. – @heybuddy_comic, Jul 2020

Did you know that if you stare at the sun long enough it’ll disappear? – Aaron Naylor

Everyone’s a socialist till I ask if their dad can pay my rent too. – Devon Walker

Heterosexual women say the most common type of role play they get involved in is telling their partner they love him. – Frankie Boyle

I don’t respect myself enough to take a Twitter break. – Sophia Benoit, Jun 2020

I love when FaceTime disconnects & we both decide not to call back. – Keeshia Renee, Jul 2020

I think the only reason jugglers exist is because those were the kids that nobody played catch with. – Aaron Naylor

I transition my summer dresses into winter by simply being depressed in them. – Olga Koch

I was once a gifted child and now I spend 14 hours a day refreshing Twitter in split screen with YouTube videos I’ve already seen. – Dana Schwartz, Jun 2020

I’m 35. I’m at the age where all my friends are getting divorced. – Mark Normand

I’m an introvert. It’s not fun being an introvert. No one gets us. I was in an Uber once and the driver said “So, you’re an introvert. Tell me about that.” And I said “Well, that’s not really how it works.” – Mark Normand

I moved in with a lady recently. I got an Alexa. I love this thing. I just read an article, though. It said Alexa actually listens to everything you say, stores it in a database, and could use it against you later. I was like “Man, just like a real woman.” – Mark Normand

I’ve mixed more metaphors than you’ve had hot cakes. – Olaf Falafel

If I was a millionaire, I’d eat *normal* shortbread from time to time, just to keep me in touch with my roots. – T’Other Simon

If you don’t need masks because you won’t live in fear and God will protect you, then why do you need guns? – Dani Fernandez, Jul 2020

Imagine how peaceful it would be if all the people claiming they were silenced actually had been. – @Okeating, Jul 2020

In 2020 the outdoors is lava…To ensure safety, never go anywhere or do anything. – Donni Saphire, Aug 2020

Instagram, please make a policy where two people in a relationship can’t post the same exact photo. – Whitney Cummings, Jul 2020

March: I’ll use lockdown to make things and be productive. August: I have made one thing, and it is a fool of myself. – @roobeekeane, Aug 2020

My biggest career goal is to get off Twitter. – @ziwe, Jul 2020

My mother was using vinegar to clean so many surfaces during the coronavirus pandemic that she has, in effect, pickled her house. – Frankie Boyle

Personally, I was all for Margaret Thatcher having a lavish publicly funded cremation. But then she died. – Frankie Boyle

Please don’t make the first ten minutes of me listening to your podcast about how to listen to your podcast. – Whitney Cummings, Jul 2020

Probably my favourite part of taking a nap is going on my phone for an hour instead of falling asleep. – Kristen Arnett, Jun 2020

So what do we use as a phrase instead of ‘Avoiding it like the plague’ now that we know that a lot of people don’t, in fact, avoid plagues? – Sophie Spengler, Aug 2020

Someone said Willy Wonka is just Saw for children and I’ve never heard something so controversial yet so brave. – Rad Dad, Jun 2020

When I die, I want to die peacefully like my grandpa did, in his sleep, and not screaming and cursing like all the passengers in his car. – Juan, Alacante, Spain

While we can’t go outside or do anything at least we’ve got the internet to fill our days and nights, a completely healthy alternative to taking part in activities with real life friends. – @scharpling, Jul 2020

You’re not a real fan of the news if you haven’t been watching it from the beginning. – Flo & Joan

You’re totally allowed to think something and not tweet it. – Whitney Cummings, Jul 2020


As an added bonus here are two short videos that I still genuinely cannot get my mind around. The first is a very clever piece of editing that shows Trump interviewing himself. This is one of the funniest things I have seen online in many a year. Here are some YouTube comments from this video: “I can’t decide if you’ve made him more or less coherent…Somehow he is still losing the argument with himself…Man, his twin is even more delusional than himself…I don’t know why this feels like it makes more sense than the actual interview…It’s hilarious and terrifying at the same time.” However, the most prescient comment I felt was “He is basically talking to himself all the time anyway, because that’s the only person he listens to.”

The second video shows Jordan Klepper from The Daily Show interviewing Trump supporters at a Trump rally. Prepare to have your gob well and truly smacked, for some of these people are frightening on many levels.

RECTIFY THY NAMES IRREGARDLESS

A MemeWords. Do they mean anything anymore? Does Brexit still mean Brexit? When is racism systemic? Which lives matter more, black or all? Is speech still free? When is a news item genuine, fake news, or even a conspiracy theory? When is it waterboarding as opposed to enhanced interrogation? Is enhanced interrogation like regular interrogation, only better? Is one mans freedom fighter still Margaret Thatcher’s terrorist? Is white privilege a real construct to be dismantled or a false narrative to be ignored? And how do I know if I am talking to a Millennial or Generation X or Y or Z? And don’t even get me started on gender pronouns!

Arguably the best example of a word or phrase that recently meant nothing (and in this case also everything) was when President Trump tweeted the word “covfefe”, an alleged misspelling of the word “coverage” For those of who remember when this actually happened, incredibly this was over 3 entire years ago. How time flies when you are living through a global pandemic, generational changes in society (such as Brexit, #MeToo, and #BLM), and the worst financial crisis the world has known pretty much ever.

To this day, no one knows what covfefe was, or indeed if it still is a thing. In an article entitled Six Hours And Three Minutes Of Internet Chaos, Adrienne LaFrance (writing in the Atlantic in Jan 2019) said the following:

“In the annals of revelatory Trumpian tweets, “covfefe” is the ultimate. Nothing compares to what appeared on his feed at 12:06am on 31st May 2017: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” Seconds passed, then minutes, then an hour, then six hours, with no word from the White House on whether Trump was okay, or even alive. Surely it was a typo, or a tweet published errantly—but what if it was the sign of something more sinister? When the president tweeted again, at 6:09am on the same day, it was to say this: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!””

LaFrance expertly goes on to explain why this one nonsensical word best explains the hold Trump seems to have on us all, supporters and haters alike:

“There have been more consequential presidential tweets, and someday there may even be a weirder one. But Covfefe remains the tweet that best illustrates Trump’s most preternatural gift: He knows how to captivate people, how to command and divert the attention of the masses. And long after the president’s tweets are stripped of meaning by the passage of time and the rotting of the internet, his severest critics will still have to grapple with the short distance between politics and entertainment in America, and the man who for years toyed so masterfully with a nation’s attention.”

Putting covfefe aside for a moment, it is also easy to be confused by the simplest of words in everyday life. In the office where I currently work, we often get confused over terms such as “next Monday” (the Monday immediately coming or the one after that?), “dinner” and “lunch” (some say these are the same thing, others don’t), and is it “chicken curry” or “curried chicken”? Again, some say they are the same, others passionately tell you otherwise. This means that a statement such as “I’m going to have chicken curry for dinner next Monday” can potentially be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Never a dull moment at work.

Another recent debate I came across was to do with the concept of time and the word “forward”. When a meeting gets moved forward, does that mean it is now sooner or later? Apparently if you think the meeting is now later, then you have an “ego-moving perspective of time,” which means you see yourself moving forward through time. But if you interpret the meeting as being moved earlier, then you have a “time-moving perspective of time,” where you stand still as time moves towards you and then passes over you.

Likewise, according to the comedian Aaron Naylor, the word “new” may not mean what you think it means: “Sometimes when I’m really bored, I like to go to clothing stores that sell fur coats and stand out front and protest. Not because I’m against wearing animals, but because they advertise them as new instead of used.”

To add to the confusion, I came across this cartoon where the word “best” clearly has a double meaning:

Best Me

There are also debates as to whether certain words are actually words. The word “irregardless” is the latest such word to be put under the linguistical microscope. Arguments for and against its inclusion in the dictionary currently rage in nerd-infested corners of the internet, with some saying it basically means the same thing as “regardless”.

Defining words is becoming more and more difficult. We increasingly live in a world of memes, emojis, gifs, abbreviated text messages, soundbites, and YouTube videos, a world where we live in isolated bubbles that act as echo chambers. In such a world words mean less and less collectively and more and more individually. We spend more of our time in this online landscape, yet when we are offline we still think about things from this digital realm. The journalist Ezra Klein made the following remarks in a recent podcast about our digital nature:

“The media technologies we rely on reshape us on a fundamental, cognitive level…A world defined by oral traditions is more social, unstructured, and multisensory; a world defined by the written word is more individualistic, disciplined, and hypervisual. A world defined by texting, scrolling, and social feedback is addicted to stimulus, constantly forming and affirming expressions of identity, accustomed to waves of information…The internet is changing us, just as every medium before it has.”

As such we are surrounded by words and terms that are either meaningless (because they have been so overused they no longer hold any power), or are overflowing with meaning (because they have been weaponised by all shades of the political spectrum). Take the idea of “cancel culture”, a concept that is currently filling the airwaves. The writer John Ganz recently stated in the Guardian:

“What is cancel culture, really? Well, nobody quite knows. Does it even exist? Some would say it’s just a term given to a number of practices that people dislike because they’re personally inconvenient or challenging. Others would argue that only someone acting in bad faith could deny that it exists. As some wag once remarked about Sigmund Freud’s “death drive”, there seem to be as many definitions of cancel culture as there are intellectuals.”

