American dream CNN

For reasons I can’t explain I have recently been reading a number of articles about the American dream. Given the chaotic political and social situation in America over the last few years there has been a deluge of writing on this topic and, with the chaos set to rise further and given that it is July 4th, American independence day, such articles will continue to be written unabated. Interestingly, pretty much all of these articles talk about the imminent death or the slow decline of this most cherished of American ideals. The American Dream, this mantra of self-improvement that has driven the US through its glory days, is now looking, according to many, decidedly tarnished.

Initially conceived of by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the American dream is ingrained deep into the American psyche. It has been talked about by Martin Luther King Jr in his 1963 Letter From A Birmingham Jail. Playwright Arthur Miller refers to the fruitless pursuit of it in his seminal play Death Of A Salesman. Even Barack Obama used the phrase in 2006 when, as a then US Senator, he wrote a best-selling memoir called The Audacity Of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream. If Obama’s book is an endearing narrative of hope then books such as Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles Of Concentration Of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky, and American Dream, Global Nightmare by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, both present a much darker alternative.

Barack Dream

The world of literary fiction also plays on the American dream theme. Recent examples include the brilliant Exit West by the Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, and The Golden House by controversial writer Salman Rushdie. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Rushdie commented that:

There’s not much left of the American dream. If you live in New York, the recent issues and politics are so alarming. It doesn’t feel like a city on a hill or a New Jerusalem. – Salman Rushdie, Jun 2018

Perhaps the best literary example of the American dream in fiction came in 1925 when F Scott Fitzgerald wrote his classic novel The Great Gatsby. Set in 1922 the novel is about the breakdown of the ideals behind the American dream. There are few books that capture the pursuit of, and utter disenchantment with, the American Dream as well as The Great Gatsby, so much so that the book has been adapted for the stage hundreds of times all over the world, and it has also been turned into major Hollywood movies. Gatsby has been played on the big screen by Robert Redford in 1974 and more recently by Leonardo Di Caprio in 2013.

There are plenty of other major Hollywood movies that have the American dream as a central plot line, movies such as Citizen Kane, American Beauty, The Godfather, Rocky, Bonnie And Clyde, Wall Street, Titanic, Idiocracy, and The Hunger Games, to name just a few. And musicians such as Childish Gambino also rely heavily on this notion, with various subtle comments being made about the American dream in his controversial music video This Is America, something that caused a bit of an online stir earlier this year.

Stand ups also rely on the American dream for material. The legendary American comedian George Carlin famously said that “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it,” a sentiment also made by the British comedian Al Murray:

I love Americans. You’re beautiful people. I love them. I love Americans because the world needs people like Americans because you’re dreamers. You’re dreamers because you’ve got that AMERICAN DREAM! The American dream! You’re an American dreamer dreaming the American dream. Now, the fact is that we don’t ever dream in Great Britain. We don’t. There is no British dream. This isn’t because we lack some sort of sense of moral purpose. This isn’t because we haven’t got a sense of guiding destiny taking us towards a better tomorrow. No! We don’t have a dream in this country because we’re awake! It’s that simple. – Al Murray

I also found a short but interesting clip featuring the American Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj with his take on the American dream:

Politicians have also spoken about the American dream. Richard Nixon, in his first inaugural address in January 1969, famously said that “The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.” And if talk of the American dream was good enough for that scoundrel then it’s good enough for the scoundrel Trump. Trump has used the idea of the American dream to propel himself to the highest office in the land. There is even a 4-part Netflix documentary series released earlier this year called Trump: An American Dream. Documentaries tend to humanise their subjects, even if they paint them in an unflattering light. This series, however, paints a grim picture indeed as it reads more like a supervillain origin story instead of something more humanising.

American dream Netflix

One can argue that the origin took place in June 2015 when Trump descended a golden elevator and announced his bid for presidency. In the subsequent speech he made there were many crazy sentences uttered, including the following:

Sadly, the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again. – Donald Trump, 16 Jun 2015

True to his word he has indeed brought this great American institution back to life, according to himself anyway. Some 18 months after declaring its death, Trump announced the glorious rebirth by tweeting the following in early 2017:

And, as if to hammer home this point, in June of this year vice president Mike Pence, speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, said:

After eight years of the Obama nightmare, president Trump has renewed the American dream. After eight years of a static economy, stagnant wages and being told that no growth is the new normal, this president kick-started a great American come back. After eight years of retreat, America’s advancing because president Donald Trump has restored American strength at home and abroad. – Mike Pence, Jun 2018

A quick Google News search of the term “American dream” will reveal dozens of articles recently written by various academics, historians, social commentators, and journalists, all of them putting forward their propositions as to why there appears to be a decline in this national ethos.

I find it intriguing that we live in such an advanced technological age, with America arguably the most advanced nation on earth. But yet tens of millions of Americans still seem to suffer such personal ailments as anxiety, depression, substance addiction, and mental health issues. Why is this paradox the case? I guess if you really want to know what is going on in America at the ground level then the following articles will hopefully provide some much needed valuable insight. As always selected quotes are presented and the articles are worth reading in full. As much as one can given the subject matter, enjoy!

American dream game

An Autopsy Of The American Dream

Sean Illing, 28 Jun 2018,

A conversation with “Tailspin: The People And Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall–And Those Fighting To Reverse It” author Steven Brill.

Sean Illing…

Over the past 50 years, lots of things have changed in the United States. Here are a few examples.

1) A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent.

2) Earnings by the top 1 percent of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

3) Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs.

4) Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry.

5) Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.

These facts, and many others, are cataloged in a new book by Steven Brill about America’s gradual decline over the last half-century. Brill has been writing about class warfare in the US since 2011, and the picture he paints is as depressing as it is persuasive. The book argues the people with the most advantages in the American economy have used that privilege to catapult themselves ahead of everyone else, and then rigged the system — to cement their position at the top, and leave the less fortunate behind. I spoke to Brill about how this came to pass, why the American dream has vanished, and what it will take to undo the damage that’s been done.

Steven Brill…

The key distinction in the book is between the protected and the unprotected classes. Why is this so important in American society? I think it’s a much more relevant distinction than saying people are Democrats or Republicans, or that they’re conservatives or liberals. The unprotected are all the people in this country who rely on the government in some way to provide for the common good. They actually need public education to be good because that provides opportunity to their children. They need mass transit. They need a fair tax code. They need someone to answer the phone at the Social Security Administration when they get their Social Security check.

And what’s happened over the last three or four years is that big swaths of the unprotected people in this country have gotten very frustrated and angry that basically nothing is working for them — whether it’s the economy, or the highways, or the power grid, or the tax code, or job training programs, or public education, or health care. They basically have the sense that the government’s responsibility to provide for the common good is gone. It’s evaporated. This is why they reacted, or at least 46 percent of them reacted, the way they did in the 2016 election, which was really an effect of severe frustration — “Let’s just elect this guy who’s promising all this stuff. He seems really unconventional, but at least he says exactly what’s on his mind. Let’s try this.”

And the protected class? Well, they’re the “winners” in our system who don’t need a good system of public education because their kids go to private school, who don’t care about mass transit because they can afford to drive anywhere, and they don’t need public health care because they can pay for private coverage. In short, they’re not invested in the common good because they’re protected, and the system is rigged to keep them that way.

The core promise of the American dream has always been that you can do better than your parents. “If you work hard and you play by the rules,” as Bill Clinton used to say, “you can make it in this country.” For a large swath of the country, the majority of the country, that’s just not true anymore.

In many cases, the people doing the most damage aren’t breaking any laws or consciously trying to hurt anyone else. They’re simply doing what they were told to do — go to prestigious law schools, get a job at a prestigious law firm, and make lots of money. But the end result of what they’ve done is increase the gap between the protected and the unprotected, and to create a country that is more unequal and less fair.

I think we need to redirect our old values. The values that were hijacked — the First Amendment, due process, meritocracy, the financial and legal engineering — they need to be redirected to undo some of the damage that’s been done. We have to demand leaders in Washington and state capitals who unite us, who will tell the frustrated middle class that they have more in common with the poor than with the protected class. If we can’t do these things, we’re in trouble.

I conceived the book as an autopsy of the “American dream” when I started, but I also realized that there was another part of the story. In the course of trying to collect all the facts for the autopsy, I started talking to the people who were tackling campaign finance or infrastructure or income inequality, and I realized that there were a lot of people out there doing really important work, really good work. So yes, things are very bad, but the patient isn’t quite dead yet — there are some cures that are still possible.

Suicides Have Increased. Is This An Existential Crisis?

Dr Clay Routledge, 23 Jun 2018,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released startling new statistics on the rise of deaths by suicide in the United States, which are up 25 percent since 1999 across most ethnic and age groups. These numbers clearly point to a crisis — but of what kind?

Many argue that this is a crisis of mental health care, that people are not getting the services they need. The proposed solution is better therapies, more effective antidepressants and greater access to treatment.

This assessment may be correct. However, the suicide rate has increased even as more people are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, and even as treatment for those conditions has become more widely available. An additional explanation seems to be needed.

As a behavioral scientist who studies basic psychological needs, including the need for meaning, I am convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness. Fully addressing it will require an understanding of how recent changes in American society — changes in the direction of greater detachment and a weaker sense of belonging — are increasing the risk of existential despair.

Like other organisms, humans are in the survival and reproduction game. We have a strong orientation to live — that is, to avoid death. However, the neurological machinery that has helped us survive has also rendered us distinctively ruminative. Our capacity to reflect on ourselves, to think about the past and the future and to engage in abstract thought has given us access to some uncomfortable truths: We know that we and everyone we care about will age, become frailer and die. We recognize that life is uncertain. We understand that pain and sorrow are part of our destiny. What is the point of it all?

In order to keep existential anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable.

