Britishmisk's Blog

We are all Malcolm X

Image

Today marks 49 years since the martyrdom El-Hajj Malik al-Shabbaz, more commonly known as Malcolm X. For Muslims in the Anglophone world, and particularly in North America, Malcolm is regarded as a sort of patron saint, a pioneer of Islam into an unfamiliar world. As someone who lives in a culture that has been greatly influenced by Malcolm, my social media accounts were replete with eulogies and remembrances of him on this day. As a result it got me thinking, given Malcolm’s huge influence over English speaking Muslims, and the profound effect of his mentality and outspokenness, have we lived up to the challenges that Malcolm faced? Have our homages to his legacy been demeaned to a simple retweet, or sharing a post on Facebook? Are we doing enough to honour everything he sacrificed for?

The people Malcolm had the most profound effect on were his own qawm, his own people, the African Americans, more specifically those who live in the ghettoes from which Malcolm emerged. If it were not for Malcolm, America would not have Muhammad Ali, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Ameena Williams, Warith Deen Muhammad, and countless others whose stories were told too late to the masses, such as Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, or those whose stories are left to history. But yet in America, despite the great efforts of these people, more is still to be done. Blacks in America are still at the bottom of the social fabric of society, their children are subjugated by the social system, with inadequate state schooling, and by a racist stereotyped cultural system fuelled by television and film that teaches their youth that all they can aspire to be is a criminal turned hip hop lackey, or a sports professional. The cultural influence, given the globalisation of everything American, affects black youth all over the world, including here in the UK. Whereas in Malcolm’s time, blacks were subjugated by a clear-cut apartheid system, today it’s an implicit form of subjugation based on commercialism. Whenever you see a black person on tv or a film, the vast majority of the time it’s a negative portrayal. In a post-9/11 system, this has now been expanded to include Muslims from the whole colour spectrum. It’s from Malcolm’s fight against explicit racism from which we can learn how to deal with the implicit racism we find ourselves surrounded by today.

Malcolm’s greatest asset was he was a non-conformist, he didn’t believe everything he was told, he asked questions, explored answers, he went looking for the truth. When he found the things that were false, he fought against them, this is what the great patrons of African American society did, are still doing, and it’s what we need to take part in in our own societies. Here in Britain, Muslims make up 2% of the population in Britain, but 13% of the prison population, we suffer from domestic abuse, substance abuse and common criminality, to live up to the legacy of Malcolm we need to do something about that, but what? Malcolm is a huge cultural icon, and most of us, if any at all, will never reach that sort of exposure, our honouring his legacy must come through changing the negative aspects of the world around us one small step at a time, just as our spiritual predecessors had done, from the Prophet (ﷺ) to Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, Shah Jalal, Mawlana Rumi and Malcolm X, they sat with the poor, listened to the downtrodden, advised the needy. Our personal effect on the people around us must first be internalised by forming an intention to live up to the teaching of the Prophet (ﷺ) when he said:

Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart.

Once we have made our intention, we must make a sincere effort to bring these words to effect, this happens by doing simple little things, such as clearing rubbish from an elderly neighbour’s garden or buying a sandwich for a homeless person. If we miss a chance to do these trivial things we must regret the lost opportunity, this is the latter part of the hadith where one regrets an evil with the heart. The next level is to make a solid commitment to an ongoing cause, this in our time comes about in the form of volunteering, whether at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, abuse counselling, or even a homework or youth club for teenagers. If we do work with teenagers, it must be understood they are at the most formative period of their life, and if you are working with them you have a chance to make them into something great. Tell them to stop listening to commercial music, enlighten them to the realities of fake advertising, advise them to read. Following on from this, if one has children of their own that entails the next step, a lifelong commitment, “emancipate them from mental slavery” as you would the children you volunteer with, and encourage them in take part in your struggle to make the world around you better, so that they carry it on to their own children.

None of us will ever have be Malcolm in the truest sense, but if we make sincere efforts, and strive to carry on the work that Malcolm started, not just in the States but in our own part of the world, we can all become Malcolm X.

Book Review: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

ImageI heard about ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ after it was mentioned by a number of people in the social media sphere. It was only after I received the book, and looked at the front cover (I had a different edition to the one pictured) did I realise that all the people talking about it online were hijabis, this realisation coupled by the cover I was looking at made me realise, this is a woman’s book. Reading the blurb only confirmed my suspicions, a story about a lonely housewife looking for love etc. Although I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t realise any of this beforehand I still decided to read it to find out what all the commotion was about. I was however a little apprehensive about what my fellow commuters on my daily journeys would have thought.

The story is essentially two-fold, the main storyline regards Ella, a lonely housewife in Massachusetts who starts reading a novel called ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ which forms the second storyline and involves a fictionalised account of the relationship between Mawlana Rumi and Shams-i-Tabriz. Through reading the novel she examines her life and reflects on the lack of love she has. She eventually develops a close relationship with the author who helps her to make a change to her life based on the Sufi tradition.

