Just for Me (and you) Media

Do not f*** with Azzam Al-Britani
Do not f*** with Azzam Al-Britani
What a pleasure it is to come across a book or a song or a movie that feels like it was made expressly with you in mind. There have been a number of works lately that felt that way, well at least that I was among the intended audience. Narcissism, I’m sure, and yet what a feeling! You don’t get that from downloading the latest George Clooney vehicle, I’ll say that much. I recommend them all to you.

The Infidel: Comedy about a Pakistani-British Muslim who discovers he’s an adopted Jew. The movie is schlocky in the extreme, with the bulk of the humor playing on extremely well-worn Jewish stereotypes. But this Jew-ish Muslim laughed and laughed.

Four Lions: A comedy about an incompetent terror cell of Pakistani-British Muslims. A comedy about bumbling suicide bombers, yes. I was nervous about it because of how awkwardly muslims are treated in movies, but this guy, a non-muslim at that, gets it so right, it is just pitch-perfect. The first half of the movie is so hysterical and convincing that I was completely blindsided when the first casualty occurred and the movie suddenly became very very dark.

Zeitoun: A book recounting the experience of Abdurrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian Muslim immigrant, and his family during the Katrina Hurricane. The book is so simply and plainly put forward that the wonder and the horror and the truth of what they went through becomes undeniable. No hype, no spin, yet such an incredible story that any American who reads it has to account for what it tells us about our country.

Wait! Story time! A shaykh at the Haul of Imam al-Haddad held in my local masjid two weeks ago related this to us:

Once upon a time, there was a sultan who was an avid hunter. One day, as he and his vizier were hunting alone in the forest, the sultan drew his sword to slash some undergrowth. In a moment of clumsiness, the sultan tripped, fell and severed the index finger on his right hand. As the sultan and his vizier hurried back to the palace, the sultan angrily demanded to know why such a thing had happened to him: he, being the sultan and a pious servant of God! The vizier simply said, “God must have a reason for this calamity to befall you.” The sultan was only enraged further. “What! That’s the stupidest answer I’ve ever heard! What reason could it possibly serve for me to lose my finger like that!” And upon reaching the palace, he had the vizier thrown into prison.

A year went by, until one day the sultan was out hunting once again. Following the trail of a mighty beast, he went further into the forest, until he stumbled upon a village of cannibals! They quickly set upon him and bound him to a carrying-pole. From their excited chatter, he learned they were preparing for a major feast as today was their high holy day. They were overjoyed to have caught such a prize on such a day! Soon, they began to remove his royal Muslim garb and the head priest approached with the sacrificial knife. Only then did the head priest of the cannibals notice his right hand – he was missing a finger! According to their sacred law, no defective human could be sacrificed, and so he was freed.

The Sultan raced back to the palace and headed straight for the prison doors. Flinging them open, he embraced his old vizier. “You were right,” he said. “God did have a reason! Had it not been for my missing finger, I would certainly have been sacrificed! Please forgive me for imprisoning you unjustly all this while!”

“God had a reason for that too, O Sultan. Had I been free and at your side, I would surely have been sacrificed in your place!”

I laughed, and I wish more lighthearted teaching stories of that sort were in our khutbas and lectures. But that joke touches on the issue of Divine Justice and the perennially difficult topic of why bad things happen to good people. For many Jews, for example, the idea of a loving God was irreconcilable with the event of the Holocaust. Prof Sherman Jackson takes up the same theological dilemma among Blackamericans in Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering. His third book I’ve read, after Boundaries of Theological Tolerance and Islam and the Blackamerican, which seem to be meant as a series of sorts. One part dialogue with Black Christian thought, one part introduction to the schools of Islamic theology, one part advice for American Muslims, it is quite remarkable how Prof Jackson ties all the threads together so neatly. I’m not the one to write a review of a book of this caliber, but like with Islam and the Blackamerican, I found it filled with sharp, useful insights thrown out almost off-handedly along the way. And while it confirmed for me how thoroughly rooted I am in the Ash’ari outlook, it was the first time I felt I could really appreciate the perspective of Ibn Taymiyyah’s school and what it contributes to the house of Islam.

Finally, take a moment to check out this awesome video: Hamdulillah, by The Narcicyst ft. Shadia Mansour. Look at yourselves, you’re beautiful and your garb is beautiful!

[Video via Planet Grenada]

Convocation Day

Two Friends at the ConvocationNovember means the end of the school year, and once again I have a child successfully completing her academic career and ready to move on to the next stage of her life: Elementary School. Yes, getting through three years of preschool is a momentous achievement, and so a grand ceremony to commemorate the event took place this last Saturday. The preschool, Taski ABIM, has grown and grown in Kuching over the years and this time there were over 390 kindergartners
3_friendswalking the stage, preceded by speeches, skits, songs and shows. As this was my fourth time attending, I passed on the main hall and hung out backstage instead. There was a large covered area with all the kids clustered according to groups, each with their own costume. Some were getting prepped to go on stage, complete with make-up and last-minute muslim-garb-check.

american_costumeOne group of kids was dressed in gym clothes, with a red baseball cap turned sideways on their head. Can you guess what they are dressed as? Americans! They were the only group of children to do their skit in English! You could write a book about what American youth culture means to Malaysians through that cocked-sideways baseball cap, but I’ll just note the fact of it here for you and move on. American Garb! The event dragged on, as official functions tend to do, into its third hour, and the children milling around in the
Backstage at the kindergarten graduation
holding area grew more frenetic, and the loud murmur rose to a dull roar until finally a pair of teachers whipped out their kompang and dumbek and began to play. The kids immediately started singing along to the hymns and things grew if not quieter, at least less chaotic until the time came to start walking the stage. My daughter, Kak Uda had a great time. I may not have caught all the skits this time around, but that’s OK. I’ll be back next year with Kak Andak.

Other posts about Taski ABIM:
Berjayalah Taskiku!
My eldest child’s graduation

Muslim Garb

wb7061-masala_org “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are tastefully accoutered in raiment seamlessly blending East and West, that are contemporary yet timeless, daring yet refined, modest yet sophisticated, and i think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as sartorially fabulous, I get worried. I get nervous.” – Juan Williams, NPR Senior Political Commentator

No, that’s not what he said. He said our muslim garb makes him worried and nervous. A regrettable statement, but you know, it hasn’t always been easy finding good muslim garb in the dar-al-harb, and that may account for why Mr Juan Williams catches himself feeling nervous and worried on the airplane. Have you ever asked yourself how your tacky off-brand muslim garb is making other people feel? Surely you know someone, maybe even yourself, whose garb just doesn’t grab you. The garb on their head doesn’t coordinate with their beltgarb or their footgarb, or their garb is in last seasons colors, or their muslim garb on top clashes with the kafir garb on their legs. Alhamdulillah, now there are options! Next time you need to islamically garb yourself in some muslim garb, satisfy your garbing needs from the best online garbmonger around: Shukr Islamic Clothing


[I’ve been drooling over their catalog for years, finally made a purchase. Everything went smoothly considering they are shipping to Borneo. Highly recommended. I hope they have a sense of humor.]

Muslim Convert Saves Michigan from Christian Terrorism

Mujahid fi Sabilillah Matt Savino bin James al-Michigani
Mujahid fi Sabilillah Matt Savino bin James al-Michigani

Michigan, my home state, has a reputation for nurturing right-wing anti-government terrorists. The largest act of domestic terrorism prior to 9/11 was the Oklahoma City bombing that was planned in Michigan and executed in part by Michigan men. They tested their bombs on a farm not far from my parents’ farm in Lapeer County.

Even after that, militia groups continued to thrive in Michigan, which has more active militias than any state in the union but Texas. Now another terrorist cell is in the news, the Hutaree. An extremist Christian militia, they planned to kill police officers and attack Islamic organizations. Their plot was foiled when someone from the cell called a local chapter of the Michigan Militia for assistance. The Michigan Militia leader refused to help and called the State Police. That man, that patriot, was Matt Savino, a veteran of the US Navy and a convert to Islam for over 10 years, may Allah bless and reward him.

Thanks to Sabah of Oy Habibti! for spotting this one.

Datuk Haji Abdul Kadir Hassan

Datuk Haji Abdul Kadir Hassan

By Abu Muhammad of Bahrus Shofah


English Translation by Bin Gregory Productions


Datuk Haji Abdul Kadir bin Hassan, may Allah have mercy on him, was born in Kampung Patingan (or Kampung No. 6), Kuching, Sarawak, on the 6th of August, 1928 (28th Safar 1347). His formal education began at SRK (Public School) Merpati Japang (my own school) until Standard 4 (10th grade), after which he attended the Madrasah Melayu (Malay Religious School, Kuching). While studying at school, he deepened his religious knowledge with local ulama (religious scholars), among them Guru Sulong bin Hussin and Tuan Guru Haji Yusuf bin Abdul Ghani. Datuk Abdul Kadir then entered Madrasah al-‘Arabiah al-Islamiah, an Arabic language school founded by Datu Imam Tuan Guru Haji Abang Murshidi, before continuing his education at Madrasah al-Juneid, Singapore. Among his other teachers were Ustaz Sharkawi bin Shaykh Othman, Shaykh Syazali bin Shaykh Othman and Shaykh Zainuddin bin Shaykh Othman (they being the children of Shaykh Othman as-Sarawaki) and many more ulama who taught at Madrasah al-Islamiah and Madrasah al-Juneid.

After finishing at Madrasah al-Juneid, Datuk Abdul Kadir served as a religious teacher at the Singapore Police Academy. He was also active in da’wah (calling to Islam) in many mosques throughout Singapore, and was frequently invited to give the Friday sermon at Masjid Sultan. Realizing that he needed to contribute to the people of Sarawak who were more in need of his service, he left his career in Singapore to return to his homeland. In Sarawak, he continued his duties as a religious teacher and resumed his da’wah efforts. Alongside that, he constantly endeavored to take his religious studies to a higher level, and in the end, with the assistance of Tan Sri Abang Ikhwan Zaini, he was given a scholarship to continue his formal education at the Islamic College of Malaya. Among his teachers there were Tan Sri Muhammad Abdul Rauf, Tan Sri Jalil Hasan, Ustaz Zulkifli Muhammad, Dr. Zaki Badawi and Ustaz Nik Mohd. Mahyuddin. After completion of his studies at the Islamic College in 1959, his ambition was to pursue further studies at Al-Azhar University. This was blocked by the British colonial regime which at that time did not want students to be sent to an Egypt under the control of President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Fatwas of Mufti Datuk Haji Abdul Kadir Hassan, Volume 2
Fatwas of Mufti Datuk Haji Abdul Kadir Hassan

Still, nothing could lessen his determination and drive to increase his religious knowledge. With a strong primary education in Islam, and his mastery of the foundational knowledge necessary for acquiring deeper religious knowledge, he rigorously studied the texts written by our ulama while at the same time constantly holding discussions with fellow travelers and local ulama. He was also extremely careful in answering questions put forward regarding issues of religion, referring always to the major religious works such as Sabilal Muhtadin, I’anatut Talibin and Bughyatul Mustarshidin. His love of knowledge and the ulama was such that he would transcribe by hand books that were unavailable in the marketplace at that time.

On the 1st of May, 1967, Datuk Abdul Kadir was appointed Mufti of the State of Sarawak. His appointment did not prevent him from continuing his da’wah work. His study circles continued as before, while he continued teaching classes on the book Sabilal Muhtadin at a number of suraus (neighborhood mosques) around the region. While he was well known as an alim (one of the ulama) and a caller to Islam, he can also be considered as a pious servant (of the Lord). As part of his regular devotions, he would read 3 juz (30ths) of the Quran every day and complete the reading of the Quran every 10 days. Tahajjud and qiyamullail (the night vigil) were constant practices of his, together with Salat ad-Dhuha (the mid-morning prayer) which was his routine practice before heading to the office. In the month of Ramadhan, he held fast to the practice of 20 rakaat (cycles of prayer) in tarawih (special night prayers during Ramadhan), even though the trend was toward 8 rakaat as preferred by those in power in the government at the time. As firm as he was in his certitude, he always carried himself with great humility. Once, when he was invited to lead the tarawih prayers by supporters of the 8-rakaat prayer, he honored the invitation, but when the 8 rakaat where finished, he withdrew and requested someone else to lead the witr (three rakaat closing the tarawih prayer), completing his tarawih later. Such was the character of Datuk Abdul Kadir: he was the gentlest of men and did not like to force his ways on others. So soft was his manner of speaking that he would win the heart of anyone who interacted with him, even the smallest of children.

Datuk Abdul Kadir returned unto the mercy of his Lord on Friday, the 15th of January 1988. May Allah have mercy on him always. Al-Fatihah.

The Fatwa (Ruling) of Datuk Abdul Kadir Concerning Zikir Marhaban (recitation of devotional poetry about the Prophet, peace be upon him).

What is the Islamic position regarding zikir marhaban as it is practiced by the Islamic community today?

• In truth, this represents a form of praising and wishing blessings and peace on the Exalted Messenger, peace be upon him.
Standing at the moment when the birth of the Prophet is mentioned, together with singing the songs “Marhaban Jaddal Husaini”, “Ashraqul Badrul ‘Alaina” and others, out of respect for Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is in fact an excellent practice, and there is nothing in the Law that prohibits this, as long as one does not change the pronunciation of the words in such a way as to alter their meaning.
• Sayyid Zaini Dahlan, the Grand Mufti of the Shafi’i Madhab in Mecca (d. 1304H) was of the opinion that congregating to celebrate the birth of the Prophet, reciting accounts of his life, standing and praising the Prophet, peace be upon him, were praiseworthy actions. And it has been practiced in such a way by many of the ulama who are the leaders of the Ummah (muslim nation). (I’anatut Talibin, section III, page 363).
• Imam Taqiyuddin as-Subki, among the greatest scholars of the Shafi’i Madhab (d. 657H) was also of the opinion that standing upon hearing accounts of the Prophet’s birth was among the praiseworthy actions for honoring the Prophet.
In short, there is no doubt that holding Zikir Marhaban as practiced in our community is not remotely contradicted in the Law but rather it is counted amongst the best of deeds.