Empirical studies bear this out. A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and — yes — suicide. And when people experience loss, stress or trauma, it is those who believe that their lives have a purpose who are best able to cope with and recover from distress.

How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? There are many paths, but the psychological literature suggests that close relationships with other people are our greatest existential resource. Regardless of social class, age, gender, religion or nationality, people report that the life experiences they find most personally meaningful typically involve loved ones.

Critically, studies indicate that it isn’t enough to simply be around or even liked by other people. We need to feel valued by them, to feel we are making important contributions to a world that matters. This helps explain why people can feel lonely and meaningless even if they are regularly surrounded by others who treat them well: Merely pleasant or enjoyable social encounters aren’t enough to stave off despair.

All of which brings us to the changing social landscape of America. To bemoan the decline of neighborliness, the shrinking of the family and the diminishing role of religion may sound like the complaining of a crotchety old man. Yet from the standpoint of psychological science, these changes, regardless of what you otherwise think about them, pose serious threats to a life of meaning.

Consider that Americans today, compared with those of past generations, are less likely to know and interact with their neighbors, to believe that people are generally trustworthy and to feel that they have individuals they can confide in. This is a worrisome development from an existential perspective: Studies have shown that the more people feel a strong sense of belongingness, the more they perceive life as meaningful. Other studies have shown that lonely people view life as less meaningful than those who feel strongly connected to others.

Something similar is at stake in the decreasing size of the family. Americans today are waiting longer to marry and have children, and are having fewer children. This may be a desirable state of affairs for many people (though evidence suggests that American women are having fewer children than they want). Nonetheless, researchers have found that adults with children are more focused on matters of meaning than are adults who do not have children, and that parents experience a greater sense of meaningfulness when they are engaged in activities that involve taking care of children.

As for religion, which has long provided the institutional and social scaffolding for a life of meaning, it, too, is in steep decline. Americans these days, especially young adults, are less likely to identify with a religious faith, attend church or engage in other religious practices. But as my research has shown, the sense of meaningfulness provided by religion is not so easily replicated in nonreligious settings: When Americans abandon traditional houses of worship, they increasingly search for alternative religious-like experiences (including those involving ideas about ghosts or space aliens) in order to feel as if they are part of something larger and more meaningful than their brief mortal lives.

There is even reason to think that America’s existential crisis may be contributing to our rancorous political divisions. Studies show that when presented with existentially threatening ideas (such as reminders of their mortality), people respond with increased bias toward their own worldview, particularly if they are not finding meaning in their life through other sources. In this way, our fractious political culture may be fueled not just by ideological disagreement, but also by a desperate search, common to all lost souls, to find meaning anywhere we can.

The Fading American Dream May Be Behind Rise In US Suicides

Andy Coghlan, 27 Jun 2018,

Shrinking life chances plus lack of a social safety net may have left middle-aged Americans more vulnerable to suicide than peers in other rich nations.

Sobering statistics published earlier this month show that the annual rate of suicide in the US has risen by almost 28 per cent between 1999 and 2016. A number of explanations have been put forward, including the 2008 economic crash, the upsurge in addiction to opioid painkillers and the migration of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But none alone explains why the suicide rate is rising so fast in the US as it falls in other rich countries. Is something uniquely American at work?

One of the key drivers could be the American dream itself – the idea that you can work hard and climb out of poverty. A growing mismatch between the life expectations this brings and the increasingly bleak reality for many US citizens could lead to hardship. This may be particularly felt by middle-aged white Americans, who have the highest suicide rates and the steepest rises. The American dream is deeply ingrained, but it no longer seems to be true for working class, middle-aged people.

Unlike the US, governments of rich nations such as Finland, France and Belgium promote healthcare through non-medical support, including housing, education and social insurance. “The US spends plenty, but we spend differently,” says Laudan Aron at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

This rejection of the state and the prioritising of individual rights, no matter the potential costs, runs right through US culture. It explains why people in the US are more likely to indulge in risky behaviours such as overeating and gun-related activity, and tend to defy safety-based but restrictive norms such as wearing seatbelts. So could this attitude also be behind US suicide rates?

Deborah Stone of the CDC agrees it may have played a part. “It is possible that the culture around individualism and stigma around seeking help does leave people vulnerable, perhaps more so than in other Western countries.”



Trump Time Cover.jpg

There is so much in the world to get angry and upset about. Don’t worry, I will resist my usual temptation to come up with a comprehensive list that just depresses both writer and reader. With so much going on it can be hard to know what makes it to the top of your righteous indignation list, at which point up steps Trump and says “Hold my beer.”

El Presidente has done many horrible things since coming to power, but separating kids from their parents, in many cases for months on end, is arguably the worst. It was horrible to see pictures of kids crying as they were being taken away from their mums and dads. So, in a perhaps pathetic attempt to try and serve some sort of karmic justice, please find below 17 recently collated humorous quotes about Trump. Some of the comedians featured below have come up with rather cutting insights into Trump and what makes him tick. Enjoy!

Trump Care

Democracy in the US is so corrupted by money that it is no longer recognisable as democracy…The problem is not, as Trump claims, that the election will be stolen by ballot rigging. It is that the entire electoral process is stolen from the American people before they get anywhere near casting their votes. When Trump claims that the little guy is being screwed by the system, he’s right. The only problem is that he is the system. – George Monbiot

Do you think in his experience he’s ever been with a woman where he has seen a sincere look on their face of desire for him? That status will feel very, very empty after a while. And every testimony—like Stormy Daniels’s—they’re all like, “Trust me. I was not into this guy.” They always make it very clear that they’re not attracted to this guy. After a while, that has to take a psychological toll where you’re like, “I’m worth billions of dollars, but every woman who’s ever been on record about me has talked about how disgusting and gross it was and how they had to basically muscle through their revulsion to be with me.” That has gotta just grind at him. – Patton Oswalt, Jun 2018

Trump will be the world’s first crowdfunded assassination. Trump, an anthropomorphized kneecap peeking out from under a marmalade croupiers visor, with the diet of a pub bin, more personal issues than Batman, and the muscle tone of a coma patient. I suppose the only thing that has stopped him from being assassinated is the suspicion that he could take several bullets to the head and keep talking. – Frankie Boyle, May 2018

I don’t necessarily think that people that voted for Trump are paying attention to what he’s actually doing with regards to issues. I think that they’re just focusing on the latest outrage cycle. – Natasha Bertrand, Jun 2018

I don’t want to call Trump retarded. Retarded is not a nice word to say anymore. But I will say he seems like the kind of guy that pets cats too hard. – Tamer Kattan

I have always said about the Trump people that there’s two things they hate: being called a racist and black people. – Bill Maher, Jun 2018

I think one of the peculiar and unexpected gifts of Trump is that he has taught a lot of people to understand the preciousness of truth. – David Frum

I’m in a dysfunctional relationship with Trump. The more weed I smoke, the more paranoid he gets. There’s something wrong there. – Bill Maher, May 2018

Satirists are struggling in the time of Trump because the president does their job for them. Normally satire is something where you can take something that is true and then you bend it and twist it and exaggerate it until it becomes absurd – but that’s what Trump does in every sentence that he speaks. He’s a self-basting satirist. He is his own joke. The comedians that seem most effective at skewering Trump’s intention are those that act like journalists, such as John Oliver. – Armando Iannucci

The family of Osama bin Laden is a very prominent family in Saudi Arabia. They built Saudi Arabia. They were the construction company that built it. But Osama went crazy. He went that way and the family went this way. He was mad at Saudi Arabia and he was mad at his family, so he went a little cuckoo. And if you think about the breakdown of Osama bin Laden, he is very similar to Trump. He is the spoiled brat billionaire son of a developer who’s mad at everybody. – Russell Peters

There’s something very sick but pleasurable in seeing Trump scream and yell to his MAGA followers, “We’re boycotting the NFL! These guys that are kneeling…” It’s like, these poor people. You’re taking away their health care and jobs, and then you’re telling them, “And the thing you enjoy every Sunday just to get you through the week, I can’t have you watching that because my feelings are hurt.” It’s a level of “I need you guys to be in misery all the time. I’m only happy if I know that you’re being offered zero relief.” – Patton Oswalt, Jun 2018

To paraphrase the old Marx brothers joke…you look and act like a vulgar clown, but this should not deceive us, you really are a vulgar clown. – Slavoj Zizek, referring to Trump

Trump has got so much compacted meat in his colon that when he takes a shit it’s technically an abortion. – Frankie Boyle

Trump is like a pumpkin having a nervous breakdown. He’s like a corrupt tele-evangelist that Columbo would have as a baddie. – Frankie Boyle

Trump is someone who has not felt pleasure in a very, very long time. He is angry all the time. And so in a weird way that’s the world he wants everyone living in, where he can go to sleep at night at least knowing, “Everyone is as miserable as me, and is feeling just as little pleasure and relief, and is being given no breathing room. At least I can sleep knowing that.” – Patton Oswalt, Jun 2018

Trump thinks the media hates HIM?! One time an Iraqi reporter threw an actual shoe at me. He took it off his foot and lobbed it straight at my noggin. Then he gathered himself, took off the other one and tried it again. But you know what they say: shoe me once, shoes on you, shoe me twice, I’m keeping those shoes. – George W Bush (as played by Will Ferrell), 27 Jan 2018, from a sketch on Saturday Night Live

You can actually make your own Trump policies by going through the incinerator at the Daily Mail and picking through the dust for anything they thought might get them prosecuted. – Frankie Boyle



As always the Islamic world is a mix of contradictions and complexities. There is plenty for Muslims to be down about. Problems exist in Palestine, Kashmir, Yemen, Syria, and in many other parts of the Muslim world. Car and suicide bombings continue to wreak havoc in Afghanistan and other places too. Trump is still insisting on his Muslim travel ban, and Islamophobia is still rising in the Western world, as witnessed recently by the state of rampant Islamophobia in the British Conservative party.

