ONE FOR THE ATHEISTS…

Here’s a recent interview between the author Reza Aslan and the American talk show host Jon Stewart:

In the interview (well worth watching) Stewart made the rather funny and clever comment:

I’ve always said religion has given people great comfort in a world torn apart by religion. – Jon Stewart

Although Stewart is not an atheist (he’s Jewish), this dichotic aspect of religion that he touches upon is there for all to see. Yes, religion has its points both good and bad, and religious people can be both noble and savage. However, I feel that atheists tend to focus only on the bad and, at the moment, Islam seems to be right in the middle of that negative secular spot light. Here’s a quote from Bill Maher saying as such:

I’m not fond of any religions, but if this were the 14th century when the Catholic Inquisition was going on and they were burning witches, I would be criticizing Christianity as the religion that was way too violent and took itself way too seriously. But this is not the 14th century, and it’s not the 16th century when Catholics and Protestants were slaughtering each other the same way Sunnis and Shiites are now. It’s the 21st century, and in the 21st century, the problem is more about Islam than it is about any other religion. – Bill Maher, from an interview with Newsweek

I am not going to get into the debate about whether Islam is inherently the problem (for it is indeed not), instead I would like to focus on the idea that atheists proclaim that religion itself is inherently bad. With this is mind, I recently came across two quotes that really made sense to a practicing Muslim such as myself. The first is some dialogue from a horror movie between a priest and a police officer, with the priest making a rather valid point. The second is from the interview mentioned above, with Aslan making a similar but stronger point. Both quotes are below:


[Speaking in a bar filled with police officers]

Father Mendoza: What about you? When did you outgrow God?

Ralph Sarchie: When I was 12. Some meth-head frying his brains out broke into our house. He was in the same room as my mom who was sleeping. You know what stopped him? God didn’t stop him. I did. With a baseball bat. You see, Father, as we speak, every day, out there, someone’s getting hurt, ripped off, murdered, raped. Where’s God when all that’s happening? Hmm?

Father Mendoza: In the hearts of people like you, who put a stop to it. I mean, we can talk all night about the problem of evil, but what about the problem of good? I mean, if there’s no God, if the world is just “survival of the fittest,” then why are all the men in this room willing to lay down their lives for total strangers? Hmm? – from the movie Deliver Us From Evil (2014)


Reza: Look, there’s obviously a serious problem with religion, religious violence in the world, and particularly in Islam and in the Middle East. But if you’re going to blame religion for violence in the name of religion, then you have to credit religion for every act of compassion in the name of religion. You have to credit religion for every act of love in the name of religion. And that’s not what people usually think. I mean, they focus very much on the negatives. Part of the problem is that there’s this misconception that people derive their values from their scriptures, and the truth is that it’s more often the case that people insert their values into their scriptures. I mean, otherwise, every Christian who read this Bible would read it exactly the same way. In this country, not 200 years ago, both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their viewpoints, they used the same verses to do so. I mean, that’s the thing about scripture. Its power comes from its malleability. You can read it in any way you want to. If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in the Koran or in the Bible to justify your viewpoint. If you’re a peaceful feminist, you will find just as much in those scriptures to justify your viewpoint.

Jon: What if you’re a Jew who loves a bacon egg croissan’wich? Is there something for me?…There’s got to be something.

Reza: I would recommend the book of Mormon for you. That might…

Jon: Yes! I knew it!…But that is the point.

Reza: Exactly. The point is is that without interpretation scripture is just words on a page. It requires somebody to read it, to encounter it for it to have any kind of meaning, and obviously in that transaction, you are bringing yourself, your views, your politics, your social ideas into the text. How you read scripture has everything to do with who you are. God does not make you a bigot. You’re just a bigot. – Reza Aslan, author, talking to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, May 2015


Please note that a recent blog post of mine also touched upon atheism and theology, again well worth a gander.

9 FUNNY QUOTES FROM STAND-UP COMEDIANS

Below are 9 hopefully funny quotes from stand-ups, including one about ‘Uncle Eid’. Enjoy!


