SCHOLAR vs JOURNALIST – Avoid Tripping Over Live Wires

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s interview with Mehdi Hasan at the Revival of the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention in Toronto on December 23, 2016 ignited an unprecedented controversy. I suspect the fallout from his interview will have a negative impact on an already tenuous relationship between Muslims and the media. Before we move on from this hiccup on our collective radar, I believe there are some important take-away lessons, particularly for anyone courageous enough to agree to an interview.  

The Muslims I know don’t trust the mainstream media and will run as far away as possible from investigative reporters. Those who can speak intelligently are few in numbers. From experience I can say that imams and community leaders in Toronto are not interested in attending training courses, even cheap ones organized and taught by qualified Muslim journalists.

In a paper I wrote for the Tabah Foundation in February 2011, I argued that when it comes to the mass media, our community is stuck in “flak attack” mode. In other words, the media is a sworn enemy of Muslims, and rather than engaging with the media, we attack it.     Continue reading

Tariq Ramadan and Western Muslim Discourse – Elevating Politics Above Faith

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is getting its fair share of criticism these days. Some within the Muslim community accuse its leaders of being “spineless”  for not objecting to remarks made by the governor of Michigan at ISNA’s 51st annual convention held this year in Detroit. ISNA eventually issued a press release calling on Americans to object to Rick Synder’s blatant exclusion of Palestinian rights while he affirmed the right of Israel to exist. 

Some are citing ISNA’s faux pas in relation to Synder’s comment as a validation of Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s reasons for not attending the ISNA convention. Dr. Ramadan’s statement “Why I will not attend the ISNA and RIS conferences”, issued two weeks before ISNA’s gathering and months before the Revival of the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference in Toronto, reveals his Islamist weltanschauung – politics trumps faith.  

We see this in the reasons he presents for severing ties with ISNA and RIS, his vision of Islamic conventions/conferences, the kind of sufism and sufis he prefers and in his master plan of what a new generation of Muslim leaders ought to look like. Continue reading

The Radical Middle Way – Why?

My dear friend Fuad Nahdi and I have had many chats over the years about the need for Muslims living in the West to have a sustained strategy of civic engagement and the meaning of radical activism.
Wanted WomenI admire his dedication and wish I had some of his excitement and enthusiasm.
He being in London and me in Toronto has not prevented us from talking at length about our daily struggles to balance instinctively left-leaning reactions and deep felt pain at the injustices we’ve been fortunate to chronicle as journalists against the teachings of a faith that demands compassion and love.
When Fuad left Mombassa, Kenya to study in London he was older and wiser than when I migrated from Georgetown, Guyana to Toronto. In the last three decades we’ve gotten married, raised families, established careers and jumped waist high into the turbulent politics of Muslim community affairs.
How we’ve managed to find and stay on the “middle path” is not really a mystery. We both came from homes where parents and elders were involved in our lives. We were raised in communities of faith that were real, not imagined. We both had teachers who taught us wisdom and didn’t lecture us with fire and brimstone speeches.
We might not have known much about Sufis, Salafis, Deobandis or Barelwis growing up, but we knew that being Muslim meant we had to be good to our neighbours and those less fortunate. This understanding, call it a firm grounding of faith and civic identities, eventually made us as comfortable in our newsrooms as we were in our local mosques. And although poverty was our lot as young men we never aspired to roll with the rich and live the high life.   
These thoughts about Fuad and I came to me as I got to the end of Deborah Scroggins book “Wanted Women: Faith, Lies and the War on Terror – The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui.”


The mausoleum of Sidi Ahmad Zarruq in Misrata, Libya. Courtesy: Fareena and Abdur-Rehman Malik

The hard earned freedom of the Libyan people has been sullied by a band of zealots. In the last few months they’ve desecrated countless graves, bulldozed mausoleums and even exhumed and discarded bodies that have been interred for centuries.

Attacking the dead is sacrilege in every faith tradition and in every culture of the world except perhaps in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While the majority of Libyans and indeed the global Muslim community have condemned these heinous acts and are insisting that the ignorant be punished, some senior Saudi scholars advocate the opposite opinion.  To read the blog in pdf format please click GOING AFTER LIBYA’S DEAD

The track below is taken from the Album “To the Guide’s Chamber:A Journey to the Prophet of Islam” by the Libyan Ensemble Bustan Al-Madihin (trans. Orchard of Devotional Singers). The Ensemble comprises 30 professional singers and musicians united in their love of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). The group is led by Shaykh Bahlul Sa‘id Abu ‘Arqoub, one of the most accomplished Libyan munshidin. The ensemble was formed in 1998 on the exact day the Muslim World was commemorating the birth of the Blessed Prophet. My friend Sohail Nokhooda at Kalam Research and Media (U.A.E.) wrote: “With the launch of this new and exciting album, “To the Guide’s Chamber”, the group brings their rich musical repertoire and soulful lyrics to a wider audience of listeners who long to be touched by the weaving of faith and poetry.” The album, released in 2010 by KM&R, was recorded in Syria – two countries rocked by shocking violence. To those who feel love not hate, enjoy this beautiful track by Bustan Al-Madihin and let us pray together that sanity triumphs over unspeakable cruelty.

Hasbuna-Allahu Wa Ni’mal Wakil

Hasbuna-Allahu Wa Ni’mal Wakil

All Dressed Up And No Where To Go

Afro-Arab summit in Sirte (2010)

One wonders what was so funny at the time. Posing for a photo-op at the Afro-Arab summit in Sirte (2010), these men share a laugh, perhaps the clown in front, their host, said something funny. Oppressors often mistakenly believe they’re immune from the wrath of the oppressed. That’s because they surround themselves with buffoons, court jesters, men and women who can’t risk telling the truth. Those who tell the truth don’t usually live to speak another day. I was thinking about Syria this morning after Fajr and particularly how ugly the situation appears to be and yet the people’s struggle continues. Why has this era of darkness descended on Syria and when it ends, what would have become of the great luminaries from whose doors our Ummah took knowledge?

I recently came across this brilliant passage in “Mau’izah-i-Jahangiri” written by Muhammad Baqir Najm-i Sani, a high-ranking Mughal nobleman in the early 17th C. (trans. from Persian as “Advice on the Art of Governance” by Sajida Sultana Alvi). In it Najm-i-Sani wrote: If the judge (shahnah-i ‘adl) (ruler) does not regulate the affairs of the people, a clandestine rebel, abetted by tyranny, will destroy the lives of the nobility (khas) and plebeian (‘am) alike. If the light from the candle of justice does not illuminate the somber cell of the afflicted, the darkness of cruelty will blacken the entire country just as it does the hearts of the tyrants.” The Mughals knew a thing or two about power and authority.

In the process of looking for something I stumbled on a pile of old MD discs. One was labelled “Sh. Hamza – Calgary Khutbah.” It was recorded during the Dec. 2002 Deen Intensive in Calgary. I had something to do with DIs at the time and recorded it although it has never been released. I thought this particular excerpt was remarkably prescient given what we see unfolding in Syria. Shaykh Hamza on the Abuse of Power. 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Ikhwan and the Salafist political parties might be making electoral gains in the Middle East, but it appears a growing chorus of religious scholars is determined to test their commitment to the democratic ideals they so ardently espouse.

Among the scholars who are refusing to dance to the Ikhwan’s tune are Habib Ali Al-Jifry and Shaykh Ali Gomaa. Shaykh Ali Gomaa is Egypt’s Grand Mufti, a position that carries the weight of centuries of Muslim legal history. Habib Ali, on the other hand, is a rare type of public intellectual, admired by many Muslims both in the East and the West for the clarity of his religious commitments.

Masjid Al Aqsa

A few weeks ago they visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on separate occasions. In so doing, they defied a fatwa that declares all visits by non-Palestinains to Al-Aqsa as “haram” on grounds that it leads to the “normalization of relationship with the state of Israel.”

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It’s hard to believe 20 years has passed since the start of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After listening to the documentary of my distinguished friend and colleague at the CBC, Anna Maria Tremonti, I felt compelled to play the tracks on Yusuf Islam’s album, “I have No Cannon That Roar.”

For those who believe memories are important, even those of tragedies and unspoken human cruelties, please read the blog of Abdal Latif Whiteman titled “Goose Pimples in Sarajevo.” And if you want to hear something that is sure to touch your soul give a listen to his Arabic rendition of Tashaffa-ya-rasullalah. “Tashaffa-ya-rasullalah.” The song was performed at a concert in Sarajevo after the war ended and from that same concert came the tracks for “I have No Cannon That Roar.”

In the first part of her documentary Anna Maria takes us back to the start of the war that she covered for the CBC over a period of several years. In part 1 “Born of War” Anna Maria introduces listeners to two Muslim women who were victims of rape and who took their resulting pregnancies to term. It is not for the faint of heart.

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Haggling over the Hilal

Ah, but my calculations, people say,
Have squared the year to human Compass, Eh?
If so, by striking from the calendar
Unborn tomorrow and dead Yesterday.
(Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat)

It’s been over three decades since Muslim leaders in North America have been dithering over the hilal, the new moon crescent that heralds the beginning and end of the Islamic lunar months. For the ordinary Muslim the dispute is a maze. They instinctively know that intentionally missing a fast of Ramadan is a sin that requires expiation and are perplexed why some very senior international scholars have adopted a cavalier attitude when many celebrate Eid on a day a significant number of others are still fasting.

For example, this year some national organizations have encouraged ordinary plebs “to celebrate Eid with their local community, following the dates and moon sighting methodology of their qualified leadership.” I am not entirely clear what “dates,” “moon sighting methodology” and “qualified leadership” means, but the jest of it is that the average mosquegoer should not haggle over the hilal. ‘Leave it to scholars,’ they’re told, scholars who seem blissfully oblivious to the implications of their decisions.

Muslims and the Assault on Liberalism

A few years ago I wrote an essay for the Tabah Foundation titled “Reasonable Accommodation: Religion, Secular Law and the Limits of Multiculturalism”. At the time, Dr. Charles Taylor, a world-renowned philosopher and author of A Secular Age and Dr. Gerard Bouchard, a reputable Canadian sociologist, had been appointed to carry out a series of public consultations in Quebec. The provincial government wanted a formula to handle the apparently never-ending stream of demands from faith communities for religious accommodation in the public sphere. The commission was dubbed “Reasonable Accommodation.”

I felt it was important for Muslims living as minorities in the West to become familiar with the debate and the findings of the commission. It was not just a theoretical exercise but rather addressing an issue that Muslims need to understand better in order to adapt to the terrain of liberal secular societies.

Now that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the largest school Board in Canada and fourth largest in North America, is being attacked for allowing Muslim students at Valley Park Middle School to offer the Friday congregational prayers in the school’s cafeteria, it is important to revisit the topic and to ask whether this particular accommodation meets the yardstick of ‘reasonable’ or not?