Understanding The True Spirit Of Islam

It is clear that Islamophobia is on the rise globally. To counter this, at my own personal level, I keep a keen eye out for articles that speak positively about Islam and Muslims. With that in mind please find below three articles that I hope present a more honest and positive portrayal of Muslims, words that mean more to me than all of the vast amount of anti-Islamic nonsense that the internet is unfortunately teeming with. Enjoy!

Aqsa Prayer

To Say Or Not To Say: The Pitfalls Of Islamophobia

Ruby Usman, 23 Apr 2019, stuff.co.nz

I am only eight or nine. Our small apartment is in the slums of Karachi, Pakistan and we are sitting on the floor having dinner. The radio is turned on and there is a Q&A session going on with a Muslim Imam. In a response to a question, the Imam says that girls shouldn’t go to college or study because their primary duty is to take care of their homes and their husbands and they should stay at home to learn these domestic chores.

This sparks fury in my mother. She says that if women are not educated, how can they raise strong and independent children. My mother continues to fume, and I can tell you that there are a lot of words with ‘f’ in them.

I grew up listening to her critique of these teachings by local imams and learned not to fully accept their ideas unless they made sense to me.

This was okay as long as I was in the house. Once I walked out of our house, things changed. It was the realm of men. They harassed me; they groped my genitals in crowded streets, and they tried to strip me naked with their eyes. My only crime was that I was walking on the street not having covered myself from head to toe – as was the custom – and so, I didn’t deserve their respect.

The anger in me grew in leaps and bounds and so did my aggression. But there wasn’t much I could do.

When I finally left this world of patriarchal aggression, I was full of rebellion. I rebelled against Pakistani men; I rebelled against Pakistani traditions and above all, I rebelled against Islam. For me, it was a repressive and violent religion; a religion where husbands are allowed to hit their wives, and men are allowed to control the women of their household in the name of honour and shame.

I didn’t need that Allah; I didn’t need any Pakistani man who treated me like an inferior. There must be a place for me in the world. There must be a place where I could be free. My search for answers took me to Singapore, Australia and then to Christchurch New Zealand where I have moved only about a couple of months ago.

For those of you who have read my blogs, you might have noticed that I have written a lot about injustices that have happened to me in Pakistan in the name of religion and culture.

Even though writing about these made me feel better because I was exposing the unjust practices of Islam, but I was also wary that I was adding to the “Islamophobia” that has been prevalent on the global stage since 9/11.

I didn’t know how to reconcile this. I didn’t know how not to blame Islam for all that had happened to me in Pakistan. Osama Bin Laden killed thousands of innocent lives and then claimed it all in the name of Allah; in the name of Islam. How could I not say that Islam taught him to be violent?

As you can imagine, I have received ‘virtual beatings’ on social media through my blogs and a few months ago, it all became too much for me. I needed to take a break from my own anger. I stopped blogging.

Since then, I have been finding a way to express my feelings. A way to share my experiences without attacking Islam, or Pakistani men but I have been at a loss.

And then something very drastic happened. On Friday 15 March, a gunman shot innocent Muslims in their places of worship. White supremacy raised its ugly head that day and the gunman claimed his ideology via a manifesto, just like Osama had done years ago.

I had expected Muslims to rebel. I expected Muslims to retaliate and do the same to white Christians. After all, isn’t that what Islam taught them – an eye for an eye?

But instead, something really wonderful happened. I experienced love, compassion and forgiveness from Muslims in a way that I had never experienced before. The word ‘Islam’ means peace, and this is what I saw in the wake of what could have created decades of inter-religious animosity.

That day, for the first time in my life, I understood the true spirit of Islam. My mother’s wisdom shone on me that day. She had only ever questioned people who said unjust things because, in her mind, the religion could never teach such violation of human rights.

But using the name ‘Islam’ gives an unquestioning power to whoever is holding this placard. When a man asks a woman to wear a hijab, she may say no. But if he commands it in the name of Islam – saying no now means going against the wishes of Allah…How could she say no?

When a Muslim scholar tells women that their husband is their ruler because that’s how Allah has designed this world, they have no choice but to oblige. After all, it is the word of God.

What we forget is that humans are only humans. And it is the weak humans who use religion to exact power upon other people. It is not Islam; it is always the person who is using this power to control people in their lives.

