Monday, July 03, 2006

Ultimatum to Israel


In the culimination of last week's dramatic happenings in the Middle East, the Palestinian captors of an Israeli soldier have issued an ultimatum to Israel - release all Palestinian prisoners or bear the consequences.

According to The Guardian,
In a fax to news agencies also posted on a Hamas website, the captors — who are led by Hamas — gave the "Zionist enemy" until 6am on Tuesday. "If the enemy does not respond to our humanitarian demands mentioned in previous leaflets on the conditions for dealing with the case of the missing solder ... we will consider the soldier's case to be closed ... And then the enemy must bear all the consequences of the future results."


They're not going to give in lightly, the Palestinians. And they captured a soldier, not hundreds of civilians, including women and children. Israel may just have a battle on its bloody hands.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Islam and Free Market Economics

Interesting article in this week's Newsweek about Islam's rulings regarding economics, and how Islamic principles and prohibitions actually support the free market and can co-exist practically seamlessly with Western-style commerce and trade.

I'll paste bits of it below; click here to read the whole article.

Stephen Glain writes:

The prophet Muhammad—himself a trader—preached merchant honor, the only regulation that the borderless Levantine market knew. In Muslim liturgy, the deals cut in the souk become a metaphor for the contract between God and the faithful. And the business model Muhammad prescribed, according to Muslim scholars and economists, is very much in the laissez-faire tradition later embraced by the West. Prices were to be set by God alone—anticipating by more than a millennium Adam Smith's reference to the "invisible hand" of market-based pricing. Merchants were not to cut deals outside the souk, an early attempt to thwart insider trading.

[...]
The brotherhood embraces free-trade deals in general, but criticizes the government for failing to negotiate better terms for Egyptians. Though Islam tends to frown on tax collection, the brotherhood supports tax reform (not abolition) and opposes a proposed flat tax as regressive.

[...]
In the days of the caliphate, Islam developed the most sophisticated monetary system the world had yet known. Today, some economists cite Islamic banking as further evidence of an intrinsic Islamic pragmatism. Though still guided by a Qur'anic ban on riba, or interest, Islamic banking has adapted to the needs of a booming oil region for liquidity.

Islam has a comprehensive and just economic system that, while promoting free trade, innovation and entrepenuership, prohibits interest (effetively the practice of making money out of nothing), and frowns on dishonest and manipulative business practices.

Football's not coming home this time round


Sport
This was the year. Big expectations, big hopes all riding on this tournament. But it was never meant to be. England had my 100% support but their games were just dull to watch - no real rhythm, none of the quality passing we see from the world greats, and no sense of urgency. Oh, and a few unfortunate incidents. Michael Owen sent home injured (after a not so impressive few performances anyway), Beckham's injury yesterday and Rooney's sendoff yesterday against Portugal.Reduced to ten men, England played with a sense of urgency I would have loved to see in all their previous matches. But no goals to show for it. The dreaded penalty shootouts. Nerves kicking in at this stage, and fatigue, and a great Portugese goalkeeper. And in 5 minutes, it was all over.

Rio Ferdinand crouching on the ground sobbing and John Terry in tears was a fitting conclusion to England's 2006 world cup campaign. Sven has apologised, ' to the team, to the squad, to the fans' - his job with England is over, and he too has not much to show for it. Big Phil got us again.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

And the nasheed debate continues...


UK
What's with this fascinating trend of badmouthing fellow muslims in public? A big hoohah started quite a while ago when Sister Yvonne Ridley published the following article in which she criticised 'Islamic pop culture'. For the sake of brevity, I'll only paste bits of it here; the full article can be read on DailyMuslims.com

Yvonne writes:

Eminent scholars throughout history have often opined that music is haram, and I don't recall reading anything about the Sahaba whooping it up to the sound of music. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for people letting off steam, but in a dignified manner and one which is appropriate to their surroundings.

