IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE RAMADAN

Muslim Boy Green

Muslims pray during Eid al-Fitr to celebrate the end of Ramadan in New York.

It’s that time of the lunar year where we are fast approaching the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. We are about 6 weeks away and to gently help us all with its imminent arrival, for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, please find below 5 articles that I hope are amusing, interesting, and somewhat informative. These articles show Ramadan, Eid, and Muslim celebrations in a more positive light, by describing the experiences of different Muslims from different parts of the world.

We begin with two articles from the always brilliant Mehdi Hasan, who provides some basic details about all things Ramadan. These are then followed by travel writer Sarah Khan, who describes how she celebrates Eid in her neck of the woods (not sure why she prefers to spell Eid as Id, but each to their own, it must be an American thing). In the next article Bim Adewunmi describes how “Ramadan is my time to shine”. And we end with the sombre thoughts of Fahima Haque on how “celebrating Eid has become a sort of political act”. All 5 articles are presented in full and, as always, they are well worth reading in their entirety. Enjoy!


What Is Ramadan – And Other Questions Answered

A brief guide to the Islamic season of Ramadan for the curious, the bored, the uninformed and the ignorant.

Mehdi Hasan, 13 Aug 2010, newstatesman.com

Some of you may have noticed that it is the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. My stomach has. I can hear it groaning as I type this post. I won’t be eating anything till 8.38pm.

I’ve been fasting since I was about 12 or 13, and every year I’m asked the same bunch of questions about Ramadan by well-meaning non-Muslim friends and colleagues. So I thought I’d use this blog post to answer some of these common queries. Here we go:

What is Ramadan?

It’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims all over the world spend 30 days observing the fast. Muslims believe it is a blessed month; it is the month in which we believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

So you don’t eat for 30 days? Is that physically possible?

Sorry, what? There seems to be some confusion about the timing of the fast. The fast takes place from dawn to sunset each day, for 30 days, that is to say, during daylight hours only. We don’t actually fast for 30 whole days in a row – that would be impossible, if not worthy of a permanent place in the Guinness Book of Records.

You can drink water, right?

Nope. No water, no juice, no milk, no liquids whatsoever. In fact, the list of “prohibited” items and activities in Ramadan is fairly comprehensive: no food, no drink, no smoking, no drugs, no sex, no bad language or bad behaviour whatsoever, from dawn to sunset each day. That’s the challenge.

But doesn’t that damage your health?

Hmm. I haven’t noticed my fellow Muslims dropping like flies around me, as we fast together each year. Millions upon millions of Muslims, in fact, have been fasting for centuries without falling sick, toppling over or suffering from premature death. Fasting, contrary to popular opinion, doesn’t damage your health. Vulnerable individuals – the sick, the elderly, children, pregnant women – are exempt from the requirement to fast. And then there is the range of academic studies which show several health benefits arising from Ramadan-type fasting, “such as lower LDL cholesterol, loss of excessive fatty tissue or reduced anxiety in the fasting subjects”.

So do you end up losing weight at the end of it?

I can’t speak for others, but I always end up putting on weight because I eat so much every night, at iftar time, to compensate for not having eaten all day! From my own experience, few Muslims treat Ramadan as a period of dieting, or use the fast to lose weight.

Why is Ramadan in the summer this year? Didn’t it used to be in winter?

Since 622AD, and the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam has operated on a lunar calendar, with months beginning when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. As the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year and contains no leap days, etc, the date of Ramadan moves back through our calendar each year. (For example, a few years ago, Ramadan coincided with our winter; the days were shorter and the fasts were easier!)

What is the point of starving yourself for 30 days?

Ramadan is a deeply spiritual time for Muslims. By fasting, we cut ourselves off from the distractions and temptations of our busy, hectic, materialistic lives and try to gain closeness to God. The Quran describes the main purpose of the fast as being to “attain taqwa“, or “God-consciousness”. We use the fast to try to purify and cleanse our souls, and to ask forgiveness for our sins. We also learn self-restraint and we become much more aware of those less fortunate people around us for whom “fasting” is not a choice, for whom hunger is part of daily life. The fast is an act of worship and a spiritual act; it is also an act of social solidarity.


Ramadan: A Guide For The Perplexed

I’m fasting for Ramadan. It might be a good time to lay to rest some common myths about the whole business.

Mehdi Hasan, 03 Aug 2011, theguardian.com

I crawled out of bed this morning at 2.45am, exhausted and bleary-eyed. I wolfed down two eggs, two slices of toast, a croissant, half a banana and several glasses of water. Then I went back to bed.

I performed a similar routine at a similar time yesterday, and the day before that, too. Awoke, ate and slept again. Have I gone mad, I hear you ask? Why do I seem to be having pregnancy-style, middle-of-the-night cravings for fried breakfasts and lots of liquid?

I don’t. There’s a more prosaic explanation: it is Ramadan and I’m now on to my third day of fasting. Luckily for me, and for the 1.6 billion other Muslims across the world, there are just 27 more days to go. (Is that my stomach I hear groaning?)

Fasting, or “sawm”, in Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam – the others being the “shahadah” (declaration of faith), “salat” (the five daily prayers), “zakat” (almsgiving) and the “hajj” (pilgrimage). The fast is considered to be a “wajib” or obligatory act (though there are exemptions that I’ll come to in a moment).

Muslims fast for 30 days in Ramadan. Just to be clear: we fast from dawn (hence the 2.45am wakeup) to sunset (around 9pm at the moment) each day. We don’t fast for 30 days as a whole. That, of course, would be impossible. Not to mention suicidal.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is regarded by Muslims as one of the most holy months: we believe that it was during Ramadan that the Qur’an was first revealed to prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.

The Islamic calendar has been lunar since its inception in AD622, with each month beginning with the sighting of a new moon. As the lunar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year, the start date for Ramadan moves back through the western calendar each year. A few years ago, Ramadan coincided with our winter, when the days were shorter and cooler; this year, too much moaning and griping from British Muslims (yes, me included), it’s fallen in the summer, with much longer and hotter days. That means the fasting isn’t easy. Imagine, for instance, going on the underground in the sweltering August heat without being able to take a bottle of water with you.

In fact, you’re not allowed any liquids: no water, no juice, no milk…The list of “banned” items and activities in Ramadan is extensive: no cigarettes, drugs, sex, bad language or bad behaviour, from dawn to sunset. That, dear readers, is the challenge. (In case you’re wondering, chewing gum isn’t allowed either.)

“Has it begun?” my colleagues asked me earlier this week, their eyes expressing a mixture of sympathy, pity and – just perhaps – awe. Most (well-meaning) non-Muslims view Ramadan as deeply oppressive. Isn’t it dangerous, I’m often asked? Doesn’t it damage your health? Weaken you?

The short answer is No. Millions (billions?) of Muslims have been fasting for centuries, without suffering any Ramadan-specific illnesses or diseases. Vulnerable groups – the sick, the elderly, children, pregnant women, travellers – are exempt. And, in recent years, a number of academic studies have demonstrated the health benefits of fasting. According to a paper published in April by the Intermountain Medical Centre Heart Institute in Utah, it can lower the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, and keep blood cholesterol levels in check. The researchers found fasting could also reduce other cardiac risk factors such as excess weight, blood sugar levels and triglycerides.

