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The brilliant comedian Trevor Noah, presenter of the American satire program The Daily Show, recently said:

There are some people who make religion look bad. That is what Muslims are struggling from all over the world. – Trevor Noah

One does not have to look too far to come across stories of Muslims behaving badly, in ways that would make the Prophet Muhammad feel ashamed. Over the past few years I have openly blogged about how Muslims need to change their behaviour, of how they need to stop making their religion look so very bad. I have also tried to blog positively about Islam, be it through links to scholarly lectures or stand-up comedy clips, or quoting from various books and articles.

Two such positive blog posts have involved quotes from biographies of the Prophet Muhammad. The first (indeed my very first blog post) quoted from the book The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography by Barnaby Rogerson. More recently I quoted from Tariq Ramadan’s excellent book The Messenger: The Meanings Of The Life Of Muhammad.

I guess you could say this is the third blog post in this unofficial series, as it features a lengthy extract from the book Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction by the esteemed scholar and academic Professor Jonathan Brown. Brown’s book, whilst concise, covers many aspects of the life of the Prophet, which is why it is well worth reading. It begins with the following:

As the founder of Islam, Muhammad is one of the most influential figures in history…for the past fourteen centuries, Muhammad has been the intimate companion of the believers. In the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, he lies buried in the earth behind an ornately wrought grill. Muslim pilgrims grasp furtively at the metal bars, hoping to inch closer to their Prophet. Their words ring out: ‘May God’s peace and blessings be upon you, O Messenger of God!’, an Egyptian man cries out to the grave. An elderly Indian man in a wheelchair struggles vainly with the guards and family members; he calls out to God to take his life here and let him be buried in Medina, ‘the City of the Messenger of God’. One man mutters emotively, ‘I am here, O Messenger of God. Are you proud of me? I am one of your followers…’.
…His image is inscribed in the hearts of the believers by the spirit of faith and bonds of community. He is a light kindled in a Muslim’s heart from a young age through family and education, regardless of the tremendous diversity of Muslim cultures and lifestyles. Like all light, the Prophet’s indispensability is only realized when it is gone, and Muslims’ need for it only heard when someone reaches to take it away. – Jonathan Brown, from the Preface of his book Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction

The book goes on to describe various details of the life and times of the Prophet, as well as a look at what he means in the modern world. The main quote presented below is generally very positive, similar in many ways to the ‘hero’ quote from Barnaby Rogerson. There is however one crucial difference: Brown’s quote ends with reference to incidents where the Prophet ordered certain satirists to be assassinated.

Without going into historical details and analysing the fog of 7th century tribal warfare, what I would say is that each religion has to deal with its own harsh realities at any given time. In our world today Hinduism has to deal with the negative effects of the caste system, Christianity has to deal with child abuse allegations amongst clergy, Judaism has to deal with oppression of Palestinians, and Islam has to deal with groups like ISIS (and many other issues too numerous to mention).

Islam in its infancy had to deal with the issues it had to deal with, and propaganda at wartime was one such issue. The Prophet Muhammad dealt with this issue in the way he thought best. Let it always be stated that the truth can indeed leave a bitter aftertaste. Despite this the quote below overall is a good, honest overview of the character of the Prophet Muhammad. In the light of that endeavour, I hope you enjoy!

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Muhammad: The Beloved of God and Goodly Example

One Muslim woman in Medina lost her father, husband, and brother in the Battle of Uhud. Yet when the army returned from the field, she broke into tears of joyous relief to see the Prophet alive and well. She had boundless love for the man whom God had singled out with His words: ‘Indeed God and His angels send mercy down upon the Prophet. O you who believe, send your blessings and bountiful peace upon him!’ (Quran 33:56).

To his followers, Muhammad was ‘The Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets’ (Quran 33:40). He was the font of blessings and sole point of contact with the divine. God commanded the Muslims to obey His Messenger Muhammad, for he was ‘possessed of an awesome character’ and ‘a goodly exemplar’ for the Muslims (Quran 68:4, 33:21). Muhammad’s teachings, words, and behaviour were a living implementation and illustration of the Quran’s teachings. As his wife Aisha said, ‘His character was the Quran.’ Muhammad’s precedent and the totality of his lifestyle became known as his Sunnah, which Muslims believed was inspired by God – a veritable second revelation. As Muhammad once said, ‘I was given the Quran and its like along with it.’

