To-do List

To-do list:

  • Finish the books on my ever-expanding reading list. At the top of the list are  “Faith in Divine Unity and Trust in Divine Providence” and “Disciplining the Soul” from al-Ghazali’s Ihyaa’ Uloom al-Deen (Revival of the Islamic Sciences). I also found a copy of “Deliverance from Error” at al-kotob khan, and it includes in the appendices a bunch of other texts, e.g. parts of al-maqsad al-asna fe sharh asma’ Allah al-husna,  parts of the Faysal which I understand is his essay on Takfir.  I’m going through a Ghazali phase these days, I don’t know why.
  • Attend the 6-day workshop at Bridges Foundation. It starts tonight inshallah. I hope it’s useful.
  • Start work on my own personal “project” to translate into English Sheikh Ali Gomaa’s al-Namozaj al-Maarefy al-Islami (The Islamic Intellectual Paradigm) to make sure I understand it correctly. The only way I can make sure I’ve understood something in Araby correctly is to see if I can translate it into English. If I can’t, then I know I’m not getting it.
  • Figure out what I want to do with my life. I know it’ll eventually be something in academia insha’Allah, because that’s the only area where I feel like I’m producing something with some semblance of value, but the question is which field. Over the course of the past few years I’ve jumped from Computer Science to Economics to Economic Development to Sociology to Political Science (they say that’s typical Gemini behaviour, but since I don’t buy into that stuff I pretend not to listen while simultaneously being annoyed at myself for not dispelling that myth). Now I think I’m finally settled on Middle East Studies and Islamic Studies. But I don’t want to lose my experience in economic development. So, if inshallah I decide to go back to academic research, I will probably be looking at something like an Islamic approach to development based on things like the Maqasid and the Sunnah, combined with a critique of how development is being done today in Middle Eastern countries (that should be the easiest part), and the field work would be a study of Islamic charity and development organizations in Egypt. Obviously this thought it far from complete, but at least there’s a seed of an idea that I can work on growing later.
  • Plan a short trip to Malaysia and pray to God that it doesn’t get cancelled at the last minute like most of my travel plans do.
  • Oh yeah, work. Sigh, why can’t I just bum around all day and still get paid?

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Personal | 2 Comments

Deen as Multi-Dimensional Islam

This article was originally published at www.ReadingIslam.com

In today’s materialistic world, the personal spiritual connection with God has been all but lost. Ironically, it is a well-documented fact that religiosity in the Muslim world is on the rise, giving Muslim communities a somewhat contradictory image.

This contradiction can be especially confusing for non-Muslims, who are genuinely trying to understand whether being “religious” from an Islamic perspective is restricted to a certain dress code and set of rituals.

The problem is that many Muslim societies have become obsessed with appearances of piety, and consequently, outward manifestations of religiosity say nothing about inward spirituality. While these visible aspects of the Islamic way of life (known to Muslims as Shariah) are important, they are by no means sufficient on their own as a path to get closer to Allah (God).

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) explains in a hadith (Prophetic saying) how being religious should be pursued from an Islamic perspective.

One day while the Companions were sitting with the Prophet, there appeared before them a man, who said:

“O Muhammad, tell me about Islam (submission).”

The Prophet said: “Islam is to testify that there is no deity worthy of  worship but Allah (God) and that Muhammad is His messenger, to perform the prayers, to pay the zakah (obligatory alms), to fast in Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage if you are able to do so.”

The man said: “You have spoken rightly.”

He then said: “Then tell me about iman (faith).”

The Prophet said: “It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof.”

The man said: “You have spoken rightly.”

He then said: “Then tell me about ihsan (excellence).”

The Prophet said: “It is to worship Allah as though you can see Him, for if you see Him not, truly He sees you.”

After this, the man left, and the Prophet told the Companions: “This was the angel Gabriel, he came to teach you your religion.” (Muslim)

According to this hadith, religion — as a methodology or framework used to get closer to Allah — is much more than the visible aspects of worship such as prayer, fasting, and dressing appropriately. Rather, Islam as a religion is described as a three-dimensional way of life that combines:

  • Submission with one’s body through actions and rituals.
  • Submission with one’s mind through faith, belief, and creed.
  • Submission with one’s heart through ihsan, which is usually translated as excellence in worship through purification of the heart, strengthening the spirit, and breaking the ego.

This multi-dimensional view of religiosity deals with the human being in a holistic manner that encompasses one’s physical being, one’s mind and intellect, and one’s heart and soul. Therefore, those who follow only the visible practices of Shariah, such as prayer and fasting, without concerning themselves with strengthening their faith or purifying their heart, can be described as “one-dimensional Muslims”.

This saying by Prophet Muhammad speaks about worshipping God as if we can see Him, and knowing, believing, and feeling in one’s innermost core that He can see us at all times. This is about checking our intentions before every action, our conscience being active at all times, being humble and aware of our equality in front of God,  having the utmost trust in God’s power and mercy, and seeking help from Him and Him alone.

Excellence in worship is also achieved through excellence in action, for in Islam, worship goes beyond rituals and includes regular daily actions, if done with the proper intention. That is why ihsan can be pursued through many different channels.

Ihsan also means doing good to one’s self and doing good to people, and it means not being attached to material things in this world, or as the Prophet said, “Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a wayfarer.” (Al-Bukhari)

Living one’s life as if one can see Allah means being in a constant state of awareness that all one’s actions are being observed and recorded. It is a special state of God-consciousness that prevents us from doing wrong and causes us to aim for excellence in everything that we do.

It is to ask yourself: Would you throw that piece of garbage on the street if you could actually see God in front of you right now? If you could see Him watching you, would you ignore that poor person on the corner, or would you stop to give that person some charity? Would you cheat? Would you lie? Would you hurt others?

Doing good in this world is given such a high priority in the Quran that in many different parts the Quran describes the rewards of those that do good, and they are given the title of those who have achieved ihsan. The Quran says what means:

[And do good. Truly Allah loves those who achieve ihsan.] (Al-Baqarah 2:195)

[For those who do good in this world there is good, and the home of the hereafter will be better. And excellent indeed will be the home of the pious.] (An-Nahl 16:30)

[For those who have done good is the best reward and even more. Neither darkness nor dust nor any humiliating disgrace shall cover their faces. They are the dwellers of Paradise, they will abide therein forever.] (Yunus 10:26)

This shows us that the concept of excellence in worship is not effectively pursued solely through ritualistic forms of worship or by applying the public aspects of the Islamic way of life. Rather, we must understand that every form of worship has been perscribed upon Muslims for their own spiritual education.

Prayer, fasting, hajj, and even the Islamic dress code all have an inner dimension that goes beyond the physical movements of the body. Ihsan is pursued through understanding these inner dimensions and strengthening one’s personal consciousness of God’s omnipotent gaze.

We must do good to other people, and try to contribute something positive to humanity by striving for excellence in everything we do. Only then, can we hope to be considered among those who have achieved ihsan, and thus, only then can be considered among those who are truly “religious”.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Islam | , , | 2 Comments

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.


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

Umar Lee’s Excellent Account of the Salafi Movement in the U.S.

I just finished reading this 10-part series by blogger Umar Lee on the rise and decline of the Salafi movement in the U.S. I’ve never lived in the States so I had no idea about all this. This piece was truly an eye-opener. It really is a fascinating read. I’ve copied a short exerpt below but I highly recommend reading the entire thing here.

After many of us became Muslim in the early 90’s, we found that there was a competition for our hearts and minds between the Sufis/traditional Muslims, the Salafis, and the Tablighis. There is, however, a lot of overlap between the Sufis/traditional Muslims and the tablighis so in some ways I kinda put them in the same category.

The ‘Ikhwani’ movements just weren’t interested in converts except where they could help speak out on issues such as
Palestine. This usually required white converts and hence not a lot of black converts were interested in their movement and the ikhwan weren’t interested in them…unless they had big money. This is why you’ll find that there are more converts amongst the Sufis/traditional Muslims, salafis and tablighis than the Ikhwani groups where it is/was very rare.

Many of the new converts at that time, because of the internet, began connecting with other new Muslims across the country, learning their Islam together and many were learning about salafi speakers. Email lists were formed and websites began to go up. Thus began what some have called the ‘cut and paste’ era. A brother could in this era look like a scholar if he knew the right sources to cut and paste from.

Salafis – because they eventually had an army of zealous converts from which to pull – did an excellent job of book and tape distribution and had two magazines that were spreading like around the country in Muslim circles. These books, tapes and magazines went into the prisons where more Muslim converts eventually became salafis.

But one of the most important parts (if not THE most important part) of spreading the salafi dawah to other parts of the country were the annual winter conferences. The two major conferences were IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America) and QSS (Qur’an and Sunnah Society of North America). Although there were some conflicting issues with the leaderships of those organizations, many of the rank and file attended both conferences and there was a lot overlap of speakers at both.

It was at these conferences that the attendees would buy many tapes, meet other salafis, connect hearts, network, make new friends, meet the speakers personally and sometimes even become friends with the speakers.

At these conferences you saw many big beards, thobes (above the ankles), and many niqaabis wearing all black. All of this may sound cliché or even silly now, but back then it was really a big deal to see so many people actually “practicing the religion” in the eyes of relatively young and new Muslims.

Then on top of that, the emphasis on following the letter of the Islamic law and keeping the salaat lines straight and filling in the gaps that was emphasized no place else. Nowhere else would you see this type of emphasis, and through the eyes of a zealous convert eager to practice his new religion, this all looked good. Most importantly, we felt like we were “a part of something”. This is a critical point

Unlike today’s caricature of a typical salafi, there were quite a few professional and responsible brothers in the ranks that were African American. There were also white and Latino brothers there. It was the bulk of these type of brothers that would later leave.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Islam | 4 Comments

Labels and the Insensitive Sheikh

I’ve always hated labels. But certain labels tend to annoy me more than others. The terms  “salafist” and “fundamentalist” are two such labels that make me roll my eyes at their blatant inaccuracy.  The ideas that are propagated by these so-called salafists are vastly different from what was practiced by the actual salaf (which translates to predecessors or early generations). The term “fundamentalist” has come to imply ideologies that diverge dramatically from the actual fundamentals of Islam. And yet, these labels are used with seemingly no qualms by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Case in point: when I first announced that I was going to be taking a class at the Dar el-Iftaa of al-Azhar University, I was warned that they were all salafis. I was asked: Wouldn’t my knowledge be better served by readings books that I could choose for myself, rather than having a salafi sheikh project his views onto me?

Ironically, the issue of labels was raised during that class when the Sheikh made a seemingly derogatory comment about salafis. In response to a question by one of the students, the Sheikh said “I don’t want to hear any of this salafi speak”. He explained that he hates these labels just as much as we do, and he understands how inaccurate they are and how labels such as “salafi” and “fundamentalist” paint a negative picture about the earlier generations of Muslims and about the fundamentals of Islam. The actual “salaf” – the early generations of Muslims – did not equate between non-observance of the hijab and kufr (a term generally used in Islam to refer to someone who does not recognize the onness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad, and is thus outside the folds of Islam). Similarly, the fundamentals of Islamic jurisprudence in no way equates non-observance of prayer with kufr. In fact, according to traditional Islamic scholarship, a person is a Muslims as long as (s)he believes in the shahada (there is not God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet), regardless of whether or not they practice the Sharia. However, according to the Sheikh, current so-called salafi or fundamentalist groups equate the Sharia (practice of Islamic rules) with Aqida (adoption of the Islamic faith). Unfortunately, the Sheikh said, these labels have now become a reality, especially in the field of research [which is the field we are studying].

What should be and what actually is are two completely different things, and as researchers we must operate from a context that represents reality.

Personally, I’m not quite sure if I agree. Isn’t it this very attitude that has resulted in the normalization of these terms? Isn’t it this very non-resistance to their usage what gave credence to their ideas? On the other hand, I see what he means about operating from a realistic context.