For myself personally I enjoyed the novel ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ contained within the main story itself. Although it is a fictional account, much of what happens in the story is based on many purported incidents between Rumi and Shams. It follows the transformation of Rumi from a traditional jurist into a spiritual master based upon Shams’s teachings. As the story progresses Shams reveals his forty rules of love to different characters along his way from Central Asia to Anatolia, and the story both begins and finishes with his murder. One point I would make, and it may be considered nit-picky, is that the author seems to imply there was a dichotomy between Sufism and traditional Islam, and I picked up a similar feeling from ‘My Name is Red‘, the only other Turkish novel I’ve read. While this may have been true in some periods of time and in some areas, it wasn’t so much after the impact of Imam al-Ghazali on Islamic scholarship, who is credited with bringing together both scholastic and spiritual dimensions of Islam. This effect would have been most apparent in Central Asia and present-day Turkey where the novel is set. Aside from that this side of the novel is a very good Sufi story and I enjoyed it. It made me reflect on myself in my current state and I took away some interesting lessons from it.

Now the other side of the novel is the story of Ella, unfortunately this part of the story was as I suspected a very female affair. Perhaps it was me as a man but I was unable to connect to Ella as a character, it’s difficult to determine why she’s so sad with her life when she keeps trying to cheer herself up by looking at the good things she has in life (minus the cheating husband which she doesn’t do anything about). To me it seemed the problem with the character was she was a boring human being with no self-esteem, as she admits herself when she reflects on her past. (Spoiler:) It further undermined the character when she decides to leave her family to be with Aziz, the author of Sweet Blasphemy, she has three children, two of which are teenagers and she gets up and leaves them simply because she doesn’t feel “love” in her life. Which to me made her seem shallow and self-centred, someone just looking for excitement at the expense of others. Ironically the novel finishes with the fortieth rule: “Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western“. Well if that were the case why didn’t she just stick with her mundane material Western love!(End spoiler). For someone such as myself who is keen on the spiritual dimensions of Islam, it bugs the hell out of me when the works of divine love, such as those of Rumi, are used to reflect on superficial worldly love. It reminded me of a very pertinent tweet I saw earlier this week:

While it may help certain individuals reflect on the works of Rumi within their own personal lives, it didn’t really work for me, and may be again that’s because I’m a man who can’t connect with a very feminine story, or it may be because I’m a traditionalist, I’m not entirely sure. I would have preferred the novel to have just been Sweet Blasphemy, but the author would have then risked writing a story that many readers would be unable to connect to, I can see Ella’s story acting as a bridge to Rumi, but it risks losing the appeal of certain readers such as me, but it may be that the author was looking for a story for women to connect to. God knows best.

Why Muslims should visit al-Aqsa and Palestine

This follows on my previous post regarding my trip to al-Aqsa and Palestine. The question of “Why Muslims should visit al-Aqsa” does not really need an answer, every Muslim is aware of the sanctity of the mosque and the encouragement our Prophet (ﷺ‎) gave his companions, and by extension us, to go and visit it in the same manner of which we go to visit the other two holy sanctuaries in Mecca and Medina.

But since 1967 following the occupation of East Jerusalem by the state of Israel, a disagreement has occurred amongst Muslims, both laymen and scholars, as to whether we should visit the mosque while its current situation is in such a state. The feeling amongst many is that to visit al-Aqsa would mean having to go through the state of Israel, which in turn poses this question, is doing so legitimising their illegal occupation?

The reality on the ground, and something that is obvious for people of intellect to see, is that the Palestinian people are in a dire state. As Gaza has essentially been turned into a prison, and the West Bank is constantly being confined and suffocated by the growth of settlements and the wall, al-Aqsa, just like everything else the Palestinians own, is becoming susceptible to Israeli encroachment. Throughout 2013, and remaining unreported by mainstream media, extremist Zionists entered the Temple Mount under armed escort on a near daily basis. On some occasions IDF forces close the mosque to Muslims so that Israelis can enter unperturbed. In at least one instance on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah this resulted in tear gas fire being fired on worshippers to force them out. (See Al Jazeera’s report here and a video of the incident here). The Israeli government has only been able to carry out such transgressions given the fact that the number of Palestinians able to travel to al-Aqsa to worship has decreased. As Habib Ali mentioned, if the Noble Sanctuary were full of believers for every prayer, just as the sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina are, the Israeli government would never be able to do such things. And this is where we need to come in.

For those of us with nationalities that allow travel to Israel (which includes a number of Muslim majority countries) we should make a sincere intention to travel to al-Aqsa with or without Israeli occupation. The way things are right now, peace does not look imminent, the Palestinian Authority essentially runs as an Uncle Tom Authority (to use the nomenclature of Malcolm), and it does not look as though they will have the will and determination, particularly given the ruling party Fatah’s secular leaning, to secure or care about complete control of the Noble Sanctuary. Just as we as Muslims in the west need to stop relying on politicians at home to make our societies a better place to live in, we need to do the same for other Muslims in other countries. Let us not put our hopes on politicians who do not know or care about us, in the hope that maybe some day he or she will do the right thing, let us as Muslims roll up our sleeves and instead put our trust in Allah. If Muslims were to travel to al-Aqsa, regularly and in large numbers, it would ensure the sanctity of the blessed place would remain intact, as a result, if we go there and purposely ensure we stay in Arab owned hotels, eat in their restaurants, buy their goods and so on, it would enable the Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians) to have more economic clout which will lead them to have more of a say in Israeli society.

One concern Muslims may have travelling to the region is Israeli immigration. The fact of the matter is their discriminatory profiling of travellers is part of the establishment’s wider aim to ensure the weakening of foreign solidarity with the Palestinians. When one travels there it is obvious to see that Israeli immigration, apart from the desk clerks, are highly understaffed. It’s for this reason the Flytilla incident happened in 2012, Israel does not have the means or manpower to put large numbers of travellers through their stringent immigration checks. Again if the number of Muslims travelling to the area were to increase, Israel would have no choice but to either reduce their checks for Muslim travellers, or spend the millions required to vet every single one that comes through their borders.

Many people feel that travelling to Israel is somehow justifying and accepting their occupation, but if one reflects on this it’s not really a stance that has any tangible worth. The fact that you have your passport looked over is not in anyway granting them some sort of victory and you accepting defeat. If one is truly adamant about BDS you can always choose to travel from Jordan rather than Tel Aviv, which if I were to return again would be my choice. Although you will still potentially go through a long waiting time to have your passport cleared, on your return you should not receive any issues, and you need not have any interaction with Israel proper.

The one last final thing I will say on the matter is with regards to the issue from a jurisprudent point of a view. There are some scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi and Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who hold the opposite opinion of what I’m espousing here. However the martyr, Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, had the opposite view, he said:

Muslims visited Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa while it was under the rule of the Crusaders and they never considered their pilgrimage to be recognition of the Crusaders or their assumed rights. Indeed those Muslims saw their visits to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa as a challenge to the Crusaders’ presence and a continuation and a renewal of their covenant with the Almighty to repel that aggression … It is by God’s Grace that I searched and found no Imam in history and no Companion of the Prophet (pbuh) who severed ties or stopped visiting Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa while Jerusalem was under the Romans [Byzantines].

This for me put to bed any hesitation I had lingering about my decision to visit Palestine, for although I have a lot of respect for Shaykh al-Yaqoubi and Shaykh al-Qaradawi (more so the former), Shaykh al-Buti was one of the marja’ scholars, those who have been given authority to ascertain new rulings by the preceding maraji’ scholars, it is the highest authority a scholar of jurisprudence can be awarded in our time, and with all due respect Shaykh al-Buti was one of them, but Shaykh al-Qaradawi and Shaykh al-Yaqoubi are not.

With that I again ask all Muslims who are serious about their faith and in supporting the Palestinian people to make their intention to visit al-Aqsa. One needs to only look at the rapid expansion that has happened in Mecca and Medina (whether you like it or not) to see the potential benefit that could come about if the mosque was full every day with people praying. Rather than sitting on our sofas watching the plight of the Palestinians on our tvs from the comfort of our homes we should get up and help them in a sustained and consistent way that will prove more beneficial to them than just the occasional charity donation.

For some more reading on this topic I would recommend the following pamphlet forwarded to me by sister Sidra MushtaqWhy Visit Masjid Al Aqsa – Virtues & History

Occupied Lands

In 2012 I had the blessed opportunity to once again visit the sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina, on my return I had a dream that I was praying in the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. At that time, I had the opinion that I would one day visit the mosque and Jerusalem once they were freed from Israeli occupation, and now that I think about it I can’t quite remember why I had that opinion. That changed however once we heard Habib Ali Jifri talk about the topic. Last year the Radical Middle Way hosted a two day seminar studying the twentieth book of Imam al-Ghazali’s ‘Revival of Religious Sciences’, during the course one of the African scholars present asked Habib Ali to talk about and discuss his recent visit to Palestine and al-Aqsa, something I was unaware of, and had apparently been taken as quite controversial. Habib Ali explained why he went and why he encouraged all Muslims who have the ability to visit Palestine should do so, God willing I will explain the points he made in a subsequent post, and from that point on why I now feel the same way. After Habib Ali finished it was clear to me that I needed to make the intention to visit the mosque and the people of Palestine with or without Israeli occupation. The biggest hurdle was to convince my parents, but after some substantial period of time, and by elucidating  Habib Ali’s comments to them, my father eventually agreed. The cheapest flight available to Tel Aviv at the time was in December of this year, and with that we were booked.

On arriving in Israel/Palestine the main issue is dealing with Israeli border “security” if you are a Muslim or someone with Arab descent. A quick look through the internet will reveal a number of people’s experiences and encounters in dealing with entering and leaving Israel. One of the first ones I came across was on Mondoweiss about two girls’ ordeals of Palestinian origin. To know the full extent of what Israeli security will do to probe your personal life that article is a good reference. I had arrived fully prepared for their questioning, having removed any emails and posts on Facebook they would have found disliking to their tastes. However in the end they only kept us for around an hour, which is a relatively short time for being questioned by the state of Israel. I’ve had friends who I know personally kept at the border with Jordan for 14 hours, and another friend kept for 6 hours at Tel Aviv before being told he would be deported in the morning. Their main questioning was around family history, father’s name, grandfather’s name, if I knew anyone in Israel or Palestine (I was surprised the Shin Bet officer questioning me even used the term ‘Palestine’), relatives in Pakistan, their contact details blah blah blah. I complied with their requests as I knew this was part of their strategy to deter people from visiting al-Aqsa and that I had nothing to hide from them (mainly because everything I did have to hide had already been deleted). Eventually they asked me for all my email addresses, including work and any old teenage emails and all my mobile phone numbers. After that I eventually received my passport back with a blue coupon confirming I had been granted access to Israel, and surprisingly I got it back before my father’s. One piece of advice is to recite Ayat al-Kursi and verse 9 of Surat Ya-Seen before getting into any kind of situation where you don’t want people to pay attention to you and if you want to be hidden, this may have been the reason why we ended up not having to stay very long at the airport.

The following day was our first full day in Palestine, we stayed in East Jerusalem in an Arab owned hotel just outside the old city walls. The old city itself is typical of medieval Muslim cities, however it’s not as spread out and complicated as Fez, so making your way around is not too much of a problem (if you know what to expect from a medieval Muslim city). Our first stop was al-Aqsa where I could finally fulfill the intention for my trip. All the gates are policed by the Palestinian Authority, who check to see if you are Muslim, giving your name as ‘Muhammad’ is usually sufficient. Non-Muslims are only allowed to enter the sanctuary through the Maghribiya Gate next to the Western Wall during certain hours. As soon as you enter you’re greeted with a vast open plain which contrasts with the constricted streets outside, and in the middle shines the Dome of the Rock, the gateway between heaven and earth. It is here the Children of Israel kept the Ark of the Covenant, where all souls must travel through to reach the heavens, and it is here the Prophet (ﷺ‎) travelled to the Divine Presence. To go in you need to satisfy the waqf official you are Muslim, usually by reciting the declaration of faith. Most times there’s also a guide who works for the waqf who will show you around and explain things to you, they’re not supposed to take a fee but some of them will expect one. The Dome of the Rock (usually used as a prayer space for women particularly during busy periods) is one of the many mosques inside al-Haram al-Sharif   but the whole area is considered al-Aqsa. Underneath the rock is a cave which is also used as a prayer space. The other main building is the Qibli Mosque, the main prayer area in al-Aqsa, and which is quite commonly referred to (some consider it erroneously) as the al-Aqsa Mosque. Most of the other mosques in the haram are underground, as the sanctuary is essentially on top of a mountain, they include the Old Mosque which is the original prayer space before the Qibli Mosque was built. The Marwani Mosque, commonly referred to as “Solomon’s Stables” which contains the prayer niche of Sayidda Maryam, and the Buraq Mosque, where it is believed the Prophet (ﷺ‎) tied Buraq when he arrived in Jerusalem. It was a great relief having been able to fulfill the intention of my visit, as I wasn’t sure if it would happen or not. To be able to follow the steps of the Prophet (ﷺ‎) and be able to obey him in coming to pray at the Noble Sanctuary was a great blessing of which I cannot be more than thankful for. After praying zuhr we went to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place believed by Christians to be where Jesus was crucified and died. From there we took a taxi from Damascus Gate to the Mount of Olives, a place that has a number of important sites related to all three Abrahamic religions, such as a large ancient Jewish cemetery, the Chapel of the Ascension and the Garden of Gethsemane. The main thing I wanted to visit here was the tomb of my namesake, the companion Salman al-Farisi, unfortunately it was closed and there was no caretaker around who could open it for us. For anyone wishing to visit the tomb it’s located a little uphill from where tourists are dropped off at the Mount of Olives, on a road called Suleiman El Farsi (sic), it’s in a small building annexed to what I believe was a madrassa (See Google Street view here). There is also a tomb nearby associated with Rabi’a al-Adawiyyah (Rabi’a al-Basri) but this is more likely to be a different Rabi’a as opposed to the famous Sufi waliyah. From the mosque we made our way down the mountain back to Jerusalem. As per most of the world outside of Britain a lot of places shut for lunchtime/siestas, so a number of the sites were closed when we were there.

The next day our plan was to visit Nablus. However the weather started to change, currently we were in the middle of a torrential downpour which was about to turn into a snowstorm, so the day was spent unfortunately not doing much. We made the trip again to the area near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to visit the Mosque of Omar which we had forgotten about the previous day. The mosque is located in front of the church but unfortunately it was shut.

The next day the plan was to visit Bethlehem and Hebron, the rain had turned into snow and Jerusalem was now covered in it. Undeterred I was unwilling to spend another day in the hotel room boring my mind into non-existence. However on arriving to meet the tour company they told us that Hebron had a foot of snow overnight and the roads to the city were shut. Allah is the best of planners. My main desire of the trip was to visit Hebron and our master Ibrahim, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Instead we spent the day in Bethlehem with our tour guide Yamen, a native Palestinian and peace activist who has spent most of his life in Bethlehem. He started off by showing us the Separation Barrier and explaining how the settlements and Israeli policies are squeezing the life and living out of people in the area. From there we proceeded to the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square, the main sites in the city. After that he took us around the back streets of the city explaining to us that these are areas most tourists don’t get to see because the tour companies avoid them as they highlight the the sheer deprivation of the locality, and potentially provide a downer for the tourists who do decide to come. After our walkabout we returned to Manger Square for lunch where Yamen introduced us to a great dish called sakkan, I also used it as an opportunity to pray in the Mosque of Omar, the story of which is the same as the one in Jerusalem, in that the Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab was invited to pray in the church, but he declined in the fear Muslims would take it as a prayer space, so instead he prayed a short distance away, and the mosque is built on this spot. After lunch we were shown more of the Separation Barrier and nearby settlements and their effect on the area, after which we were treated to a famous Palestinian dessert called knafeh. Our tour guide Yamen did a great job and didn’t mince his words about the situation in the occupied territories, something that many of the tourists who visit the area need to hear. He works with a number of politically minded tour companies in Israel, the one we booked with was Green Olive Tours which from their website you can see offer a number of different packages, most of which cater towards people who want to understand the numerous socio-political and religious situations of different communities in Israel/Palestine.

The following day was a Friday, and my plan was to pray Juma’a at the mosque before heading to the airport for our return flight. Unfortunately the snow had turned into a bit of a blizzard overnight, the largest amount of snow to fall in the region for decades. As a result I wasn’t able to attend prayers, instead we had to leave 2 hours earlier than scheduled to get to the airport as the main highway (Highway 1) between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was shut. The other route (Highway 443) was just about open, it turned out to be the strangest journey I’ve had, as it felt like a trip through a disaster movie where anything could go wrong at any time. The road in the opposite in direction was completely shut, littered with abandoned cars, the side we were travelling on had the occasional setback, as every now and again a vehicle would get stuck, or traffic had to make way for cars coming from the other direction. Thankfully, we eventually made it out of the mountainous areas of the West Bank and the snow was finished, but eventually, and ironically, as we were approaching a military checkpoint, it started to hail heavily leaving frost on the road. The checkpoint was manned by what seemed like just two teenage female conscripts, one of which who just asked us where we were from and wished us a safe flight when we responded ‘London’. Arriving at Ben Gurion airport however is a different story, again I was prepared for what was to come and ensured we arrived at the airport three hours before the flight as everyone recommends you should. Their “security” starts at the road entrance to the airport where your driver will be racially profiled if they’re Arab, you will be sent to the side to be examined for explosives. A search of the vehicle, bags, person and mobile phone ensues, a sticker is placed on your bags indicating this search has been carried out. On arriving at the terminal entrance you’re again racially profiled and asked to present your passport at the door if you have the wrong complexion. Next at check in you’re asked about your visit to Israel and the standard security questions about who packed your luggage and if there’s anything dangerous in them. Your bags and passport are tagged with a barcode which starts with a number between 1 -6, 1 being minimal threat, and 6 being the highest, we were given a 3. If you have luggage to check in it’s passed through a complex machine that does a thorough x-ray of your bags. Next is immigration, and as expected we were again brought to the side for further questioning, mirroring what happened when we entered the country, although this time they don’t take their time as they want to avoid you missing your flight. The one thing that was different here was the number of people cross-examining myself and my father. There was the senior immigration official, a plain clothes police office who I realised had been following us since we entered the terminal building, and was watching our body language as we waited outside for our passports, a plain clothes Shin Bet officer who I believe was Druze as he spoke Arabic but feigned surprise when we told him we spoke neither Hebrew nor Arabic, and one of the senior airport security personnel. Each one took turns to ask us different questions, most of which revolved around the usual baloney about heritage, purpose of visiting Israel, whether someone had encouraged us to visit for any particular reason, again all part of their intimidation tactic to stop you from visiting again and in the hope you will relay your experiences to other Muslims who will then be put off from visiting Palestine. If they had any genuine security concerns they would have had all the answers to their questions on the computer record entered by the officers when we entered the country. At one point all of them came out together standing over us while the female Mizrahi immigration officer asked us what countries we had visited in the last ten years, pretending to write down our responses. The whole thing lasted around half an hour, after which eventually you reach your gate, but not before having one last security check where you have the standard airport x-ray of hold luggage and a metal detector test carried out. Just in case you managed to pick up some contraband in the 1 minute between checks when they weren’t able to watch your every move.

And so ended our pilgrimage to Palestine. Although we missed out on quite a few things God willing my intention is to return again and visit the places destiny held us back from visiting this time round. Despite the efforts of the Israeli establishment from not wanting me and other Muslims from doing so, my hope is to return and continue to visit the Holy Land continuously from now on. In the next post I will explain some of the reasons why I feel Muslims should make an effort to visit al-Aqsa and Palestine in general.

Book Review: ‘Endless Nobility of The Ahl al-Bayt’ by Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani trans by Arfan Shah al-Bukhari

Image

Literature on the status of the Ahl al-Bayt, or the Prophet’s (ﷺ) family in the Sunni English world is unfortunately very hard to find. This translation of a work by Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani comes as a long awaited addition. Shaykh al-Nabhani, for those who do not know, was an ‘ashiq or ardent lover of the Prophet (ﷺ), he is sometimes considered by some to be the equivalent of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan in the western Muslim world, (albeit without an ensuing sectarian divide).