Who was this leader whom the Muslims loved so dearly that they prized him above their own parents and children? Who was this man whom they venerated so clearly that they imitated his every action, how he ate, slept, and dressed (later people would remark to the Muslims that ‘your prophet has taught you everything, even how to defecate’)?

Muhammad was of medium height and build, with olive skin and shoulder-length, jet-black hair, which he often wore in two braids. He had a beard long enough that it could be seen upon his cheeks from behind him, and he had a slight gap between his top front teeth. He owned only two pairs of clothing, long blouses pulled on over the head, and a cloak to protect him from the cold. Although he was often presented with ornate robes as gifts, he gave them away to his followers. Like everyone in the desert, the Prophet covered his head with a turban, either black or green. He wore a simple ring with the inscription ‘Muhammad the Messenger of God’. Like his Arab people, he wore kohl around his eyes.

It was Muhammad who taught the Muslims how to perform their five daily prayers, when to begin and end their fasts, and how to undertake the various rites of pilgrimage to Mecca. In such rituals and practices, Muhammad preferred to adhere to the ways of the People of the Book unless God ordered some change. His Companions followed the Sunnah obsessively. Later, when Umar bin al-Khattab was leading the Muslims in their circumambulation of the Kaba, he stopped to kiss the black stone as Muhammad had taught him. ‘I know you are but a rock that cannot hurt or harm me’, he scoffed at the stone, ‘and I would not kiss you if I had not seen this done by the Messenger of God.’

In Muslim tradition, the devotion that Muslims should feel towards Muhammad is seen as a reflection of the magnanimity of his character. Even Abu Sufyan could only admit that ‘I have never seen someone who was as loved as Muhammad was by his Companions.’ To be near him, to hear him speak, was to draw near to the bridge between the divine and the earthly realm. Muhammad’s person was so imbued with baraka, or blessing, that to touch him felt like brief contact with God’s grace. Companions would fight over the water left over from Muhammad’s ablutions, collect his hairs and fingernail clippings. ‘Abdallah bin al-Zubayr, the first Muslim born in Medina, once even tasted some of the Prophet’s blood after he had been bled when sick.

Muhammad was infinitely wise, always aware of the virtuous course of action as a father, a friend, a judge, and a leader of men. ‘I have been sent’, he said, ‘to complete the virtues of character.’ He said that God had granted him ‘encompassing words (jawami’ al-kalam)’, or the ability to speak profound truths succinctly. ‘The best of affairs are those of moderation’, he said one day; ‘Happy is the man who heeds the lessons learned by others’, he said on another.

Arabs respected courage and wise council, and Muhammad exemplified both. He fought in nine battles during his career, always sharing the risks taken by his men. But he also knew the central importance of alliances, even with unbelievers.

His mercy and patience were inexhaustible. When a coarse Bedouin came to Medina from the desert and began relieving himself in the mosque courtyard, Muhammad’s Companions wanted to kill him for his disrespect. Muhammad told them to let the man finish. He then told the Bedouin, ‘The mosque is for praying.’ When he was injured at Uhud, the Muslims urged Muhammad to curse the Meccans. He replied, ‘Truly I was not sent to curse, but rather to call people to religion and as a mercy. O God! They are my people, but they know not.’

Muhammad was incredibly charitable in his judgement of other Muslims’ sincerity. His close Companion Usama bin Zayd killed a man in battle despite the fact that right before he swung his sword the man had cried out ‘There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is His messenger’– presumably becoming Muslim to save his skin. But the Prophet rebuked Usama: ‘Did you split open his heart [to know what he truly believed]?’, Muhammad asked.

Muhammad was exceptionally frugal and pious. He never ate his fill of bread or meat without sharing it with others. ‘Food for one will suffice for two’, he said, ‘and food for two will suffice for three’. When Aisha was asked how he acted at home, she said, ‘He was a man like any other, he would delouse his clothing, milk his own sheep and tend to his own needs.’

Muhammad always mentioned God in his every action. When he ate, he would pray, for example, ‘Praise be to God who feeds us and gives us drink and has made us among those who submit to Him.’ He prayed for at least a third of every night, and fasted every Monday and Thursday. This despite the fact that God had revealed to him that he was guaranteed paradise. When a Muslim asked Muhammad why he continued to worship and fast so frequently, Muhammad replied, ‘Should I not be a grateful servant of God?’ But Muhammad was attentive that he did not set too difficult a standard for his followers; in any new situation, he would always take the easiest option if it was not a sin.

The fear of God and concern for his community weighed heavily upon Muhammad, but he was a man of exceptional good humour. One of his Companions said that he had ‘never seen anyone smile as much as the Messenger of God’. Although he instructed his followers, ‘Do not lie even if you’re joking’, Muhammad was not above a hearty laugh. When Ali had a spat with his wife, Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, and fell asleep outside his house in the dust, Muhammad named him Abu Turab, the ‘Father of Dust’, a nickname that stuck.

Muhammad never spared himself criticism. A man who was riding next to the Prophet during a campaign accidentally struck Muhammad’s foot, and the pain led Muhammad to strike the man’s leg with his whip. The next day, the Prophet sought the man out to apologize and compensate him with eighty camels. But if Muhammad felt that someone was belittling him in his capacity as God’s Messenger, he was uncompromising in his response. When a man accused Muhammad of nepotism when he ruled in favour of his cousin al-Zubayr in a matter of splitting irrigation water, Muhammad stripped the man of all his water rights.

Muhammad’s authority amongst the Muslims was two-fold: that of a political leader and that of a religious guide. Although Muhammad was ultimately the decision-maker in Medina’s political and judicial affairs, as we have seen, he consulted with his advisors such as Umar and frequently yielded to their council.

As a religious leader, however, Muhammad brooked no dissent. To break with his delivery of God’s message and definition of Islam was to leave the Muslim community – the testimony of faith said to become a Muslim was ‘There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.’ A Medinan man named Abu Amir had been a hanif following the religion of Abraham before Muhammad’s arrival in the city. But Abu Amir accused Muhammad of adulterating the Abrahamic faith, to which Muhammad replied, ‘No, I have renewed it pure and white.’ As a result, Abu Amir was exiled from Medina and eventually joined the Meccans. The Quran reminded the Muslims that ‘It is not for a believing man or woman that they should have any choice in a matter when God and His Messenger have decided it’ (Quran 33:36).

Insulting or attacking the person of the Prophet was an attack on the core of Islam and Muslim identity. Within Medina, Muhammad was merciful. After the Prophet was wounded at Uhud, the arch-hypocrite ‘Abdallah bin Ubayy had claimed that no true prophet could be injured in battle. When Umar and other Companions wanted to kill the hypocrite for his calumny, Muhammad responded that he did not want anyone to say that Muhammad kills his own Companions. Even the Jews who mocked the Prophet within Medina were left unmolested.

Satirical poetry, however, was a political weapon. In Arabia, poets were the propagandists in times of conflict. A Medinan poet named Ka’b al-Ashraf joined the Meccans after the Battle of Badr and later composed vicious satires of Muhammad. Muhammad ordered his followers to find and assassinate him. Later, the Prophet also ordered the assassination of a female poet from a desert tribe who was slandering him in verse.

– Jonathan Brown, from Chapter 1 of his book Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, pages 36-41



Too Much News

Like many of us I try and keep up with the news on a daily basis. As each day goes by this endeavor feels more and more futile for two main reasons. Firstly, there is a huge amount of information that is constantly pumped into the digital atmosphere. Keeping up with it all is nigh on impossible. Secondly, there is a lack of genuine objective quality in most of the writing that I come across. It is therefore a real delight when I read an article that really shows things in a completely different perspective.

With that in mind I would like to bring to your attention 4 articles that I hope are well worth reading. The first is from the brilliant documentary maker Adam Curtis who provides his expert analysis about Trump and American politics. The next is from journalist Hiba Khan who describes who and what ISIS really are. Following this is an intense article from Samira Shackle about ambulance driving in Karachi. Finally we have American academic Nazir Harb Michel who criticises anyone who feels they can interpret Islamic scripture without a proper understanding of the nuances of the text itself.

Links are provided to all 4 articles, each one well worth reading in full, but in case you are unable to do that then I have selected the best and most relevant quotes from each. Enjoy!

Donald Trump Has Become A Deep State Puppet

Adam Curtis, Apr 2017,

2005 Tribeca Film Festival Portraits - 4/28

The truth is that no-one in America who is pushing for something to be done about Syria—the liberal humanitarians, the neoconservatives, the globalists in the military—has any real answer about who to support.

The truth is that we in the West have so simplified our vision of the world, into a battle between good and evil, that we now find it impossible to understand the reality. It was a process that started in the 1990s under Clinton and Blair, but both Trump and his enemies, the liberal interventionists, have inherited that one-dimensional view. It is dangerous because it ignores the realities of power in societies. And Trump may find he is opening the door to something very complicated, not just Syria but the forces that surround it—Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel, all of whom are deeply involved in the conflict.

Basically, a right-wing president has been elected, and he’s created a brilliant machine that captures liberals and keeps them completely preoccupied. What he does is he wakes up in the morning, tweets something that he knows isn’t true, they get very upset and spend the whole day writing in big capital letters on social media, “This is outrageous. This is bad. This is fascism.” What they’re not facing up to is the real question, which is why did Donald Trump win the election? What other forces in the country had they, the liberals, not seen?

What Trump is doing is playing with the fakery. It may be instinctive. He’s saying things that he knows that we know aren’t true, at which point everyone gets locked into a game of what’s true and what’s not true.

Russia has been the Other ever since about 1951 for America, and then everyone tried to make it be Islamists. By about 2007 that wasn’t working, and everyone now seems to have switched back to Russia.

There are only two ways of changing the world. One is if you’ve got large amounts of money. The other is to use collective action, the collective power that politics allows you.

Isis And Al-Qaeda Are Little More Than Glorified Drug Cartels

Hiba Khan, 16 Apr 2017,


Isis and al-Qaeda are little more than glorified drug cartels, and their motivation is money not religion.

Purported faith is just an excuse for terrorist organisations to take over the territory they need to monopolise the illegal drugs trade.

The black flags of Isis have become the latest symbols of Islamic extremism. Their savagery has come to represent what we believe to be a vulgar distortion of an Abrahamic faith. We’ve grown exhausted in our infuriation at the commitment of these people to sadistic interpretations of scripture, supposedly leading them through beheadings and slaughter, all the way to paradise. But what if I told you that their fury has nothing to do with faith? Terror is very big business. And I mean that in the literal sense.

Islam is a convenient label hiding the joining of two bloodied hands: trafficking and terrorism. Global gang violence has been “Islamised”.

Replace ideology with big bucks and a sense of belonging, Godly devotion with a disturbed, thuggish lack of morality and the conquered “caliphate” territory with a narcotic-fuelled gangland, and your picture of todays “Islamism” is a whole lot more accurate.

Terror, Shipwreck, Guns – 24 Hours In A Karachi Ambulance

Samira Shackle, 21 Mar 2017,

Edhi Ambulance

For decades, Karachi has been troubled by violence. This is the country’s economic epicentre, where Pakistan’s different ethnic groups come in search of work. Ethnic conflicts have been simmering since the 1950s, ramping up as conflict and natural disasters elsewhere in Pakistan pushed more people into the city. For years, a brutal gang war raged in the slum of Lyari, and as terrorism drastically increased in Pakistan after 2001, Karachi became a key militant operating ground. Since 2014, a bloody crackdown led by the army has brought a semblance of calm, but tensions bubble under the surface.

Pakistan can sometimes be a cruel environment, its residents caught between the dual pressures of poverty and violence. Yet it is also a place of great kindness, with a strong culture of charitable giving. Donations from what Edhi called “the common man” still power the foundation. It refuses state money, and has politely turned away donations from businessmen it deems “unethical”. It fills many gaps left by the state, operating a dizzying array of services, from homes for victims of domestic violence to food banks to a shelter for stray animals.

So, You Hate Islam?

Nazir Harb Michel, 14 Mar 2017,

There’s a lot of upsetting stuff online about Islam and Muslims…I, like many Muslims, have grown used to the unceasing stream of vitriol directed at Islam, Muslims, our scripture, and our prophet. What got to me was the audacity of this individual.

We Can’t Reduce Complexity to Absurd Simplicity…If you hate something, keep it to yourself. Talk to a therapist. Don’t fool yourself into thinking Islam is fair game – hate is hate and it’s always wrong. Equating Islam, a religion, with ISIS, a terrorist organization that targets Muslims more than any other group, and everything it does is offensive and simply, factually wrong. It’s entirely incoherent, actually. It’s as absurd as saying “the KKK is Christianity” or “the Lord’s Army is Christianity” or “colonialism is Christianity”, “slavery is Christianity”, “the holocaust is Christianity”, etc. People’s claims to a faith tradition are not sufficient grounds for validation – all claims must be verified and ISIS’s claims to Islam do not check out. Every Islamic council, jurist, judge, and scholar, and Imam I’ve ever encountered has denounced ISIS’s actions as against Islam and abominable. If you find yourself saying you “hate Islam” and/or Muslims, and trying to justify that hate by claiming Islam is a “political ideology” or “an idea” rather than a religion, not only are you dramatically and emphatically wrong on all accounts, but you’re also reconstituting the exact same arguments that were used to dehumanize and then abuse and kill other minority groups in the past. Everything you’re saying about Islam and/or Muslims, literally everything, was said about Jews and Black people in the recent past. That hate was used to fuel and justify slavery and the holocaust. Europeans also attempted a genocide on Albanian Muslims in the 90s. What do you want to happen when you say these nasty things about Islam and Muslims?

You can’t possibly think that you’re right about Islam, can you? Of course you’re wrong. You have to know that deep down inside…You read the Quran? Which one? How many commentaries did you read with it? From which of the 77 [or more] schools of thought? Which contextualizing compendia of history did you read with them? Which of the top tier programs in Islamic Studies at Harvard, Oxford, Georgetown, and Cambridge did you earn your Ph.D.(s) in?

For ISIS, there are either Muslims who join them or there are Muslims who are inauthentic. Their argument is transparently self-serving and has no basis in any Islamic tradition. You anti-Muslim internet bullies, like the professional network of paid Islamophobic extortionists, operate on the same illogic: Muslims are either part of ISIS or they’re lying. A “moderate Muslim” is a secular one who doesn’t practice the faith and renounces the scripture and the law. Less than 1/1000th of 1% of Muslims ever get involved in militarism. Given the history of the (Re)conquista, the Inquisition, the Crusades, colonization, and the Global War on Terror, which has itself killed 1.3 million innocent civilians, it would be a wonder how more Muslims aren’t militants.


Syria NS

The on-going civil war in Syria has so far claimed the lives of over 450,000 people and displaced over 7.5 million (over 4.5 million of these are fleeing refugees). It has now been raging for over 6 years, with no end in sight. God alone knows how many more lives are to be taken before the carnage will end. Even as I write this blog post news is breaking of another bomb to hit civilians in a planned town swap evacuation, leaving dozens dead, many of them children, which now seems to be the case on most occasions.

The sheer number of belligerents directly involved, their indirect supporters, along with the long national history of Syria, make it very difficult to understand what is going on. Who started it? Who are the good guys? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? Who do we want in power after it all ends? Complicated indeed.

Depending on your view point, there are many ways to analyse this crisis. I myself have tried to work out what to make of all this but, alas, I am still no further in understanding what is really going on, either on the ground, in the air, or in the minds of the main power players.

Take the recent April 2017 sarin chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. America is blaming Assad. Russia is asking America for proof of this assertion. Assad was at first blaming the rebels but now says the whole thing was “100% fabrication” by the west to make him look bad. Where do you even begin to unravel this particular ball of issues?

Anyways, as an attempt to try and understand things better, I have collated various short YouTube clips and cartoons that will, hopefully, present the whole thorny issue of Syria in a somewhat different light, a light that perhaps will change existing perceptions. The cartoons in particular are interesting in that they reflect the complexities of who is fighting, why, and which side should one choose.

Saturday Night Live tries to analyse the mind of Trump…

Syria Pool

The brilliant comedian Jaffer Khan on how a Syrian War Fantasy League could help us care about Syria more…

Syria Fight Club

Comedian Dave Smith on why arming Syrian rebels is such a bad thing…

Syria Bors

Comedian Lee Camp on the real reason as to why perhaps ‘we’ went into Syria in the first place…

Syira Side on who is fighting and why…

Is there a double standard when comparing Israel to Syria…?

A comparison of Bashar al-Assad and Benjamin Netanyahu

A brilliant analysis on how climate change may have been a primary factor in causing the Syrian civil war…

A few years ago Mother Jones posted a comic book by Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche that looked at the conflict in Syria from an environmental perspective. It is well worth a read as it does seem to make sense.

Syria Spray

Bill Maher and Ana Navarro on how we are now basically bombing both sides…

Syria Shirts

When was the last time any of us were this emotional…?