However, this is also the time of Eid-Al-Fitr, a day of celebration right after the blessed month of Ramadan. Traditionally Eid, one of our two annual religious festivals, is a time for Muslims to celebrate and to be thankful. It is a time when we are supposed to give thanks to God for all the good that we have, and for all the potential bad that we do not have. So I would like to end Ramadan 2018 on a positive note. I would like to thank God for the positive and blessed lifestyle that I live here in the West. I would like to thank God for all the countless blessings I always find myself surrounded by. I would like to thank God for allowing hundreds of thousands of Muslims to openly pray their Eid prayer out in the open, all over the world. And I would like to thank God for making sure that Saudi Arabia only let the Russians score a measly five goals against them in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.

Continuing this vibe of positivity, please find below links to two articles that show, in their own unusual way, just how positive this month can be. There are also links to several photo blogs that show how varied Ramadan and Eid around the world actually is. Think no longer please of Islam as a stereotyped monolith. I hope all of these put a smile on your face. Enjoy!

Why Do I Want My Teenage Muslim Boys To Fast In Ramadan?

Emily Richardson, 14 Jun 2018,

Living in regional Australia, it’s not easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month. But my kids have embraced its hidden benefits

Like most teenage boys, my sons love to eat. Most nights, my 15-year-old polishes off two large servings of dinner before heading directly to the fridge in search of more food.

So as a Muslim kid, how does he – and his younger brother – cope with not eating all day during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset? And what is the point of it for them?

Growing up on a farm in rural Australia, I had no idea about Islam or anything to do with it, including Ramadan, until I went to live in Egypt in 1999 and met my husband, Ahmed.

In a Muslim-majority country like Egypt, it’s easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month, where everyone around you is fasting. There’s a camaraderie because the community is going without food and water together.

It’s a lot trickier to get that same feeling living in a small seaside town in regional Australia, 140 kilometres from the nearest mosque, as we do now.

It would be easy to put the practice of fasting into the too-hard basket, especially with our kids. So, religious obligation aside, why do we persevere?

My kids have never gone to bed hungry. They live fortunate lives, especially when compared to some of their best friends back in Egypt. I think it’s good for them to go hungry so they can empathise with those less fortunate, even if only for a few hours. But still, at the end of each day they know there’s a hot meal waiting for them, which is a safety net the underprivileged don’t have.

Yes, fasting helps teach compassion for those less fortunate and gratitude for what you have. And it’s good for your physical and spiritual health.

But as the mother of two teenage boys, it’s the hidden benefits of fasting that have taken on greater significance as I navigate this phase of parenting.

Any parent of a teenager knows it can be difficult to get them to do anything they don’t want to do. So how do you force a constantly hungry teenage boy to fast every day for a month?

For us, the answer is simple: we don’t. There is no coercion from us, only encouragement. We lay out the reasons why it’s good for them to fast, and then leave it up to them to decide if they want to do it.

Sometimes they fast the whole day. Sometimes they fast half a day. Sometimes they don’t fast at all. We don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. It’s up to them to do it when they feel they can commit to it. Because of this, everything they gain comes from them, from their internal motivation, and not from us.

But it’s not just food and drink they have to refrain from – anyone fasting is also expected to refrain from negative behaviour such as swearing, lying, gossiping, and speaking or acting unkindly.

The Arabic word for fasting is “sawm”, which means “to refrain” – a skill I want my teenage boys to be proficient in.

When I asked Ahmed why he was on board with not forcing the fasting issue, his response was simple: “I don’t want them to resent their religion. They have to want to do it, otherwise they won’t get any benefit from it.”

By not being forced, they are more drawn to it. Seeing their dad (and sometimes me) fast, they’ve always been keen to give it a go. They started by skipping one meal a day, and now often fast the whole day with no problem. They fast as much as they can, with no pressure from us.

By making the decision of whether to fast their choice, what do we as their parents hope to get out of it?

We hope to get boys – who will soon be men – who are able to control themselves, who are able to wait for things in life, who have self-restraint and self-discipline when faced with temptation of any kind, who are able to resist the urge to do something they really want to do but shouldn’t, who are able to see something through to the end even if it gets difficult or uncomfortable.

Our 15-year-old son, Ziad, has his own take on it. “When I fast, I feel empowered and in control of myself,” he says. “And it really makes me appreciate food more! It also makes the family closer because we’re doing something together.”

This year, we’ve found that as we have progressed through the month, the boys have become increasingly motivated to fast. They can feel the benefits. They feel a sense of power over themselves and their decisions. It’s helped them develop a strong mindset.

Over the years, they’ve gone from thinking they couldn’t possibly go without food for a whole day to waking up determined to do it – and realising that something that seems impossible can be achieved if they keep at it.

There are times when less really is more; when you achieve a lot by giving something up.

Ultimately, because it’s their choice, it’s their accomplishment. But it’s everyone’s gain. As Ramadan draws to a close for another year, our boys have taken a few more positive steps on the road to good manhood.

How Ramadan Can Make You Poorer Yet Happier

Timothy P Carney, 13 Jun 2018,

Despite the old saw that money can’t buy happiness, the two tend to be correlated. Up to about $75,000, the higher your income, the happier you tend to be.

Correlation, of course, does not equal causation. It’s quite possible that the connection between money and happiness is not a direct one. It’s hard to root out the causal mechanism because so many of the good things in life correlate with one another. Income, marriage, sobriety, health, and education all tend to coexist in the same people and communities.

That’s why Ramadan can be so educational. The Muslim holy season may actually separate wealth from happiness.

Thursday night at sundown, Ramadan 2018 comes to an end with a feast called Eid al-Fitr, “Fitr” referring to the breaking of the fast.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast during all daylight hours. And this isn’t the sort of fast Catholics do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, where water is allowed, along with a mini-breakfast and mini-lunch. Ramadan fasting means no food, no drink, no water from sunrise to sunset.

A quirk in the Muslim calendar that makes the current Ramadan more brutal than most. The Islamic calendar doesn’t coincide with the Gregorian calendar or with the earth’s orbit around the sun. The Islamic calendar is based on the moon, and every month comprises the approximately 29 days from new moon to new moon. Twelve of these months, an Islamic year, is about 354 days.

As a result, Ramadan cycles through the calendar year. Ramadan began December 9 in 1999, for instance. In 2016, Ramadan lasted from June 7 to July 5. Because of the longer summer days, Northern Hemisphere Muslims have fasted far more in recent years than they did 18 years ago. Muslims in D.C., for instance, face nearly 15 hours of fasting this year, compared to 9.5 hours in 2000.

So why does this have to do with anything? Economists Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott saw this variation in fasting duration as something of a natural experiment. How do longer religious fasts affect a country compared to shorter ones?

So they compared Bangladesh, which is near the equator and thus experiences very little variation in Ramadan fast duration over the years, to Turkey, where the longest day of the summer has nearly 6 hours more sunlight than the shortest day during the winter.

A month with a lot of fasting should affect the people of a country differently than a month with a moderate amount of fasting. Sure enough, the researchers found two correlations.

First, “longer prescribed Ramadan fasting has a robust negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries.” That is, with all sorts of controls in place, the economists found that Turkey’s economy seemed to be dragged down by the longer fasts in years where Ramadan was in the summer — an effect that didn’t pop up in Bangladesh, where summer Ramadan isn’t much different in fast length than winter Ramadan.

It’s not hard to guess why: More fasting means more hours being hungry and low on energy, which means less economic productivity. In these years of longer fasting, GDP per capita fell in Muslim countries with longer fasts, but not in non-Muslim countries.

But here’s the more interesting finding: “increased Ramadan fasting requirements lead Muslim individuals to report greater levels of both happiness and life satisfaction.”

Longer fasts, then, might make Muslims poorer but happier, the study suggests.

As always, the mechanism and causality could be endlessly debated. Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe the key is the camaraderie formed by sacrifice. Maybe the key is the extra joy of the nighttime meals after the long fast. Maybe it’s the ability to eat outdoors in the warm weather after fasting.

Whatever the actual cause, there seems to be an important lesson that we can generalize beyond Islam and beyond Ramadan: Sacrificing, together with family and community, for a higher cause, can bring happiness, without the need for riches.

This is something to recall in America, where the working class is retreating from religion at the same time it is suffering social and economic woes. When we’re reduced to a secular culture, there’s no escaping the connection between wealth and happiness. The only way to detach those two seems to be through religious sacrifice.

These Photos Illustrate The Incredible Diversity Of Eid Al-Fitr In America

Carol Kuruvilla, 15 Jun 2018,

A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr in the Brooklyn

A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on June 15, 2018

Images From Ramadan 2018

Alan Taylor, 12 Jun 2018,


A Palestinian youth waves a sparkler next a mosque in Gaza City on May 16, 2018, as the faithful prepare for the start of Ramadan

Black Muslims Are Sharing Photos Of Their Eid Outfits With The Hashtag #blackouteid

Delaney Strunk, 15 Jun 2018,

Muslims Gather To Celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr

Johnny Simon, 15 Jun 2018,

Ramadan 2018 3

Iraqi Sunni Muslims attend Eid al-Fitr prayer amid the ruins of a mosque destroyed during the battle against the Islamic State in western Mosul city, Iraq



We humans have always tried in various ways to express ourselves. Where this burning desire emanates from is for historians and other such experts to discuss, but there is no doubt that the desire was there from the start, and it is still with us. The best way that mankind has found to pour forth this need for expression is through the myriad forms of art that we see all around us. The oldest art form is considered to be cave paintings, also known as parietal art, and currently the oldest known cave paintings are over a staggering 64,000 years old.

Let us move on from rudimentary paintings on cave walls to arguably the most famous artist of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci. Amongst his most well-known works of art are the elusive and priceless Mona Lisa, Vitruvian Man, the Last Supper, Lady with an Ermine, and his self-portrait in red chalk. Another famous painting by Da Vinci recently made global headlines. Salvator Mundi (Latin for “Saviour of the World”) is a painting of Jesus Christ that Da Vinci made around 1500. Some 517 years later it was sold at auction by Christie’s in New York for $450.3 million to become the most expensive piece of art in the world.

Officially the painting was sold to Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Farhan on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism on the 15th of November 2017. Unofficially it was bought by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. The Saudi leadership bought the artwork as a gift for the Abu Dhabi government, a close regional partner. The reason for this purchase being so hush-hush is that news of the prince’s acquisition damages his claim that he will impose more transparency on the money accumulated by various members of the sprawling Saudi royal family. The most expensive painting in the world is to be put on display at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. Yes, the Louvre in Paris, the world’s best known museum which houses the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, has for the first time in its long and distinguished history decided to open another branch, way out in the deserts of the predominantly Muslim Arabian peninsula.

Why would a Muslim pay such an extortionate amount for a painting of the Christian Jesus, painted by the founding father of the High Renaissance? Are we Muslims not meant to have a reputation for being totally artless, especially when compared to the visual veneration Christianity has of Jesus? Some may argue that this reputation, to be fair, is somewhat self-inflicted since Muslims generally do not promote images of God or any of His prophets, especially the prophet Muhammad. Many a Muslim scholar would argue back that we do not need visual imagery to heighten our spirituality as the words of the Qur’an are more than enough. However, one can easily argue that this artless reputation has no basis in reality.

Art is the most vivid expression of our human existence. It can represent an individual, a community, a nation, a race, a gender, even an entire faith. Since art expresses the beauty of the human experience, Islamic art expresses the beauty of the spiritual experience. I know of many Muslim households that have framed artwork hanging on their walls, usually in the form of Arabic calligraphy. Muslims, like many others, artistically express themselves in many different ways, be it through our food, our homes, our cars, our clothes, our writing, our language. So for us art, and certainly the concept of art, is a big part of our daily lives, whether we realise it or not. Not bad for a group of people who are stereotyped as being bland and uncreative. In fact, just do a quick Google search on “Islamic art” to see the wealth of artistic experience that exists in the Muslim world.

Art still continues to define and shape who we are today. It also helps us to better understand who we were. Take the recent case of a 3000-year-old sculpture of the head of a king that was found in Israel. Archaeologists are currently baffled as to who the head represents, and why a piece of figurative art from the iron age is of such unusually high quality.

The power of art is also recognised by groups such as ISIS who appear to be against the open display of art. Publicly, for the cameras, they will destroy a few statues and other works of antiquity that are centuries old. Privately, they are more than happy to hypocritically benefit from the selling of many other pieces on the artistic black market. The Nazis also understood the importance of art (Hitler was himself a failed art student), but albeit in a different way, which is why they tried to hide and preserve tens of thousands of works of art they looted from museums and wealthy families all across Europe. For more on this please see the excellent 2014 George Clooney movie The Monuments Men, well worth a watch.

One person who definitely sees the power of art in Islamic culture is the British artist Zarah Hussain:

Islamic art is often vibrant and distinctive…Art is the mirror of a culture and its world view. The art of the Islamic world reflects its cultural values, and reveals the way Muslims view the spiritual realm and the universe. For the Muslim, reality begins with and centers on Allah. Allah is at the heart of worship and aspirations for Muslims, and is the focus of their lives. So Islamic art focuses on the spiritual representation of objects and beings, and not their physical qualities. The Muslim artist does not attempt to replicate nature as it is, but tries to convey what it represents. This lets the artist, and those who experience the art, get closer to Allah. – Zarah Hussain, from a 2009 BBC News article on Islamic art

Another person who sees Islam as being anything but artless is Mary Beard. Beard is many things: a historian, a classicist, a Cambridge don, a public intellectual, a professor, and an author. She is also a famous TV historian. There are many such famous TV historians who are ever-present upon our television screens, such as David Starkey, Lucy Worsley, Bettany Hughes, Michael Woods, Waldemar Januzczak, AJP Taylor, Neil Oliver, and Kenneth Clark, to name but a few. Beard is another famous name that can be added to that list. Recently Beard was seen as one of the presenters in the epic BBC 9-part documentary series called Civilisations.

Beard DVD

The title of the documentary series is a reference to a previous BBC TV 13-part documentary series called Civilisation, which was written and presented by Kenneth Clark almost fifty years ago. That landmark program offered one man’s personal view of western European civilisation, from the end of the Dark Ages onwards. It was partly conceived by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC Two, to demonstrate the potential of colour television.

This new series (not only in colour but now also in high definition!) ranges more widely, featuring African, Asian, American as well as European cultures to explore how human creativity began and developed, how civilisations around the world influenced one another, and how artists have depicted the human form and the natural world. It spans 31 countries on six continents, covering more than 500 works of art. Alongside Beard are fellow presenters Simon Schama and David Olusoga, and they all explore humanity’s desire to create and express.

Episode 4 of the series is titled The Eye Of Faith and was first aired in March 2018. It featured Beard on her own travelling extensively all over the world and some of her visits included: sixth-century mosaics at Ravenna, which the Byzantine emperor Justinian and his consort Theodora commissioned to demonstrate the divinity of Christ; the Angkor Wat Hindu temple complex in Cambodia; a statue of the Virgin Mary in Seville, Spain, known as La Macarena; the painting known as the Tintoretto Crucifixion in Venice, Italy; the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, India, whose celebrated Buddhist murals were executed over 700 years starting in the 2nd century BC; the Anglican Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, an architectural masterpiece in the English fenlands; the 500 year old Kennicott Bible in Oxford, England; and the Quwwat Al-Islam mosque in Delhi, India.

It is clear from this episode that Beard has a unique way of looking at art. She depicts humans and gods in an erudite yet light-touch way. Beard understands that great art makes emotional demands that we may not make of ourselves otherwise. The visionary imagery we see before us can be quite soul-stirring, but only if we understand it well enough, and only if we allow it to be.

Beard Book

There is also a corresponding book, How Do We Look/Eye Of Faith, to the two episodes in the series that are written and presented by Beard. How Do We Look focuses on how humanity has artistically represented the human body, and Eye Of Faith focuses on how human beings have artistically depicted God or gods. In this book Beard implies that informing her travels throughout is the question of “how people look at religious art — or what it is to look ‘religiously’ ” In a review of the book journalist Kathryn Hughes says that “Meaning is always an ongoing process for Beard, concerned not so much with making as making-over.”

The TV program proved so successful that in June 2018 it was announced in the Queen’s Honour List that the Queen was awarding Beard a dame hood. In typically down-to-earth fashion Beard described it as a “smashing honour” and attributed it to the growing interest in her field of work. At the start of the Eye Of Faith episode Beard describes her intellectual quest as follows:

For millennia, art has been used to bring the human and divine together. And it’s given us some of the most majestic and affecting visual images ever made. I want to explore what really lies behind these extraordinary creations and reveal the kind of religious work that art does all around the world. But, for me, the story of religious art is about more than this. It’s about controversy and conflict, danger and risk. Whether it’s Muslim or Christian, Hindu or Jewish, I want to expose the dilemmas that all religions face when they try to make gods visible in the human world. When does the worship of an image turn into dangerous idolatry? Where does divine glorification end and worldly vanity begin? What actually counts as an image of God or of God’s word? – Professor Mary Beard

She goes on to explain the widespread prevalence that such art has:

Religious art gets everywhere. You don’t only find it in churches, temples and galleries. Religion has always brought out the artfulness in people, on the body, in the home, and on the street. – Professor Mary Beard

She ends the episode at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, a building that has been in turn a pagan temple, a Christian church, and a mosque. Now it is a monument to Western civilisation itself and a pilgrimage site for tourists. She ends with the following quote about the modern religion of civilisation:

Only the bare bones of Ancient Greek or any other religion stand here today, but it’s become the focus of a worship of another kind. It’s easy to come to a place like the Acropolis and to assume that whatever religion there once was here has gone for good. But I think we should be a bit more careful. However secular they might be, when people here look at this monument, when they admire its art and engage with its mythology, many are reflecting on questions that religions have often helped us face. Where do I come from? Where do I belong? What’s my place in human history? I think people are engaged in a modern faith here, the one we call civilisation. It’s an idea that behaves very much like a religion. It offers grand narratives about our origins and our destiny, bringing people together in shared belief. And the Parthenon has become its icon. So if you ask me, “What is civilisation?” I say, “It’s little more than an act of faith.” – Professor Mary Beard

But it is her visits to the Sancaklar Mosque and the Blue Mosque, both in Turkey, that really caught my attention. Amongst the people she speaks to is the brilliant calligrapher Soraya Syed, who gives a deeper insight into the Arabic lettering that adorns almost every mosque around the world. In the aforementioned review Kathryn Hughes adds the following candid insight about Islamic art, the Blue mosque, and about Beard herself:

In the second part [of the book] a standout section sees Beard upending that stale old assumption about Islam being an artless religion. To prove her point she takes us into the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and points out that, while there may be no images of human or divine forms, joyous streams of holy writ dance along the ceramic walls and ceiling. So exquisite is this monumental calligraphy, with its repeating visual rhymes and rhythms, that at some point the script ceases to be text and becomes instead its own picture. This effect is even more striking given that the majority of visitors to the mosque will historically have had neither the laser-sharp vision nor the literacy in Arabic to make out the meaning of the words suspended hundreds of feet above their heads. What we are looking at on the walls of the Blue Mosque is nothing less than the divine in visual form. It is this ability to read closely in the interstices of culture that makes Beard such an invigorating guide. – Kathryn Hughes, 01 Mar 2018,

Presented below is a transcript of the 12 minute segment from the episode where Beard travels to these mosques in Turkey. I have tried to provide a link to a video, and I hope it still works. If not, then please try to view all 9 episodes (I am sure they are available somewhere online such as catch up TV) as the entire series is a magnificent eye opener on the vast world we all reside in. So if anyone, including yourself, thinks of Islam as joyless, soulless, uncreative, and artless, then I would strongly advise them to spend the next 12 minutes watching this. The video is a link to the entire episode, with the relevant clip in question beginning exactly at the 30 minute mark. Enjoy!

