Lozah

Random Thoughts on History Repeating Itself

From the book “Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes” by Tamim Ansary, describing the spread of Islam during the Ummayad dynasty:

Another shadow haunted the conscience of the Islamic world as well. Muslim sacred history was problematically rich with anecdotes about the simple, rugged lifestyle of the founders. Their simplicity and humbleness went to the very essence of their appeal as religious figures. Inevitably, therefore, a feeling started percolating in the lower reaches of this new society that something about all this splendor wasn’t right. This prosperous, pleasure-plump society could not be what Allah had meant when he charged Mohammad with establishing a just community devoted to worship of the one God. Of course, the richer you were, the less likely that such considerations would trouble your dreams. For the poor, however, tales of luxury at court and the sight of perfumed Arab noblemen riding through the streets clad in silk had to evoke comparisons with Mohammad’s simple blanket folded four times to provide both mattress and cover, and Khalifa Omar at his cobbler’s bench, mending his own shoes. Add to all this the odor left by the way in which the Ummayad’s came to power, a process that had generated two enduring opposition movements, the Shi’a and the Kharijites….

Inevitably, the one mapped onto the other. Persians began to embrace Shi’ism, and Shi’ite agitators began looking to the Persian east for recruits. When the two currents mingled, rebellion began to bubble. It bubbled ever harder the further east one traveled, for Umayyad police power ran ever thinner in that direction, while anti-Arab sentiment mounted ever higher. One day, around 120 AH, a mysterious man blew into the city of Merv … almost fifteen hundred miles east of Damascus… He went by the handle Abu Muslim… In truth, Abu Muslim was a professional revolutionary, dispatched to Merv by a secretive underground group based in Iraq, a group called the Hashimites. This group was a cross between a cult adn a political party, whose core membership probably never exceeded thirty. …This was just one of many angry little hard-core bands of antigovernment conspirators active at this time, all preaching some version of the same message: the comunity had fallen off the track, history had gone off course, the Mesenger’s mission had been subverted, and toppling the Umayyads and empowering a member of the Prophet’s family in their stead would set everything right again. Let me note that this narrative has been reinvented again and again in the Muslim world over the course of history, and some version of it is being recited even today, by revolutionaries who have substituted “the West” for “the Umayyads”.

The above passage made me think:

1) Muslims have been a burden on Islam pretty much since the end of the Khulafaa Rashidun (or some may argue since the end Sayyidna Omar’s rule). Classism, decadence and corruption have been rampant ever since and the true message of Islam is slowly getting lost among the mass of Muslims.

2) History has a scary way of repeating itself – whether it’s the decadence and corruption of Muslim regimes in the East or Western colonial ambitions coupled with orientalist fantasies and ideas about an imminent clash of civilizations in the West. They say one of the definitions of madness is repeating the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Anyone notice a pattern here?

3) According to a Sheikh I was speaking with recently, this pattern of the Muslim community consistently “falling off the track”  has led to the many Islamic scholars accross history who believed that the poor condition of the Muslim ummah can only be a sign that something must be fundamentally wrong with the Aqida (creed) of the Muslims. Instead of seeing things for what they are – that a corrupt Muslim is simply a Muslim who has stopped practicing the Sharia the way it should practiced – these scholars sought to “reinvent the wheel” so to speak, by revisiting some of the core issues in the Islamic creed, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and later Muhammad Abdel Wahab (who led to Wahhabism).

I have only recently started reading about Ibn Taymiyyah so I can’t say for sure whether I agree with this Sheikh’s theory or not, but it is definitely an interesting point.

Another passage from the book, describing the same period in history:

Mainstream Western histories usually praise this process. The Umayyads introduced that wonderful quality called stability to the civilized world. Stability enabled farmers to plan next year’s crop. It enabled businessment to invest in long-term projects. It encouraged students to enter upon long courses of study with confidence that what they learned would still apply by the time they graduated. Stability gave scholars the freedom to lose themselves in study and dig deep into the mysteries of nature without having to worry that their families were meanwhile getting killed by thugs. All this came at a price however, the usual price of stability, which ensures that whatever is the case one day is even more the case the next day. The rich got richer. The poor increased in numbers. Cities with magnificent architecture sprangup, but so did vast slums sunk in squalid poverty. Justice became a commodity only the rich could afford.

(Emphasis mine.)

This particular situation is being repeated today almost word for word. So-called stability in Egypt is often praised for allowing for long-term investments and businesses to open up. Politicians point to the rise in foreign investment, trade, services (for the rich only, of course), and magnificent suburban communities (mostly gated, of course, so as not to be disturbed by the slums across the street). The rich are getting richer, and poor are getting poorer and increasing in numbers. “Justice is a commodity only the rich can afford” only the rich would dare dispute the truth of this statement. The West praises these “successes”. In fact, stability has been probably the main argument used by the Egyptian regime to dissuade Western governments from pushing for democracy: If you want democracy, you just might get another Hamas or Hezbollah in Egypt. You have to choose: democracy or stability in the Middle East.