Charlie Brooker’s succinct definition of how best to describe what is going on…

How do you solve a problem like Syri-ah? Syria is a hellish tangle involving a brutal regime, rival rebel factions, extremists, and vested international interests. It’s a civil war, a proxy war, an ideological conflict, and a monumental humanitarian disaster, all at the same time. Little wonder some want to treat the problem like a malfunctioning old TV: give it a bang [punches the top of the table with the side of his fist] and hope it sorts itself out. – from the BBC TV program Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe

Louis CK On How The Christians Won, Kind Of

Louis CK 2017

If you are for some reason a regular reader of this blog (and why would you not be), you will know that I am a great fan of stand-up comedy. Sad news then that this week the world lost the great Don Rickles who died at the age of 90. Rickles was a fearless stand-up comedian and actor who has been making movies and doing stand-up from the early 1960’s. In 1970 he starred alongside Clint Eastwood in the heist movie Kelly’s Heroes. In 1995 he starred alongside Robert De Niro in the Martin Scorsese gangster movie Casino. He was recently better known as the voice of Mr Potato Head in the Toy Story movies.

Don Rickles

While the comedy world mourns this sad loss and, as I have said already, because I am a huge fan of stand-up myself, I thought it somewhat appropriate to maybe do a blog post involving stand-up comedy in some shape or form.

This neatly brings us to another stand-up in the mould of Rickles, the one and only Louis CK. Louis is an accomplished stand-up with over 25 years on-the-road experience. He recently did a new Netflix special, Louis CK 2017, in which he spoke about many things including abortion, gender issues, parenting, his strange relationship with the movie Magic Mike, and how Christianity kind-of-somehow won the whole religion thing. Even though Louis is an agnostic, he does hold some type of belief, as he says in one of his many faith-based routines:

I have a lot of beliefs and I live by none of them. That’s just the way I am. They’re just my beliefs. I just like believing them, I like that part. They’re my little ‘believees’, they make me feel good about who I am. – Louis CK

Despite this weird lack of faith, the 8 minute clip below on Christianity and the concept of time is nothing short of comedy genius, something that I know you will enjoy.

As a bonus, there is also a clip featuring a Saturday Night Live monologue where Louis again shares his musings on many topics, including God. As always, enjoy!

You’re supposed to teach your kids right from wrong. I don’t know, it’s confusing, you know. Some people raise their kids religiously and that kind of covers it. They kind of go, “All this. Do that.” I’m not raising my kids religiously because I don’t feel like it. Get up on a Sunday? Fuck that. Fuck that. Let your souls rot, kids. I don’t care. I’m not getting…

“Daddy, who’s Jesus?”

“None of your business. Go back to bed.”

But my kids, you know, they’re living in the world, and there’s a lot of religion in the world. So you do have to teach your kids. If you’re not raising them religiously, you do have to teach them about religion, you know. I always tell my kids the same thing. I tell them that there are many religions in the world, and they’re all equal. But the Christians are the main one. That’s what I tell them. The Christians won. They’re the winners. So, act accordingly. Congratulate Christians when you meet them. Because they won the world. And it’s true. It’s true. We love to tell ourselves, like, “Every religion is exactly…”

No! No, they’re not. The Christians won everything. A long time ago. If you don’t believe me, let me ask you a question. What year is it? I mean, come on! What year is it according to the entire human race? And why? What year is it? Anybody? Sir, just yell out the year. Thank you. 20…2016? No, it’s 20…That’s right. It’s 2017. What is that? That’s a number. It’s not just any number. It must be a very important number. ‘Cause we’re counting to it in unison as a species. For thousands of years, we’ve been going:

“One, two, three…Come on, everybody, four…Now, come on, Africa, five, six…”

What is this number? We’re counting the days since what? Since there was ever people? Or since the sun did something? Not at all. It’s been 2017 years since what? Anybody, yell it out.

[Man from audience yells “CHRIST!”]

Yes! CHRIST! CHRIST! That’s right. It’s been 2017 years since CHRIST! Jesus! We are counting the days since Jesus. Together. Which makes sense if you’re Christian. But what the fuck are the rest of us doing?

“Jesus was here. Jesus was here. Jesus was here.”

Everybody. Scientists, historians.

“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus plus two, Jesus plus three, Jesus plus four.”

Jesus plus 2017 years, four months and three days is when your license expires. How is that not a win for the Christians? How is that not a complete win? That’s not a Monday off in October. That’s, “There was no time before Jesus.”

And the whole world went, “Okay. Sure.”

Then somebody was like, “What about the years before him? There were billions. I mean, infinity.”

“Those go backwards.”

“You want us to measure most of history backwards? To accommodate one religion?”


“All right, we’ll do it, it’s fine. We’ll do it.”

