John Walker Lindh Revisited

You should read Tom Junod’s article “Innocent” about John Walker Lindh.  It’s probably the first serious story written about JWL in years.  I had been meaning to link to the blog of another Sulayman, who has a thorough biography of JWL.  It complements the Junod article well.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading them both.  Lindh’s story tugs at me in a way that those of many others wrongfully imprisoned in GWOT do not.

[I’ve written about him previously.]

Visit the Gulf

I’ve come across two weblogs by American muslim expats that are wonderful complements to each other, Nzingha’s Soapbox from Saudi Arabia, and Life in Exile from the Gulf nation of Qatar, best known as home to the indispensable Al-Jazeerah network. Side by side, they are a great introduction to a part of the world I haven’t been to yet but hope to visit one day, inshallah. They also show the significant differences that exist amongst the gulf nations, which I might have assumed to be more or less the same before now.

Life in Exile shows life in Qatar to be a pretty enjoyable experience. The country is modernizing in its own way and diversifying its economy as best it can. Dervish of Life in Exile explains why he doesn’t dwell on controversy or on unpleasant aspects of life in Qatar. He has several reasons, including

According to the Qur’an, we are not supposed to speak of an evil unless we are a victim of it. There are exceptions to this when a problem affects society at large, however. An example of this is as follows. Say someone else commits a sin, and I become aware of it. If I tell others of his sin, I am committing a sin probably more grievous than his. On the other hand, I can speak in general terms against the type of sin that he commits, or, I can speak of his sin specifically, if society as a whole is harmed by it. I generally will not speak of negative things that do not affect me or society as a whole, as it is unislamic.

I’ve been holding to a general “speak no evil” policy for the same reasons here on this site. I have one more reason to keep silent on local controversy: I have no idea what is going on. It’s not that I don’t try to keep informed. It’s that the coverage of issues in the local media is remarkably superficial. It’s remarkable because the press is not actively censored here. It’s more like it is neutered to start with. If you thought the American press just passively repeats government press releases, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Front page headlines will often read like, “Get Act Together, People Told” or “Industry Must Raise Standards, YB Says” accompanied by glamor shots of politicians grinning and shaking hands. Our local top politician proudly calls it the “Politics of Development”, which basically seems to mean, as long as everyone’s fortunes are rising, nobody better rock the boat. And since everyone’s fortunes have been rising since indepedence, albeit perhaps not at uniform rates, the press seems content not to dig too deep.

Meanwhile, the news is less than encouraging from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Nzingha writes that now the religious police are forcing women to cover their faces in the two holy places while they pray! I’m no religious scholar, but I’m certain covering the face invalidates the prayer for those following the shafi’i madhhab. Not content to vandalize our sacred architectural heritage and prevent us via truncheon of receiving baraka at the Propet’s door, they are now compromising the performance of our sisters’ salat. Subhanallah. I was advised years ago to make my hajj as soon as I could, before they wreck anything else. I think I need to start taking my preparations more seriously.

An Annotated List

Ethnicities, Nationalities and/or Socially Constructed Identities That I’ve Been Mistaken For

Put on a kufi and grow a beard and it becomes harder and harder to take advantage of institutionalized white privilege.

Middle Eastern

  • I’m sure all the converts have gotten that one before.

Turkish

  • The late Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani (q) emerged from a doorway. Huge smile on his face, he gave me a heavy pat on the chest, spoke to me in Turkish, and laughed out loud. He, of course, knew English and this was in Chicago.

Arab: unspecified

Arab: Syrian

  • On the flip side, a Syrian I ran into at a gas station looked at me and said, “you’re Ukranian, aren’t you?” My mother’s side of the family is in fact from Ukraine. He explained that he had met a number of soviet engineers who were in Syria offering technical assistance, the Baathist government being soviet-aligned in those days, and I looked just like them. Huh.

Arab: Lebanese

  • When I lived in Dearborn, home to tens of thousands of Lebanese, I had to memorize the Arabic for, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Arabic”, to which a lady once cocked her head at me and said, “Eh? Why not?”

Iranian

Afghani

Pakistani

  • When Malays guess this, I can understand. I was more surprised when I went into a store last week and asked the Pakistani uncle “Adakah jual songkok disitok?” (Do you sell malay hats here? …in Malay.) He cocked his head to the side as if to wonder why I would speak Malay to him and answered gently, “Nai, beta.” (No, my child.…in Urdu.)

Bosnian

Chechen

  • The boiled sheepskin hat I was wearing at the time contributed enormously, I’m sure.

Malaysian

  • Back when I was barely aware of where Malaysia was, and had not yet sprouted facial hair. In fact it was about 12 hours after I had taken shahada.

Black

  • I was working this temp job and had been there several weeks when a few of the Black guys I worked with started telling this white girl that I was Black. I don’t know what they could possibly have presented as evidence besides the fact that Islam is the Black Man’s Religion ™ but they had her fooled.

In Malaysia, the response I’ve gotten most often when I clarify that I’m actually an American is,

Aren’t you kind of short for an American?

To which I reply:

“I’m an Asian export model.” 

 

White Minority

Sharon Gallagher is white but she knows what it is like to be part of an ethnic minority. For the past 18 months she has lived with her three children in the predominantly Asian district of Manningham in Bradford. This was once a white area, but over the past 30 years most of the whites have left; today Manningham is home to Pakistanis and Bengalis, halal
butchers, Islamic book stores and mosques. And it is home to the Gallaghers. They are the only white family on their street and one of the last left in
Manningham.

Putera Buana forwarded me this great article from UK’s Gaurdian. For the kids in the neighborhood, you’re either a Paki, that is, a muslim, or a Porkie, that is, everybody else. I also grew up as a white minority, in Detroit, so I giggled to read the 11-year old son in the family say

“I
know they have troubles in places like Detroit,” Jake
tells me, “but if a white person from there came to
Manningham for a week they would come home crying.”

I never had trouble getting along though. I had more animosity for the white folk who had fled the city than I did for the black people who I lived among. And the only violence I ever received was at the hands of white Detroiters. That’s beside the point anyway, since Jake’s take is a little off. Manningham isn’t like Detroit, despite what he may think from listening to too much Eminem. Jake and his sister’s experience is probably closer to white kids in Dearborn or Hamtramck, where the majority population is or is fast becoming muslim. And it’s his sister’s story that is really amazing: she wants to be a muslim. The full article is here.

Erewhon, Utopia, Khilafa

Sheauga, that news carnivore, points to a great article by Muqtedar Khan in Salon.com. Sheauga has some good comments accompanying it that are worth reading, but I can’t figure out how to link directly to his posts! In any case, he picks out the key points which I’ve reproduced here:

It is time the leaders of the American Muslim community woke up and realized that there is more to life than competing with the American Jewish lobby for power over U.S. foreign policy. Islam is not about defeating Jews or conquering Jerusalem. It is about mercy, about virtue, about sacrifice and about duty. Above all it is the pursuit of moral perfection.

That is such an important lesson; Islam, all religion, is not about solving the ills of the world. It is about worshipping Allah. Having moral perfection does involve doing for those who have less, and improving the world around you. Jews call this Tikkun Olam, I think. But no dunya outcome can possibly be the target of worship. If my practice of Islam is for the re-establishment of the Khilafa, then to me that is hidden shirk; I am now worshipping my religion, which I’m counting on to solve my earthly problems. The preoccupation with worldly outcomes is widespread; I saw a poster for an upcoming Islamic conference that had as its topics “The Muslim Ummah, Our Community & Our Society, and Global Concerns”. I can’t help look at that and see Politics, Politics, Politics. What about Allah, His Beloved Muhammad, and How to Draw Near to Them? I’m sure it’ll be mentioned, InshaAllah.

H.N. led me to an amazing website called Living Islam. It is phenomenal resource, assembled and in some cases authored by Sidi Omar K N. He makes a related point in a longer essay called Modernism and Postmodernism :

Also have the anti-traditional ideas of an utopia and progress penetrated quite a few fundamentalist minds of some world religions. This shift of emphasis toward the materialistic (“das Grobstoffliche”) is one of the symptoms of the decadence of time as foretold by the Messenger of Allah . It is then not surprising that the greater the loss of true spirituality in a community, the stronger the imagination of some kind of paradise on earth.

I want to tell you how great the essay is, but I haven’t finished reading it.

Back to the Khan article:

It is time that we acknowledge that the freedoms we enjoy in the U.S. are more desirable to us than superficial solidarity with the Muslim world. If you disagree, then prove it by packing your bags and going to whichever Muslim country you identify with. If you do not leave and do not acknowledge that you would rather live here than anywhere else, know that you are being hypocritical.

Of course, when I was younger and people would ask me why I don’t just leave if I’m not happy here, I would reply, “Because I don’t want to be victimized by our foreign policy.” [rimshot] I find it ironic that as I’ve come around to really respecting and appreciating the tremendous amount of good in this country, I’ve already charted a course to leave.

Another interesting article with muslim commentary dealing with the futility of fixating on political combat with the AIPAC, over at IslamAmerica. It [the article, not IslamAmerica] is very lefty, but there is some wisdom there.

Back in October, AltMuslim had an article on Muslims in political races. One interesting development was that in California, there was a muslim running for US Senate whose non-muslim competitor was endorsed by the American Muslim Political Coordination Committee. I can only speculate that this was because the non-muslim took a tougher stand on Israel. AMPCC pitched this as the maturation of muslim politics that they wouldn’t endorse a guy just because he’s muslim. But surely the benefit to muslims in the US, who all four member organizations of AMPCC represent, of having a real, live, visible muslim in the Senate outweighs any gain the other guy could give in Israel/Palestine matters.

The Importance of Qasidah

There are so many beautiful habits and customs that have become commonplace in countries where Islam has existed for centuries, like reciting salawat after Adhan or joining the du’a of the Imam after salat, that have not yet permeated the muslim community here. Most palpably lacking is the invoking of praise on the Propet, peace be upon him, through the beautiful poetry of nasheed, qasidah, naat, milad and so on. There are so many songs, poems, melodies praising HabibAllah SAWS in the most exquisite and moving way that are part of the cultural inheritance of Islam, and it has been fairly inaccessible and even discouraged for us American muslims.

Which is all simply to say I am so grateful and happy to have received my copy of The Qasida Burda Sharif of Imam Sharafaddin Al-Busiri today. It is so, SO very good, I’m really at a loss for words. It is translated by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, calligraphed by Mohamed Zakariya, sung by the Fez Singers led by Bennis Abdelfettah, produced by Sandala, and available in the US at AlHambra Productions. It is a thing of beauty, a real work of art. The calligraphy is in the maghribi style, which practically dances on the page. It’s not what I’m used to reading so I’m still getting familiar with it. But with the book in hand and the CD in the spinner, it’s not too difficult to follow along. The style of recitation is powerful but not so decorated that you can’t make out what is being said. I can’t do it justice so I won’t go on about it.

There are a few extra tidbits in the book that are worth mentioning. One is Shaykh Hamza’s description of his stay in the maghrib, and the way the Qasidah pervades the atmosphere there. SubhanAllah! How many of us can even recite Tala’al Badru Alayna from start to finish? The other is the Isnad provided through several lines by Shaykh Ibrahim al-Ya’qubi to Imam al-Busiri himself. It is of course beyond me to comment on the strength or weakness of that chain, but so is it also beyond the unfortunate finger-waggers out there who may try to discourage others from the self-evident goodness of Qasidah! Allah SWT says: Say [O Muhammad]: God and His angels bless the Prophet. O ye who believe! Bless him and salute him with a worthy salutation.

Veiled4Allah

Al-Muhajabah was kind enough to add my page to the list of links at her extensive, worthwhile website. JazakAllah Khayr. I’m more than happy to return the favor. Among the offerings at her site are links to dozens of muslim blogs; plenty to surf through if you are looking for individual rather than institutional muslim perspectives.