Sufi Advice

Sidi Ahmed Al Zarruq (d.1492) He speaks as the Sufi masters of old…a tongue which no-one seems to understand today…

”Beware of being too harsh on your soul before you have gained mastery over it. But also beware of being lax with it in anything which concerns the sacred rulings. This is because [the soul] constantly flees form moderation in everything, and it inclines to extremism in both matters of deviance and guidance…

Work for this world as if you will live forever, but work for the next life as if you will die tomorrow…

If you desire to live such that your religion is safe and your portion is full and your honour is sound, guard your tongue and never mention another’s faults remembering that you yourself have faults and others have tongues.”

(Thanks to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf for the translation)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

iERA: Too Big To Fail?

The Sultan’s Jester is very sad to see the call to Islam, which must be carried out with wisdom and beautiful manners, being treated as a playground for sectarianism and absurd behaviour.

The Jester recently allowed me to post an article here about the ‘Dawah’ group iERA and a controversy they had become immersed in as of late regarding gender segregation at a Muslim/Atheist debate at a secular university campus, University College London.

Sadly, the fallout from this incident is still continuing. iERA have been banned from UCL, and a lot of negative press has been generated for Muslims. No doubt the ban and the bad press is most disturbing and largely or completely unwarranted.

Further, iERA speakers and a seemingly large fan base have ‘dug in’ and attacked other dawah personalities who have not ‘fallen into line’ to defend them in a most aggressive and defamatory manner. The list of victims seems to rising by the day like some natural disaster but it seems that some of the most influential Muslim speakers, namely Shabir Ally, Adam Deen and others, have been the victims of some aggressive and ill advised comments by iERA speaker Adnan Rashid or their supporters. Adnan Rashid actually posted comments warning Muslims to stay away from Adam Deen and his ‘Deen Institute’ and labelled them ‘haters of people of the Sunnah’ (!?).

He further went on to attack with the most uncouth language notables such as Dr. Shabir Ally, the well known Orthodox Sunni theologian Sheikh Atabek Nasafi…and basically anyone who disagreed with him…on anything. At all.

His tirade was on the iERA website uncensored for over 48 hours through a Facebook window and has now been taken down (sans explanation or apology). Curiously, this came after British Muslim intellectual Paul Williams bravely drew attention to the worrying nature of the diatribe. I won’t add to Williams account of the incident as it is there for everyone to see.

This has been in conjunction with a multimedia barrage on Facebook and elsewhere attacking the individuals above by both iERA members and ‘loyalists’ including seemingly some of their top organisers. The attacks are virulent and often begin and end with takfir or insult. The whole affair resembles nothing as much a political mudslinging and rioting around election time in some countries.

Then we have this video by a gentleman who appears to be with iERA:

This is maybe not a helpful sequel to the UCL incident and in conjunction with the smear campaign by senior iERA members on…just about everyone, brings into serious question the good sense of this group.

The wall of silence that greeted the crypto takfir of Adam Deen and associates from the dawah community was very illustrative of this: iERA is in danger of acting like a gang, adopting a ‘my way or the highway’  approach not broaching any criticism and indeed trying to act with relative impunity.

Quite apart from the fact that those attacked seem to have had nothing to do with iERAs troubles, their reaction to Paul Williams and even my own article seems to be all out ‘war’ rather than using it as an opportunity to reflect on or even just refute the points therein.

Anyone can err, and perhaps this unfortunate incident was a good chance for iERA to hear the gripes of people and perhaps consolidate their powerful position in the U.K by being inclusive and understanding that some people felt that the organisation was ideologically biased towards certain (Wahhabi) interpretation of Islam as well as a concomitant  view that a woman speaker should not address a mixed crowd, even wearing niqaab.

Surely iERA could only benefit from such engagement and would have a greater claim to inclusiveness by understanding and responding to these matters in a respectful manner. It could have avoided further confrontations with the secular authorities and made non-Wahhabis Muslims greater stakeholders in the iERA enterprise. They could have held out an olive branch and made their critics look reactionary and gained the Islamic high ground.