The book gives details of the passages from the Qur’an and numerous hadith, from various collections, on the status and rights of the Ahl al-Bayt, to this end it serves as a poignant reminder for many people who would otherwise be unaware of their rank within our tradition. My main concern with the book however is not with the text itself but the quality and typesetting of the print that has been published. There are numerous spelling mistakes, both within Arabic and English, a number of passages from the Qur’an are unvoweled, and in some cases appropriate highlighting indicating verses from the Qur’an are absent. There is some vowelling here and there, but it’s very sporadic, making it seem as though the text was arranged in a haphazard fashion. The same verse from the Qur’an or a particular hadith is quoted in Arabic an incessant number of times. As this book is in English it is a given that the readers are very likely not to be fluent Arabic speakers (otherwise they would just look to obtain the original text in Arabic), repeating the same Arabic quotation is unnecessary, especially if it’s unvoweled and therefore unhelpful for the non-Arabic reader. It could be argued it serves as a reference to the Arabic if needed, but this can be done by quoting the Arabic once and then further simply making reference to where the quotation was first given.

I would hope a revised edition would follow this one, as this is an important piece of literature that was long overdue. The efforts and intention for those behind the project should not go unnoticed and I hope there is more to come in filling the gaps within our literature that are highly needed.

A Few Days in Paris

As per my usual annual travel habits I go to new European city for a few days, this year I decided on Paris, which for many Londoners at my age is not a new experience, but for myself it was. For those who don’t know there is a train service run by Eurostar that goes directly from London’s St Pancras station to Paris’ Gare de Nord, and is a worthwhile option if wanting to travel between the two cities.

Our hotel was situated in the Latin Quarter within the 5th arrondissement, which is a decent location for a mid-priced centrally located hotel. But if you’re on a budget it’s worth searching around. The first stop was Notre Dame, as I’ve mentioned in my previous posts when writing about my travels in Catholic countries, I’m not the biggest fan of gothic cathedrals, so unfortunately there’s not much for me to say. From there we made our way along the Seine to the Tuileries Garden situated in front of the Louvre, a nice location to relax if the weather is good. From there we walked along the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs Elysee, despite its reputation, I found to be quite bland, in that it’s very similar to London’s Knightsbridge, superficiality and sensationalism in full effect, with plenty of Gulf Arabs for good measure. It was pretty accurately described by one of the BBC’s journalists in Paris who wrote about the famous avenue before I left. I imagine the American clothing store the writer mentions is the infamous Abercrombie and Fitch, which I for myself saw the long queue to get in for. At the time of writing a fire has burnt down some of the store, which I can only imagine as being divine providence. (If you haven’t already check out #FitchTheHomeless). On the way we stopped at Ladurée, but I didn’t have the macaroons, I think that was a mistake. To get into the Arc de Triomphe is paid entry, as it is essentially a luxuriant roundabout to compliment the Champs Elysee I didn’t really see the point. From there we took le Metro to the Eiffel Tower. A word of advice, if you want to go up the tower, book your tickets well in advance, as I missed out, and I didn’t want to queue for hours to get tickets. The Tower, despite being considered a cliché by some is actually quite impressive when you see it for real, the one downside of my trip was probably not going up to the top.

The second day started off with a trip to Shakespeare & Company, arguably the most famous bookshop in the world, and it deserves its reputation. Layers upon layers of English books fill every nook and cranny, a truly magical place for an avid book lover like me, and for anyone with a few hours to spare it’s a great place to idle away the time to read. Unfortunately my other geeky obsession of museums was beckoning in form of the Louvre, the world’s largest museum, our main destination for the day. One piece of advice is don’t bother with the main pyramid entrance, from the main pyramid facing the museum, go left to the road there, take another left and go into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre from which you can also go into the museum, and the security queue is much shorter. The Louvre recently opened a new Islamic wing, which in comparison to the V&A’s isn’t that amazing but it’s still worth a visit. The interactive sessions were avidly viewed by many of the French tourists and it serves a great purpose in educating the French about our tradition. The Mona Lisa is the Pièce de résistance of the museum, but unfortunately I still don’t get the hubbub (call me a cynic). The main contender to that title is Venus de Milo, again still didn’t get it, I have the feeling if it still had its arms it would have not achieved the fame it had, but what do I know. On exploring other areas of the museum it became very apparent that a lot of what was on display was being used to fill space given the size of the palace. Eventually we reached a point where the objects on display were nothing compared to the sheer magnitude and detail in certain areas of the buildings themselves. For myself as a Londoner and a member, the British Museum is what I would want to compare it to, and despite the latter’s smaller size, a lot of what is on display are much larger pieces which attract more interest. I suppose as I said due to the Louvre’s much larger size they would want to fill it with as many artifacts as possible, whereas the British Museum most likely keeps many items in storage given its limited space.

From the museum we went to Angelina’s, another one of the famous tea rooms of the city. Their signature drink is l’Africain, an extra thick hot chocolate, which on first taste does have a very good kick, but eventually becomes quite sickly. Their signature dish is the Mont Blanc, most of which is taken up by it’s very dry topping, but the bottom level cream with meringue is worth the effort, just don’t do what I did and go with someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth and gives you their dessert to finish, and you end up having way too much rich food in one sitting. In the evening we visited the main mosque of the city located not far from our hotel in the Latin Quarter, the building is exquisitely built in a Moroccan/Andalusian style. When I visited the cafe and restaurant were closed, but apparently it’s quite popular with Parisians looking for Moroccan cuisine/mint tea. On visiting for the sunset prayer there were a number of French families looking to have an evening meal. I felt this was an excellent way to open a masjid to visitors and have them feel welcome and find out about a culture they may not know much about. Apparently there’s a hammam too which is also meant to be quite good, but I don’t know if that’s taking a bit too far…