You can throw rice at a wedding, but you can’t throw naan bread. – Joe Wilkinson

Whatever happened to Gandhi? Because he only made one good film, didn’t he? – Anil Desai

Of course, nobody hates other Indians abroad more than other Indians abroad. – Aditi Mittal

This is a jinn story from Pakistan: somebody in Pakistan weed on a tree, and the next day someone knocked on his door and said “Why did you wee on my family?” That’s a jinn story for you. – Abdullah Afzal (Amjad, or Bhudhoo, from Citizen Khan)

Amjad

My mum is very charitable. She is a very, very good woman. She takes charity very seriously actually. So seriously that she does Movember all year round. She’s committed. – Mawaan Rizwan

You can either choose to be a vegan, or you can choose to enjoy life. – Romesh Ranganathan

Mum, how can you ask me to get an arranged marriage, when you’re the one who’s been telling me growing up not to speak to strangers? How is that going to work? It’s not going to work, is it? – Tez Ilyas

I love Christmas but being Pakistani Muslim, I don’t really celebrate Christmas…what I really love about Christmas is Santa Claus…but I was thinking, in Islam we don’t have a Santa Clause. Where’s our Uncle Eid? Where’s that guy? Where’s Chacha Christmas? Where is this guy? And then I gave it too much thought, and I figured out why we don’t have one in Islam. Because, right, if you took a fat Asian or Arabic looking guy, with a beard and some robes…imagine there he is…it’s just a Muslim guy, isn’t it? Any Muslim guy. And if you take this Muslim guy and you put him in a flying sled, with a sack full of toys, yeah, led by seven flying animals…camels one imagines…and he sets off, right, he’s gone to deliver his Eid presents, right, how long do you think he’s going to last in European or American air space?…“And Tahir that is why we don’t have Father Christmas in Islam”…Thanks mum, great story. – Tez Ilyas

I don’t like talking to strangers in the street. You know when somebody comes up to you and tries to make friends with you by saying something obvious and putting “Isn’t it?” at the end. “It’s cold today, isn’t it?” “Yeah…now go away. I don’t want to talk to you, you time burglar. I’m trying to avoid friends I’ve already got, not make new ones. Moron.” This happened to me, I was at the post office and there was this elderly lady in front of me with a cat. I mean, if you want to sort this country out, sort that out, people taking cats to the post office. Anyway the lady turns round to me and says “It’s taking a long time, isn’t it?” Obviously what she wants me to say is “Yeah, yeah it is.” She doesn’t want to have a genuine conversation. She doesn’t want me to say, for example, “No, I don’t think it is taking that long a time, but I can understand why your perception of time is different to mine, being you have so little of it left”. She doesn’t want to hear that. – Romesh Ranganathan

7 QUOTES AND 5 LINKS

Below are 7 quotes from one of my favourite scholars, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Following these, there are links to 3 really interesting articles, one YouTube video from the rapper Akala (he’s talking, not rapping), and a link to a new book about Islam from Carla Power.


Quotes…

  • Above all we should be intolerant to those qualities in our own selves that Allah dislikes, and to be tolerant of those very same qualities of those around us, knowing that they are in a state of tribulation. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
  • Allah gave you the ability to expand your mind. If your mind is not expanded then you are to blame. But knowledge comes with patience. Knowledge comes with learning. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
  • Anytime we mention Al–Habeeb, the heart should yearn to be in the presence of the Beloved. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
  • As Muslims we should humanise people and not dehumanise people, as this is more compatible with the spirit of rahma. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
  • For me the most important thing in this religion is the preservation of the honour of our Prophet (S). – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
  • Humans are very egocentric, our lives revolve around ourselves. It’s a major problem, in fact it’s probably the single most significant problem on the planet, egocentricity, the nafs, nafsy nafsy. And one of the things this religion teaches people is eethaar, to actually begin to prefer other people, and the reason for that is on yawm–al–qiyamah it’s all nafsy nafsy, and the only people who are saved are the ones who had the eethaar in this world, Allah gives them the eethaar in the next world. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
  • How much of our humanity do we have to lose before we finally wake up? – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Links…

  • An article on how ‘brainwashed’ terrorists are, or aren’t (as the case may be): The Zoolander Theory Of Terrorism
  • An interesting new book about one woman’s account of her year spent studying with the traditional Islamic scholar Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi: If The Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship And A Journey To The Heart Of The Koran by Carla Power
  • A very moving article about time and death, written by a neurosurgeon shortly before his death: Before I Go
  • Another moving article, this one about Gaza: Gaza Is Hell
  • The very intelligent British rapper Akala and his insightful views on racism and empire:

RAMADHAAN 2015 – A FEW RESOURCES

Kaba pic

We are now in the month of Shabaan (moonsighting.com), which means Ramadhaan is nearly here. Preparations for Ramadhaan should ideally begin now. With this intention, I am hoping the list of resources below can help us all to make the most of this blessed month, insha-Allah…


Information about the month of Shabaan. Please see the following 3 Shabaan jpg files, these are scanned from an excellent book called The Best Of Times by Muhammad Khan. Please read these in order to get the best out of this blessed month of Shabaan (click on the images to enlarge).

Shaban 1Shaban 2Shaban 3


An excellent lecture about Ramadhaan called Preparing For Ramadan by Shaykh Zahir Mahmood (scroll down the page please in order to get to this particular lecture).


Another excellent lecture, this one is from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and is called Ramadan Advice.


A useful website with loads of really good practical hints and tips: http://productivemuslim.com/.


Four files that will insha–Allah provide some good information.

Complete Guide To Ramadhan

Laylatul-Qadr – guide

Ramadhaan checklist

Ramadhaan preparation pack


OVERALL: Know that you will only get out of Ramadhaan what you are willing to put in. Therefore please make time to read the Shabaan article, to read the pdf files and the Word doc, and to listen to the lectures before Ramadhaan begins. Many thanks.

Finally, I came across a really good website where if you type in a post code it will show you the qibla direction from that place: http://www.qib.la/.

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT PAKISTAN…

Pakistan. A country of just over 300,000 square miles of the harshest, most squalid terrain this planet has to offer.

Pakistan. A country of more than 200 million desperate souls, the vast majority of them living hand to mouth.

Pakistan. A country whose name is commonly translated as ‘land of the pure’, although ‘holy place’ is a more accurate translation. ‘Pak’ is a Persian word meaning holy or pure, and ‘istan’ comes from the Hindi/Sanskrit word ‘isthan’ meaning ‘place’. In other words, the place is the thing that is pure, not the inhabitants of that place. Unfortunately, as we all know, it can be argued all too easily that the inhabitants of Pakistan are far from purity.

Others say Pakistan is an acronym derived from the first letters of the geographical regions involved: Punjab, Afghan (the North-West frontier region), Kashmir, Indus, and Sind, with the ‘tan’ said to represent Baluchistan. Some say the ‘i’ in Pakistan is for ‘Islam’ rather than ‘Indus’. God knows best.


Whatever the meaning, Pakistan is always in the news, and usually for crimes of unimaginable horror. The most recent atrocity involves 45 Shia Muslims who were gunned down so publicly and so mercilessly.

Just before this tragedy took place, you had the assassination of human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud. Her death has been linked to the Pakistani army’s alleged involvement in the torture and killing of political activists in restive Baluchistan.

Mahmud’s killing reminded me of the death of Zahra Shahid Hussain, founding member & vice–president of Movement For Justice, Imran Khan’s political party. Hussain was assassinated in May 2013 outside her home in Karachi. After her death a famous quote of hers began doing the rounds on the internet, a quote whose words are still so hauntingly pertinent:

I long for a land where one can find food and shelter and be free to dream one’s dream. A land where men can work and earn and be. And women can hold their heads up and walk without fear and smile. A land where children can laugh and learn and play…and the tyranny of the few does not oppress the many, and justice is swift, simple and sure. I long for a land free from the stench of corruption and the greed of empty parasitic shells pasturing as leaders. I long for enough to long as I long…I long for enough to long as I long…To turn my land into such a wonder.

This longing that we all share seems a long way away, something echoed by the great writer Ahmed Rashid, in an article written last month entitled The Fierce Pressures Facing Pakistan…well worth reading.

Several months ago my wife and I watched a harrowing documentary about mass child exploitation in Pakistan called Pakistan’s Hidden Shame. The experience left us angry, numb, and heart broken.

Another documentary well worth watching is Saving Face (2012). This documentary is about the hundreds of people every year who are attacked by acid in Pakistan, most of them women. Saving Face has won the only Academy Award Pakistan has ever had, a bitter sweet victory indeed.


Whilst the list of negative stories goes on and on occasionally, very occasionally, you do get good news stories coming through about Pakistan, stories about Chinese investment for a superhighway, the so called ‘Silk Road’, or stories about Pakistan’s booming billion dollar fashion industry, or stories entitled 9 Good Things Happened This Week In Pakistan.

To somewhat counteract the Ahmed Rashid article mentioned earlier, here is an article by Akbar Ahmed entitled 5 Things Americans Need To Know About Pakistan…again well worth reading.

For me, the current condition of Pakistan is summed up succinctly in the following quote from Imam Ibn Taymiyyah:

God upholds a just state even if it is non-believing, but does not uphold an unjust state even if it is believing.

The quote is taken from The Islamic Vision Of Development by Muhammad Umer Chapra. With this in mind, think about the UK and Pakistan. Here in the UK if you were to kick your neighbour’s dog you would probably be arrested in a matter of hours. Over in Pakistan, you could murder people in broad daylight and get away with it. A work colleague of mine went to Pakistan a few years ago for a family wedding. His brother was mugged and shot in the street, left for dead. As far as I am aware, to this day there has been no justice. Here in the UK they may not have any faith but they have justice, whereas in Pakistan they claim (dubiously) to have faith but clearly justice cannot be found.

Another work colleague of mine made the following observations, some of which I agree with, others I perhaps do not…


I, Pakistan

First they came for the Ahmedis.

Brutal perhaps, but that’s okay, because we know Ahmedis aren’t ‘real’ Pakistanis anyway. After all, I’m a real Muslim unlike them, so why would I care?

Then they came for the Shias. Brutal perhaps, but that’s okay, because we know Shias aren’t ‘real’ Pakistanis anyway. After all, I’m a Sunni, a real Muslim unlike them, so why would I care?

Then they came for the journalists and politicians speaking out against the blasphemy laws. Brutal perhaps, but that’s okay, because we know these secular/non-Muslim journalists and politicians aren’t ‘real’ Pakistanis anyway. After all, I love the Prophet more than anything else, making me a real Muslim unlike them, so why would I care?

Then they came for the Christians. But that’s okay, because we know Christians aren’t ‘real’ Pakistanis anyway. After all, I’m a Muslim unlike them, so why would I care?

Then they came for Malala. Brutal perhaps, but that’s okay, because we know this western stooge giving Pakistan, and therefore Islam, a bad image isn’t a ‘real’ Pakistani anyway. After all, say it with me: I am not Malala! I am a real Muslim!

Then they came for the children in a Pak Army school. But that’s okay, because they are not real Pakista- oh, wait.

What just happened? How could this happen?

Pakistan styles itself proudly as the great garrison state, and yet the very first line of defence above, and second, and third, and fourth, and so on, ad nauseum … have long been reduced to rubble. The real enemy has long laid siege to it, beleaguered its people, and blown cavernous holes through its walls. Too many of us folks inside did not take much notice of these holes until our own children were hit en masse, not least because we were too distracted by the ‘real’ Line Of Defence over there on that side.