Some of the world’s leading athletes and sports stars have managed to fast while performing at the highest levels. Next year, Ramadan starts in July, and will cover the whole period of the Olympics. East London will be home to Muslim athletes from across the world, fasting, competing and – I guarantee you – winning medals.

It’s nothing new. In the 90s, Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of his generation, would often play in the NBA for the Houston Rockets while fasting. “It made me stronger and my statistics went up,” he later remarked. “I was better during Ramadan, more focused.” In February 1995, Olajuwon averaged an impressive 29 points per game and was named NBA Player of the Month, despite the entire month coinciding with Ramadan.

More recently, Manchester City’s Kolo Touré, also a practising Muslim, has had no qualms about fasting and playing top-flight football. “It doesn’t affect me physically,” Touré argued during last year’s Ramadan, which happened to correspond with the first month of the Premier League. “It makes me stronger. You can do it when you believe so strongly in something.”

Ramadan becomes an unparalleled, month-long opportunity for personal and spiritual growth – and the fast is a deeply private act of worship. “Of the five pillars of Islam, the fast of Ramadan is perhaps the most personal expression of self-surrender to God,” the American writer and convert to Islam, Jeffrey Lang, argues in his book, Even Angels Ask. “We can observe a Muslim performing the other four pillars, but, in addition to himself, only God knows if he is staying with the fast.”

So far, I’ve managed three. Now, what time is it? Noon. Hmm. Just eight hours and 55 minutes to go.


All-American Id

Sarah Khan, 07 Nov 2011, nytimes.com

When I think of Id, I think of doughnuts.

Some might expect more ethnic fare to be symbolic of this holy day—haleem, perhaps, or baklava. But growing up frequenting a mosque in suburban New England, my Id mornings involved leaping up as soon as prayers were over, dispensing the customary three hugs to everyone in my vicinity and racing with my friends to the social hall, where a smorgasbord of powdered and jelly-filled confections awaited. To this day, nothing says “Id Mubarak” to me quite like a chocolate-glazed doughnut.

In countries with significant Muslim populations, Id-al-Adha—Bakr-Id, or Festival of the Goat, as it’s known throughout South Asia—is synonymous with qurbaani, or the sacrifice of animals. But you’d be hard-pressed to find Muslim families in the United States ferrying sheep home in the backs of their SUVs, securing them to their white picket fences and slaughtering them on their driveways. In the motherland, the ritual is as standard a practice as baking Christmas cookies is here, but most Muslims I know in America have never witnessed the practice themselves.

Instead, my family, like countless others, has outsourced our qurbaani to—where else?—India, where the meat is then widely distributed to the needy on our behalf. And then we eat doughnuts.

Id-ul-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, is enthusiastically anticipated by hungry Muslims counting down the days to the finish line that marks the culmination of the month of fasting. But it’s harder for those of us not participating in the hajj pilgrimage to muster the same level of enthusiasm for this Id—ironic, considering it’s perhaps the greater of the two, and most symbolic of the very core of the faith. The word Islam means submission, and today we celebrate Abraham’s submission to the will of God when he was asked to sacrifice his son. When he agreed without hesitation, a lamb was sent in his son’s place; today, Muslims honor that devotion by sacrificing lambs, goats or cows.

That’s not to say I’ve never had a close encounter of the sheep kind. I’ve witnessed the full-fledged Bakr-Id experience numerous times at my grandparents’ home in Hyderabad: servants gathering lambs in a shack behind the house; my grandfather reciting a prayer and solemnly slaughtering the first animal as I peer through a window; and, soon enough, fresh shami kababs being served for lunch. At least I always knew exactly what was going on; some of my less fortunate acquaintances naively made friends with their family’s Id goat—the name Billy was an obvious go-to—only to be dismayed to realize that their new pet was the main ingredient in the holiday biryani. They were left so scarred that it’s a wonder I don’t have more vegetarian friends.

An American Id has its own homegrown traditions, albeit more sterilized ones. We stay up late the night before for chaand raat festivities, midnight bazaars and cookie-baking parties. The hearts of desi-centric neighborhoods like Jackson Heights in New York and Devon Street in Chicago resemble Delhi or Karachi, with cars honking, revelers overflowing in the streets and music blaring from every storefront. We visit family and friends all day, going from house to house feasting on kababs and sheer khorma, a sweet milk concoction with vermicelli, saffron, and nuts. Meat plays a major role in the form of lamb biryani, mutton chops and goat nihari galore, though unlike in Hyderabad I can’t trace its provenance to my backyard. At night some might play Pin the Tail on the Goat; in years past I’ve participated in Secret Idi exchanges. When I have kids, there just may be an Id Elf responsible for mounds of presents magically manifesting themselves. He’ll likely navigate by way of a flying camel.

But when you’re living in New York, far away from your parents and hometown mosques, the local community takes on a whole new level of importance. In a city like this, friends become family; and with the restrictions imposed by most Manhattan shoebox apartments, gatherings at homes are replaced by massive brunches at Sarabeth’s after prayers. When I’m really lucky, I score an invite to one of my adopted families’ homes in Brooklyn or New Jersey to fill up on kheema rolls and kebabs.

On Sunday morning I donned a new shalwar kameez and took a cab to the Islamic Center of New York University. Imam Khalid Latif, 29, something of a rock star in the Muslim American world (he also happens to be married to one of my best friends, Priya), led the service and delivered the Id sermon. His words resonated as I sat there, part of one diverse, transient yet unified community: “When you celebrate today, celebrate with each other. Don’t just extend your greetings to the people you know. Don’t leave each other alone.”

And we didn’t. Nearly a thousand New Yorkers—students and young professionals; families and children; people of all races; dressed in jeans, suits, hijabs, thobes and kurtas—gathered in that crowded space, in the basement of a church, to celebrate Id together in a quintessentially all-American way.

Then we ate. The spread was elaborate—bagels, fruit, muffins, pastries, chicken tikka, M&M’s, baklava and more—but, to my dismay, something was missing.

And so on my walk home, I made a pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts

Id Mubarak, indeed.


I Love Ramadan – It Makes Me Feel Connected

I am not a model Muslim, but Ramadan is the one pillar of Islam I do really well; it’s my time to shine.

Bim Adewunmi, 20 Jul 2012, theguardian.com

It’s finally Ramadan. All year long, I’ve been waiting for this, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the month that all non-Muslims can name because of what we do during it – fasting. I love it. It is the one pillar of Islam that I excel at, every year, without fail. Ramadan is my time to shine.

I was raised Muslim by my Nigerian parents and have an Arabic middle name. And though I have long forgotten how to read Arabic, I can still recite most of the alphabet I was taught by the tutor who came to our house every Saturday for a few months (we requested the tutor). My parents were remarkably relaxed about our “faith”: there was always an understanding that we were Muslims, but it didn’t stop us from attending a Catholic school, where we did the Stations of the Cross every Friday (I can still name all 14 of these). In the school holidays, we would sometimes attend Jumaah services, going to the local mosque at the end of the street with our cousins. I learned how to do a water ablution (wudu), to reply to greetings with a jolly “Wa-alaikum salaam!” and to bless the prophets when their names came up. I learned the shorter Qur’anic verses: suras Al-Fatihah, Al-Iklas, Al-Falaq and Al-Kawthar among them. My father’s extended family is deeply religious – his grandfather is widely credited with introducing Islam to his hometown – but we were never made to feel like we were doing Islam “wrong” by anyone in the family. We all did what we could, when we could, and in the meantime, got on with life. I honestly think this was the best approach to religion.

I think I was 11 when I took part in my first Ramadan. I was at boarding school in Nigeria, and the bell prefect sent one of her minions to wake us up for the pre-dawn meal, the sehri. A few hundred sleepy girls got up to walk to the dining hall at 5am to queue up in front of older girls who dished out piping hot rice and stew. Afterwards, we’d trudge back to our dormitories to catch some extra sleep and/or pray. In the evenings, we slipped out of prep to attend the Taraweeh prayers in the assembly hall. During the day, we would go to class as normal, virtuously turning down drinks and food with exaggeratedly pious expressions. The Ramadans of my youth were brilliant – communal pre-dawn meals of cassava, yams, rice or bread, followed by evenings of breaking the fast (iftar) with fruit, cornmeal and bean cakes. There was alms-giving, introspection and a community feeling; moments that have made it my favourite Islamic month.

It is the reason I still fast today. I am not a model Muslim: I swear like a sailor, I’m not often “modestly” dressed and cannot ever see myself wearing a hijab. I fall down on all the other pillars quite regularly – my zakat is sporadic, I have never done the hajj, and I don’t make five prayers a day; I take heart in the Islamic view that sincerity in intention is the foundation of all actions. But Ramadan, I can do. I am good at Ramadan. I love every element of it – the not eating, sure, but also the long tasbih sessions, the contemplation, the meditation, the communal prayers, the hum of anticipation right before iftar. It is a month where the halal butcher puts a little extra into my bag when I’m buying lamb shanks. It is the time when I throw out “Salam alaikum!” to hijabis and they smile back and reply. It is the time where I overhear Yorubas, who have a greeting for every occasion, say “E ku ongbe” empathetically on the bus. Everyone is better during Ramadan, more patient, more kind.

Ramadan makes me feel connected. There’s a network of us all across the globe; more than a billion of us, all doing the same thing at the same time. However disparate our lives, whatever freedoms we enjoy – or otherwise – however different our experiences, someone else is probably feeling exactly the same way I am. I find that incredibly moving and life-affirming. At this point in my life, I’ve documented my various issues with organised religion – and I’m not entirely comfortable with everything I see. But I know I love Ramadan. I fast because I want to, and because I can. I fast because it makes me feel good.

And of course, the glorious feast after a month of fasting is nothing to be messed with. Roll on, Eid.


Celebrating Eid: ‘As A Conflicted Muslim, This Day Doesn’t Come Easily’

At the end of a Ramadan marred by violence, Fahima Haque reflects on how her relationship with Islam has shifted from active rejection to thoughtful resilience.

Fahima Haque, 06 Jul 2016, theguardian.com

Growing up, whenever a classmate would shout “fucking Hindu” at me, I was devastated. It felt like no one could see me, that all they could see was yet another brown person. I was lumped into some incorrect category driven by ignorance. Then, September 11 happened and I realized how different it was to be the subject of active hate.

As far as insults went, “Hindu” was inaccurate and ignorant. But being asked if my family were terrorists or being told to “go back to where I came from” cut right through me.

And so as Ramadan ends and Muslims across the world joyously celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with feasting and presents, I am grappling with the faith I was raised with.

My parents are devout, and it became clear to me as a child that straying from Islam was not an option. There was no exploratory period of what Allah meant, what other religions meant, or what not believing in a higher power could mean. It was suffocating and with every surah I memorized, I felt more stifled. Did I really want to be Muslim? Would I be more enamoured with another religion? I wanted a chance to find out for myself, but doing so was out of the question.

As I got older, I had more and more reservations about Islam. Things like not being able to wear shorts when my brother could, to knowing women in a Muslim nation like Saudi Arabia still can’t go anywhere without a chaperone were very hard to reconcile with my budding sense of my self as a feminist.

So, as a teenager, I adopted the age-old liberal trick of disavowing religion; because religion is for the ignorant and narrow-minded. I knew enough to know that the sky is blue because of scattering light and tiny molecules, not merely because Allah said so. In college, I avoided telling people I was raised Muslim. I didn’t observe Ramadan, and the prayer rug my mother so lovingly packed for me gathered dust in the back of my closet as I finally wore what I wanted freely for the first time.

While I can now honestly say I never really stopped believing in God, I definitely tried. I publicly called myself an atheist and smirked at those who needed religion, but secretly I never abandoned simple rituals like saying a short prayer before eating or absentmindedly asking a higher power for guidance when lost.

But that all changed because of Isis. Islam needs real allies in in the face of such barbaric acts like those we have seen in Orlando or my family’s home country or Turkey or Iraq or Saudi Arabia. So, within the last five years I started to double down on Islam. I am the one now initiating discussions on Islam and its role in politics, race and feminism in my social circles. I am no longer ashamed to say “Yes, I am Muslim” but “No, I probably will never wear a niqab and yes, I too have a lot of questions myself”. By having such frank discussions, I had to admit to myself that being a Muslim was ingrained for me and I could never abandon it – but I did have to find a way to practice.

Like any other religion, there is a spectrum of belief for Muslims. I never had progressive Muslim role models growing up, but that’s changing. People are speaking up, using their experiences to rally on behalf of inclusion, that really helped me see how identifying as a Muslim was not mutually exclusive with me being an American, a liberal or feminist. People like Hasan Minhaj poignantly talking about being different in his one-man show, London mayor Sadiq Khan’s delightfully frank essay on fasting, queer Muslim photographer Samra Habib sharing the stories of other LGBT Muslims, Muslim American teens in New York City coping with identity and books like Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women are refreshing and inspiring. The Muslim experience is no longer a monolith.

When you’ve spent most of your life as a confused Muslim, days like Eid don’t come easily. I don’t have many Muslim friends, despite growing up in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Queens, and my family never really spent it as a cohesive unit mainly because getting the day off from work or school wasn’t a guarantee.

So for me celebrating Eid has become a sort of political act. My attitude towards celebrating has changed now that my six nieces and nephews are older. Their version of Islam can be full of merriment and acceptance. In fact, this Eid I will be at my brother’s home with his white, American wife and their newborn son, and I can’t think of a more inclusive way to celebrate.

With every terrifying terrorist attack that is being wrongfully blamed on Islam, Muslims across the world understand Aziz Ansari’s fearing for his family’s safety or comedian Dean Obeidallah’s feeling of immediate, internal turmoil that happens whenever there’s a terrorist attack. And I can’t do much to stop any of that.

But what I can do, is celebrate Eid with courage and show by example what it means to be Muslim – as varied and complicated as it is to be human.

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SHAYKH HAMZA YUSUF AND THE AGE OF FEELING

Hamza George Shake

Cambridge Analytica sounds like a friendly Harry Potter spell that does all your homework for you. In reality CA is a data analytics firm that is very much in the news these days, and for all the wrong reasons. They were caught using Facebook data to ‘psychographically microtarget’ millions of American voters online with various smear campaigns, in the aim of ‘electronically brainwashing’ them to vote pro-Trump. And to try and target them better CA essentially weaponized the Facebook data they took without consent. They wanted to know everything about potential Trump voters: where they lived, what car they drove, what books they liked to burn.

The controversy surrounding the embattled organisation continues to send shockwaves across the political spectrum. One of the reasons for this is that this complex yarn has many factors: the illegal breaching and harvesting of Facebook data, deep states and how they mine and misuse big data, data privacy and safeguarding issues, online political manipulation, Steve Bannon as a former CA board member, links to Russia interfering in our elections, the undermining of democracy, trust issues with big tech firms, political and propaganda warfare, and so much more. The website Vox has some helpful diagrams explaining how all these things connect. So great is the impact of this ongoing saga that we now have some people, be they alarmist or not, commenting about the future of western democracy itself.

Was this manipulation of data the main reason Trump came to power? Would Brexit have happened were it not for CA? In order to get to the bottom of it all CA are currently being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic. They are a key subject in two inquiries in the UK (with Theresa May finding the whole thing “very concerning”) and one in the US, unsurprisingly as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion. In the current political realm it really does not get any bigger than the Mueller investigation.

But this is not just about the manipulation of data. Because CA has essentially turned data into fear, this is also about the manipulation of emotions and feelings. In a secret recording from January 2018 Alexander Nix, the now former chief executive of CA, in reference to making false allegations against political opponents, said:

These are things that, I mean, it sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they’re believed. – Alexander Nix

There are similar comments from managing director Mark Turnbull, who was also secretly recorded speaking to potential clients, this time in November 2017. Turnbull said something that is, after closer examination, a fundamental truth of how we now do politics. He openly admitted that the company is in the business of preying on people’s fears:

The two fundamental human drivers, when it comes to taking information on board effectively, are hopes and fears. And many of those are unspoken and even unconscious. You didn’t know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you. And our job is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears and concerns. There is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because, actually, it’s all about emotion. It’s all about emotion. – Mark Turnbull

Brexit and Trump have clearly demonstrated the words of Turnbull to be chillingly true. Late night talk show host Seth Meyers, when analysing the ongoing saga with CA, made a similar point about how our fears are being toyed with:

A whistle blower who worked with Cambridge Analytica told The Guardian newspaper over the weekend, “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons.” Incidentally, “inner demons” is a much more accurate name for what Facebook really is. – Seth Meyers, Mar 2018

Dr Thaddeus John Williams, assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University, adds a little more historical depth to this idea that feelings not facts dominate our mainstream culture:

If Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and a mix of our ancestors from virtually any age of human history were crammed into a time machine and hurled into the twenty-first century, there is something normal to us that they would find totally bewildering…I am referring to the sacred, unquestioned authority granted to feelings in our day. Western culture has been through a so-called ‘Age of Faith’ and an ‘Age of Reason.’ We live in what Princeton’s Professor Robert George calls “the Age of Feeling.” Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor prefers the moniker “the Age of Authenticity” to describe how staying true to your feelings, whatever they may be, has become the highest virtue of our day…In our Age of Feeling the only condition required for a feeling to be valid is not that it conform to the world beyond us, but simply that it be felt. – Dr Thaddeus John Williams, May 2015

Dr Williams mentioned the brilliant Professor Robert George, who serves as the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. He is also a Roman Catholic and is considered to be one of the leading conservative intellectuals in America. He recently came to prominence when he tweeted the following (the quote has since been memed and Photoshopped to within an inch of its life):

We can argue the toss as to whether the current geological epoch we live in is the Holocene age, or the Anthropocene age, or even the Trumpocene age (a Google search on “the age of Trump” brings back over half a million results), but on a different cultural plain one thing is blatantly clear: welcome to the age of feeling. Welcome to a narcissistic age where feelings have been accorded as much currency as facts, if not more so. Welcome to an age where no one person can claim to have more or better feelings than anybody else. Welcome to an age where we have turned our collective backs on the ages of faith and reason. Welcome to an age where we feel more for our own selves and less for others.

To understand this age of feeling further here is a lengthy but nuanced and sophisticated discussion between Professor George and his good friend Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. This conversation took place in July 2016 in the elegant surroundings of the Princeton University Chapel in Princeton, New Jersey. Both of these prominent scholars tackled the concept of the age of feeling, specifically from within the framework of the Abrahamic faiths. It is a fascinating discussion that is well worth listening to in full and, as per usual, presented below are some of my favourite quotes from the event. As always some of these quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity, but their original intent hopefully still remains. Enjoy!


PS I very recently came across a few more articles with journalists trying to define the era we live in. Missy Comley Beattie asks if we are living in “the Age of Hatred” or “the Age of Annihilation” before declaring “I’m going with the Age of Absurdities and Atrocities.” Frank Bruni asks the question “Shouldn’t experience count in politics, too?” before declaring we now live in “the Age of Inexperience.” Paul Mero declares that we live in a time where “Intellectual integrity flies out of the window,” thus naming our modern age “the Age Of Unreason.”


Hamza George Poster

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is an eminent scholar and thinker. Working together with him is really an enormous gift to me. I admire Shaykh Hamza not only for his obvious brilliance, but also for his courage. It takes a lot of courage to speak the truth out loud, especially in our current climate. Shaykh Hamza has put his very life on the line for the sake of the truth, and for the sake of bearing witness to the fundamental values that are shared by the great Abrahamic traditions of faiths. – Professor Robert George

Telling the truth in any time and place has always been a difficult thing. And we are called to be witnesses, the Abrahamic traditions share that idea of being witnesses. The Qur’an says “Be witnesses unto the truth.” And it actually says “Even if it is against your own selves.” So sometimes we have to acknowledge the shortcomings in our own traditions, in our adherence, behaviour, and actions. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

One of the hallmarks of true tradition is beauty, and one of the hallmarks of a loss of tradition is ugliness. Hence so many ugly modern buildings. So it is really nice to be in such an incredible environment as the Princeton University Chapel. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

How one feels about something does not change the underlying reality of the thing. – Professor Robert George

There is a story of a famous Evangelical Christian woman, a singer, known far and wide throughout the Evangelical Christian community. She left her husband for another woman’s husband. And when she made her public justification, for an act condemned by her faith, she said that God would not have put into her heart her love for this new man or into his heart his love for her, if God did not mean for them to be together, even though it meant abandoning their own families. There, it seems to me, is the challenge for the Abrahamic faiths in the age of feeling. The criterion of that singer for the rightness of an action is not faith as such, for we know what the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths say about adultery. It is not even the demands of reason. That was not her plea. It was that she knew something about where she belonged and what it was right for her to do, or at least not wrong for her to do, in virtue of something subjective not objective, something personal to her and to her feelings. – Professor Robert George

One of the problems with religion today is that it has lost, in many ways, its true defenders. Historically the vast majority of people, and today the vast majority of believers, are people that feel in their hearts that what they believe is right and true. And a lot of this is non-cognitive, such that faith is not so much about reason for a lot of believers. But that type of faith traditionally was considered a very flimsy faith and a very dangerous faith to have, because somebody could easily create doubt in their hearts. And this is certainly the role that the devil plays, whether it is a human incarnation of that concept or whether it is doubts that come to the mind. But the Muslims actually felt that faith had to be rooted in reason, and this was the dominant scholarly opinion. And it was to such a degree that some scholars actually argued that blind conformity to faith was unacceptable, but the majority said if that was the case then we would have to say the vast majority of believers did not have faith. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

I think it is very hard to argue, given the type of society that we are living in now, that people are happy, especially when we actually look at the statistics and social sciences that we have out there. I don’t think people are doing very well. On the other hand it is arguable that every time and place has these crises also. But as somebody who has lived in a Bedouin culture, what really struck me about living with Bedouin is that I did not see anybody that had any signs of depression. The people that I lived with in Mauritania in West Africa were deeply rooted in faith and reason. This was one of the rare examples in human history of aboriginal nomadic people that had a scholastic tradition. So I actually studied Aristotelian logic inside a tent with a Bedouin teacher, which is really amazing. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

What is happening now is because of a loss of real metaphysics and, as you know, the most fundamental metaphysical question is: why is there something as opposed to nothing? And for most people that idea does not occupy their thoughts but if they would allow it to occupy their thoughts, then their thoughts would automatically make an exponential leap from where they are in their unexamined existence to really having a difficult question put in front of them. And I think modern people do not realise how profound that question is. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Hamza George

Empirical science today is considered by some as the only acceptable methodology, the only way, to examine reality. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Imagine we are in this church and this is all we know of the world. We don’t know about Princeton, let alone New Jersey, let alone the United States, let alone planet earth, let alone the universe. We are just in this church and we have been here all our lives and this is all we’ve ever known. And if somebody escapes and comes back into the church and tells us that there is this whole other world out there, most of the people in the church would find that very difficult to believe because this is all they have ever known. And one of the problems with modern thought is they deny the possibility of ever getting outside of material reality, and yet thought itself is an immaterial reality, and therefore thinking about it is already being outside of it. This is because no matter how hard they try, they have never proven that consciousness has a material basis. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

When you remove God from the equation then I think critical theory makes perfect sense. But when God is still part of the way you are understanding the world, then critical theory I think, especially in its post-structuralist iteration, is the single most dangerous thing to theology and to Abrahamic metaphysics. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The twentieth century has been the bloodiest century in human history. Wars have been fought on ideological grounds, but they have very little to do with religion, unless you define religion as ideology. And people like Christopher Hitchens have tried to define religion as ideology, but I don’t think that is really fair to religion. Human beings obviously have ways of understanding the world and these modern ideas, like materialism and Marxism, have been very appealing to large numbers of people, and mostly to people that have been oppressed. One of the things I find really fascinating in Marxism is the quote that “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” This is the great statement on religion by Marx. But it is never quoted in its entirety, because what he said was “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, it is the heart of a heartless world, it is the soul of a soulless place, it is the opiate of the masses.” In other words it is a way of numbing the pain of the world. What our modern world has done is that it has removed religion to fulfill the function of an actually healthy opiate, and it has replaced it with a real opium. We have a huge opioid crisis right now in this country. People are numbing themselves to the pain of the world because they have lost spiritual grounding in what the world is and what it always has been. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

What is confronting us right now as a species is that without the ethical tools that allow for really serious prescriptive answers, then I think right now we can possibly completely lose our humanity. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The world is fundamentally designed to let you down, because you cannot put your faith in the world. If you put your faith in the world you will always be let down. And I think there is this diabolic impulse, this idea that somehow man can solve all of his problems. And this is certainly where technologists reside. They reside in this world where we are going to have a technological or a pharmaceutical solution to these problems. These problems can never be solved technologically. They cannot be solved pharmaceutically. And I do not believe they will be solved through transhumanism. I think transhumanism is just another arrogant attempt at playing God. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

We are living in a world where we have lost balance, we are profoundly out of balance in many ways. This plastic bottle of water that I am holding is a great example of complete insanity, and I will give you an example. I brought a Bedouin here from west Africa, he is a brilliant man who is really well versed in a lot of sciences. We were in Arizona in New Mexico, I was teaching a course there and he was with me. A person took one of these cups, drank some water out of it, and then threw the cup in the garbage can. The Bedouin asked me “What is that?” And I said “What? The garbage can?” And he said “Why did he throw that cup in there?” And I said “Well, those cups are made for one time use.” And he said “That is a very bad sign when a civilisation reaches that level of extravagance.” You could tell by his face that he was horrified by that, by the old sin of luxury or luxuria. He grew up in a place where everything is recycled because desert people live with very limited resources. So the idea of creating a bottle to be used once and thrown out is complete insanity. This is not sustainable, nobody can argue for the sustainability of a lifestyle of going to Starbucks everyday and getting that cup and just throwing it into the garbage can. And recycling is a total lie. And so these are real problems of balance. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

One of my favourite quotes from Confucius is “When I was 15 I set my heart on learning. When I was 30 I knew where I stood. When I was 40 I had no more doubts. When I was 50 I knew the mandate of Heaven (i.e. life’s purpose). When I was 60 my ear was obedient (i.e. my moral sense was developed). And when I was 70 I could fulfill the desires of my heart without going astray.” That idea of working on the self, the idea of self-mastery, has been so removed from the spiritual part of the human being. Where we see this type of mastery in sports, there is incredible discipline in sports. Our great athletes have phenomenal discipline. And musicians also, because you know how much work it takes to actually achieve that type of mastery. But the idea of mastering the soul has really been removed from our civilisation, and that to me is the greatest tragedy. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

One of the things that Muslim scholars say is that disobedience out of pleasure is always followed by ‘inkhibah’, a constriction of the soul. And obedience, which often involves a constriction of the soul because it is hard to do, is always followed by an expansiveness. And this is one of the signs that you have done something good is that it is followed by what the Qur’an calls ‘inshirah’, an expansion, in that it feels good. And this is why people do not like to exercise but after they finish exercising they always feel good. So when we do things that are good for ourselves that we don’t like, what follows is something very, very positive. Whereas when you eat that cheesecake, which initially appears very desirable, but afterwards you wonder “Why did I do that?” And these are very mundane examples, but when it comes to sin, really serious sin, because the cheesecake is not going to put your soul into perdition, but that other person’s wife will. And we have innumerable films where the scene after the sin is “Why did I do that?” – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The major crisis in Islam right now is a crisis of authority. The Catholics have an advantage because they have the magisterium, where the Pope and the cardinals can determine what policy or doctrine is right, and that helps to a great deal. The Muslims are like the rabbinical tradition, we have a scholastic tradition which traditionally was based on what was called ‘isnad’, or ‘chains of transmission’. So one of the things they always asked Jesus was “Who were your teachers?” Because they wanted to know what the rabbinical chain is. “Are you from Hillel? Are you from Shammai? Who is your teacher? So we can know what school you are following.”…The only people that have a type of magisterium right now are the Turks and the Iranians, the Shia tradition. The Turks have a very standardised tradition, so that all of their scholars go to the same schools and learn the same books. The Iranians have the same situation. The Sunnis are in anarchy right now and this is a great problem for us. Normative tradition has really broken down. So, in essence, to help people that are from other faiths, I represent a more Catholic tradition and a lot of people say “Islam needs a reformation.” My response is “This is the reformation! You guys don’t know your history, because the reformation was one of the bloodiest periods in European history.” – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

ISLAM WAS A RELIGION OF LOVE

TLDR

TLDR is an internet acronym that stands for “too long; didn’t read”. So here I am hoping this blog post does not fall into that category. Thus we move quickly to another regular digest of interesting articles I have recently read online, even though some of them may not be so recent themselves.

We begin with a brilliant article from Haroon Moghul about Islam, love, and the Taj Mahal. The economist Thomas Friedman follows with a memo to Trump on Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid then speaks rather positively about death. Then we have Sunny Hundal writing about how the far right will eventually turn on the white people who currently support them. Will Oremus then explains how humans are to blame more than bots when it comes to spreading lies online. Sticking with this theme, we end with the controversial writer Kenan Malik and his brief history of fake news, starting with 17th century coffee houses.

Whilst I have selected my favourite quotes from these articles they are, as always, worth reading in full. Enjoy!


Islam Was A Religion Of Love, And The Taj Mahal Proves It

Haroon Moghul, 12 Feb 2016, washingtonpost.com

I propose we see the Taj Mahal as a vision of what Islam used to be, and what Islam could be, a building dedicated to love, and to love across boundaries that seem more like vast chasms today. Shah Jahan was a Sunni ruler from a Sunni dynasty. His beloved wife, however, was Shiite. Far from being doomed to fight, they fell in love. They married. They produced the next emperor. And they are now buried peacefully beside one another.

It might strike you as surprising that one of the most famous buildings in the Muslim tradition is a monument to love. What’s the first word you think of when you hear “Islam”? Go ahead, be honest. Probably, you didn’t think of “love.” It might be the last thing on your mind. Probably, the first words that you reflexively associate with Islam are the opposite. But there was a time, a very long time, when love, for friends, for intimates, and for God, was the central theme of the Muslim faith, and in the way some Muslims today say “Islam is a religion of peace,” they’d have said “Islam is a religion of love.”

The Taj Mahal is of course many things to many people. For my beloved wife, it’s an unfair marker to hold a husband to. (I swear I would if I could.) It should also be a monument to Sunni and Shiite harmony, a reminder of a time when the core of the Muslim faith was love: Love of a person for himself, for his family, for his neighbors, for his Prophet, for his God. A time that shall come again. When Islam can be progressive for its time, when we will make the world beautiful, when we can be unapologetically Muslim and shamelessly besotted, because God is beautiful, as Muhammad said, and loves beauty.


Memo To The President On Saudi Arabia

Thomas L Friedman, 06 Mar 2018, nytimes.com

When the Saudi ruling family — feeling the need to demonstrate greater piety after the 1979 takeover by Islamist zealots of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — took Sunni Islam down a much more puritanical path, right when Iran’s ayatollahs did the same with Shiite Islam, they changed the face and culture of Islam. And it was not for the better. The Saudis closed all cinemas, banned concerts and fun, choked off trends for women’s empowerment and modern education and spread an anti-pluralistic, misogynist, anti-Western form of Islam far and wide that created the ideological and financial underpinnings of 9/11, ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.


Mohsin Hamid Q&A: “Death Can Do Us The One Service Of Treating Others Better”

Mohsin Hamid, 06 Mar 2018, newstatesman.com

Are we all doomed? Individually, yes. As a species, no. All of us, individually, are going to die. That is horrifying. But it opens up the potential for compassion. We can see that every other human being faces the same terrible fate as we do. And we can begin to treat each other accordingly. With greater sympathy. Human history is likely to be a slow, sometimes appalling, often faltering march towards a world where people treat each other better than in the past. Death can do us that one service. So have hope.


White People Don’t Seem To Realise That Eventually The Far Right Will Come For Them Too

Sunny Hundal, 06 Mar 2018, independent.co.uk

The wonderful thing about history is that sometimes it’s a guide to the future rather than a recording of the past. This is what worries me. A large number of white people in the west seem to have forgotten the far right will eventually come for them too. They will come for people like me first, of course, but eventually they will come for them as well.

Look, I get it. People are angry. That is usually the reason why they vote for people clearly unfit for the job. But you don’t put out a fire by throwing more fuel on it. The far right will come for people like me. They’ll come for Jews. They’ll come for gay people. They’ll come for the trade unionists, and so on. But then they’ll come for you. Their aim is to reshape society, not just make minor changes to foreign policy.

Your extremists will destroy you. They need power and they are insatiable. That’s why they are extremists, remember?

You can’t control extremists – you can only fight to keep them away from legitimacy.


Lies Travel Faster Than Truth On Twitter—And Now We Know Who To Blame

Will Oremus, 09 Mar 2018, slate.com

It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when some intelligent observers of social media believed that Twitter was a “truth machine”—a system whose capacity for rapidly debunking falsehoods outweighed its propensity for spreading them. Whatever may have remained of that comforting sentiment can probably now be safely laid to rest. A major new study published in the journal Science finds that false rumors on Twitter spread much more rapidly, on average, than those that turn out to be true. Interestingly, the study also finds that bots aren’t to blame for that discrepancy. People are.

They found that false rumors traveled “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” but especially politics. On average, it took true claims about six times as long as false claims to reach 1,500 people, with false political claims traveling even faster than false claims about other topics, such as science, business, and natural disasters.


Fake News Has A Long History. Beware The State Being Keeper Of ‘The Truth’

Kenan Malik, 11 Feb 2018, theguardian.com

Before Facebook, there was the coffee house. In the 17th-century, panic gripped British royal circles that these newly established drinking salons had become forums for political dissent. In 1672, Charles II issued a proclamation “to restrain the spreading of false news” that was helping “to nourish an universal jealousie and dissatisfaction in the minds of all His Majesties good subjects”.

Now, 350 years on, legislators across the world are seeking to do the same. Last week, the House of Commons digital culture, media and sport committee flew to Washington DC to grill representatives of big tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google. The title of their session echoed Charles II: “How can social media platforms help stop the spread of fake news?”

Lies masquerading as news are as old as news itself. What is new today is not fake news but the purveyors of such news. In the past, only governments and powerful figures could manipulate public opinion. Today, it’s anyone with internet access. Just as elite institutions have lost their grip over the electorate, so their ability to act as gatekeepers to news, defining what is and is not true, has also been eroded.

There is another change, too. In the past, those with power manipulated facts so as to present lies as truth. Today, lies are often accepted as truth because the very notion of truth is fragmenting. “Truth” often has little more meaning than: “This is what I believe” or: “This is what I think should be true”.

Seventeenth-century coffee-house owners were forced eventually to accept that only “loyal men” should be licensed to run coffee houses and to promise to inform the king of anything “they know or hear said prejudicial to the government”. We should be careful what we wish for.

A HIGGS BOSON PARTICLE WALKS INTO A CHURCH…

Higgs

Another collection of comedy quotes? Really? Why? Glad you asked. Ideally what I would like to do is stimulate people intellectually. I would like every quote in this blog post to hopefully cause you to come away thinking about something new, something you maybe had never thought about, something you may have never even fathomed about. Until now.

That is what good comedy does. A good stand-up comedian will make you laugh, but a brilliant one will also make you think. And in these divisively dark times I feel like we need comedians to provide the much needed “pure golden light of life’s wondrous absurdity” (as the American comedian Desiree Burch profoundly said in a recent interview). So here, for your delectation and delight, for your intellectual pleasures, are 21 hand-picked comedy quotes, most of them around the theme of religion.

Also, in honour of the recently departed Ken Dodd, a true comedy legend, there are a few one-liners from the great man himself. Enjoy!


