Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Random Musings On A Hajj Completed

Thabet at Muslims Under Progress recently returned from Hajj and has posted his comments and observations here.

I enjoyed this one in particular,
"Who said the Saudi authorities don't know anything about irony? I mean, why else would they build an Intercontinental Hotel outside the Haram at Makkah and call it Dar al-Tawhid?".

Although this was disturbing albeit not completely surprising,
"The incident at the Jamarat could be avoided if people were taught -- or bothered to learn -- the significance of the various rites of the Hajj. Instead people are selfish. One of my relatives was caught up in the incident and says she saw people literally climbing over other people to get away from the area. I only found out about the full extent of the incident when I returned to Makkah around Asr time and received a phone call from my worried sister."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Thoughts On Baluchistan

Sepoy at Chapati Mystery has an excellent essay on the origins and present state of Baluchistan's disaffection with Pakistan. With most eyes focused on Afghanistan and Kashmir, Baluchistan doesn't get a lot of attention, but if it isn't handled properly it could have significant local and international repercussions.

One of the things which I find interesting about the matter is the fact that there isn't really an educated elite which is heavily involved in the resistance, which comes almost exclusively from tribal leaders. This brings to the fore many of our attitudes towards less developed regions of the World and in particular the tension between reform and self-determination, respecting indigenous culture and promoting Human Rights. The difference in this case is that both parties are part of the developing world and it isn't easy to lay the blame on a powerful foreign entity.

Personally, I would be worried about the state of affairs in an independent Baluchistan. However if the Pakistani government denies it opportunities of economic development and engages in a systematic repression of its people, I don't see how it can make a moral claim to the land considering the historical background of the case.

President Musharraf has made a lot of his 'enlightened moderation' - he needs to put it into practice here. Get the Baluchi's to the negotiating table, arrange a more equitable distribution of its natural resources and put in place economic policies which encourage economic development in the area. The Baluchi's must feel involved in the process - if not, then as Sepoy points out, we may be on the path to another Bangladesh and more instability in a region which could do without it.

Cross-posted on DesiCritics

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Crossing the Border: The Normalisation of Indo-Pak Relations

The normalisation of Indo-Pak relations continues. We’ve already seen the opening of the Kashmir border despite terrorist attacks in India, L.K. Advani visiting Pakistan and yet another cricket series being played in exemplary spirit.

The latest piece of good news is the creation of a bus service linking the Punjab. The most obvious benefit is increasing cultural encounters and creating greater understanding between the two peoples. Having said that, I think that this has been overestimated. The number of people who can take advantage of this service is not that big, and those who do usually already have family or friends on the other side of the border, or are doing so to visit religious shrines.

What gives me hope are the attitudes of the two governments which allowed the bus service to be created. Without a doubt Manmohan Singh doesn’t seem to have achieved much in his time as Prime Minister, while everyone has their own opinion of President Musharraf, but the peace process is something which transcends these concerns.

It would help solidify India’s position as a politically mature nation to go alongside its growing economic strength. At the same time it would provide Pakistan some much needed stability, while the prospect of increased trade with India would certainly help its economic development. It would also serve to demonstrate that the ‘updated Caliphate’ argument which seeks a Muslim confederacy, is a utopian vision which is not the best way to achieve progress in the Muslim world. Pakistan needs greater trade and cooperation with India not Algeria.

This does not mean that there aren't problems in both countries. Pakistan in particular struggles from increasing sectarian violence and has not effectively resolved the problem of Baluchistan. India meanwhile has to find a way of achieving in stability in places like Bihar to go along with the prosperity which it has achieved in other parts of the country, while also ensuring that communal tensions do not get out of control again.

However despite these other problems, there is no doubt that the Indo-Pak rivalry has overshadowed the other ones. From unnecessary military expenditure to the ever present threat of war, it has created a situation in which domestic problems have been ignored in supposedly trying to deal with the ‘other’. These problems will continue to exist even with greater co-operation, but rather than hindering each other's efforts, the two countries will be able to help in dealing with what are very similar problems.

Cross-posted on Desicritics


Just a quick plug to Desicritics. It is a spin-off of Blogcritics with a south-asian focus. I will also be posting on it as well and I think its quite interesting as you have a mixture of 'subcontinental' and 'western', Indian and Pakistani, left and right, on a whole range of issues in one place.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Osama's Book Club

Does anyone really think that reading this book will help us better understand Osama? If they want to know more about Al-Qaeda they should read Olivier Roy or Faisal Devji.

Food For Thought

"A people whose religion teaches them to despise others, whose heaven is supposed to be ruined by drinking water touched by a neighbour, who have to protect their sanctity by insulting others - such a people deserves no better fate than humiliation."

From the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Class & Modesty

I’ve also observed other people who are NOT daughters of doctors and engineers agonize over the same issues. Mention “tailored jackets” and “long but elegant modest skirts” and we moslem scrubs know exactly what you’re talking about. The Gap aisles are cleaned out of those $50 skirts before we get to the sales. Scrubs like me can’t afford them Saks tailored jackets. We end up with sagging chenille sweaters and Payless shoes.

I found the above post very interesting. Read the whole piece here.

Tennis In Quetta???

Hingis, you know by now, won in straights. What was up with Vera Zvonareva’s tearful meltdown? I felt badly for the poor girl, but it’s like - you’re losing to Martina “One Match from a Grand Slam and Former World No. 1” Hingis, not some qualifier from Baluchistan. Can it be arrogant to cry? Of course not. Vera has issues, as Mary Carillo pointed out, and we hope she finds a way to sort them out. It can’t be fun to get so down on yourself, so often and so quickly.
(From Pete Bodo's Tennis World Blog)

The day a female tennis player from Baluchistan qualifies for a grand slam tennis tournament, I'll be an extremely happy person!

Friday, January 20, 2006

What About Sheesha?

Svend White points to the fact that smoking 1 sheesha is the equivalent of 18 cigarettes. Begs the question, is sheesha included in the government's proposed smoking ban? The smell problem (despite the fruit flavours) is still present and presumably workers are still affected by second hand smoke. Does this mean the end of Edgware Road as we know it?

Dance? Of Ballet And Britney Spears

It seems to me that attitudes towards dancing (or to be more specific, men dancing with women (come to think of it women dancing with men)) represents one of the major splits in moderate Islam on the place of culture within religion.

Film seeks to be ok, music just about squeaks through, but dance is one of those things which in my view can provide an indication as to whether a person is liberal or conservative (not used in a derogatory way), wants to take religion forward and develop it or bring it back to a stricter interpretation.

As regards my own view, I think modesty is probably fundamental to the issue. For people who regard dancing as being immodest, I'm happy for them to have that view provided it is applied consistently towards men as well as women. However even then I think its important to keep an open mind and not draw lines in the sand.

For instance I think that one can draw a difference between ballet and Britney Spears. One tries to appeal to our aesthetic senses while the other attempts to titillate. In a subcontinent setting, one can apply a similar distinction between Khattak dancing and Lollywood/Bollywood. I would suggest that it is perfectly consistent to both be a classical Indian dancer and an observant Muslim, just like I would suggest that one can be an Actress and a Muslim, or an Athlete and a Muslim (you know who I'm talking about). As always I'll be interested in hearing comments.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Supposed 'Culture Of Fear'

It is fashionable to bemoan the 'culture of fear' which exists in America. I would suggest that this is common to most if not all societies and that pointing out the flaws in others often leads to ignorance about one's own self. For example, in Europe the fear of being like America often leads to a reluctance to carry out much needed economic reform. A lot of continental Europe also has a fear of immigrants which is similar to the fear of black people in America.

A somewhat similar point in a third world context is made by David Ford aka The Artsaypunk (A liberal Canadian living in Pakistan) who says this:
I tend to have strange relationships with servants, as I’ve explained before. Generally though, as my command of the language increases slightly, I’ve become more comfortable with them. They seem to like me, which I think is derived from my unique tendency to treat them like human beings rather than the dirt under my feet that happens to unquestioningly clean up after me. My more skeptical friends tell me that I’m setting myself to be taken advantage of, but oh well, I like trusting people, it makes me feel nice.
In this post, David also narrates one his own very interesting experiences. To finish, my point is not to deny that societies have problems or that some servants might not steal from their employers. However rather than simply being critical of others, it is often best to use that analysis to critically evaluate one's self.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Doing The Maths On Hajj

Today saw the latest in a long line of tragedies occur during the Hajj. A lot of people will be waiting anxiously to find out if their loved ones are safe and I hope that they receive good news soon.

It does make me think about the future of the Hajj not in terms of its viability, but the ability of what is essentially limited supply to cope with increased demand due to;

a) the global Muslim population increasing, and
b) international travel becoming cheaper and more accessible.

The current Muslim population is estimated to be 1.6 billion. Given the fact that a majority of these people are on the younger side and that population will continue to increase over the coming years, lets say that 1 billion Muslims will want to perform Hajj. If we say that the average person is fit and financially able enough to be able to perform Hajj between the ages of 20 and 60, that leaves 40 years for them to complete the pilgrimage.

If we divide 1 billion by 40, we can estimate demand for Hajj to be 25 million people per year. This year approximately 2.5 million people made the pilgrimage to Macca and Medina.

Given that the tragedies suggest that the current number is too many, increasing the capacity for people to do Hajj seems unlikely. For obvious reasons changing or increasing the dates for Hajj is a non-starter.

This leads me to conclude that if it doesn't exist already, a situation will arise in the near future when a lot if not most people will not be able to do the Hajj even if they are willing and able to do so.

The point of this post is not to suggest that Hajj is not a fundamental pillar of Islam or that it should be done away with. It is an important part of our religion which reaffirms basic concepts such as human equality and allows for important cultural encounters. However if it is accepted that Hajj will not be performed by the all of the people who are in a position to do it, then the current policy of expanding it as much as people, should not be considered sacrosanct.

If safety and congestion was to be improved by cutting the number of visas to say one million, it wouldn't cause the end of the world. Apart from probably reducing deaths and improving hygiene, it may also add to the spiritual experience of Hajj rather than simply being the obligation which it seems to have become. Comments as always are much appreciated.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jews, Muslims And The Quran

Svend White places the supposed 'natural' enmity between Muslims and Jews in its religious and historical context.

The question of the Quran's view of Jews is a controversial and IMHO generally poorly understood one. I think that when you read the Quran holistically, with an awareness of the historical context in which it was revealed, and with an open mind--something which comes no easier to Muslims than non-Muslims--its message is not at all hostile to Judaism, even if does view Islam as superior to Judaism (which is to be expected--most religions claim to supercede others). There are a number of verses which imply, either directly or indirectly, that Judaism is based on Divine truth and, thus, an ally of Islam against sin and materialism (e.g., verse 22:40 makes it clear that Muslims are to declare jihad to protect churches and synagogues along with mosques because these are places where "Allah's name is oft remembered"). Also, another verse explicitly states that God intentionally created the world in "tribes and nations" (49:31) and yet another declares that "there is no compulsion of religion" (2:256).

[...] There are also verses which speak of enmity with "the Jews". This question is more complex, but they clearly refer to contemporary political problems with some Jewish tribes in the city of Madina (e.g., there was a case where a Jewish tribe in Medina betrayed Muhammad and his community by siding with an enemy inspite of a treaty they'd signed) and not Judaism or Jews for all time. (Sadly, some Muslims--thanks in part to this tragic conflict in the Middle East--fail to remember this crucial distinction, as well, but the failings of Muslims are not the fault of the Quran.)

The entire post is well worth reading, Svend makes a number of other very interesting observations including highlighting the similarities between Judaism and Islam. The blog on which he made his original comments called Velveteen Rabbi is also an excellent one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Nominating My Favourite Muslim Blogs

The nominations for the 2nd Altmuslim/City of Brass awards are now open. You can post your nominations here.

A quick note before my nominations - I've tried to avoid putting forward the 'big names' of the Muslim blogosphere as they have already been nominated. I'll get a chance to vote for them later on. I also recommend everyone check out the nominations thread - its a great way to be introduced to new blogs.

Best Middle-Eastern/Asian blog - The Religious Policeman. Sharp and incisive while managing to evade the Saudi thought police!

Best Group blog - Pickled Politics. British 'desis' discussing british and global politics. The best part is the always lively comments section.

Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition - Civil Comment - He always has something interesting to say.

Best Thinker - Thabet . Slightly heavier fare than one is used to on the blogosphere, Thabet's analysis never fails in provoking one's own thinking.

Best Female - Paki Feminist. Absolutely brilliant AND hysterically funny.

Best Post or Post Series - Rape me Musharraf by Paki Feminist. If you haven't read it yet do so now! Pure genius!!

Best Non-Muslim - The Artsaypunk. A aspiring, white, liberal Canadian writer enjoying (most of the time anyway) living in Pakistan. Another blog which is very, very funny.

Best Blog - Procrastination. Super blog - covers a large range of subjects with great skill and posting in Urdu as well makes this the complete package.

My Nomination For New Category
Best Multimedia Blogging - Street Photos. His pictures are always a treat.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

After The Prophet's Death

It is at this pivotal moment in history that Barnaby Rogerson picks up the story of Islam. Essentially the sequel to his acclaimed biography of the Prophet, Rogerson's new book follows the reigns of Muhammad's first four successors, or caliphs: the zealously loyal early convert to Islam, Abu Bakr; the deeply pious though unapologetically misogynistic warrior, Umar; the kindly yet politically inept septuagenarian, Uthman; and Ali, the Prophet's beloved nephew and son-in-law, the man whose partisans (the Shiatu Ali) would one day launch a wholly new sect in Islam - the Shia. Together, these so-called "Rightly Guided Caliphs" ushered in a time that most Muslims regard as the Golden Era of Islam, a period in which the small community of faith that Muhammad left behind blossomed into a vast empire stretching from the Indian subcontinent to North Africa. What Rogerson's astute scholarship and detailed narrative shows is that this period in Islamic history was in reality far from a golden era.

Reza Aslan reviews Barnaby Rogerson's new book.
(Link via 3quarksdaily)

Forced/Arranged/Introduced Marriages

This is an old post but for anyone interested in the subject Zack sums up the issue perfectly. Also the comments section (at least the first half) which contain a lot of first hand experience is also well worth reading.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

India - Center Of The Muslim World?

The title of a brilliant post by 'libertarian' at secular-right India. Discussing the potential for Indian Muslims taking over the intellectual leadership of the Muslim world, it is daring and very thought-provoking. A must read!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

South-Asian Attitudes Towards Homosexuality

It seems to me that this issue is only going to get bigger. Was only a matter of time really. The Times has a story here and Sunny had actually pre-empted this on pickled politics a few days earlier.

I think that on the whole Muslims while not agreeing with homosexuality can tolerate it - like most religious Christians or Jews do (bananabrain if I'm wrong please correct me). Where it gets tricky is when it comes to gay Muslims. Johann Hari had this interesting piece a while back which I recommend. I'll post more on this topic later.

More: I think I have an analogy for this. Muslims tend to frown upon sex before marriage. However they can obviously tolerate it otherwise they wouldn't be able to live in any non-Muslim country without going into a frenzied rage. However when Muslims openly have sex before marriage, the whole dynamic changes and you often get horrendous honour killings (I would say this about honour killing though - they are a such a big problem not because of the number of them which happen, but because of the impact they have on those affected). For anyone intereted in the subject, I'd again like to recommend Nadeem Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bemoaning New Age Hippies

It all adds up to an archetypal - if unusually poignant - case of east-west misunderstanding: a west earnestly looking eastwards for an ancient spiritual wisdom, which it receives through the filter of sexed-up translations that most Persian scholars regard as seriously flawed, and which recreate a Rumi wholly divorced from his Islamic context; while in the east, a Republican Turkish government anxious to integrate Turkey with Europe bans Rumi's Sufi brotherhood as part of its attempt to embrace a west it perceives as rational, industrial, intolerant of superstition and somehow post-mystical.

Dalrymple on Rumi. By any chance, did anyone see the documentary?

Karachi In Pictures

For those interested, there are some brilliant photos of Karachi at the organic brew blog. They provide a great insight into the wonderfully diverse reality of everyday Karachi life.

Photo's of the blogger's journey through other parts of Pakistan can be found here, and he also puts up excellent photos of other places as well as occasionally articulating his thoughts in words.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More On Anthony Browne

Found this 'gem' of a piece by Anthony Browne who wrote the political correctness book called 'The Triumph of the East'. A story on how Islam is planning to take over the world.

Some hilarious quotes, albeit worrisome that some of it seems to be conventional centre-right thinking.

On Yousaf Qaradawi,
'He is probably the closest thing in Islam to the Pope, but I haven’t recently heard the Pope call for the overthrow of all other faiths.'

I disagree on many issues with Qaradawi, but anyone remotely familiar with Islam would know that Qaradawi is no where near being Islam's 'Pope'. Of course not a single mention in the piece of men such as Tariq Ramadan who is very popular amongst British Muslims of all persuasions.

On Conversion
'Butt the difference is that Christendom has by and large stopped conquering and converting, and indeed in Europe simply stopped believing. Even President Bush’s most trenchant critics don’t believe he conquered Afghanistan and Iraq to spread the word of Jesus.'

I suppose if you sat people down for an extended discussion on the end of the World they would profess some uncomfortable opinions. The fact is though that this does not enter the everyday existence of most people, just like Rapture whilst popular amongst some Christian Evangelicals does not figure in the daily life of the average Christian or the return of the Messiah isn't of everyday concern to the ordinary Jewish person.

On the Crusades
'The Pope keeps apologising for the Crusades (even though they were just attempts to get back former Christian lands) while his opposite numbers call for the overthrow of Christendom.'

I personally think that many Muslims place an excessive focus on the Crusades. However to deny the savagery that occurred and to apologise for it as 'just attempts to get back former Christian lands' is absurd.

On Building Churches
'In Saudi Arabia the government bans all churches, while in Europe governments pay to build Islamic cultural centres.'

If Mr Browne wants to equate European Governments with Saudi Arabia that's his wish, I think most Muslims have a more positive view of Europe than that.

On another Holocaust? I think this is more misguided than sinister but still.
'In the last century some Christians justified the persecution and mass murder of Jews by claiming that Jews wanted to take over the world. But these fascist fantasies were based on deliberate lies, such as the notorious fake book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Now, many in the Muslim world are open about their desire for Islam to conquer the West. '

As I've said before such comments are essentially self-fulfilling prophecies. People making them are not defending 'reason' and 'truth', but simply trying to place their own often bigoted ideas on a pedestal. As Faisal Devji says, a lot of new Muslim extremism in Europe is essentially 'ethical' and therefore not sticking firm to liberal values and battling extremism with extremism only undermines the claim that liberal democracy is a superior form of political organisation which has a place for everybody except the violent.

Defending Political Correctness

Anthony Browne of Civitas has published a book bemoaning political correctness, how it is a 'heresy to liberalism' and is 'poisoning the wells of debate in modern Britain'. Given the seemingly positive responses to this line of thinking on the morning radio programs and the utter inadequacy of the responses of the person from the Muslim Council of Britain, I would like to look at Mr Browne's claims more closely.

Firstly there are some things which everyone can recognise as ridiculous. For example teachers supposedly telling children to call the blackboard the chalkboard. These are straw men not worth defending.

More interesting is the claim made by Mr Browne that the politically correct truth that women earn less than men due to sex discrimination is actually a result of different work/life choices and career breaks. The first problem with this is that he is setting up a false dichotomy - just because women may take career breaks does not mean that sex discrimination is not a factor in unequal pay. Secondly, I've listened to at least 2 phone-ins on Radio 5 recently which have discussed the various factors leading to unequal pay with strong representation from small businessmen who have argued that maternity leave imposes costs on their operations which they can not deal with. This is on a BBC channel which is supposed to be the bastion of decadent political correctness.

Another claim made by Mr Browne is that the 'explosion' in HIV is due to African Immigrants rather than the politically correct truth of it being a result of more teenagers having unsafe sex. The biggest problem here is the lack of nuance on a very sensitive matter. It suggests terrible HIV carrying Africans bringing their diseases into this country. The statistics suggest otherwise.

The number of new HIV cases acquired in Africa was around 3000. The black population in the UK is over 1 million - you can do the math. On top of this a lot of this was actually a result of British or British born people of African descent acquiring it on their travels abroad rather than direct immigration. At the same time there has been a significant rise in the number of other STD's in the U.K which have largely been acquired in the U.K. I wouldn't deny that HIV infection in Africa is not a problem, but to suggest nothing is being done about it because of political correctness is stretching it.

The biggest leap which the book makes is the idea that political correctness has led to ghettoisation which has created a climate for the events of 7-7. I think the events this summer in France which is by no means politically correct (its recently passed legislation saying that more time should be given to the benefits of Imperialism), served to demonstrate that ghettoisation can take place despite attempted forced integration. To then make the leap to violence seems completely irrational which is strange as 'reason' is what the author seems to be trying to rescue.
Apart from this it is worth bearing in mind that political correctness can mean different things in different places. Despite the protestations of the right-wing blogosphere in America that the MSM is fundamentally biased against them, as Haroon points out in this post, it can be 'career and social suicide' in America to criticise the occupation of Palestine and a prominent right-wing journal once got away with labeling Edward Said the 'Professor of Terror''.

To conclude, I think a guest on Radio 5 put it nicely yesterday when he suggested the link between people towards whom society is geared i.e. white, middle class men being the most prominent critics of political correctness. You don't really hear the same complaints from the traditionally disadvantaged minorities. T0 me this is they key as political correctness is about tolerance and enabling minority communities to have their voice. In a sense Mr Browne is slightly conflicted on this point as well because he argues that once upon a time politically correct may well have been necessary which suggests that in itself being pc is not a problem. However I don't think that he can speak for others when he claims that prejudice does not exist anymore.

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