He followed this up with this controversial remark: “One writer caustically remarked something to the effect that cancel culture was a jobs programme for younger media types who wish to displace their elders and take their positions.”

Ganz concluded the article by giving his own very pessimistic definition: “Every opportunity the internet offers for making us bigger, for increasing our power to act, for joining us with others, seems to be a trap that flattens and empties us out, and fills us up with much cruder stuff than was there before. So this is my definition of what’s at stake in cancel culture: it’s not really a political phenomenon at all, but the gradual negation of all human capacity for meaning.”

For a more simplistic view, I’ll let @shaun_vids have the final say on cancel culture: “Free speech is when I’m winning the argument, cancel culture is when I’m losing.”

As you watch the news you can see Orwellian doublespeak happening in real time, right before your very eyes. You end up questioning the fundamental nature of truth and of reality itself. Is the fight for truth in our information environment over? I take it that truth lost? How long before I search for “truth” on the internet and Google tells me it was all a conspiracy theory, just like the moon landings or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School? And what about reality, is it a construct of the mind? If so does that mean, in a philosophical context, that all of us live in our own subjective reality, where words can mean whatsoever we choose?

Further light was recently shed on these topics by Darren McGarvey, a Scottish rapper, hip hop recording artist, and social commentator who goes by the stage name Loki. He was an activist during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. In a recent BBC TV show (Frankie Boyle’s Tour Of Scotland), he came up with the following analysis:

“When it comes to social problems and politics, if we’re all using different terminology to describe the reality around us, then we lose the ability through language to start to conceptualise what a solution to a problem might look like, or what even the problem is in the first place. The good thing about language is that everyone has access to it, or most people have access to it. It’s just that when you start making pronouncements about what is the right language and what is the wrong language, that is when it becomes exclusionary. From the classroom to the court room, lower class people are conditioned that there is a voice of reason and there is a voice of authority, and that voice, whether it is Jeremy Kyle or whether it is a news reader, it is always middle class. And it’s very hard to shake that.”

When we fail to agree on basic things such as what do those words mean that we currently disagree on, then, from a political perspective, according to Jonathon Cole “the only viable alternative” is “political oblivion: permanent escape into the non-political pseudo-reality of video games, reality television and Hollywood gossip — gorging the mind with enough trivia to maintain the pretence that there is nothing confronting happening in the world.” Sounds rather familiar, especially during these times of lockdown. Just in case the point was missed, he immediately follows this with “The unpalatable truth is that we inhabit a political reality that transcends our comprehension.”

Cole expands on this point by asking if the BLM protests are a “righteous reckoning for a racist country that warrants the enormous personal and communal sacrifices that innocent bystanders are involuntarily made to offer”, or are they instead the “lamentable manipulation and exploitation of well-intentioned citizens by a cynical cultural Marxist conspiracy with designs to overthrow the Republic”?

Why all these questions and rethinks? I read an article recently by Fintan O’Toole that got the old brain gears churning. In the article O’Toole writes about how the term “war on terror” has been redefined over the years. The term was originally designed by the Bush government to essentially create a permanent state of psychic emergency so as to justify military action anywhere on the planet. However, it has recently been redefined in such a dastardly way by the Orange Wrecking Ball, also known as President Trump.

The article also reminded me of a short excerpt from the brilliant book Unspeak by Steven Poole. Poole touches on the point that, if we all agree that society is best served by rational debate conducted in honest language, then it becomes vital that we all originate from a common understanding. Otherwise we could end up divided by rhetoric, and God only knows what that would look like. Both the book excerpt and an excerpt from the article are presented below. As always, both are well worth reading in full. As best as one can in these sorts of situations, enjoy…


The Unpresident And The Unredeemed Promise

Fintan O’Toole, 23 Jul 2020, nybooks.com

Trump was right in one sense: the war on terror has always been a war of definition, and for every US administration since September 11, that power of definition is arbitrary. You can call “whatever you want” terrorism—or not. The semantics are the keys that unlock a vast array of state capacities, up to and including the right to kidnap and imprison people indefinitely without trial, to conduct summary executions, and to invade foreign countries and overthrow their governments. Authoritarian regimes abroad grasped this quickly—once you define your critics as “terrorists,” there is no need for even the pretense of due process. Conversely, if you refrain from using the word, those you approve of—for example, armed white men invading the Michigan state capitol—enjoy complete impunity.

The Republicans wasted no time in exploiting that power of definition: they deliberately subverted the distinction between peaceful protesters and looters, and labeled them all terrorists. This was not merely an example of Trumpian hyperbole—the term was used by many senior Republicans including, most ominously, in a written statement of May 31, by Attorney General William Barr announcing that “to identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners, federal law enforcement is using our existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces.”

Trump, however, extended the “terrorist” label, not just to “criminal organizers” of violence but also explicitly to the peaceful protesters who were assaulted with chemical sprays, rubber bullets, and flash bombs on Lafayette Square, to clear the way for his Bible-waving stunt at St. John’s Church. On June 4 he tweeted a copy of a letter “from respected retired Marine and Super Star lawyer, John Dowd” with the instruction: “Read it!” Dowd, in this open letter of rebuke to the former defense secretary James Mattis for his criticism of Trump, claimed that “the phony protesters near Lafayette were not peaceful and are not real. They are terrorists using idle hate filled students to burn and destroy.” The logic is clear: the FBI’s terrorism task forces can and should use their sweeping powers and immense resources to investigate the protesters.

And those protesters can also be assaulted on the streets by the police and by uniformed men who are not identified (either collectively or individually) and are therefore impossible to hold to account. In response to images showing police in Buffalo push over and seriously injure a seventy-five-year-old man, Martin Gugino, Trump tweeted that “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur…Could be a set up?” Trump had already declared his intention to designate “ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.” But since Antifa does not actually exist as an organization, anyone engaged in protest “could be” a terrorist. This possibility is enough to make every public opponent of Trump’s regime a legitimate target for state violence. If and when that assault happens, moreover, it is not real. The victim staged it.

This is the final overflow from unfinished war. The word that once described Osama bin Laden and the killers of innocent Americans now extends to citizens protesting the killing of innocent fellow Americans. The concept that is not defined—terrorism—is not bounded. In particular it is not bounded by constitutional or democratic values. Trump, Barr, and the Republicans have cleared the way for a great homecoming: the war on terror, with all of its weapons for the mass destruction of legality, is being fully repatriated.

All of these historical surpluses—the afterlives of slavery, of the deranged presidency, and of the threat of terrorism as permission to set aside legal and democratic rights—have raised the stakes in the present struggle. This mass of unresolved stuff is being forced toward some kind of resolution. That resolution can come in only one of two ways. What has come to the surface can be repressed again—but that repression will have to be enforced by methods that will also dismantle democracy. Trump’s boast that he can do whatever he wants will have to be institutionalized, made fully operational, and imposed by state violence. Or there will be a transformative wave of change. All of this unfinished business has made the United States semidemocratic, a half-and-half world in which ideals of equality, political accountability, and the rule of law exist alongside practices that make a daily mockery of those ideals. This half-life is ending—either the outward show of democracy is finished and authoritarianism triumphs, or the long-denied substance becomes real. The unconsumed past will either be faced and dealt with, or it will consume the American republic.


Unspeak Cover

A long time ago in China, a philosopher was asked the first thing he would do if he became ruler. The philosopher thought for a while, and then said: “Well, if something had to be put first, I would rectify the names for things.” His companion was baffled: what did this have to do with good government? The philosopher lamented his companion’s foolishness, and explained. “When the names for things are incorrect, speech does not sound reasonable; when speech does not sound reasonable, things are not done properly; when things are not done properly, the structure of society is harmed; when the structure of society is harmed, punishments do not fit the crimes; and when punishments do not fit the crimes, the people don’t know what to do.” “The thing about the gentleman,” he warned, “is that he is anything but casual where speech is concerned.” The philosopher’s name was Confucius, and he was referring to a phenomenon that is all around us today. He was talking about what I call unspeak. – Steven Poole, from his book Unspeak: Words Are Weapons

I CANNOT BE SUPERIOR IF YOU ARE NOT INFERIOR

Black-Deaths-Matter

In 1956 the celebrated author Robert Penn Warren wrote about racism in America. He described how there is a “national rhythm” related to race matters that sways gratuitously between “complacency and panic.” We certainly know which way the pendulum is swinging at the moment. If Warren is right in his analysis, then the question arises as to how do you find your way out of this rhythm? Warren himself spoke of needing leadership grounded in “moral identity” in order to “break out”, and God only knows what “moral identity” means in this post-Trump universe we all seem to be imprisoned in.

Another way to “break out” is to inject your intellect with new ideas and new perspectives, told by voices old or new. The most obvious voices belong to the serious people, be they historians, academics, and such like. Joseph Harker is one such example. Harker is the Guardian newspaper’s deputy opinion editor as well as the former editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper Black Briton. He recently made the following observation:

If I hear one more white person say “Black Lives Matter” I think my head will explode. The slogan, powerful when first popularised by black people after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 in the US, has now become so ubiquitous as to have lost almost all meaning. A way for people to endlessly repeat “I hate racism” while doing nothing to actually stop it…You can say “Black Lives Matter” a million times but it will change nothing…To make lasting change, we ultimately have to get off the streets and into the rooms where these decision-makers operate…Black Lives Matter is a catchy slogan. But right now, action is what really matters. – Joseph Harker, 11 Jun 2020, theguardian.com

As well as Trayvon Martin, Harker was also referring to the murder of George Floyd, the aftermath of which has unleashed an international conversation on questions of race and racism. And it seems everybody has an opinion, a voice they wish to share. Here we have the American-Korean designer Courtney Ahn with her simple but honest take on ‘white privilege’:

White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced prejudice, hardship, or earned your successes, but it does mean that your life hasn’t been harder because of your skin tone. – Courtney Ahn

But there are other voices that I think should be heard too. These voices belong to comedians and satirists who, believe it or not, have also expressed deep and thoughtful pronouncements regarding the murder of George Floyd. But why listen to the non-serious people? Well, during a crisis comedians do the impossible task of finding what’s funny about a dire scenario, thus giving us permission to laugh. They also keep us informed about important issues in an entertaining and digestible way.

For example, the Marx Brothers released classic movies like Duck Soup during the Great Depression, providing a cheap laugh (in a good way) amid grave economic uncertainty. The black American stand-up Dick Gregory satirized the inequality and discrimination faced by black Americans during the height of the civil rights struggle (he also managed to back up his words with sustained activism). And in the sombre days after 9/11, the return of comedy institutions like Saturday Night Live signalled that irony was far from dead. And today we need humour more than usual, a fact that is not lost on the black actress Taylor Garron:

Even as a satirist, it’s admittedly not the easiest (or the most helpful) thing for me to find humour in police brutality, white supremacy, and the seemingly endless fight for Black people’s rights. It can feel hopeless, inappropriate, and sometimes even damaging to use comedy to bring attention to something so serious and so urgent. But at the same time, I think that using humour is an effective way to highlight the hypocrisy and cast light onto blind spots that even the best-intentioned allies can perpetuate. – Taylor Garron

With that in mind, here are a few quotes from comedians related to current events. We begin with the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel who recently said something similar to Courtney Ahn:

White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means the colour of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder. – Jimmy Kimmel

And then you have comments such as these:

The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation…The root of this problem is the society that we’ve created that contains this schism, and we don’t deal with it, because we’ve outsourced our accountability to the police…We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them. – Jon Stewart, 15 Jun 2020, nytimes.com

It actually makes me feel good that white people are showing the level of passion for black people that they normally reserve for animals. – Larry Wilmore, 12 Jun 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, referring to white people joining Black Lives Matter protests

I’m mixed race. If there are reparations for slavery, I’ll owe myself a fortune. – Andy J White, 19 Jun 2020

And then you have the following videos, all featuring well known comedians, that have really helped me to understand these complex issues in a new way. I hope they help you too. As best as one can in these turbulent times, enjoy…


Dave Chappelle

Arguably the greatest living stand-up on the planet, Chappelle delivers a blistering 27-minute set that cuts straight to the brutality of the murder of an innocent African-American. At one point he muses “Why would anyone care what their favourite comedian thinks after they saw a police officer kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds?” After listening to his passionate and urgent lament, it is clear that we should all care.


Trevor Noah

Noah, a bi-racial South African who has made it big in the States, spends 18 reflective minutes telling us about the domino effect, or how some things are more connected than you may realise. He also discusses the “unspoken contract” that exists between us all, and how this contract seems to be broken for black people in America.


Hasan Minhaj

Minhaj, a Muslim like his fellow comedian Dave Chappelle, offers many home truths in just 12 minutes about how we all perhaps need to reflect more, including Muslims as well as angsty white teenagers.


Bill Maher

You have polytheism (belief in more than one God), monotheism (belief in only one God), agnosticism (belief in sitting on some imaginary theological fence), and atheism (belief in no God). And then you have your anti-theists, a militant form of atheism where people believe that believing in God in any way is completely stupid, and they’re not afraid to speak their mind about it. Maher is just such a guy, so perhaps I, a practising Muslim, should steer clear of anything he has to say. Trouble is he often says things I happen to agree with, and this 5-minute rant about how easy it is for white people to be “helping wrong” because of the “guardians of ‘gotcha’” is a perfect example.


Honorary mentions go out to an 8-minute video of Keegan-Michael Key, one half of comedy duo Key and Peele, who, in an interview with Stephen Colbert, gives his thoughts on racism, with reference to Trevor Noah and the aforementioned “unspoken contract.”

Likewise, author Kimberly Jones very passionately explains the difference between protesting, rioting, and looting, all in under 7 minutes. She too refers to Trevor Noah and some of his earlier comments.

And finally, Dr Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, shares many of her thoughts and experiences in an interview on CNN. The 17-minute interview took place in September of 2018, but CNN consider it so relevant they recently released an extended version of it. A few selected quotes are also presented.

It takes very little to set white people off, to set us off into defensiveness. So, for many white people, the mere suggestion that white has meaning will cause us to erupt in defensiveness. For many of your listeners, the fact that I’m generalizing right now about white people, will set off the defensiveness. Individualism is a really precious ideology for white people, and we do not like to be generalized about.

It’s a kind of delusion. I think that some people have said when you’re used to 100 percent, 98 feels oppressive. As a white person I was just raised to expect the world to be mine, in absolutely any field. I see myself represented. I see myself represented in all my teachers and my curriculum and my heroes and heroines. And so, just even a suggestion that we need to make sure we’re being fair and including other people, seems to set the white collective off.

Toni Morrison beautifully argues that white people need black people. There is no white without black. I cannot be superior if you are not inferior. And so, there’s a kind of investment in those positions. And it’s the bedrock of this country. It’s maybe buried in a way that it wasn’t in the past, but it sure looks like it’s coming back up.

MUSLIMS DON’T EAT TOYS. FACT.

Nana

Why is all of society basically dumb and bad and deserving of our contempt? Maybe it’s because we all now live in a political and media Bizarro World, a world where scepticism is the default, news is indistinguishable from entertainment, and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country’s political leaders (a footballer causes the British government to do an embarrassing political U-turn – need I say more). As such, the world has been reduced to something worth completely ignoring. This is a hard time, friends, a hard time indeed. But then again, what do I know? According to the wife, nothing, nothing at all. Less than useless, so I am repeatedly informed.

So how do we fight against this tide of moral regress? I have no idea. Maybe we could all take a pause every now and then and have a damn good chuckle at the craziness of it all. Maybe we could let some funny tweets and quotes take our anxiety-filled minds off the news for just a few minutes. Well, except for the tweets that are specifically about how hard this time is now, and how terribly everybody in power is acting. It’ll probably be hard to forget about the world when you’re reading those. Sorry about that. Aside from that, some of these tweets and quotes are surreal and stupid, but I guess them’s just the times we live in, baby. As best as one can, please enjoy!

PS I’ve also added in a few cartoons from the always on-point Mr Fish, as well as links to videos featuring two up and coming Muslim comedians, begging for stardom-scraps at homogenised reality TV talent shows. As previously stated, enjoy…

Tina

Black people are getting sick. I blame institutionalized racism and elaborate handshakes. – Mark Normand, Jun 2020, referring to COVID-19

CUSTOMER: Why has your colleague got a larger plastic face covering than you? SHOP ASSISTANT: That’s the supervisor. – Glenny Rodge, Jun 2020

Do we have any feminists here tonight, by applause? Wow! A lot of single ladies. It’s so hard if you’re on a date to be like “Whoo! The future is female! Are you still gonna pay for everything? Is that deal still on the table? I’m more of a feminist in the mornings when nobody’s trying to buy me anything.” Hey ladies, maybe we should start paying for our own dinner and drinks, really let guys know we’re serious about this equality thing. Really…I’m just kidding around! Why would we do that? No. I think it’s the responsibility of a man you just met online to feed you. He’s got the option to kill you later, so I feel like that’s fair. You put in all the risk. At least get a nice meal out of it. – Bonnie McFarlane

Don’t fight with Gen Z, you can’t win. Once when I was teaching an SAT prep class, I told everyone to “quiet down” and one girl just said “Haha, ok sweater!” (because I was wearing a sweater.) Every single one laughed at me. – Paul McCallion, Jun 2020

Due to this pandemic we’ve all been sitting at home watching Netflix for 6 months. People ask me “What are you watching?” and I’m like “I’m watching my life pass me by.” – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

I am a feminist and a vegan, so you know my sense of humour is top-shelf…I love being a vegan. I consume no animals or animal by-products of any kind. I do eat eggs though, because I’m also pro-choice. – Bonnie McFarlane

I don’t understand how COVID-19 is worse than ever after we’ve tried everything, from pretending it’s over to pretending it never happened. – Zack Bornstein, Jun 2020

I used to get teased quite a lot at school because I bore a slight resemblance to a bowl of custard, but luckily I had quite a thick skin. – Olaf Falafel

I’m officially leaving Twitter. I spend way too much time on here. Take care everyone. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. – @Iovejutsu