Out on the rural fringes of Istanbul is one of the most striking religious creations of modern times. It appeared on the landscape less than a decade ago and has drawn people in ever since. It’s the Sancaklar Mosque, the work of one of Turkey’s most visionary architects. This is one of the most startling mosques in the world. What the architects wanted to do is to harness the power of modernism, which is often thought of as a very secular movement, to express the very essence of religious space, stripped of all the non-essentials. And it’s certainly untraditional in all kinds of ways. But, in other ways, it’s exploiting the traditions of Islam very heavily. This inside space is meant to be reminiscent of the Cave of Hira, where the Prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Word of God that became the Koran. And, of course, it also evokes one of the classic stereotypes that many people now have of Islam, that it’s a religion that is in some way artless. That it prohibits not just the image of God and the Prophet, but the images of living creatures which only the Creator, God, is supposed to be able to create. In fact, the only man-made image is a wonderful piece of calligraphy which is a quote from the Koran. It’s as if what we’re expected to do when we come in here is to see, and go away with, the Word of God. Islam, as a faith of the word, is enshrined in the Koran itself. There are many famous sayings and stories that condemn idolatry and give warning about the dangers of images.

But in the ancient city of Istanbul itself, a very different picture of Islam fills our field of vision. Islam is absolutely not an artless religion. In the whole history of the faith, you cannot trace a single, uncontested line about images of living creatures or about the image of God. In the Middle Ages, the Islamic world held some of the most intricate debates on aesthetics, the nature of beauty, the optics of the human eye, and our sensory experience of the natural world. And there’s a kaleidoscope of stories and parables that are Islam’s conversation with itself about the role of the artist and the purpose of the image. And one of the most revealing takes us into the domestic life of the Prophet Muhammad himself.

One day, Muhammad came home to discover that his wife Aisha had acquired a tapestry with images of living creatures woven into the design. And she’d hung it up. Muhammad is furious, he won’t even go into the house because it’s the Creator God who’s supposed to create living creatures, not some tapestry artist. So, Aisha takes it down, but she doesn’t let it go to waste. She cuts it up and turns it into cushion covers, and that, apparently, creates no problem.

The story of Aisha’s cushion is a wonderful illustration of how Islamic attitudes can shift according to the role and the setting of the image. But there’s one kind of Islamic art whose role and function is much more significant than any other. As soon as Muhammad received the Word of God in the 7th century, calligraphy, or the art of beautiful writing, was taken to the very heart of Islamic identity.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “There is an obligation on the calligrapher to serve the community in which he or she is writing for. But calligraphers were highly esteemed. The pen is the potent symbol of knowledge.”

The art of calligraphy became the means by which the sacred word could be set down, spread, and remain uncorrupted for all time.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “From the very birth of Islam, the first verses revealed to the Prophet Muhammad were by the pen. Therefore, it sanctified the use of the pen at the outset of Islam. And, ever since that point, artisans have been trying to beautify the divine word through that pen.”

Serdar Gulgun, art collector: “Of course, the text of the calligraphy is very impressive but, for me, what is more important is the visual of the calligraphy, the graphic, the balance and the rhythm of the calligraphy. To be a good calligrapher, you have to have years of work in you. Even on one single letter. It takes a complete life to come to that maturity to do a good calligraphy. So, you see all his life in a single stroke.”

With exquisite penmanship, Islam had an art form to set it apart from many other religions. And it was said that while the Koran was received in Mecca and spoken in Cairo, it was Istanbul that produced the finest calligraphers able to write it down.

This is the Blue Mosque. It was commissioned in the 17th century by Sultan Ahmed and, in its almost excessive size and splendour, it was designed to surpass all other mosques in the city. There are no idols or images of living creatures. Instead, the walls are alive with the most ornate patterns. Plants and flowers intertwine in the most vivid glaze of ceramic tiles. And, laced into the scheme, are some of the most extraordinary examples of monumental calligraphy in the Islamic world. It’s as if the Blue Mosque itself was conceived as a great library of Islamic script, and it’s here that we see calligraphy at its most powerful.

When you enter the building, above the door there’s a message telling you to expect something special, that you’re going through the Gates of Paradise. And that’s just one of a whole series of notices throughout the Mosque, often beautifully written snippets of the Koran which guide the thoughts of the faithful and interpret what you see. If you look up into the dome, you’re reminded that it’s Allah who supports the heavens and the world. And it was a message that basically says that you should take back there into the outside world the state of purity that you’ve reached through prayer. It’s as if there’s a written programme here, telling you how to experience the building and how to look at it.

But for those who worshipped and still worship here, there’s another way of reading this writing. Placed high above the prayer hall, the script becomes almost illegible. When it was first painted, many of the faithful would have been illiterate. And, even for those who could read, the clarity of the message is obscured in the rhythm and patterns of the text.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “This very magnificent, elaborate script is quite complex. It’s not always easy to read and I don’t think it was meant to be read. Because sometimes it’s there also as a form of blessing. And, just by looking at it, you can absorb some of that blessing.”

What we have to remember is that writing can work in other ways. Here, we are seeing God represented in visual form but not as human. Here, God is displayed as his word in the Koran. It’s God in the art of writing. Now, Islam is by no means the only religion to use writing as a way to negotiate the problem of how you represent the divine. The Christian gospels, for example, can claim that God is the word. But in Islam, more than anywhere else, we see the image becoming the word, and the word becoming the image. In the face of all the debates and prohibitions on images, Islamic calligraphy evolved to redefine what an image of God could be.



We live in a world where there is so much news that an important issue that took place only a few months ago is probably already forgotten. Remember Punish A Muslim Day? It was supposed to take place on the 3rd of April 2018. Weeks before an A4 letter was circulating in print and online, encouraging people to earn points by performing certain atrocities against Muslims. You scored 10 points for verbally abusing a Muslim, all the way up to a whopping 2,500 points for dropping a nuclear bomb on the holy Islamic site of Mecca. No one was really sure how you would then cash in these points, or what kind of prizes you could win from your hard earned points.

Police forces all over the UK took this threat seriously. Muslims were asked to be extra vigilant on that day. My wife was concerned for my welfare as I travel to work on public transport. There was even a counter-movement started called Love A Muslim Day. There were a few Islamophobic incidents recorded that day, but no more than usual. In large, thankfully, not much happened. I remember reading many articles about the build-up and aftermath to this non-event, and the best one I came across was from the always brilliant Dean Obeidallah. Selected quotes from his article are presented below. Dean is not just a writer, he is also a stand-up comedian. One of his fellow Muslim stand up colleagues, Hasan Minhaj, had his own take on the entire PAMD fiasco.

Around the same time I was reading the article from Dean I read two other articles, on different subjects, that were also very impressive. Sarah Khan is a travel writer whom I have mentioned before and I mention her again because she wrote a brilliant article about how she visits mosques wherever and whenever she travels.

The third article presented below is from another travel writer, Katherine Lagrave, who describes how one can easily argue that the beauty of the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage is being overtaken by the business of the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage.

As always presented below are selected quotes from these articles, which are worth reading in full. Enjoy!

Why I Visit A Mosque Wherever I Travel

When traveling, mosques around the world become more than just a place to pray.

Sarah Khan, 29 Mar 2018,

On my first trip to Rome, I did as the tourists do: paid my respects at the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Vatican, and no fewer than a dozen gelato shops. But the memory that lingers strongest a decade later is of boarding a nondescript commuter train to Parioli with my friends to visit the Moschea di Roma, the largest mosque in Europe. Built in 1994 with the blessing of Pope John Paul II, it is a tranquil escape from the eternal frenzy of the Eternal City. We prayed, took pictures, and marveled at walls clad in traditional mosaics juxtaposed with striking contemporary pillars, the result of a collaboration between Iraqi and Italian architects. Then we took the train back to the city for a night out in Trastevere.

I religiously cross major monuments off my tourist checklists, but since my twenties, whether I’m in Buenos Aires or rural Mozambique, Paris or Cape Town, a recurring feature of my travels has become tracking down each destination’s major mosque. I may struggle to navigate through storms of rapid-fire French, Italian, Kimwani, or Malayalam, but when the echoes of a muezzin calling, “Hayya as-salah, Hayya al-Falah” (“Come to prayer, come to success”), descends over me, instantly recognizable despite varying accents and levels of melodiousness, there, too, is a sense of peace.

While I still consider myself an observant Muslim, visiting mosques is about something more than religious devotion; it’s a way for me to connect with Muslims throughout the world…I ask someone which direction the qibla is, to face the Kaaba in Mecca, or where to perform wudu, the ablution required before prayer: Islam 101 becomes an ice breaker.

I’ve lived in five countries on three continents and, as a travel journalist, so much of my life is spent in transit that my comfort zone is not any one city or country but somewhere at 30,000 feet. Even if I’m not quite sure where home is, I know I’ll find it in some form whenever I hear the adhaan, the call to prayer that rings out from mosques five times a day. In the unpredictable madness of travel, a mosque is my sanctuary. It’s the one place I know I’m guaranteed history, smiles, art, and a moment of peace. And then it’s back to the next hotel, the next train, the next airport—and the next mosque.

