Living Tradition

You should go have a look at Living Tradition, a brand new blog advocating for Traditional Islam in North America. It is a collaborative weblog, with Modern Muslimah among the contributors. The team is acting kind of as a watchdog for the brand new Progressive Muslim “movement” and their flagship website, Muslim Wake Up. You might want to start with the opening salvo from last week. The writing is great: clear, strong, and accessible even if MWU and PM don’t mean much to you.
Like a lot of people, I was excited by MWU when the site first debuted. But it wasn’t long before I grew quite disenchanted. I know a lot of people gave up on them when (ugh) Sex and the Ummah showed up. But I’ll tell you what, I bailed before that. Mike Muhammad was more than I could stomach. I’ve got a low tolerance for that kind of pandering self-indulgence from a grown man. But it got much worse after that, to the point where I can’t bear to look. Which is why I’m happy to find a site where I can keep up on developments at a little distance. How bad is the “progressive muslim” agenda? It’s like a convert’s worst nightmare. Just read the very first principle. What is a muslim, according to them? It’s not what you practice. It’s not even what you believe. I quote:

We affirm that a Muslim is anyone who identifies herself or himself as “Muslim,” including those whose identification is based on social commitments and cultural heritage.

If you grew up eating briyani, you’re in, brother. Of course once Islam is defined in terms of cultural heritage instead of faith in God and His Prophet, everything that follows is open to change at any time. Maybe Groucho Marx was an early forerunner of the PMU when he said, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

Happy New Year x3

It’s been months since I last wrote, but it seems like years. Maybe that’s because we’ve entered 2004 AD, the Chinese Year of the Monkey, and, today, the year 1425 of the islamic calendar, all within two months. The first of Muharram is a public holiday in many states in Malaysia, including Sarawak, so I’m enjoying a three-day weekend. It is good timing for the family too, since Friday was my daughter KakYang‘s first birthday. I can take advantage of the lull to finally update this site.

It has been a hectic few months, for a lot of reasons. My wife survived her doctoral defense. The certificate is in the mail. It is hard to imagine that she’s finally done. She’s been working on that project for the entire length of our marriage. Now that it is over, now what?

Well, did I mention we’re expecting? Our next child is due next month, so we’ve been making frequent trips to the hospital. (Our Malaysian birth control technique was not so effective.)

I managed to secure a one-year work visa, which was no easy task, so I can transition from the Wing & Prayer(TM) fiscal model we bought our house on to one a little more grounded in reality. And my father and uncle are coming to visit in early March, so I’ve been hustling to settle my work commitments enough to take a small vacation.

We had another flood around Chinese New Year, which is exactly when it flooded last year. That flood was the worst flood to hit Kuching in 40 years. Thank God, this year it was only the worst flood since last year. Oh, wait… That Monday, I left for work and became stuck in the worst traffic jam of my life. It took me 3 hours and 20 minutes to go 5 kilometers. That is less than 1 mile per hour, my dear friends. My left leg was literally throbbing in pain from working the clutch on my rapidly aging Proton Wira. The only traffic jam that was remotely comparable was back in Detroit when a guy in a suicidal rage drove his car off the edge of the I-96 freeway down the banks into the four lanes of traffic below, hitting several other cars and killing a few people. That one was pretty bad too, though I wasn’t driving. But I have no grounds to complain really. Our house was untouched by the flood, although there were homes within a kilometer or two of us which flooded right up to the ceiling. Parts of town that did not flood even in 1963 were affected this time around.

Everyone seems to have their own theory about why the floods have been so bad, with many people blaming the Barrage, a lock on the Sarawak River. Personally I think it is all the building and land clearing in the wider catchment area. If same volume of rainfall runs off quicker than before, you’ll get higher peak volumes at the mouth, which is right where we are.

I received a number of great emails about the website over the hiatus, which I’ve been criminally slow to respond to. Thank you to everyone who has written, and forgive me if I haven’t gotten back to you yet. I hope I won’t be so long in updating again. I’ve got a number of pictures I’ve been wanting to share. As soon as I can get the bare minimum of text to accompany them, I’ll be posting them here.

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.

Between Hope and Fear

Muslim WakeUp’s most recent article deals with the scoresheet mentality in religious observance, where promised rewards for good actions are tallied up like a “pile of candy”. I agree with Pamela’s assessment that this is the morality of toddlers. As a convert, this kind of thinking has very little appeal. In fact, this simplistic kind of morality is probably responsible for driving a good many people out of their inherited religion, muslim or otherwise. My father recalls his religious instruction being “hell avoidance” training with little other context. He was Catholic, but every religion has this at some level.

Now, the rewards that Pamela writes about come from the Hadith, so none of us can say these things are not valid, or that they are not of use in motivating us to do good. Why else would Nabi Muhammad have said it? [Aside: I got married early in part because of the hadith that the salat of the married person is worth 23 times the salat of the unmarried. Little did I know this is because you have 23x less time to pray…] The problem only comes when we count on our actions to purchase us this or that. It smacks of Catholic indulgences. Focusing on the candy lessens Allah’s Mercy and His Justice. It makes it more difficult for us to be between hope and fear of our final destination. (Hey, I can’t be in danger of Hell, I’ve already earned 5 umbrellas in Paradise!)

It is an article of faith as a muslim to believe in the reality of Allah’s reward in Paradise and His punishment in Hell. I don’t think what Pamela writes denies that at all. When Rabia prayed (horribly paraphrased) “Lord, if I worship You out of desire for Your Paradise, deny me of it, and if I worship You out of fear of Your Hellfire, plunge me in it”, she was certainly not denying their existence or even making small the reward or punishment of these places. She was expressing the idea that this is not the highest and purest reason to do good deeds.

We can cultivate deep fear of Hell and hope of Paradise without keeping score. This was the way of the Salaf (The first few generations of Muslims, not the modern-day nutters from Saud. But you knew that.), who would weep, faint and even expire upon remembering the hellfire, and become elated and weep for joy upon remembering God’s mercy and Paradise. A great article on this last point is The Impressibility of the Salaf.

Imam Ahmad in his Kitab al-Zuhd (“The Simple Life” p. 248 #880) narrates from Abu Hayyan that when Ibn Mas`ud passed by the furnace of a blacksmith as they were fanning the fire, he fell unconscious.

SubhanAllah! Ibn Mas’ud collapsed even though he had not committed a sin; remembering the reality of the Hellfire was sufficient!

Key to the Garden

A friend of mine loaned me a wonderful book some time ago, Key to the Garden by Habib Ahmed Mashhur al-Haddad, a handbook for spiritual development. It is a short work, only about 150 pages, but so very beneficial. The Habib’s writing style is a pleasure too, even in translation. In every chapter, he begins his topic with selections from Quran, develops his argument with support from hadith and writings of other shaykhs, and then… concludes with a poem! The effect is quite moving; can you imagine how much more interesting your university coursebooks would have been with the same technique? Chapter 3: Ecology of Wetlands, followed by An Ode to a Peat Bog. Now that would be a well rounded education!

Two poems deal with proper etiquette in the remembrance of God, dhikr. Shaykh al-Haddad admonishes those who lose their self control in acts of remembrance, while affirming the right of those who are overcome with rapture. First, the admonishment:

A man lays claim to reverence
When his limbs are shaking;
His ecstasy turns to movements
And sometimes to leaps.

Everyone behaves like this
When in frivolous pleasure
So the opposites of seriousness
And play are the same!

By God! Had reverence
Truly dwelt in his heart
It would find peace
and he would bow to his Lord

Tears would have flowed
From his fear of his Lord
And he would have obeyed
The rules of true Adab.

So I left him, and followed them
In that which is easy,
Vast is the gulf which lies
Between truth and falsehood.

And the poem exonerating those who are overcome:

When I remember Thee I sway as though,
From the fragrance of the mention that is Thine
I have been poured a wine

More AIDS and Islam

Muslim Wake Up has a followup to the AIDS conference and the Dr. Wadud controversy, pointing out the dreadful condition of women in Pakistan. Of course there are many other muslim countries the author could have named too. Times are rough all over.

At one point, the author says this:

“When she gets married, and if her husband is promiscuous, it’s easy for us North Americans to legalistically claim that a woman can leave him if he isn’t pious. All is still well in our jurisprudence. “

Since I left this comment:

“If a woman suspects her husband of adultery, isn’t divorce or separation more the issue than refusal of intercourse?”

in the Dr. Wadud article, I assume she is talking to me.

Although I think she is being sarcastic, I’m going to repeat the statement “All is still well in our jurisprudence”. That’s the crux of my objection and I think it’s still valid. Stringing these two arguments (MWU’s and Wadud’s) together in the context of fighting AIDS, which is what this was all supposed to be about in the first place, Dr. Wadud was saying that the religious injunction to avoid adultery was meaningless, or worse, harmful or deceptive, because evil men will still fornicate and bring disease home to their wives. Divorce, though allowed in Islam, is not an option because it’s rough for a single mother in Pakistani society. Therefore wives must have the religious right to refuse intercourse. Now tell me, we should expect the man who defies the religious law by fornicating is going to respect the (new) religious law by not forcing intercourse on his wife? I don’t see how that could be. And this will stop AIDS because the wife will actually be refusing intercourse for the rest of her life? I don’t understand. The only thing gained by such a course of action is the undermining of the sanctity of the Quran and Hadith. Arguably, that was the whole point of the exercise.

I hope I don’t sound callous. AIDS is a big problem and so is the status of women in Pakistan and in many other countries. That’s why I support the Muslim Women’s Coalition and the Sisters in Islam pro-monogamy campaign, and any other group that wants to advocate for the rights of women in society within the context of Islam. But Dr. Wadud and anybody else is barking up the wrong tree if they want to “problematize” the Quran and Hadith, as Esack oh-so-gently put it, in pursuit of a solution to these things. And they shouldn’t be surprised if muslims in turn are hostile to it.

As an aside, Dr. Haddad deals with this issue in his review of the work of Riffat Hassan. [Update: Dr. Haddad’s review of Dr. Wadud’s Aisha’s Legacy]

Catching Up

There’s been some great posts among the websites I regularly read as well as some noteworthy stuff elsewhere as well. Here’s a quick round-up for you:

Thebit discusses in his very learned way an essay about the genre of Islamic apologetics that produce evidences from the Quran for modern scientific discoveries. The logic behind the genre goes that since the Quran was revealed before knowledge of these things, this is proof of the Divine nature of the Quran. It’s flawed for a lot of reasons, but a friend of mine summed it up best when he said, paraphrased, that if a muslim scientist studied the Quran and produced from it a new scientific discovery, that would be noteworthy. But interpreting the Quran to reflect the knowledge of a scientific discovery that has been made by non-muslims using modern science is quite unexceptional. The Holy Quran is far above needing this sort of defense.

Al-Muhajabah, the Niqabi Paralegal has the complete low-down on the Sultana Freeman driver’s license case, including relevant case law for you law nerds. Although she herself veils, A-M explains why Freeman’s case is not so supportable from an Islamic point of view. I also didn’t think her complaint was justified in Islam, regardless of what she might be entitled to in US law. In any case, she joins a long line of muslims of questionable character that have wound up in court. It certainly strains one’s powers of sympathy.

Borneo Chela is a brand new blog from an American studying the deep and wide field of treeshrews in Sabah. As a fellow countryman on the island, Jason gets a big shout and a spot on the blogroll. (His taste in website design is stunning too ;))

And speaking of Sabah, Lionel from Kota Kinabalu backs me up by dissing Pop Shuvit. According to him, the Malaysian rap group to watch for is the Teh Tarik Crew. I’m sceptical but I’ll keep my ears open.

Last but not least, Anak Alam has a cache of excellent articles on Shafii fiqh and related issues from the erudite Sidi Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti. I particularly liked the one on Jahl al-Murakkab, Compound Ignorance. I didn’t know that (simple ignorance)! Anak Alam is off to Tunisia, so you all should check back in a little while for his travelogue.

Islam in Canada

AltMuslim has a front page story on the rise of Islam in Canada. As has already happened in Germany, France and England, Islam is now the second largest religion in Canada, surpassing the Jewish population by a few hundred thousand. This probably has already happened in the US too, but, as the AltMuslim article alludes to, CAIR used some creative accounting in the study they widely publicized, leaving the question in some doubt. But it is safe to say that by the next census it will be confirmed.