Pakistan is also home to a deep and creative underground thread of talent that has woven itself into existence despite the corruption and statism of the overground overlords. Here there is so much to be proud of, as no-one is discriminated against with elusive crimes for not being a ‘real’ Pakistani. Here the unconditional defence of minorities, religious or otherwise, is recognised as the first line of defence, and the aspiration for liberty is cherished and appreciated in a way that has been forgotten elsewhere.

Pakistan was forged by minorities for minorities to be free and equal, away from the caste-minded mob. We escaped the Hindu caste system only to allow the scaffolding to go up for one of our own making: a ‘real’ Pakistani is measured by what religious garb he feigns to wear. And the Taliban have taken full advantage of this with shocking results, reigning destruction at will. But the ‘real’ Pakistani is a unicorn. There is no such thing, never has been, and never will be. Should the first line of defence fall, then we all fall together. We fall to that singular minority of Muslims who respond to words with violence, principally against non-violent minorities as a way of intimidating the rest, including a cowed army and government.

The Taliban will not be satisfied to stop at minorities. They will keep coming for the intellectuals, the cultured, the progressives, the cosmopolitans, the teachers, the creatives, the artists, the musicians, the writers, the performers, the opinionated and not-so-opinionated. And yes, the Taliban will come for schoolchildren – yet again. They will tread on the infirm, whether physical or mental. They will persecute the transgenders and the homosexuals. They will subjugate women without remorse. And then the Taliban will turn on the very intellectual cowards that praised them from within Pakistan, and their minted PhDs will not save them, because there will be no-one left to speak out for them. How do we know this? Because the Taliban have done all this before, and they very much mean to do it again. They are past masters of the art of post-hoc rationalisation for their inhumanity.

But we also know what the Taliban deeply fear. And herein lies hope for all our children. The journalist Maheen Usmani said after the Peshawar massacre: “Beware of dissembling, distortion & hijacking of narrative by Taliban apologists. Do not fall into their trap.”  Indeed, to stop the Taliban and their apologists, we can begin by recognising that they do not care who or what a ‘real’ Pakistani is. If we want others to speak out for us in time, neither should any of us.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the desire to persist despite it.

There is still hope for the future of our children. The permanence of our strength against the Taliban will come via the strength of our compassion for each other, our many and diverse minorities, and not with just a little courage.

MIRANDA HART AND THE QADR OF ALLAH

Miranda Hart Cover

I am currently reading the book Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart. I am only a wee bit into the book but so far so good, if you like her style of humour, which I happen to do.

Very early on in the book, I came across a passage that immediately made think of a concept in Islam known as qadr. Qadr is translated as ‘the divine decree’ or ‘the final decree’, basically an acknowledgment that all that is good and all that is bad comes from Allah.

When Muslims talk about qadr, inevitably we get on to topics such as free will, predestination, provision, predetermination, actions, intentions, responsibility, blame, and so forth. As can be imagined, much confusion arises for all involved in such not so hilarious debates.

Because of the complex theological nature of qadr, I am always eager to find simple explanations that help me to understand this Islamic article of faith better. One such example is the following passage from Hart’s book:

‘Life, eh?’ It’s a phrase I’ve heard myself and others say over the years, many times. It’s often only just audible, thrown away over a sigh, or comes at the end of a laugh. A phrase or tic, or jerk, or (and I beg your pardon) ejaculation reserved for significant moments. Times when you just can’t put into words the emotions and happenings of this weird and wonderful journey of existence. I recently said it on holiday with my friend, Nicky, looking out at a sunset over the sea, when she and I realized we’d known each other ten years to the week. We looked back at all we had wanted then, and all we had achieved. It was a lovely moment, and I heard myself punctuating the conversion with ‘Life, eh?’ When my little sister had a daughter, we sat with my newborn niece in our parent’s garden, where she and I had often sat as young girls thirty years before. We said together, wistfully, ‘Life, eh?’ It says everything without having to say anything: that we all experience moments of joyful or painful reflection, sometimes alone, sometimes sharing laughs and tears with others; that we all know and appreciate that however wonderful and precious life is, it can equally be a terribly confusing and mysterious beast. ‘Life, eh?’ – Miranda Hart, from her book Is It just Me?