The Prophet (Salla Allahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said:

“When the most wicked member of a tribe becomes its ruler, and the most worthless member of a community becomes its leader, and a man is respected through fear of the evil he may do, and leadership is given to people who are unworthy of it, expect the Last Hour”

August 21, 2009 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, International Affairs, Islam | , , , | 12 Comments

Islam in America: Great Series by al-Jazeera

August 10, 2009 Posted by | International Affairs, Islam, Media/Press | Leave a comment

Meeting “Abu Treika” in an Aswan Youth Centre

As the taxi was speeding down the incredibly bumpy alley, I looked around me trying to picture the youth centre that would eventually appear among all this rubble. 1 flat tire later, we finally made it to the centre, which was really just a very run-down 2-story building. I stepped into the centre to be enthusiastically greeted by a group of girls and women, and the director of the centre Hagg Sayed. They proceeded to tell me about the work they’d been doing to get girls more involved in centre activities, and to get women more involved in centre governance. All this was done as part of an initiative that I was charged with documenting as part of my job. This project was implemented by the Future Association for Development and Consumer & Environmental Protection, a local NGO in Aswan, and targeted 23 youth centres across Aswan governorate. Their goal was to open up this traditionally male-dominated space to be more inclusive of girls/women.

According to my guide – a woman from the NGO who was kind enough to take me around to the centres – there is no other form of recreation for these kids other than to play on the streets. These youth centres offer children a much-needed safe space to just be kids, a place where they can run around and play and engage in constructive activities. But these centres have long been non-inclusive of girls, largely due to societal perceptions. The idea of the youth centre as a place unsuitable for girls is deeply entrenched in the community (and probably across the country) and many parents were worried about their daughters’ reputations if they were to become involved in centre activities.

That’s why prior to implementing the initiative itself, it was important to first build trust with the local community. The NGO conducted extensive interviews, focus groups, and public seminars to try to change the community’s perception of the centres as a male-only space that is unsafe for girls.

According to some of girls I talked to, their parents’ fears that rumours would begin to spread about their daughters actually materialized. In reaction, some of the girls stopped coming to the centre, and others were prevented by their parents. But the NGO persisted in talking to the girls and their families and managed to convince a few to pay no attention to the rumours. For anybody who knows Egyptian culture, you will understand that persuading families to ignore rumours about their children is no small feat, for saving face is very important. Eventually, these few girls that continued to attend managed to encourage other girls and their families to follow. Gradually, opinions and perceptions changed.

The next step was to get the girls involved in sports. Now here was a revolutionary idea. They started them off with more “girl-friendly” sports like table-tennis. But eventually challenged them to take on soccer, karate, and even weight-lifting. When the girls started to participate in these more “male-oriented” sports, they were mocked mercilessly by their male colleagues. My guide was telling me all this when she yelled out “hey, Abu Trieka, come here”.  (Abu Treika is the name of one of the most well-known and admired Egyptian soccer players in Egypt). I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see a teenage boy or something, and instead saw a shy 12-year old girl. “Your name is Abu Treika?”, I asked her, smiling. The guide told me that the boys had given her that nickname after she scored a killer goal during one of the soccer matches. The girl beamed with pride as she told me she could beat any guy at the centre.

Today girls are credited with winning numerous trophies in soccer, weight-lifting, and table tennis among others. Furthermore, the once sceptical male members of the centre today attend all the girls’ tournaments, enthusiastically cheering them from the sidelines.

Talking to the girls, it was impossible not to notice how proud they were. Two of them volunteered to sing a song they had just learned the week before about the beauty of Aswan. Another insisted on displaying her weight-lifting skills and proudly carried weight after weight in the tiny broken-down gym. They took me on a tour of the centre  and showed me their library and some of the arts and crafts they had created and displayed on the centre’s walls.

To see firsthand the changes that have occurred in these communities was truly inspiring. This isn’t to say that eveyrthing is now perfect there. Keep in mind that these are some of the poorest villages in Aswan, some of the poorest in Egypt. These villages face a whole host of problems related to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of healthcare, lack of clean water, pollution, and other problems that are common to most Egyptian villages. These children are deprived of a lot of things and so many of their rights are violated. But this initiative has managed to make things a little bit better by fulfilling a very important right: at least now, these girls aren’t deprived of their right to a childhood.

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P.S. The above-mentioned NGO is NOT a foreign organization. It is 100% Egyptian and 100% Aswani.

August 8, 2009 Posted by | Development, Egyptian Affairs, Portraits of Egypt | 2 Comments

American Christian Spends 30 Days as a Muslim

Very interesting series!

Of course there were some ridiculous parts, like the way the narrator kept saying “they must follow the rules of halaal” which literally means “they must follow the rules of permissible”. I mean, that’s just bad grammar!

Also, when David was on the radio show and the host said something like “you’re now living in an Arab household” and David nodded, although the narrator at the beginning clearly said that the Haques were of Pakistania descent.

And that Imam that David first went to was just useless! I am so glad he found another one who was much better at explaining things. I have heard from many American Muslims that they often feel there is a communication gap between immigrant Muslims and those who are born and bred Americans. I have also been told that most Imams are immigrants, and so many born and bred Americans, especially youth, find turning to the Imams for advice or guidance to be trying.  That seemed to be exemplified by that first Imam, versus the second Imam who was able to actually have a conversation with David.

I’ve always been fascinated with American Muslims, and with Dearborn because I’ve heard so much about it. So I really enjoyed watching this.

August 8, 2009 Posted by | International Affairs, Islam, Media/Press | 5 Comments

Interesting Movie Trailer: Amreeka

I want to see this film

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Media/Press | Leave a comment