The whole world. You ever watch New Year’s Eve around the world? They always show you like how every country celebrates. It’s kind of cool. The first is one little island. It’s the first place that’s actually the place that it’s the year. It’s a little island in the Pacific. I forget what it’s called, but they do a little ceremony for New Year’s Eve every year. And they just wear grass. ‘Cause they don’t even have sticks yet. They’re in the grass age. They have no clocks. But they do a dance.

[Starts chanting and dancing]


And it goes around the world.

[Speaks with a Chinese accent] “Oh, the 2017.”

[Speaks gibberish]

[Speaks in a Middle-Eastern accent] “Death to all Christians in 2017.”

The Jews are quietly keeping track. It’s really 5,766. But that’s for us. We’re just…That’s okay. We’re just keeping track for when you snap out of it. It’s all right. I’ll…I’ll write yours on my check. I don’t want a problem.

What about Chinese New Year? Yeah, what about Chinese New Year? All right, next time you’re doing your taxes, just write “monkey” where the year goes. Just put “monkey.” See what happens to your funds. No. It’s 2017, year of our Lord!…Jesus o’clock on the nose. And they made it up, that’s the weirdest part. They got to rename years that had already taken place. ‘Cause, you know, that’s not what those years were. You know that, right? That the year three wasn’t the year three during the year three. Nobody was walking around back then, “Hey, what year is it?”

“It’s three.”

“Yeah, but I’m 28. How can I be 28 if there’s only been three?”

“Oh, well, see, you were born in BC 24. And there’s a zero. Remember it went backwards?”

“Oh, shit. That was stressful. I hated those years.”

What was that like?

“What year is it?”


“What year is it now?”


“What the fuck is gonna happen?!”

So, I don’t know what to tell my kids.


Tariq Ramadan

Professor Tariq Ramadan is one of the foremost Muslims academics of his generation. Born in Switzerland in 1962, he is the grandson of the controversial Muslim theologian Hassan Al Banna who, in 1928 in Egypt, founded the even more controversial Sunni Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood .

Tariq Poster

As well as being a social commentator (only yesterday he made a speech in Boston, Massachusetts), Ramadan is also a prolific writer whose latest book is the critically well received Islam: The Essentials (published by Pelican) which the Guardian recently described as follows:

It’s billed as “a Pelican introduction” to the religion, but those seeking a For Dummies-style guide will be disappointed. It’s written in Ramadan’s trademark stately prose (he is both more energising and more succinct as a speaker), and gets deep into the weeds of what it means to be a Muslim in the age of globalisation. – David Shariatmadari

The same article also describes Ramadan’s overall attitude to Islam:

He speaks truth to power, whether that’s in the corrupt, conservative Middle East, or the belligerent west…It strikes me that Ramadan’s essential quality is consistency. He states his positions often and clearly, and they rarely change. Perhaps that is why he has infuriated so many people, in Muslim-majority countries, in Europe and the US. “There’s a type of Muslim,” he tells me, “that we only listen to when they are saying what we want them to say. I’m not this type of guy. I’m not going to repeat what you want me to say. I take the Qur’an seriously, I take the texts seriously, I want to be faithful to my tradition and face up to the challenges of my time. This is difficult.” – David Shariatmadari

As a way of trying to get back to the basics of my faith, and as a way of trying to strengthen my spiritual resolve in these troubling times, I am currently reading Ramadan’s excellent biography of the Prophet Muhammad, The Messenger: The Meanings Of The Life Of Muhammad. Below are several quotes that I am hoping will help Muslims and non-Muslims alike in better understanding the final prophet of Islam, quotes that will go beyond stereotypes for a glimpse of the real-life Prophet. These quotes follow on from the very first blog post I did over 2 years ago, which also contained quotes from another biography of the Prophet. Anyways, as always, enjoy…