I thought this was a brilliantly honest view of the myriad complexities that life offers, a view that for me encapsulates this thing we Muslims call qadr.

Here are three other good examples that I hope will add to the overall understanding of qadr.


The first example is a short video clip from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf:


The second example is another short video clip, this one from Imam Nouman Ali Khan:


The third and final example is a clip from the movie Parenthood (1989), starring Steve Martin. In the clip Martin (aka Gil) in starting to lose the plot in his life due to all the sudden changes happening. He’s talking to his wife, trying to make sense of it all, when Grandma suddenly walks into the room to offer here two cents worth of worldly wisdom:

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: [sarcastically] What a great story!

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry–go–round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it. – from the movie Parenthood (1989)

PLEASE GOD, PLEASE BLESS AMERICA. PLEASE.

God Bless America

The movie God Bless America (2011) is a biting, blood-stained satire on our modern celebrity obsessed lifestyles. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, this small budget movie is about the middle aged ‘hero’ Frank (played subtly by Joel Murray) losing it big time and ‘going postal’.

Joining him on his quest is the teenage Roxy (played effortlessly by Tara Lynne Barr). Their aim (pun intended) is to make America a better place by killing people who are deemed to be irrelevant or annoying or both. At one point Frank says to Roxy “I only wanna kill people who deserve to die.”

The movie is in many ways a homage to the Michael Douglas movie Falling Down (1993), as well as being considered a remake of the 1998 British comedy Parting Shots. In that film, Harry Sterndale (played by the singer Chris Rea) learns he is dying of cancer and decides to go vigilante by shooting dead all those who have made his life a misery. He later discovers that he hasn’t got cancer after all.

God Bless America can be considered the opposite to The Bling Ring (2013), which is about people who are obsessed with fame, where as God Bless America is about people who detest fame and try to overcome it through their own infamy.

The body count builds throughout the movie, culminating in a finale on the stage of American Superstarz, a parody of music talent shows like American Idol.

The movie is well worth a watch, not only because it is rather satirical, but also because it has a few monologues that I found interesting.


The following monologue has Frank talking to a colleague at work:

…this is the “Oh no, you didn’t say that!” generation, where a shocking comment has more weight than the truth. No one has any shame anymore, and we’re supposed to celebrate it…I mean, why have a civilization anymore if we no longer are interested in being civilized? – from the movie God Bless America (2011)


This next monologue follows on from the one above, with Frank referring to a mentally slow contestant on last nights American Superstarz, who was awful and subsequently ridiculed by the judges. Due to being so bad, this contestant becomes famous and goes viral:

It’s not nice to laugh at someone who’s not all there. It’s the same type of freak-show distraction that comes along every time a mighty empire starts collapsing. “American Superstarz” is the new colosseum and I won’t participate in watching a show where the weak are torn apart every week for our entertainment. I’m done, really. Everything is so “cool” now. I just want it all to stop. I mean, nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV, or hear on the radio, or watch on the web. When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone without somebody texting or looking at a screen or a monitor over your head, you know? A conversation about something that wasn’t celebrities, gossip, sports, or pop politics. You know, something important, something personal. – from the movie God Bless America (2011)


The last monologue is at the end of the movie, with Frank talking to camera whilst standing on the American Superstarz stage, before the final inevitable shoot out:

My name is Frank. That’s not important. The important question is: who are you? America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest. We no longer have any common sense of decency. No sense of shame. There is no right and wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated. Lying and spreading fear are fine as long as you make money doing it. We’ve become a nation of slogan-saying, bile-spewing hatemongers. We’ve lost our kindness. We’ve lost our soul. – from the movie God Bless America (2011)


Here are the corresponding Youtube clips: