MAY 2006|RABI’ AL-THANI 1427|NO.366
UK£2.50 | US$5.00 |RM10.00
On Returning to God
The Promise and Peril
of the Nasheed Industry
Muslim China’s Modern Face
HRH THE PRINCE OF WALES
Celebrating a Common Treasure
Heckling for Allah
Habib Ali al-Jifri
The Mercy Warrior
FROM THE PULPIT
FUAD NAHDI P
erhaps the biggest challenge facing Muslims in con-
temporary times is to enunciate the role and status
of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be bless-
ings and peace, in the religious consciousness of Muslims.
As the Danish caricature fiasco has shown, failure to
understand, appreciate and respect the high regard all
Muslims have for their Prophet has led to a lot of misun-
derstanding, pain and conflict.
To a certain extent the problem is historical: no other
historical figure has had such bad press in the West as the
Prophet of Islam. From the Middle Ages up to very recent
times, depiction of him in European controversial litera-
ture has been obnoxious, depraved and irresponsible.
This, coupled with the culture of cynicism, has desperate-
ly clouded the minds of most Westerners from under-
standing the great importance of Muhammad in Muslim religious life.
Failure to comprehend the reasons and depth of Muslim veneration for the Prophet is a seri-
ous flaw in appreciating the essence of Islam. It is the love of the Prophet that makes the faith
extraordinary: it is the spontaneous human emotion, repressed at some point by the austerity of
the doctrine of God as developed in theology, that has its full outlet - a warm human emotion
which the peasant can share with the mystic, the learned with the student.
Modern men, especially those who come from a secularised Christian background, find it dif-
ficult to understand both the veneration of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his role as the
prototype of Muslim religious and spiritual life. The reason for this difficulty is that the spiritu-
al nature of the Prophet is hidden in his human one and his purely spiritual function is hidden
in his duties as the guide of men and the leader of a community. It was the function of the
Prophet to be, not only a spiritual guide, but also the organiser of a new social order with all
that such a function implies. And it is precisely this aspect of his being that veils his purely spir-
itual dimension from foreign eyes.
Outsiders have understood his political genius, his power of oratory, his great statesmanship,
but few have understood how he could be the religious and spiritual guide and how his life could
be emulated by those who aspire to sanctity. This is particularly true in the modern world in
which religion is separated from other domains of life and most modern men can hardly imag-
ine how a spiritual being could also be immersed in the most intense political and social activi-
Today, however, the biggest responsibility for Muslims is to redress the situation. But we can
only convince our neighbours of the status and honour of the Prophet, peace be upon him, if we
honour him ourselves first. Qadi ‘Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi points out that someone who loves
a person prefers them and prefers what they like. Otherwise, he is a pretender, insincere in his
love. Someone who has true love of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, will
manifest the following signs - “that he will emulate him, apply his sunnah, follow his words and
deeds, obey his commands and avoid his prohibitions and take on his adab in ease and hardship,
joy and despair.”
No other aspect of Islam is more powerful, more potent and more attractive than our love for
the Messenger of God for it reflects our status, represents our reality and ensures our Hereafter.
And there is no better way of preparing and nurturing this love - and expressing it - than through
the mawlid, the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday.
Muslims, particularly those living in the West, must harness their intellectual and creative
resources and find new imaginative ways in which to articulate and share our love for the
“Mercy upon mankind” with our neighbours. It should be clear among our young people that
love of the Prophet is incumbent upon all and especially those who aspire towards a life of suc-
cess. This love must not be understood in an individualistic sense. Rather, we love the Prophet
because he symbolises that harmony and beauty that pervades all things, and displays in their
fullness those virtues, the attainment of which allow man to realise his theomorphic nature.
“Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet, O ye who believe! Ask blessings on
him and salute him with a worthy salutation” [33:56]
Q - NEWS |3
Q-Readers take on the Danish cartoon
controversy the Muslim reaction, Afghan
apostasy, anti-semitism and the Gay-
It’s the natural way!
Tawfiq Khan says like he sees it: boys
and girls are different, and no amount of
social engineering or verbal tinkering can
Publisher change alter that. Fair enough, but what
Fuad Nahdi does he actually mean?
Fareena Alam Upfront
The Sultan’s Elephant
A extarordinary theatrical event -
Abdul-Rehman Malik fantastical, mechanical and counterin- Remembering Ali Farka Toure, Page 10
Affan Chowdhry tuitive - takes to London streets. Prepare
Nabila Munawar to be amazed and enchanted. 15
Fozia Bora Scrutiny
Who’s the most knowing thinker of all?
Art Director Diary Mohamed M. Husain on which public
Aiysha Malik Amina Nawaz on London’s dwindling Muslim intellectual deserves our ear.
Samaritans, growing old and the dangers When heckler ruin a good night. Amina
Administrative Assistant of mixing coffee and procrastination. Nawaz takes on her local loud-mouth
Rizwan Rahman Muslim hecklers and finds that a deft
12 touch and bit of wisdom go a long way.
Events Coordinator Q-Notes s
So who’s living in the ‘ghetto’ now?
Waheed Malik Remembering Ali Farka Toure; Farish Noor find on why European
Celebrating Muslim women; and intellectuals are obsessed with whether
Featuring Muslim go to the opera or not. “Here H
Farzina Alam Nazim Baksh Ayaan Hirsi Ali gets her tongue in a nothing is safe; there is no freedom”.
Suma Din Sean Gallagher knot again. Chris Sands reports from Afghanistan on
David Gillett Mohamed Hussain
Amina Nawaz Farish Nour the state of religiosu freedom in the
Adam Goren Chris Sands aftermath of the Abdul Rahman apostasy
Muhammad Yaqoubi Mujadad Zaman case. Why I will not send my children to
an Islamic school. Farzina Alam recalls
her eager rush to experience spiritual
Tel: 07985 176 798 enlightenment at a Muslim faith school.
Years later, she is still jaded by the
For discounted rates, visit at www.q-news.com 23
To subscribe by post, send your full name, postal s
Muslim China’s Modern Face
address, e-mail address and telephone number Sean Gallagher is a photographer who
along with a cheque for the correct amount to: chronicles the intersection of the sacred
Q-News, P.O. Box 4295, and the profane, the ancient and the
London W1A 7YH, United Kingdom modern. His remarkable pictures
UK 1 year: £24 individuals, £20 students, £30 organisations document the coming-out of
UK 2 year: £44 individuals, £35 students, £55 organisations contemporary Islam in China.They show
Subscriptions are open to readers around the world. a confident people who aren’t afraid to
Non-UK cheques are not accepted so if you are Muslim China’s modern face, pg 23
s wear the faith on their sleeve.
outside the UK please subscribe with a credit or
debit card at www.q-news.com
“We do it because we love God”
The Right Revd David Gillett, Chair
of the nascent Christian Muslim
Forum says he and his partners are
undeterred by their critics.This is a
partnership of equals whose
members are under no illusions -
they have a long road to travel
before they earn the legitimacy they
Carnival of Caricatures
Muslims are told being laughed at is
the price you have to pay to be
included in modern society.It’s time
to think again. Nazim Baksh explores
the deadly politics of humour. 37 Habib Ali al-Jifri, The Mercy Warrior
Abdul-Rehman Malik reports from London, Copenhagen and Abu Dhabi about a
34 spiritual activist on a mission to unite hearts across the so-called East-West divide.
The Day the Music Died
Are contemporary Muslims
performers recreating the same
MTV-style hype that their brand of
religiously-inspired music was
supposed to spurn? With nasheed
music become increasingly slick and
corporate, Suma Din reports on a
growing concern that this promising
industry has lost its bearings.
The Loss of a Common Treasure
A remarkable group of people came
to honour the legacy of the late Dr
Zaki Badawi. In his moving eulogy,
HRH The Prince of Wales spoke of
The Day the Music Died, pg 33
Dr Badawi’s desire to reconcile hearts
to the way of God and to see faith
not just as a common treasure but a
means to give beauty and truth back
to the world.
Remembering Al-Hajjah Farizah
Rabbat documentary examining a family of aesthetics and beauty in the built
Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi Kurdish Muslim “quadrupeds” a environment. It’s something, he
mourns the loss of his wife and disturbing attempt to legitimise contends, Islamic civilisation has a lot
shares his “grief and sorrow upon the scientific voyeurism. to say about.
loss of my heart.”
Books: Infrastructure 50
46 Mujadad Zaman finds that Brian Write Mind: What International
Review Hayes’ examination of the urban Community? Farish Noor puts on his
Film: The Family That Walks On All landscape provides a much-needed detective cap and searches for the
Fours. Adam Goren finds a new starting point for re-examining mysterious International Community.
Q - NEWS |5
V O X P O P U L I
Muslims and gays faith, the other a section of socie- Shakir and Hamza Yusuf. After
Letter of the month ty with sexual tastes not shared by 9/11 and the hysterical reaction
Reading a recent story in The the majority. The story reminded in the media and amongst the
Times, I was intrigued by a me of something else that general public to Islam, I decided
remark attributed to Peter appeared in one of the “quality” like many people that I would
Tatchell, the well-known newspapers recently, an article by like to know more about Islam,
spokesperson for the gay rights a regular columnist in which she as both a civilisation and a faith.
movement. The context was a expressed the view that when I was brought up a Catholic but
report on some comments made young women wear the Muslim now consider myself an atheist.
by a senior Muslim cleric in which veil, that is a gesture of youthful What I discovered in my reading
he questioned the wisdom of legal rebellion similar to the fashion for was what I had already been told
recognition for gay partnerships. I girls to display their knickers elsewhere - that Mohammed was
have my own opinions on this above the waistline of their jeans. a remarkable man, wise, peaceful
subject, but they are not the point I would be surprised if I were the and charitable. The story of how
at issue. In general, of course, it is only person to find this opinion Mohammed finally came to take
inappropriate to take a view eccentric to say the least. Mecca, armed with nothing more
Got something about other people’s personal
lives, and I shall certainly refrain
In a free society such as ours some
people believe in God and some
than white robes and accompa-
nied by thousands of fellow disci-
to from doing that. do not, and each individual is at ples, was a particular favourite
SAY? What struck me, however, was
that Mr Tatchell was quotes as
saying it was “a tragedy that one
liberty to believe in and practice a
religious faith, or not, as he or she
sees fit. But it is surely depressing
and reminded me of the modern
achievements of Gandhi and
Martin Luther King. However, I
minority should attack another". when we have p[public figures feel that we in the ‘West’ need to
We have This seems to me very much a and journalists, people who hear those stories of Islam and
something to case of confusing the categories -
falsely comparing things that are
would presumably see themselves
as playing some part in moulding
come to know them as well as
any concerning Moses, Jesus or
GIVE! intrinsically different. I myself am
neither Muslim nor gay and so
would hope to be credited with
opinion, who do not actually
know what a religious faith is,
and are incapable of distinguish-
St. Paul. I get the impression that
many people here in Britain and
in America have little under-
some objectivity in the question. ing it from a teenage fashion fad standing of Islam and therefore,
The writer of the But nevertheless I recognise that or a minority sexual appetite. Or find it all to easy to think of it as
Islam is a religious faith, fourteen in other words, have no concept alien and different, when as you
Letter of the Month centuries old. Since its birth, it of the difference between what is point out in your piece, we are
receives a DVD copy was been the inspiration for art, serious and abiding and what is all children of Abraham. I
of Le Grand Voyage by poetry, music, architecture, scien- not. assume that a narrow minded
tific discovery, military conquest Patrick G. Lee, Surrey, UK media, who are more interested
Ismael Ferroukhi, on and the foundation of great civili- in scaremongering and hearsay
general release from sations such as Muslim Spain and than history and fact, provide the
the Mogul Empire in India. Muslim anarchists major obstacle to greater under-
27th February 2006. The Muslim religion has been for I read with great interest and standing of Islamic culture.
countless millions of people a appreciation the fine comment by However, the greater our under-
path by which they sought eternal Fareena Alam entitled, ‘Why I standing of the Islamic narrative,
truth and purpose in their lives. reject the anarchists who claim to the greater the harmony that can
At the present time, millions and speak for Islam’ in the Observer be achieved between different
millions throughout the world, newspaper. I have worked all over communities. I’m sure you and
from professors of physics to the world in many Muslim coun- your colleagues at Q-News
peasant farmers, are united by tries. I wish more people under- already work on these types of
Islam in prostrating themselves stood your wonderful faith, projects, but I just wanted to add
everyday before Almighty God ancient culture (you taught us my thoughts to the debate.
and praying for understanding everything), and dedication. My Brian O’Hagan, Worthing, UK
and peace and the wisdom and best wishes to Q-News.
patience to accept sufferings of Diana de Marco, Umbria, Italy
life. Afghan Convert
Write to It seems to be inconceivable that Fareena Alam’s article in the I cannot hear enough of my fel-
Q-News, PO Box 4295, Muslims in Britain or anywhere Observer was an excellently bal- low Muslims complaining about
else should think of themselves a anced piece. I was particularly the double standards of the West
London W1A 7YH
“minority” in any sense compara- drawn to some of the exciting in their dealing with the
or firstname.lastname@example.org ble to Mr Tatchell’s minority, the ideas put forward by the Islamic Muslims. Although many of the
Letters may be edited for gay community. The one is an scholars you quote, such as complaints are valid, it is worry-
length and coherence. ancient and beautiful religious Abdallah bin Bayyah, Zaid ing that we Muslims have
6 | Q - NEWS
stopped looking at how we harm than those few Muslims My suggestion for campaigning Jews. The results, published on
behave. Whereas western during the protests. In my expe- concerning the Danish cartoons the front page of the Jewish
Muslims are enjoying the fruits rience such people don’t even is this: have a good group like Chronicle on 10 February, con-
of freedom of speech and belief, know that Q-News exists, so Shaam or someone stand out- tain some results that are deeply
Abdul Rahman an Afghan con- this current result of 22% has side the Houses of Parliament shocking to most Jews.
vert to Christianity is being tried come as a real shock. I just need- dressed in white and sing the According to the survey nearly
for apostasy. Many organisations ed to express my thoughts and Burda. And then have people half of British Muslims believe
(MCB, FOSIS, MAB etc.) which question who is actually voting. giving out leaflets with its trans- the British Jewish community to
pretend to act as flag bearers of May Allah reward you all for lation and explaining why the be “in league with the freema-
Islam have not spoken out the amazing work that you do Muslims love Muhammad (may sons to control the media and
against this and it is only the and for all the events that you Allah’s peace and blessings be politics” (46% v 22%). As
‘silent majority’ which seems to organise. upon him). many (37%) think that the
have more humanity in them is Kelly Walsh, London, UK Asma Khawaja, London Jewish community is a legiti-
complaining. Moreover it is mate target in the struggle for
interesting to see how ‘Islamic’ Let us reflect before we publish justice in the Middle East, as
jurists prefer a couple of unspeci- Polls. You have a poll asking if The right to react disagree with this sentiment
fied ahadith reports and the the Danish cartoons or the Imam Zaid Shakir’s good arti- (35%).
opinions of some of the most Muslim reaction was more dam- cles Clash of the Uncivilized: I and many other British Jews
hard-line medieval jurists over aging. The poll already presup- Insights on the Cartoon are deeply worried about these
clear and emphatic Quranic vers- poses that the image of Islam Controversy and The Ethical wrong perceptions of us and
es (2:256, 10:99, 11;28, 88:21- and the Holy Prophet PBUH was Standard of the Prophet would like not to believe it, but
22, 42:28, 13:40, 27:92, 18:29) damaged. If you choose the Muhammad advocate peaceful the survey took a large sample
exhorting freedom of belief. This “Danish Cartoons”, then you actions in the face of intentional and seems fairly clear. The idea
just goes on to show the huge are automatically telling the per- insult to Muslims worldwide. about “Jews and Free Masons”
gap between the archaic formu- petrators to continue publishing He condemns violent behaviour seems to come from deeply
lations which some extremists such cartoons because it is a and Muslims showing their hateful anti-Jewish propoganda
insist on enforcing on others and good way to defame the Prophet anger. Perhaps, he also advo- - in particular the infamous
the Islamic spirit which is in the PBUH. If you choose “The cates freedom of press. Tzarist police propogandist for-
hearts of millions of peaceful Muslim Reaction” then you are But please think: Palestine, Iraq, gery The Protocols of the Elders
Muslims. In the end we are all agreeing that Muslims are to Afghanistan, Bosnia, the threats of Zion which, much to Jewish
children of Adam and as a blame even though the Kuffar to Iran and the offensive car- concern, has been widely repro-
Muslim I believe that any reli- were the instigators. The polls toons - and all you want is duced and broadcast recently in
gious belief is not meaningful if are therefore biased from the peaceful dialogue? Ok, but dia- Arab countries like Egypt and
it does not if it does not come very outset. Such polls do noth- logue with whom? Who is ready Syria and has been included in
through personal conviction, ing except help propagate biased to sit and listen and if anyone the Hamas charter.
contemplation and a conscious opinion. The fact is that the was listening believe me these I would expect that a few
effort to love and obey God. western press and their support- flash points would have been deranged or hate-filled people
Hariz Aziz, Coventry, UK ers have neither the factual justi- solved. would go for such conspiracy
fication nor the moral standing If European countries want to theories but to think that over
to defame anyone, not to speak use ‘freedom of expression’ as half of British Muslims believe
Cartoon Poll of Prophets (peace be upon an excuse to humiliate Muslims, this nonsense is very troubling.
I just saw the poll on the Q- them). If a dog barks at you, it then what Muslims are doing in The latter question was either
News website which asks if the does not mean you are a thief. It response is also ‘freedom of mis-understood by those who
cartoons or the reactions of is a dog’s job to bark. The fact is expression’. answered it (I hope) or else
some Muslims has caused more that the protest was justified and When you push someone to the means that British Jews really
damage to the reputation of the Muslims exhibited their unity wall, he will only start pushing do have good reason to fear
Prophet (saw). I am surprised at and disdain through the justified back in any which way that unprovoked violence from the
the number of people who think protests. Don’t believe all that comes to mind at that point in British Muslim population.
the cartoons did more damage the media projects. Don’t try to time. This letter is not support- Dr Richard Stone of Alif-Aleph,
than the reaction of those few become part of the media by ing violence but I believe eco- has suggested this situation aris-
Muslims who committed a gross projecting biased polls. nomic boycotts are just. This, es from British Muslims having
misconduct of adab, whilst exer- Uzair, California, USA after all, is my freedom of little or no contact with British
cising their legal right to protest. speech and thought. Jews.
Those whom I have met and are For me, the violent reaction of A mumin I would like to hear the views of
familiar with Q-News usually Muslims to the Danish cartoons intelligent Muslim commenta-
have opinions that are consid- demonstrates why so many peo- tors whether some urgent action
ered and well thought through, ple see Islam in precisely the way Is it Anti-Semitism? is called for to mend interfaith
attributes that I would not asso- one cartoonist suggested ... as a A recent poll conducted by relations between British Jews
ciate with those who would bomb about to go off. Populus surveyed 500 British and British Muslims.
think the cartoons did more Philip Clarke, London Muslims about their attitudes to Jonathan Samuel, London
Q - NEWS |7
C O N T R I B U T O R S
MOHAMED M. HUSAIN NABILA MUNAWAR AMINA NAWAZ
is currently studying for an MA in Islam and is an educator and government policy analyst is a student of history and devoted observer
Middle Eastern politics at the School of in Toronto, Canada. She is an the executive of London life. She is completing her Masters
Oriental and African Studies, University of member of the IHYA Foundation and a in African and Asian History at the School of
London. contributing editor at Q-News. Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
ADAM GOREN NAZIM BAKSH HUMERA KHAN
is an independent consultant in occupational is a Toronto-based journalist and a radio and is a veteran consultant on social policy and
therapy and special needs. He also writes for television producer with the Canadian race and gender inequalities. She is also a
specialised health and education publications. Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). co-founder of The An-Nisa Society.
RT REVD DAVID GILLETT CHRIS SANDS FARISH AHMAD-NOOR
is the Bishop of Boltonx and Chair of the is a British journalist who has lived in Kabul is a Malaysian political scientist and human
Christian Muslim Forum, which was founded since August 2005. Before this he spent four rights activist currently based in Berlin. He is a
in January 2006. years reporting from the Occupied Palestinian prolific writer and has a particular interest in
Territories, Iraq, Kuwait and the UAE. Islamist political movements in South East Asia.
8 | Q - NEWS
It’s the natural way!
quality is all the rage, and It is plainly obvious that
E every modern person (see,
a few years ago I would
have said “man") likes to think
differences exist from year one,
even to the most untrained of
eyes. And this is how it is
that, yeah, we’re all the same, meant to be! We are different
men and women, boys and girls. because we have been made
It’s chic to be so and don’t we all different so equal clearly does
know it. not meant “the same".
But who are we fooling? Biological functions apart,
Ourselves more than anyone male and female attitudes,
else. For a Muslim man to say outlooks and aspirations dif-
that boys and girls are different is fer so greatly that only fools
courting disaster; such an admis- (but not horses) would think
sion is red meat to the feminists otherwise.
of this world, and they are most Where a male might see a
certainly not akin to your average hill to be climbed, a female
vegetarians. might see an easy ride down
Never mind here goes: boys the other side. When a
and girls, males and females are female imagines a fully-fitted
different, and no amount of verbal kitchen, the male sees mere-
tinkering or social engineering can ly a lot of sweat installing it.
alter that. And when a male sees some-
There. I’ve said it. And don’t I thing to be repaired, the
feel better. But now I have to justi- female pictures the mess on
fy what I have said. How did this the kitchen floor.
earth-shattering view come about? But back to the chil-
Right under my nose, so to speak. dren. My two have bonded
My daughter is now four years in a way which suggests
old (and the apple of my eye, as all that the difference in atti-
little girls are for their fathers) and tudes to relationships is
her personality is already well devel- formed at a very early age.
oped. She is confident, demanding, Where they pick it up
questioning and cute all at the same from, Allah alone knows,
time. Allah blessed my wife and I but watching the two
with this one, Al hamduli-Llah. She he is in the mood, he does as interact is an education in itself. Yes, my
does all the things little girls are supposed he is told. daughter mothers her little brother (some-
to do without any prompting from us. If The point is, though, his way of walk- times to the point of it being smothers!)
things go according to plan (oops, I’ve ing is different from hers. So is his style of and the little tyke laps it up. How do fem-
given the game away!), my wife will have talking. His behaviour is more brusque inists explain that? Nothing really
a grand little helper in the house in the and where his sister might at least give us changes. Males will do what males gotta
not too distant future, in sha’Allah. a fair hearing he brushes us off with a do, and females will do as they’re told.
And my son? At two, he is also devel- curt “No”. Only joking!
oping a strong mind and personality of When he tumbles, he picks himself up When my daughter hits my son for
his own. He is slower than my daughter and dusts himself off and starts all over some reason he usually hits her back. She
was with his walking and talking, but his again, (sounds familiar; could it be the does not like this status-threatening retal-
way with words (or, rather, his lack of a cue for a song!), unlike my daughter who iation and despite my attempted explana-
way with words) is so endearing he just is prone to hypochondria. tions that bullying pays no dividends
makes you want to pick him up and cud- And their likes and dislikes are differ- worth having, she remains unconvinced.
dle him. (But are dads supposed to do ent down to the food they eat. No Even telling her that she had better be
that with their sons? Hey, who wants to amount of sibling monkey-see, monkey- careful, “because when he is bigger than
be a graduate of the Prince Philip do business has any effect. you…" is of little use; she looks at me
Academy of Childcare?) Although he has In a week when reports suggest that with uncomprehending eyes. “How can
a tendency to want to play with every- girls are now out performing their male Bhai be bigger than me, Papa? I’m four!”
thing his sister has in her hands, what he counterparts at every academic level, and That’s feminine logic for you. Which
does with the Barbie dolls is light-years more and more women are beating men proves my point, precisely.
away from what she does. But that’s to the top in business and the professions,
another story. And, yes, he is going to be how much longer can the charade of Tawfiq Khan, in Q-News, Vol 3: No. 30,
helpful around the home, because when equality continue? 21-28 October 1994.
Q - NEWS |9
The streets of London are to host the biggest piece of Marriage, “an extraordinary, moving, yet approachable,
free theatre ever staged in the capital this month. The piece of art at the very centre of a capital city’s life,
Sultan’s Elephant is a fairy-tale for adults and children stopping the traffic and closing roads wherever it goes.
alike, and features a vast, moving, wooden elephant the Although London’s streets are closed to traffic for
height of a three-storey house.The spectacle is the work political demonstrations, road works, ceremonial events
of French company Royal de Luxe. Established for thirty and sporting triumphs, they are rarely closed for art.”
years but hardly known in Britain, the company has Unmissable!
performed all over the world. It is particularly known for
a series of extraordinary shows involving gigantic, The Sultan’s Elephant begins on 4th May and continues
moving figures up to forty feet high.This is the first time until 7th May in major streets, squares and outdoor
one of their ‘giant’ shows has appeared in London. It venues in Central London. It is a free show and more
places, according to Artichoke Productions’ Helen details are available on www.thesultanselephant.com.
DIARY AMINA NAWAZ
f anyone stands on a street corner in always makes me sleepy with happiness. rhythm of selfless love. When I was with
I Colorado with an open map, the like-
lihood of someone stopping to ask if
you need help is almost inevitable.
Thus when, in my first few months in
London only one person offered to help me
as I stood on corners and in undergrounds
trying to read foreign symbols and hidden
We had our lunch at Planet Organic and
walked around for a bit before I returned
back to ‘get some work done’ but instead I
sit here, languid with peace and ready to
only breathe in and out. Reunions with old
friends always force you to re-examine
where you were, where you have been,
them, my cares and worries seemed distant
somehow; remote and even childish. I saw
in what I perceived as far too much to do,
a vibrant partnership that anticipated the
others’ need. I asked my dad how he did so
much, and he replied, “Because I have your
mom as my blanket.” People are afraid of
street names, I quickly realised that ‘I aint where you are and perhaps even dare to aging and I sometimes wonder why. With
in Kansas no more.’ I learned that in declare where you ‘will be’. The funny age comes wisdom, and with wisdom
London, when you need something, you thing is with how much conviction we bel- comes rhythm, and in rhythm is the divine.
ask for it, no one offers it to you: unless it’s low our plans for the future, vaguely aware May God bless all our parents both living
the Evening Standard. A few mornings that perhaps four months later when we and past with tranquility and peace.
ago I was feeling particularly joyful. I made see each other again, we may be heading in
my way to uni, navigating my way on new and exciting directions, hours and April 24, 2006 2:45am
now- familiar streets, when I saw a young days away from where we were only rocrastination. Every time, I
girl, probably my age, standing a ways
away, on the street corner looking around
anxiously, and nervously glancing at a
semi-concealed map. This all-too-familiar
scene aroused in me a sense of sisterly
responsibility and I quickened my pace to
months ago…but hours, days, months -
they are all the same in the end, when
epochs of time will seem like only ‘a day or
part of a day’.
y parents are growing older.
P vow I’ll never do it again. I
promise my poor, tired bones,
that this is the last, the absolute
last time that I will make you
stay up all night and work to meet a dead-
line. I promise, tired eyes, that you will rest
offer her some help. I had just reached her
when I saw something remarkable. In the
time that I had taken to walk towards her,
an incredibly old man with a cane standing
opposite, had hobbled across the street and
now tapped the girl on the shoulder saying,
“Excuse me love, can I help you find your
M Of course I should have
known that, but only after
being away have I begun to
see what that means. There
are of course, the usual health and physical
changes that accompany age, but along
with those are more subtle and quiet alter-
easy next time and not be pried open at
4:00 am to edit vapid collections of hum-
drum words strung together. Poor stomach
that ingests obscene amounts of earl grey
and coffee mixed with orange vitamin C
and questionably green Echinacea tablets.
Drowning in a sea of scattered papers cov-
way?” The look on her face, relief mixed ations in manner. In the autumn of their ered in scribbles, books strewn across the
with gratitude, resonated in my entire soul, lives, together my parents have found a floor, and post-it notes sticking up from all
and I couldn’t help it: the tears just came. unique rhythm of their own. Their lives, available desk surfaces. Falling asleep with
The girl looked up at me, as I walked past like most suburban families synthesise the chocolate wrappers stuck to my face and
her, tears now flowing in a steady stream, fast efficiencies of the urban center, with keyboard marks etched in my cheeks. No
and I beamed at her. She smiled back and the slow motion of non-city living. They food in the fridge other than a decaying
in that moment I think we both knew that commit to everything and yet maintain box of yogurt, one clove of garlic, and half
the world would be all right because an old time for their own persons. When I was of a green chili. Ten minute power naps and
man had crossed the street, and that good- home, we spent whole days reading togeth- races against time, is it really almost 3:00?
ness existed, and that yes, indeed we all er in the living room, hardly speaking but Twenty five jumping jacks to get the adren-
eventually find our way. communicating all the same, bringing each aline flowing. Flat mate’s banana looking
other tea, snacks, blankets and hot choco- awfully inviting right about now. Is the sun
ours melt into days and days late. I once heard that the Mauritanians are really coming up in a few hours? I need
H melt into months and the
gentle hum of conversation
here in the post-grad com-
mon room lulls me into a fog
of reflection. Meeting up with old friends
the best hosts because they can anticipate
what the guest wants before they request it.
I felt that my parents have tapped into this
magical awareness of another, that perhaps
only comes from understanding the divine
more time! Oh sun, procrastinate just this
once…I promise you’ll never have to do it
Affan Chowdhry is away.
Q - NEWS | 11
Q-N O T E S
The Freedom of Speech Conundrum
hinking about living in the Netherlands? No problem.
T You just have to make sure you intend to stay for the
long haul, obtain full-time employment, pay your taxes and
stay out of trouble.
Oh, there’s one more little thing… you have to watch a
short film, available on DVD for your convenience. As the
Chicago Tribune recently put it, the new compatibility test
for foreigners applying for Dutch residency is “is very
Prospective residents have to watch a topless woman
frolicking in the surf and two men kissing warmly. The
target of this new message is clearly the growing number of
Muslim migrants, whose conservative values are
condemned by the liberal fundamentalists who’d like to see
them stay out rather than come in.
In the wake of the murder of Theo van Gogh, the rising
right-wing has hijacked The Netherlands’ ordinarily
progressive consensus. As one reactionary local councillor
in Rotterdam angrily declared, “If you want to live here,
you have to accept that girls are allowed to wear miniskirts
and can stay out until three in the morning. You don’t have
Dawah Dames and Top Guns to behave this way yourself, but you have to tolerate it.”
Funny then how the venerable Wetenschappelijke Raad
hen it comes to explaining the role of women in Islamic voor het Regeringsbeleid (Scientific Council for
W civilization, eager Muslims love to recount stories of
Islam’s classical period, where female scholars and saints
Government Policy or WRR) has just released a three-year
study saying (authoritatively, we might add) that there is
taught, wrote tomes and were a critical element of the little conflict between Islam and Dutch values, including
development and transmission of sacred knowledge. human rights, gender equality and democracy.
Fast forward to 2006 and ask about the current dearth of The report, now with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, for
female scholarship and Muslims get tongue tied. Some discussion and response, argues completely against the
murmur excuses about colonisation, others about socio- growing public opinion in the Netherlands that sees
economic disadvantage and there’s always a few who hiss Muslim minorities as a dangerous fifth column.
under their breaths, “damn feminists asking bloody difficult What does the Islamophobic intelligentsia have to say
questions again.” about all this? Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali was
The question of why there aren’t more female scholars is an so apoplectic that the only argument she could muster was
important one. Thus, the news from the Kingdom of Morocco that the report was ‘against free speech’. Hmm… enough
is certainly welcome. The Islamic Affair Ministry has approved said.
50 women Imams who attended this year’s training program - Finally, on the frontiers of free speech we find the cunning
the first time women were allowed to do so. They studied and usually offensive American satire cartoon South Park -
jurisprudence, philosophy and the history of religions as part the show that makes The Simpsons look like Blue Peter (or
of their Moroccan wire services reported that the newly- Sesame Street). South Park is well known for its rude, crude
appointed spiritual guides will preach in prisons and on and lewd humour. It’s even better known in America’s Bible
television, as well as in mosques and Islamic institutions. Belt as the blasphemy that has prevented its creators from
In Pakistan, the Ministry of Religious Affairs hasn’t quite travelling to certain Southern US States for fear of their
gotten around to certifying woman Imams, but the Armed lives.
Forces, nay the Air Force is proceeding at supersonic speed. Recently the show poked fun at Scientology (the mysterious
After three-and-a-half years of training, Saba Khan, Nadia cult-cum-religion that has gotten a ludicrously large
Gul, Mariam Khalil and Saira Batool - who wears a hijab - amount press recently due to the matrimonial shenanigans
were among 36 cadets who received their wings. Dressed of Tom Cruise and his silent bride).
modestly in long tunics, the new recruits earned the praise of After having cussed and heaped unpleasantness on
their superiors. “Above above all, Almighty Allah, helped me Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam,
achieve this success,” said Saira Batool. doing the same to Scientology was the last straw for
The women had their physical training separately from their American actor Isaac Hayes. When South Park was
male colleagues. Their training was 100% halal reporters on enjoying hilarious hijinks at the expense of other faiths the
hand for the parade were assured. good times rolled. When his faith was attacked, the 63
Now only if those Moroccans murshidahs had fighter pilot year-old Hayes got sensitive. In an Ayaan Hirsi Ali moment,
training, and the Pakistani fighter pilots had some rigorous Hayes got all moral and left the show. This is no defence of
Islamic scholarship, the naysaying, tut-tutting men would South Park, but the creators have disposed of his character
really be in trouble. with great aplomb.
12 | Q - NEWS
li Farka Toure was an African, Mali’s
A most beloved son, and a Muslim. At
his last London concert, he began an
electrifying concert with a joyful song in
praise of the Prophet Muhammad, peace
and blessings be upon him. He threw
back his head and smiled broadly, teeth
gleaming under the light. When he played
his guitar, he drew a global audience to
his distinct ‘bluesy’ sound. Perhaps it was
not so surprising, then, that his death on
7th March 2006 produced a global
“I learnt of your death with great
sadness,” wrote Stephen Ayme of
London, among the hundreds of
condolence messages sent to the BBC web
site. “You touched my life to such an
extent that because of you I visited Mali
and discovered a vibrant and beautiful
land and people.” Toure’s guitar-playing
attracted the attention of US blues
guitarists like Ry Cooder. Their 1994
album Talking Timbuktu won them a
Grammy. This year, he won another
Grammy for the album In the Heart of
the Moon, recorded with fellow Malian
Toumani Diabate. Toure always insisted
that the blues he played did not originate
among blacks in the southern United
States. Rather, it had its roots in Mali.
His guitar playing could be hauntingly
sad. At other times, it could bring a smile
to faces. As his music became increasingly
popular among fans of world music,
Toure kept his international tours to a
minimum. Instead, he devoted himself to
Protecting Children: a Matter of Faith
farming, fishing, and raising cattle. In he nightmare faced by the Catholic Church in the wake of child sex abuse scan-
2004, he became mayor of Niafunke and
sought to improve the lives of Malians.
T dals could visit itself upon Muslims too if safeguards aren’t in place to protect
the over 100,000 Muslim children who attend over 700 unregulated madrassahs
He worried about the quality of the regularly. That’s the warning from Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Leader of the Muslim
farmland and the encroaching desert. Parliament. A report launched in March calls on the government to establish a
As for international fame: “I don’t know national registration scheme for informal and supplementary religious schools, so
what a Grammy means,” he once said, that they can be monitored and forced to meet their legal obligation under The
“but if someone has something for me, Children Act. Siddiqui said, “If nothing is done now we may face an avalanche of
they can come and give it to me here in child sex-abuse scandals, decades afterwards, similar to those that rocked the
Niafunke, where I was singing when Roman Catholic Church. To protect the integrity of these valued institutions it is
nobody knew me.” important that all madrassahs put in place transparent and accountable polices and
Before he died of cancer, Ali Farka Toure procedures.” The report received the (predictable) support of Keighley MP Ann
had recorded one last album. Look out Cryer, but was criticised by some leading imams. Speaking to The Muslim Weekly,
for that album on the World Circuit label East London Mosque’s Imam Abdul-Qayyum said that “the child abuse in madras-
whenever it is released. It’ll make you sahs debate was “created to divide... and humiliate the Muslim community unneces-
want to book a plane ticket to Timbuktu. sarily.'" Much of the report deals with putting in place policies, procedures and
Incidentally, Toumane Diabate returns to “best practice” guidelines for preventing child abuse. Nevertheless, the issue is a seri-
London’s South Bank Centre on 27 May ous one. Madrassahs and seminaries based in other major Muslim urban centres in
2006 to perform with his Symmetric the West have already faced major criminal investigations into the abuse of children,
Orchestra. The sounds of his kora will most notably in Toronto which saw proceedings begin against several senior local
seem just a little bit empty without Ali’s imams and schools.
magnificent guitar by his side.
Q - NEWS | 13
Islam. One, Tariq Ramadan, called for new modes of ijtihad while
MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE the other, Zia Sardar, advocated a complete severance with the
WALL.WHO’S THE MOST past and an individual return to the Koran by ‘each and every
KNOWING THINKER OF ALL? Tariq Ramadan, Oxford-based scholar and grandson of the
founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, reiterated what is in his
9/11, 7-7 and the ‘war on terror’ have spawned an books: a new reading of Islamic texts, comprehending scripture
entire Islam industry. But which shoot-from-the-hip, within a historical context and the role of Western Muslims as cit-
izens of their nations. Undoubtedly, Ramadan has much to offer
angry and self-important Muslim spokesmen should
and asks pertinent questions in his publications. However, there
we listen to, asks Mohamed M. Husain. are those Muslims who mistrust his approach - questioning
whether he is an apologist for Islamist organisations and whether
his approach to ijtihad is just too broad.
left Britain in March 2003. I had booked a one-way ticket to Sardar, on the other hand, referred to his brand of Islamic
I Syria, to study Islam with women and men who have been serv-
icing the faith and its rich tradition of scholarship and spiritual
knowledge as ‘democratisation of the Koran’. To the young ears
of budding academics at the LSE, this may have sounded rather
nourishment for centuries. After two years in Damascus, I relo- attractive but it is a discourse fraught with peril. Where
cated to Saudi Arabia. Admittedly, I did not last long in Jeddah, Ramadan’s starting point was re-reading texts, Sardar’s was aban-
packing my bags and returning home to London in September doning the texts. If re-reading scripture results in the loss of the
2005. While I am delighted to be home again in the city of my word and spirit of the text, why bother with the text? At this stage
birth and upbringing, something, has not been quite right. of their mutual evolution, Tariq Ramadan, to be fair, was a little
Islam and Muslims have been in the news almost every day. more respectful of traditional scholars, or the ulama, whereas Zia
The dark cloud of the ghastly events of 7/7 still hangs over us. Sardar was scathing in his vitriol against the ulama.
National media outlets are busy promoting previously unknown Ten years ago I too was an angry, motor-mouthed activist rag-
individuals as ‘experts on Islam’ and ‘spokesmen for Muslims’ - ing against the ulama. I recited a litany of grievances against them
after all they are mostly men. Sadly many of them are out of their whenever I was given the opportunity. Today, subdued and more
depth, desperately struggling to posit an argument. aware, I beg to differ. The ulama are not a monolithic, homoge-
‘Why don’t they speak to T J Winter?’ my wife occasionally nous body. Contrary to Ramadan’s assertions, they do not repre-
asks, annoyed. ‘Or Abdullah Trevathan from Islamia school? Or sent ‘only text’. It is a fallacy to argue that the ulama are detached
Humera Khan from Wembley?’ I know I am not alone in feeling from reality and are merely ulama al-nusoos, or ‘textual special-
misrepresented. Many of my Muslim friends feel the same way. ists’ as Ramadan argued. Anyone who sat with well-grounded
However, the malaise is deeper than a handful of publicity- ulama will agree that meaningful exposure to serious scholarship
craving ‘spokesmen’. During my early teens, I was involved with is refreshing, challenging, nuanced, spiritually lifting and intellec-
political Islamist organisations, working up the ranks of youth tually humbling.
wings of Islamist organisations in London with their roots in During the 1950s in Egypt and Pakistan, most of the ulama
movements in the Muslim world. Then, I spent two years as an stood boldly against the politicisation of Islam. At the beginning
angry foot soldier of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, before my exposure to calm, of the twenty-first century, if we Muslims are serious about living
traditional Muslim scholarship. I resolutely turned my back on our faith, then we must stand by those who have inherited a holis-
political Islam. Now, almost seven years later, I know that my tic Islam from our ancient spiritual master, the noble Prophet
fury-ridden life in Islamism was not Islam, but politicking in the Muhammad. Granted, the ulama are not faultless, but dismissing
name of Islam. Since then, I have been blessed to have sat at the their contribution and vital role would be a case of throwing out
feet of some of the most illustrious Muslim scholars in Madinah, the baby with the proverbial bathwater.
Damascus, Istanbul, Cairo, Jeddah, and London and, consequent- The Islamists did exactly that and then unleashed a beast of
ly, know only too well that Islam-'ism’, a political ideology, is the terror, underpinned by the freewheeling interpretations of jihadi
perversion of a religious tradition, the destructive politicisation of Salafis, which is now beyond the control of Islamist organisations.
a time-honoured spiritual path. In the wake of 9/11, 7/7, the invasion of Iraq and other events,
Distributing leaflets for an Islamist organisation, or attending there is real concern among non-Muslims and Muslims to under-
secret meetings in council estates, and plotting to support a so- stand one another and bring relative peace to our shared world.
called jihad against the West does not qualify anyone to speak in And in the midst of this renewed interest in Islam, a whole Islam
the name of all Muslims. Anjem Choudary and his brigade of industry, not unlike the race industry in Britain and the US, is in
yobs, the irate orphans left behind by the self-exiled Omar Bakri, its nascent stages. It is a phenomenon from which few us will be
know that they are on the fringes of an extremist minority, but immune.
their sensationalism is too tempting for certain sections of the The Islam industry, like its ‘Islamist movement’ predecessor of
British media to ignore. Today, the mainstream, moderate, the last century, is dominated by urbanite professionals who are
mosque-going majority of Muslims is not only threatened by not remotely familiar with the thousand-year-old Islamic tradition
Islamist extremists of all shades, but also a new breed of ‘liberal’ of deep thought, training, nuance, tolerance and spirituality.
Muslims. Today, we run the risk of accepting DIY Islam, already manifest in
This latter category is also represented by those who, among the actions of tube bombers and plane hijackers, who validate
other things, call for the ‘democratisation of the Koran’ and a their terror on their own terms, their ‘democratisation of the
‘Do-it-Yourself’ approach to understanding Islamic scripture. At a Koran’ and not with reference to the understanding of generations
recent debate at the London School of Economics, there were two of ulama. Sardar and his ilk may appease his New Statesman read-
high-profile public Muslim intellectuals calling for reform within ership, or Sky News viewers on Friday evenings, but philosophy
Q - NEWS | 15
In the midst of this renewed interest in expecting austerity.
The hall was crowded and Dr. Tariq Ramadan was just begin-
Islam, a whole Islam industry, not unlike ning his speech. About 10 minutes into the talk the interruptions
the race industry in Britain and the US, is began. The same young men who I had seen outside laughingly
teasing one another, now angrily posed their questions and inter-
in its nascent stages.The Islam industry, rupted the speaker (confirming my initial stereotypes). We were
reminded continuously that any comments or questions we had
like its ‘Islamist movement’ predecessor should be held until the Q/A session but this request fell upon deaf
of the last century, is dominated by ears; the interruptions continued and grew increasingly more hos-
tile and untamed in nature. The tension in the room increased dur-
urbanite professionals who are not ing the Q/A session as the chair fielded questions from the audi-
remotely familiar with the thousand-year- ence, scrupulously avoiding all those raised hands belonging to
the young men.
old Islamic tradition of deep thought, As they continued to heckle and shout out comments, the
training, nuance, tolerance and spirituality. exasperated chair, upon the crowd’s urging, finally gave the boys
the floor for five minutes. For people so desperate to speak out
during the lecture and unable to contain their comments, they
now stared at each other expectantly and pushed one another to
of open, unregulated ijtihad - void of scholarly guidance - leaves take the floor. Finally, one of the louder among them began a
the possibility of that very literal reading of the text that has been lengthy diatribe on Dr. Ramadan’s position regarding hudud laws,
used to support ‘sacred’ acts of violence in the first place. and his lack of quotes from the Qur’an and hadith literature in his
Sardar’s ill temper was on display during the Q&A session at speeches.
the LSE. Sardar lacked the kudos and courtesy of an erudite Dr. Ramadan passionately tore through the young man’s hol-
Muslim, frequently raising his voice and taking personal jibes at low argument’s one by one discussing his stance on various issues.
Ramadan and members of the audience. This spirit of vitriol also The victims of hudud laws, the innocent woman and children,
litters the pages of his most recent book, Desperately Seeking particularly those of south Asian descent in Middle Eastern pris-
Paradise. Middle-aged male anger, coupled with an arrogant intel- ons. Between hearty applause from the audience, he argued that
lect, were defining ingredients of the destructive Islamism of the there was no justice in the administering of hudud punishments if
last century. If we Muslims are serious about change, then those the imprisoning system itself was unjust. He began to speak of his
two traits must perish from our midst. meetings with the Mufti of Egypt when the young man interrupt-
It was the great Imam Malik (d.795) who said that half of one’s ed with, “Oh, Al-Qaradawi?” and Dr Ramadan responded angri-
knowledge was the ability to confess la adri, which means, ‘I don’t ly, “No! Dr. Ali Jum’a! You want to speak out yet you are totally
know’. Imam Malik was indicating to an intellectual state of ignorant!” The audience burst into laughter as we all felt a kind
humility. At the LSE debate there was no inclination of ‘not know- of satisfying fulfillment in watching the boys, who ultimately had
ing’, a modern symptom of an intellect that refuses to acknowledge nothing of relevance to contribute, get blasted. In the midst of the
the existence of a realm beyond its comprehension. laughter and applause from the audience, one of them shouted,
not in the angry voice of a man, but in the hurt exclamation of a
young boy, “Stop laughing at us! Listen to us!” Another, the boy
who had smiled at me, shouted loudly, “Astaghfirullah for all
WHEN HECKLERS RUIN A you!” These were not the voices of reasonable people attempting
a logically coherent discussion. Rather, these were the voices of
GOOD NIGHT OUT estranged adolescents. For the second time that evening, my con-
They are young, brash and rudely interrupt even the science chastised me for chuckling and participating in their
most respected Islamic scholars. So how are you ridicule.
The ‘heckling boys’, I was informed later have recently re-
going to handle your local Muslim loud-mouth emerged to protest many Muslim events and may be members of
when he heckles you? A deft touch and bit of a group called al-Muhajiroun. The sole purpose it seems of their
wisdom goes a long way, as Amina Nawaz presence is to heckle if seated in the audience, and when not per-
mitted inside, to distribute leaflets harshly condemning various
explains. Islamic scholars and organizations.
In the recent Amal Press book launch of al-Hidaya (a classical
e smiled at me on the way inside the hall. Perhaps that’s what manual of Islamic jurisprudence recently translated into English)
H first caught my attention, for I had not expected to see such
a pleasant grin from that guy. You may know the one I’m talking
which Shaykh Hamza Yusuf attended as the keynote speaker,
about ten of the same young men I had encountered at the Tariq
about: big beard, black and white checkered scarf draped loosely Ramadan lectures, were standing outside the hall distributing fly-
over the shoulders, and a cleanly pressed white Arabian thawb ers slandering Shaykh Hamza. One among them, the same young
that stops just above the ankle. My friends and I had entered the man who had been slammed by Dr Ramadan a few weeks earlier,
London School of Economics theatre to find a group of universi- shouted angrily that we would be held responsible for what our
ty-age young men, congregated outside the door, jocularly dis- ears heard that night and that we should be careful who we take
cussing with one another. Their boyish laughter filled the foyer our knowledge from. He obviously did not realise the irony in his
and as we passed them to enter the hall, my guilty conscience own vociferous clamouring.
whispered that I should be ashamed of myself for stereotyping and Aftab Malik, founder of Amal Press, spoke at length with a
16 | Q - NEWS
group of them that evening and notes that “the most striking thing
about my impression from these bothers is that the stereotypes are
Malik asked the boys if they upheld
true. They were aggressive, high in rhetoric and painfully oblivi- hadith transmitted from al-Tabari. One
ous to secular history, politics or Islamic history and its intellectu-
said “No!”, and was sheepishly reminded
In the course of discussion Malik asked the boys if they upheld by his friend that they in fact do. “This is
hadith transmitted from al-Tabari to which one said “No!”, and
was sheepishly reminded by his friend that they in fact do. “This typical,” says Malik. “They had no idea
underpins the very nature of this group’s inconsistent understand- about the classification of knowledge or
ing of knowledge,” says Malik, “They had no idea about the clas-
sification of knowledge or about Islamic history, and saw the about Islamic history, and saw the world
world in a bi-polar view. They hadn’t studied anything themselves. in a bi-polar view.They hadn’t studied
They were merely regurgitating what was in the pamphlet.”
The aims of the young men are clear: be as loud and in-your- anything themselves.They were merely
face as possible, even when on logically tenuous ground. In fact, regurgitating the pamphlet.”
as demonstrated by the nature of their conversation and hollow
arguments, logic seldom plays a role. Thus it’s not what they say
that poses a problem, but rather, why and how it is said.
It is said that, “Anger is a natural, adaptive response to “Peace dude,” with a smile. He didn’t stop handing leaflets, or
threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behav- suddenly say to himself, “What am I doing here? This can’t be
iors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are right!” But he did smile slightly and say thank you. And that, is a
attacked.” Most often, anger represents the presence of another start.
deeper emotion: hurt, fear, pain, embarrassment, and most often,
frustration. The Muhajiroun boys are angry, there is no doubt
about that, but we will continuously fail in our attempts to deal
with them, unless we track the source(s) of this anger. WHY I WOULDN’T SEND MY
It would not be such a daunting challenge were they anyone
else. After all, anger is present in every household, every commu- CHILDREN TO AN ISLAMIC
nity and even every individual, but the Muhajiroun boys are
Muslims which means that in their attempts to combat their deep-
seated insecurities, they cling to the familiar, their security blanket Teenagers are like Scud missiles - lots of energy, no
called Islam. They hold on to it with an inflexible grip not realiz- sense of direction. In the midst of a profound spiri-
ing that as with any relationship that becomes controlling, the tual revival and on the cusp of her sixth-form years,
thing you cling to most, is often the one you drive furthest away.
Our task then is to first and foremost recognise that we do in
Farzina Alam was looking for some direction.
fact shoulder responsibility for these young men. In laughing and Expecting a teenage spiritual experience and a little
ridiculing them, we accomplish nothing other than increasing pain hijabi camaraderie, she ended up at an Islamic school
and humiliation, furthering their sense of alienation, and continu- and it was almost enough to break her spirit.
ing the vicious cycle. Second, we must continuously uphold the
tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who
when faced with an angry person, turned with his whole body to ge 17 with some decision to make. Which sixth form school
face them and put his hand on their heart. There is much wisdom
in this tradition, the principle of active listening, of gentility, of
A should I apply to? I’d recently moved to London and had
spent the first few months frantically researching my options.
mercy and even the insight of using touch as a diffusive tool. Where was I to spend perhaps the two most important years of my
Imagine, if instead of being ridiculed for his own rambling, Dr education? My father, ever the optimist, offered the idea of an
Ramadan has invited the young man, put his arm on his shoulder, Islamic school. It was a flat-out “no” from me. I was raised a
sat him down for a chat and perhaps even a cup of tea. Some may Muslim and considered myself a practising one - but faith as a
think this a naïve course to pursue with such overzealous young public identity marker was alien to me. It was my religion, but not
men but the goal is not to convince them or persuade them, or so much my community. To me, hijabis were either old ladies or
ourselves be exhausted by their rhetoric, but rather to guard the very spiritual, good hearted ‘born again’ Muslims (i.e. people
deeper issue here - the inbuilt insecurities these boys have and use who, at the time I thought, had gone ‘fundy').
religion to fill. In the meantime, while deciding “what school?” (yes, I used
At the Amal Press event, as I stood in line and saw my own the handbook extensively - it didn’t help) I spent a few months
anger level rising at the undignified rhetoric in use, one of the boys working at the office of Q-News. For four months I was sur-
came up to me and ordered, “Iqra!” as he handed me one of his rounded by lovely, intelligent and fun - and most important for
leaflets. “No thanks,” I said coolly, and unable to resist added, me, women who had all made the active choice to wear the hijab
“Actually if you are talking to a girl, it’s Iqra-eee! [the feminine during their adulthood, rather than through family pressure.
version of iqra]” I said with patronising sweetness. He towered These women were cool. They travelled, they appreciated the
above me, and bellowed, “Sister, do you know its haram to cor- arts, they were articulate and they were strong. They didn’t wear
rect somebody who’s giving you knowledge?” I stared blankly at the hijab and immediately shrivel up into homely wives whose
him assessing the best course of action. “What?” he demanded only passion was to cook a different cuisine everyday. These
angrily. In response I held up my fingers in a peace sign and said, women were out to inspire others and to change the world. They
Q - NEWS | 17
I came out of my Islamic school I was condescendingly put down by my teacher when I sug-
gested our class visit a kibbutz (alright, I later found out they were
experience feeling bitter. I was very naïve, located mainly in Israel, but it was the sentiment that counts). I
told her I found it fascinating that a community could self-subsist
expecting my time here to be full of on its own labour and produce, but all my mentor could see in my
barakah and light, but my question is, if it innocent suggestion was an evil plan to “live among Jews". I was
shocked to find out once that a fellow classmate had never heard
isn’t,why bother going to an Islamic school of Starbucks - how sheltered must you be to not know of the exis-
in the first place? Academically it did me tence of a coffee joint that has a branch, if not two or three, on
every London high street? She lived 5 minutes away from the
no favours. Spiritually, it made me look school and had never been to another school or even another
down on fellow believers and people in neighbourhood evidently.
Where were the inspirational Muslims I needed to look up to?
general. Is the only purpose of such Where were the Muslims who had experienced life on both sides
schools gender-segregation? of the spectrum, and had chosen Islam because they knew better?
I was finding myself surrounded by the opposite of ‘the ignorant
Westerner’. I was among ignorant Muslims and it was depressing.
were out there to be heard. My understanding of what it meant to These girls had lived in Britain all their lives, but most had never
be a Muslim changed completely. I realised for the first time, known a non-Muslim friend. How could one expect to know
embracing my religion didn’t mean confining myself to Quran about world affairs when they’d never ventured out of their local
classes in a madrassah. Instead, it was about marrying Islamic borough? These girls, unlike my Q-News heroines, had never been
ethics and values with all the good that our societies in the West ‘liberated’ by Islam - they were being severely stunted under some
had to offer. kind of pious pretence.
I found myself occasionally wearing a scarf loosely over my Eventually, talk of university applications came up. There was
hair and performing my prayers on time. I liked what was hap- fear and disdain at the thought of going to school with non-
pening to me. And I knew it was down to me having spent so Muslims. The most popular ambition was interestingly, mid-
much time around these women. It was something I had never wifery. Was it because it fit with the idea of a woman being sole-
experienced before. ly a baby-making machine? There is much talk of how non-
I then made a decision that surprised my family. I announced Muslims didn’t understand us, but never any thought to how to
that I’d give the Islamic school a try. I figured that if my brief con- rectify that by not pandering to stereotypes.
tact with these women brought me this far, then why stop? And regarding my hopes of surrounding myself with peaceful,
Attending an Islamic school, being surrounding by fellow God-fearing Muslims? The bitching, arrogant and general know-
Muslims, would do wonders! it-all attitudes prevalent at the school could have matched any
I started sixth form with high expectations. It would be a inner-city school in London. There was no love in the air. Sunni
holistic education I assured myself, surrounded by fellow students classmates constantly made remarks about an Iraqi-Shia class-
who like me, were seeking an alternative, more a teenage spiritu- mate. Fed up, one day I asked the girls, in her presence, what it
al experience, than just A-levels. was they’d just been saying before she entered the common room,
At first, all went according to plan. I experienced, with emo- and no one had the guts to say anything.
tional awe, the conversions of two well-known footballers to September 11th passed and the confusion in me grew. A class-
Islam in our school mosque (one of whom, for a number of years mate went around our common room showing us email forwards
thereafter, I assumed had been Thierry Henry, to the bemusement instructing Muslims to “defend our faith” - the same girl who
of my sceptical friends - yes I admit, I know nothing about foot- sported an image of Osama Bin Laden on her Nokia phone. I was
ball). I loved watching adorable little hijabi girls run around in the stunned into silence. All my life I was known as the cheery and
school yard during breaks, and I grew attached to a little boy, half loud one. Now, increasingly I just wanted to isolate myself further
my size, called Ali who I called ‘Ally Potter’ because of his round and hide under a niqab.
oversized glasses. Exchanging jinn stories in the common room It finally took an inter-faith conference which my college par-
was one of my favourite past times. I was thrilled - I was finally ticipated in to make me realise how isolated I had become. I was
among people my age who believed in the same weird things I deeply embarrassed to realise that in the five months since 9/11, I
believed in. had not heard the opinion of a single non-Muslim about the
After that though, it all went downhill. The school never both- tragedy.
ered to fix the plumbing so we had to make wudu twice a day I left the school after my first year and decided I would stay at
with freezing cold water. There was no halal food for our grade home and study for the A-Levels by myself. I ended up with bet-
and so we had to walk 500 metres outside our campus to grab ter grades than most of my former classmates (forgive me for
lunch. The Prophet-esque horse-riding and archery lessons I had gloating a little).
heard rumours of never materialised. I had had particularly vivid I came out of the whole experience bitter about Muslims. I
dreams about our class of sixth-formers galloping through Hyde admit I was very naïve in the beginning, expecting my time at this
Park on Wednesday afternoons with our jilbabs flowing behind school to be full of barakah and light, but my question is, if it isn’t
us. In fact, there were no provisions for sixth-formers in terms of why bother going to an Islamic school in the first place?
extra curricular activities whatsoever. Did administration see no Academically it did me no favours. Spiritually, it made me look
need? Or was the idea to simply dump girls in an all-Muslim envi- down on fellow believers and people in general. Is the only pur-
ronment and leave us at it. Who cares how we fare so long as pose of such schools gender-segregation? Do people fear that these
we’re segregated and veiled? Muslim girls, brought up in conservative households in the first
18 | Q - NEWS
these groups on the basis of race-relations: an assembly of ideas
and practices premised on the compartmentalizing logic of inter-
ethnic communal managerialism.
Now suddenly the veil has been lifted and a resounding cry
can be heard: “A-ha! We are all Muslims! We were hiding in our
kebab take-aways and Indian restaurants, and we were waiting
for the right moment to spring the news on you guys! We are
Muslims, that’s right - Muslims, and we are here to stay!”
Undoubtedly the faint-hearted have already taken to the hills
and are preparing themselves for this great civilisational assault on
the Occident. Some Europeans, we have been told, were so
spooked by this sudden emergence of Muslims that they even emi-
grated to Australia, only to learn that there are Muslims there too!
Much of this talk of ‘Islam in Europe’ has been sparked by
recent events of geopolitical import: 9-11, the invasions of
Afghanistan and Iraq (and the protests that ensued), the bombings
in London and Madrid, the riots in Britain and France. These
events have been catalysts that have spurred academics, politicians
and policy-makers into action, prompting an array of research
meetings, seminars, conferences and new laws and regulations
that impact directly on the civil liberties of Europeans in general.
(At present, I am personally familiar with four academic projects
on Islam in Europe being undertaken in earnest. While such aca-
demic access may border on the overkill, it does at least provide
some employment for otherwise unemployable researchers and
students. Studying Islam is therefore big business as well.)
place, will start obsessing about boys the minute they turn eleven? My own contention with this spurious debate over Islamor
If they wanted to, I assure you, they would do it anyway - like one Muslims in Europe is that much of it has been unimaginative,
of my classmates who used to meet her boyfriend around the cor- unintelligent, non-intellectual and fundamentally un-academic.
ner from the school on a regular basis. While former research on areas dominated by social anthropolo-
Perhaps the school I attended is an exception to the rule, but I gy, history and political science at least required some semblance
have a suspicion it isn’t. Maybe things have changed in the last of academic scruple and objective analysis, the study of Muslims
few years and Islamic schools have become the kind of places that and Islam in Europe has been conducted on the basis of anecdot-
provide a real value-added alternative to state schools (they are al evidence, hearsay, conspiracy theories, grand abstract concepts
certainly doing better in the league tables if nothing else). (such as the ‘Clash of Civilizations') and an essentialist under-
Nevertheless, a community which celebrates and defends its right standing of cultural difference.
to faith education must, once in a while, question the vision which Indeed, the shift from the study and discourse on ethnicity and
its schools are imparting. If they are helping create a myopic, insu- race to the more general study of religio-cultural differences has
lar generation that is uncomfortable in modern multicultural, opened the way for essentialism to return with a vengeance. So
multi-faith Britain, then I think I’d rather have my kids take their- when a Muslim does something stupid (like dressing up as a sui-
chances in a mainstream comprehensive any day. cide bomber during a protest rally), his actions are immediately
explained in termsof Islam or his Muslim identity. No one would
suggest the same when young Prince Harry dresses up as a Nazi
at a costume party. No one attributes his idiocy to his personal
SO WHO’S LIVING IN THE religious beliefs.
‘GHETTO’ NOW? As a political scientist, I am amazed by the near-total absence
of sound philosophical and political concepts such as class and
Leave your religious ghettoes behind, Muslims are power relations in this contemporary discourse on Islam and
being told, and embrace European culture. But first, Muslims in Europe. There seems to be the unstated assumption
European commentators need to step out of their that Europe’s Muslims enjoy the same degree of class agency, rep-
resentational power and access to opportunities like everybody
own intellectual ghettoes, as Farish A. Noor argues, else. There is a tacit agreement to overlook the very specific class
and into the light of class and power relations. and subject-positions of the Muslims themselves, who are almost
entirely made up of former poor migrants from the former
urope, apparently, has discovered that it has Muslims living in colonies of Europe. This oversight is a fatal one, and leads us to
E its midst. This re-discovery of Islam in Europe has sent shock
waves among some: for decades it was assumed that Europe was
disastrously wrong conclusions at times.
simply home to several million disparate immigrant communities, ‘Muslims don’t like Opera’
- Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Arabs One of the conclusions that arises from this willful blindness
and Africans. But who had any idea they were all Muslims? to the class and subject positions of Muslims in Europe is the view
During the decades of post-war reconstruction from the 1950s that Muslims are a community apart, and that they deliberately
to the 1960s the states of Western Europe sought to deal with choose not to integrate into the mainstream of European social
20 | Q - NEWS
Even normally level-headed intellectuals Europeans or other minorities.
But like other minorities they need to have their circles of
can sometimes ask the most stupid alienation minimised and their circles of civic participation
expanded. This can only be achieved when we take into account
questions, like: “Why don’t we ever see the genuine class and economic disparities between minorities and
Muslims in the art galleries or the opera? the majority dominant group of any society. Here nonsensical
non-discourse on ‘cultural difference’ has to give way to real,
Why don’t Muslims participate in non- grounded analysis of class, wealth distribution and allocation of
religious events and activities?” resources instead. If it is politically correct to take into account the
specific needs of disabled people, gendered minorities etc. then
Nonsensical non-discourse on ‘cultural why does the rule no longer apply to minority groups as well?
difference’ has to give way to real, Muslims have contributed to the cultural, economic and polit-
ical life of Europe at all levels and in many different ways, and
grounded analysis of class, wealth they will continue to do so. Some have chosen to do so as active
distribution and allocation of resources. believing Muslims while others have put their religious identities
behind them and participated primarily as citizens of an abstract
Europe. The ease with which Muslims - and any minority group
and cultural life. Even normally level-headed intellectuals can for that matter - ‘step out’ of their communal groups into wider
sometimes ask the most stupid and asinine of questions, like: society depends precisely on the obstacles they face at the thresh-
“Why don’t we ever see Muslims in the art galleries or the opera? old between the private and public spheres, and the glass ceilings
Why don’t they (Muslims) participate in non-religious cultural and other hindrances they may encounter in wider society.
events and activities?” This process can be accelerated and aided further via a net-
Well, if Muslims seldom go to the opera here in Europe, it is work of helpful initiatives that may include positive discrimina-
not because they have a disdain for Wagner for reasons of politi- tion, affirmative action and the like. But in the end, Muslims’ con-
cal correctness, it is simply because they cannot afford to. And on tribution to Europe as Europeans will only be noted when we rec-
that same note, it should also be noted that many of the so-called ognize them for what they are today: Europeans who happen to
‘mainstream’ aspects of European culture remain closely tied to be Muslims as well.
elite interests and practices; and ordinary poor, unemployed,
homeless and professionally less advanced Europeans do not go to
the opera either. It is class, and not culture, that determines the
parameters of our circles of alienation and civic participation “HERE NOTHING IS SAFE;
above all else.
Between the individual and society there is an array of subject
THERE IS NO FREEDOM”
relations that needs to be understood and negotiated: We need to Chris Sands reports from Afghanistan on the state
begin from the simple premise that everyone’s relations to society of religious freedom and how deception and sub-
as a whole is subjective, historically-determined and parochial in terfuge has become the norm for a small group of
their own way. Muslims in Europe may have a limited engagement
with ‘Europe’ as a whole, but this is no different from the subjec-
activists who see their country falling deeper into
tive understanding and experience of Europe that is in the heart of grip of an extreme theology at odds with human
every other European. (Where, pray tell, can we ever find the ‘per- rights.
fectly constituted European citizen’ who appreciates the entirety
of Europe in all its cultural and historical depth?)
Linked to this is the very idea and ideal of Europe itself, which ABUL - Ali Mohaqiq Nasab fingered some prayer beads while
for many is seen as a limited and already-defined concept. In con-
trast to some other countries like South Africa where the idea of
K he waited for permission to talk. Afghan President Hamid
Karzai looked down from a picture on the jail wall. A few min-
the ‘nation’ is kept open as a fluid concept that is ever-evolving, utes went by, then the police finally let him speak.
the idea of Europe has been frozen and made rock-solid by nation- “There is no freedom here, absolutely no freedom. I am not
alists and Pan-Europeanists who would prefer to think of Europe saying bad words about Islam. Whatever I say is according to our
as a completed project. holy book. I am a Muslim, it’s my religion and I should be allowed
This is a dangerous assumption because it overlooks the fact to talk about it,” he said.
that European culture is always evolving. It also forestalls any Nasab was jailed last Autumn for publishing blasphemous
meaningful engagement between Europe and the wider globaliz- articles in a magazine called Women’s Rights. His case sparked
ing world. Worst of all, it spells the end of any integration move- diverse outrage across the country - some called for his execution
ment because it means that newcomers to Europe will have noth- and others demanding his immediate release.
ing to contribute, whether it is on the level of culture, ideology, “They did not allow me to employ a lawyer and when I was
life-practices, economics and politics. This is the impression that talking [in court] my speech was being cut off. It was useless. They
many minorities in Europe have today: that they have nothing to did not decide my sentence according to justice, they decided it
contribute to Europe, save for kebabs and samosas and fried rice. according to politics and still I have not accepted that decision,”
To seriously deal with the issue of Muslim migration and set- Nasab told me at the time.
tlement into Europe, we therefore need to return to basic eco- “I am a knowledgeable person. I want to work for the people
nomics and political fundamentals. Muslims are not asking for of Afghanistan, I want Afghanistan to live in peace and I want the
any special treatment or privileges, certainly not at the expense of Islam here to be based on law, not fundamentalism.”
Q - NEWS | 21
When I first met Nasab he was just a few weeks into what was I’m a Muslim because I have to live in this society. Otherwise, like
meant to be a two year prison sentence. The scholar talked with a Abdul Rahman, if I convert to Buddhism Hinduism, Christianity
quiet rage about the way religion was being used as a tool of or anything else, I will have to leave this country,” he told me.
repression. And he wondered aloud why the international com- “A normal Muslim has to pray five times a day, read the
munity seemed unwilling to help him. Koran in the morning. I wouldn’t consider myself a Muslim, but
“Here nothing is safe, there is no freedom. Afghanistan is still in this society my answer to you would be completely different.”
being controlled by Islamic extremists 100 per cent. Arab coun- Warasta is Afghanistan’s executive director of International
tries, Pakistan and Iran still have huge influence,” he said. PEN, a worldwide association of writers. The 30-year-old spoke
Those words of despair were spoken more than four months out against Nasab’s arrest and continues to campaign for free
ago and a successful legal appeal means Nasab has long since been speech.
released. But only now is the world finally taking notice of the “In my opinion, even if someone wants to worship a tree it’s
conflict between Afghanistan’s newfound democratic status and his own right. My mind can never accept that someone is killed
its age-old dependence upon strict Islamic values. for believing in this or that,” he said.
“I was not scared, I just felt I wanted to bring freedom to the “I would say I’m a humanist, I believe in human values. I’m
people of Afghanistan, to let them live peacefully and openly. not against religions. I respect the different religions as long as
What I wrote is true. I have discussed this with other people and they’re not a means of hatred, fighting and conflict among human
they agree with me,” he said. beings.”
The editor had published an article saying Muslims who con- The insurgency here is growing rapidly and security is now
vert to other religions should not be killed. For that, as well as worse than at any other time since the invasion. Suicide bombings
other stories deemed blasphemous, he was put behind bars. have become common in southern provinces, with militants often
But the nationwide fury caused by Nasab’s case was nothing crossing the border from neighbouring Pakistan.
compared to the international anger that engulfed Afghanistan Islamic extremists also still walk Afghanistan’s corridors of
when a man faced the death penalty for doing exactly what the power, only now they have international legitimacy. The newly
magazine had dared discuss. opened parliament may have been hailed as a beacon of democra-
Abdul Rahman was denounced by his family in March for cy by Britain and the United States, but includes controversial fig-
converting to Christianity 16 years ago. Some clerics demanded he ures like Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi, once a senior Taliban com-
be beheaded, people walked through the streets baying for his mander, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord implicated in numer-
blood and Western governments were outraged at the prospect of ous human rights abuses.
a friendly state killing someone for their religious beliefs. He was The constitution does little to protect religious freedom.
eventually spirited away to Italy. Although article two promises to let followers of other faiths act
Nasab, a Shia Muslim, saw a conflict like this coming and he “within the bounds of law”, article three states that “no law shall
had tried to put himself on the frontline before anyone else. He contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of
told me as much from inside jail: “I am an ordinary Muslim. I love Islam".
Islam, I am a pure Muslim. But I just wrote that every religion While poverty, illiteracy, security problems and the legal sys-
should be free to live in Afghanistan. This is in accordance with tem are all reasons that issues surrounding faith are rarely dis-
human rights. I am discussing an Islam… that is about human cussed, the widespread opposition to American foreign policy is
love.” another significant factor.
Islam has grown and flourished here ever since it was intro- Even people who despise the Taliban are disillusioned with the
duced by Arab armies some time during the seventh century. United States, so anyone who questions the role Islam plays in
However, the current battle between religious fundamentalism public life is often just regarded as a cheerleader for an imperial-
and values imposed from abroad can be traced back to 27 April ist crusade.
1978, when communists seized power in Kabul. “I also have Afghan friends who confide in me. They’ve clear-
The repression that followed sparked a revolt from Afghans ly said they believe in Christianity, but when they sit with other
who became known as the Mujahideen - ‘holy warriors’ - and the Muslims they show they are devout Muslims,” said Warasta.
Soviet Union subsequently invaded to protect its puppet adminis- “They also send their children to the mosque to recite the
tration. But with massive support from America’s Central Koran because if you can’t do that it’s a source of shame.”
Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Muslim insurgents drove out the When insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, upon
Russians after almost a decade of brutal occupation. whom be peace, were published by the European press, the
The ensuing power vacuum was filled by the victorious funda- fiercest reaction occurred inside Afghanistan. Embassies were
mentalists - of varying degrees - and a bloody civil war began in attacked in Kabul and riots broke out across the country. That
1992. This gave rise to the Taliban who captured Kabul four-years uproar again showed how the vitriol directed towards those who
later and imposed strict shariah law across the country, killing an criticise Islam does not just come from clerics, politicians and the
economy and education system that was already crippled. judges, it also comes from public opinion.
When the US-led coalition successfully deposed Mullah Warasta is the father of a nine-month-old girl called Nirvana,
Mohammed Omar’s government in 2001, it was thus hailed by the a name taken from the Buddhist and Hindu faiths. Despite all the
West as Afghanistan’s liberation from decades of oppression. The problems existing here, he still hopes she might one day be free. “I
reality, as the Nasab and Rahman cases show, is not so simple. believe that in the very far future we can have a good society
Waheed Warasta knows all too well the dangers non-Mulsims where even people who convert can get their rights,” he said.
still face here in his homeland. In such a deeply conservative “But you can’t expect that in the near future, firstly because of
nation he must keep many of his beliefs under wraps if he wants the [lack of] knowledge of our people and secondly because of
to survive. neighbouring countries like Pakistan who are even worse than
“If you give me a form to fill in I will immediately write that us.”
22 | Q - NEWS
In modern China, Islam is widely accepted and attitudes towards Muslims have been relaxed due to government liberalisation. Observers note that Islam
is undergoing a modest revival, with unofficial estimates putting the total number of Muslims in the country at 15million, worshiping at some 30,000
Mosques. One source of concern to the Chinese government however, is the push by Uighur Muslims in the west of the country to form their own
state. Fearing people are being influenced by ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ forced out of Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, this is the only factor
that could harm relations between Muslims and the ruling Communist party. For now though, Islam - which has been present in China for over 1400
centuries, is alive and well. Much overlooked for many years, Chinese Muslims are now of huge relevance on a global scale. As the world’s fastest
developing country and the world’s most topical religion combine, the resulting out-come should be of great interest to the global community.
Q - NEWS | 23
This page and opposite: (1) A Muslim woman prays in the bedroom of her home. (2) Acrobatic performers prepare to go on
stage in the Muslim district of Niu Jie during Eid al-Fitr. (3) Women at Niu Jie Mosque during Eid. (4) Young Muslim
worshipers at Niu Jie Mosque during Eid. (5) An old man at Niu Jie Mosque, the largest mosque in Beijing. (6) Young Muslim
girl. (7) A Muslim woman selling clothing during Eid. (8) A mural on the outside of a Muslim nursery school representing
‘Uighur’ Muslims from the west of China. (9) A young Muslim cooking in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant. (10) Muslim
men at Niu Jie Mosque during Eid. Previous page: The outside of the Chinese National Headquarters for Hui Muslims, in the
Muslim district Niu Jie. Next page: A Uighur Muslim from the west of China, who moved to Beijing for work, prays at sunset
in a back-alley, just off Tiananmen Square.A man tries to sell an animal fur on the street in the Muslim area of Niu Jie. Muslim
men at Niu Jie Mosque during the festival of Eid.
All photographs were taken in Beijing, China during October and November 2005 by Sean Gallagher, an up and coming
freelance photographer based in London. He has had work selected for The Ian Parry Scholarship Award 2003 for young
photojournalists, in association with the Sunday Times Magazine. During 2004/2005 he was chosen to undertake a 1-year
internship at the prestigious photojournalism agency, MAGNUM Photos. He is now working on projects investigating
environmental and social issues in Asia, with specific emphasis on China.
“Seek knowledge, even unto
“We do it because
we love God”
“Interfaith is dialogue is a waste of time!” Since becoming the Chair
of the Christian Muslim Forum earlier this year, it’s a cynical sentiment
that the Right Revd David Gillett hears more often. He and his part-
ners are undeterred. According to Revd Gillett the nascent forum is a
partnership of equals whose members are under no illusions - they
have a long road to travel before they earn the legitimacy they desire.
he process of establishing this Forum began with nities and between them. The Forum has been deliber-
T the Archbishop of Canterbury who, in 1997, spoke
of the importance of dialogue between Christians and
ately constructed to reflect this wide breadth that exists
in both our communities. The Christians are not all the
Muslims in this country: “For the sake of the health of same sorts of Christians - and the Muslims also come
this country, we need to find ways in which members of from all sorts of traditions and opinions. Intra-faith
our two communities can meet regularly together in a dialogue is as important as inter-faith. A journalist from
more structured way than has been possible up to one of the leading daily newspapers recently said to me,
now.” His remarks were received warmly by Muslims “I hope you are not just going to agree all the time on
in England and since then a group of Christians and the Forum because if that is how it looks we won’t
Muslims has worked together to see the Forum estab- believe you!” And of course he is right. However, I
lished. believe that we shall find occasions when all 20 of us
The launch itself was a grand event hosted by the can speak with one mind, and we shall want to say
Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace and clearly to the media that Christians and Muslims are
attended by a wide range of leading figures from both united at this point. But we shall not be afraid to speak
the Muslim and Christian communities. Our guest of of differences of opinion between us - and often times
honour was the Prime Minister who was there to wish this will mean some Christians and Muslims agreeing
us well. In his speech he brought a touch of realism to together about something while another mixed group
all of us who were celebrating this new beginning. He disagree. That is maturity. Hopefully our friendship will
warned: “It’s not always easy I know, and there are a be deep enough so that we continue to value each
few critics and cynics within each community that will other’s friendship, respect the deeply held convictions of
always raise question marks as to what a forum like this those with whom we disagree, and work together for
can achieve, but I think it can achieve a very great God’s glory.
deal.” But it’s often young people that moan about yet
I do not always see eye to eye with what the Prime more dialogue - they are often impatient with talking.
Minister says but on this point I agree. While there are They want action - and now. But even young people can
many who wish us well and have high hopes for the see the point of in-depth talking together. One of the
Forum, there are those who have questioned whether it young people’s specialists on the Forum puts it like this,
won’t all be a talking shop that achieves very little. And ‘We do it because we love God. Not because it’s
I agree; at all costs we must avoid becoming just a talk- worthy or the “right thing to do". It’s also at its best
ing shop. But then talking - dialogue - is important. As when people who are passionate about their faith meet
Winston Churchill once remarked, we need more jaw, together… We do dialogue because we care about oth-
jaw and less war, war. ers. We want to get to know them, become friends with
them, stand up for them, help them, as they are also
Talking together helps us walk together doing for us... Stereotypes are broken down, friend-
At the first residential meeting of the Christian ships are built and people work together for the good
Muslim Forum in March of this year we spent a lot of of society. It also shows the rest of society that when
time talking. There needs to be far more personal relat- people of different faiths get together it doesn’t have to
ing across the wide spectrums within both our commu- lead to trouble - it can lead to peace.’
Q - NEWS | 27
But, talking alone is not enough. The main reason
for setting up the Forum is to help Christians and
Muslims, as people of faith, to work together to
improve the society in which we live. We believe that
we have values we share which are given to us by God.
Both Muslims and Christians believe that God inspires
us and empowers us to make this world a better place,
to help our country become a more harmonious and
healthy place in which to live.
God calls us to both prayer and to action
I hope that both Muslims and Christians will pray
with conviction that God will bless our country and
guide our leaders in both local and national politics to
make decisions that reflect the values which God has
established to enable communities to flourish. But, in
our increasingly secularised world, many in our land In our increasingly secularised
are not always impressed by Muslims and Christians world, many in our land are not
who say that we are praying for our country. They want always impressed by Muslims and
to see some action.
The central task of the Christian Muslim Forum is Christians who say that we are
to encourage joint action - so that everyone can see praying for our country. They want
Christians and Muslims working together day by day to see action.
for the good of the whole of our people, and not just for
those who come to our mosques or churches week by
week. Here lies the significance of the six specialist gious contribution to our society rather than the
groups which form part of the Forum - Community and unhelpful stereotypes that often dominate.
Public Affairs, Education, Family Issues, International We have begun to explore the possibility of
Affairs, Media, and Youth. In each of these areas we bringing together trainee Christian and Muslim clerics
have already begun our work. We are committed to fos- to encourage interaction and dialogue.
tering joint action at national and regional level where
it can influence policy with government and opinion We have also identified further needs which we will
formers, and also to encourage working together at begin to address over the coming months:
local level where it can make a difference on the To bring together Christian and Muslim devel-
ground. So we have begun to turn dialogue into action: opment agencies to learn from each other’s ways of
We are planning to bring together Christian cler- working and to create possibilities for greater co-oper-
gy and Muslim religious leaders for both regional and ation.
national conferences so that they can learn from one To commission research into the issues which
another how to help churches and mosques work affect Christian and Muslim families which have an
together for their local area. We will also produce a effect on their faith or its practice.
document outlining good practice for local working To provide resources for youth workers to
together. enable them to understand the needs and aspirations of
We are launching a project for young people to Christians and Muslim young people.
be engaged with some crucial aspects of the media in To organise a national day for young people 14-
our sound-bite age where pop music, T.V. and maga- 18, including those already involved in more local dia-
zines do so much to mould the values of our society. logue events, that will produce significant resources for
We are beginning projects in various locations in inter faith work among young people.
schools to bring together children from both communi- To sponsor a Christian-Muslim family confer-
ties. ence to would affirm and resource families, especially
The Forum is sponsoring a conference of schol- parents.
ars to look at a religious contribution to values and cit-
izenship. At the heart of all our work is our faith in God. We
We are starting to link up local initiatives in believe that faith has an important contribution to
Muslim Christian encounter to help strengthen what, in make in our society. If faith is marginalised and does
some areas, are often struggling to get off the ground. not have a place in our national discourse then - in
The Forum is beginning to produce guidelines place of faith - we will see yet more fear or extremism.
and policy documents which we hope will help in defin- We need to find a wholesome space for faith in our soci-
ing the role of the two faiths in the wider community. ety and work towards each of our faith traditions cre-
We have held a press reception for those ating space for the other. It’s a long road to travel, but
involved in both religious and secular media, and forum with God’s blessing, I believe we can journey together
members are undergoing media training to equip them and see results.
for the vital task of raising the true profile of the reli-
28 | Q - NEWS
Carnival of Caricatures
The Deadly Politics of Humour
efending the right of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten to ed, integrated and certainly not excluded from Danish soci-
D publish a set of caricatures that Muslims believed
denigrated the Prophet Muhammad, its culture edi-
tor, Flemming Rose, argued that “humour, even offensive
ety. If this reasoning sounds loopy, chances are it is.
Offensive humour emerged and gained ascendance dur-
ing carnival season, particularly in Europe, where the two-
humour, brings people together. Because by making fun of week festival leading up to Lent gave free reign to ritual
people we’re also including them in our society. It’s not spectacles, bacchanalia, comic verbal compositions and
always easy for those concerned, but that’s the price relaxed social rules that allowed bawdy and abusive lan-
they’ve got to pay.” guage to be spoken openly. During the carnival season the
Rose is correct to observe that humour has an innate comedian was allowed the freedom to mock, ridicule and
ability to unite people. Though the fact that a large num- scoff at those in authority as well parody and laugh at the
ber of people will laugh at the same jokes during an hegemonic ideals upheld by the rich and powerful.
episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or a Woody Allen film The message of the carnival was undeniable - ‘so long
for example, indicates only that humour can lure people as I can laugh at the rich and powerful, I am free.’
into a false assumption that they have a lot more in com- Carnivals not only nourished a culture of offensive
mon than they actually do in reality. humour, it gave it life beyond the carnival season.
What passes for humour today, whether from sitcoms Publications embraced caricatures because they used artis-
or stand-up comedians, is a chain of trite, oft repeated tic techniques to exaggerate a person’s physical features to
jokes that are meant to ‘crack us up.’ And if this serves to make him or her look grotesque or ludicrous. Whether a
‘bring people together’ it is no wonder that conflict resolu- person was literate or not he knew instantly that the per-
tion in our litigious society is a booming business. We are son caricatured was to be scorned, ridiculed and reviled.
told to “lighten up” and take a “chill pill”, that is until we Not surprising, in the 18th and 19th centuries the French
can’t take it anymore. We have created an industry out of and Spanish monarchs sent their caricaturists to prison,
humour and by doing so perverted it. Instead of making us exile or, worse still, to the executioner.
happy it has made us frivolous. As the tradition of journalism emerged and matured in
In seeking to justify his decision to publish the depic- Western Europe and the United States in the mid to late
tions, Rose mentions two types of humour as if they were 19th century, newspapers gradually drifted away from car-
equal - ‘humour’ and ‘offensive humour.’ Muslims can get icatures and adopted what is known today as political car-
downright silly when it comes to humour. After all, Islam tooning. Cartoons resemble caricatures but they aim to
has a rich humour tradition. In the post 9/11 years we have specifically crystallize a point of social protest or sway pub-
even seen a wave of Muslim comedians emerge and quick- lic opinion. It is not all that surprising therefore that car-
ly gain prominence in both Europe and North America. toonists are regarded as journalists in today’s mass media.
‘Offensive humour’ is a different story; it is irony that Thomas Nast (1840-1902) is regarded as the ‘founding
aspires to be humour and fails because it is a weapon for- father’ of modern day political cartooning. His legacy
ever aimed at someone else, never at oneself. Irony’s laugh- includes the GOP Elephant, a standard symbol of the
ter wounds - it is sarcasm, parody, mockery, and ridicule. Republican Party in the United States, and an unrelenting
Irony’s laughter is cruel and it inevitably humiliates others attack against the corruption of William Marcy Tweed and
because it holds everything other than itself in contempt. the infamous Tammany Hall corruption ring in 1860s New
This genre of humour is alien to the Islamic tradition. York City.
The Danish cultural intelligentsia, in contrast, holds Tweed despised Nast because Nast’s cartoons mobilized
that satire - which normally employs irony as its weapon of people who demanded the smashing of the Tammany Ring
choice - is part of their national identity. Rose and others and the removal of Tweed from power. Tweed was eventu-
argue that when satire is used against a person or a partic- ally brought to trial and found guilty of 104 counts and
ular group of people they should feel privileged, not insult- sentenced to 12 years in prison. He appealed the decision
30 | Q - NEWS
Flemming Rose of the now infamous Jyllands-Posten opined that any
offense caused by the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be
upon him, was the price Muslims had to pay to be included in modern
society. In other words, you had better get used to being laughed at.
Nazim Baksh sees things differently. While offensive humour can
sometimes be a blunt instrument employed against the powerful, its use -
more often than not - is indicative of deep spiritual crises.
and while awaiting re-trial fled the country. Islamic philosophy. While it is not one of the four main
Tweed was later arrested in Spain because someone rec- virtues identified in Islamic thought, it is impossible to be
ognized him from a Nast cartoon. Before he died in prison humorous without hikma or wisdom. When humour is
a pauper, Tweed is reported to have said: “I don’t care what present it leads to a balanced temperament. The ability to
they print about me, most of my constituents can’t read laugh appropriately, even at oneself, neither too much nor
anyway-but them damn pictures.” too little, at the right time and place, for the right things, is
From its genesis in the carnival, offensive humour has a sign of courage, good health and well being. This is the
always been a blunt instrument in the hands of the com- sunnah of the Messenger of God.
mon man to be used against the powerful. The Jyllands- Humour, like all other virtues, is subject to the
Posten caricatures came from the intellectual elites that Aristotelian ‘golden mean.’ Humour is a balance between
represent the dominant culture and targeted a harmless and two extremes; it arises neither from sense nor nonsense, but
marginal religious minority in Danish society. This is not rather in the vacillation from one to the other. In other
what the tradition of satire was meant for. words, it occurs when meaning changes from absurd to
A relatively intelligent person knows that humour, meaningful or from serious to frivolous. Humour reveals
offensive or not, is culturally determined. What is funny to the frivolousness in all things serious and the seriousness in
some may very well be an insult to others. Albert Brooks all things frivolous. When it takes itself too serious it
went Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World and near- reverts to irony and if too frivolous, buffoonery.
ly ended up sparking off nuclear armageddon between According to Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, hap-
India and Pakistan. That’s hardly amusing, goofy yes, per- piness is the greatest desire of the rational mind. Without it
haps even stupid, but not necessarily offensive, unless you a person might sink into anger, wallow forever in the mis-
are an Indian or a Pakistani who doesn’t like to be charac- ery of sadness. Ahmad Ibn-Muhammad Miskawayh in his
terised as trigger-happy. Some comedians, even Muslim Tahdhib al-Akhlaq explains that inner happiness must be
ones, straddle the fence that divides humour from offensive given an outlet and that’s what humour is. In the Quran the
humour. When they like some- word for happiness is sa’ada.
thing they use humour and The Danish cultural Syed Naqib Al-Attas says
when they don’t they use irony. that to understand what sa’ada
A Muslim will never accept intelligentsia, in contrast, holds means one must ponder on its
that humour can be at the that satire - which normally opposite - shiqawa. Shiqawa,
expense of a person’s beliefs or explains Al-Attas, is the condi-
ideals, whether the Muslim
employs irony as its weapon of tion of a person so mired in
believes they are valid or not. choice - is part of their national disobedience to God that his
A person who fails to laugh at identity. Rose and others argue heart is perpetually in a state
a crude or racist joke might say of anxiety, anguish, fear, grief,
“I don’t share your sense of that when satire is used against a misery, and regret. The sum
humour.” That’s what a lot of person or a particular group of total of these symptoms is not
Muslims should have said people they should feel merely a state of sadness, but
instead of torching Danish one of ‘tragedy.’ Shiqawa is a
flags, storming embassies or privileged, not insulted, result of hubris, haughty pride,
banning Danish products. integrated and certainly not that prevents submission to the
Humour - the kind that excluded from Danish society. If Creator.
defuses hatred, anger, resent- In Imam Al-Ghazali’s
ment and fanaticism - is a this reasoning sounds loopy, philosophical schema, shiqawa
virtue in both western and chances are it is. is a characteristic of a person
Q - NEWS | 31
who is so overwhelmed by the From its genesis in the Messenger. When the mer-
seductions of this world that it chant demanded payment
costs him the pleasures of the
carnival, offensive humour has form Nu’ayman he directed
next. Sa’ada, on the other always been a blunt instrument him to the Prophet. The
hand, arises out of obedience in the hands of the common man Prophet was surprised that the
to Allah for His pleasure alone. merchant was asking for pay-
A person may laugh or to be used against the powerful. ment since he was told that
‘play the fool,’ watch endless The Jyllands-Posten caricatures Nu’ayman had sent him the
hours of Comedy Central, yet came from the intellectual elites honey as a gift. Nu’ayman
deep in his soul there is a showed up to explain himself
shiqawa that no amount of that represent the dominant and insisted that since the
laughter can erase. On the culture and targeted a harmless Prophet had eaten the honey
other hand, a person of sa’ada and marginal religious minority he should pay for it. Laughing
may laugh little and weep at Nu’ayman’s prank the
much - a Prophetic ideal - yet in Danish society. This is not Prophet paid the merchant.
deep in his soul the torch of what the tradition of satire was Nu’ayman later said that he
happiness is flaming red. In had done two good deeds, he
other words, laughter alone
meant for. got the Prophet to eat his
proves (and provides) nothing. favourite food and he made
Our blessed Messenger was him laugh.
the most balanced in all affairs. One of his names is ad- There are many legendary Nu’ayman pranks.
Dahhak, the Smiling One. He smiled because he embodied Nu’ayman played a significant role in Madinah. There is
happiness. When he smiled, those who knew him tell us, no record of the Prophet forbidding him to cease his pranks
there was no mistaking the radiant joy he created when he even though some of them were slapstick. This indicates
entered a room. that Nu’ayman had Prophetic sanction. It is reported that
He used to say “I joke but I always tell the truth.” His he only stopped laughing and playing pranks when the
wife Aisha is reported to have said “the Messenger was Muslim community was rocked with internal dissent dur-
always making us laugh at home.” He also said “Those ing the reign of Muawiyya.
who sin while laughing will enter hell crying.” It is a sin in If Nu’ayman didn’t exist Muslims would have had to
Islam to lie, deliberately insult, mock, ridicule, or revile invent him. Any culture where humour does not exist lacks
others. the virtues of humility, generosity and mercy. Scratch the
An old woman came to the Messenger to ask him a veneer of seriousness and you will find extremism and
vitally important question: “Will I go to paradise?” The fanaticism. Humour peels away at self-deception and the
Prophet said “no, old people don’t go to paradise.” glum satisfaction that the pious-looking bearded and tur-
Dejected, the woman looked up at the face of the baned brother is better than the one without.
Messenger and saw him smiling and quickly realized that Nu’aymaniyya became the springboard for a flourish-
what he told her was in jest. He then comforted her, “God ing tradition of humour among Muslims. Today Muslim
will restore your youth before you enter paradise.” parents and teachers narrate the tales of Mulla Nasruddin
The humour of the Messenger of God was contagious. in order to establish simple truths with their children.
He was once sitting with two Bedouin women who had Humour, because it can only laugh at what it loves or
raised their voices in the presence of the Messenger respects, is a useful tool that should be used to teach oth-
demanding spoils of war when Umar ibn al-Khattab passed ers about our tradition.
by and overheard them. He knocked on the door of the Muslims have to stop making rage their first instinctive
Prophet’s home and was asked to identify himself after reaction to an offence. Members of Quraysh poked fun at
which he was given permission to enter. He saw the the Prophet by making reference to him as “Mudammam”
prophet sitting alone and asked who was with him. At (a play on Muhammad) which means ugly. This offensive
which point the Prophet identified the two women who humour, irony if you wish, was done at the expense of the
had gone into hiding. Umar chided them: ‘Do you hide real name of the Prophet and so it was exceptionally
from Umar and you raise your voice in the presence of the painful to his companions. Muhammad was a unique name
Messenger?’ The women responded: ‘Yes, indeed, because in Makkah at that time and it means “the one who is
you are rough O Umar and the Messenger of God is gen- praised.” It is the most popular name in the world today.
tle.’ The Prophet laughed. He had to break this standoff The companions complained to the Prophet with tears in
between Umar’s poignant observation and the women’s their eyes. His response was that they should ignore the
reasonable fear of Umar. He said: ‘Indeed Umar, even if mocking laughter associated with “Mudammam” because
Satan was coming down a road and encountered you, he his name is Muhammad and “Mudammam” can only be
would take another path.’ someone other than Muhammad. He defused the irony,
One of the central comedic characters in the time of the neutralized it, pulled the rug out from under it, with gen-
Prophet was the companion An-Nu’ayman ibn `Amr. To tleness, wit, and humility. Muslims too could have looked
put things in perspective, Nu’ayman fought with the at the offensive depiction and simply said: “That’s not our
Muslims during the battles at Badr, Uhud and Khandaq. Prophet.”
Nu’ayman had an infectious laughter. He once convinced a
merchant to send honey on his behalf to the home of the
32 | Q - NEWS
The Day the
How do you feel about going to a nasheed concert? Elated? Cautious?
Determined (especially if Sami Yusuf is coming) to get in to the venue
at any cost? Are contemporary Muslims performers recreating the same
MTV-style hype that their brand of religiously-inspired music was
supposed to spurn? With nasheed music become increasingly slick and
corporate, Suma Din reports on a growing concern that this promising
industry has lost its bearings - a victim of its own phenomenal success.
hat contemporary nasheed music has had a major first major ‘Islamic music’ concert in Toronto, Canada not far
T impact on young Muslims in Britain and North
America and beyond is undeniable. It has provided a
soundtrack for the emergence of a distinctly religious cultural
from his hometown of Kitchener. At one point during the
second set, he doubled over gagging. What he later described
as a profound lack of “spit control”, seemed to the audience
identity and has provided an aesthetic artistic expression and a moment of raw emotion. He had stopped his performance
language that is deliberately at odds with the bling-bling, in the middle of poignant verse on the sacrifice of the Prophet
bump-and-grind vulgarity that is the hallmark of so much Ibrahim. Quickly recovering his breath and clearing his throat
popular music today. The pioneers of this “Islamic sound” Dawud continued. Most of the audience couldn’t hold back
worked against the odds to create what today is an emerging their tears. An unlikely star was born.
industry and yet many of those same pioneers are now Wharnsby-Ali is often introduced with two words - total
declaring that the scene today is no longer one that they humility. One of the first popular nasheed artists in English,
recognise. his lyrics are introspective and catchy. Working with
A decade ago, there was no argument over how an artist’s Soundvision, a US-based producer and distributor of Islamic
image was to be marketed - one would be lucky to get hold of education products - Wharnsby-Ali produced his first four
a tape, let alone catch a glimpse of the artists themselves. albums of spiritual songs for Muslim children doing few live
Nowadays, concerts - filling major venues like Royal Albert performances. “I was totally against live performances,” he
Hall and Wembley Arena - have brought a new public recalls, “because I had a tremendous fear that live shows
dimension to ‘Islamic entertainment’. When I started listening would lead to songs about Allah being treated like some sort
to nasheeds, it was a way of creating a musical connection to of ‘alternative’ to mainstream music. For me, music has
my spirituality. Now it’s about screaming fans, autographed always been a spiritual tool. My songs about Allah or
CDs and tickets selling on eBay. Muhammad were never meant to be just a form of
I’m not trying to “bah humbug” the genre - but I want to entertainment, but a form of worship and learning. It’s the
know how the nasheed industry - its artists, promoters and case with all the songs I write. I have always considered
producers - maintain its core purpose and value when the myself a ‘writer’, not a ‘pop singer’.”
savvy consumers are obviously demanding and expecting a The growing popularity of his folksy nasheeds meant he
product that is thoroughly at home among HMV’s chart was invited to sing and talk to young people and soon began
toppers. to oblige. At one concert organised for a children’s group he
When Dawud Wharnsby-Ali walked on stage for his first arrived only to find, five hundred adults and fifteen children.
live musical performance since becoming Muslims, it was Perhaps they were looking for their “inner child".
with some trepidation. It was 1997 and he was singing at the With the recent proliferation of slickly organised nasheed
34 | Q - NEWS
concerts, Wharnsby-Ali has been reticent to perform. “I importantly, with God. Some people may interpret my work
wanted to assert my own vibe on the medium - bringing more as ear candy, while others may let the messages penetrate
than just ‘songs’ to the stage, but also the ‘in between song more deeply into their hearts. As an artist though, I know I
khutbahs’ reminding the audience to focus on issues, not just am not a puppet. I don’t write for an audience, I don’t write
the songs or the artists. When I started performing in the UK for a specific faith group, I don’t write to sell CDs. I write
with The Fletcher Valve Drummers I was directly aiming to what feels true to me.”
buck the whole lip-sync trend, where audience members pay The sentiment is admirable and important. Nasheed
to see a live concert and end up seeing singers with phoney writing is a genuine attempt to connect with a community
backing vocalists and pre-recorded music. I truly wanted that needs a sense of belonging and a positive self image. A
audiences to feel the power of music and rhythm, and few years ago going to a nasheed concert was less fun than
experience a ‘live’ show and not a ‘lie’ show.” going to a wake. There was no clapping, cheering or public
Zain Bhika from South Africa is another one of the expression of support or appreciation for the artist except the
nasheed scene’s well known performers. His work with Yusuf occasional ‘takbeer’. The scene during the recent Meem
Islam’s Jamal Records label secured him international Music organised nasheed tour was completely different - a
exposure. He too is jaded by current trends. After a recent crowd of more than a thousand young people cheered and
performance with Wharnsby-Ali at a small recital organised laughed their way through a dizzying array of performers
by Q-News at London’s Goodenough College, he explained from both sides of the Atlantic. For some such displays of
how promotional appearances start to impinge on the youthful fervour is a little too pop-concerty. On this point,
creativity of an artist, putting pressure on them to think of Dawud disagrees with the naysayers, saying he feels
what the audience now wants to hear. “It’s the ‘the flavour of privileged to be part of young people “expressing themselves”
the month’ phenomena which defeats everything a true artist and sharing an atmosphere of warmth, and feeling they
is all about.” belong by clapping, calling out and “connecting” with his
And what is the artist’s real passion? Wharnsby-Ali message.
answers without missing a beat: “My songs are a reflection of What bother him are the faux trappings of an invented
my life, my faith and my observations of the world around stardom. He is dead set against “being whisked off stage like
me. I write about life, death, love, hope, social issues, a pop diva afterwards by over- the-top security crews, then
spiritual struggles, identity, belonging... in the end, there is no being hidden in a pretentious hotel like some sort of Middle
telling how it will be interpreted. Some listeners will find Eastern dignitary, being told I can’t chat with friends and
some sense of peace, or motivation to better their audience members because time won’t permit... I dislike the
relationships with their families, communities, or most vibe backstage where artists expect they deserve royal
Q - NEWS | 35
treatment or more money for before he embraced Islam, gets right
shows and a host of volunteers to the heart of these concerns:
Issues around fame, having a
to make them tea at the snap of “authentic nasheed that will
a finger.” fan following, audience provide by both content and
Wharnsby-Ali wants Islamic reactions open up context. The proper Islamic
music to take a different path, understanding is essential. By way
where artists, promoters and the philosophical, theological of context, the presentation of such
music companies are more debates. There are still those nasheed should be in an
accountable to listeners and to environment that encourages the
the original intent of the music. within Muslim communities best Islamic conduct and character.
Consumers and listeners too who condemn music as being This should become an excellent
have to stop “stop acting like alternative, particularly to our
sheep and ask, ‘Who is this prohibited. To them the youth - to learn about the principles
artist...really? Are they nasheed scene with its of Islam from the content, and the
legitimate? Does he or she really conduct and adab of the Muslims
represent what I believe in and
concerts, CDs and promotion by way of context.”
stand for, or am I just hyped on are an anathema. Nevertheless, Shah - who
them because they are all the manages five nasheed artists and
The recent decision by
rage?’ Eventually I hope we see three nasheed groups - knows that
young artists get out there with Dawud Wharnsby-Ali, Zain it’s difficult balance to achieve. He’s
their self-penned songs, in an Bhikha and more importantly got to produce quality, marketable
effort to change the world for entertainment, while retaining
the better, not just cash in on Yusuf Islam to pick up their humility and sincerity on stage and
some CD sales.” guitars again has raised the in promotion. The challenge is not
Tayyeb Shah knows a thing much different that that facing
or two about the music hackles of this vocal minority. ‘Christian Rock’ or other religious
industry. He started his career musical genres.
with Mountain of Light label in Tayyeb observes that “artists
its early years and was instrumental in a number of landmark have in recent years moved more and more away from delivering
projects including Yusuf Islam’s I Have No Cannons That outstanding vocal performances to providing an ‘entertaining’
Roar compilation of Muslim music of Bosnia that came out stage act and have sought to competitively outdo one another in
at the height of the ethnic cleansing campaign. the things they do on stage. Moreover, oftentimes I fear they fail
Shah is now the successful Managing Director of Meem to see the effects of their words and actions on stage - these can
Music, one the world’s leading nasheed record labels. be detrimental to nasheed scene as a whole.”
Undoubtedly the most experienced producer in Britain, Shah As one veteran Muslim activist remarked to me recently, the
has produced nearly fifty albums as well as organising organisers have a whole minefield of issues to deal with. Their
concerts across the world. The recent Celebrate Eid Tour earnest efforts are to deliver something of benefit and quality to
featured American “boy band” 786, Malaysian nasheed the listeners. In reality though, they have to juggle a range of
pioneers Raihan, Aa’shiq al Rasul and comedians Azhar views in their own organisation, record label stipulations, the
Usman and Preacher Moss. Tayyeb sees the concerts as “a artists’ well being and choices, as well as a host of practicalities.
means for the collective remembrance of Allah and His Issues around fame, having a fan following, audience reactions
Prophet (saw). It allows the audience to consume an art form open up philosophical, theological debates. There are still those
more in keeping with their deen and one which hopes to within Muslim communities who condemn music as being
imbibe good, positive messages. I’ve been involved in this prohibited. To them the nasheed scene with its concerts, CDs and
scene for over a decade and I can honestly say everyone I’ve promotion are an anathema. The recent decision by Dawud
met from the artists, labels, producers, organisers, down is Wharnsby-Ali, Zain Bhikha and more importantly Yusuf Islam to
involved primarily for spreading God’s message and pick up their guitars again has raised the hackles of this vocal
promoting it through the medium of nasheed, sacrificing minority.
work, holiday time, family time, money and much effort.” It was the alternative sound and message that first attracted
However, he too sees the need to reassess things when me to ‘nasheed artists’. The words and delivery were all about the
asked about artist promotion, image and concert atmosphere. values that mainstream music had lost - simplicity, sincerity,
This young industry, he says, “will understandably go humility. I never thought the music would ever be a scene.
through a learning process where the influence of the Western Frankly, neither did the devotees of grunge or rap. Nasheed music
music industry impinges in a negative way… but these are is certainly following the trajectory of its irreverent ‘once-were-
teething issues and very pale imitations of what goes on alternative’ cousins. Perhaps that’s the way of the industry on
elsewhere in mainstream society. All of us need to be wary of either side of the line that divides sacred music from profane.
too much imitation of the mainstream music scene. We need I was recently given a gift - a brand new nasheed album, by a
to involve and enlist the better help of our scholars in the brand new artist. It’s got all the qualities that drew me to the
West and preferably those who have a background and genre years ago. Maybe I’m nostalgic, but it’s his first album. He’s
affinity for music and nasheeds.” never had a photo shoot and doesn’t seem to have a PR agent
Advice coming from Imams such as Johari Abdul-Malik either. If his sound is as exciting to others as it is to me, it’s only
of Washington, DC. Imam Johari, a singer and musician a matter of time, alas, before he’ll have all that and more.
36 | Q - NEWS
he first thing
Habib Ali al-Jifri is his
smile - broad,
But beneath his gentle
demeanour is a steely
engage in a genuine
dialogue on the
meaningful role Islam
and Muslims must play
in the West. He’s no
pushover. Well read
and well travelled,
Habib Ali is a
scholar who brings a
keen sense of social
justice and relevance to
his teaching. A critic of
the economic and
political policies that
have brought misery to
places like Iraq,
Palestine and Africa,
he is a spiritual activist
who calls on Muslims
to reject the path of
anger and seek a
higher moral ground.
reports from London,
Copenhagen and Abu
Dhabi on the man and
The Mercy Warrior
ith all due respect, I abib Ali Zain al Abideen ibn
“W simply cannot under-
stand the nature of the
devotion you have for your Prophet,”
H Abd al-Rahman al-Jifri hails
from the Hadramawt Valley in
southern Yemen. His father Abd al-
the journalist said incredulously. Rahman al-Jifri was one of Yemen’s
“There is simply nothing I think of most influential political figures. Now
that holds that kind of sacred value in exile, he remains an important
for me. Perhaps, my love for my chil- opposition leader and serves as chair
dren is the nearest thing I can think of the National Opposition Front.
of.” Abd al-Rahman al-Jifri has consistent-
“Yes,” exclaimed Habib Ali al- ly rejected violence and advocated
Jifri, smiling. “We both love our chil- national unity on the grounds of
dren and would sacrifice anything for human rights and democracy.
their well being. We feel even more Habib Ali took a decidedly differ-
love and adoration than that for our ent path. Studying in Tarim, a historic
Prophet. He is dearer to us even than city known for its community of
our own children, even more than Islamic scholars, Habib Ali studied
ourselves.” and served some of the most illustri-
Sitting in a Turkish restaurant in ous scholars of the modern age. In the
London’s Farringdon Road, Habib Ali valley of Hadramawt the descendents
al-Jifri was meeting with a group of of the Prophet Muhammad himself
journalists, free speech defenders and settled generations ago and it is his
human rights activists to discuss the example that is celebrated in rich local
now well-konown bayan or declara- poetry and devotional music. The
tion of Islamic scholars issued in the studies in Tarim are more than just
aftermath of the global Muslim out- academic pursuits - they represent a
rage following publication of the rigorous lifestyle of prayer, study and
Jyllands-Posten cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be service. At the heart of the rigorous training is a gentle spirituali-
upon him, across Europe. The landmark declaration condemned ty that constantly reminds the young scholars to be mindful of the
the violent demonstrations and the resulting attacks on Danish Prophetic example and to place his merciful, generous ways at the
embassies, affirmed the principle of freedom of speech and ideas heart of one’s faith. Western students returning from Tarim
as something enshrined in Islam, while calling on the Danish gov- describe it as a place that reminds them of the Madinah talked
ernment and the international community to enact the necessary about in stories of the Prophet.
legislation to protect sacred symbols and prevent libellous attacks
on recognised founders of religious traditions. Signed by some of itting in Habib Ali’s modest hotel room overlooking a quiet
contemporary Islam’s most important scholars - including the
Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Jumua, Mauritanian jurist Shaykh
Abdullah bin Bayyah and Syrian theologian Dr Saeed Ramadan
S Copenhagen street, I glance at the morning edition of
Politiken, Denmark’s leading progressive daily. A picture of
Habib Ali kneeling in prayer almost covers the entire front page.
al-Bouti - the document had come about as a result of painstaking Few outside of Denmark would have understood the significance
negotiation and shuttle diplomacy much of which was carried out of the image. The previous night Habib Ali had debated represen-
by Habib Ali himself. tatives of the right-wing Danish People’s Party (DPP) and the
Habib Ali listened carefully to the sharp criticisms of the dec- country’s governing Liberals. Alongside him were the Kuwaiti-
laration raised during the meeting. When one participant based Tariq Suwaidan and the dynamic Egyptian preacher Amr
exclaimed that there were parts of the document that “just didn’t Khaled, who like Habib Ali are popular figures on Arab satellite
make sense” and were “simply incompatible” with a modern television. The debate took place in a cavernous hall that was once
understanding of free expression, Habib Ali responded, “then you home to the Politiken’s antiquated printing presses and has recent-
must write down your concerns, so I can take them back to the ly been turned into a venue for public debate and discussion. For
signatories. This declaration is not the end of a process but its Danish freedom of speech advocates this is hallowed ground,
beginning. We need intelligent people to respond to it, criticise it. where the Politiken’s campaigning journalists took on Denmark’s
Your comments will help clarify our perspectives and make them political establishment for decades.
stronger.” Habib Ali’s very public prayer in the hall raised the eyes of
One leading free speech rights campaigner remarked to me many. One Danish journalist later confided to me, “That picture
after the meeting, “I like your Shaykh. He’s young, he’s energetic had more impact than the debate itself. Here was a Muslim schol-
and - I’m not sure I should say this - he’s very handsome. He ar - with a turban and robes - completely at home in the temple of
smiles a lot and I usually don’t trust people who smile too much, free speech. It was like he was honouring our holy ground.”
but he’s different.” Politiken’s editorial line on the cartoons has been praised by
Since he started coming regularly to Europe and North Danish Muslims who have had few public defenders in the last
America to teach and speak, the thousands who have come to lis- few months. During the heated exchange, DPP parliamentarian
ten to him would certainly not disagree. Even though he speaks Soren Espersen shouted down criticisms from young Muslims call-
only in Arabic and his lectures are understood by most of his lis- ing them “pathetic complainers.” “Just get on with it,” he bel-
teners through translation, his message resonates profoundly with lowed to the jeers of the predominantly young Danish Muslim
young Western Muslims. crowd. “We are not here to be your welcoming committee, if you
38 | Q - NEWS
say you are Danish then you have all “The Prophet is not alive in and the Danish people themselves.
the rights of citizenship. I’m sick and Dialogue must address the ignorance
tired of this nonsense!” people’s hearts, he’s not alive in people have about Islam. But we
When Danish Muslim activist, their spiritual wayfaring or in the cannot treat them as they treat us -
Imran Hussain, reminded him that as all the same.”
senior DPP members had called
way they do things and even in He has particular praise for the
Danish Muslims “cockroaches” and the way they list their priorities, Danish Youth Council, an important
a “cancerous growth” that needed to national organisation seen as the
be excised, he merely shrugged.
and how they deal with others training ground for future politi-
Habib Ali’s response was point- around them. This is what we’re cians: “Many of the Danish youth
ed. “It is this attitude of arrogance missing, this is the real problem,” who took part are activists and
and this kind of dismissive behaviour future leaders who can go and help
that divides people. You do not con- Habib Ali contends. “We are change public opinion. This dialogue
sider these young people part of your angry about the cartoons, we has opened the door for a cultural
nation and your society. It is you exchange between us and the future
who are creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ showed the world that. We intellectual class here. In turn, these
and yet you don’t even realise that showed them our anger but we young Danes have been surprised by
there are people who look like you our openness and by how little they
and have your ethnicity, yet they are didn’t show them the love for the really know about Islam. I feel that
Muslims. Your idea of who is Danish Prophet Muhammad. So through much of the press here does not
and who isn’t is confused.” highlight the positive contributions
Habib Ali asked for all those
this year’s mawlid celebrations, that Danish Muslims are making. It
Muslims in the audience who were it’s important that people find out is like there is a sort of general insis-
ethnically Danish to stand up - these tence here of not really keeping the
were converts themselves, or chil-
why we love him, and through people in the picture, sort of cloud-
dren of converts. At least two dozen the remembrance of his noble ing their opinion so that the only
audience members stood up to the characteristics they will know the road that can be seen leads towards
thunderous applause of the crowd. clash and conflict.”
Espersen shook his head and seemed reasons for our love.”
for the first time that evening to be at day earlier Habib Ali had
a loss for words.
abib Ali walked into the room and greeted me, smiling,
A delivered the Friday sermon
at a storefront mosque in the
heart of Copenhagen’s Arab community belonging to the Wakf
H immediately asking if he could get me some coffee or
breakfast. Dressed in an immaculately pressed, white jal-
abiyya and wearing an equally unblemished skullcap, he shows
organisation whose leader Ahmed Abu Laban has been at the
head of the campaign to internationalise the cartoon controversy.
Habib’s message was short and direct: we love our Prophet more
his youthfulness in his broad gait and energetic, eager manner. than we love ourselves, but loving him means never compromis-
This morning however, his altogether pleasant and welcoming ing his high ethical standard and it means never being controlled
demeanour cannot hide the tiredness around his eyes. Since arriv- by our anger and rage.
ing in Copenhagen he has maintained a punishing pace - meeting, After the sermon I met Musa, an Eritrean with Danish citi-
speaking and doing press appearances from fajr prayers to late zenship. He was heartened by Habib’s words, “al-Jifri is a very
into the night. He has waded into a deeply fractured Muslim com- astute and clever man. I enjoyed his khutbah - it was short, effec-
munity and is seeking to help create a forum where disparate and tive and to the point. The Prophet demanded a lot from us and I
clashing parties can at least talk to each other. When he is not in think we have let him down. It’s hard not to be angry though, we
meetings or on a stage, he is on his mobile keeping in touch with go through a lot here.”
his many projects all over the world. Musa works as a lab technician and has been in Denmark for
His reason for being in Denmark is the launch of a dialogue 35 years. I ask if he feels Danish. He laughs sceptically, “Danish?
initiative organised by Amr Khaled’s RightStart Foundation and I feel like a stranger, I feel like an outsider. I feel like people will
the Danish Institute for International Relations, involving some not reach out to me so I won’t reach out to them. I can never run
50 young people from Denmark and the Muslim world. away from my faith and it’s my faith that concerns the people I
“We all have to stop speaking about ‘Islam and the West’,” he work with. They are always poking fun. I just keep quiet.” Musa
says. “There is no longer any ‘us’ and ‘them’. Islam is in the West. is angry. He says that while Muslims may be divided about what
It is part of the fabric of the West and it is a reality which is not Abu Laban did, “we are united against munafiqs like Naser
going to go away. The question is when will Europeans realise this Khader [leader of the secular Muslims who claim to be moderates.
and deal with Muslims as people who are no longer outsiders, but The government uses people like him against us. At least Abu
part of them?” Laban reflects my anger.”
Habib Ali is full of passion as he speaks and his exhaustion I tell Habib about the young men at the largest London rally
seems to melt away as he reflects on the dialogue: “This trip has who weren’t just talking about the cartoons but about Iraq,
assured me of something I already suspected that the Danish peo- Palestine, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. One young person from
ple are good people, that they are reasonable people. I am con- East London declared that, “There is no Britain! There is no
vinced that we have to make a distinction between those in the America! There’s just La ilaha ilallah!” How do we deal with an
government and who supported the publication of the cartoons anger that simmering and feels like it could boil over at any
Q - NEWS | 39
moment? of observation, but one that seems to
“We need to emphasise that
There is always something on inform his interactions with others.
while there is legitimate reasons for offer when Habib is around. He Like every good teacher, he lets his
anger it must be mediated by the makes sure there are gifts for eyes take the scene in.
sacred law. Anger is no excuse for There is always something on
ignorance of our principles and our guests, food for visitors and the offer when Habib is around. He
way of life. We have to revive the offer of help and assistance makes sure there are gifts for guests,
spirit of brotherly connections, food for visitors and the offer of help
whether it is to neighbours, family or whatever the situation. Sitting in and assistance whatever the situation.
friends to bring back this connection on one late night strategy session, Sitting in on one late night strategy
between people, and to do it in a session, I noticed him quietly open a
manner that is informed by the I noticed him quietly open a box box of chocolates, and proceed to lob
Prophetic guidance. Connection of chocolates, and proceed to lob them at those assembled urging them
with others on a brotherly level or a to step lively and have a sweet. It
neighbourly level eventually leads to
them at those assembled urging broke the seriousness in the room
a lessening of the anger, because we them to step lively and have a and everybody started laughing.
see when these connections are built The process of initiating these
up and further developed. We need
sweet. It broke the seriousness in cross-cultural and international dia-
to renew our core belief in the the room and everybody started logues hasn’t been easy. Some leading
unseen - that is why we make sincere laughing. personalities in the Arab world have
supplication to Allah, because we dismissed these attempts at exchange
have certainty about Him. If some- as simply misguided and Habib Ali’s
one feels frustrated and he feels all scholarly credentials have been ques-
doors are closed, then the door of Allah is the one that is always tioned: stick to preaching, say the naysayers, and talking about
open. Frustration should guide one to look to Allah for guidance matters of the soul, and leave the big issues to people who under-
on what he should be doing.” stand global politics.
Habib Ali is undeterred. He embraces the idea that the world
abib Ali is not just a spiritual teacher detached from the is now no more than a global village and is acutely aware that his
H concerns of Muslim communities. At a major public lec-
ture in London last December he took a strong political
line, calling on people of justice to oppose the occupation of Iraq
message is not just the right one, but that it is resonating with
and Palestine and use every political means of opposing policies at ast month, in Abu Dhabi, Habib Ali invited a group of
home and abroad that are unjust. His message of civic action is
guided though by Prophetic principles. The high moral ground
and ethics of faith can never be compromised in the struggle for
L Danish youth leaders - with several Muslims amongst them -
and a group of young Muslims from Europe, North
America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, to come together
social justice and peace. His is a spiritual activism borne of noble for a four day gathering entitled Litaarafu: The Search for Mutual
conviction. Understanding organised under the direction of the Tabah
“The Prophet is not alive in people’s hearts, he’s not alive in Foundation, the UAE-based think-tank and research centre of
their spiritual wayfaring or in the way they do things and even in which Habib Ali is the director. Over four days of discussions,
the way they list their priorities, and how they deal with others debate, and an evening under the desert skies, the participants
around them. This is what we’re missing, this is the real problem,” eventually reached some common ground. Strong difference
Habib Ali contends. remained, but what Tabah hoped to accomplish through the ini-
“We are angry about the cartoons, we showed the world that. tiative was to create an example of good practice, documenting
We showed them our anger but we didn’t show them the love for why such dialogues really do work.
the Prophet Muhammad. So through this year’s mawlid celebra- It’s easy to be cynical, after all a handful of well-educated,
tions, it’s important that people find out why we love him, and largely liberal minded students aren’t going to change the opinions
through the remembrance of his noble characteristics they will of nations. However, the fruits of the exchange were seen in little
know the reasons for our love.” He has recently adopted the ways.
Arabic slogan Hayyun fi Qulubina (Alive in Our Hearts) as a ral- The night before the closing ceremonies, a small group of del-
lying cry for this call to adopt the Prophetic values. egates gathered around a laptop in the darkened conference cen-
How do you explain to someone, like the journalist at the dis- tre trying to negotiate the text of the resolution that would be pre-
cussion in London, why we love the Prophet? “People love in gen- sented to the press in the morning. After several hours of horse
eral for three reasons jamal, kamal, and ihsan. Jamal is beauty, trading words and phrases, the declaration seemed like it was in
kamal is completeness or perfection and ihsan is excellence. We hand. That was until one of the Danish student leaders suggested
have to get out the message that we see all these three aspects in that there should be a phrase stating that the Danes had learned
the Prophet and it’s these attributes that people actually need in about Muslim faith and practice and had also begun to under-
their lives today.” stand the depth of love and devotion Muslims had for the
Habib Ali is an impeccable listener. When others are speaking, Prophet. The objections surprisingly came from some of the
he’s completely focused and just to be sure, he asks questions that Muslim draftees who felt such a statement would seem lopsided in
show that he’s been paying attention. Habib Ali is also a keen favour of the Muslim delegates, but the Danes were adamant.
observer; he notices body language and pays attention to all those “We want to demonstrate support for Habib Ali’s vision. We want
non-verbal cues that communicate so much. It’s not a sneaky kind people here and abroad to know that it has been a success.” In the
40 | Q - NEWS
end the naming of the Prophet Muhammad in the declaration was
followed by “peace be upon him” - included, again, at the insis-
tence of the Danes.
At the closing ceremonies, the delegates gave Habib Ali al-Jifri
and fellow guest renowned scholar Dr Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti
three standing ovations. One of the delegates, a young Danish
woman, said, “Without Habib Ali we would never have had this
opportunity. He is our friend and a true teacher.”
abib Ali continues to teach for several weeks a year at Dar
H al Mustafa, one of the many seminaries in Tarim. He still
studies with several master scholars and returns to his
teachers for guidance regularly. During an unusually quiet
moment during his whirlwind Copenhagen trip, I asked Habib Ali
what he remembered most about his teachers.
“When I was ten years old, I remember spending time [with my
teacher] Habib Abd al-Qadir Saqqaf. I saw the shama’il of the
Prophet Muhammad reflected in him before I even read about them
in a book. When I was with Habib Abd al-Qadir he reminded me
of the mercy of the Prophet, the gentleness of the Prophet and the
patience and forbearance of the Prophet, peace be upon him. When
I think of Habib Ahmed Mashhur Al Haddad, I remember his pres-
ence with Allah. He was always present with his Lord, and this
awareness was palpable. It affected us deeply. I’d find stories in the
books of tasawwuf that speak of how some of the great masters
were in a constant state of witnessing the presence of Allah - I felt
that in him.”
fter the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi dialogue, Habib Ali
A prepared for another long stretch of traveling - Syria to
Kenya to the United Kingdom for the Uniting for the
Prophet 2006 program at Wembley Conference Centre. He feels a
great responsibility to help others spiritually. I ask aloud, what
sustains him in his work?
“There is an authentic narration of the Prophet Muhammad
that after he is first granted intercession on the Day of Judgment,
they will still remain some people in hellfire who are Muslim, and
so the Prophet, peace be upon him - not wanting this to happen -
will prostrate himself before the throne of Allah and ask Allah to
take them out. Allah would grant his request and still some would
remain. So he would return to Allah a second time, and a third
time, until one last person would remain in the hellfire. And Allah
would then say that anyone who just said ‘La ilaha ilallah’ with
honesty even once in their life should enter Paradise. So seeing
that after all of the struggles and all of the strife, and all that the
Prophet, peace be upon him, sacrificed for this ummah, he didn’t
want to go to Paradise - he wouldn’t feel comfortable there - while
even one of the people who believed in him remained back. This
gives the impetus and the inspiration to continue calling to Allah
and the truth. We have to do this for the sake of the Prophet, peace
be upon him, because we don’t want him to feel this discomfort
on the Day of Judgment.” He smiles and asks, “It just makes
sense, doesn’t it?”
Habib Ali’s spiritual activism seeks to bridge the false gap
between Islam and the West, Muslim and non-Muslim. His call to
his brothers and sisters to seek a higher moral ground without giv-
ing up their commitment to their faith, their Prophet and social
justice is just the kind of difficult challenge that many young
Muslims - jaded by circular, angry and impotent political rhetoric
- might be willing to embrace.
Photographs courtesy of Peter Sanders.
A Loss of a
The late Dr Zaki Badawi was loved well beyond the Muslim communities he
served over his long and extraordinary career. The morning of 16 March
2006 saw a remarkable gathering of men and women who came to London’s
School of Oriental and African Studies to remember this legacy. In his
moving eulogy, HRH The Prince of Wales spoke of Dr Badawi’s desire to
reconcile hearts to the way of God and to see faith not just as a common
treasure but a means to give beauty and truth back to the world.
our excellencies, Archbishop, Chief Rabbi, Lady who could help advise me on issues surrounding the
Y Badawi - ladies and gentlemen. There are many peo-
ple here today who are infinitely better qualified to
speak about dear Zaki Badawi than I am and who can
Muslim Community in this country and on wider Islamic
matters elsewhere in the world.
I wanted to learn and understand as much as I could
speak with far greater authority on the role he played with- about the rich complexities within Islam; about the subtle
in our Muslim community. nuances surrounding a whole framework for life; about
All I can contribute is the deep sense of affection and the origins and history of one of the three great Abrahamic
admiration which I felt for, first and foremost, a truly faiths founded, above all, on the profound mystery of
remarkable character whose genius lay in the way he could divine revelation.
communicate the wisdom of the heart across so many And, of course, it is divine revelation that forms the
boundaries - boundaries of culture, religion and ethnicity. central tap-root from which the Abrahamic traditions
Zaki had come to play such a vital role in the life of draw their inspiration. Zaki understood this so well and
our country and in the lives of so many people like myself taught me so much about the Islamic heritage - what he
that his sudden and unexpected departure from our midst described to me in a letter prior to my visit to the Muslim
has merely heightened our immense sense of real loss; the College two years ago as “a common treasure from which
kind of loss we experience when a noble and veteran tree we take its most precious jewels to enrich our life and
is uprooted from a much loved landscape. advance our knowledge.”
It takes us a long time to become used to the terrible He went on to say that “our programme realizes that
gap left behind; to the absence of the reassuring sound of the common language of faith is that of beauty and spiri-
the wind through its old, familiar branches. If we feel this tualism.” He told me that he knew these aspects were close
sense of emptiness, then how much worse it must be for his to my heart, along with a love of Islamic and traditional
devoted wife and family, to whom my heart goes out on architecture. And why do I have a love of such things?
this special occasion. Because of an awareness that the beauty of form, pat-
Thinking back, I must have come across Zaki Badawi tern and colour (as manifested in Islamic and other tradi-
quite some years ago - perhaps fifteen - at a time when I tional arts) is not simply aesthetically pleasing or demon-
felt it was essential to establish a small group of people strative of good design, but is representative of a more pro-
42 | Q - NEWS
found universal order. astrous conflicts around the world
Likewise, that the intricate and - such as in the Balkans - to see
subtle patterns of Nature transcend how people who had lived side by
the purely decorative realm and side for generations, and whose
embody a profound and timeless mosques, synagogues and churches
beauty. It is all to do with beauty, as had shared the centres of their
Zaki so well knew - or with truth, towns and cities were suddenly
goodness and beauty, as Plato inflamed by passionate hatred
should persistently remind us. towards each other.
Have you noticed that the Distorted versions of divine
more we tear down the beauty revelation in the hands of distorted
around us which has sustained leadership inevitably engender
people’s souls for generations, the appalling violence, hatred and
uglier our souls become; the less destruction of other people’s lives
courteous and considerate our sur- and most sacred shrines and treas-
roundings are, the less courteous ured objects.
and considerate we are to one Zaki devoted so much of his
another; the more the ego predom- life to an investment in enlightened
inates in everything, the more leadership for the future because he
offensive we become to Nature knew that, ultimately, it was not
herself, and then literally nothing is the fault of the great religions
allowed to be sacred? themselves that so much death and
And yet to have any chance of destruction occurs, but the leader-
repairing the bridges between our
Have you noticed that ship that causes the misinterpreta-
faiths and to restore the harmony the more we tear down tion of the original divine inspira-
that is surely God’s greatest and tion and the deliberate obfuscation
most mysterious gift to the whole
the beauty around us of the profound truth that we are
created universe and the essence of which has sustained all following slightly different paths
Man’s relationship with the Divine, people’s souls for to the same ultimate, universal
surely we have to try to understand Truth that all the greatest mystics
and to respect what is sacred to generations, the uglier throughout human history have
each of us? our souls become; the less defined as residing in the divine
This, of course, was Zaki’s attributes of mercy, love, compas-
great genius, as exemplified in his courteous and considerate sion and, indeed, beauty. The great
programme for the Muslim College our surroundings are, the 14th century poet, Hafiz, wrote:
which seeks to produce leaders Every edifice you see in the world is
who not only master Islamic sub- less courteous and flawed subject to destruction,
jects, but who also have a full considerate we are to one Except the edifice of love, which is
appreciation of other faiths and flawless and indestructible.
cultures, especially British culture.
another; the more the ego Zaki knew that there could be
One of the main objects for my predominates in no true peace between us all with-
being here today is to pay tribute to out peace in our own, individual
Zaki’s noble, compassionate and
everything, the more hearts. His life’s work was surely
far-sighted vision - a vision that offensive we become to dedicated to nurturing that percep-
understood, above all, the crucial Nature herself, and then tion and realization of inner peace.
importance of a heart-centred, We owe him a profound debt of
enlightened Muslim religious edu- literally nothing is gratitude for his heartfulness - a
cation that he believed so passion- allowed to be sacred? debt I am only too proud to owe to
ately would help Muslims to inte- a man whose wise and sympathetic
grate into British Society without - presence we miss so much. May
and here is the crux of the matter - losing their identity. God rest his dear, departed soul.
I am also here today to beg you to ensure that his lega-
cy is protected and nurtured - a legacy made manifest in Pictured opposite: Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop
the graduation of competent Imams, responsible journal- of Canterbury; Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks; Dr
ists and enlightened political leaders such as the minister Mohammed Sherif; and HRH Princess Badiya El Hassan
responsible for religious affairs in Malaysia, Dato’ Abdul of Jordan.
Hamid Zainal Abidin, and a member of the Afghan
Constitution drafting Committee, Fatima Gailani. This memorial was organised by the World Islamic Call
Zaki understood so well that at the end of the day lead- Society, the Muslim College and an organising committee
ership is the key to everything. After all, it was Napoleon chaired by Fuad Nahdi. Other guests included Home
who said that there is “no such thing as bad soldiers, only Secretary Charles Clarke, Prof Fawzi Elzefzaf of Al-Azhar
bad officers.” You only have to look at so many of the dis- University and the Muftis of Australia and Nigeria.
Q - NEWS | 43
Al-Hajjah Farizah Rabbat
Umm Ibrahim Al-Yaqoubi Al-Hasani
By Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi Al-Hasani
‘Grief and sorrow upon the loss of my heart’
y Dear brothers and sisters, relatives, friends, stu- lips (presumably with shahada, and dhikr) but could not
M dents and supporters throughout the world: As-
Salamu `Alaykum Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatuh.
“Indeed, we belong to Allah, and to Him we must surely
make it to the hospital.
As an English teacher, Umm Ibrahim worked in a neigh-
boring school teaching the first three grades. She has had this
return!” job for the past three years and always considered it an
With grief and sorrow, I share with you the tragic loss of important mission; it fulfilled her ambitions. She liked to
my beloved wife, my companion, and the love of my heart Al- improve herself through reading and training, through which
Hajjah Farizah Aal Rabbat, known as Umm Ibrahim, she acquired many skills in recent years, including NLP and
Rahimaha Allah, who is also the mother of my three children Homeopathy. She loved social activities and had a strong per-
(Aisha, Ibrahim and Ismael). sonality. She was an excellent housewife and a great cook.
Allah chose her out of this world to enter al-Jannah on the But most of all, what distinguished Umm Ibrahim, and
very birthday of His Beloved Prophet (sallalahu ‘alayhi wasal- the reason for which I had chosen her as a wife, was her right-
lam) through the door of martyrs. I do not object to His Will: eousness, persistence in worship, and her sincerity to the deen.
we belong to Him and our return is to Him; whatever He For instance, in the last few months of her life, she used to
takes is undoubtedly His, and whatever He gives is undoubt- pray 100 rak’as of salah everyday. She recited Surat al-Baqara
edly His. everyday, oftentimes with Surat al-An’am. Qiyamullayl deco-
She left this world on Monday 12th of Rabi’ Al-Awwal, rated her nights, and was something she would hardly miss.
1427 (April 10th 2006), around 5:00 pm in a car accident She always had new ideas to promote da’wah and attract
while she was driving from our home outside Damascus people to the true way of Islam. She devoted her life to her
toward the city to visit her family and attend a mawlid. At the family and to students of sacred knowledge. After prayer and
same time, I was leading a mawlid feast in the city. She died recitation of al-Qur’an, nothing was dearer to her than serv-
at 37 years of age, and was approximately five months preg- ing the students, cooking for them, and taking care of their
nant with a baby boy who also died. Just a few hours before needs.
the accident we had agreed to name him Shareef. The night before she died, she prepared food for my
With her in the car, she had our three children, Aisha, guests as we were having a feast in our home on the occasion
Ibrahim and Ismael who are 8, 6, and 5 years old respective- of 12th of Rabi’ Al-Awwal, the anniversary of the Birth of the
ly; and her maid Nour. By the Bounty of the Most Generous, Beloved of Allah. Six days earlier, on Tuesday 6th Rabi’ Al-
they survived the accident but were all injured at various lev- Awwal, she cooked for 150 guests, insisting she did not want
els. They are still in hospital being treated. Please continue to to order the food. She used to prepare the most delicious food
make du’aa for them. at our weekly dhikr session for 50 people. One week before
On Sunday night, (the night of 12th of Rabi’ Al-Awwal), she died, she said, when I was trying to convince her to order
we had a blessed mawlid gathering in our home. Monday, the food, “I find cooking for the students light and easy, and I
day she died, we had brunch together with the kids and I told don’t want to be deprived from its rewards. I know what they
her I wanted to take her and the kids in August to al-Madina like, and the food brought from the market is fatty for them".
al-Munawwara, where she can deliver her baby. She was Such was her amazing dedication.
extremely happy and took my word that I will name the boy Moreover, she liked jabrul Khawatir, so at Eid times, she
Shareef. used to prepare bags full of sweets and gifts to hand over to
I left home at 1:30 pm on Monday for a dars and a kids in poor neighborhoods. She used to make Eid parties for
mawlid in the city. At 5:15 pm I received the news of the acci- the foreign students and organise special programs for their
dent and immediately headed to the hospital, only to find out children.
that she had given her last breaths. Later on, the rescuers told Some 3000 people attended her funeral, which took place
us that when they reached her she was still alive moving her on Tuesday after Zuhr prayer at Jami’ al-Badr in Damascus.
44 | Q - NEWS
Three years ago, upon a visit to the children. Make du`aa espe-
Bab al-Saghir cemetery, where cially that Allah help the three
my ancestors are buried, she said children cope with the loss of
to me, “When I die, bury me in their mother, and that the shock,
the graves of your family, I want when they learn the news, may
to be with Ahlul Bait.” easily be absorbed. Make du’aa
By the Grace of Allah, she for her parents, as the tragic loss
was buried bearing a grandson of is indeed difficult for them. And
the Beloved Messenger of Allah, please do continue to make spe-
in the grave of my mother, Al- cial du`aa for Umm Ibrahim that
Sayyida Ameenah Mansoor al- Allah grant her Mercy and
Jaza’irly al-Hasani, who passed Forgiveness and reward her with
away also in the month of April Jannatul Firdaws.
in 1996, just a few months before I end with the following
myself and Umm Ibrahim got dreams. A Syrian sister saw
married. Umm Ibrahim had met Umm Ibrahim coming into a
my mother one week before my room, filled with light. Umm
mother died. Her grave is only a Ibrahim said to her, “Don’t
few meters away from the daugh- worry about me; I am in the best
ter of Imam al-Husain, Sayyidah state". A brother by the name
Fatima al-Sughra. Zahir saw her calling Imam Abul
I am happy with her now, Hasan al-Shadhiliy, which shows
and I was happy with her before the blessings in the attachment to
she died, as she was happy with our great shadhili silsila, as she
me. In the past few weeks before was part of it, took tariqa over a
she died, she told her mother and year ago. Another sister saw on
a few friends over the phone, the same morning she died, that
even the morning of her death, a righteous woman passed away
how happy she was in her mar- ‘I would like to offer my deepest in Damascus, during the day, she
riage. According to a Prophetic learned of the death of Umm
statement when a woman dies thanks and gratitude to all the Ibrahim.
while her husband is happy with scholars, the friends, the Yes, indeed Umm Ibrahim did
her she will enter al-Jannah. I not survive the accident but in
have seen several signs that she students, male and female, in fact she did survive in my heart
will be in al-Jannah. Obviously, Syria and throughout the world, and I am sure she will survive in
the servants of the Ahlul Bayt will the hearts of those who love her.
be in al-Jannah, let alone the
who supported me and my May Allah grant her the high-
wives or mothers of Ahlul Bayt. children and Umm Ibrahim’s est ranks in al-Jannah and the
Many outstanding personali- company of my Grandfather, our
family in this difficult time.
ties and scholars spoke during the Master, the best of creation, the
three-day sessions of condolences Nothing is enough to thank the Beloved Messenger of Allah,
held on her behalf. They includ- many thousands of brothers and Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam.
ed: Sayyif al-Fatih al-Kittani, May Allah give her her book in
Shaykh Dr. Sa’id Ramadan al- sisters in Damascus and around her right hand and let her enter
Bouti; Shaykh Krayyim Rajih, the globe who stood with us Jannah without reckoning. May
Shaykh Dr. Abdullatif Farfoor, He make her grave a garden from
Shaykh Abdullah Rabih, Shaykh during this trial.’ the Gardens of Paradise. May
Abdul Aziz al-Khateeb, Shaykh Allah reward all brothers and sis-
Abul Hasan al-Kurdi, Shaykh Ahmad Ramadan, Shaykh ters, and shaykhs and ‘Ulama, and everyone who made Du’a
Na’im al-'Araqsoosi, Shaykh Sariyah al-Rifa’i, and many oth- for her and for me and for the children in the best way. May
ers. Allah protect them and their families, their parents and their
Last but not least, I would like to offer my deepest thanks children and allow us all to meet in Jannatul Firdaws in the
and gratitude to all the scholars, the friends, the students, company of the Elect and the Beloved of Allah, Rasulullah
male and female, in Syria and throughout the world, who Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam.
supported me and my children and Umm Ibrahim’s family in
this difficult time in every form. Nothing is enough to thank Allahumma Ameen.
the many thousands of brothers and sisters in Damascus and
around the globe who stood with us during this trial. The unworthy servant of the people of Allah,
I beg you to continue your du’aa for the full recovery of Muhammad.
Q - NEWS | 45
The Family That
Walks On All Fours
Adam Goren finds a new documentary examining a family of
Kurdish Muslim “quadrupeds” a disturbing attempt to legitimise
scientific voyeurism. Yet confronted with poking, prodding and ego-
driven researchers, he finds a family struggling against the odds held
together by love, faith and a forgiving way of life.
s the camera tracks across a set of sandy footprints genetic throwbacks or the missing link between ape and
A on a glittering night-blue shoreline, a woman’s voice
begins, “about four million years ago our distant
ancestors did something amazing… It is the moment, for
man, let alone make a documentary film about their ape-
like walk. It would never pass the ethics committee. One is
left asking whether such a voyeuristic film was able to be
many, that we made the leap from ape to man” If you did- made because the family is poor and from a remote region
n’t know the title of this BBC commissioned documentary of the world.
you would be forgiven for assuming it was another flashy This would be contentious enough if it was not for the
reconstruction of how we supposedly used to be, using fact that this particular family is Kurdish and living near the
hairy extras, digital enhancement and lingering shots of southern border of Turkey with Syria. Here, Islam is the
backlit fossil remains. But this is no reconstruction. weft and warp that binds people’s lives. It would be easy to
“Imagine”, continues the woman, “that there are human jump into the Adam and Eve versus Evolution debate the
beings who never made this leap". The next shot is the producers raise with striking graphics and claps of thunder.
astonishing sight of a fully-grown woman walking on all Indeed, teaching Darwin is a serious issue and not only in
fours; back arched, arms and legs extended, feet and hands Turkey, as they rightly point out. What is perhaps more
splayed. interesting is the contrast between the family and the scien-
This is one of the six disabled children of Regit Ulas, a tists examining them. For you get a striking and paradoxi-
humble farmer eking out a living from the land. His wife cal sense that faith and limited means nurture far greater
had nineteen children in all. One died, twelve others sur- humility, mutual respect and self-acceptance than science
vived to be perfectly healthy adults. The film, screened on and prosperity.
BBC2 last month, is entitled The Family That Walks On All Scientists can be particularly competitive and cantan-
Fours. It immediately, and deliberately, one suspects, con- kerous. Asked to comment about “truth”, they usually talk
jures an image of a family unit living like apes. So begins a about objective or observable empirical data. But they can
piece of sensationalist documentary filmmaking. It con- sometimes ignore the glaringly obvious when it does not
cludes that four of the six brain damaged adults, who have accord with their worldview. In 1925, for example, a young
been intermittently prodded, poked, assessed and scanned, female astronomer, Cecilia Payne, submitted her PhD paper
cannot walk upright for lack of physiotherapy and a showing that the sun was predominantly composed of
Zimmer frame. hydrogen and not iron. But her Harvard supervisor rejected
Two of the six adults are able to walk unaided. From a the evidence on the grounds that it was simply not possible.
Pediatric therapist’s perspective, their clumsy uncoordinated The sun must be composed of a similar proportion of ele-
gait looks like a disorder called Ataxia, although they do ments to the earth. He made her re-write her paper to
not mention this in the film. Indeed, all these adults have declare that what she observed was “almost certainly not
damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in real". She was later spectacularly vindicated. One of the sci-
maintaining balance and strongly associated with Ataxia. entists on this documentary, Esteban Sarmiento, in alluding
The fact that Mr Ulas is closely related to his wife makes it to the biblical story of creation, says, “We often accept sto-
more likely that their children have a genetic disorder. It ries that allow us to view ourselves in a positive light". Yet,
appears to have an ataxic component. There are many chil- throughout the programme it is shown that scientists are
dren and adults living amongst us with inherited forms of hypothesising about these disabled individuals in print with-
Ataxia, for example, the single gene disorder Ataxia out substantive evidence to support their claims. They are
Telangiectasia. There are even a few cases of developmental working on it, they say, and it may take months or years to
disabilities of unknown genetic origin. But here is the rub of achieve a breakthrough.
it. No one would ever dare suggest that such people are Teams of them from England, Germany and Turkey and
46 | Q - NEWS
Photograph © Passionate Productions
the US examine the blood, brain scans, gait, neurological be done for them? It turns out that some parallel bars and a
responses, speech and hand function of Mr Ulas’s children. Zimmer frame can transform their lives. It is potentially
What comes across is a kind of avarice, a drive to discover possible that they will all walk upright. When Mr Ulas dis-
and possess a new truth. They want to be the first in their covers this he is clearly overwhelmed with gratitude.
field and their hubris is staggering. One of them speculates Scientific progress provides the kind of prosperity,
irresponsibly about a ‘super-balance’ gene, another names longevity and comfort that we enjoy whilst watching the
the syndrome he supposes he’s discovered after himself and plight of this family from our living room sofas. But it does
a third is convinced he has found, in these people, a reces- not and cannot eradicate suffering. In my work as a chil-
sive trait for human quadrupedality. dren’s therapist I see a good deal of it. Parents love their
It comes as no surprise to find one academic, Professor children just as this Kurdish family does, and would do any-
Nicholas Humphrey of the London School of Economics, thing to help them. But they may still be left with the
describing a fellow scientist’s study as ‘trivial’. It gets worse. prospect of a child who will never be able to walk or write
Four zealous paleo-anthropologists are pictured grouped or get a job or have a family. This is something that many
around a TV screen, analysing footage of the disabled parents find painfully difficult to accept. Some never do.
adults as if they were lab specimens. They sneer at each Our prosperous secular society seems to foster an expec-
other’s views and engage in petty squabbles. One of these tation of life with limited suffering and bright prospects.
scientists, William Harcourt-Smith of the American There is little or no room for the Islamic concept of maktub
Museum of Natural History, is encouraged to admit that, of or “what is written". The downside is an increased intoler-
course, he would like to pick over the skeletons of the ance to adversity. As Professor Frank Furedi, of the
Kurdish Quadrupeds, slickly adding “but that’s just not ok University of Kent, makes clear in his book, Paranoid
ethically". Parenting, this difficulty coping with bad stuff is not limit-
The Gollum-like pawing of these respected academics, ed to things that actually happen to us like the death of a
as they look for what one of them calls ‘the glittering prize’, loved one or the birth of a severely disabled child. It is also,
could not contrast more starkly with the humble ways of he says, leading to a morbid fear of imagined disasters that
Mr Ulas and his children. At no point in the documentary could befall us at any moment, and which we must guard
does he ask why this has happened to his family. For him, it against with diligence in daily life. He asserts that parents
is the will of Allah and the way in which he is tested. All he are much more anxious than they used to be. Paradoxically,
wishes for, he says, is that his children are cared for once he despite unprecedented levels of health care, personal choice
leaves this world. And he is sure this will be the case since and wealth, they feel more out of control.
he and his wife have done good deeds in this life. For her As the makers of this documentary recognise, to their
part, his wife describes her children as the most intimate credit, Regit Ulas and his children possess something that
part of her. “They are like my insides” the Turkish psychol- the scientists do not: a faith that teaches acceptance. Whilst
ogist, Fefne, falteringly translates. Whilst their village com- there have been leaps in technological progress to alleviate
munity has partly ostracized them, they continue to treat and even eradicate certain disabilities, suffering continues to
each other with respect and acceptance, as they do the sci- be an integral part of the human experience. And if our only
entists and the film crews despite the risk that this might council is Jean-Paul Sartre’ bleak existentialist philosophy
infuriate the locals or the authorities. With the relentless or Dylan Thomas’ bitter exhortation to “Rage, rage against
testing and continued hypothesising, the Turkish psycholo- the dying of the light”, then we may want to turn to Mr
gist’s frustration boils over. She tells the eminent Professor Ulas for an example of a more forgiving way of living.
Humphrey that she could not care less about how these peo-
ple came to be like this. The important question is what can This film is a production by Passionate Productions.
Q - NEWS | 47
Wielding the Hammer of Discontent
Mujadad Zaman finds that Brian Hayes’ latest examination of the urban landscape
provides a much-needed starting point for re-examining aesthetics and beauty in the
built environment. It’s something, he contends, Islamic civilisation has a lot to say about.
tility makes purity - thus intoned been a distinction between fine art and craft.
U Immanuel Kant arguably laying
down the standard for aesthetic
judgment that has lasted for almost three
Traditionally this dichotomy was not needed
as the poet or carpenter both had the skill to
produce objects of sensible delight, as beau-
hundred years. The use-value of an object, ty was to be found from the souk to the
according to Kant, is in direct correlation to mihrab. Thus ‘art’ was never considered the
the beauty and charm it delivers to its audi- a priori property of art college students or
ence. Whether or not you have a proclivity even artists. Furthermore if we consider
to Kant’s position, most find it hard to deny artistic merit, we may draw a broad general-
that beauty confronts us everywhere and its isation between Western art as inherently
decorous allure is one that people find hard ‘expressive’ and ‘individual’ and Islamic art
to shun. For example, despite Blake’s claims as inclining towards communal interests and
of abhorrence in industrialised England he as such moulding itself on the precepts of
finds elsewhere it to be a place of “pleasant tradition and thus does not become faddish
ponderous". Ruskin who wrote of the or outmoded, in the manner these
“black clouds” that stork the effervescent appendages can be applied to Western art.
skies, spoke well of the potentials of mod- With such reflections, what then are we
ern industry. Orwell cogently exclaims the its drawbacks, thus the Sydney Opera to make of the lessons from Hayes’ work?
“tools” of modern society are not perni- House has a curious angular disposition One may be the complementarity of art to
cious per se, rather we ought to fear the that stonemasons can only dream of imitat- civic life (a truth known in Homer’s day)
intent of the hurdy few. ing. The very nature of the material has cre- and as such the objects, which protrude our
Today we seem to have assimilated in ated the conditions for its vast use. landscape, have a logos (purpose), yet as
our judgements of what is beautiful and Hayes asks us to ponder into the hap- Emerson wrote, they also tell us something
what is not. Thus, even though we may dis- hazard development of one of the most of the purpose of those who made them.
cuss the individual merits of particular benign condiments of modern infrastruc- Another may be that our surroundings are
works, a statue of Winston Churchill in a ture, the paved road. The earliest attempts the result of experiments by humans to
straightjacket for example, we nonetheless began by merely dropping walls on their edify their environment.
agree that the ostensible category to which sides, the results were too bumpy. Having The evolution of our infrastructure,
it belongs is ‘art’ even though we may bricks titled on their sides (cobbled streets), Hayes reminds us, is often predicated by its
regard it as unacceptable or belligerent. still made little difference. Frenchman motivations. Take the current debate as to
Such ossified presumptions fall into the gaze Pierre-Marie-Jerome Tresaguet and English what is to happen when our oil resources
of Brain Hayes, who approaches aesthetics, engineer Thomas Telford both suggested finally dry up. In a way we have been down
as Nietzsche did with philosophy, with the laying a foundation of set stone blocks and this road before. A 200-year transition took
hammer of discontent. have finer pebbles for a smooth surface. place from the use of whale to crude oil -
When Hayes travels abroad he does not However, not until John Loudon McAdam whale oil being a 19th century staple for
go to the galleries, museums or highlights on did the modern form of road surface appear. industry and one over which wars were
the “heritage trail”, but goes straight to the Stone, broken into fine segments, is fought. A final, and more definitive, point
power stations, pylons and motorways the extremely durable when laid down on a nat- may be that whether one enjoys this book
country has to offer. An acquired taste with- ural road-bed. It should be noted that as or refuses to traverse the benignantly of its
out a doubt, yet one that alludes to the proj- visionary an engineer McAdam was, an content, one is left with a newfound inspi-
ect Hayes sets out to accomplish: that of ethicist he was not: his road-crews routine- ration for the labours of our engineers. So
bringing the latent forms of architecture in ly included poorly paid women and children the next time you’re walking down Oxford
industrialised societies to the consciousness to hammer stone into this fine substance. Street and come across unlikely individuals
level of appreciation. It is a project worthy This original ‘McAdam’ had no adhesive to discussing the merits of ‘McAdamean’ tech-
of our attention. set it into place; however its modern ances- niques of pavement construction or ponder-
His latest book Infrastructure is divided tor (asphalt) binds stone with bitumen - the ing over the pylons that manse the sky, you
into fifteen chapters, each dealing with a tarry residue of petroleum refining. will do well to know that ‘use’ of an object
specific element in the jigsaw of modern As edifying as the lessons in modern may still conjure reverence. Perhaps Kant
infrastructure: roads, bridges, ships, planes, engineering techniques may be, the wider was wrong after all.
power plants and power girds. Hayes’ dis- import of Hayes’ work may at closer exam-
cussion of concrete is particularly instruc- ination prove its importance to the themes Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the
tive. Concrete, the engineers dream sub- that run through Islamic aesthetics. For Industrial Landscape by Brian Hayes is
stance, has all the benefits of stone without example, within Islamic art there has not published by W.W. Norton and Co.
48 | Q - NEWS
Everyone’s talking about it. It counts amongst its
closest confidantes many world leaders, including
George W Bush and Tony Blair. It’s obviously
authoritative, pithy and clairvoyant - it never
appears but is always eager for others to mention it.
Farish Noor puts on his detective cap and searches
for the mysterious ‘International Community’.
olitics, particularly of the international variety, is often ‘International Community’ actually be hiding in a cupboard in
P best served on a bed of dubious generalities. Witness the
spectacular affront on human rights worldwide occa-
sioned by the so-called ‘War on Terror’ - a dubious construct if
If so, then this mysterious community has to be rather
small indeed. Analysts and researchers have been looking for
there ever was one. Thus far we have been fed a steady dose of this fabulous international community for some time now.
lukewarm political dishes likewise predicated on amorphous Apparently it is not found in the UN General Assembly, for
concepts like ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’, ‘humanity’ and the like. Little thus far the members of the UN have not spoken with a uni-
effort has been put to filling out these grand concepts. lateral voice on the issue of Iran and her acquisition of nuclear
At the moment there is in circulation yet another grandiose arms and technology. At international forums the Community
concept that sounds too good to be true: the ‘International has been talked about but never seen.
Community’. We don’t exactly know who or what this com- As time wears on, it has become evident that the
munity is, but apparently this community is quite annoyed ‘International Community’ that President Bush keeps talking
with the government of Iran for doing what other govern- about is made up… of himself, his aides and allies and a hand-
ments in other parts of the world have been doing all along: ful of subservient middling (or is that meddling) European
developing the know-how and technological base for the states. One can easily point out that it hardly amounts to any-
development of nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons. thing international at all (they could have at least paid lip serv-
In this respect Iran is merely the latest member of a steadi- ice to political correctness and invite at least one petty African
ly growing club of nations that includes the United States of or Asian state to join in the gang - just for optics).
America, Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and So it would appear that all the rhetorical pyrotechnics
Israel (who tried laughably to conceal its membership for fear about the concern and efforts of the ‘International
of courting jealousy from its neighbours). Community’ boils down to the unilateral efforts and ambi-
Nonetheless it would appear that the entry of Iran into the tions of a sole superpower with a handful of other willing
global nuclear club has incurred the wrath of the crony states in tow. Like the other grand notions and cloudy
‘International Community’. The current occupant of the ideas that have been bartered by the US of late, it would
White House seems to have intimate knowledge and relations appear as little more than a guise for American unilateralism
with this ‘international community’ as he keeps referring to it thinly dressed in rainbow colours to lend it an air of diversity.
in his speeches and diatribes against intransigent Iran. The The rest of the real world on the other hand - meaning of
‘International Community’, the President informs us, is deeply the planet that doesn’t figure prominently on Bush’s mental
worried about Iran’s nuclear capability. Then came the warn- map - seems to be more ambivalent about the Iranian nuclear
ing that the ‘International Community’ would not rest till the programme. Few Asian, African, Arab or Latin American
question of Iran’s nuclear status is “satisfactorily” resolved. countries have shown any discomfort at Iran’s new status.
The ‘International Community’ has now declared that Iran’s Listening to the rhetoric of the ‘international community’
nuclear programme will not be tolerated and that decisive that bears the heavy stamp of America and Americanism, one
steps will be taken to ensure that Iran does not go fully cannot help but make the same comparison with the title of
nuclear. the American sports tournament dubbed ‘the World Series’.
Where does this near-mythical ‘international community’ The title sounds typically American and pretentious enough,
reside? One wonders how come President Bush alone seems so with its claim to global significance and import. But someone
close to this shadowy community and knows so much about ought to remind the Americans that when they play out their
its secrets. Could President Bush actually be a secret member ‘World Series’ they are in fact playing only with themselves. It
of this ‘International Community’ himself? Is such member- makes talks with the “International Community” look like a
ship constitutionally sanctioned? Could, God forbid, the case of deja vu all over again.
50 | Q - NEWS
Q - NEWS | 51