Imagine how excited barn owls were when humans invented barns. – Nate Swick

It’s a crazy country we live in. Eventually all this will be over. That’s something to look forward to. The pandemic will end, the police brutality will end, and then we’ll be right back to school shootings. What a nation! – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

I’ve FINALLY found out what chronology is. And it’s about time. – @NickMotown

John Bolton saving his story about Trump approving of concentration camps is like an aging sitcom actress writing a tell-all about what REALLY happened on the set of Designing Women. Thanks for the info and fuck off. – Billy Eichner, Jun 2020

Looting target is un-American. The real American thing to do is loot Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Vietnam, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Jamaica, North Korea, Guatemala, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Chile, Cambodia, Angola, El Salvador. – Jaboukie Young-White, May 2020

NEWS: Growing concerns about COVID-19 spikes because of protests. ALSO NEWS: The gym is open! Go on! They miss you! Hit up Vegas on your way! – Janelle James, Jun 2020

Nobody is walking up to a statue to learn history. Now, a pedestal with a statue missing? Something happened here. Time to learn what fucked up shit this guy did that got his metal ass removed. – @SwiftOnSecurity, Jun 2020

OMG LOL, my 4-year-old just put down her Legos and said “99% of Trump voters are worse off in every way now, but still support him, taking solace in the hollow victory of communal racism as they are willingly robbed blind and stripped of their constitutional rights.” – Zack Bornstein, May 2020

People are getting angry about this pandemic. Everybody’s pent up, everybody’s worked up. Some people are mad at Asian people. Asian people love the riots, they’re like “Woo! Heat’s off us for a minute.” I saw a bunch of people online saying racist shit to Asian people. Look, if you’re gonna type a bunch of racist shit to Asian people, don’t do it from an iPhone. Have some respect for the kid who made it. – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

So, I’m married. This is the sadder part of the show…At one point I got so mad at my husband that I gave him the silent treatment for a week. At the end of it he was like “We’ve been getting along pretty good lately.” – Bonnie McFarlane

Someone bought me a pair of skinny jeans for my birthday. A guy came up to me in the street and said “Take those jeans off! You look gay.” I said “I’ll tell you what’s gay mate, you asking me to take my jeans off.” And then he kicked the shit out of me. A couple of you got a bit tense there. You thought “Oh no, a Cockney guy talking about gays. He’s going to be offensive.” You can all relax, because I’m now going to do a bit about Muslims. No, I really am, so here we go. I try not to read newspapers. I’m sure we’re all smart enough to know newspapers are not about news anymore, they’re full of shit. It’s about keeping us divided. There was this headline from the worst newspaper of them all, the Sun. The headline was “This little piggy gets removed for religious reasons.” What happened was a toy shop removed the toy pig from a farm set so they didn’t offend Muslims. Now, I don’t know if anyone here knows this but Muslims don’t eat toys. That’s a fact. That is a fact. Nobody eats toys. – Wilson Milton

The day begins when I bring my charger from the bedroom into the couch area. – Natalie Walker

The sum of the shredded cabbage multiplied by the total amount of carrot is equal to the square root of the mayonnaise. That’s Cole’s Law. – @trouteyes

They interviewed R Kelly about this virus. He was like “COVID-19? Nope, too old for me.” – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

Trump only has two modes, menacing sociopath or limp French fry that’s been sitting in the bottom of the bag soaking up all the oil…I know our brains have all melted from the constant flagrant lawlessness and overall weirdness of this administration, and nothing feels real anymore, and we’re all just programmed to move on to the next thing because Trump will inevitably do something bizarre the next day, like throw a tantrum in the Rose Garden or rub up against the flag like a horny 16-year-old at prom. – Seth Meyers, Jun 2020

Very American to decide we are bored with COVID-19 and therefore it is over. – Jeff Kasanoff, May 2020

We’re fat here in America. We did it! [Waves her arm and chants] USA! USA! Oh no, my arm is tired. That was too much exercise. You know when someone breaks up with you, and they gain weight, and that makes you really happy? I bet that’s how England feels about us. “Hey America, you look different. How’s math and science?” [Winks] – Michelle Wolf

Monster

For more laughs please check out these videos featuring comedians Usama Siddiquee and Nabil Abdul Rashid…

BEWARE THE NORMALCY OF THE DANGER CLOWN

Corona Movie

Time has become a flat circle. Day and night have melted into one another. Each hour simultaneously becomes the last one as well as the next. Reality increasingly becomes unreality. It is as though we have all been unknowingly transported to an alternate unfolding dystopian existence, something akin to the trance-like void of the Sunken Place (from the horror movie Get Out), or the parallel dimension of the Upside Down (from the Netflix TV series Stranger Things). Our deepest nightmares seem to be projected back to us daily in a never-ending Breaking News loop.

Speaking of movies, I recently got round to watching Bird Box, which originally came out in 2018 and caused quite an online discussion as to all the symbolism the movie cleverly contains. However, watching this movie in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic seems to add a whole new layer of text and subtext, making the movie much scarier than it was perhaps intended way back in 2018, a time when things were, you know, normal.

Another movie I saw, just today in fact, was The First Purge. As with Bird Box, this too is a movie from the distant realm of 2018. Watching it today, whilst there are riots all across America due to the horrendous murder of George Floyd, again adds a completely different dimension to this particular movie-watching experience, to the point where the movie at times resembles more a documentary than a work of fiction.

And it seems I am not the only one having anxious troubles about the nature of reality. Professor Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, a very clever man indeed, is also concerned about what is going on, especially in the current administration occupying the White House. His quote, along with others, can be read below.

So, before the inevitable second wave sweeps us all away, please find below a selection of quotes (some are funny, some less so) that may or may not ease tensions, reduce confusion, and provide some much-needed clarity. As best as one can given, you know, all that is going on right now, enjoy!


The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok

At the Praram 9 hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, two newborn babies are given mini face shields to protect them against COVID-19 while they travel home from the hospital…


In reality, Donald Trump doesn’t run the government of the United States. He doesn’t manage anything. He doesn’t organize anyone. He doesn’t administer or oversee or supervise. He doesn’t read memos. He hates meetings. He has no patience for briefings. His White House is in perpetual chaos. His advisers aren’t truth-tellers. They’re toadies, lackeys, sycophants and relatives. – Professor Robert Reich, 31 May 2020, from theguardian.com

About 12,000 years ago, human domestication of the natural world began in earnest with the intentional cultivation of wild plants and animals. Fast forward to today and our dominion over the planet appears complete, as 7.8 billion of us multiply across its surface and our reach extends from the deep-sea beds, which are being mined, to the heavens, where we are, according to Donald Trump, dispatching a space force. Yet as has been made clear by a recent litany of disasters – from the coronavirus pandemic to America’s deadliest wildfire in a century – there are forces that cannot be domesticated. Indeed, our interference with the natural world is making them more liable to flare up into tragedy. We created the Anthropocene, and the Anthropocene is biting back. – Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano, 05 May 2020, from theguardian.com

Do weeks even still exist? I mean the calendar has always been a mutual suggestion that we all just go along with, but with what’s happening right now—the virus, the quarantine, the galactically deranged president stressing the whole world out with his daily fits and embarrassments—the concept of time has never been less important. I’m writing this on a Friday morning, I’m told, but who knows if that’s true? Who would even care? Does it matter when I’m writing this, or when I post it—assuming hastily assembled galleries of other people’s tweets “matter” to any extent whatsoever? Or is this just another in a litany of trivialities I’ve devoted my life too—one more insipid bit of business to rush through before I can get back to my true calling of lying perfectly still in a bed while staring at the ceiling and crying softly? I dunno, bro. – Garrett Martin, 17 Apr 2020, from the pastemagazine.com article Tweets Of The Week

Everyone knows corona is no walk in the park, because you literally can’t walk in the park. – Bill Maher, 17 Apr 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

I don’t know it for a fact that the Kardashians are deciding which sister to sacrifice to the virus to stay relevant, I just know it’s true. – Bill Maher, 08 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

I think this is going to scramble our politics in a lot of ways. And one thing that I should say, and I think any honest person should say, is that if we all emerge from this situation with the same convictions that we’ve had before, it means were just not thinking. And so this has prompted new thinking on my part, I’m sure it has on yours. But we need to maybe move out of all of our respective ideological boxes because what just happened was 1929. Things have changed. – Bret Stephens, 01 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

I’ve read that COVID-19 can live on plastic for over three days. So if you’re in Beverly Hills, don’t touch the women. – Jay Leno, 29 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

Like Buzz Windrip, the fictional fascist president in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, Trump’s underlying fascistic essence is cloaked to some degree by his blustering buffoonery, his strange theatrical clownishness. Even more than three years into his supremely lethal, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and arch-authoritarian white-nationalist presidency, many Americans continue to laugh him off as little more than a fool and comedian. But there’s nothing funny about the Trump presidency. It’s been as seriously awful as a national and global heart attack and anyone who still finds it funny needs a check-up from the neck-up. Donald the Danger Clown has been doubling down on authoritarian rule under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis that he helped fan across the land…God help us if Danger Clown and his backers and allies are the New Normalcy. – Paul Street, 17 Apr 2020, from the counterpunch.org article Danger Clown And The Return To American Normalcy