Tariq Book

The Prophet Muhammad occupies a particular place in the life and conscience of Muslims today, just as he did in the past. According to them, he received and transmitted the last revealed book, the Quran, which repeatedly insists on the eminent and singular position of the Messenger of God, all at once a prophet, a bearer of news, a model, and a guide. He was but a man, yet he acted to transform the world in the light of Revelation and inspirations he received from God, his Educator (ar-Rabb). That this man was chosen and inspired by God but also fully accepted his own humanity is what makes Muhammad an example and a guide for the Muslim faithful.
Muslims do not consider the Messenger of Islam a mediator between God and people. Each individual is invited to address God directly, and although the Messenger did sometimes pray to God on behalf of his community, he often insisted on each believer’s responsibility in his or her dialogue and relationship with the One. Muhammad simply reminds the faithful of God’s presence: he initiates them into His knowledge and discloses the initiatory path of spirituality through which he teaches his Companions and community that they must transcend the respect and love they have for him in the worship and love they must offer to and ask of the One, who begets not and is not begotten.
To those who, in his lifetime, wanted miracles and concrete evidence of his prophethood, Revelation ordered him to reply: “I am but a man like yourselves; the inspiration has come to me that your God is One God.” This same Revelation also informs the believers, for all eternity, of the singular status of this Messenger who, while chosen by God, never lost his human qualities: “You have indeed in the Messenger of God an excellent example for he who hopes in God and the Final Day, and who remembers God much.”

From his birth to his death, his life is strewn with events, situations, and statements that point to the deepest spiritual edification. Adherence to faith, dialogue with God, observing nature, self-doubt, inner peace, signs and trials, and so on are themes that speak to us and remind us that basically nothing has changed. The Messenger’s biography points to primary and eternal existential questions, and in this sense, his life is an initiation.

The Prophet’s life is an invitation to a spirituality that avoids no question and teaches us-in the course of events, trials, hardships, and our quest-that the true answers to existential questions are more often those given by the heart than by the intelligence. Deeply, simply: he who cannot love cannot understand.

All the messengers have, like Abraham and Muhammad, experienced the trial of faith and all have been, in the same manner, protected from themselves and their own doubts by God, His signs, and His word. Their suffering does not mean they made mistakes, nor does it reveal any tragic dimension of existence: it is, more simply, an initiation into humility, understood as a necessary stage in the experience of faith.
Because Muhammad’s life expressed the manifested and experienced essence of Islam’s message, getting to know the Prophet is a privileged means of acceding to the spiritual universe of Islam. From his birth to his death, the Messenger’s experience – devoid of any human tragic dimension – allies the call of faith, trial among people, humility, and the quest for peace with the One.

Always his distinctive feature was the combination of strict faithfulness to his principles and human warmth constantly radiating from his presence.

He did not demand of his Companions the worship, fasting, and meditations that he exacted of himself. On the contrary, he required that they ease their burden and avoid excess; to some Companions who wanted to put an end to their sexual life, pray all night long, or fast continuously (such as Uthman ibn Mazun or Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As), he said: “Do not do that! Fast on some days and eat on others. Sleep part of the night, and stand in prayer another part. For your body has rights upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, your wife has a right upon you, your guest has a right upon you.” He once exclaimed, repeating it three times: “Woe to those who exaggerate [who are too strict]!” And on another occasion, he said: “Moderation, moderation! For only with moderation will you succeed.”

The Prophet lived very modestly: his dwelling was particularly bare, and he often had nothing but a few dates left to eat. Yet he kept helping the destitute around him, especially ahl as-suffah, the people of the bench, who lived near his home. When he received presents, he had them given out, and he immediately freed the slaves who were sometimes sent to him as gifts: he did so with the slave Abu Rafi, whom his uncle Abbas had sent him when he had returned to Mecca after his release. In spite of his increasingly important role in Medinan society and of his many responsibilities, he kept this simplicity in his life and in the way he allowed the members of his community to approach him. He owned nothing, and he let himself be accosted by women, children, slaves, and the poorest people. He lived among them; he was one of them.
His daughter Fatimah was very close to her father. Married to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin, she had eventually moved near her father’s dwelling and she was most devoted to the cause of the poor, including ahl as-suffah. When the Prophet was at home or in public and his daughter came to him or entered the room, he would stand up and greet her, publicly showing her great respect and tenderness. Both the people of Medina and the Meccans were surprised at this behavior toward a daughter, who in their respective customs did not usually receive such treatment. The Prophet would kiss his daughter, talk to her, confide in her, and have her sit by his side, without paying attention to the remarks or even the criticisms that his behavior could give rise to. Once he kissed his grandson, al-Hassan, Fatimah’s son, in front of a group of Bedouins, who were startled. One of them, al-Aqra ibn Habis, expressed his shock and said: “I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them!” The Prophet answered: “He who is not generous [loving, benevolent], God is not generous [loving, benevolent] to him.” In the light of his silent example and his remarks, the Prophet taught his people good manners, kindness, gentleness, respect for children, and regard for and attentiveness toward women. He was later to say: “I have only been sent to perfect noble manners.”