Originally published in Bahasa Melayu at Bahrus Shofa.

Any errors or shortcomings in the text above are on the part of the translator. Corrections warmly welcomed.

Brass Crescent Awards

bca_asian_hmEid Mubarak, Selamat Hari Raya Korban! The 6th Annual Brass Crescent Awards have been announced. Congratulations to all the winners. If you haven’t subscribed yet to Islam in China, Muslimah Media Watch and Seekers Guidance, you ought to do it right now. I’m very happy to be mentioned along with Folio, Al-Miskeenah, and the Manrilla, honorable people all. Keep your eyes on TalkIslam and AltMuslim to take part in the contest next time. Thanks to everybody who voted.

Hidup Segan Mati Tak Mau

The Sixth Annual Brass Crescent Awards are open for voting.
The Sixth Annual Brass Crescent Awards are open for voting.
At first, you do it every day, sometimes even twice a day. As time goes by, it is less and less frequent until after many years, once or twice a month feels like a big accomplishment. Blogging! I’m talking about blogging of course. Although my blogging schedule has gotten more and more infrequent, I’ve never felt the urge to shut it down. In Malay, they have a saying that sums it up: “Hidup Segan, Mati Tak Mau”, roughly translated, “Too timid to live, but unwilling to die.” Seriously though, I’ve learned too much and met too many wonderful people from blogging to let it fade away completely.

Persisting is not much of an accomplishment, and yet I was recognized recently as the oldest continuously active Muslim blog! It’s not exactly true, but I’ll take it. And now the Brass Crescent Awards have come around again, with a special South East Asian category that has me as a nominee. As in years past, the BCA is a great way to find out about new muslim blogs that you may have overlooked. So visit the Awards, take a look around, and cast your votes for the most deserving blogs.

Hidden Mosques

Surau Al-Hidayah is the pale blue building in the center
Surau Al-Hidayah is the pale blue building in the center
The azan can be heard all around Kuching from the suraus in most every neighborhood. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to find where it is coming from. Taking a shortcut through a secluded neighborhood on my way home late from work, I would often hear the azan called loudly nearby, see old uncles walking down the street in kain palikat and songkok, but never saw the mosque. I decided to explore one day on foot, and discovered the surau tucked away in a block of homes, with only a signboard Roadside Signboardat the alley entrance. From the air, it is easy enough to pick out: it is the only building not orientated toward the street, but toward the direction of prayer. The Surau Al-Hidayah is surrounded on all sides by homes, with two paths leading in between the neighbors’ fences. Gates in neighbors’ fences allow them to slip in from their backyards for the prayers.

Often, land for suraus is gifted by old landowners to a waqaf, or Islamic trust, as part of their will. approaching the surauPerhaps that’s what happened here. The surau is obviously well-endowed and looked after. The front entrance is tiled, and well-tended bougainvilleas bloom in decorative pots along the open space behind the mihrab. Several airconditioning units hang from the outside wall. Unfortunately, many urban suraus are locked before and after prayers to prevent theft. The anjung or front porch Since I arrived about an hour after Asr prayers, I was unable to go inside. Like most neighborhood suraus, it is a community gathering place as well as a prayer hall, as shown by the large covered front porch equipped with tables and chairs for relaxing and socializing before and after the prayers. This surau even had a pair of ping-pong tables in the back for entertainment.

Surau Al-Hidayah Suraus exist somewhere between the public and private sphere, open to the random seeker looking to catch his salat but populated by a core group of regulars. They all have their own atmosphere that makes them so enjoyable to visit and discover. The favorable siting of this one makes it feel particularly warm and cozy. Finding it is the hard part.

Full Surau Al-Hidayah Photoset on Flickr

Neighboring homesAnother occulted mosque in town is the Masjid India, utterly hidden from view. Photosets of other masjids and suraus around Malaysia. Previous entries about local suraus and masjids at Bin Gregory Productions.

Looking back down the front entrance

Front door

Social space with ping-pong

the rear entry

The alley entrance

Neighbor's fence adjoining the front entrance