Archive for Muslim Societies

“THE 99”: Muslim Superheroes

there is nothing fundamentally different between Islam and any other belief on Earth or any other way of being human… For me, in the end, the 99 attributes of Allah are attributes that not only all Muslims value, but humanity values. Things like generosity, strength, wisdom, foresight, mercy… So my point of what I was trying to do was try to bring us together, versus pull us apart.

when i first heard about this muslim comic book called The 99, i thought it was a cheesy attempt by some apologetic opportunist. but after looking into it and the writer’s background, i think it’s kinda cool. an animated version of the comic book is in the making…i’d write more about it but i’m busy at work and i just finished explaining it to a friend…so i’m just going to copy and paste our convo, links and all… you’d probably enjoy the convo more anyway…it includes munchkins…and bacon…

c: man i just want to go home but i have to go to the other place after this
c: and work till midnight
a: think of munchkins plotting to bring down humanity
a: evil little munchkins
a: with superpowers
a: the ability to sweat cheese
a: so they can stink up any room they’re in
a: and cause others to pass out
c: does this world include hallucinogens?
a: of course
c: fun world
a: a friend of mine is a teacher
a: so he asks his students on the first day of class
a: if you could have any super power what would it be
a: this guy raises his hand and says the ability to sweat cheese
a: my friend thought it was the greatest thing he ever heard
c: i would have so many questions for that dude
c: what would your power be?
a: read minds
c: hmm that is risky business
a: theres a new islamic comic book
a: with 99 superheroes
a: 99 representing the 99 attributes of God
a: which Muslims believe in
c: really
a: so each superhero personifies an attribute
a: so this one character, Noor
a: possesses the attribute of Light
a: and she can strike light and holograms anywhere but the downside to her power is
a: she can see the bad in people as well, so she develops a cynical view of the world
c: wow
c: sounds interesting
a: theyre screening a documentary about the making of the comic book
a: but the film is also a look at how the comic book has caused controversy in the muslim world
a: religious conservatives hate it
a: one criticism is that its idolizing these superbeings, and only God is to be idolized
c: religious conservatives hate everything except god
a: they hate god too
a: i think its funny that many of these same imams
a: praise suicide bombers and yet believe chidren shouldn’t read about muslim superheroes
a: like if he blows his limbs off and takes out others with him, hes a hero
a: and it’s ok when muslim kids look at this and see it as a positive thing
a: but they cant read a comic book that promotes God’s attributes through his creation
a: it’s like shutup and go away
c: well put
a: i went to get a halal bacon sandwich
a: and the guy forgot the bacon
a: thats the only reason why i went to get it
c: so its just a halal sandwich…
c: i love turkey bacon
a: supposedly its really good at this place
c: go back and throw it in his face like you are a rockstar
a: word
a: wheres my bacon bitch
c: exactly
WHAM! BAM! ISLAM! is the story of Naif Al-Mutawa and THE 99- the first comic book rooted in Islamic history and culture. Since its launch in 2006, THE 99 has been both an international media sensation and a lightening rod for controversy. An intimate look at an entrepreneur and his daring venture to build a new pop-culture for young Muslims, WHAM! BAM! ISLAM! examines the shifting definitions of the sacred and the secular across the Islamic world at the dawn of the 21st century.

For more info about Wham! Bam! Islam!

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Fatwa alert: Murder as a form of TV censorship

Recently, the NY Times did a piece on a fatwa that was issued by a highly respected Saudi scholar, Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan. Basically, he stated that it was alright to murder the owners of TV networks for airing immoral programming. The ruling was in response to a highly popular Turkish soap opera that invaded the homes of Arabs across the Middle East during the month of Ramadan. In the show, among the main characters are a married couple in which the husband treats his wife as his equal. Scandalous, I know. Abortion was another issue that was dealt with.

My friend recently posted the story on Facebook and I thought one person’s comments were interesting in that they’re reflective of a general passive and uncritical attitude towards an ailing religious establishment in the Middle East. Essentially, he believes it to be a conspiracy on the part of Western media to smear Islam and make Muslims doubt their faith. Not to suggest that some journalists don’t intentionally choose to focus on the worst aspects of our communities, but to dismiss in knee-jerk fashion any and every criticism that comes out of Western journalism is due more to stubborn, blind faith and less from any evidence that Western editors conspire to attack the faith of Muslims. Why get defensive? Are we afraid that if we admit to and begin to reevaluate a form of Islam that has been partly molded by chauvinist and intolerant thinking, that it will somehow cause us to lose complete faith? Rather than make us doubt, these incidents should help us to work harder to fulfill the potential of our faith. We have to believe that if our faith is solid and true, than addressing these problems will only lead to a strengthened imaan. Because if it doesn’t, well then I’m not sure I want to follow a faith with so many inherent problems. But I don’t believe these issues stem from the divine. Each fatwa is simply one man’s interpretation.

The person who commented on the article described the sheikh as a well-respected scholar and warned about criticizing “stupid clerics”, as my friend described them. This is the same sheikh who in the past declared an already persecuted minority of Ismailis to be “infidels”, thereby legitimizing their maltreatment in Saudi Arabia. Imams are not above reproach if they are harming their communities and there’s a line between healthy respect and blind loyalty. A highly respected scholar with wide appeal should not be encouraging murder but instead remind Muslims that no person shall bear the burden of another’s sins, so if a person decides to own a television set then he or she does so at their own risk. Makes for less bloodshed and more personal accountability.

Beyond the fatwa itself, I take issue with these inconsistent clerics and their endemic double standards. This particular sheikh changed his original opinion when Saudi authorities, many of whom own these networks, got a tad upset over the fatwa he just put over their heads. Rather than blaming these men for the programming they’ve allowed into their country, which would have at least been consistent with his original logic, the sheikh instead put down his sword and decided that perhaps they should be given a fair hearing in court.

This is representative of how the religious establishment in the Middle East caters to powerful interests and vice-versa. Of all the thousands of fatwas manufactured by these men, not even a handful touch on the corrupt leaderships and societal ills that have direct bearing on peoples’ daily lives. And when it comes to the “highly respected” ones, the chances of finding such fatwas are nil. Instead we have scholars wasting our time on inconsequential matters, and blaming TV execs for a problem that can easily be resolved by simply changing the channel.

And what’s that say about an Arab world that’s become infatuated with a show seemingly promoting women’s rights? Reportedly, the show raised marital tensions between actual couples. Did the show really cause these problems though or did it just reveal what was already bubbling beneath the surface? Could it have anything to do with how women are treated in these societies? Case in point, recently Jordan’s religious establishment pressured the parliament to reject a law that would have protected women from honor killings because Imams worried it would threaten the nation’s “values.” And like always and as business as usual, the parliament in return stays out of the affairs of mosques as long as they’re not touching on their rule. Which I guess wouldn’t be so bad if Imams weren’t busy calling for assassinations and impinging on minority rights.

Corrupt political leadership is not the only thing deterring the Muslim world from progress…

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The Clerics Strike Again!


“[Some shows that test the limits on the treatment of sex and gender roles are clearly] exposing people who are culturally isolated to modernity at a pace that is faster than they would like.” -Ramez Maluf



I can’t piece my words together right now, so I’ll just blog now and edit later – but definitely read the article, people.

Why are Muslim clerics so retarded? Is it just me, or is every sin now punishable by death? I’m sure the media has something to do with the demonization of Islam, but no one can deny the lack of nuance expressed in clerics’ judgments these days. 

I don’t mean to play innocent. I often times find myself silently judging others for their lifestyle, whether it be drinking alcohol, or having premarital sex. I tend to elevate my moral beliefs over theirs. I pat myself on the shoulder and look down upon those “alcoholics and sluts” (cuz anyone who drinks alcohol must be crazy, and anyone who has premarital sex is a tramp). But I will be the first to admit how wrong this is. I choose to behave a certain way because of my beliefs, but over the last couple of years I’ve been trying my best not to impose those beliefs onto others, and moreover, to accept their beliefs as a moral way of life. Actually, part of me is jealous of their behavior. Jealous of the fact that they can commit such actions without the pain of guilt that would inevitably overwhelm me if I attempted to participate in the “festivities.” In the end, in some cases, they may actually be happier.

Anyway, what’s of more interest to me is the underlying social implications television programs have on society. Of course I won’t deny the impact television has on its viewers. And I certainly don’t want Arab society to devolve into a hedonistic play pen. But it’s naive to think that people won’t behave a certain way just because they don’t see it on tv.

What’s briefly mentioned in the article, but not explained is the fact that the protagonist, Mohanned “treats his wife as an equal and supports her career as a fashion designer.” The article alludes to divorces and tensions in marital relations, most likely due to comparisons to Mohanned’s relationship with his wife. I’m not sure if the author is trying to say that clerics don’t believe in the equality of men and women in society (a fact which I believe) or if he’s suggesting that these television programs are a platform for women’s rights (which I think is a stretch). 

The US went through this already. From Larry Flint and Hustler magazine, to Howard Stern and his radio antics to Janet Jackson and her nipple – morality and religion are in a constant tango until the end of time. I guess I’m glad it’s being addressed by the Arab World.

Forgive me for the awful structure of this post, I can’t seem to get my thoughts straight right now. 


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A more important, but vastly more daunting, challenge identified by the report is taking on the Islamic establishment to remove cultural obstacles sanctified by religious rulings. The report says that the reform it envisions “will modernize religious interpretation and jurisprudence through the widespread adoption of the enlightened readings [of Koranic texts]. –What’s Holding Back Arab Women?


of the two sexes, she is a symbol. a voiceless, formless representation. disgraced at birth, she is a vessel. filled with ideas that existed long before she was born. she drags her heavy labels around daily, and carries the fear always that she will fail fate’s expectations.

holy men call her fitna. she is disorder, chaos, to be kept out of sight and out of space, hidden away where she can hurt no man. out of time, so when her children are trained in history they learn that men are what mattered and men are what matter.

she is as the arabs say, “half a mind, half a creed, half an inheritance.” she does not matter.

she is above all, honor. she matters. her last name is a trust. a burden of expectations. what she does, what she says, what she dreams. all scripted, all preapproved, and society will watch observantly as she performs her role faithfully. if she falters, her last name falters too. she matters.

she is honor, she is shame. it used to be that a man could bury his shame beneath the dirt. beneath dirt, lower than dirt. but shame was saved, placed above the dirt and told she was free, as free as a ghost. and so she roams, out of sight, out of space, out of time. but if you listen closely, fate can be heard slowly dragging behind.

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The Invisible Muslims

the gays.

when are we going to start talking about them and their feelings? their unnatural, ungodly feelings?

they’re here. they’re not going anywhere…and many are muslim.

but like the many other secrets Muslims keep tucked away in the closet, it must not exist if we can’t see it or hear it. and there they remain in hiding, afraid and ashamed, oftentimes leading a double life that can lead them to trouble. finding that there is no place for them in our community, some end up seeking acceptance by turning to dangerous outlets.

we can keep pretending gay Muslims don’t exist but they’re only going to increase in number, especially as an increasing amount grow confident enough to speak up. living in a free country, that’s just inevitable. what will they have to say when they find their voice? will some react in the same manner Irshad Manji did, transforming resentment into self-hatred and jumping on any opportunity to engage with our community’s enemies? it seems the only muslims with an opinion on homosexuality are on stage casting their stones, making the rest of us moderate Muslims complicit in our silence.

maybe one of the things we should reflect on during this holy month is the ordeal of being gay in a Muslim community. many are practicing Muslims who feel as if their homosexuality is their burden to bare alone. i’m not sure where homosexuals stand in Islam and i admit i still grapple over the issue, but i have a hard time understanding the logic of condemning human beings who have no control over their sexuality. and i can’t imagine condemning or ostracizing another Muslim brother or sister for something that is not only out of their hands, but comes with much grief and confusion. there’s no way a sane person would choose to deal with all the inner and outer turmoil that comes with being gay, let alone a person who grows up in a Muslim community. if not now, eventually our silence will catch up to us and we will be forced to answer for ourselves.

this ramadan, please pray that God guide us always towards truth, compassion, and understanding in all matters, including this one.

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The Self-Cripple

Given the facts about public opinion, it means what’s needed is something not very radical. Let’s become as democratic as say…Brazil. I mean their last election was not between two rich kids who went to the same elite university and joined the same secret society where they’re trained to be members of the upper class and they can get into politics because they have rich families with a lot of connections. I mean people were actually able to elect a president from their own ranks. …They could do it because it’s a functioning democratic society. I mean there were tremendous obstacles, repressive state, huge concentration of wealth, much worse obstacles than we have. But they have mass popular movements. They have actual political parties, which we don’t have. There’s nothing to stop us from doing that. I mean we have a legacy of freedom which is unparalleled. It’s been won by struggle over centuries, it was never given, and you can use it, or you can abandon it. It’s a choice. —Chomsky, 2005

This post was inspired by those Muslims and Arabs who believe that voting is “haram” or that it won’t change anything so why bother. I know that more needs to be done in the way of addressing the many inequalities that exist in American society, but I don’t think it is far-stretched or unreasonable to admit to the historic nature of this election, and the positive implications it has for our democracy. No matter which party wins, either one will bring a minority into power. Yet, there are those in our community who never fail to infect the rest of us with their pessimism and deep cynicism.  Even many secular Arabs like to point to the treatment of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as proof that this system should be abandoned altogether. It is a hopeless view of American politics and whether their calls are true or not, at the end of the day they have accomplished nothing more than to paralyze many and to keep the idea going that there’s a coordinated and well organized attempt to keep us permanently disenfranchised. But this is just not true. Not even their intellectual messiah, Noam Chomsky, believes that. Chomsky believes that disenfranchisement in general stems from a “willing subordination to power.” Key word being willing. And neither did the much praised militant hero Malcolm X believe that it was futile to get involved. He preached that we’ve got to do more than just sit at the table before we can call ourselves true Americans.

It’s sad and abhorrent that so many Muslims not only choose to not exercise their right to vote, but will try and convince others not to participate either.  I know the government has done its part to make many of us feel like rejected cynics, but how will altogether removing ourselves from the equation help? Ayatollah Sistani, a well respected religious scholar, was recently asked what his position was with regards to participating in a non-Muslim country. I chose this man’s statement not because of my own personal beliefs but simply because he hits the nail on the head:

At times the higher interests of the Muslims in non-Muslim countries demand that Muslims seek membership of political parties, enter parliaments, and representative assemblies. In such cases, it is permissible for Muslims to engage in such activities as much as is demanded by the interest [of the Muslim community] that must be identified by consulting the trustworthy experts.

As citizens of a democracy, there is nothing to hold us back from impacting change other than ignorance. It is the quality of the media that defines the strength of any nation’s democracy, and true, our media is often biased. Sources of information that are accessed by most Americans have helped to fuel war, fear, and hate. But that’s not to say that the problem is out of our hands. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to indoctrinate people with propaganda and to suppress information. Although corporate media used to be the cultural gatekeeper, the advent of the internet has changed the rules of the game. It has killed their monopoly over information, severely damaging print media and forcing broadcast media to reevaluate its programming and to be more inclusive. For example, I learned about the Dunkin Donuts decision to pull down the Rachel Ray Ad through a news show, in which the host was allowed to express how ludicrous and bigoted he thought the decision was. Lou Dobbs is holding a special “Independent Convention” all week on CNN and one of the topics he will be addressing is the dangerous influence of lobbies. And there are many other similar instances of mainstream media covering issues once considered to be on the fringe of legitimate public discourse.

Our political landscape is changing, thanks to the web. People are becoming increasingly empowered because they are better informed. As a result of having greater access to information, civic awareness and participation has dramatically increased. Obama built up a huge base early on in his candidacy primarily because of the campaign he waged on the web. His candidacy alone has brought four million new voters to the Democratic party. Sarah Palin wouldn’t be on the map today had it not been for a college blogger. And Ron Paul, who refers to the internet as the “strong political equalizer,” held a counter-convention this past Tuesday that drew about 15,000 supporters from across the country. The New York Times did a piece in 2007 describing what the internet has meant for Ron Paul’s candidacy:

If his campaign had taken place in the pre-Internet era, it might have gone the way of his 1988 Libertarian campaign for president, as a footnote to history… .How much the Paul campaign had snowballed on the Internet became evident…when supporters independent of the campaign raised $4 million online…

Many Muslims also lack any nuance when it comes to their approach to politics. So they will deride Obama because he isn’t pro-Palestinian enough, or because he won’t be seen in a photo with women in hijab. But they forget that it took 9-11 to draw our community out of its shell and to force it to become more engaged. We are still new to the game and need to work on building a presence and establishing coalitions with other communities. Meanwhile we can’t even get enough of us to go out and take a simple kuffiyeh photo (of course I was going to bring that up). But that’s the sort of behavior I’ve grown accustomed to when it comes to my community. We love to complain and do nothing.

I’m starting to think that the adamant resistance displayed by many towards the political process comes from something more. Based on my interactions with the Muslim and Arab communities, there is no doubt in my mind that there are far too many of us who are in love with our sense of victimization. A dangerous pitfall for any minority to fall into, I’m really starting to believe that we can’t define ourselves without it– the intellectual nihilism, the crippling cynicism, conspiracy theories that serve to let us off the hook, this attitude that the whole world is plotting against us, and that we are special and unique in our suffering and humiliation. Tragic histories have shape our psyche and we cling to these markers so tightly that it has become second nature to despair and to dismiss our own agency. We would much rather remain in some corner embracing our bleeding hearts.

Islam is not a faith of defeatism, it isn’t defined solely by a series of rituals– we do not worship God as a means of doing good, we do good as a means of worshiping God. Every mu’min is charged with social obligations and it’s only when we have run out of options that we are told to hate the unjust with our hearts. There can be no room in such a faith for indifference or despair. To the self-cripples among us, my advice to you is earn the right to bitch first and then complain if you’re not being represented properly. But if you’re already so convinced as a Muslim that the world is conspiring against you, than go dig yourself a hole and wait for some messiah to come and make the world right. The faith I follow tells believers to look for any means to make a difference in their environment and above all else, it stresses the need to get over ourselves. Like Chomsky says, it’s a choice.

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“No Excuse”


I recently received a forward from a friend of mine entitled “No Excuse.” The point of the email was to remind people of the importance of prayer in Islam, giving quotations of hadith and showing photos of people performing salat in various places, indiscriminately. While I agree that prayer is an important act of worship and a pillar of our faith as Muslims, I feel that the problems we face today will not be fixed by praying more.Sincere prayer comes from our lifestyles, our actions and out intentions, not just the five daily prayers prescribed to us. If we’re killing each other, oppressing our women, and living for power and material wealth, then all the prayer in a lifetime will not mean a thing. I can’t help but wonder what the people depicted in the photos do when they’re not praying. For example, one of the photos included in the email was a group of people praying in the snow on a mountaintop. (see below) Take a close look. Go ahead, look and come back. Did you see it? What’s beside the imam? A GUN. There is a gun resting beside the man who is praying in the front.

Ok, I understand that there are wars going on in Muslim lands, and that soldiers have to pray too. But, still. There is something to be said about praying and having the intention to kill moments later. Is that what Islam boils down to? Maybe if Islam is being repressed, and Muslims are defending themselves against an attacker, then retaliation can be acceptable. But many wars these days are fought based on a nationalistic agenda and NOT Islam. (Iraq being a prime example.) Then again, I must pause for a moment. I don’t intend on passing judgement on people based on a photo, and I have no idea what they’re going through. I just wanted to express what the image said to me, namely that our problems won’t be solved by remembering to pray if we don’t understand the meaning behind prayer. Before we remind Muslims of the rituals of Islam, I think we need to remind them of the humanity of Islam. Once our hearts are in the right place, the rituals will inevitably follow. –OJprayer12.jpg

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