No such luck: what followed was an master-class in stubbornness, conspiracy theories and very random heresy hunting (i.e Adam Deen). Any criticism was quashed with Facebook barrages of ‘This is disunity!’, ‘We are the defenders of the Faith, how can you not support us?!’ ‘We are above answering your questions!’ ‘By questioning us you have caused fitnah! Repent and fear God!’ Or even ‘Heathens!’

I myself have lost count of the number of takfirs I have had for merely suggesting that they accommodate the orthodox view that a woman’s voice is not awrah. I am not saying that this is coming from iERA itself always (though Adnan is most certainly a senior iERA member) but it is coming from their fan base, and the way a football team is often judged by it’s fans behaving like hooligans is a bad omen for IERA.

IERA further issued a press release saying that they were ‘the most popular speakers’ as if that put them above criticism and refused to come to terms or apologise or merely calm down and let the storm blow over. Again, Williams alone had to try to account iERA:

https://bloggingtheology.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/10659/

Rather than provide counters and evidences against their alleged pro-Wahhabi bias and  seemingly odd ideas relating to female speakers, what seems to have met sincere Muslims is harangue of ‘Modernists!’ ‘Sympathisers!’ ‘Secularists!’ and very often again ‘Heretics!’ or even ‘apostates!’

iERA clearly feel they have good intentions, and they are right to a large extent, but acting as if one is above accountability from one’s own constituents is not a good idea. People like Yusuf Chambers & Co. do seem to sincerely want to help Islam, but there seems to be an organisational agenda that is unwritten but highly divisive: The Salafi way or the highway.

The behaviour of Adnan Rashid, the iERA press releases, the frankly hooligan antics of many of their fan base (who have clearly spent too long hanging around with far right Islamophobes), the implication of ‘might is right’, heresy hunting and the fearful silence of other Dawah organisations gives the distinct impression that iERA think they are perhaps ‘too big to fail’.

But as the current economic crisis and more importantly the Quranic narrative shows, we should all take heed – no one is too big to fail.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Who Do IERA Think They Are?

By now many people will be aware of the unfortunate controversy surrounding the latest IERA ‘Big Debate’ at which their workhorse and front-man Hamza Tzortzis debated celebrity atheist Professor Lawrence Krauss. The event has become notorious for a ‘gender segregation’ controversy, as Krauss stormed out, refusing to speak at a ‘segregated’ event. He was coaxed back in but the circumstances of his departure and return are unclear: the Atheist contingent claim that the event was segregated and that this was enforced. IERA say that they provided different seating areas, women, men, mixed and couples and that people were free to choose. 

The incident was widely reported in the national press through ‘The Guardian’ newspaper and even the Archbishop of Atheism, Richard Dawkins himself chimed in, tweeting ‘Who the hell do these Muslims think they are?’ and advising people to not be squeamish of being accused of Islamophobia. He further opined that ‘Heads should roll’ (the Saudis would no doubt approve).

This unfortunate incident brings to light something far more important though: IERA’s raison d’etre and their mandate from Muslims (or lack thereof).

Whatever the specifics of the gender segregation of this particular event, one thing is clear to anyone who has followed the rise of IERA over the past four years: They never have any female public speakers. More specifically, they never hold an event at which a female speaker addresses men or even a mixed audience. Ever. This includes their ‘Dawah training’ and retreats for new Muslims, where a male instructor will speak to a segregated crowd or even perhaps a mixed crowd, but never a woman to a mixed crowd. In fact, iERA have had ‘sisters only’ conferences with but never one with female only speakers (http://www.iera.org.uk/seedsofchange/faq.html). 

They have held events such as the one at UCL where a man addresses a mixed audience. But never a woman addressing a male or mixed audience. Not only that, we cannot even find a picture of a woman on their website, which is nonetheless full photos of their speakers, events and students. Their website clearly states that the females in their ‘speakers bureau’ will only address a female audience (http://www.iera.org.uk/our_work2_1.html). Interestingly, the men are free to speak to any audience they like.

In the 2011 ‘Twins of Faith’ conference (http://www.iera.org.uk/event.html), out of 11 speakers, not a single woman was present though there were numerous overseas representatives and at least four Saudi graduates.

The rigid nature of their stance is further evidenced by the advert for the ‘Seeds of Change Conference’ held for women in 2012 (http://www.iera.org.uk/seedsofchange/faq.html), which features five female and three male speakers, but which was open to women only and most strikingly has an advert showing full colour pictures of the male speakers but only a faceless avatar of the women (some of whom, such as Lauren Booth were television personalities, so one assumes they would not object to a photo of themselves). 

I am not here to get into the specifics of gender segregation in Islam or to prove that it is legitimate or illegitimate. However, the unfortunate fact is that IERA seem to be interested in just such dogmatic and sectarian jurisprudential enforcement, despite their self-proclaimed mandate to call to ‘generic Islam’ and ‘monotheism’. It is indeed true that IERA nowhere state that they are practitioners of the view that women cannot speak before a male or mixed audience, but their actual practice makes it clear that they are insistent on it nevertheless, just the same as they are not supposed to be affiliated with any particular ‘brand’ of Islam, but in their entire history, they have seemingly failed to give a platform to any speaker opposing the Salafi/Wahhabi position. Ever.

Both of these observations may be mere coincidences but this is difficult to believe. It seems that the latest incident is in some part just a case of IERA being challenged on their unstated practice of gender segregation of a rather strange kind: where male speaker may have access to a female audience but women do not get a public platform to address men.

Since IERA are there to ‘give the call to Islam’, it seems unbefitting for them to engage in jurisprudential controversies or sectarian preferences of this type. Even if they are exonerated from this latest debacle, it stands that despite the presence of numerous talented female Muslim speakers and intellectuals in the U.K (for example, we even have scholarly authorities such as Ruqqayah Waris Maqsood and Aisha Bewley, women who have translated the Quran and Hadith into the English language), IERA seem to find only men to address their mixed events, often not even from the U.K but further afield (most frequently individuals who have studied in Saudi Arabia).

Would it be so hard then to find a female speaker from abroad if the list of female U.K talent was inexplicably so inadequate?

The worrying thing is that less well funded Dawah organisations have no problem attracting and utilising female speakers, having numerous female instructors and even high profile international Islamic conferences hosted by British Muslim women. Some highly orthodox Sunni organisations have female debaters and public personalities (interestingly they also seem to lack the kind of ‘Saudi scholarship’ predilection shown at IERA conferences such as the aforementioned ‘Twins of Faith’).  Indeed, many of the best known British Muslims are women such as Yvonne Ridley, who often speaks at mixed gatherings and on television.

I am not denying the entirely legitimate right of women or men who wish to segregate or not address mixed audiences to do so. But likewise one should allow the practice of those who are happy to be addressed by Islamic female speakers, just as iERA allow unrelated men to address an all girl audience.

So although Dawkins is typically hysterical in asking ‘Who the hell do Muslims think they are?’, we Muslims could do well to ask ourselves ‘Who on earth do IERA think they are?’

Posted in Uncategorized | 41 Comments

Al Ghazzali On Science & Philosophy

When I began my long and unfortunate sleep, the Muslims had already fallen far behind in the physical and theoretical sciences and had been struggling terribly to catch up. I had hoped, upon learning that I had slumbered so long that this project would have been completed by now. Rather I found that we had fallen behind further still. 

But not only this; we had taken to borrowing our proofs from Christian writers who in turn had taken them from us long ago. But we had forgotten our own learned men’s warnings – that we must not be dilettantish in these fields.

Today I see a baffling array of arguments from physics and the life sciences arrayed against our true belief  but an almost total absence of learned men who have mastered these to defend us. I worried to see men ignorant of both science and the faith speaking of the scientific proofs in Islam. No doubt these proof s are there. But had such as they apprehended them?

I remembered Imam Ghazzali, the Proof of Islam, who had warned us of this long ago…

‘I was convinced that a man cannot grasp what is defective in any of the sciences unless he has so complete a grasp of the science in question that he equals the most learned of it’s exponents in the appreciation of it’s fundamental principles, and even goes beyond and surpasses them, probing into the tangles and profundities which even the professors of the science have neglected. Then and only then is it possible that what he has to assert about it’s defects is true.

So far as I could see, none of the doctors of Islam had devoted thought and attention to philosophy. In their writings none of the theologians engaged in polemic against the philosophers, apart from obscure and scattered utterances so plainly erroneous and full of inconsistencies that no person of ordinary intelligence would be likely to be deceived, let alone one well versed in the sciences.

I realised that to refute a system before understanding it and becoming acquainted with it’s depths is to act blindly.’

Al Ghazzali – Deliverance From Error

Posted in Religion, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Universe Of The Quran

Like this writer, I too was born in Sarajevo. As a youth I had loved books and poetry and longed to be man of letters. However, my fate was to be a clown for the Sultans court. Yet my pain made me all the more amusing to them…

I learned of the unspeakable tragedy that befell my beloved city and it’s people when I awake and I could scarcely believe it: it was as if the calamity from the fall of The Ottoman Empire had reverberated through time to kill so many innocents in that disgraceful genocide.

This man survived, and he is a man of letters. He tells a disturbing story that Bosniak mothers would tell their children: would that mothers would tell their children tales such as these still!

Once upon a time, there was an emperor in Mesopotamia who built a huge labyrinth and called upon a Bedouin emperor from Arabia to visit him. When the Bedouin emperor arrived, he showed him the labyrinth and locked him there to wander. The Bedouin wandered and wandered and finally came out. Asked by the Mesopotamian emperor if he has been delighted by this edifice of his, and whether there was anything in his own empire grander than the labyrinth, the Bedouin replied that there was, promising to show it to him when he came for a visit. after a short while the emperor of Mesopotamia visited Arabia. As is becoming to emperors, he was received by the emperor of Arabia and then taken to the desert. ‘Here is my labyrinth,’ the Bedouin said, leaving him in the middle of the sea of sand. ‘Find the way out and then come and tell me whether there is, besides the miracle of God, any miracle greater than this?’

The miracle of the eternity of the desert has become a metaphor in the Arabic language. No path can be made there, because the wind would soon erase it as if it had not been there. The powerful feeling that overwhelms man there is one of a circle. Wherever he goes, he remains in that circle. The sky is everywhere, powerfully bent on Earth. It is only then that man realises that eternity is the grandest edifice an edifice not made by human hands.

– Enis Karic, ‘Essays On Behalf Of Bosnia’.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Earth And The Angel Of Death

It warms my heart that the Bosniaks are still the voice of Islam and Sufism, just as they were in my days during the twilight of the Caliphate. I read this scholars book, ‘Essay on Behalf Of Bosnia’ and lamented that such erudite scholarship, such beautiful prose, is ignored by the Muslims of today.

His pain gives him his voice just as the Jesters misery is his mirth. And to the one-eyed, whose inner eye is blind, this will always be a mystery.

‘When God wanted to create man he sent to Earth and angel Gabriel to bring back some earthly dust. Earth, however, prevented Gabriel from taking the dust, for fear that this newly created being would spill blood and cause disorder. When Gabriel returned without having done the job, God sent successively the angel Michael and angel Israfil to get some soil from Earth. But Earth refused them as well, explaining that it was because of her fear of that new being. Finally, God Almighty sent the angel of death, the malak who takes the soul in the moment of death, Azrail. He took from the Earth several measures of earthly dust and mud telling the Earth: Divine order is older than your fear.

And what I take from you  Earth, I shall give back to you at the moment of man’s death. Is there a death that does not give back to the Earth what belongs to her?’

– Enis Karic, Dijalog, Sarajevo, 1997.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Mosque In My New Hometown Of Harare

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here are some pictures of my new home Zimbabwe, where I inexplicably awoke after having fallen asleep in 1870. This is a mosque and Darul-Uloom in Harare run by a group from India called ‘Deobandis’. I don’t think they existed in my time…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite Zimbabwe being something of an international pariah state, victim to sanctions and great poverty, there are hardly any beggars here and the people, Muslim and Christian alike are incredibly forthcoming and humble. The Sultan would have been proud to serve such humane subjects

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I believe Her Majesty, The Queen of England, knighted the President, Robert Mugabe. Though she does not seem to like to talk about that nowadays.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment