Archive for the ‘Religion’Category

What the World can Learn from the Grandson of the Prophet

by Salma Hooshmand

Millions of Muslims around the world gather annually to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.  Hussain and his family were massacred on the plains of Karbala, modern-day Iraq, in the year 680 AD.  Mourning ceremonies vary from culture to culture.  They often include reenactments of the events leading to and including the final battle on the day of Ashura, recitations of song and poetry, and episodes of self-flagellation.  This last ritual ranges from a light, rhythmic beating of chests in unison, to, in extreme cases, the practice of incurring self-inflicted wounds.  The personality of Hussain is often obscured by these loud and highly ritualized ceremonies; actually, his story is a simple one with a universal message.

The tragedy of Hussain’s martyrdom is magnified by the sheer inequality of numbers.  In the manner of David and Goliath, Hussain was grossly outnumbered.  The aggressor, Yazid, had recently inherited the caliphate from his father.  He felt threatened by Hussain’s popularity and blood ties to the origins of Islam, and vowed to acquire either Hussain’s allegiance or his life.  In simple terms, Yazid was a bully, and Hussain stood up to him.  In the days leading up to the final battle, Yazid sent a force of 4000 troops to corner and surround Hussain’s caravan of 72 in the middle of the desert.  There, Yazid’s representatives attempted to extract Hussain’s endorsement with false promises, bribes, and threats; but Hussain stood his ground.  Soon, threats became acts of aggression and violence.  Access to the river was blocked on the day of Ashura, and Hussain and his family were left thirsty under the scorching desert sun.  Still Hussain did not give in; Yazid’s policies were oppressive and unjust, and Hussain would not join him.  A famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi states, “I learned from Hussain how to achieve victory while being oppressed.”  Indeed, the millions who continue to honor Hussain across centuries consider his quiet dignity and his refusal to capitulate to corruption a noble triumph, not a defeat.

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12 2011

Turn in your Weapons

Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. It’s the beginning of a new start where we pray to Allah to forgive our sins from the past year, and to also make this following year immersed in His remembrance and filled with Taqwa.

Muharram also is an important month rich with lessons about the sacrifice of the grandson of the Prophet, Imam Hussein (as). Every year, many people come together to commemorate these nights to take lessons of where they can apply them to their daily lives. Below is one story that was mentioned in one of the books narrating the story of Karbala which contained a lesson for me:

The day before the war in Karbala began, Umar-ibn-said sent a messenger with a letter of request for Imam Hussein to make allegiance to Yazid.  The messenger arrived close to the Imam’s tent and was faced with a guard. They haven’t mentioned in history who the guard of the tent was, but it was usually the Imam’s brother, Hadrateh Abbas.

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11 2011

Reflections on Our Work: Distractions and Detachment

Our work is primarily focused on alleviating problems, on jumping hurdles, on solving puzzles.

Our work, in many ways, depends on the existence of these problems. In some ways, perhaps, this distracts us from purifying our selves. Of course, you can embark on both paths, or achieve purity through dealing with such problems.

But what if this isn’t supposed to be the way of life? The fact that we attempt to fix problems shows us that we seem to think that it is not.

The paths to attempting to solve these problems often complicate our lives. What would we do if life were simple? Could we adapt to a situation of relative calm? Could we maintain worship?

Of course, struggle will never cease. The struggle with our selves and with others and even the struggle to reach equilibrium with the [natural] World will always persist.

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10 2011

9-11 Essay

The late Edward Said in his last series of lectures Humanism and Democratic Criticism defined the role of modern Humanists and their responsibilities to society. This is one of my favorite lines from the lectures:

“Nowhere is this more true for the American humanist today, whose proper role, I cannot stress strongly enough, is not to consolidate and affirm one tradition over all others. It is rather to open them all, or as many as possible, to each other, to question each of them for what it has done with the other, to show how in this polyglot country in particular many traditions have interacted and—more importantly—can continue to interact in peaceful ways, ways never easy to find but nonetheless discoverable also in other multicultural societies…in other words, American humanism, by virtue of what is available to it in normal course of its own context and historical reality, is already in a state of civic coexistence, and, to the prevailing worldview disseminated by U.S officialdom…humanism provides little short of stubborn, and secular, intellectual resistance.”

Where are we as Americans 10 years after the September 11th attacks? Have we espoused the principles of egalitarianism, understanding, and brotherhood with our fellow Americans and the Citizens of the global community? Or have we grown more isolated, introverted and developed enclaves of seclusion? The most promising signs after 10 years after the attacks have been interfaith growth and cultural understanding between previously opposing or isolated communities. In the realm of culture we have seen Muslims starting to come into their own, from actors, comedians, poets, playwrights, rappers, and writers. We are starting to see Muslim-Americans take hold of their own narrative— The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 30s revitalized and rejuvenated the African American community in America. A young poet wrote The Negro Speaks of Rivers:

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset.


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

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09 2011

“Contradictions Collapse”: Moral Dignity and Spending

“You only look smart.

You read about consumerism using Starbucks receipts as a bookmark.”[1]

In response to a question posed to me on a DePaul University radio show called Writing Our Story[2] faith I considered how my personal spending habits links me to worldwide suffering.

I believe there is often an inverse relationship between how much we spend and the amount of exploitation we are responsible for perpetuating. This is an important notion to consider in the context of the ideals that Muslims place on themselves.
Many active Muslims call for believers to detach from extravagant stuff and call for establishing Justice in their lives.

Within our frames of understanding, do these lead to a:

“Contradiction” from the Merriam Webster’s online dictionary: “a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another.”

Let me make this a little more straight-forward. Some measure their frugality by the amount of money they spend on items.

  1. Instead of purchasing high-quality food they purchase processed or genetically modified foods.
  2. Instead of buying long-wearing, sustainable clothing they purchase their clothing at large department stores.
  3. Instead of buying high-quality, sturdy furniture they purchase flimsy pieces.


One of my contentions is that this frugality might actually plunge us deeper into systems of exploitation.[3]

  1. When one chooses cheaply-made foods over organic, fair-trade options one is buying into items that may use slave-labour or crops harvested by under-paid, migrant workers. Mass-produced, factory-foods are also ecologically unsustainable (especially meat products). Multi-national corporations run the food-game and this leads to damaging effects to all who……eat……or starve.[4] This is all said without considering health-effects.
  2. My inverse-relationship theory is weak in the clothing department primarily because many expensive, “high-end” brands also use exploitation to produce their garments. But, generally speaking, affordable, cheap clothing and footwear is made in sweat-shops. In some cases, children and women are being overworked and underpaid…for those sweet kicks.
  3. The furniture sold in the US is often made of rather cheap material. This leads to a high turn-around rate. We no longer repair our items—furniture, appliances, electronics—we just toss them and upgrade! I wonder how long the earth will take that.


In general terms I want to say that we should begin thinking about a few things. Perhaps our framework of buying cheap to be zahid (detached) needs to change. When we get suckered into buying cheap items that are produced by over-worked fellow humans, fall apart in no-time and destroy the earth, are we really being true to Islamic teachings because only paid 20 bucks for the shoes in our closet?

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08 2011

Conversation with the Beloved

I said: “I will become the lover and you will become the beloved”

You glanced with kindness: “Are you sure?”

I said: “You’ll see”

You said: “I will be the lover, you the beloved”

I said: “No don’t say that … I’ll get upset”

You said: “You’ll see”

I said: “Doesn’t matter, you the lover and me the beloved or the other way around, let’s begin”

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07 2011

Keeping the Veil

These days taking it all off is celebrated more than keeping it on. For instance the recent NPR special on “Lifting the Veil” spotlighted Muslim women in America who have decided to stop wearing the hijab, or headscarf.

Now I know that for something to be “news” it has to be new and exciting. I remember a journalism professor telling us in college that “dog bites man” would hardly get some inches in a newspaper, but “man bites dog” – now that would make the front page.

A Muslim woman appreciating her headscarf, working with it, living a normal life with it, is not news.

And so it continues, this insatiable quest to uncover the latest problem with Islam. However with this story unfortunately, instead of non-Muslims telling us what is wrong with our religion, we have Muslims trying to justify what is wrong with the concept of hijab.

There is no need to get into the nitty gritty of hijab, why it is part of the Islamic dress code, etc. These days the word hijab has become synonomous with the headscarf or chador that some Muslim women wear. Delve into the Holy Qur’an, and you find that hijab actually talks about a “barrier.” Despite one woman’s claims that a headscarf has no place in Islam and is merely a part of Arab culture, the Holy Qur’an has in fact talked about the actual garment women are required to wear over their heads and chests.

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05 2011

A Qur’anic Creation

The modern age in Europe ushered in a battle between two concepts, a battle that continues to this day: science vs. religion. These two frameworks for understanding the world have been even more at odds in recent decades in the United States. Famous individuals like Bill Maher attack religion on cable-network television and in large-production films. School districts are virulently attacked for considering teaching children the concept of intelligent design instead of the theory of evolution. Religious individuals pull their children out of schools that teach Darwin’s “Godless” theory. This is all at the popular level; at a scholarly level there has been a flurry of books published taking one position or another, including: Dawkin’s The God Delusion and McGrath’s Dawkin’s GOD: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life.

From the Islamic realm there have been a number of attempts to grapple with science, empiricism and scientism. The core issues are intellectual framing and worldview. What I mean by this is that Islam places emphasis, even centralizes, the role of God in the world and in an individual believer’s life while modern science and Modernity in general have raised the human being to a level almost, if not completely, on par with the Divine. God is something that is no longer important once humankind is at God’s level. Livingston illustrates this nicely in his article on the Muslim reformer Shaykh Tahtawi: “Galileo…had divorced God’s caring hand from the operations of the universe…Newton had gone a step further…reducing the universe to a self-operating system…Laplace would take the mechanistic logic to its end, declaring himself to have no need of that hypothesis when Napoleon asked him where God fit into his cosmology.”[1] On the contrary, Islam centralizes and elevates God and this is true historically of Muslim thinkers. “The great Muslim thinkers were masters of many disciplines, but they looked upon them as branches of the single tree of tawhid…Everything was governed by the same principles, because everything fell under God’s all-encompassing reality.”[2] This is the major gap between science and religion in the Islamic quarter. Contemporary thinkers such as Sayyed Hossein Nasr have attempted to turn back to traditional sciences and have made it a project to challenge the philosophical underpinnings of modern science.[3] This binary is often called the sacred versus the secular and is often couched in pitting spiritual matters against empirical matters. These two realms are totally incompatible in the modern scientist’s perspective; God simply cannot be directly experienced empirically. The world’s most famous atheist propagator, Richard Dawkins, writes that “the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained.”[4]

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04 2011

The Divisive Nature of the Concept “Religious Violence”

[src]“The struggle of powers constituted for the management of  the same socio-economic system is disseminated as the official contradiction but is in fact part of the real unity—on a world scale as well as within every nation.”[1] In Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord discusses the spectacular nature of modern life; he posits that life is no longer directly lived but is, instead, lived through representations and images. The Western philosophical project of empiricism has led to living life based on observation instead of experience. The quote used above is related to the spectacle of the constructed concept of “religious violence”. Religious violence has been researched, discussed, analyzed, written about, spoken about and pondered upon in great detail, especially since the multiple airplane attacks that occurred on September 11th. However, religious violence is nothing more than an ill-defined concept that is used to create a “different” type of violence in contradistinction to so-called secular or state violence. I contend that the notion of religious violence is essentially divisive and spectacular; the violent acts that some try to relegate to the religious realm are really just part and parcel of the earthly struggle for power and agency.

Religious violence has been heavily studied in universities in the past two decades. This study and analysis has largely focused upon and revolved around violence related to Muslims for various reasons and through various lenses, ranging from political considerations (see Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations) to cosmological notions (see Alastair Crooke’s Resistance). Juergensmeyer states that “jihad is fundamentally a concept of struggle, an image that abounds in the rhetoric of violent religious activists in both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths.”[2] This example of the connection of religion and violence as a particularly strange phenomenon is rather unconvincing because struggle is part and parcel of daily life and part and parcel of war in any circumstance, between religious people or not. Juergensmeyer also poses questions that inextricably connect violence with religion at an essential level (deeper than the attributive level related to jihad): “Why does religion seem to need violence, and violence religion and why is a divine mandate for destruction accepted with such certainty by some believers?”[3]

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03 2011


Where do we lie on the taqwa meter?

Or do we even care? Are we simply surrounding ourselves with excuses to justify our actions instead of finding the truth behind what we do? Do we care about coming closer to Allah, or do we just enjoy sitting on the fence?

It’s interesting to see how much we are really getting out of the Friday khutbas and speeches we attend at our local masajid. Or maybe we just like the social aspect of it all.

The Holy Qur’an states that on the Day of Judgment a man and woman will be judged on the Day of Judgment based on their level of taqwa, or God-consciousness.

Taqwa does not really mean “fear of Allah,” as some popular definitions state. Instead it means being aware of God and all His Attributes. It means being aware that God is All-Knowing, All-Seeing.

The bottom line is it means having an awareness of God’s power and respecting that power.

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01 2011