He continued that we must acknowledge these labels and understand what they represent so as to avoid falling into the traps of the ideas they have come to represent. At this point, the Sheikh started addressing an older woman who does da’wa in a non-Muslim country. Her and her daughter are both students in the class. He remarked that she has the heavy burden of doing da’wa in a non-Muslim country, and that she has to be careful that often in non-Muslim countries because Muslims are under so much pressure they tend to fall into the trap of believing that the ideas propagated by so-called salafi groups actually represent the true Islam.

“By the way,” he said, “I actually found that your name pops up a lot on salafi websites, both yours and your husband’s, so I’m worried about you!”. The woman just smiled wisely and said “don’t worry about me Sheikh”, seemingly aware of how condescending that statement sounds but willing to let it slip for the sake of the class. Her daughter, however, tensed up immediately. The Sheikh didn’t say what he said in a condescending tone, in fact, it sounded as if he was genuinely just trying to give her advice. But if it were my mother he said that to, I would have been annoyed to tbe point of offense. This man doesn’t know them, he doesn’t know how they think or what their life is like. Just because he did an internet search he feels he has the right to advise this woman on how to do her job? Sure, he is a scholar of Islam,  and he is our teacher, but his job is to pass on the knowledge he has, not pass on his personal opinions, and definitely not to question those of the students!

The daughter had had it. She interrupted the Sheikh’s speech telling him that the use of these labels is incorrect and that they actually don’t use these labels in their country (the non-Muslim country where I mentioned the mother does da’wa), so he does not have the right to use these labels to describe her family. These labels, she said, are divisive in a time where unifying the ummah should be our top priority, especially in a non-Muslim country where having a strong Muslim community is vital to the Muslims living there. She was offended, and I was offended on her behalf and proud of her for speaking up. The Sheikh kept trying to interrupt her to defend his point, but she wouldn’t have it and insisted on finishing her point first. The room was peppered with nervous laughter as the other students started saying she had misunderstood and that the Sheikh didn’t say that at all.

Perhaps they were right, but if so she’s not the only one who misunderstood, I also felt that he had crossed a line by implying that this woman might “fall into the traps of the salafis”. I must point out that in no way do I belittle these so-called traps, for they are very real and I have personally seen people slowly but surely drift away from the mainstream middle path and gravitate more and more towards the extreme. But nevertheless, it is not his place to say what he did, definitely not in front of the entire class and especially keeping in mind that this woman is his elder, even if she is his student.

I could tell the daughter was embarassed at the prospect that she may have misunderstood the Sheikh and been too harsh in her tone. But hey, at least she has the knowledge that she spoke up to defend her point of view despite the looks of disbelief on the faces of almost every student in the class, and the Sheikh himself.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Islam, Personal | 2 Comments

GREAT Analysis of Marwa’s Murder (Allah yerhamha)

Seeing as how media-coverage of racist murder of Marwa el-Sherbini was extensive in Egypt, the comparative silence from Western media was deafening. I was waiting for Muslimah Media Watch to cover this because I knew they would say it like nobody else. As usual, they did not dissapoint. I copied the entire post below, but the comments are also very interesting so I recommend that you read the post & comments at the original website.

Originally posted by Sobia at Muslimah Media Watch:

By now many Muslims have heard of the tragic murder of Marwa el-Sherbini, mother, daughter, wife, pharmacist, who lived in Germany while her husband completed his Ph.D. May God give her peace and grant her paradise.

According to the BBC:

Marwa Sherbini, 31, was stabbed 18 times by Axel W, who is now under arrest in Dresden for suspected murder. Husband Elwi Okaz is also in a critical condition in hospital, after being injured as he tried to save his wife. Ms Sherbini had sued her killer after he called her a “terrorist” because of her headscarf.

Sherbini, who was pregnant at the time, had sued and won the case. At this point in time they had been in the courthouse to hear Axel/Alex’s appeal.

According to CNN:

The man, identified in German media as Alex A., 28, was convicted of calling Sherbini, who wore a headscarf, “terrorist,” “bitch” and “Islamist” when she asked him him to leave a swing for her 3-year-old son Mustafa during an August 2008 visit to a children’s park.

Subsequently, Sherbini sued W. for his Islamophobic rant.

Christian Avenarius, the prosecutor in Dresden where the incident took place, described the killer as driven by a deep hatred of Muslims. “It was very clearly a xenophobic attack of a fanatical lone wolf.”

He added that the attacker was a Russian of German descent who had immigrated to Germany in 2003 and had expressed his contempt for Muslims at the start of the trial.

The Islamophobic and racist nature of the attack is clear. If one follows the events as reported by the media, it appears clear that this man was driven by a hate of Muslims. He initially referred to her in Islamophobic ways and was thus sued and lost. He then attacked her again, though the nature of the attack is unclear, which resulted in prosecutors seeking a jail term for W. He then murdered Sherbini in the courtroom, yelling “[y]ou have no right to live.”

The Hijab Martyr

Sherbini is being hailed by many Egyptians, as well as others, as the “Hijab Martyr” as she lost her life because she was Muslim, a part of her identity made obvious by her hijab.

Newspapers in Egypt have expressed outrage at the case, asking how it was allowed to happen and dubbing Ms Sherbini “the martyr of the Hijab”.

BBC News

Anger about Sherbini’s death smoldered online, as Twitterers and bloggers pushed the cause.

“She is a victim of hatred and racism,” tweeted Ghada Essawy, among many other Arab twitters and bloggers. Essawy called Sherbini “the martyr of the veil.”


According to numerous interviews in Egyptian local papers with el-Sherbini family, the man who stabbed al-Sherbini used to accuse her of being a “terrorist,” and in one incident, he tried to take off her head scarf. Mourners at her funeral called her the “martyr of the head scarf.”

Huffington Post

Some have stated that claiming her to be a hijab martyr is inappropriate as W. did not state that he hated her because of her hijab or that he killed her because of it. But what they forget is that the hijab is what made it obvious that she was Muslim. It is the hijab which led to the initial harassment. Had she not worn the hijab, perhaps she would not have faced Islamophobic comments. Additionally, Sherbini died defending her right to wear the hijab without fear of harassment as a result of it. Therefore, the term “hijab martyr” seems appropriate in this case. The hijab, in this case, serves to function as the proxy for being Muslim.

It’s about Egyptians, not Sherbini

As Maggie Michael of the Huffington Post mentions this story has received little attention in German and Western media. However, the attention that has been given to the case has focused on the anger Egyptians in Egypt, as well as other Muslims and Arabs, have felt over the case.

BBC News entitled their piece “Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr‘”. Additionally, they describe the murderer’s initial actions toward Sherbini as “insulting her religion” – an inaccurate statement, as W. insulted Sherbini herself, not her religion. Making such a statement skews the reality of the case and paints the story as the “Muslim angry over insult to Islam” trope. Stating this lie trivializes Sherbini’s very real experience of personal hate and Islamophobia. It diminishes W.’s hateful actions toward a Muslim woman. It ignores the fact that it was human being who was hurt, not a religion.

CNN reported “Egyptians angry over German court slaying“. The article focuses on the anger that many Egyptians are feeling as a result of the incident providing such quotes as

Many shouted hostile slogans against Germany and called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to take a firm stand on the incident. Egypt’s grand mufti, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, demanded the severest punishment to be issued against Alex A.

Berlin witnessed angry protests on Saturday, when hundreds of Arabs and Muslims demonstrated after a funeral prayer that called her killing an outrageous racist murder against Muslims.

The Guardian entitled their piece “Outrage over Muslim woman killed in court” and continued to explain

Many in her homeland were outraged by the attack and saw the low-key response in Germany as an example of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

“There is no God but God and the Germans are the enemies of God,” chanted mourners for 32-year-old Marwa el-Sherbini in Alexandria, where her body was buried.

“We will avenge her killing,” her brother Tarek el-Sherbini told the Associated Press by telephone from the mosque where prayers were being recited in front of his sister’s coffin. “In the west, they don’t recognise us. There is racism.”

The rage that many feel over her death is not just about the loss of an innocent life. But it also reflects an anger at the hate that many Muslims are facing around the world. Sherbini’s murder, and subsequent silence on the part of Germans, appears to demonstrate a disregard for the experiences and lives of Muslims. Therefore, although many could take those statements out of context and attribute them simply to “those angry Muslims”, one must consider that such anger is not just about Sherbini’s murder. It is about the complicity of many Western nations in Islamophobic beliefs and actions, and about the frustration of Muslims regarding this lack of respect for such traumatic experiences faced by Muslims living in Muslim minority countries.

From the Huffington Post:

A German Muslim group criticized government officials and the media for not paying enough attention to the crime.

“The incident in Dresden had anti-Islamic motives. So far, the reactions from politicians and media have been incomprehensibly meager,” Aiman Mazyek, the general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily.

Egyptian commentators said the incident was an example of how hate crimes against Muslims are overlooked in comparison to those committed by Muslims against Westerners. Many commentators pointed to the uproar that followed the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Islamic fundamentalist angry over one of his films criticizing the treatment of Muslim women.

Also from the Huffington Post:

“What we demand is just some attention to be given to the killing of a young innocent mother on the hands of fanatic extremist,” he wrote in his column.

An Egyptian blogger Hicham Maged, wrote “let us play the ‘What If’ game.”

“Just imagine if the situation was reversed and the victim was a Westerner who was stabbed anywhere in the world or _ God forbid _ in any Middle Eastern country by Muslim extremists,” he said.

Yes, imagine. The news would have spread like wildfire and all Muslims would be being condemned.

From  the articles, one would assume that it is only Egyptians and/or other Arabs and/or Muslims who are the ones outraged by this Islamophobic murder. And one could assume right. No outrage has poured out from Germans. No outrage from any other Western nations either.

It is here I will ask the same question asked of Muslims every time a Muslim some place in the world commits a crime. Where are the moderate Germans I ask? Where are the moderate Westerners? Where is their outrage at the acts of hate by one of their own? Why is the burden of being outraged at the actions of “one of our own” only placed on Muslims? Why can we not expect fellow Germans as complicit in some manner as all Muslims are assumed to be complicit?

We are thought to be one monolithic entity, barbaric to the point of being complicit in all acts of violence. White Westerners on the other hand are viewed as diverse, understood to not condone violence, therefore not required to express their condemnation of violent acts committed in their name. Of course they would not condone such violence, we are expected to believe. But Muslims, and other minority groups, are not given that luxury. We must prove that we condemn violence. Such condemnation of violence cannot be assumed or expected of us. We are after all barbarians, we are expected to believe.

And this leads to my next and final point.

The Lone Wolf

In one above quote W. is described as a lone wolf. In this Racialicious post regrading the shooting at the Holocaust museum, a discussion ensued in the comments section regarding the problems with painting a white supremacist criminal as a lone, crazy killer acting on his/her own. The fact is that such white supremacist beliefs and attitudes do not exist in a vacuum. They do not occur in isolation. They require nurturing and a complicit society. W.’s use of the terms “terrorist” and “Islamist” were not creations of his own imagination. The association of Muslims with terrorism and Islamism was not his creation. His hate of Muslims and derogatory views of Muslims were not his own creation, but rather a creation of the world he lives in. His actions were not that of a lone wolf, but rather of one living in a society full of Islamophobia. This of course does not shift the blame from him, but rather places his behavior in context and demonstrates how, when one is the powerful group in society, if not the world, then that power means a greater ability to perpetuate hateful views and to cause more damage as those words and actions become just another method of oppression.

Additionally, if one views this portrayal as the one lone criminal in contrast to the ways in which people of color, including Muslims of color, are portrayed as guilty by association, one sees the ways in which people of color are viewed as violent barbarians whereas white, non-Muslims as civilized individuals who would never condone violence.


Sherbini’s tragic murder has reminded us once again of the violent nature of Islamophobia and the lack of regard for a Muslim life. From the ways in which the media reports this tragedy, one would assume that Sherbini’s murder has disturbed only those who share her religion. Not many others have expressed any outrage. Even a “German government spokesman, Thomas Steg, said that if the attack was racist, the government ‘naturally condemns this in the strongest terms’ ” (emphasis mine). Although many more should be outraged, there seems to be a denial among those who have allowed for such hateful views of Muslims to perpetuate of the severity of this case.

Let’s hope she gets justice, Insha’Allah.

July 13, 2009 Posted by | Personal | 1 Comment