New rule. The Muslims going to mosques in Pakistan, the Christians holding services in the south, and the Orthodox Jews having funerals in Brooklyn, have to agree that whichever faith loses the fewest members to COVID-19 is the one true religion, and the other two have to go away. Finally! Finally, we can settle this once and for all, although I’m not going to pretend it makes up for cancelling March Madness. – Bill Maher, 01 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher (this particular new rule was called ‘Need For Creed’)

Our chief executive is, indeed, bumptiously dishonest, a manure-shoveler without precedent in the modern presidency, a man with little capacity to handle even a mildly inconvenient truth. No one expects a truthful and realistic appraisal of the crisis from this president; any sensible person should look elsewhere for the truth. – Ross Douthat, 07 Apr 2020, from the nytimes.com

Science does not obey the laws of politics. – from the 2018 movie The First Purge

The first couple of weeks of all of this I was very much glued to the news, I was reading everything I could, the radio was constantly on. And then I thought “Oh God! Watching a lot of the news is like eating fruit, in that it is good for you, but only up to a point, because after that it gives you the shits.” So you have to limit it, you have to eat it in small portions. – Charlie Brooker, May 2020, from an interview on BBC Newsnight, referring to the pandemic

The vast illegal wildlife trade and humanity’s excessive intrusion into nature is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic…We are discovering two to four new viruses created every year as a result of human infringement on the natural world, and any one of those could turn into a pandemic…This pandemic is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade, and in particular, the wildlife markets, the wet markets, of south Asia and bush meat markets of Africa…It’s pretty obvious, it was just a matter of time before something like this was going to happen…This is not nature’s revenge, we did it to ourselves. The solution is to have a much more respectful approach to nature, which includes dealing with climate change and all the rest. – Professor Thomas Lovejoy, Apr 2020, from theguardian.com (Lovejoy coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980 and is often referred to as the godfather of biodiversity)

When you are looking at the coronavirus pandemic, you have to sort of think ahead and say that if the Great Depression is what gave us the rise of fascism and a certain Chancellor in Germany, what is the next Great Depression going to do to our politics? We were already moving in a populist and neo-authoritarian direction when the economy was relatively good. What happens when you have tens of millions of people who are out of work and desperate, not just economically but also politically? So people have to start thinking about the balance of risk. That’s something no one likes to contemplate because they say if you balance it in one way then people are going to suffer and people are going to die, and that is almost certainly true. But there are risks to simply pretending that we can hold our breath forever and not hurt ourselves. Right now this is a strategy out of the Vietnam War, we’re trying to destroy the village in order to save it, and I don’t remember that ending very well. – Bret Stephens, 01 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

Wow, this, this COVID-19, I tell ya. I didn’t see COVID 1 through 18, so I don’t really know, uh, what this is all about. – Patton Oswalt

The Census Bureau is now reporting that a third of Americans are showing signs of anxiety and clinical depression. And they’ve gained weight. A third of Americans are now half of Americans. – Bill Maher, 29 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

WE’VE BEEN SAYING THAT FOR YEARS!

Corona Kaba

Way back in 2012 Riaad Moosa, a South African stand-up comedian, wrote and starred in a movie about a struggling stand-up comedian (somewhat autobiographical then, one would assume). At one point in the movie, called Material, he makes the following sly observation. Remember, this is way back in 2012, back in the days when things were still “normal”…

But the French…I don’t know if you’ve heard about the French. The French wanted to ban purdah. You know the purdah [the veil]? You know? Because they think it’s about oppressing women. You know, it’s not about oppressing women. It’s about not objectifying women. I mean, you’ve never seen a Saudi version of Playboy. “Mahmood, Mahmood, check it out. Look at the naked eyes, Mahmood.” But it’s bad, huh? They ridicule our culture because they don’t understand the wisdom behind it. Like, take swine flu, for instance. All of a sudden, you had Europeans scared of pigs. We’ve been saying that for years! Europeans were so paranoid about swine flu, they were walking around airports, wearing masks. Take a look at our women. We’ve been saying that for years! – from the 2012 movie Material

Since this pandemic started way back in the month of whenever, much has been written by Muslims and non-Muslims about COVID-19 and the Muslim experience. Please find below a selection of quotes from various articles I have read over the last few months about this pandemic, all from an Islamic perspective. As always, the articles are worth reading in full, time permitting.

However, just before we get to these quotes, can I please draw your attention to a few TV programs that may be of interest. Channel 4’s Ramadan In Lockdown is a 5-part series featuring various Muslims from across the UK, including NHS workers. Each episode is only 5 minutes long. BBC Three’s My Mate’s A Muslim is a 30-minute program featuring 2 young British Muslims who each ask a non-Muslim best friend to spend one day fasting with them. With hilarious consequences! Both of these are well worth watching, especially for non-Muslims who are curious about this blessed month.

During Ramadan the BBC also aired the 2-part travel documentary Morocco To Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure. It features Alice Morrison, an Arabist and an explorer, who journeys beneath the veil along Africa’s infamous salt roads from Morocco via the Sahara Desert to the legendary city of Gold, Timbuktu. Again, well worth watching.

Finally, saving the very best till last, if you have time then please listen to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s new Ramadan lecture series called Gateway To God’s Book: Reflections On The Deep Structure Of The Qur’an. We are currently on session 5, with each session being about 45 minutes long. I have so far listened to session 1 and have been blown away by what Shaykh Hamza has said so far. Cannot wait to listen to the rest (I will insha-Allah say more on these in a later blog post).

Anyways, back to topic in hand…As best as one can given, you know, every single thing that is happening in the world right now, enjoy…

PAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN


A Ramadan And Eid In Isolation

Uzma Jalaluddin, 16 May 2020, theatlantic.com

The sense of community is what has propelled me and my family through past Ramadans. None of that is possible this year. The holy month is supposed to disrupt everyday life, but this year it has been disrupted by a worldwide calamity. Muslims globally are experiencing the strangest Ramadan ever. The feeling of togetherness that is so important during this month is difficult to replicate alone at home, but I am trying to help my family find their own special connection to this Ramadan.

Although I don’t want to go through another Ramadan like this one, the lockdown has helped me concentrate on the purpose of this month, which can get buried beneath the deep-fried food and constant socializing. At its heart, Ramadan is meant to interrupt daily life. We wake before the sun and refrain from food and drink until evening. Many people stay up late in prayer or use the spirit of Ramadan to try to give up bad habits and start better ones. As much as I enjoy the social aspect of the month, the quiet has made personal reflection easier. Many Muslims understand fasting as an act of radical empathy, our experience of hunger and thirst and fatigue a way to honor our blessings while acknowledging the plight of others less fortunate. And I’m acutely aware of the struggles of others now, during a pandemic…I realized one last thing about this holy month: Aside from the understanding that comes with fasting and working on our spiritual selves, beyond the time spent with family and friends and giving to charity, Ramadan is about becoming comfortable with loss—sitting with that loss for hours every day, willingly, surrendering to the discomfort of it.


Ramy Youssef Is Not Using Comedy To Teach You About Muslims

David Marchese, 11 May 2020, nytimes.com

Does your faith affect how you think about the pandemic?

I know I have solace in spiritual connection. What a moment like this does is make your brain so loud. You could read every article. You could listen to every podcast. So in my spiritual practice it’s like, how do I get quiet? How do I get to a place where I can just turn that off and have faith? You know, it’s funny because so many of my closest friends are comics who don’t believe in God the way I do. They’ll say it’s illogical. A lot of things are illogical! We’re dealing with a virus right now that completely turned the world around in a week, and we’re being led by a reality-TV-show star. So why couldn’t Moses part the sea? You’re telling me it’s that big of a jump?


The Coronavirus Is Empowering Islamophobes — But Exposing The Idiocy Of Islamophobia

Mehdi Hasan, 14 Apr 2020, theintercept.com

If anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest hatred, perhaps Islamophobia is the world’s weirdest. How else to explain the fact that a pandemic of global and historic proportions, a novel coronavirus that is infecting people in almost every country and territory on Earth, has been weaponized by the far right to attack…Islam and Muslims?

Here is the great irony: While anti-Muslim bigots have tried to use the coronavirus to smear and demonize Muslims, the pandemic itself has exposed the ridiculousness of anti-Muslim bigotry.

The French and Austrian governments passed bans on face masks, in 2011 and 2017 respectively, as a way of targeting, and criminalizing, the wearing of the Muslim face veil, the niqab. Today, France’s National Academy of Medicine is calling for masks to be made obligatory for anyone leaving their homes during the lockdown, while the Austrian government has made wearing face masks compulsory for anyone entering a supermarket or grocery store.

In 2018, the Danish government insisted on making new citizens shake hands at their naturalization ceremonies — a move which, as the New York Times noted at the time, was “aimed at Muslims who refuse on religious grounds to touch members of the opposite sex.”

So you might assume the Danes had dropped that mandatory handshake now, right? Wrong. According to the Times, “the government in Denmark has asked mayors to suspend naturalization ceremonies…with no exception to the handshake for those who want to become citizens.”

We may defeat the Covid-19 virus in the months ahead, but it will take much longer to defeat the disease that is Islamophobia.