Our next day started with a visit to the Institute of the Arab World (Institut de Monde Arab), which is worth visiting. Despite my dislike of modern architecture, this one fits its purpose quite well. The museum is one part of the building, while the rest is dedicated to research, not so much Islamic but more cultural. From there we went to Musée d’Orsay, which contains an interesting Orientalist section, as well as numerous paintings by Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh. From there we went to Musée du quai Branly, but first stopped at Michele Chaudun, regarded by many as the best chocolatier in Paris, and his Paves, despite their high price tag certainly give credence to the accolade. The Musée du quai Branly is definitely worth checking out, it’s a weird and wonderful place designed to help explore the cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. The evening was spent visiting a cousin in Saint Maur-des-Fosses which gave me a chance to have a brief glimpse at the suburbs.

And thus our trip concluded. Unlike many of the other European cities I’ve visited and talked about on this blog, Paris is one that actually didn’t leave me underwhelmed, I suppose it’s the fact that it rivals London so closely. There were still a few things I didn’t manage to do which I would like to cover the next time round (God willing), such as the Eiffel Tower (as I already mentioned), Versailles, Sacré Cœur, and Berthillon ice cream on  Île Saint-Louis (which is meant to be the best in the world). But all in all, I enjoyed my journey, and encourage anyone looking to visit Europe to definitely book Paris in for a few days.

 

482404_928828056811_1575725288_n 891940_928828710501_1283968251_o 1400708_928828989941_1056379056_o 1401511_928828540841_1124731667_o

Book Review: ‘Signs on the Horizons’ – Meetings with Men of Knowledge and Illumination by Michael Sugich

Image

On the two and half hour train journey between London and Paris I decided to read this very interesting looking book. In it the author, Michael (Haroon) Sugich, provides highlights of his life on the spiritual journey of Islam by telling us about the lives and even oftentimes just glimpses of men who have illuminated him along the way. On the length of the outward journey I almost completed the book, on the the return journey it was finished before we even had left the outskirts of Paris. The book is unique in that it offers a very candid, frank and open window into the experiences of the author, glimpses into the lives of saintly individuals the likes of which have been ascribed to forgone legends and myths, and something in our time is quickly dismissed as make believe. To find a contemporary work of this type was like breaking a sealed wine and drinking your fill, and I couldn’t get enough, I totally absorbed this book, on finishing it I wished to start over and read it again, and I regret now not doing so.

One of the main aspects of the book which make it so appealing is Sidi Michael’s approach to the topic. He himself could be described as a conservative Sufi, even early on his Islam he explains how he was apprehensive and reluctant about certain practices or individuals, and would wait and take a step back and seek knowledge on an issue before grasping it wholeheartedly. This sort of approach makes the subject matter easier for the sceptic to take on board if they themself understand that at many times the author himself had a hint of reluctance regarding the experiences he’s decided to write about. This book is excellent in this sense in that for people who have misconceptions and misgivings about Sufism, particularly Muslims, this is a living, breathing, well thought and rigorously thought out document for other people to share in.

My only criticism of the book is that it left me wanting more. Many of the photos featured are by Sidi Peter Sanders, and from the introduction it would seem this is set to compliment his long awaited Meetings with Mountains. The author only provides glimpses in the lives of people who have touched him, though they themselves could have whole biographies written about them. His account of the deaths of his two personal shaykhs Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad and Sayyid Omar Abdullah are especially touching. I would like to think there is more to come, but then it may be that if we get more than just tastes of what’s out there, we won’t go out and look for the feast for ourselves.

Book Review: The Invocation of God by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya

invocation MG_0001

Al Wabil al-Sayyib min Kalim al-Tayyib was a book recommended by our resident Hanbali scholar of East London Shaykh Abu Aliyah at a seminar discussing the life and work of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya at SOAS last year, I have only just got round to reading it. The book is relatively quite brief, and discusses the benefits of the remembering of God, or performing dhikr.

The main benefit of this book is that people from different Islamic persuasions will find benefit in it and will not be put off as they would be by many overtly esoteric texts of a similar nature that are available. Of course for anyone who has studied the life of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya will know his vocabulary and attitude are reminiscent of a very Sufi nature, and it cannot be denied that both he and his infamous teacher Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah were no strangers to the spiritual tradition, as can be seen very evidently in this text as well. A very similar book that came to mind was Ibn Ata’illah’s Taj al-’Arus, which Dr Sherman Jackson adeptly titled his translation of as ‘Sufism for non-Sufis’ (See my review of it here).

This was a very enjoyable read and quite beneficial, it contains a wide range of benefits and advice for seekers. One can use it to ascertain one’s spiritual level and what the next level of progress should be. My only minor point is that Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya takes a brief moment to criticise wahdat al-wujud, but for anyone who has any background to the author and his teacher, this can be very easily overlooked.

Reflections on Ibn ‘Arabi – “I Follow the Religion of Love”

O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi is arguably the most controversial scholar within Sunni Islam, the only other individual to cause as much commotion within our tradition was his spiritual adversary, Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya. As Shaykh Hamza mentions, much of the work of Ibn ‘Arabi is outwardly kufr, and the snippet of poetry above from his collection of poetry Tarjuman al-Ashwaq can be interpreted as being such.

However as is with the nature of poetry, it cannot be taken at face value. Poetry at its pinnacle is a manifestation on the tongue on what the heart contains, and the nature of the heart is different to that of the mind, in that it is not necessarily comprised of things that are wholly logical and bound by the limits of the world (“My heavens and My earth cannot contain Me but the heart of My believing servant contains Me“). If we look at Ibn Arabi’s work in the context of orthodoxy we will find our way through ‘the sea without a shore’ that is the work of the ‘greatest Shaykh’.

In the creed of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’al Jama’ah we hold that all actions, good and evil, are created by Allah (“Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak, from the evil which He created” 113:1-2), it is through a human being’s free will and choice that he or she acquires the action they choose to perform. When one comes to this realisation, it leads one to understand the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ‎) “to worship Allah as though you see Him”, for if everything around you is by the will and decree of Allah, then the means you see fade away and manifest to the heart the cause of all that is real, which in reality is al-Haqq, the Truth or the Ultimate Reality, that is Allah. Even the idol worshipper, who commits the gravest sin, can only do so because Allah has left that person to the choice they have made, and for the one who has become annihilated in the remembrance of Allah, even that is a reminder of Him, for it is a manifestation of the divine wrath, a single piece in the ephemeral world that serves its purpose simply to reflect the eternal.

So where does love fit into all this? In a hadith qudsi, Allah tells us through the words of His messenger (ﷺ‎): “I was a hidden treasure and loved to be known“, to this end Ibn ‘Arabi writes: “None but God is loved in existent things. It is He who is manifest within every beloved to the eye of every lover—and there is nothing which is not a lover. So all the cosmos is a lover and beloved, and all of it goes back to Him.” Once the aspirant sees Allah in everything, even seeing disbelief for him is a sign towards love of Allah, for it is a reminder of when his or her existence was not driven towards seeking the Ultimate Reality. Without witnessing wrath how would we know mercy? Without knowing misguidance (dalala) how we would we know what is guidance (huda)? For Ibn ‘Arabi, Islam is love, and love is his religion, for true love can only exist for Allah, and all exists by, for and through Allah.


See also: Shaykh Nuh Keller on Wahdat al-Wujud (Oneness of Being)

“Key to the Garden” – by Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad

41A9XJC72NL._

 

Key to the Garden is one of those quintessential spiritual texts that can be found in the English language, but up until now it had evaded my library, due largely to the fact it is currently out of print, I ordered my copy from the nice brother at Iman Books, it’s an Indian copy but it’s not too bad. A few are also available from third party sellers on Amazon but some are going at extortionate prices.

In his book, Habib Ahmad focuses on the Muslim testimony of faith, la ilaha illa’Llah, there is no god but God. He discusses the implications of the statement, the duties and rights that are incumbent upon those who utter it with sincerity, and the divine gifts that are bestowed upon those who actualise it within themselves. I can safely say I haven’t read a book this beneficial and uplifting since The Book of Assistance, which ironically was written by the Habib’s forefather, Imam Abdullah al-Haddad. Both these books highlight the immense nature of the Bani ‘Alawi scholars of the Hadramawt valley, as Shaykh Ahmad Saad mentioned to us once that in Habib Umar’s seminary Dar al-Mustafa, the only topics they focus on are jurisprudence (fiqh), Qur’an, Hadith, grammar and spirituality (tasawwuf), only core Islamic topics are taught so that an individual learns the basics to a refined level and becomes an ambassador for the religion. Topics such as logic (mantaq) or heresiology are not covered so that the student doesn’t become bogged down in topics that may lead one into long winded debates or sectarianism. This explains why the Bani ‘Alawi despite coming from a very humble part of Arabia have been able to have such a large impact in very remote parts of the world, from East Africa to Southeast Asia, rather than getting broiled into argumentation and discussion, as for example many students in the subcontinent fall into, they focus on what’s important in the faith and work towards that.

The book is highly beneficial for new Muslims, as the testimony of faith is the first thing that leads one into Islam, this builds on that and provides guidelines for a new believer on where they need to be going next in terms of spiritual discourse, in that same regard it’s also useful for “born-again” Muslims looking to rekindle their relationship with the religion. One minor thing I would mention, is that the Habib does not mince his words when he talks about the destination of those who deny Allah and disbelieve, as well as the state of some of the heretical sects such as the Ahmadiyya and Ismailis, in this regard it may not be the best thing to be given to non-Muslims as they may misconstrue the underlying message of the book. In that lies another dimension to the Bani Alawi, though on the whole they are largely friendly and light hearted people, as most Yemenis are, but when it comes to orthodox Sunni Islam they are unapologetic and staunch in their stances against modernist, secular or apologistic interpretations of the religion. Personally as someone who is admittedly quite conservative I find that another reason to like them even more, they have the ability to reach out and connect with people’s hearts, but they maintain their positions towards religion and refuse to sell out their beliefs in the hope of appealing to new believers, as many perennial and universalist Sufi groups have been trying in the last fifty years or so.

All in all, this quickly became one of my favourite books and a much needed addition to my collection. I encourage everyone to try and find a copy and benefit from it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers