My personal thoughts on Islamic Topics, not a form of ijtihad rather than applying my mind.

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Location: Cairo, Egypt

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Utter Disgust!

Eight Israeli seminary students were killed on Thursday night, shot by a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who sprayed them with hundreds of rounds of bullets before being killed himself. Ten other students were wounded, three of them are in critical condition. Most of the victims killed were teenagers - 15 or 16 years old – and another nine wounded three in critical condition.

What happened to [6.151] ... and do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice; this He has enjoined you with that you may understand.

Just how can it be justice to kill children? How can that be Jihad?

But what was much worse was this:

And this:

And sadly this seems to be the norm, as it has happened before. According to an Israeli news source Palestinians in Gaza celebrated the double suicide attack in Dimona by passing out flowers and candy, while giving praise to Allah. As news of the attacks spread, drivers honked horns and passersby laughed with joy. A Hamas spokesperson thanked Allah the attacks were successful, calling the bombings a 'glorious act.' Islamic Jihad took the same approach.

I just do not get it and I am utterly disgusted. While the Palestinians have been wronged by Israel for decades, and the situation in Gaza now is beyond acceptability, I simply cannot accept nor understand that killing children (be they Palestinian or Israeli) would help anybody on either side.

What happened to: [2.190] And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.

Do the children fight? Isn't killing children more "exceeding the limits" rather than Jihad?

What happened to [6.151] ..... and do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice; this He has enjoined you with that you may understand.

Is it justice to kill children? And then to celebrate that too?

Remember this? [5.2] ...and let not hatred of a people incite you to exceed the limits,

Retaliation here and retaliation there, reminds me of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".

Monday, March 03, 2008

Poetic Justice?

When Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab first started his movement, one of the main ideas he espoused was to purify Islam once again and bring it back to the way it was practiced during the time of the Prophet. He was very adamant about vehemently cleaning up Islam and removing what he perceived as bad innovations (bid’a) which resemble t he Jahiliya times. One of his first actions was to level the the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, a companion of the Prophet and brother of the second Caliph, on the grounds that Islamic teachings forbid grave worship.

Many recent Saudi fatwas by various Wahhabi sheikhs have echoed the same belief and have gone down the same route calling for the destruction of shrines, even outside of the borders of the Kingdom. Maybe there are none left there to destroy? A fatwa called for the destruction of the Shia shrines in Iraq on the grounds that "they are symbols of shirk and worship of idols". Amongst the "scholars" who have issued such fatwas are: Sheikh Abdel- Rahman al-Barak, Sheikh Mamdooh al-Harbi, Dr Nasser al-Omar, Sheikh bin Jibreen, Dr Safar al-Hawali, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz and Hamed al-Ali.

Another article mentions that Saudi religious "scholars" have been issuing fatwas calling for the destruction of the great Shi’ite shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, some of which have already been bombed like Samarra's Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, which holds the tombs of two revered 9th-century Shia imams Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askari, father of the "hidden imam," al-Mahdi.

According to BBC Monitoring Middle East on Jul 23, 2007, other shrines have also been listed and urged to be destroyed "in order to save the Muslims from falling into polytheism". Mentioned were the shrines of Sayyida Zaynab, in Syria, and the shrines of Al-Sayyida Zaynab and that of Al-Sayyid al-Badawi in Egypt.

Apparently this has already happened once in 1802, when the Wahhabis assaulted the city of Karbala where more than 9,000 men, women and children were killed and the shrines in Karbala were first desecrated and then set alight.

The ironical thing is that Sulayman Ibn Abdel Wahab, brother of Muhammad Ibn Abdel Wahab, was rather distressed by his brother’s extreme opinions regarding who is or is not a believer. So Sulayman wrote a book "Al-Sawa`iq al-Ilahiyya fi Madhhab al-Wahhabiyya" ("The Divine Thunderbolts Concerning the Wahhabi School") that rejects Wahhabism and criticises those extreme views. He wrote : “Intercession occurred during the time of the companions when one dreamed that he had complained to the Prophet about drought. The Prophet ordered him to seek the help of Umar. In this case, neither Umar nor the companions denied intercession, yet you Wahabis claim those who ask for intercession are unbelievers." He continued: "Similar actions occurred at the time of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. Although some scholars might have had reservations, none ever accused anyone of being a kafir, labelled them apostate or permitted them being killed as mushriks.”

Sulayman Ibn Abdel Wahab even managed to find a Hadith (prophetic tradition) to argue that intercession was not prohibited anywhere: "In one hadith a blind man came to the Prophet to asked him to pray for the return of his eyesight. The Prophet replied, ‘If you wish, I will pray for that, but you must be patient.’ ‘Please,’ the man asked, ‘Do pray for me’. The Prophet ordered he perform Wudu, pray two Rakaats and then ask, ‘O Allah, I ask and beseech you in the name of Muhammad Messenger of Mercy, O Muhammad, I beg you to intercede for my request to be fulfilled, O Allah, please accept his intercession’. Uthman bin Hanif, the narrator of this report said, ‘We did not separate from our meeting until the blind man returned to us with his sight fully restored.’ " (As found in Sunan ibn Majah Vol. 1 p. 441, Mustradak al-Hakim Vol.1 p. 313 and Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal Vol.4 p.138)

Sulayman Ibn Abdel Wahab argues that this Hadith not only provides clear evidence that the Prophet not only accepted the concept of intercession, but that he himself complied with a request to intercede, giving instruction on how Allah should be asked so that his intercession can be accepted.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz’s
opinion about Ibn Abdel Wahab’s the demolition of shrines equates it to removing polytheism. He writes: “One day, the Shaikh said to the governor, 'Let us demolish the dome at the grave of Zaid Ibn al-Khatab (Zaid Ibn al-Khatab was the brother of Umar Ibn al-Khattab t and a martyr, who died in the fighting against Musailimah Khaddhab in 12 A.H, he was buried and later on people built a dome on his grave). It is erected on deviation and the Prophet has forbidden building domes or mosques on graves. Moreover, this dome has destroyed the people's belief with polytheism. So, it must be demolished.' Then the Shaikh took the action of demolishing and removing the dome. Allah removed it by his hands and Al-hamdulillah, none of its traces remains now. Similarly, there were other domes, caves, trees, etc. that were also destroyed and removed.”

That much for demolishing shrines and purifying Islam. Now the other day I was watching a program on Al Jazeera, which can be viewed here:

And I couldn’t help it but burst out laughing watching this program. So after all this destruction, demolition and ruin and the deep-seated aversion to any kind of shrine, what happens to the Wahhabi Mujahideen? They get their own shrines, without even an intercession with Allah. Their graves have alleged baraka and karamat, which make barren women have children, heal the sick and generate special visits to ask for special favours because of the purported miracles as the
bbc has reported last month.

Now that’s what I call poetic justice!

Monday, January 28, 2008

No condolences for women! - La "Azaa' lelsayedat!

(picture from 'Me and The Mosque' - Zarqa Nawaz)

At times of loss in any family, condolences are offered to help the family members deal with their grief and offer solace and consolation to them in their bereavement. Losing my father was a heavy blow to me and I wanted to stand up for him, honour him in his death, as I tried doing in his life. Unfortunately I am a daughter, an only one at that! So it was a bit of a problem to get the condolence event at the mosque going the way I thought my father would have wanted it to go.

I could have chosen to have the traditional condolence event at my house, but the whole family decided that it would be better and more convenient for everyone to have it at the mosque and that was when I was confronted with the fact that being a daughter meant that I should have known better than to try standing up for my father.

When I called to book the hall at the mosque I asked if we could have one hall for women and men together and not the usual division of two halls, one for each gender. The man on the phone answered that it was totally unheard of, and when I insisted that there is nothing at all to stipulate or condone that division, he told me that I would still be paying for both halls even if I use only one. I agreed and all was set … or at least so I thought!

When we went to the mosque after maghrib prayers we discovered that they had indeed arranged both halls and made the relevant signs to direct people to their expected places divided by gender. I asked for the person in charge and reminded him of our phone conversation. He simply told me to go speak to the Sheikh, because he was the one who refused to recite the Qur'an if there were any women in the same hall with men.

I went to speak to the Sheikh, because nothing and nobody would have prevented me of standing at the door next to my uncles, sons and cousins to receive everyone who came to pay their respects to MY father.

There were two sheikhs inside the hall, who would be reciting the Qur'an interchangeably. One of them had a kind face and looked at me with an encouraging smile, while the other one had a very stern expression and gave me a disapproving look for daring to venture inside the hall reserved for men – and without permission too.

I greeted him and asked him what the problem was about having a mixed gender condolence event. He replied, averting his eyes so he didn’t have to be looking at me, that having women in the mosque was haram (forbidden). I replied that this was not a mosque, it was only a hall affiliated to a mosque to hold events at and that the presence of women in the mosque was not haram at all. I quoted a few hadiths to him, namely:
Narrated Ibn Umar: One of the wives of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab used to offer the Fajr (dawn) and the Isha (evening) prayer in congregation in the Mosque. She was asked why she had come for the prayer as she knew that Umar disliked it, and he has great ghaira (self-respect/possessiveness). She replied, "What prevents him from stopping me from this act?" The other replied, "The statement of Allah's Apostle 'Do not stop Allah's women-slave from going to Allah s Mosques' prevents him."

And: Narrated Salim bin 'Abdullah: "My father said, "The Prophet said, 'If the wife of any one of you asks permission (to go to the mosque) do not forbid her."

And: Narrated Abu Huraira said: The best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst ones the last ones, and the best rows for women are the last ones and the worst ones for them are the first ones.

And: Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Glorification of Allah is for men and clapping of hands is meant for women (if something wrong happens in prayer).

I told him that all these prove beyond any doubts that women have as much right to pray in mosques as do men and that we were not going to be praying now in any case, but gathering together to remember a good man in a hall even and not a mosque.

He kept his stern expression and told me that he wouldn't be reciting if women entered the hall, because it was not right. My answer: "that allowing women to go to colleges and to work in public places and to vote in elections, go to the markets or use public transport, all while mixing with men, is not considered a source of some horrific 'fitna', so how could being in a hall, affiliated to a mosque, 'God's house', be considered such a dangerous threat?" went totally under his narrow minded obstinacy. So I tried a different track. I recited the hadith to him namely:

Narrated Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: "Allah's Apostle said, "The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended."

And then I further poked him by asking if he wasn't sure of his own intentions while reciting the Qur'an if women where in the same hall?

That got a reaction out of him and he got angry and exclaimed: Sharrul Umoori Muhadathaatuhaa, wa kulla Bid'atin dhalalah, wa kulla dhalalatin fin-naar" (Translation: Every innovation is a misguidance and every misguidance leads to Hell fire.)

So I told him that this entire condolence event was a bid'a and the correct Islamic way was just to offer condolences at the gravesite saying: inna lil-laahi wa inaa ilayhi raaji'oon (We are Allah's and to Him we shall return), so since it was all a bid'a anyway, even with separating genders, then we might as well as do it the way we originally wanted.

He told me angrily that the customs and traditions are set and cannot be changed. I replied back that there should not be any dirrar or darrar (damage or inconvenience) and that if the urf (customs) contradicted the maslaha (benefit / interest) then the maslaha should rule and our family's maslaha was to have a condolence event where the entire family was allowed to be together and not separated by walls for no reason, neither religious, nor logical nor even commonsensical in this day and age.

I find it extremely offensive that, in our time, any Sheikh can prohibit a female from doing anything as normal as to attend her own father's condolence event, solely based on his own misogynist and outmoded patriarchal opinion. Is it not cruel to prevent a daughter from doing the last service to her father for no reason? To tell a woman that for whatever reason she cannot attend a service is to discriminate in a fashion that is totally removed from Islam. We seem to forget that the Qur'an states: "[6.119] ... and He has already made plain to you what He has forbidden to you..." If we cannot find a direct prohibition in the Qur'an, then no Sheikh, and no other single person, has a right to enforce any prohibition of any kind.

The argument that women 'distract' men from any spiritual endeavours or any other endeavour for that matter and that they arouse sexual urges rests on a completely wrong understanding of what it means to be human. This line of reasoning rests on the fallacy that men are too weak and merely seeing women lets them be overcome by an irresistible uncontrollable sexual urge which makes them forget anything and everything else, never mind the location or situation, in our case here honouring a decent and good man on his last journey. By such lopsided reasoning they imply that men are incapable of taking any moral responsibility for their behaviour and hence women must be invisible and hidden away and prevented from participating in the simplest of services just to allow men to keep their control. What does this say about men's ability to take full responsibility for themselves and others? On what understanding of human nature are these silly arguments based?

I was so angry and ready to launch another offensive on that Sheikh, when the second Sheikh intervened by saying softly : yassir wa la to'assir (make things easier instead of complicating them). Finally the stern Sheikh, muttering a whole barrage of astaghfirullahs under his breath, decided to allow the women to enter the hall, but only in a certain section.

I considered this a victory of progress and reason over blind taqleed and went and took my rightful place next to the men of my family, with the certainty that the time has come when women have to make up their minds that they should stand up to end the dictatorship of narrow-minded Mullahs ruling over their lives and to insist on doing what they deem correct as long as there is nothing (not nobody!) prohibiting them outright from doing so.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Crime of Obeying God! - Part 2

I received many responses and comments after publishing the first article about Kareem Amer and his blog. One of the comments inspired this article. The comment said amongst other things: “But Kareem did write some very explosive articles. In an ideal world that should not have landed him in jail, but by posting them on his blog, he took a huge risk in the current climate in Egypt, where radicalization is on the rise and the government is weak and trying to portray itself as the guardian of religion and morals. In one article he describes the University of Al Azhar - where he was enrolled as a student - as "the other face of Al Qaeda.”

Therefore today I would like to analyse this particular post, which as Kareem Amer’s title tells us was based on “Contents of a mail from another Azharite student - Al Azhar and Al Qaeda - two sides of the same coin.”

His post was about a debate on a discussion forum online between him and another fellow student of Al Azhar whom he sarcastically calls "enlightened”. The debate was about the gender segregation of students in Al Azhar, its effects on them, such as heightened sexual tension leading to violence, discrimination, hate and vindictiveness. The fellow Azharite declared him to be a non-believer or rather an apostate and threatened to kill him. Kareem Amer asks if Sheikh al-Tantawi knew that inside his own university were students adopting the very same line of thinking, which he himself condemned while performing the funeral prayers for the slain Egyptian Ambassador to Iraq. Ihab al-Sherif was killed,
according to a statement released in the name of al-Qaeda in Iraq “because he was an apostate, who had betrayed his faith.” Kareem further writes that this line of thinking is not only advocated by many students, but also by a number of faculty members, especially in the departments of fiqh and sharia, using the same arguments like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Kareem concludes that when violence and threats replace logic and reasoning, a solution needs to be found very fast. For Kareem the similarity between Al Azhar and Al Qaeda comes from this fanaticism, parallels in behaviour and outlook, a comparable disregard of life and frankly very little concern towards basic kindness and compassion to other human beings.

Declaring another human to be a kafir or an apostate is an extremely serious theological charge and should never to be carried out lightly. Not only did Al Azhar itself condemn that practice, but a select group of Muslim scholars, representing all eight different mazhabs, of the Sunnis as well as the Shias,
denounced the same thing at the end of the recent conference held in Oman.

Given the rather extreme reactions by the almost illiterate fanatics to these accusations (we have seen too many people killed in various Muslim countries after being accused of being apostates), it is surprising that we see this very same behaviour repeatedly coming from the eminent institution itself.

Al Azhar has not only figured as a major player, but has also continually declared many an intellectual as overstepping the lines by using examples of their art, literature, speech or other forms of expression.

In an article titled “
Ban.. Ban..published in French, Tunisian columnist Zyed Krichen condemns the censorship and denial of free speech implemented by most Arab states and Islamist groups since the introduction of printing. In the second part of his article, he lists examples of censorship and persecution in the name of Islam from various Muslim countries, including banned works and artists who have been imprisoned, flogged, and/or killed. He writes: “As for literature the list of banned books is so long that it would be easier to name the ones that are permitted and approved. This is true even in large countries like Egypt, and even for masterpieces of our cultural heritage, like the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. Works by Abu Nawas, Bashar Ibn Bord, Al-Isfahani, Al-Madari, and hundreds of others were banned from bookstores in the 20th century.

Sadly Al Azhar has participated in this heavily. In the Name of Islam many books have been banned. Starting in 1925 with ‘Islam and Principles of Government’ by Al Azhar’s very own Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq, which was termed heretical, because it advocated the separation of religion and state as a principle of proper governance. Ali Abdel Raziq was then expelled from Al-Azhar University. Since then this has happened almost regularly. In 1926, Taha Hussein’s book ‘On Pre-Islamic Poetry’ was banned and he too was later expelled from the university for his rationalist interpretation of pre-Islamic literature and the Qur’an. In 1959 Naguib Mahfouz’s ‘Children of the Alley’ was condemned by Al-Azhar as blasphemous. In 1975 Al-Azhar censored books, including previously published works, by Tawfik Al Hakim and Youssef Idris. In 1981, ‘History of the Arabic Language’ by Fikri Al Aqad was also banned for claiming that certain words in the Qur’an are of Egyptian origin. Four years later in 1985, three thousand copies of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ were destroyed and the publisher was sentenced to jail for corrupting the morals of the younger generation. In 1990, Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid proposed a reformist approach on reading and interpreting the Qur’an and later received death threats and was declared an apostate. He felt he had to flee the country and settled down in the Netherlands. In that same year Farag Foda's book "To Be or Not to Be" was banned and he was prosecuted for offending religion.

Book banning increased and in 1992 Al-Azhar scholars demanded the banning of eight books on Islam. In the very same year Farag Foda was shot. Al Azhar’s Sheikh Muhammad al Ghazali had previously declared Foda an apostate and said that Islamic law would condone his killing. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya accepted responsibility for the murder, saying “al-Azhar issued the sentence and we carried out the execution.” Though Al Azhar scholars later deplored the way in which Foda was murdered, they nevertheless still considered him an apostate who deserved a death sentence.

In 1994, Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck and seriously wounded after Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the spiritual leader of the fundamentalist group al-Gama'a al Islamiyya, issued a fatwa 'excommunicating' him.
196 books were to be banned on moral and religious grounds in 1997, according to a compilation by Al Azhar. However that same year saw the release of author Alaa Hamed after serving a year in prison for writing a novel that 'insulted Islam'.

The year 2000 sees the writer Haydar Haydar being declared an apostate for writing ‘A Banquet for Seaweed’, in which a character says: ‘The divine Bedouin laws and the teaching of the Qur’ran are all shit.’ Al Azhar University called for a public burning of the book. A year later journalist Salaheddin Mohsen and female preacher Manal Manea are each sentenced to three years in prison for atheism and blasphemy. In 2004, al Azhar’s Islamic Research Council recommended banning Nawal el-Saadawi’s novel ‘The Fall of the Imam’, which had been on sale in Egypt since 1987.

Beginning with Law Number 102 of 1985, President Mubarak’s various governments gave Al Azhar’s Islamic Research Council (IRC) the power to advise on the banning or censoring of any book it judged as heretical. Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni later gave the increasingly potent body a boost when he was quoted as saying, “Al Azhar is the supreme authority; when it states an opinion, we must all fall silent.” Paradoxically Minister Farouk Hosni said recently that “
the headscarf is a symbol of backwardness”, which caused him a lot of trouble in Egypt, yet he was not accused by Al Azhar of anything at all.

The IRC at Al Azhar University had the legal authority to censor,
but not to confiscate any books, but unfortunately the Center was given the authority to confiscate books and audio and videotapes that they believe violate Islamic teachings by Minister of Justice Faruq Seif al-Nasr. The minister’s order led to the confiscation of hundreds of publications from bookstores.

Not only were books affected by that, but also the range of academic research was rigidly restricted. The case against Nasr Abu Zeid began as a response to his interpretation of the Qur’an and resulted in an implied decision in all Arab language and philosophy departments to ban registrations of any theses involving an interpretation of the Qur’an that might lead to the same problem. Any academic researcher thinking of a thesis on a religious subject no longer has complete freedom to decide the subject. Yet in 2006, Al Azhar not only allowed, but also granted, a
doctorate to an obvious fanatic. The thesis listed who all he thought are apostates, with one of Egypt’s first female journalists, Rosa Al-Youssef, in the lead.

What I find very puzzling is that the government clamps down so very hard on Islamists and Muslim Brothers, yet allows their constant meddling in intellectual affairs. This is very strange, because it is exactly this intellectual backwardness disguised as religious zeal, which is the core challenge to President Mubarak’s ostensibly secular state. In the
Human Rights Watch Report of 2005 it was noted: “The Egyptian government must create an environment where academic freedom is respected, i.e., restore autonomy to the universities and cease violating the rights of individual members of the community. Such steps would make it harder for those who challenge academic freedom to achieve their goals. The state should also actively oppose intolerant individuals or groups who carry out attacks against academic freedom. For example, it should reject calls to censor books and allow students to choose their own thesis topics. Rather than combating Islamists’ attempts to limit academic freedom, Egypt has allowed them to deprive others of their rights.”
In an explosive interview in September 2004 Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst with Al Ahram Political and Strategic Studies Center wrote about how Politicians have used religion to gain legitimacy, how extremists have used it to condone murder and how religious institutions have been more than happy to play the power game to win some control of their own. Welcoming the reader to twenty five years of religious politics in Egypt, he said: “Al-Azhar has been censoring books and, worse, we’ve become accustomed to reading about one Islamist lawyer or another calling for movies to be banned because the posters were ‘suggestive’. Instead, the state over-used religion in its political war and it over-used Al-Azhar. We can’t ignore the fact that there are extremists inside Al-Azhar itself, which put additional burdens on people and society.” This was published in Egypt Today, a famous Magazine in Cairo. The words are not very much different from Kareem Amer’s conclusion now are they?

Islam is intrinsically a moderate religion. Yet, today the biggest problem it faces is the extremism of its advocates. Al Azhar, as one of the oldest universities and Islamic institutions should be the first to ensure that Muslims stay on the middle path. Islam neither teaches extremism nor rejection, neither arrogance nor ignorance. In fact, it condemns them all. My parents and teachers never taught me this. I do not recognise many aspects of this violent intolerant behaviour. What then does Islam teach? The Islam I learned teaches people to be kind and forgiving, to be open hearted and modest in behaviour. It teaches a beautiful middle way, a critical balance between two unhealthy and unworthy extremes. "And it is thus that We appointed you to be the community of the middle way, so that you might be witnesses before all mankind and the Messenger might be a witness before you." (Qur’an 2:143)

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Crime of obeying God!

Newspapers all over the world are replete with articles about the sentence for Egyptian Blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman, who blogged under the name of Karim Amer.

The last entry on his unfortunate blog dates back to October 28, 2006 where he mentions that he received a summons to appear at the police station for an investigation. The charges against him, he writes, are the ghost of Al Azhar haunting him, despite him receiving his dismissal paper from Al Azhar university already. He mentions other luminaries and intellectuals that were touched by Al Azhar’s curse, as he calls it, and who were forced to either abandon their ideas or flee the country or paid with their life, such as Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, Dr. Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, Nawal El Saadawi or Ahmed El Shahawy and the late Farag Fouda. He writes that this only strengthens his courage and resolve.

Since that last entry he has been arrested and detained and has no doubt gone through hell. We have all seen enough videos on YouTube of what goes on in Egyptian Police Stations to know that his detention there was probably a nightmare – to say the least. Visits from his family and lawyers were forbidden.

The charges against Karim were those of insulting Islam, harming the peace and insulting President Hosni Mubarak.

According to the articles of the international press – for some strange reason the Egyptian press has remained rather silent about Karim – he is supposed to have said: "I don't see what I have done, I expressed my opinion...the intention was not anything like these charges."

Let us take a look at his blog and see what he wrote and whether or not he indeed insulted Islam or harmed the peace.

Karim starts blogging in February 2004 about love, hardly harming peace unless his own peace of mind. In June 2004 he writes about honour killings and how the hymen is an affliction women are cursed with and how this insignificant piece of skin becomes a curse. Strangely enough just this week Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, issued a fatwa making hymen reconstruction surgery for women who have lost their virginity before marriage as halal.

In his next posts also in June 2004, Karim criticised the use of religion to suppress women in all spheres of life. He objects to not educating girls, of not allowing them to work in certain professions and fields. He condemns female circumcision and genital mutilation as yet another form of repression. He criticises marrying off girls at an early age and is very passionate about discontinuing domestic violence. All his criticism has been dealt with before by Al Azhar and the Grand Mufti. Just this month Egypt's top Grand Mufti declared that Islam does not bar women from becoming heads of state.
So if this position is theoretically open to women, what other position could be forbidden?

Al Azhar held many symposiums on the education of Muslim women, which affirmed women’s rights to education. Al Azhar even went as far as saying that misleading social norms and traditions which impede the development of Muslim women should be corrected.

In a recent conference in Cairo, sponsored by a German human rights group and held under the patronage of the Grand Mufti of Egypt, ten of the highest ranking scholars from all over the world met. Their final statement pronounced the custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) as a punishable aggression, an attack on women and a crime against humanity. As a result, the custom can no longer be practiced by Muslims.
The conference appeals to all Muslims to stop practicing this habit, according to Islam's teachings which prohibit inflicting harm on any human being.

In his next post Karim writes about the increasing phenomenon of black niqabs on the streets. He criticises them and calls them black shrouds. That too neither insults Islam nor Al Azhar. Just recently Mohammad Hamdi Zaqzouq, Egypt's Religious Affairs Minister said that the niqab is not a religious object. Zaqzouq said: "Nor is the niqab a duty deriving from the Sharia. I know I will be criticised for my words but I think some Muslims are committing a fundamental error, focusing on external and superficial aspects, without exploring more relevant themes, and hence providing a distorted image of Islam."
Zaqzouq went a few steps further a few weeks later by rejecting the appointment of niqab-clad women to work as counsellors in his ministry on the grounds that this would just promote "the culture of the niqab". According to Zaqzouq: "The niqab is a matter of custom and not the faith -- it has nothing to do with the religion".

So far so good! Until now I have not seen anything that insulted Islam or even went against any of Al Azhar’s decisions, fatwas, conferences, symposiums or teachings.

Karim blogged sporadically, about once or twice a month for the next few months. He wrote about his neighbour, about Chechnya and more about love and he even started writing poetry. He wrote about Biblotheca Alexandria and about Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, about educating women, about decreasing women illiteracy, how language can be used to disguise intentions and about escaping reality. He also wrote about dictators such as Saddam Hussein and George Bush and about the behaviour of a certain group of young Muslims who have been brainwashed into taking matters into their own hands to implement an Islamic society. He describes how they harass people on the streets, allow themselves to stop music, separate girls and boys and generally promote what they perceive as honourable Islamic values and combat what they perceive as vice. He criticises the blind following of so-called enlightened individuals who have a magic hold on many young people by means of lectures distributed via cassette tapes. He writes about the elections, about Ayman Nour, the Kefaya Movement, about Nawal Sadawi and Inas El Deghedi, a female movie director with many controversial and highly critical films.

I went through the entire blog. It took me a couple of days, but I seriously read each and every blog entry. I had to find out why he will be robbed of four years of his life. Why he was denied the right to complete his education. Why he was dismissed from University. Why he was silenced and used as an example to perhaps frighten other bloggers into silence.

The posts that allegedly insult al Azhar only appeared much later. In November 2004 he wrote a long entry about the segregation in al Azhar between female and male students and how this heightens tension. He explicitly describes the questions asked in fiqh classes about sexual matters and how this whole separation leads to all sorts of sick fantasies.

In November 2005 he wrote another entry about the cooperation between mosque and state, in other words between Al Azhar and the government and adds pictures of President Hosni Mubarak in various meetings with top clerics, and of Gamal Mubarak meeting Pope Shenouda, pictures - mind you - that have been posted all over newspapers. The post discusses the relationship between figures of state and clerics (Muslim and Christian) in a historical context and how the two exchanged legitimacy and power from that relationship. Again nothing that cannot be found in various history books. The contention probably comes from extending the link to modern times and writing about a group calling themselves “Ansar Al Sunna” and how this radical and fanatic group was supporting the President in the elections, as per ads they published condemning other candidates and portraying the President as a just and impartial figure akin to the ancient concept of Amir-ul-mu’minin (Prince of the believers).

The next contention comes from his analysis of the failure of Sheikh Al Tantawi to obtain the support of the clerical staff of Al Azhar to support the President in his election campaign, on the grounds that they are men of religion and teachers and shouldn’t be getting involved in politics, another fact that was published in various opposition papers. His only crime here could perhaps be writing passionately about the hypocrisy of politicising religion.

In August he wrote an open letter to the President. He posed many questions to him about forgeries in elections, about his long time rule, about whether or not he intends to fight discrimination in Egypt on religious grounds, about providing job opportunities for young graduates and about the rumours of appointing Gamal Mubarak as a successor. All his questions come from the President’s own campaign speeches and slogans or from articles previously published in opposition papers. Again nothing new here! Perhaps the only thing was that he actually urged the President to reconsider running. But that was also nothing new. The Kefaya Movement has made that its slogan.

In another post in August 2005 he criticised the statement made by Al Azhar to allow enrolment of Coptic students under the condition that they memorise the Qur’an. Personally I can see the double standards evident in such a permit.

In March 2006 he blogged about receiving a letter from Al Azhar temporarily barring him from continuing his education there. He then wrote about Taha Hussein, Abdallah Al Qussaimy and Ahmed Sobhi Mansour who were all expelled from the university at some point, either as teachers or students, for wanting a reform and for asking for it. This very emotional post discusses his decision of not leaving the university but rather waiting to be expelled. He argues that if everyone left a problem without trying to solve it or attempting at least to draw attention to it then nothing will ever be corrected. He further explains that Al Azhar is a state university funded by taxes collected from both Muslims and Copts and that it was high time to stop its discriminating practices, both on gender and religious grounds.

In a following post he described the disciplinary council he was summoned to attend for his writings on the internet. He attended it accompanied by Raymon Youssef, a writer for Copts United, and Mamdouh Nakhla, a lawyer and director of AL Kalima (Words for Human Rights). The accusations levelled against Karim transformed personal writings to slandering Al Azhar, labelled his criticism and call for reform as hate inciting and apostasy.

In March 2006 he got summoned to the Dean’s office and the accusations continued - and so did his blogging, which then took on a political bent. He wrote more about demonstrations, the charade democracy, persecution of demonstrators, police brutality against demonstrators, about religious fanaticism on the rise and about curbing freedoms. Again nothing new that couldn’t have been read in various opposition papers before.

Perhaps the only thing that could be taken against Karim on religious grounds is a post titled “No God but Man”
. The post, unlike its title though, deals with the law and whether or not the law is there to curb freedoms rather than guarantee them and concludes with a metaphor that the law becomes a god to enforce certain powers reserved for certain humans.

Amazingly, Chapter Three of the Egyptian Constitution
which deals with Public Freedoms, Rights and Duties says in Article 47: “Freedom of opinion shall be guaranteed. Every individual shall have the right to express his opinion and to publicise it verbally, in writing, by photography or by other means of expression within the limits of the law. Self criticism and constructive criticism shall guarantee the safety of the national structure. “

This is exactly what Karim has done. He exercised his freedom of opinion. He took his right of expressing his opinion seriously and believed enough in it to write it on the internet in a publicly accessible blog. In my opinion Karim lived up to both his own true self and principles as well as his religion. In his profile
Karim wrote that he was looking forward to helping humanity against all forms of discriminations. The Qur’an implores believers to speak up against injustice, which is precisely what Karim has done.

Once again a religious institution is confusing itself with God: instead of seeing that they are part of the problem, they interpret any criticism of the institution as criticism of Allah, whereas Karim only did what Allah has told every Muslim to do: [4:135]: “O you who believe! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah's sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Shshsh - don't laugh! We're Muslims!!

From little mosque on the prairie to a little masquerade on the prairie
to a little laughter on the prairie ...

I received the article "Little Masquerade on the Prairie" by Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan of the MCC, which was published in The Toronto SUN in my email.

The article sharply criticised the show "Little Mosque on the Prairie" aired by CBC. The criticism ranged from not being funny, to being shallow, to painting a false picture of the Muslim community in Canada and that it does not reflect the diversity of Canada's Muslim society.

For me the criticism that the show focuses "singularly on the most conservative segments of the Muslim community" and that it shows "conservative Muslims vs. ultra-conservative Muslims" really made me laugh, for I do not agree with this assessment at all. It is hardly conservative when a young Muslim woman sits out there at night on the steps (even if they are the steps of a mosque) talking to a young man (even if he is an imam) without a chaperone / mehrem (a male relative). It is definitely not ultra-conservative to show a Muslim wife being "disobedient" to her husband and withdrawing marital relations until a conflict is solved.