The Ailment’s Elixir

Shaykh Riad Saloojee, 23 Mar 2020, almadinainstitute.org

An invisible, microscopic virus reigns sovereign over the world. The coronavirus has coronated itself king. And we are currently its subjects. We face an invasive pandemic together. In an almost unprecedented twist of fate, each of us shares the same trial.

Trials are never comfortable. They limit us physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. They push us beyond our comfort zones. Now, even the uninfected are affected: restricted from work; confined to house arrest; freedom curbed; movement impeded; emotionally constricted by anxiety and angst; our present straightened by an uncertain future.

And collectively affected: Our great, advanced political, economic, health and social institutions kneel, humbled, under the edict of a tiny, imperceptible monarch (whom many biologists consider to be non-living). Where is all our power now?

The words of the Divine in the Qur’ān are so perfectly prophetic: “…until the earth with all of its expanse became constricted to them, and their selves became constricted, and they were certain that there was no refuge from Allāh except to Him…” (9:118)

Constriction upon constriction. Is there any relief in sight? Yes. Finite constriction can be an avenue to infinite expanse. The essence of trial is its potential to lead me to the infinite expanse of Allāh’s Divine Beauty, Jamāl, through an experiential encounter with His Majesty, or Jalāl. If I look carefully, I may see: The lock has a key embedded in it.

As this trial continues, my ‘world’ – both internally and externally – is slowly constricting. Why? Because the means, causes and avenues that I rely upon with my heart are no longer reliable. I am losing my familiar foundations; and I am slowly feeling my fragility. I need Allāh more and more.

Corona in latin means a wreath or a crown. Is the coronavirus, in its deeper spiritual reality, a reflection of all we have crowned as a wakīl [a representative or trustee] in our lives apart from Him? Is it not a message from Him to me? Is He not constricting through it every passageway, except the pathway to Him? If I cannot reach the Divine’s door now, in this trial, then when?

A TIME TO DISINFECT YOUR HEART

Shaykh Hamza Smiling

Take a break from the ever-spiralling news cycle and refocus your mind back to what really matters right now, and for us Muslims that is the blessed month of Ramadan. We are now in the final third of what has been for many of us a very strange Ramadan experience. At such times to help me get back to basics I often turn to my favourite scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf who is, in my opinion, a rare scholar as his worldview is shaped equally by traditional Islamic schooling as well as modern Western academia.

Please find below a few quotes I have recently collected from the Shaykh regarding Ramadan. I should warn you that in one of the quotes below he talks about how Ramadan is an opportune time to “disinfect our hearts.” This is meant purely in a spiritual capacity and in no way shape or form is a reference to President Trump and his expert medical advice on somehow injecting disinfectant in order to rid the body of COVID-19. Please also refrain from following his other advice of somehow getting ultraviolet light into your body. In other words, do not stare directly at the sun. Anyhoo, as best as one can given, you know, all that is going on, enjoy…


In our tradition prayer, while it is communal, it is also solitary. And one of the most important prayers for spiritual development are the solitary prayers that we do, the sunnan, which are outside of the communal prayers. These are extraordinarily important for human development. And then again the taraweeh prayer, according to the Maliki school, is actually preferred in your house over doing it in the masjid, as long as there is a group doing it in the masjid, fulfilling the sunnah kifayah. So that’s an important point that Imam Malik considered, that taraweeh is better in the home as it’s free from the possibility of riyah, or the hidden shirk. So that’s something for people to contemplate. Obviously in the Hanafi madhab it’s a sunnah muakada.

It’s very important for us to remember that this is a time of tawba, of repentance, and Ramadan is really one of the most opportune times of the year to do that. So take this as a time of repentance.

This virus has reminded us of the temporality of our life on earth, that all of us everyday are facing our mortality. The Prophet said in a hadith that Imam Nawawi put as one of the foundational hadith in our tradition, that if you wake up in the morning don’t expect to go to sleep at night, and if you go to sleep at night don’t expect to wake up in the morning.

May Allah keep all of your hearts connected with those that you love and with your communities, even though your bodies are separate. The hearts can still remain connected insha-Allah.

Even though this is a great difficulty for us, many of us have been a great difficulty for the animal kingdom. And I think some of them are actually relieved, and in fact some people have made the argument that this is actually the animals revenge on us for for not being good stewards of the earth. And so it’s very important that we recollect and remind ourselves that God put us here as caretakers, not as overlords, we are caretakers of this place, and He has given us this extraordinary garden, this amazing creation, and told us to take care of it. And many of us have failed to do that, we have not been good stewards. And this is a time I think for us to really think about the trials and the tribulations that are upon us as really important signs, and maybe a message from God that we should think about the madness of modern lifestyles, and the fact that we really do need to change the way that we’ve been living. And this might be a really important wake-up call for all of us.

We were forewarned in the Quran that Allah created this world as a tribulation and a trial for us, and we will be tested. And this is certainly a big test for us in our lifetimes. May Allah give us the ability to see the wisdom in it and to see the mercy in it, and to look with the eye of rahma, the eye of mercy and compassion, and not with the eye nikma, the eye of animosity and anger.


We have been habituated to the daily rhythms and simple pleasures of our lives continuing uninterrupted by the major traumas that afflict so many in other parts of our world and that God, by His mercy, has protected us from. In the current climate, the blessings that too many of us take for granted now feel threatened by the dark cloud of coronavirus that pervades our planet. The best response is gratitude, as even in such times as these, we can discern untold blessings if we look with the eye of gratitude: “And if you enumerate the blessings of God, you will find no end” (16:18). God promises that if we are grateful, God will increase the reasons for our continued gratitude, and when we are ungrateful, God will remind us that the consequences of ingratitude are severe.

The Qur’an reminds us in many ways that tribulations will befall us, and if we respond with patience, prayer, and high moral character, we will see such afflictions as the Divine Surgeon’s knife, which excises our heedlessness and restores our hearts to health. The Prophet ﷺ said, “For some, an epidemic is a grave chastisement, for the believers, a mercy.” The Qur’an says, “For man was created anxious, unhappy when ill afflicts him, and stingy when good befalls him; except the prayerful who are constant in their prayer” (70:19–23). Indeed, sincere prayer abides as our most potent weapon against fear, panic, and despair. If anything troubled the Prophet ﷺ, he hastened to prayer. Let us recall our Prophet’s stillness in the midst of chaos and trials. He never panicked, because he knew in Whose providential care he remained.

This Ramadan, despite the disruption in our lives elicited by the virus, I urge all of us to reflect on the opportunity and the blessing in this tribulation. “Whoever places their trust in God, God will suffice” (65:3). This Qur’anic promise is as true as time. Embrace it. Live with it.

Tribulations test all of us, and we pass the test by placing our hope and trust in God alone.

We are the inheritors of a tradition of hope, and our beloved Prophet ﷺ was the most hopeful of men.


Ramadan is the time to reflect on the Qur’an and to recommit ourselves to the sacred, well-trodden path, the path of the prophets, the path of people who were closest to God. When we fast, we connect ourselves with an unbroken chain of tradition in a deep and sacred bond with every seeker of God, from the beginning of time to the end of time, to rescue ourselves and to allow ourselves to be rescued by God—that is why this is a blessed month.

Imam al-Ghazālī said the real fasting is not the fasting of the tongue or the stomach but the fasting of the heart, whereby we discipline our heart from feasting on prohibited thoughts and on doubt; despair; anxiety; and most of all, fear of losing what we have. Indeed we could lose it all, but if we have God, we haven’t lost anything. Fear and doubt and anxiety plague all of us, and Ramadan is an opportune time to discipline and disinfect our hearts. This is a month of trust in God, of letting light into our hearts. Let us make this month a time of prayer and peace, a time to recite and reflect on the Qur’an, and a time to seek refuge in God.


Sources:

“The Hearts Can Still Remain Connected”: A Ramadan Message From President Hamza Yusuf

Ramadan 2020: Letter From President Hamza Yusuf

The Zaytuna College Ramadan Reader: Fasting Of The Heart

THE CONSUMER CARNIVAL OF PRODUCT ADDICTION IS OVER

SAHM Forest

In 2019, which now feels like several lifetimes ago, the architects who designed the London Eye created a beautiful, approachable and eco-friendly new place of worship in Cambridge. The result was the new £23m mosque in Mill Road, Cambridge. According to a review in the Guardian the mosque “is the most determined attempt yet to build in a way that is of its own place and time.” It is the brainchild of Timothy Winter, also known as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, a convert to Islam who teaches at the University of Cambridge and is dean of the Cambridge Muslim College. The building has room for over 1,000 worshippers and has been funded, according to the Shaykh, by more than 10,000 donations “large and small”, from private individuals to governments such as Qatar.

The striking interior of the mosque has large engineered timber columns in the main prayer hall which, according to the architects, owes something to the internal stone forest of the great mosque of Cordoba. And it is from this great spiritual forest that the Shaykh has been delivering his Ramadan Moments, a series of short lectures designed to help us spiritually through these difficult times. There have been two such lectures so far, the first on the 24th of April, and the second on the 1st of May. Both lectures are presented below, along with a selection of quotes.