Hajj Swirl

The Beauty—And Business—Of The Hajj

Piety, profit, and their intersection at one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings.

Katherine Lagrave, 29 Mar 2018,

And while the rituals required know no gender, the difficulties with each step vary greatly by person…For Murtaza Sutarwalla, a Houston-based attorney who went on hajj with his wife in 2012, it was spending the night under the stars on the plains of Muzdalifah—no tents, no roof over your head, no bed beyond a straw mat or cardboard, wearing only ihram. It took Sutarwalla some eight hours to reach Muzdalifah, but in a journey lies a reward. “That night, as I fell asleep after the longest and most tiring day of my life, the thought hit that for all of the material things we chase, as long as one has that inherent connection to God, there is nothing more that one really needs. I had the most wonderful sleep that night in my entire life,” he says.

For many who have completed hajj, though, the thought of doing it all again is met with a mix of apprehension and excitement…Says Mohammed Khan, who also writes about religion and travel for the online publication Sacred Footsteps: “The experience I had after I finished it was that I never wanted to do it again. It’s so tiring. It’s so crowded. It’s busy. It’s hot. It’s not a very comfortable situation to be in. But at the same time, you think back, and despite all of those things you went through, it’s a really uplifting experience. It’s a completely different world. It’s something that you don’t know what it is, but you have that feeling [of wanting] to go back.”

To some pilgrims, that high volume of people all trying to accomplish the same things can feel dangerous at times. “It gets kind of violent, unintentionally,” says Ali. “People come to pilgrimage for thousands of reasons. Many come out of desperation—they’re looking for hope—and they will do anything. They’ll push each other, they’ll shove each other, they’ll step on each other. It’s so ironic, because they’re there for a religious purpose, to cleanse their soul, and out of their own desperation, they forget humanity. And that is one of the most interesting facets [of the experience] to observe.”

For Mahmood, Hajra’s husband, this me-first mentality is at odds with the true intent of the hajj. “In the context of how the prophet wanted hajj to be performed, there’s a clear contradiction in how people behave today,” he says. “Though we complete the hajj—all the requirements, all the rituals—there is a very clear understanding that that itself does not indicate that you have accomplished the goal of hajj. You may complete the rituals, but you have not completed hajj, because you have transgressed the duties in a way that you have ignored the most important things, which is humanity. Kindness. Showing respect to others, and taking their needs into account. And at the end of the day, God is the only entity that can say, ‘Yes, you were successful in your hajj.’”

Fingers Pointing

It’s ‘Punish A Muslim Day.’ Or, As We Muslims Call It, Every Day.

A flier declares today, April 3, ‘Punish a Muslim’ Day in the U.S. and the U.K., offering 100 points for beating up a Muslim. But it’s not as if everything will be fine on April 4.

Dean Obeidallah, 03 Apr 2018,

Trump’s words and actions have truly helped make every day “punish a Muslim” day. We have witnessed a bone-chilling increase in hate crimes against Muslims since Trump began his campaign. In 2016 alone there was a documented spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes to levels that surpassed what we saw in the year after 9/11. Think about that for a moment: There were more hate crimes against Muslim Americans in terms of physical assaults during Trump’s run for president than after a terror attack involving Muslims that took nearly 3,000 lives.

Sure, there were anti-Muslim hate crimes before Trump. But Trump’s demonization of Muslims is like nothing we ever saw before by a major party-political candidate, and that is a big part of the reason for the spike.

And beyond these hate crimes, the sense of an almost daily “punish a Muslim” day in America comes from the growing trend we see from the media normalizing or ignoring anti-Muslim hate. For example, there’s a major federal terrorism trial going on right now in Kansas. Why haven’t you heard about it? Simple: The terrorists are not Muslims. Rather, they are Trump supporting white supremacists who plotted to kill American Muslims. But the mainstream media simply doesn’t cover these trials with the same intensity as when a Muslim is a defendant.

Even in entertainment media we are seeing a normalization of anti-Muslim hate. Roseanne Barr has a documented history of spewing anti-Muslim bigotry (as well attacks on other communities), from retweeting claims that Islam is the same as Nazism to her ginning up fear of Muslims by tweeting about “Islamic rape pedo culture.” Yet ABC rebooted her TV show and has refused to denounce or even comment on her history of anti-Muslim hate. (My inquiries to ABC’s publicist for the show have gone unanswered.)

So while April 3 might be designated by some right-wing bigots as “punish a Muslim” day, that’s been happening almost daily since Trump ran for president. The result, however, is that the Muslim American community is more resilient than ever, with our community thriving and growing through it all.


Hawking Tragic

Way back in 1988 I was just thirteen years old, a very impressionable age indeed. On the 1st of March of that year a book was published by a hitherto unknown scientist about cosmology, the study of the universe. The title of the book was A Brief History Of Time: From The Big Bang To Black Holes and the scientist was the British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. The book became an international bestseller with sales of more than 10 million copies over the next 20 years. It was also on the Sunday Times bestseller list for more than five years, and was translated into 35 languages by 2001.

For those of us old enough to remember, the book was a global sensation. It was easily the most famous book on the planet at the time, it is arguably the most famous science book of all time, and it is also considered to be the most unread book of all time. Even though Hawking was an atheist and I am a Muslim, when I read his book it did kind of blow my mind, even though I may not have understood all of it. It made me realise just how expansive ones thoughts can be, just how vast the mind can open when analysing life, the universe, and everything. If you have not read it them please do so, especially the illustrated edition. You will not think the same again afterwards, or your money back.

Just over 30 years after the publication of his seminal work, on the 14th of March 2018, Hawking passed away. The world lost one of the greatest minds of our age. The death of the theoretical physicist came as a shock to many, especially when judging by the outpouring of tributes from compatriots, politicians, musicians, actors, and others. Hawking was primarily famous for his immense intellect, which he used to delve into the furthest realms of our universe. Despite his immense genius he was humble about it, famously remarking that “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”

At the age of 21 Hawking was diagnosed with a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS went on to gradually paralyse his body over the decades. Even though he was given a few years to live, as do most people with ALS, Hawking somehow managed to live for another 55 years, thus proving that he truly was able to master the elasticity of time. Despite his condition he managed to do more with one finger than most have with their entire body, myself included.

Whilst Hawking was a man of great inspiration to many, he was also famous for his sharp and sometimes savage sense of humour. Most people’s passion, ambition and ability to laugh would crumble in the face of a degenerative disorder such as ALS, but Hawking was not most people. So how do you cope in a situation where, in a sense, you have your hands, feet, and everything else tied behind your back? When asked by the Radio Times what inspires him to keep going Hawking replied, “My work and a sense of humour. It’s also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life is, because you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and at life in general.”

True to his word, throughout his long life Hawking continued to blow our minds with his exploration of the complexity of the universe, all the while making us laugh and reminding us that even the smartest among us are still human. One of his many famous quotes that I have now read several times since his passing is, “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”

Never was a truer word spoken about the comedic nature of our existence. Since his passing this quote has been going around and around in my head, especially when I watch the news. So, as a way to stop it circulating in my mind the way it currently is, and in light of the passing of such a great and humorous intellect, here are some recent quotes from others to hopefully make us all understand that life would indeed be tragic if it were not so darn funny. There are some savage remarks from Frankie Boyle about the current situation in Palestine and Israel, some quotes about the royal wedding, and of course a few about Trump. Please note that some quotes may be for adults only, you have been warned. Enjoy!

Hawking Cover

A problem I have with the news now is that it is all ridiculous all the time. Have you noticed that April Fools Day has just died as a concept because people go “Is it? Is it any different? I can’t really see the difference.” And I just think that there is a big problem in the modern world, that our evil is now so ridiculous that you can’t take it seriously. Vladimir Putin kills his enemies, he’s extracted a huge amount of wealth from Russia, but he also rides around topless on a horse. It’s very hard to hold those two things in your mind at the same time. – Helen Lewis, May 2018

And then there’s the Royal wedding. To say I am excited…would not be accurate. I already have my alarm set so I’ll know exactly when to start not giving a shit. But on the bright side the Queen finally found a job for Charles. He’ll be walking Megan Markle down the aisle, because who better as a happy marriage good luck charm than Prince Charles. Trump was not invited to the royal wedding. He said that’s okay that he’s not invited. He said in their honor he would continue to royally screw America. So look, I don’t want to be the wet blanket, enjoy the hell out of it tomorrow. Are you gonna watch? Of course you are. It’s gonna be great when a B-list actress marries a man who will never be king in a country that doesn’t even matter, an event so unimportant even the Russians aren’t fixing it. – Bill Maher, 18 May 2018

Earlier today Megan Markle married some unemployed dude who still lives with his grandma. – Micheal Che, 19 May 2018

I think the reason most people are so drawn to the royal wedding is that it’s a reminder that if you’re an unbelievably good looking woman someday you may meet a legacy billionaire full of recessive traits. – tweet from @mattytalks, 19 May 2018

Israel this week shot dead 58 Palestinian protestors and wounded another 2,000 people, in what the British media disgracefully described as ‘clashes’. It’s not clashes. If one side has sniper rifles and the other side has a few catapults and slingshots, you’re basically murdering the Ewoks. – Frankie Boyle, 18 May 2018

It will be hard for Iran to actually attack Israel because they don’t recognise it. I don’t know why they don’t recognise it because it looks exactly like Palestine. – Jeremy Hardy, May 2018

Megan Markel is now the Duchess of Sussex. That’s got to hurt. You grow up wanting to be a princess but you end up sounding like a pub in Eastbourne. It was a traditional wedding. Something old, Prince Phillip. Something new, the royal baby. Something borrowed, the wealth of India. And something blue, the Queen’s feet. – Frankie Boyle, 18 May 2018

Megyn Kelly kicked off America’s royal wedding coverage today by discussing how many people would have to die for Meghan Markle to become queen. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why the rest of the world thinks us Americans are a bunch of weird violent crazy people. – Marie Connor, 19 May 2018

Obama was the first black president. And Donald J Trump is the first porn president. He has pornified not the high street, not the world of fashion, but the whole world itself. What unregulated internet access began, Donald Trump has finished, his porn star affair inadvertently dissolving the last vestiges of modesty displayed by the world of monetised desire. And the phrase “porn star” now sits comfortably in the mouths of Today programme presenters, TV newsreaders, and year 4 schoolkids. – Stewart Lee, 14 May 2018

President Trump announced that he would be withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal. I’m not going to pretend I know anything about the Iran deal, but Trump is! And you know the only part of that deal Trump has read was the signature on the bottom that said ‘Barack Obama.’ That’s all he needed. Trump is undoing so much of Obama’s work that Obama’s going to start fading away in pictures like in the movie Back To The Future. – Michael Che, May 2018

Royal shows are an escapist distraction for a fractious nation, but when the confetti is swept away and the bunting taken down, Britain is still left to wrestle with its deep divisions. Another concern is that Britain’s monarchy is all that much of the world ever notices about our country and this entrenches an international image of these islands as a heritage park. – Andrew Rawnsley, 20 May 2018

The death toll rose from the protests in Gaza. Over 100 people have been shot dead and thousands more have been shot and wounded. But to be fair there were injuries on both sides. One of the Israeli snipers got an erection for so long that his foot went to sleep. Things are bad in Gaza. Things are so bad in Gaza that porn stars have started referring to their pubic arrangement as a ‘Gaza strip’, an area that has been so brutally pummeled that no child could ever hope to crawl out alive. So why is it important to talk about this? It is important to talk about this in Britain because Britain still provides moral and practical support to Israel while Israel breaks international law. And I don’t think British people would be okay with that if they knew the full facts of the case, if they knew the full extent of Britain’s hypocrisy on the world stage. Britain sells weapons to Saudi Arabia that Saudi Arabia uses to kill people in Yemen. Yet Britain is the number two provider of aid to Yemen. And why not? Life gives you Yemen, you give Yemen aid. – Frankie Boyle, 25 May 2018

Trump has broken synapses thrashing around in his brain, like electricity cables that have been gnawed through by a gopher with nothing to live for. – Miles Jupp, May 2018

Trump is obsessed with undoing everything Obama did. If Trump could bring Bin Laden back to life he would do it. – Bill Maher, May 2018

Trump will not be assassinated. It would be very difficult. He’s not smart enough to go to the theater, and also Democrats would never assassinate him because then they’ll have to admit that guns can be useful. – Katherine Ryan, May 2018

We are told that Prince William is to visit Israel and the West Bank. He’s not the first member of the royal family to go over there, but he is the first one who isn’t leading a crusade…It’s Israel’s 70th anniversary, so William will be greeted with a 70 gun salute, fired straight into some Palestinians. – Frankie Boyle, 01 Jun 2018

When your map of the world is systematically leading you astray, step one for finding your way is to throw away the map. – Oliver Burkeman


Faith Doubt

Press coverage of Islam, negative or otherwise, is nothing new. I myself have written plenty of blog posts extoling the virtues of this faith, but I have also written a blog post or two where I have also been somewhat critical of Islam. For some 1,400 years this religion (a religion that is at least theologically peaceful) has been stereotyped, typecasted, loved, hated, dehumanised, chastised, scapegoated, attacked, demonised, praised, and lauded, all in equal measure and from all quarters.

Whilst Muslims feel that we are more than just beheadings, bombings, beards, burkas, biryani, and bad breath, if you look at the way Islam is currently being reported in the media it is easy to see that the narrative, the agenda, the context, the framework, call it what you will, that is being set is focused on several key pockets of interest.

One such area is the modernisation of Islam, specifically the culture and lifestyle of Muslims. Examples of this include the progress in modernity shown by Saudi Arabia when it opened its first cinema earlier this year, with Marvel’s Black Panther the first movie to be shown in the Kingdom for well over a generation. Women are also allowed to drive now, and the Kingdom is hoping to open up theme parks to rival those of Disney. These changes maybe more financially driven than they are religiously driven, but they are deemed to be progressive changes nonetheless.

Another pocket of interest is the reformation of Islam, a viewpoint championed recently by the French government. In certain French circles calls have been made asking that “the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities.” Good luck with that.

France also has a long history of trying to create a brand of Islam particular to itself, one that “conforms to national values, notably secularism, and is immune to the radical interpretations that have gained a footing in certain parts of the Muslim world.” Basically, the French would like Islam to move along the social and cultural spectrum, sliding along the scale from the religious end to the more secular end.

France is perhaps the best of many examples where the lines around Islam and its place in western democratic societies are constantly being redrawn due various ongoing debates. Such is the intensity of these debates that a recent New Statesman article declared that in France, and indeed in many other countries as well, “Islam…has become the secularists’ favourite topic of discussion.” The same article went on to describe the trials and tribulations of 19 year old university student Maryam Pougetoux and the ridiculous hypocrisy she faces from French society for simply wanting to wear a hijab:

Whatever they wear – and whether or not it is their choice – Muslim women in France find themselves in the middle of a secularism debate they have no voice in. They are guilty by association: it is assumed that their hijab is a sign of their adherence to conservative societal values preached by a strict vision of Islam, values that many in France see as incompatible with French secular society. The religious indicator overrules individuality…Pougetoux summed up the Catch-22 situation French Muslim women find themselves in: “If we stay at home, they say we are submissive. If we speak up, if we take action, they say that we are not allowed to do so.” – Pauline Bock, May 2018, from the New Statesman article The Outrage Over A Hijab Reveals The Hypocrisy Of French Secularism

Likewise critics and proponents of Islam, such as Ayaan Hirshi Ali, Reza Aslan, and Irshad Manji, have for many years been calling for a reformation, which is another area of media interest. However, reforming Islam maybe a little more complicated than most people realise, plus we may already be in the middle of such an exercise anyway, as noted by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf:

In Saudi Arabia two hundred years ago, a movement emerged which was a puritanical movement which was a radical departure, it was more of a protestant movement against a kind of Catholic Islam. It was more of a protest movement against a traditional Islam. People say Islam needs a reformation; this is what we’re witnessing. People that say Islam needs a reformation don’t know how bloody the Western Reformation was and how horrible it was and how it fragmented Western culture, and because of it, secularism arose as a treatment…The truth is that secularism has a history that actually outdoes religion in its severity and barbarity. I mean, nobody has been as bloody as the secular ideologues, Stalin and Hitler. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, from an interview in The Cairo Review, Fall 2015

Sexuality within Islam is also prominent in the news. Recent examples include new pro-transgender laws in Pakistan and the #MosqueMeToo movement, created by the formidable Mona Eltahawy, which continues to gain further prominence. The issue of female genital mutilation is also still widely discussed, with some suggesting that this hideous cultural practice is part of Islam (it most definitely is not).

Another area of media interest seems to be focused on people leaving Islam. Ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirshi Ali make regular appearances in the media, and there are many groups supporting ex-Muslims such as the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Ex-Muslims of North America. Many of these groups are quite vocal and organised in drawing others to join them. They are also unfortunately subject to a great deal of unwanted harassment and intimidation, even death threats, for obvious and expected reasons. Here is a short video providing further details about the group Ex-Muslims of North America:

This particular topic of people leaving the faith is of personal interest to me as I have a close relative who essentially left Islam to become an atheist several years ago, and more recently the sister of a close friend converted from Islam to Christianity. Certain events in her life pushed her to study her religion in more detail above and beyond the simplistic notions of Islam her parents had told her, mainly to clarify what others were saying to her and, for whatever reason, Islam was found wanting.

The sister and I have spoken for several hours, and we have covered many topics. She has questioned various Qur’anic verses, ahadith, YouTube clips, etc. I have tried my best to provide answers. However, unhappy with the counter arguments I have presented, she has essentially decided to leave Islam and it seems she is heading towards Christianity. Not only that but she is now a vocal critic of her former faith. I guess for me the frustrating thing was that, despite knowing and feeling with all of my heart and mind that Islam is the right path, despite being able to convince myself of this glorious realisation, I failed miserably in trying to convince someone else.

Islamic tradition has many examples of individuals who have great changes in their personal faith. Umar, one of the four rightly guided caliphs, drastically changed from someone who wanted to kill the Prophet to someone who wanted to protect the Prophet with his own life. The Prophet Moses went from being a prominent member of the Egyptian royal household to the one who caused its downfall. And even Satan himself went from the highest to the lowest, from being the most devoted of God’s creation at that time, to the most disobedient. Despite knowing this, it is still weird to see someone you know change from believing in Islam to be the right path, to someone who is now so openly negative about it.

So how do you handle such a situation? How does one react? Two logical options seem clear to me. One option is to be aggressively critical of her newly chosen faith. Whilst I could indeed criticise Christianity, I find such an indifferent approach to be futile and backward. It makes no sense to me to nit-pick religious texts of other faiths just to score theological points. Such debates usually end in tit-for-tat escalations with angry words being exchanged, and you end up with no clear winners and everyone else a loser. I have yet to win an argument by shouting. Does the truth need to be shouted?

Having said that, one should be careful of criticising other faiths because people often fail to realise the criticisms one can make of another faith, those same criticisms can be made of your own. Accusing another faith of circular reasoning, desiring world domination, being unable to conclusively prove your holy book is the word of God, etc, are accusations that could easily be made of your own faith. You just may not be able see it due to your unconscious bias, which is why it is so easy to not only make your own Kool-Aid but to then unknowingly overdose on it.

I have also noticed that the modern world has seen an increased atomisation and individualisation of us all, and this has resulted in increasing clashes between personal freedoms and religious norms. A good example of this is a recent legal case involving Chavie Weisberger, a 35 year old ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman who declared she is essentially a secular lesbian. Weisberger had to go through the wringer in court just to get custody of her kids. At first the court said she had to pretend to be ultra-Orthodox just be around her children, even though she was no longer religious, in order to spend unsupervised time with them. This decision was later overturned on appeal. I have no doubt that we are likely to see more and more of these clashes of individual liberties versus religious tradition.

One can add to this the reality that the internet is so vast that you can easily take a faith and paint it in a brilliantly glowing light or a darkly negative one. Such is the fluid nature of faith that there always has been and always will be a movement of people from one religion to another. So there is no wonder that people can become frustrated and confused when trying to learn about a particular faith. The old adage of doubting your doubts before you doubt your faith seems less and less applicable these days. And this is why I guess for every Muhammad Ali there is a Salman Rushdie.

And never mind different religions disagreeing with each other, even within religions plenty of disagreements exist. The Republican politician Mitt Romney recently spoke out against the controversial evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who delivered a prayer at the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in May 2018. Romney tweeted the following harsh words:

Christianity has Catholics and Protestants, Islam has Sunnis and Shias, Hindus have their castes, and pretty much every religion has liberals, secularists, reformers, and progressives in one corner, and the stony-faced orthodoxy in the opposite corner. Islam alone has over 70 sects, each covering differing areas of belief and theology. And this is why I guess for every Malala there is an Osama.

You can actually go further and say that the whole debate about religion is even more nuanced than that. There will be Muslims looking at me and, from their religious perspective, some will say I am too extreme and I need to calm down a wee bit, others will say I am too liberal and I need to be more serious, and I have no doubt that others still (here’s looking at you ISIS) will say I don’t even qualify as a Muslim because I live the west and partake in democratic processes.

The other logical option I could take in responding to the sister is to be more empathetic. In Islam there is a verse of the Quran (chapter 109, verse 6) that translates as (according to the Sahih International translation) “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” It took me a long time to appreciate that this short verse is actually a mercy from Allah. Rather than argue with others over cherry-picked religious texts that we will invariably be taken out of context (since when have I been a Biblical or Qur’anic scholar?!), I feel it is best to let people be, whether they are from the same faith or outwith. For at the end of the day it does come down to faith, peace, happiness, and contentment, and whichever religion can provide you that, then that is the one you should follow. It seems therefore that context, along with personal circumstance, is everything.

I briefly mentioned the situation of my friend’s sister on a Muslim forum website. From the responses given it was clear that this phenomena of people leaving Islam is more common than I first realised. I was also surprised by the varied suggestions and comments:

It doesn’t matter if people are born as Muslim. The journey to God Almighty is a deeply personal one and what is crystal clear to one individual is a point of contention for another. Any person seeking the truth will travel to the furthest corners of the universe in order to find it…Religious commitment is heavily influenced by personal experience, opportunities (or the lack of), personality, age, upbringing, social experiences and so forth…

Acknowledging what the sister feels is critical here. I appreciate there is an arsenal of hadith commentary, YouTube clips and soundbites we can share, but let’s not forget that what she is feeling is sadly common today. Whether her sentiments are a reflection of the confusion of our times or simply the stupid behaviour of other Muslims that she has been subject to, it is worthwhile adopting empathy as a first port of call. I have met many Muslims who feel this way. I even recall Shaykh Hamza Yusuf commenting that he knows people whose children have opened up classical Islamic texts and read ahadith on stoning someone to death or other punishments that are now outdated, and they have simply left the Deen because they were so disgusted with rulings that were at odds with the environment they have grown up in…

This is a time of trial and tribulation, and the tests are coming thick and fast. Sometimes you think you believe, but then something happens which shakes your foundation and makes you think otherwise…

All you can do is offer support, provide avenues for her to get answers if she really wants them, give her time, and be careful not to overwhelm her. You cannot convince someone unless they are open to being convinced. If I really wanted answers for myself, I wouldn’t try to find them from watching videos of ex-Muslims…

I also came across the following quote from a recent article I read. The globe-trotting photographer Lynsey Addario has travelled the world and has encountered many different cultures and peoples, especially across the Muslim world. She was recently featured in an online National Geographic article where she was asked about her spiritual upbringing. This was her rather interesting response:

I was raised Italian Catholic, with the tradition of going to church every Sunday, before a big family lunch at one of my grandmothers’, and religion classes on Tuesday afternoons. But as I grew into a young woman, I identified less with Catholicism, and learned to appreciate different aspects of different faiths. I am a spiritual person, and I have great respect for all different religions, but I personally no longer go to church every Sunday. It’s interesting, because I have been photographing in relatively dangerous places for a long time now, and have spent a great deal of time with people from different faiths. I often receive messages or emails or calls from friends around the world, saying that they are praying for me—whether Christian or Catholic or Muslim. My grandmother, who is 104, always prays to Saint Ann for me, and my close friend Lubna, who lives in Saudi, will literally go to Mecca to pray for me when I have gone to Syria in the past. I love and respect that about faith, that everyone has his or her beliefs which carry them through difficult times. – Lynsey Addario, 17 Apr 2018, from the National Geographic article Why This Photographer Set Out To Break Muslim Stereotypes

Despite our lengthy conversations neither the sister nor I really brought anything new to the theological table. Essentially we were rehashing centuries old arguments such as the reality of shariah law, the status of women in Islam, the authenticity of the Qur’an, the psychological state of the Prophet, the age of his wife Aisha when she was married, and more of the same old. What we were really doing, with all our to-ing and fro-ing, was confirming the spiritual path we had already decided to travel upon in our hearts and minds.

However, I realised there was another thing we were doing. I think in some weirdly ironic way we have not just confirmed but also strengthened each other’s faith. By questioning Islam in the way the sister did, she forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with Islam. That re-evaluation has only increased my belief in Islam and I honestly feel I am on the right path. And by perhaps not being able to answer all her questions to her satisfaction, I may have inadvertently strengthened her commitment to the new spiritual path she now seems to be undertaking. And at the end of the day is that not what faith is all about? An educated and sincere leap into the great unknown?

My cousin and the sister are in some ways more active with their faith than some Muslims currently are. Many Muslims are far too complacent, which leads to indifference towards Allah, which is indeed a slow spiritual death. One should always remember that the opposite of love is not hate, it is complacency. So in their own way questioning their faith is a good thing because they are at least interacting with it, rather than just being comfortably self-righteous. You could even argue that their words, deeds, and actions are more in alignment than those of many so-called practicing Muslims.

Going back to the pocket of interest that involves ex-Muslims, I came across an article from the New Statesman that openly spoke of people leaving Islam for various reasons. Whilst I agree with some of the points made in the article there are plenty of other points that perhaps could do with further discussion, especially in the presence of a learned Qur’anic scholar. Presented below are selected quotes from the article which, as always, is well worth reading in full.

Finally, to all fellow truth seekers out there, be you monotheist (like Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Christians), polytheist (like Hindus, Shintoists, and Zoroastrians), atheist (like Kumail Nanjiani, Steven Pinker, and Stephen Hawking), agnostic (like Neil Gaiman, Edward Said, and Charlie Chaplin), anti-theist (like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, aka the famous ‘Four Horsemen of Atheism’), or whatever your belief, whatever your faith, may you be brave enough to take the steps you need to take, and I wish you all the best on your own personal spiritual journey. See you on the other side!

What I Learned When I Spoke To The People Who Chose To Leave Islam

Fiyaz Mughal, 09 May 2018,

As a Muslim, I believe that we need to face up to the fact faith can become rigid and interfering.

Faith gives comfort, solace and reflection to many. But the Islam practised by many Muslims in the UK is not one of reflection, but of ritual without understanding. It is about punishment, pain and barriers, rather than enlightenment, openness and the nurturing of creative thought. The Wahabbist-Salafism that has so infected Islam over the last 100 years has done so because of petrodollars from Saudi Arabia’s coffers. These petrodollars have stifled and throttled the natural development of Islam in modernity, choke-holding it and keeping it in the medieval period that Wahabbi-Salafists want as a means of control.

This rigidity reflects itself in various ways. I find Muslims half my age, angry and disaffected that the world hates them. I find Islamist groups in the UK that try and defend some of the more unsavoury and vile practices around elements like apostasy in Islam where punishment through with-holding access to children, inheritance rights and at the extreme end, the threat of execution, is a way to ‘redeem’ and ‘reclaim’ someone who just does not believe. I find Muslims in the UK unable to historically challenge child marriage and even re-affirming child marriage because it is somehow Islamic to betroth someone at childhood, as if we live in the 12th century.

Then, sadly, I also find the defensive brigade. These include those who push away difficult issues such as punishment for apostasy, the place of Jews, Christians and other faiths in Muslim majority countries and even the history of the Arabian peninsula before Islam. I simply don’t buy into the age of the “Jahaliyya” –that dismissal of the period of Arabian history before the advent of Islam as the “age of Ignorance”. Ask the vast majority of British Muslims what history and culture existed in that period, and they will be unable to describe any detail, apart from the fact that it was idolatrous, tribal and “ignorant” of the word of God. Indeed, much of the physical evidence of that history has been wantonly destroyed. This is isn’t religion – it’s religious propaganda.

In the end, Islam does not stand alone. To many Muslims, it may be the word of God, but in thinking this, they deny the fact that faith is a lived experience and the faith that they follow has been shaped by human lives who have gone before. Islam has also been shaped by those who leave it and this happened early on in the formation of an Islamic community in seventh century Arabia. To deny that, is to deny Islam’s history.