The reason I am expressing concern is that just a few days ago at a venue in Central London, sisters went wild in the aisles as some form of pop-mania swept through the concert venue. And I'm not just talking about silly, little girls who don't know any better; I am talking about sisters in their 20's, 30's and 40's, who squealed, shouted, swayed and danced. Even the security guys who looked more like pipe cleaners than bulldozers were left looking dazed and confused as they tried to stop hijabi sisters from standing on their chairs. Of course the stage groupies did not help at all as they waved and encouraged the largely female Muslim crowd to "get up and sing along." (They're called ‘Fluffers' in lap-dancing circles!)

The source of all this adulation was British-born Sami Yusuf, who is so proud of his claret-colored passport that he wants us all to wave the Union Jacks. I'm amazed he didn't encourage his fans to sing "Land of Hope and Glory." Brother Sami asked his audience to cheer if they were proud to be British ,and when they responded loudly, he said he couldn't hear them and asked them to cheer again.

How can anyone be proud to be British? Britain is the third most hated country in the world. The Union Jack is drenched in the blood of our brothers and sisters across Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Our history is steeped in the blood of colonialism, rooted in slavery, brutality, torture, and oppression. And we haven't had a decent game of soccer since we lifted the World Cup in 1966.

[...]
Apparently the sort of hysteria Sami helped encourage is also in America, and if it is happening on both sides of the Atlantic, then it must be creeping around the globe and poisoning the masses. Islamic boy bands like 786 and Mecca 2 Medina are also the subject of the sort of female adulation you expect to see on American Pop Idol or the X-Factor. Surely Islamic events should be promoting restrained and more sedate behavior.

Do we blame the out-of-control sisters? Or do we blame the organizers for allowing this sort of excessive behavior which demeans Islam? Or do we blame the artists themselves?

[...]
Quite frankly, I really don't know how anyone in the Ummah can really let go and scream and shout with joy at pleasure domes when there is so much brutality and suffering going on in the world today. The rivers of blood flow freely from the veins of our brothers and sisters from across the Muslim world. Screaming and shouting the names of musical heroes drown out the screams coming from the dungeons of Uzbekistan where brothers and sisters are boiled alive in vats of water. [...]


I happened not to agree with many of her points or the way the article was written. Sami Yusuf's response was articulate, to the point, and he argues his case very respectfully.

Sami Yusuf writes:

Dear Yvonne,

Peace and blessings of God be upon you.

Your recent article on ‘Pop Culture in the Name of Islam’ has been brought to my attention. I commend you for voicing your opinion and raising some very important issues – albeit in a very provocative manner. I thought it would be useful to share some of my thoughts with you on this matter.

As a Muslim artist, I regularly seek clarification and advice from world-renowned scholars on art, music, singing and culture. Be informed that the subject of music is one of the most controversial topics in Islamic Jurisprudence. I respect those who consider music to be haram. Yes eminent scholars of our past have opined such. However, I respect and follow the
opinion of other eminent scholars – classical and contemporary, who permit singing and the use of musical instruments. The well-established jurisprudential rule states that ‘in matters where there is ikhtilaf (differences of opinion) there is to be no condemnation of either opinion.’


You can read the rest of it on HAhmed.com

And, finally, a response from Azhar Usman (American Muslim comedian) - who writes

It is a rant written by a new convert (who saw the “beauty of Islam” at the hands of the Taliban, incidentally), based on a literalist and highly ideological, fundamentalist understanding of the religion of Islam.

Sadly, the notion that “the world is so terrible and Muslims are being bullied and killed all over the world; therefore, they should be sad, crying all the time, and never enjoy happiness” is a common fallacy believed in and advocated by countless Muslims. As a matter of fact, many new converts (and born-Muslims who come to religion later in life) get sucked into this short-sighted, irrational sort of thought almost immediately after their conversion.

You can read the rest on Mujahideen Ryder's blog, along with Sister Yvonne's response.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

There's still a road map?


Current Affairs
Today saw talks between Egyptian President Mubarak and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss possible solutions to the Israel - Palestine stalemate. The stalemate being that Israel is currently boycotting talks with Palestine because of the activities of the 'terrorist group' Hamas (who incidentally won the Palestinian elections in January) and Hamas' refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist.

So, anyway, Ehud Olmert met up with Mubarak to discuss a way to move negotiations forward -

"My aim is to exhaust all means to further this channel... I hope that our Palestinian partners will take advantage of this opportunity and will implement all their obligations so that we can advance according to the road map," Olmert said.

"If this does not happen, or when we come to the conclusion that it is not happening, we will have no other option than to look for other ways to move the situation in the Middle East forward and not to allow stagnation to take hold," he added.

"We hope the Palestinian Authority will carry out the demands of ... the international community and if it does not do that we will look for other ways," he added.

Read the full article from Reuters here.

Sounds pretty eery to me - if Israel comes to the conclusion that Palestine is not cooperating, it reserves the right to 'move the situation..forward' in any way it sees fit? Quite possibly we could be looking at a unilateral redrawing of the border between Israel and a possible Palestinian state regardless of the views of the Palestinian people.

According to the BBC, (read full article here):

When Mr Olmert was asked whether President Mubarak supported his plan to set Israel's border unilaterally should peace talks with the Palestinians fail, he replied:

"I didn't want to overload the Egyptian president, so we didn't get that far."

Mr Mubarak said repeatedly that he preferred negotiations to be held between Israelis and the Palestinians.

A unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank was a key part of his election campaign, and effectively continues the plan begun by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who remains in a coma since suffering a massive stroke at the start of the year.

Yup, quite wise not to 'overload' good old Mubarak with too many plans; just let him be the smiling puppet as usual. Where would the Middle East be without him to shake hands with Israeli leaders and smile so beautifully for the camera....

In the meantime, Palestinian President Abbas (of Fatah), in meetings with Hamas to persuade them to implicitly recognise Israel's right to exist, has been trying to put an end to the power struggle between the two movements which has been ongoing since Hamas' election victory in January. Read more about it on Al Jazeera.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Interesting parallels


Middle East, Bits and Bobs
While proofreading a friend's thesis, I came across the following quote by Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative Prime Minister under Queen Victoria) describing the inequality in 19th century Britain:

'Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws'

Wow - what an accurate desription of Egyptian inequality today....

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gail Porter Laid Bare


Bits and Bobs
Was randomly flicking through the channels last night to see if I could find anything interesting to watch. I stumbled across a documentary on BBC1 called 'Gail Porter Laid Bare' in which Gail, a TV presenter, was talking about how her alopecia affected her life and her career.

Alopecia is a fairly rare condition in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles and basically leads to baldness. What I found quite touching about Gail was the fact that she had not let the condition rule her life - in fact, she capitalises on her baldness, using it as a tool to help worthy causes, such as the Fair Trade campaign. At one point in the program, she said something along the lines of "It's been a test. It has taught me to accept myself the way I am. It's no longer about the hair now, it's about finding happiness" - which I found particularly moving.

According to the Scotsman (you can read the full article here) - her latest project is a plan to foster special needs children.

Also interesting to note is that in her prime, when she had her full head of blonde hair, Gail built a career around her good looks, stripping for men’s magazines such as FHM - it seems that her baldness could have been just the thing to reconnect her with the more - for want of a better word - important things in life.

"I am near.."

Islam
Finished my exams on Tuesday. Exams tend to stress me out, put me into a state of panic (depending on how behind I am with revision) and are generally very unpleasant. But one verse of the holy Qur'an which brings me great relief and reassurance in such times is Verse 186 from Surat Albaqarah which reads:

'wa ithaa sa'alak ibaadi anny fa inny kareebun ujeebu da'wat alda'i ithaa da'aani falyastajeebu lee walyu'minu bee la'allahum yarshudoon' (Arabic transliteration)


In English, the meaning is:
'If My servants ask you about Me, well, I am near; I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls to Me. Let them then respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may follow the right way.'


Of course, the English doesn't even begin to convey the sheer beauty of this verse. Allah's (swt) closeness can almost be felt by the word 'kareeb' and the reassurance that He will answer our supplications on the sole condition that we ask for His help shows the extent of his mercy and compassion.

Sayyid Qutb, in his tafseer 'In the Shade of the Qur'an', as translated by Adil Salahi, makes the point excellently:
The choice of words creates an atmosphere of intimacy and accessibility, with God Himself stating a direct contact between Him and His servants. He does not give instructions to his Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, on how to answer believers' questions about Him. He gives the answer Himself: "I am near". His closeness is not only to listen but also for immediate response: "I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls to Me".


So basically, never underestimate the power of supplication (du'aa). Allah (swt) is indeed near - no middle man needed.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A bit about me

I don't like labels and I don't like to be boxed into any particular category based on what I look like or believe in, or on where I come from or where I live. These are all aspects that make me who I am but not one of them takes precedence over the other. So where shall I start?

I'm British, in the sense that I was born in Britain and have (mostly) lived here all my life, albeit in lots of different cities. I have the passport, though perhaps some would rather I didn't. You see, I'm also muslim, which rather complicates matters. But yes, I'm British, whether I like it or not or indeed, whether others like it or not. No matter how often I hear the words 'fuck off back to your country' or variants of this, or sense the attitude of those words without actually hearing the words themselves, it won't make me any less British. It just makes me kind of sad. Bigotry and hatred always do, but thank God it's not too frequent.

I don't know how 'British' I am in my mannerisms and behaviour. I've been told by Arab friends and relatives, and my own parents that I've got some of the 'burood' of the British - ie the coldness. And I sense that too. When someone tells me a joke that is not funny, I tell them it's not funny. I hide behind sarcasm when I'm angry or annoyed instead of just being passionately and innocently angry like other people of 'my kind' would be.

While I'm at it, I'm also European. Britain may like to isolate itself, being a little island and all, but we are European. I respect the Germans for their punctuality (something I can NEVER achieve though) and no-nonsense hard-to-get-your-head-around grammar, I love the French for their beautiful accent and the passion and warmth that characterises everything they do. And Italians are just wonderful - so loud, boisterous, funny, and charming. Just like Egyptians. (They are from the Mediterranean after all!)

Yes, I'm also Arab. Arab in the sense that I come from that wonderful bit of the earth, which is so rich in many ways yet in many others, so poor. Rich in its history, in the knowledge it has produced, the advancements in science that it generated. Rich in the quality of its people, people who struggle to put food on the table and save money for years so that when the time comes, they can give their kid a big fancy wedding. People who struggle politically, against oppression, fear and tyranny - and here Palestine comes specifically to mind. Yes, the Arab world is rich indeed. Rich in its old beautiful mosques, in its language - 'lu3at aldaad', in its literature. And rich in its values; timeless, pure values that will never fade no matter how many people reject them or seek ways out of them.

But the Arab world is also poor. Massive inequality plights my country. The rich get richer - move to the fancy new suburbs of Cairo, send their kids to the private universities, buy their FCUK labels and genuine adidas shoes, buy a villa on the coast, take trips abroad. The poor get poorer - the middle classes struggle to maintain a decent quality of life and the others, well, they just struggle to maintain any quality of life. But they struggle with dignity. They toil the days away in the informal economy, walking the streets of Cairo with their carts selling fresh limes - 'a7dar w kollo mayya ya lamoon...' or on old buses acting as de facto conductors (an Egyptian bus generally has about 10 conductors on it). Young graduates, fresh, intelligent and full of hopes and dreams, engaged but unable to provide for marriage, struggle to find work. Or if they do find work, their pay is so meagre that their parents still have to provide for them.

Yes, I'm Arab, and specifically, Egyptian, as you've probably already worked out. The difference between the two? Being Arab makes me a part of the struggle for Palestine, a part of the anger for the raped country of Iraq, a part of the dream for a unified Arabian peninsula. Where we would have a bit of clout and can tell Bush to get out and stay out. My Egyptianness, well that is a part of my heart, part of what runs through my veins, part of what gets my adrenaline pumping when my plane is going to land in just 10 minutes. But it is a love-hate relationship. I love Egypt, with a passion, but can hate it too. Can hate the hypocrisy of its politicians and democratic process, can hate its disorder, its chaos, people completely ignoring its rules and laws as they please (next to a no smoking sign you'll sure as hell find at least a couple of people lighting up). I can hate the arrogance of its people. But there are so many other things about it that I just love, and miss so much when I'm away. But that's another blog entry, for another time.

And I've left the best til last. I'm muslim. Muslim in the sense that Islam is my value system, my means of connecting with God (Allah) and understanding my place in relation to Him, and in relation to everyone around me, and in relation to this world and the next. Islam to me is not a list of do's and don'ts, it is a frame of reference, something to go back to frequently and value my life against. I love Islam. I love how it gives me the sense that nothing in this world is worth crying over for too long, that this whole life is transitory. It's what you do that counts, so make use of your limited days in this world. I dislike some of the attitides people have about Islam. It's not Islamophobes I'm talking about here, it is attitudes that emanate from muslims themselves. The way they can be so self-righteous, quick to look down on others because they don't do the 'right' thing. The way they can reduce Islam to a debate about the wrongness or rightness of nasheeds and/or pop music. The way they can form groups to unite muslims then splinter off into many different groups because of differences of opinion. I'm not 'part' of any specific Islamic organisation. If I like what one group is doing, I'll join in. If I don't then I won't. And if something needs to be done, I'll get it done. The only 'group' I belong to without qualification or restriction is the muslim ummah.

While I'm at it, I'm a hijaabi (ie I wear the Islamic veil) - I only mention this because it is one of the first impressions you would get of me if you saw me. Not that it, in itself, is of any massive importance. I wear it because it is God's command for me to do so, it is one aspect of the 7ayaa2 (modesty) of the muslim woman. I don't subscribe to the argument that women's hair is so amazingly beautiful that it has to be covered unless you want to be sexually harassed. Neither do I subscribe to the view that we can use our own best judgement to decide what is modest and what is not. Humans err; in Islamic terms, we say that they are motivated by 'alnafs al2ammaara bilsoo2' (and there is no way I'm going to be able to translate that, sorry.) Basically, we can't rely on our own judgement to decide what is best for us and what is not. Go down Union Street on a Friday or Saturday night and see the behaviour of 'mature adults' who by day are bankers, lawyers or whatever, and you'll know what I'm talking about.

While I'm on the topic of hijaab, I must add that I hate the way some people form opinions of ME based on it, or treat me in a certain way because of it. The way non hijaabis think I'm judging them, or the way guys are afraid to talk to me, or the way people assume I'm pious. Yes, I try to be pious. But that comes from the inside. The hijaab doesn't necessarily give me that. Oh, or the way people think hijaabis don't have any fun. Don't know about the rest of them, but I am a hijaabi who likes to enjoy life to the full.

So that's me. Just so you have a general idea!

I quite like this blogging thing

Seems to be a bit of a rising phenomenon, this blogging thing. And I can see why. It took me exactly 3 minutes to set this up. How long would it take to create a website? Much longer than 3 minutes, I would guess. So here it is - my personal space on the web.

My tuppence on the things I see around me, my observations and my thoughts. Really, my online diary, in a way. I want a clearer definition of who I am, what I am, what I want to be. Blogging my thoughts may just help me achieve this. In time, I hope this will become an outlet for my (often dissenting) views on a host of different issues which I'm interested in. Feel free to share your views with me, whether they agree or differ with mine. I always like to see the other side of the coin.

Hope you enjoy your stay.