Strangely enough on another, more traditional, Muslim mailing list, the equally harsh criticism against the show was because it portrays too many progressive Muslims, showed a husband kissing his unveiled wife in public, presented unorthodox verbal exchanges and discussions thereby encouraging women to speak up against and defy their fathers and husbands. Furthermore, it accused the show of reducing Muslims to sad caricatures and many a time the dialogue bordering on blasphemy. I guess that nobody can please everybody and it all boils down to one’s sense of humour and more so to one’s definition of words such as progressive, orthodox and conservative.

I on my part found the four episodes to be a breath of fresh air, showing that Muslims can indeed laugh about themselves and do possess a sense of humour. I watched them all on

The insider jokes might sometimes go above the head of a lot of viewers who do not have sufficient information about Islam, like for example one of the female characters saying something to the effect that this or that can be found in Sura 115 of the Qur'an, which obviously does not exist, since the Qur'an only has 114 Suras or the play on words calling it Halal-oween.

Personally I find the accusation that the script-writer is playing "a deft hand in attempting to sanitize what really goes on in the typical Canadian mosque" namely the "hijacking of Islam, by politicized clerics affiliated with Saudi Arabia or Iran", to be rather ludicrous and if anything at all I think that the humour in it was missed. The conservative character "Baber" is not really representative of the kind of clerics affiliated with the virulent string of Wahabi Islam, but rather an elderly family man who is desperately trying to control his nuclear family, and perhaps by extension the small Muslim community in that little town. He is portrayed in such a way that his attempts of control – even his discussions with the new and much younger imam about issues such as women praying in the same open space like the men or having an open day at the mosque – end up being exposed as pathetic and laughable.

As an example in episode 4, he started off being very much opposed to celebrating Halloween on the grounds that it is un-Islamic and for witches and by being totally against his children participating in any of the events associated with it, like trick & treat. He ended up having to go as a Muslim escort for his teenage daughter and enjoying himself even more than his children. I for one, found myself feeling sorry for him at times. Despite his apparent conservatism, he does, like any other doting father, have a soft spot for his daughter and indeed even repeatedly goes against his own traditional beliefs when it comes to her.

Muslim lives, especially in non-Muslim countries, do indeed not revolve around mosques, but for crying out loud, this is a comedy not a documentary or a reality show. And ideally the mosque should provide a lot more services to a community than only providing prayer space or room for Friday sermons.
The New York Times
portrayed a progressive imam, Mr. Shata, who said that he wishes to return the function of a mosque and its imam to what it used to be, by providing a space for interactions and other services. He for one runs some sort of a Muslim dating service from his mosque and chaperones prospective brides and grooms. He lectures at the mosque, settles disputes, makes house-calls to his community members whispering the call to prayer in the ears of newborn babies and “spends hours listening to women’s worries and confessions, their intimate secrets and frank questions about everything from menstruation to infidelity.”

The show does attempt to show some of the good - if not ideal - sides, like the discussions between the various community members regarding issues of conflict, presenting various opinions ranging from conservative to progressive. It also shows the "ideal" relationship, that should be, between the imam and the small town's priest, where their respective religions do not stand in the way of helping one another out, even if only by listening and offering a shoulder or a cup of tea and thereby co-existing friendly and peacefully. In some ways it also touches upon some of the complicated matters that could lead to convoluted fiqh questions, like for example if a man was gay, does that still necessitate a woman to cover her hair in his presence, despite the fact that it will in no way make any difference to him at all?

The cherry on top of this article was the statement: "Indeed all of the depictions point to an Islamist agenda that seeks to justify inequities that pervade Muslim communities under the pretext of progress."

Oh please! To imply that a comedy show has a political objective and some hidden agenda, predictably using the catchphrase of Islamist for emphasis, is really a bit too much and for me only shows seeing all sort of 'comical' conspiracies where none exist. A sense of humour is a very personal thing. What people choose to find funny or not is a personal choice, but if someone fails to see through the show to see it as a comedy, as is intended, then I must wonder about a possible own hidden agenda.

I am happy I watched the four episodes aired so far and I will be watching the next ones to come, provided they are uploaded somewhere like the previous ones. Personally I think that Zarqa Nawaz has managed to create a show that is both entertaining and also helpful in removing the fear of the unknown, those Muslims, who in a lot of other places, especially after 9/11 and in too many Hollywood movies are all lumped together and depicted as uncultured, ignorant brutes, terrorists, fanatics or worse.

recent poll measuring the level of "Islamophobia" in each nation
reported Canadians to be least prejudice against Muslims. Only 6.5% of the two thousand Canadians surveyed, said they wouldn’t like to have a Muslim neighbour. Perhaps it is shows like “Little Mosque on the Prairie” that help in removing deep-seated prejudices and show that at the end of the day Muslims are as human as everyone else, fighting their own demons of temptations and misunderstandings and rigid interpretations and long ingrained traditions, all that while trying to find a middle ground between keeping and practicing their faith and fitting in and making a new home in a country of their choice.

And if someone would make a "Little Gurdwara on the East Coast" or a "Little Mandir on the Oil Sands", I would most probably like to watch them as well, as I have no clue about what Sikhs or Hindus might or might not find funny or how being in the temples could be shown in a way that breaks the ice and removes prejudices.

In the New York Times article, Mr. Shata said: "The surprise for me was that the qualities I thought would not make a good sheik — simplicity and humour and being close to people — those are the most important qualities. People love those who smile and laugh. They need someone who lives among them and knows their pain."

Zarqa Nawaz, thank you for making me laugh!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Extreme Interpretations of Islam: A Step Too Far!

My cousin, a professor at Cairo University told me about an incident that happened to her. One of her best students, an extremely polite and well-mannered shy veiled girl came into her office crying. Asking her about the reason she said she was asking her professor a question in class, when a colleague of hers wearing the niqab, told her that a good Muslim female student is not supposed to ask her male professor any questions in class to avoid eye contact and raising her voice. My cousin told me that her student wearing the niqab was also one of her good students and therefore she called her to the office and told her how disappointed she was about the comment she made. She patiently explained that this was because it meant that she did not see this person as a professor who spent years and years of his life for the sake of research and knowledge and then more years towards transmitting and sharing it. She did not see him as a professor or a father or perhaps as an elder brother. All what she saw in him was that he was a man. She also did not see herself as a willing student nor a daughter or a younger sister. She only saw herself as a female, which is very humiliating to them both. I thought that this incident was very significant and needed to be written about.

Never mind, that learning was called a form of worship and Hadith asked believers to seek knowledge all the way even to China, while the Qur'an placed great emphasis on learning as per Sura [39.9]: "... Say: Are those who know and those who do not know alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful…."

Not engaging in any personal, active, immediate, face to face discussions and not even answering or asking questions seems to be based on the misconception that a woman's voice is "awra", meaning that women should lower their voice to whispers or preferably even complete silence, except when they speak to their husbands, male relatives or other females. Many Mullahs have issued fatwas about the act of communication from and by a female as being a source of temptation to the poor male who cannot seem to be able to control himself.

Sadly, the example of this particular student is not representing an isolated case. Her views are shared by many, way too many. Unfortunately this student represents the new generation, the so-called future hope of the Muslim Ummah. I wince at such mentalities. I flinch at taking every small straight forward concept stated to ensure decency in human exchanges way too far and imposing narrow-minded intolerance on it. What really upsets me the most though, is the jump from the injunction of good behaviour and observing decency to prohibiting something which Allah has allowed and imposing new false rigid ways of behaviour which lead to much harm. It just makes me angry. The student does not realise that not replying to teacher's questions is a form of treatment that is rather impolite and insulting, to both of them. A female student with a male teacher and vice versa, a male student with a female teacher should be focusing on the curriculum at hand and not on their respective genders. An old Arab proverb says “the teacher is almost a prophet.” So were does that leave us today?

Women were teachers even during the Prophet's time and the believers were allowed to engage them in discussions to learn from them. The Qur'an specifically and clearly mentions that those seeking knowledge or any information from the Prophet's wives were to address them (from behind a screen yes, but still address them (33:53)). Since questions require an answer, the Prophet's wives answered questions to those who asked and also narrated Hadiths. This to me certainly implies a conversation. I hardly think that sign language was used as the curtains would surely have prevented that.

Furthermore, women were allowed to question the Prophet even in the presence of men. A whole collection of hadiths proves that fact. This naturally shows us that they were neither prevented from being heard nor from speaking up and neither from participating in an exchange with men. There is one particular case I would like to mention, the case when Caliph Umar was challenged by a woman during his khutba on the minbar. He did not deny her nor cut her off nor ask her to remain silence, despite the embarrassment to him in public, but instead he admitted that she was right and he was wrong.

There are many more examples of women speaking up in public and having their voices heard in the Qur'an, such as the two daughters of the Sheikh mentioned in (28:23) and the Queen of Sheba in (27:44). All these examples, even those predating Islam, support the fact that women are allowed to speak up and to voice their opinion publicly, for whatever has been prescribed to those before is prescribed to us now.

Taking the words rigidly and stopping at their literal meaning, while denying their underlying principles was never Islam. Twisting definitions and explanations to serve some personal agenda promoting discrimination and denying anyone some rights already granted was never Islam. Injecting personal prejudices and imposing fanatical views was never Islam. Reducing a religion and a living text to becoming only dead words on useless paper was never Islam. Selectively applying words and heartlessly and mindlessly and missing their meanings was also never Islam. The choice of not listening to a professor and not replying back even if it was solely related to the curriculum denies learning and its value. What happened to tolerance and lenience? What happened to equity and niyyat? The first word of the Qur'an was "Iqra'" (read) and that means learning, acquiring knowledge. It does not mean read the Qur'an only, and then it most definitely does not mean to read it with only your eyes and shut off your mind and thinking. First the niqabs so women shouldn’t be seen and now this, so women shouldn’t be heard. Denying females the rights to be heard is imposing restrictions on half the Ummah. Seeing everything in black and white like this reduces every noble value to something ridiculous and downright outrageous.

The second United Nations Arab Development Report examined the methods available to Arab states to overcome the knowledge deficit in their societies. The report noted the high levels of illiteracy among women and highlighted the fact that many children do not have access to basic education. The authors of the report made reference to the fact that an alliance between some oppressive regimes and certain types of conservative religions has led to an interpretation of Islam which serves governments but is detrimental to human development, particularly with respect to freedom of thought, the interpretation of judgements, the accountability of regimes to the people and women's participation in public life.

The report concluded, on the optimistic note, that there is sufficient human capital in the Arab world for a knowledge renaissance, a return to a society where the acquisition of knowledge is valued and encouraged, but that there are constraints hampering the acquisition. Well, when students behave in this way, then why are we surprised when we see such results and conclusions published?
Sometimes I really think that some Muslims are their own worst enemies.