Archive for the ‘Social’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

Happiness and Choice

Some recent evidence suggests that people may be happier when they have fewer choices. Barry Schwartz ( in a recent TED Talk discusses the “paradox” of choice in the Western culture. While we tout our personal freedoms as a trait to be emulated in the world, it is something that, according to Schwartz, actually “paralyzes” us. We often end up regretting our choices and always looking for ways to maximize our happiness without ever being satisfied with the choices we do make. Additionally, he argues that often we are not well equipped to be making complex decisions at all. Dan Gilbert (, in his TED Talk, discusses a similar topic and presents research that supports his theories. In his talk, he states that, after one year, research shows that a paraplegic and a lottery winner are about the same level of happiness. He expounds on this point and concludes that human beings can be truly happy in extraordinary circumstances as an adaptive measure.

My parents often reminisce about their childhood and how they were happy with just one toy when they were kids and could not believe the overabundance of “stuff” that children have in modern day America. They also look at me incredulously when I ask them if they were “happy” with some of the conditions in which they grew up and respond: “We did not have a choice” implying, of course, that they were happy because they had no other option.

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11 2011

Abruptly Arrested, Briefly Detained, Irreversibly Inspired

by Samer Abulaela

My primary motivation for starting this blog is to work with others in formulating a meaningful response to islamophobia that refuses to engage in the “good Muslim – bad Muslim” narrative, and to tie social and political consequences to islamophobic speech and actions of political, media, and government officials and institutions. Nevertheless, I’m finding myself rather pleased that my first post has little to do (at least directly) with the deluge of articles regarding the racist spying and community mapping perpetrated against Muslim Americans. Nor does it relate to the bigoted trainings conducted by FBI and Justice Department personnel, both within their respective institutions, and to first responders.

Instead of getting right into all that’s in need of being changed, I’m delighted to have caught a glimpse of the spirit that’s going to change it. Perhaps you heard of the Brooklyn Bridge mass arrest of 700 peaceful Occupy Wall Street protestors this past weekend… well, I happened to be among them. As the charges against us are being challenged, I’ve been warned not to discuss the details of the events that lead to our arrest – so for now, I won’t. Anyway, I think that’s much less interesting than what I want to talk about: the passion and dedication that was on display that day by more than just those of us who had to endure the inconvenience of arrest.

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10 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

Islamic Literature

I recently read “Minaret” by Leila Aboulela as part of a book club. While discussing the novel, we brought up the notion of a Muslim voice in American literature.

The book deals with Najwa, a girl forced to leave Sudan as her father is executed for corruption after the fall of the government. She settles in England and leaves behind her life of short skirts and infatuation with Western culture and embraces hijab and the stricter aspects of Islam.

The book had a clear message: Najwa had a fulfilled life because she devoted it to her religion. She’s very vocal about this throughout the story, and her views of others is shaded by whether or not they’re practicing Muslims.
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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

Gallery #3

Walking the street, pacing
the pious venerate, worship, diker
in Gallery #3

Those that have been waiting
pacing, revelation, visions
Gallery #3

Even I am
where, I
cannot find me
pacing, diker, revelation
Gallery #3
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08 2011


Force of a million souls—marching
force of a million souls—chanting
the force of a million souls

Revolutions hold us silent
between the chanting streets
a mother’s warmth comforts
a child’s fingers grasp
silent children
child silence

Eyes that escape us now
lost amid a mid-evil tapestry
those eyes



08 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

Coexist For a Good Cause

I work at a Christian-based non-profit organization called Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which feeds and houses the homeless in six cities across the U.S.  It was originally founded as a ministry of the St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.  I applied to work here because I wanted to go home at the end of the day and feel like I’d made a positive contribution to the world.

The person who interviewed me is member of the Catholic clergy.   As my affiliations with Muslim organizations are very prominent on my resume, it was amusing to watch him choose his words delicately.  With great effort to avoid breaking employment laws, he attempted to find out how comfortable I would be working in a Christian environment.  I assured him as best I could that it would not be a problem for me.

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07 2011