Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Film Review - Live And Become

You may not have heard of it, but Live and Become is a must see. As a friend of mine said, it is a film not about politics but about humanity.

It begins with a young Ethiopian boy pretending to be Jewish, trying to gain entry into Israel during Operation Moses. The film then proceeds to track his life in Israel as he and his adoptive family deal with a variety of issues ranging from communal problems such as racism, religion and misogyny to individual issues of love, identity and friendship.

Spanning a large amount of time in real life, there was a danger that this film would fizzle out and lose some of its impact. However the balance is very well maintained with the three actors playing the lead role of 'Schlomo' perfectly believable as one person. The supporting cast led by his parents are superb and his spiritual and adoptive grandfathers put in charming turns adding a bit of wisdom to the film.

The best movie I've seen this year, Live and Become is streets ahead of even very good films such as The Constant Gardener. It may not be on at a cinema near you, but if it is be sure you don't miss it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Reflections On The Idea Of A Caliphate

Firstly for those wanting facts about the Caliphate, Thabet examines the significance of 1924 here.

Some of my comments are on his blog, but I'd like to reflect on this point. Considering that Yazid's reign as Caliph of the Ummayad Dynasty included the illegitimate slaughter of Imam Husayn and his family at Karbala, was the Caliphate legitimate and if so what was it that gave it authority?

On the one hand you have the grandson of the Prophet who following the agreement between Muawiya and Imam Hasan had a legitimate claim to be the Caliph. On the other hand you have someone attempting to inherit the Caliphate which in itself is antithetical to Islamic values.

The person with the legitimate claim is murdered and yet people continue to pledge allegiance to the usurper. The essential point for those who regard 1924 as a cataclysmic moment is that just because someone has the title of the Caliph does not grant him moral legitimacy. The fact that there have been so many Caliph's has had as much to do with power and the use of the title to win popular acclaim then with religion.

This is why modern claims to create a Caliphate are ill founded - they completely ignore that whoever is the Caliph will be in control of a disproportionate amount of unaccountable power. As I said in my earlier post, Muslims in Muslim-majority countries tend to see this and have patriotic as opposed to pro-Caliphate feelings.

A Caliphate state as envisioned by those who currently promote it would most likely be a USSR type entity with an autocratic centre subjugating many in the name of ideology. I would suggest that if there ever was to be a pan-Islamic Caliphate, the only plausible system would be a collection of democracies somewhere along the lines of the EU.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Madrassah's, Fundamentalism And Jihadism

I just read William Dalrymple's essay on Madrassah's in the New York Review of Books. It covers an impressive range of issues from examining the alleged link between Madrassah's and global terrorism, to placing the Madrassah in the historical and political context of the Indian Sub-continent.

Much of what Dalrymple says, simply puts into words what a lot of those familiar with the sub-continent intuitively feel. Putting this line of thinking to a Western audience is an important one which should not be under-estimated. However what makes the piece a must-read is the historical analysis which supplements the discussion of current events and the unification of his experiences in both India and Pakistan. His next book on Bahadur Shah Zafar, is the first in a quartet on the great Mughals and I am very much looking forward to reading it!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Touring Pakistan (More Interesting & Less Dangerous Then Popularly Imagined)

Cricket in this day and age provides a unique window into some of the most diversified cultures on the planet. Pakistan and India, through the medium of cricket, have recently discovered that, despite three full-scale wars and a nuclear stand-off, they actually have more similarities than differences.

And something similar has happened to England on this brief but eye-opening trip. The range and depth of the welcome that the tour party has received has busted a few myths for sure, and given the grim events in London last July, there could really have been no more timely moment for such a high-profile act of bridge-building.

Andy Miller looks back on the England cricket team's tour of Pakistan. (For the full article click here.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why Intelligent Design Is Not Science

Yesterday's historic judgment by Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, clearly and coherently describes why Intelligent Design can not be taught in science classes.

Judge Jones goes through very thoroughly what science is, how intelligent design is not science, how ID in making its arguments twists the theory of evolution and why even if intelligent design was correct in pointing out gaps in the theory of evolution (which it isn't), it would still provide no positive evidence for the intelligent design hypothesis.

For those unconvinced, pages 64-89 of the judgment which deals only with the science is necessary reading. For those interested in the plaintiffs and the background to the case, this is found from pages 3-7. The rest is American constitutional law dealing with things such as the Establishment Clause and the Lemon tests.

To conclude, I'll quote part of Judge Jones' brilliant conclusion.

'their (id advocates) presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeated in this trial, Plaintiff's scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.'

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Film Recommendation

In light of my earlier post on the problem of their being a lack of Muslim scholars with enough scientific knowledge to tackle important current and future ethical issues, I would like to recommend the film Gattaca.

Surprisingly enough given its cast (Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman) and its director (Andrew Nicol who recently directed the excellent Lord of War), this film did not get a lot of attention when it came out eight years ago. This was a shame as it touches upon a world which is quite possible in the foreseeable future. A world in which genetic selection by parents is commonplace, in which those with the right genes win and those with the wrong ones go through life as under-class 'de-gene-erats'.

Overall this is a great film. The issues are dealt with in an unpredictable plot, the cinematography is beautiful, and the acting superb; particularly impressive is Jude Law in his pre-Alfie days. A final point to persuade you that this is film is not star-trek like scientific fiction and is well worth watching - Gore Vidal also stars in it!

Where The Caliphate Is Strongest

It seems to me that the idea of the Caliphate is more popular amongst young Muslims in the U.K and other Western countries than in Muslim majority countries. One possible explanation is that Muslims in Muslim majority countries have strong nationalistic feelings which override the idea of a pan-Muslim state which would undermine their interests. This is definitely the case with Pakistanis, many of whom feel that they are treated as second class citizens by Arabs.

On the other hand the experience of some British Muslims, is isolation from the state and disillusionment with the culture of their parents, which they regard as backward and not relevant to them. Identity then comes from being Muslim as opposed to being a 'British Muslim' or 'British Asian' or 'British Asian Muslim'. Not surprisingly, trying to leave behind the 'cultural baggage' of one's parents leads to a puritan or fundamentalist form of Islam.

Perhaps a historical parallel can be drawn with the Khilafat movement in British India in the 1920's when many Muslims struggled alongside Gandhi to try and prevent the Ottoman Caliphate from being dismantled. This was while the British were by and large dominant, the idea of Pakistan had not been developed leaving Muslims to look abroad for identity.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Interview With Faisal Devji

The Guardian has an interview with Faisal Devji here.

The Blog Is Back!

Sorry for not updating the blog recently. Unfortunately I've been rather busy, but I'm happy to say that I should be posting regularly throughout winter. During my time away from the blogosphere, I have managed to read Faisal Devji's Landscapes of the Jihad.

Approaching the subject matter from a fresh perspective, Devji makes some brilliantly unique arguments. For example, he puts forward the idea that suicide bombings are best understood as 'ethical' actions, divorced from traditional political objectives and therefore have more in common with global movements such as environmentalism than traditional Islam.

It is this sort of original analysis combined with some necessary historical perspective which makes this such a fascinating book to read.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harun Yahya: An Invitation To Ignorance

Meticulously footnoted and written in scientific jargon, the works of Harun Yahya are becoming increasingly popular all across the Muslim World. The pen-name of a Turkish gentleman by the name of Adnan Oktar, Harun Yahya books (as well as cds, dvds and videos) seem to have filled a need for urban, relatively well educated Muslims trying to confirm their faith through reason. The reason I am writing this piece is that despite the fact that his science is flawed, Mr Yahya seems to be succeeding in promoting his flawed message.

One of Yahya's favourite tactics is to use quotations from Western scientists to show that rather than simply making things up, he in true conspiracy theory style is putting the pieces together which the 'evolutionists' have tried their best to hide.

Given the closeness of Yahya's opinions with that of the intelligent design movement in America, it is not surprising that in a presentation I went to, particular emphasis was placed on Michael Behe's controversial book, Darwin's Black Box. However as Prof Kenneth Miller points out, the stunning aspect of this is that Behe moves away from a lot of creationist theory and actually accepts the idea of a 'common ancestor' as the best way of explaining the development of life on Earth.

Behe's central argument in favour if intelligent design is that there are certain elements of the cell in particular which are so irreducibly complex, that they could not function if you removed one element. As these individual pieces do not have any obvious uses apart from as part of their particular structure, they could not have come about through evolution.

One example that both Behe and Yahya use is that of the bacteria flagellum. Apart from the seeming absurdity of trying to challenge evolution by focusing on something so small, the thesis does not take into account the fact that when evolving from something simple to complex new pieces may evolve which are seemingly integral to the functioning of the body but in fact are simply enhancements.

A good example of this is the eye. It used to be held up by creationists as an example of something which could not possibly have evolved. Yet computer modeling has shown how the transformation from simple focal cells to a fully developed eye could have taken place in a relatively short period of time.

The point about the above arguments is not to try and demonstrate that God doesn't exist. Prof Miller for instance, despite being one of Evolution's staunchest public defenders is a practicing catholic. Rather, I would suggest that religion is not something rational but by definition an 'act of faith' and trying to juxtapose the two only leads to some very serious problems.

Firstly there is the danger of unwarranted trample by those that buy the Yahya argument. This is not helpful when it comes to tolerance and acceptance of other cultures and societies. Secondly, it can also inculcate a skepticism of science and technology which can only be harmful when one looks to the development of many Muslim majority states.

For more on what Darwin's theory of evolution and its implications, I'll refer you to this excellent website maintained by PBS in America. As far as books go, Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker is probably the best place to start.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Poor Poetic Polemics In Pakistan

This is too funny not to pass on.,2763,1657964,00.html.

But wait, that's not it! The guardian piece misses out the 'george w' bit. The full text of the poem is available at this blog .

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sufi's, Mullah's and Musharraf

"Ten o'clock on a cold Monday night in the Pakistani city of Lahore, and there are strange scenes outside the Alhamra Cultural Complex. Men are dressed as horses, others are inside giant puppet-like structures, all are shuffling into position alongside a red carpet. Around them dozens of armed police and special forces are keeping the crowds at bay and checking there are no cameras. The president, General Pervez Musharraf, is going to a concert."(keep reading)

The excerpt is from a fascinating piece in the Guardian covering an international cultural festival which recently took place in Pakistan. Particularly interesting is the idea being pushed by the likes of the festival's organiser Faizan Peerzada of promoting Sufism, which is inherently tolerant, as a means of counteracting the rise in fundamentalism.

This isn't as naive as it initially sounds. Sufism was a crucial element in the spread of Islam in the Indian Sub-continent in the first place. However it's influence gradually began to decline as it was attacked both by western-influenced elites who were skeptical of it's mysticism and religious conservatives who saw it as straying from the teachings of Islam.

While I would place myself on the rational side of the above spectrum, I believe that to discount the Sufi tradition for being irrational is a mistake as it underestimates it's enormous spiritual power. To finish I'll recommend the article again - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan references aside, it provides a more nuanced account of Pakistani society than most Western analysis, and for more on Sufism, I would suggest this article by William Dalrymple which explores how the age-old conflict between Sufism and Wahhabism is playing out in modern India.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why Egypt Voted For The Muslim 'Brothers'

Calabash has some interesting analysis on the Egyptian elections on his blog. Not surprisingly, it seems that by voting for the 'brothers', most Egyptians are hoping for the creation of jobs and better social services rather than increased religion in government.

Unfortunately I strongly doubt whether the Ikhwan will be able to deliver on this and it looks like the Egyptian people will have to experience such a government, before being able to discount its viability (For example, how do the Brothers intend to reconcile the importance of the tourism to the Egyptian economy with bringing their interpretation of Sharia law?).

I think it goes to show that if you suppress all alternatives like the Egyptian government has systematically done, and don't back it up with decent economic progress (like Singapore perhaps), then the utopian alternative becomes a lot more attractive than it should.

Hopefully, Egypt's electoral system will be further liberalised before Hosni Mobarak's regime is forced from power, enabling other political parties to establish themselves enough so that they can provide a legitimate alternative to both the Brothers and Mobarak. Given the popularity of the Brothers in the elections, this needs to start happening now. Otherwise, it may be too late and America's quest for stability in the Middle East by financing the Mobarak regime may well end with a fundamentalist government in stead.

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