In a way, the term ‘Islamophobia’ doesn’t have much meaning at all because it is the people, organisations and the imams who use it as part of their own hunger for power. Holding them accountable has much more power and meaning because we are no longer attacking an ideology, and this means that even Muslims can support us in this fight against these unjust practices.

My personal challenge now is to see Islam separate from those who practice it unjustly. Instead of lashing out in anger, I now need to sit with my own anger and discomfort and reflect until I can see beyond. I hope you can do the same…

Bangladeshi Muslim Children

The Other Side Of ‘Allahu Akbar’

James Jeffrey, 23 Apr 2019, theamericanconservative.com

In his travels through the Mideast and Africa, our writer found mostly peaceful Muslims, kind to a fault and proud of their religion.

I want to talk about those at the center of the mosque shootings that rocked Christchurch over a month ago. Not the poor 50 men and women who were shot dead—with another 50 injured—by a cowardly gunman, but rather about Muslims in general.

For someone who spent his schooling under the guidance of Benedictine monks in a damp North Yorkshire valley in England, mosques under the hot sun, as well as Muslims and Islam, have featured in my life to a surprising degree—and in a very nourishing way.

One of my most memorable encounters with Islam occurred in Iraq in 2004, during a six-month operational tour with the British Army in Al Amarah, a remote sun-blasted city marooned from the country’s main urban focal points, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Atop the Pink Palace—once the home, before the 2003 invasion and its commandeering by the British Army, of the governor of the surrounding Maysan region—I loved to listen to the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer on a Friday afternoon. Those holy Arabic words (even though I couldn’t actually understand them) were a serene comfort from the pressures of the tour.

Near the end of what I remember as the hottest, sweatiest, and most exhausting midday foot patrol through the city, I signaled that we should take a knee on the sidewalk. We’d been going for a couple of hours. My CamelBak was empty of water, my lips were cracked, and my shoulders ached from the heavy radio. Suddenly, a wizened old man appeared from a shack off to the side carrying a silver tray with a steaming cup of tea. Slinging my rifle to the side, I took the cup and uttered an Arabic “shukran” in thanks, while the man grinned and nodded. Swirling with sugar particles, the sweet liquid was like a monsoon to my parched insides.

There were other such encounters with the Muslim inhabitants of Al Amarah. Considering what we were visiting on them and their country—with worse yet to come—I found the vast majority of Iraqis extremely gracious, hospitable, and good-humored. They left far more of an impression on me than the insurgents firing RPGs and mortars at us shouting “Allah Akbar!”

After leaving the army, while working as a freelance journalist in Ethiopia, I found myself, despite being in one of the world’s oldest Christian countries, surrounded by even more Muslims. (It’s estimated that nearly 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population are Muslim.)

Yet traveling around the country, I never worried about being robbed or attacked by Muslims. I was far more likely to be pick-pocketed or have a bottle smashed over my head by a fellow Christian.

It’s no coincidence that I often found myself heading towards eastern Ethiopia, the most Muslim part of the country, and then continuing over the border into Djibouti and Somaliland. There I found friendly, peaceful Muslims, who respected my privacy and space.

The three years that I spent in the Horn of Africa watching the humble devotion of Muslims had a role in my reconnecting with my Catholicism. During one reporting trip to Djibouti, I managed to rent a room in a house shared by some foreign NGO workers. I returned in the middle of the day and opened the front door to find their cleaner knelt on the floor, bent double, saying her daily prayers. She was—inexplicably, it seemed—crammed into the corridor directly facing a wall, when there was a nice, spacious, window-lit room just off to the right.

It turned out that she’d refused to use that room, as there were bottles of alcohol on display. She told me this without a touch of haughtiness, humbly, shyly, with faltering English, all the while sweating noticeably beneath her headscarf. It was Ramadan, and she’d not had anything to eat or drink since sunrise.

In Somaliland, I did a story about Muslim women and how they cover up their hair and faces, which undercut some Western assumptions about Islam. All the women I spoke to said they wanted to dress the way they did. One sparklingly sharp young lady explained in erudite English that she didn’t appreciate people in the West telling her that she was being oppressed just because she followed her religion in a way that she believed in.

Somaliland was full of such surprises. It was a freelancer’s dream, especially after the recalcitrance and obstructionism of trying to report in Ethiopia. Somalilanders—like all Somalis—can’t stop talking, and if you ring them up, there is no messing around. Often they’ll agree to meet you within the hour.

After a good day’s work in the capital, Hargeisa, with no bars on hand, I typically joined the men gathered at an open tea house. The only foreigner for miles, I was usually left to my own devices, though sometimes the person next to me would courteously ask where I was from and what had brought me to Somaliland. After I answered, he would finish with a “Welcome to Somaliland, thank you for coming,” or insist on paying for my delicious cup of sweet milky Somali tea.

Of course, none of this is to avoid the elephant in the room—Islam has a serious problem with its notion of jihad. And similar to the Catholic Church’s treatment of clerical child abuse, it hasn’t been willing enough to discuss what ails it. I was reminded of this in Hargeisa one day. Walking down the main drag, I became aware of some noise behind me. The sounds got closer and eventually a bearded young man in a long brown robe appeared in front of my face, jabbering and threatening to punch me. I crossed the road—admittedly a bit shaken, as Hargeisa had always been a friendly place—and looked over to make sure he wasn’t following. I saw him miming firing a machine gun at me. It sounds comical writing about it now. But entirely alone in Hargeisa, it didn’t feel so funny.

That was one man out of hundreds and thousands of friendly Muslims who couldn’t have been more different—and therein lies Islam’s great PR problem in the West. I understand that, yet sometimes I admittedly waver, such as when faced with that gut-wrenching image from 2015 of 34 Christian men lined up kneeling on the beach in orange boiler suits, their hands tied behind them, utterly powerless—reportedly all Ethiopian—each with an ISIS member behind him about to shoot or behead. But then one remembers that each of those armed men aren’t proper Muslims, in the same way that many Christians have behaved in ways that forfeit their right to call themselves Christians.

The day after the Christchurch shootings, I spotted a message on a WhatsApp channel for a Saturday soccer group I played with when living in Austin, Texas. The members are notably international, and one of them expressed his condolences for the Muslims in the group.

I hesitated to contribute my own comment, before seconding the sentiments expressed. I also added what a truly embarrassing day it was to be a Christian.

Palestine Ramadan

Palestinian families break their fast next to a destroyed building during recent confrontations between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Islam: ‘The Last Badass Religion’

Rod Dreher, 28 Feb 2017, theamericanconservative.com

Here’s a great interview by Razib Khan with Shadi Hamid, the Egyptian-American Muslim writer. I love this excerpt:

As for Christianity, I thought about it intellectually, but I didn’t think about it much as something real and lived-in, in part because it’s actually not super easy to meet outwardly and openly Christian people in the generally liberal setting of Bryn Mawr, PA.

I guess, even if subconsciously, this must have had an effect on me – this idea that the Christians I knew generally didn’t seem all that serious about their faith, where at the local mosque it was pretty clear that there were Muslims who were pretty serious about their faith.

I’ve always tried to be careful in how I talk about this, because it can pretty easily be misconstrued, but I remember talking to some friends a couple years back and someone described Islam as the “last badass religion,” which I thought was an interesting turn of phrase.

It’s this part of Islam that helps me understand and even empathize with why some atheists or secularists might be suspicious of Islam.

(But it’s this part of Islam that also helps me understand why Muslims themselves, even those who aren’t particularly religiously observant, seem so attached to the idea of Islam being unusually uncompromising and assertive).

If you’re nominally Christian and you see that your own faith, for whatever reason, can’t compete with Islam’s political resonance, then you might find yourself looking for non-religious forms of ideology which can offer a comparable sense of meaning.

That’s why the rise of Trump as well as the far-right in Europe is so interesting to me; these are fundamentally non-religious movements that are, in some sense, reacting to Islam but also mimicking the sense of certainty and conviction that it provides to its followers.

That’s something I respect about Muslims in general: they take their faith a lot more seriously than we Christians do. The only forms of Christianity that are going to survive the dissolution now upon us are going to be those that are serious about the faith, and incorporate it into disciplined ways of living. What would it mean for Christianity to be “badass”? Not violent, or intimidating, or cruel, but serious and countercultural. This is one reason that Orthodox Christianity is so attractive to men. It sets serious challenges in front of you — fasting, prayer, and so forth — and expects you to rise to the challenge. It’s not rigidly dogmatic and moralistic, certainly, but it’s not sentimental either. It sees the Christian life as a pilgrimage toward God in which we die to ourselves every day. That’s not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. That is the faith.

Shadi Hamid identifies himself as a political and cultural liberal. His book Islamic Exceptionalism is an attempt to explain what’s happening now in the Muslim world. In previous interviews, he has talked about how Westerners have a bad habit of not taking Muslims at their word about what they believe and what it means. More from the Razib Khan interview:

My bigger issue, though, has to do with political scientists’ unwillingness to take religion seriously as a prime mover. In other words, because most political scientists in the academy aren’t particularly religious or haven’t spent much time around religious people, they usually see religion not as a cause, but rather as something caused by other more tangible, material factors, the things we can touch, feel, and of course measure. So if someone joins an Islamist organization like the Muslim Brotherhood, the tendency is to explain it with things like rural-urban migration, underemployment, poverty, being pissed off at America, the list goes on. Sure, all those things matter, but what does political science have to say about “irrational” things like wanting to get into heaven? It’s not everything, but it’s one important factor that has to taken into account.

This is something that becomes more obvious when you talk to Islamists about why they do what they do. They don’t say, “Hey Shadi, I’m doing this because I want to get into heaven.” It’s more something that you feel and absorb the more you sit down and talk to a Muslim Brotherhood member. It matters to them and it’s something that drives them, especially when they’re deciding to join a sit-in and they’re well aware that the military is about to move in and use live ammunition. It’s not so much that they want to die; it’s more that they are ready to die, and it doesn’t frighten them as much as it might frighten someone else, because they believe there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll be granted paradise especially if they happen to killed while they’re in the middle of an act that they consider to be in the service of God and his message.

Another example: after the failed coup attempt in Turkey last year, President Erdogan said something that raised a lot of eyebrows. He called the coup attempt “a gift from God.” What could he have possibly meant by this? Does that mean he wanted it to happen or even that he was behind his own attempted assassination? No. There’s nothing weird about what he said. There’s no doubt in my mind that Erdogan really believed that this was, quite literally, a gift from God and that God was sending him a somewhat tailored message.

Which brings me back to the question of “rationality.” If you believe in this kind of cosmic universe – a universe where one experiences daily God’s magic, if you will – then sacrificing something in this world for the next is pretty much the most rational thing you can do. After all, this is eternal paradise we’re talking about.

Yes, exactly! If Christianity has lost its sense of purpose and meaning among contemporary Americans, this has a lot to do with the loss of a sense of supernatural reality.

One more quick thing. I admire Hamid’s intellectual and moral courage in not towing a PC line about the Islamic faith:

So, in my new book, there are definitely some ideas and conclusions that I’m not quite comfortable with, which is sometimes a bit of a weird feeling. When the book came out, I was nervous, not just for the usual reasons, but also because there were certain distillations of my argument – the sound bites – which, when I said them, it was almost like I was straining myself. This is an era, perhaps the era, of anti-Muslim bigotry, and I couldn’t bear to think that I was contributing to that. The thing, though, is that I know that I have. But, just the same, I can’t bear the idea of not saying the things I believe to be true just because someone might use it for purposes I find objectionable. To me, the alternative is worse, the whole “Islam is peaceful” nonsense. “Islam is violent” is just as nonsensical, but we don’t fight those stereotypes of Islam by pretending the exact opposite is true.

Read the entire interview. It’s well worth your time. I’m going to have to pick up Hamid’s book. It sounds challenging and important.

Funny, but I feel that in general, I have as much or even more in common with a believing American Muslim than with a modernist American Christian.

UPDATE: Reader Firebird writes:

Your WEIRD bias is showing. A practicing Muslim in the WEST is serious and counter cultural. The vast majority of believing, practicing Muslims are not in any way doing anything countercultural. The exact opposite, in fact.

Having lived in majority Muslim nations, including one that is particularly known for conservatism, I cannot say that I saw a great deal more seriousness from self-identifying Muslims than I do among practicing Christians. I do not see a greater dedication to textual study, or philosophy, etc among the average mosque goer as opposed to the average church goer. The society is simply not as far down the line as we are towards default secularism, so mosque goers make up a bigger proportion of the population.

I do see a stronger societal bias towards conformity and traditions, of which Islam is a part (but by no means all). A perfect example of this is the ongoing dedication to the de facto caste system that exists in Pakistan, which while foreign to Islamic thought, coexists and thrives in the minds of plenty of Pakistani Muslims.

To sum up– practicing Islam is indeed a countercultural, badass statement in the U.K. or California. It is nothing of the sort in most of the Muslim world. In those places, a better analogy would be that practicing Islam is like being a liberal professor at Yale. Expected and enforced through coercion, persuasion, and simple inertia.

No doubt a fair and accurate point.

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