Prior to these two lectures, way back on the 7th of April, the Shaykh shared his views on the pandemic that has swept across all aspects of mankind and human existence. This lecture is also presented below, again with a selection of quotes. There are common themes that run through all three speeches, such as sticking to our spiritual paths in difficult times, and re-evaluating our relationship with wealth and consumerism.

In total the three lectures will take up no more than an hour of your time and, let’s be honest, since you’re not exactly going anywhere right now because, you know, of all that is going on, it is worth spending an engaging hour in the company of a Muslim scholar as erudite and as learned as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad. As much as one can in these bizarrest of circumstances, enjoy!


A Perspective On The Pandemic…

The consumer carnival, the Mardi Gras of our product-addicted age, is over; this feels like some kind of morning-after, a hangover. We used to reach happily for the goods in the shops, which shone and sparkled before our entranced and childish eyes. Now we hesitate and touch gingerly, reluctantly, as though touching the skin of a corpse; I press the keys on the ATM, wondering if my hands, instruments of so much heedless taking in past years, are now carriers of my own demise. A twenty-pound note, the most recent banknote to be plasticised, may be a filthy lucre which can kill us; we want to sanitise it; the thrill of wealth is over.

The world is fasting, in a certain way, this is an imsak of capitalism, whose Belshazzar’s Feast has abruptly broken up; as for the daytime visitor to the stunned city centre, much is off-limits; as a Ramadan hadith tells us, the devils are chained, sufidat al-shayatin. The wary shoppers are interested not in nice things but in survival; old habits of absentminded browsing seem absurd. Our Prime Minister, baring his hedonist’s soul, has closed the bookshops but kept the off-licenses open; but even they do not seem to be busy. Many people are polite and caring, but everyone is chastened, subdued, sober, watchful.

So Heaven has given us to live in interesting times; we are entering the gravest global crisis in many decades; and it is right for Muslims to reflect, taking advantage of these newly long and quiet days. But before we do so, let us self-quarantine from the panicky and sensational media, let us click away and block up our ears against the second-rate fumbling politicians; let us look from our windows upon the eerie emptiness of the streets, and consider what God might mean by this.

Even the atheist brain knows ours for a time of hubris: we madly ravage and violate nature and walk upon the moon; every other species cringes from us as ecosystems die; our gamed financial system is increasingly parasitical upon the poor. From our human perspective COVID-19 is an infection which disorders our world; but seen from the world’s perspective humanity itself has, over the past age, become a still more deadly disease: like a fungus or a hookworm we suck the blood of the host, multiplying insanely until the ecosystem itself, the planet which we vampirize, starts to sicken and die. Bani Adam, released from the natural restraints urged by religion, has itself become a disease, in its planning and its wisdom no more intelligent than a microbe. We have become a Qarun-virus.

And now God’s world is paying us back with this invisible miasma which makes us afraid even to inhale. Putin and Trump, masters of nuclear arsenals, are staggering back from its influence, discovering, perhaps, the Naqshbandi rule of khush dar dam, mindfulness in every breath. So small an enemy to have overthrown our world: too tiny to see, the corona literally a crown: this microscopic flimsy protein, this almost nothing, is now king of the world.

In this divine irony we remember old fables in the mouse and the elephant genre. The Holy Prophet, whose entire message is a challenge to the love of dunya and fear of death, was born in the Year of the Elephant; how often we repeat that sura, as though it were a nursery rhyme: but Abraha the tyrant remains a perennial symbol of the arrogance which seeks to displace the things of God: the Sira writers tell us that the birds which rained clay pellets upon him and his army also brought a disease, so that their flesh started to rot on their bones while they still lived. It was a kind of terrible Ebola, eating them alive. Faja’alahum ka-asfin ma’kul.

Microbes, then, which are part of the symphony of the world’s balanced ecosystem, also belong to the army of God. At times they serve us through the Divine names al-Razzaq, al-Latif: our stomachs and intestines are crawling with them, and without them we could not digest our dinners; on the land they then break down dead matter and return it to the soil; they limit populations naturally, maintaining the balance, mizan, of creation, in which every species has the right to its space. But at other times, no less necessary for the balance, they serve the Divine names al-Qahhar and al-Muntaqim, the Compeller, the Avenger, and thus did Allah use them to strike down the oligarch Abraha and his elephant, his commandos and his marines.

Allah says that He is with the poor and broken-hearted: ana ‘inda’l-munkasirati qulubuhum. The Qur’an makes us uneasy with its uncompromising prophetic arguments against status, pride and the hoarding of wealth. The sharia, with its zakat and its inheritance laws, aims to break up fortunes, smashing them with the hammer of God’s justice; by contrast the parasitic modern schemes of homo economicus have led to a historically unequalled hoarding of wealth by the global one percent.

The smallest creatures can overthrow the proudest human hubris. And in our time it is the virus that wears the crown, and the mighty who are helpless and humbled. Look at the politicians across Europe who have persecuted the honourable traditions of Islam: it is they, now, who are forced to wear the niqab.

Terrors about death and a love of abundance are more the sunna of Nimrod and Pharoah; they are the way of Abu Jahl, not that of the Seal of the Messengers; as the poets say, they reflect the materialism of the donkey, not of the Jesus who rides it. Our modern attitudes to death are very unrealistic, evasive and stressful: atheist beliefs, which have themselves spread like a virus thanks to the unclean matter which has accumulated in our hearts, persuaded many that clinical death is the end of ourselves. As the Qur’an describes such people, in Surat al-Jathiyah: “They say, it is only our life of this world, we were dead, and we live, and only Time kills us.”

Such people are tragically terrified of death; in fact, this forms the major terrorism which dismays humanity in our age: the wicked threat of a meaningless and eternal nothingness. In the old Arabia the jahili Arabs had no confidence in life after death; but the Man of Praise, in his saddest moment of confronting them, was told: “the next world shall be better for you than this”. And in Surat al-A’la: “you prefer this worldly life, but the next life is better and more permanent.”

Death is a normal and natural part of our frail human reality, and its decree proceeds from an inexorable Divine name al-Mumit, the Slayer. Premodern humanity saw it on every hand, and knew how to cope; rituals helped a good deal, but even more healing was the awareness of the Divine wisdom and mercy. So the Man of Praise said, remarkably: “tuhfat al-mu’min al-mawt”, the precious gift to the believer is death; because he or she moves on from this disappointing world to the world of pure mercy and meaning. True, the Holy Prophet also tells us not to hope for death, “let none of you hope for death”, for our ending is to be by His decree, not our preference. We simply accept it calmly as an entire expression of the Divine wisdom.

This is one reason, no doubt, why believers enjoy better mental health outcomes than atheists; a 2013 Daily Telegraph article, noting the intrinsicality of religious belief to human beings, proposed that atheism itself should be classed as a mental illness. But it is a widespread infection, with ugly psychological symptoms, and in modern Britain this is showing. The monstrous cruelty of atheist beliefs is revealed never more sharply than by the suffering of relatives as they receive the news that a loved one has died in an ICU. A void replaces a soul; there are no timeless rituals; there is not the glimmering of hope.

Islam is quintessentially the religion of submission: not only to God’s amr taklifi: the commandments of sharia, but His amr takwini: His command which shapes every event in the world, including the command which says that we must die. Ours is pre-eminently and proudly the religion of tawakkul, of rida, of taslim.

Thus the wali, the truly Muslim person, is of those whom “la khawfun ‘alayhim wa-la hum yahzanun”: they fear not, neither do they sorrow. For God has commanded us to say: “lan yusibana illa ma kataba’Llahu lana”: nothing will afflict us other than what God has written for us.

So we mourn our dead, and this is a natural and a healing reflex; and we believe in medicine; but we do not panic. Death is a natural part of the glorious system of God’s universe, with its cycles of birth, growth, flourishing fertility, and death, a creation which contains jalal as well as jamal, rigour as well as beauty. As Ibrahim Haqqi, the Turkish poet, writes:

What comes from Thee is good for me,

The rose’s blossom, or the rose’s thorn,

A robe of honour, or my deathly shroud,

Good is Thy gentleness; good is Thy rigour.

The current khawf and huzn, this epidemic of fear and sorrow, which are paralysing our supposedly blasé and sophisticated world, are not only about death however, but about the frailties and precariousness of dunya as well. The FTSE all-share index has dropped through the floor: thirty-five percent in the red, and counting; unemployment is growing ten times as fast as it did after the 2008 financial crisis; businesses are folding and dying. The poor and helpless, on zero-hours contracts and gig economy jobs, are already facing hunger. This will fall heavily on our community: tandoori restaurants and taxi businesses are very vulnerable; failed asylum seekers and the visa-less can even be denied healthcare. As usual the weakest and the poorest suffer most; but this is Ishmael’s fate: we live on the wrong side of the Gaza wall. Again, we reflect that in an age of spiralling inequalities and titanic arrogance, God is always with the weak, the hungry and the despised; the Holy Prophet himself prayed to be resurrected among the destitute.

We need our basics from dunya, we have the right to our qut, our daily bread. But the mad love of consumption which has become modern man’s lethal addiction is hateful to Heaven. The Qur’an says, “Know that the life of this world is only a game and play, and adornment, and boasting among you. And the life of this world is only the enjoyment of beguilement.”

Our product-addiction is murdering Mother Earth; hence our idea that humanity is itself a disease killing its planetary host: we are all the Qarun-virus. But it is killing our souls and our societies as well. The believer is not much given to shopping, although she or he takes pleasure in treating guests well; the Holy Prophet’s home was so simple that his door was not made of wood, but of a simple length of sackcloth. Kun fi’d-dunya ka’annaka gharibun aw abira sabil, he says: “Be in this world as though a stranger or a traveller”.

So the believer, in isolation, is further from dunya, there is a detachment, and he revives some of the key benefits of khalwa or ‘uzla, remembering the possibility of experiencing clear-heartedness when distractions and worldly pleasures are at arm’s length: the Blessed Virgin saw the angel when she was on her own in the desert, and the same angel came to the Best of Creation when he was alone, yatahannath, in the Cave of Hira.

Our moment, then, is an opportunity to reactivate the honourable and richly-rewarding Islamic customs of khalwa and ‘uzla and I’tikaf. Perhaps, if Mr Hancock’s predictions of an unlocking at the end of April come true, it will be a forty-day retreat. Literally, a true quarantine, an arba’in, a chilla. During this time the atheist materialist world will be suffering from boredom, fear and financial anxiety: its dilemma is clear: either leave people in their homes, or revive the economy: the fear of death and the fear of poverty are two agitated giants clashing in their hearts.

To the extent that we have internalised our Islam, we will not suffer much from such clashes or from such fears. The future belongs to Allah, not to man; all is His, and we travel into it as He decrees.

For many people, the confinement is irksome and the purity of spiritual concentration seems like an unrealistic hope: children fight and need exercise, we miss our friends, and, this the greatest pain, in Ramadan we are likely to miss the timeless majesty of our Tarawih prayers. Our hearts miss the mosques, and in this distance we learn how much we need the beautiful and healing forms of our practices, and we realise also with sorrow how impoverished must be the life of the Godless.

But Islam has no priesthood and no consecrated churches; the Chosen One tells us that one of the khasa’is, the special characteristics, of his Umma is that “the whole earth has been made a mosque for me”. In almost every home there is someone who can lead the prayer, even in a basic way; the fasting can proceed in a fully Sharia-valid manner; our zakat al-fitr can still be paid: Islam is entirely doable in our seclusion.

So let us relearn the traditions of seclusion, ‘uzla. And let us not waste time, but seize the opportunity. We can read books more than we ever did before: Ni’ma’l-anisu kitabu, in fataka’l-ashabu. “How good a friend is a book, when friends are unavailable.”

In times of fitna, particularly amid the seditions and sorrows of the end-times, the Prophetic instruction is, firstly, to break your swords: “wa’dribu bi-suyufikum al-hijara”, and to become a piece of furniture in your house: “kun hilsan min ahlasi baytik”. The intention should be to avoid the distractions of the tumultuous outside world: in many countries, for instance, the temptations of the treacherous glance in the underdressed summer months, the risks of improper conversations, of backbiting and slander, or pointless shopping expeditions and extravagant restaurant meals; but our imams, including Imam al-Ghazali, emphasise that the intention must primarily be to keep others safe from our own evils, not to be safe from theirs. By self-isolating, we avoid infecting other people with our bad habits and our poor adab. We now inflict less harm upon the world.

We were all running too fast after dunya, and we need to stop, and draw breath for a while.

And we will pray that the mighty will be humbled, that the dead hand of materialism will be lifted from a frantic and greedy and stressed Bani Adam, and that this be a time of tawba and reflection and return to Haqq not only for the Umma, but for all of humanity, which has suffered from its own sins for too long, and craves the merciful guiding restoration of its heart, by the grace of Heaven.


Ramadan Moments 1 – Straight…

It’s like the two shahadas. La-ilaha-il-Allah Muhammad-ur-rasool-Allah. “There is no god but God.” What should I do about that? The sunnah. Follow the holy prophet, sal-lal-lahu-alayhi-wa-alihi-wa-salam.

We get distracted, that’s our nature. It is said the reason why man is called insaan is because he is full of nissian, forgetfulness. This is one interpretation, poetic perhaps, of what the name of man means. We forget, and we remember, and we forget, and we remember, and we forget that Allah and His grace gives us lots of times and opportunities and days and months to go back to Him.

The believer is between fear and hope. Fear and hope are like the two wings of a bird. If they’re balanced the bird travels, it goes right, in a balanced way. So we have to have fear as well as hope. Life is not just about enjoying the pasture, life is all about having a direction. You’re not always going to be in this field where you’re munching the grass happily. You came in through a gate, you’re going out through another gate. That’s the iron rule of life for Bani Adam and for every living thing. You came in through a gate, you’re going out through another gate. So don’t spend too much time just thinking this pasture and this joyful munching is going to go on forever.

This is the nature of Bani Adam, that we have these two enormous impulses, just as we have these two enormous spiritual principles within us. There’s the nafs, which is gravitational, animalistic, it wants to go down, subject to the laws of gravity, and it is interested in every possible way the endorphin circuits of the brain might be tickled. Any pleasure and it’ll be really interested in it, like a dog that looks excitedly in the direction of anything that smells good. That’s us. But there’s also this ruh, this spirit, which is from the divine breathing in, insufflation. Adam had the divine spirit breathed into it…The lower self, the nafs, doesn’t really have a direction, it goes this way and that just like any instinct or creature. It goes where ever the pleasure seems to be greater. The goat goes for whatever looks tastiest. That’s us…So we have these two dimensions within us, the one which is going this way and that…The ego is like a fox, it is slimy, it wants to get out of difficulties, it wants to tell fibs in order to extricate itself, it twists and turns, it is devious. But the spirit, what we truly are, the ruh, which remembers the day of alas-tu-bi-rabi-kum, just wants to go straight back, straight for the light.


Ramadan Moments 2 – Own Your Wealth…

The Holy Prophet says, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, “If a man were to have a whole valley full of gold, he would want to have a second valley full of gold. But at the end only dust will fill his mouth.” Another of our deep problems as human beings is this hubbul-maal, this love of wealth. It’s no coincidence that some of the very first verses of the Holy Quran to be revealed were condemnations of this human sleepy acquisition of stuff. A futile exercise because the more we have the more we tend to want.

Al-haku-mut-ta-ka-thur. “Rivalry in worldly increase has distracted you.” There’s three important lessons in those two words, not just the problematic nature of wanting worldly increase, but the fact that we compete with each other. “This guy’s got a billion, I want to have two billion or I can’t sleep.”

And then the fact that al-hakum, “it distracts you.” Hat-ta-zur-tu-mul-ma-kay-bir, “until you go to the graves.” All of these people, at the very last moments of their lives, are still checking the FTSE and the Dow Jones, just to see what’s happening to their fortune. They can’t see the dark mouth of death yawning in front of them, waiting to swallow them whole. But this is how we are, but at the end only dust will fill our mouths.

The Holy Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, says in a hadith Qudsi, “Oh son of Adam, do you own any of your wealth, except for something which you end up eating and you pass it on (you pass it away, it goes through you, it’s no longer yours, you destroy it)? Or you wear it and you wear it out? Or you give it in sadaqa and make it eternal?” This is the irony. We think “If I give ten pounds to the Cambridge Muslim College, I’ll be ten pounds poorer.” Nope! Actually, you’re poorer if you hold on to it because it’s not going to go with you into the grave. But the sadaqat, the investments, the deposits, in the eternal bank, this transaction which never diminishes, this hisaab, this account which is the account of the akhira. The believer knows this and with an expression of pain perhaps he produces his zakat, when he can, as much as he can, and his sadaqa, and his lilla, and his zakatul-fitr. But there’s an element of pain, which is foolish because he’s actually liable to lose these things. He may not even enjoy them himself if he walks around during his life, with all of these coins jingling in his pocket. What should he do? Put them in the bank. But not the bank of this corporation or that corporation that may or may not, in the current reckless world of casino capital and financial freefall, go on. But instead the only bank which, once the deposit has been made with a “Bismillah,” will keep it for eternity and will yield dividends eternally. That’s intelligence, that’s wisdom.

This condemnation of al-haku-mut-ta-ka-thur was from the very beginning of revelation, but is absolutely appropriate to our time now. And Islam is the religion that says give and give and give…Give, give, give. We are people who are muta-sad-diqeen, who give.

The holy Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was more generous and swift in giving, doing good, then the wind let loose. In other words, there’s no hisaab, there’s no calculation, he just gives and gives and gives because he’s not afraid of poverty.

We like to have those coins jingling in our pockets. There’s a story that says that when the first gold and silver coins were minted, created when somebody first had this idea, Iblees raised them and put them to his eyes and kissed them and said “Whoever loves you is in reality my slave, my servant.”

The age of wealth has become the age of loneliness as well. But ours is not the ummah of loneliness, ours is the ummah of solidarity, ummah-tul-wahida, a single ummah, and we are to be an exemplary community to show how human beings can and should be together, in solidarity, in cooperation, in sharing, not in hoarding but in sharing, in giving. We are to be open handed people.

May Allah make us people of giving, people who are not misers, people who are open hearted and open handed, an example to an increasingly lonely and selfish and self-centred age.