A Higgs Boson particle walks into a church. The priest says “Get out! We don’t allow your kind here.” The particles replies “But if you don’t have Higgs particles then how do you have mass?” – Anon

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are virtual currencies that combine everything you don’t understand about money with everything you don’t understand about computers. – John Oliver

How many men does it take to change a toilet roll? Nobody knows. It’s never been tried. – Ken Dodd

I do all my exercises every morning in front of the television. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Then the other eyelid. – Ken Dodd

I don’t mind when my jokes die because they go to heaven and get 72 virgin jokes. – Omar Marzouk

I love reading books. I always pick a familiar cafe to read in. I don’t trust new cafes. They fill me with uncertain tea. – Anon

I was surprised how British Muslims reacted to the Danish cartoons. I thought: “How can you get this worked up about a cartoon?” But then I remembered how angry I was when they gave Scooby Doo a cousin. – Paul Sinha

If we’re all God’s children, what’s so special about Jesus? – Jimmy Carr

I’m a Jew, by the way. It was my agent’s idea. – Simon Amstell

I’m quite a grumpy woman really. I’m quite tired, that’s the problem. And it’s weird being this tired because I mean I’m proper knackered. I’ve got a lot of make-up on my face to be honest. It’s like a burqa of foundation…on my face. Some days I wear a burqa. I think, “Sod it, I can’t work with this.” There’s loads of women round my way that wear burqas and they’re not all Muslim women, I’m telling you now. Some of them are women having a bad hair day that are like, “Right! Burqa day. I’m doing the school run. Get in the car!” So thank God for make-up. Honestly, I properly cake it on, you know. I’m not as close to you as you think I am, that’s how much make-up I’m wearing right now. – Kerry Godliman

Munira Ahmed

In America every other week there seems to be another anti-Trump demonstration. Yet he is still in power and he is still saying lots of bonkers nonsense. There are however a few moments of triumph. There was one moment that really amused me which was in 2017 when Trump tried to institute an anti-Muslim travel ban. So lots of Americans went on strike, lots of people demonstrated and they were carrying placards with images of a Muslim woman in a hijab which was an American flag. And this was driving the racists crazy. I don’t know why racists love flags. I saw one being interviewed and he said “They’re disrespecting the flag! They’re disrespecting the flag! How dare they put it on that woman’s head!” And I noticed behind him there was a poster of a stripper, and her bikini was an American flag. And so I thought when it’s on someone’s head you’re losing your mind, but when it’s on their genitals then that’s okay! – Daliso Chaponda

Irish people love Muslims. They have taken a lot of heat off us. Before, we were “the terrorists” but now, we’re “the Riverdance people”. – Andrew Maxwell

It is fitting that a story about the president having an affair with a porn star is struggling to hold our attention, because the news now has become like porn: we’re desensitized. These days, news wise, we can only get excited about Asian lesbians like Kim Jong Un. – from an edition of Saturday Night Live, 10 Mar 2018

Let me tell you what blasphemy is. It’s the idea there’s a superior being who can make the mountains, the oceans and the skies, but who still gets upset about something I said. He’s an all-powerful being, He’s just got self-esteem issues. – Reginald D Hunter

My agent died at 90. I always think he was 100 and kept 10% for himself. – Ken Dodd

My dad is Irish and my mum is Iranian, which meant that we spent most of our family holidays in customs. – Patrick Monahan

My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’ – Ken Dodd

My favourite religious joke is by Woody Allen: “God is silent. Now if we can only get Man to shut up.” Like all great jokes it right-hands you with laughter while giving you a shooting pain in the solar plexus on behalf of the whole human race. – Ben Miller

Two guys came knocking at my door once and said: “We want to talk to you about Jesus.” I said: “Oh no! What’s he done now?” – Kevin McAleer

What Iran needs now is a more modern leader, a mullah lite. – Shappi Khorsandi

You could be running a wet t-shirt contest in a parking lot in Panama City, and if Trump showed up it would lower the tone. – Bill Maher

OMAR MARZOUK IS NOT SCARED SILLY

Omar Marzouk.jpg

Omar Marzouk is an Australian based Egyptian Muslim who makes some rather brilliant speeches about Islam. This blog post is not about him. Instead it is about another person with the exact same name. The other Omar Marzouk is a Danish based Egyptian Muslim who does some rather brilliant stand-up comedy. Omar the comedian was born to Egyptian parents in Copenhagen in 1973, which is where he also lives with his Danish wife Christine Gjerulff.

Marzouk is one of those bridge-building-comedians, someone who thinks despite our cultural and ethnic differences we are all the same and can laugh at the same things when they presented in the right way. As he says, “I use my comedy to build bridges between cultures.” In his quest to do exactly that he has performed at the Comedy Club in New York, the Camel Comedy Club in Tel Aviv, and the Club Comedy Store in London.

Just a few years ago he had a bit of an identity crisis, where he no longer identified as being Danish due to increased Islamophobia and racism in his home country. It got to a stage where, when travelling abroad, he would tell people he was from Egypt rather than Denmark. Thankfully however, by the looks of things this is something he seems to have resolved within himself as he is still in Denmark and he is still performing stand up.

In 2014 Marzouk did a one hour show at the Copenhagen Jazz House, where he mentioned quite a few interesting things about our perceived fears. Links to this performance are presented below. It should be noted that English is his second language, so he does struggle a wee bit every now and then with his choice of words, but overall this is a really interesting stand up routine. As always I have transcribed some of my favourite parts of the routine and, again as always, some of these quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity, but their original intent hopefully still remains. Enjoy!



Arachnophobia is the biggest phobia there is, and yet most spiders are not dangerous. They’re like Muslims. It’s actually only a very small percentage of us that will kill you. It’s irrational to be scared of spiders, and Muslims, but yet we are. And fear is often irrational, we all have irrational fears.

Social fears and emotional fears are much stronger than physical fears. The only thing stronger than social fears and emotional fears are religious fears. If you are going to talk about fear you have to talk about religion. In my religion of Islam it is pretty simple: a true Muslim only fears God, we’re only supposed to fear God. And that’s why you’ve never seen a Muslim horror movie, because it wouldn’t work. You know the classic scene where the couple is lying in bed and the wife wakes up and says “Ali! Ali! I think there’s a three-headed alien monster in the basement.” Ali would wake up and say “So what? Are you more afraid of the three-headed alien monster than God? Go back to sleep.”

Horror movies don’t work in the Middle East. In Baghdad you don’t need a horror movie to feel terrified. You just walk outside.

I have drank alcohol. You know why I started drinking alcohol? I got so tired of my Danish friends calling me at three o’clock in the morning, because if you’re out drinking and you need a ride home, who do you call? And drunk people always shout. “OMAR! OMAR! WHERE ARE YOU?” And they have to tell you how pissed drunk they are. “I’m pissed drunk, man! Come pick me up. WHERE ARE YOU?!” “I’m standing right behind you dude, just put down the phone and I’ll drive you home.” I think that’s how most of us get into driving taxis. It kind of just dawns on you one night, “I should be making money off of this.”

Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people. We’ve got democracy, welfare, and cable TV. We have nothing to fight for, nothing to be afraid of. We have free health care, we have free education, we have this system that secures the unemployed so almost nobody falls into economic despair. Most people in Denmark have nothing to fear at all, life is pretty secure and most people in Denmark are satisfied. So why start a revolution? Well, you see, that is the problem. If you feel satisfied all the time, you end up feeling nothing. I love Denmark, I think Denmark is an amazing country, but perhaps we’ve become too comfortable. Being too comfortable all the time is dangerous because you end up numb and feeling nothing. Being comfortable for a long period of time makes you emotionally numb…Being comfortable all the time isn’t a good thing. That’s why we like watching horror movies here in the rich, free, western world, because the feeling of being terrified for us is a luxury good. We have to invent stuff to feel fear, just so we can feel alive. Actually I think we’ve reached the point now where we’re starting to invent and imagine stuff that can scare us silly. Just read the front page of newspapers to know I’m right. They’re just trying to scare us now. Here’s an actual headline I saw a while ago, the headline said “Eggs can kill you!” You go “Really? Eggs are dangerous?” “Yes, we did some research and EGGS CAN KILL!” It’s so we all get that small shock every day when we open the fridge and go “Oh my God! One…two…three…there’s 12 of them. 12! And they’re brown! Must be a gang!”

In Denmark we don’t need a revolution against a dictator like Hosni Mubarak, we need a revolution against fear, and we have nothing to be afraid of. We’re just scared silly. That’s the revolution I want to start, a revolution against our silly fears.

Everybody is trying to sell you fear. Your bank and your insurance company are trying to sell you fear. Your doctor has a name and a diagnosis for your fears. The medical industry has pills for your fears. The beauty industry has Botox for your fears. The fashion industry has just the right clothes for your social fears. And are you afraid that your ass looks too big in those pants? Don’t worry because the food industry’s got a diet soft drink for your fears. And the tech industry knows that you’re afraid of missing out, but don’t worry because they have a brand new gadget for your fears. Even your local pet store has a watchdog for your fears. Your hardware store has a whole surveillance system for your fears. Your drug dealer has a joint for your fears. And your gun dealer…no matter how big your fear is, your gun dealer has just the right weapon that will take care of all of your fears. And somewhere out there there’s probably a comedian who wants to sell you a show all about your fears. EVERYBODY is trying to sell you fear!

I didn’t start doing stand-up comedy because I wanted to make money off of your fears. My business plan is jokes. My business plan is jokes for money, remember. But somehow after 9/11 I became famous in Denmark for telling jokes about terrorists. I became famous and I made a lot of money. I’m looking back at it now and maybe I was making money off of people’s fears. You can consider this show an apology.

Everybody is trying to sell you fear but the worst of them all is the news media and the politicians. The politicians have gone crazy with selling us fear here in the free Western societies. Politics used to be a contest of ideas and ideology. Not anymore. Today politics is a race of fear, whoever can make you the most scared wins. Vote for me because that guy is going to take your pension and your firstborn. No, no, you should vote for me because that guy is going to take away your free will and tax your soul. Politics is just a race of who can make us the most afraid. We’re not voting on which direction our society should take, we’re voting on who to be scared of. And it doesn’t really matter who wins an election anymore because nothing changes, because we don’t want change as a people. Change makes us uncomfortable. Too much change makes us scared and then we just become nationalistic or Republicans.

The war on terror has created so much fear of Muslims all over the Western world, all the way from the United States to Australia. Politicians are selling the voters fear of Muslims and immigrants. In this country of Denmark three elections have been won on creating fear of Muslims. It’s become so bad I think we Muslims are pretty close on taking over spiders as the number one phobia…It all started after 9/11. People became so afraid of Muslims that some people were talking about us as if we were vampires. “Don’t use garlic, it just attracts them!…Always carry a small piece of bacon in your pocket…If you have to run then run towards Mecca, it kind of confuses them…I’ve heard if you stab a Muslim in the heart with a knife made of bacon they turn to dust.”

Just before we invaded Iraq for the first time people in this country actually started questioning my loyalty to Denmark. And they would give me these weird questions like “Omar, imagine the Iraqi army was standing outside the borders of Denmark. Would you fight?” Honestly? No, I wouldn’t, because if the Iraqi army was outside the borders of Denmark then that means they’ve beaten every other army throughout Europe. We wouldn’t have a chance!

I have four brothers. My third brother is called Osama. Yeah. And Osama works as a flight mechanic. This is a true story. He works as a flight mechanic for Scandinavian Airlines. He doesn’t wear a name tag when he’s working…Nobody wants to be sitting in a plane seeing the pilot sticking his head out and going “Osama, did you fix the wings?”

I did a show in New York, which was weird. I was making fun of the whole war on terror…and a guy from the audience got so mad at me and in the middle of the show he just got up and said “Fuck you, man! Your country’s next!” I got scared and confused because I didn’t know if he meant Denmark or Egypt…Maybe he meant Ikea, I’m not sure. I’d love to see that on TV, George W Bush going “We know that the Ikeans have furniture of mass discomfort which can be assembled within 45 minutes…if you can read the instructions.”

Everybody was looking for Osama and finally they found him. In Pakistan. We Muslims knew he was in Pakistan all the time. We did. Denmark sent troops to Afghanistan. We knew he was in Pakistan. We sent troops to Afghanistan and I was sitting at home going “You’re getting warmer! You’re getting warmer!” But nobody listened! I knew he was in Pakistan because if there’s anybody that can make stuff disappear, it’s the Pakistanis. And I say this was the biggest respect for Pakistanis. Some of my closest friends are from Pakistan, I just haven’t seen them in many years.

They finally got Bin laden. I was glad when they shot Bin Laden because I thought maybe this fear of Muslims would decrease a bit. The only thing that pissed me off was when I saw Obama on TV telling the world that they have given Osama a traditional Muslim burial. They threw him in the sea! In the ocean! That’s not a tradition we Muslims have. We’re a desert people. Do you know how far we have to walk to get to the sea? We don’t throw anybody in the ocean.

The fear levels of Muslims actually dropped a bit after they shot Bin Laden. And actually at one point there was no fear of Muslims, because something special and terrible happened here in Scandinavia: Anders Breivik. Anders Breivik, a white Christian terrorist, killed 69 people on a deserted island. Scary shit! This was the biggest terror incident in Scandinavia and all Muslims were sitting at home going “Whew! That wasn’t us. That was not us. Habibi, we can go out tonight, it wasn’t us, it wasn’t us!”

Anders Breivik changed the face of fear, for a short while. It was the biggest terror attack in Scandinavia, a white Christian man…For a short period of time the face of fear changed. But not for long, because if you’re in the fear business you’re going to need a steady supply of fear. And nobody is as reliable as the Middle East when it comes to fear and terror. Bin Laden died but then…BAM! We got ISIS. ISIS scared the world silly with their beheadings. They don’t use airplanes, they use social media, which is a much more powerful weapon than airplanes because now fear is everywhere. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Tinder. And our media and our politicians are all too willing to sell us this fear. And maybe we need them to tell us who to be afraid of so we can feel safe. Because it’s only when you know in which direction to look for the danger do you then feel safe. But maybe we also end up looking the wrong way. My best example of this is the States. In the States there have been 35 school shootings. That’s not enough to ban semi-automatic weapons, but after 9/11 I can’t even bring a bottle of water on board a plane, for security reasons. I go “What are you afraid of? Are the pilots Gremlins? What are your actual fears?” I guess it’s easier to live with fear when you know who to fear, for then you can be happy. But it’s a false kind of happiness.