Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Great NYTimes post about Norwegian Terrorist

These are his words, not mine. They speak for themselves


His lawyer is simply doing his job, trying to come up with justifications for his client's behavior that will reduce his eventual sentence - but why on earth would a corporate media outlet repeat such claims in this unquestioning manner? Compare and contrast this soft-handed treatment of the radical right-wing movement with, say, Anwar Al-Awlaki:

"Anwar al-Awlaki is a radical American-born Muslim cleric. He is perhaps the most prominent English-speaking advocate of violent jihad against the United States, and uses the Web as a tool for extremist indoctrination. The Obama administrationhas taken the rare step of authorizing the targeted killing of Mr. Awlaki, even though he is an American citizen."


Clearly, the Norwegian terrorist was involved with similar Internet hate groups that advocated violence - and it is very possible that he was recruited into this movement by others (Pamela Geller, perhaps?)


"In a manifesto posted online, the admitted killer, Anders Behring Breivik, praised Geller. He cited her blog, Atlas Shrugs, and the writings of her friends, allies, and collaborators—Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch, Islam Watch, and Front Page magazine—more than 250 times. And he echoed their tactics, tarring peaceful Muslims with the crimes of violent Muslims."

So - is Norway now justified in carrying out 'targeted killings' of the sponsors of terrorism in their own country, even if they are American or British citizens? Will we see the FBI carrying out sting operations and surveillance in politically active right-wing Christian churches and communities, as has been the norm in many Muslim communities in the U.S.?

The fact is, radical violent extremists of all stripes are a threat to democracy and open societies - and their true goal is likely the same in all cases: replace democratic pluralist societies with authoritarian states.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A word to the veiled and bearded

Eat what you want and dress up as you desire, as long as extravagance and pride do not mislead you.

- Hadith The Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as reported by AbdAllah ibn Abbas

This seems to state very clearly that rules of diet and dress are means to an end, not an end in themselves. It also implies that if you follow any religious dietary and dress codes out of extravagance and pride, you are hurting yourself spiritually. I have known Muslim women who refuse to wear hijab in the west, because it calls attention to one's self unnecessarily. It seems to me that this hadith backs up that judgment.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lost in Translation

There's a great Article on Salafi Cleric Yasir Qadhi. in the New York times. We need to make distinctions between acceptance, respect, and tolerance. I could never accept Salafi views about lifestyle and values, especially in the light of recent developments in Western Feminism. Ultimately I think feminism will make its way into the Islamic world slowly, as it did in the Western World. (Women couldn't vote in France until the 1940s). But in the meantime I can tolerate, and to some degree even respect this man, as long as he continues to actively campaign against Islamoid terrorism.

A poster on the New York times comment page for this article, aptly named Rambo, writes: "Do you know the first line of Islamic prayer - La ilaha illallah! means "There is no God but Allah". Simply right, well not if you consider that it is as much a denial of other faiths as the confession of their own."

This illustrates perfectly the problems of relying on translations. The most accurate translation of this passage is "there is no God but God". The word "Allah" is used to refer to God by both Christian and Muslim Arabs. In other words, this passage is just saying there is only one God. This is the most common interpretation of the phrase I have heard Muslims give. This is what happens when someone superimposes their prejudices on a text and assume that this is the only possible interpretation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Muhammad and Aisha

A beliefnet interview with Deepak Chopra quotes him as saying "some of the {facts of Muhammad's life} are not very palatable. There's the beheading of the Jews, there's the marriage to Aisha, a girl of 6 -- we are told all this from history, confirmed by scholars."

I've already written about the beheading of the Jews, but I suppose this is as good a time as any to discuss his relationship with Aisha. For many people,this story is a deal breaker that completely devalues everything else Muhammad ever did. For that reason, it is important to paraphrase the two most common responses to this issue by modern Muslims.

1) Some Muslims say it was a different time and that this sort of thing was acceptable back then. Some have pointed out that in the 19th century USA, the age of consent was 10 in almost every state. According to the only Hadith that deals with this issue, Aisha was 6 when she married Muhammad, and consummated the marriage at 9. Are we really going to label Muhammad a monster over a one year difference? Ignoring Muhammad's alleged behavior on this issue does not require us to approve of it. Muhammad was often ahead of his time, but perhaps on this particular issue he wasn't. Like George Washington and Abraham, he also kept slaves. No one claims that Washington's numerous other accomplishments and virtues should be completely ignored because he was a slave holder. Why not give Muhammad similar allowances for the customs of his time?

2) There are also many Muslim scholars who are highly critical of the single hadith that supports this claim. It was from a highly questionable source-a male friend of Muhammad's who obviously wasn't there at the time- and is not confirmed by any other source. This source claims that he heard the details from Aisha, but Aisha herself was one of the greatest contributors of hadiths, and makes no mention of it. There are also other historical sources which seem to contradict it. For example, Aisha was reported to have been present at a battle which was only a few years after her wedding, and she would have been too young to be permitted on the battlefield if she had gotten married at six. Scholars who use these alternative sources usually date Aisha's wedding age as around fourteen or fifteen.

So how about focusing on Muhammad's teachings, and ignoring thousand year old gossip? Chopra's claim that this incident is "confirmed by scholars" is an overstatement at best, and the incident is not that important even if it occurred.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Halal Meat

Here's a post I contributed to a discussion about Halal meat on beliefnet

Doesn't the Koran say that it is permissible to eat Haram food when that is the only way to avoid starving? This may be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me that when you eat Haram food believing it to be Halal you're eating of the food is unavoidable, in much the same sense. If you believe that eating Halal is an essential part of your spiritual path, I think you need to be reasonably rigorous in making sure that the food really is Halal. The Medieval Christian writers spoke of seven virtues, one of which is Prudence (i.e. careful practical intelligence.) If you've got good evidence that a particular food item is not Halal, you have a moral obligation to use your common sense and wisdom to weigh that evidence carefully. But there has to be an outside limit as to how much time you should spend doing that kind of research. We also have other obligations as a citizen, husband, father etc. that should not be compromised by compulsive attempts at certainty. I think this is pretty much Abdullah's point. Nice to see we finally agree about something.

My spiritual path is Vajrayana Buddhism and we are given many different kinds of spiritual practices to choose from. We have teachers who are celibate monks who don't drink alcohol, and "House holder" Yogis who raise families, drink and otherwise remain part of the world. But everyone agrees that if you make a commitment to a spiritual practice, you should take it seriously and follow it to the letter. I salute all Muslims who have the self-discipline to choose and follow through the most rigorous aspects of Islamic practice.

We Vajrayana Buddhists, are however, fairly lax about whether or not our practices come from "false" prophets. We believe that sincere and pious devotion to a "false" prophet is better than a twisted misinterpretation of any "true" prophet. We have a story about a Tibetan Merchant whose mother asked him to bring back a relic of the Buddha's from India. He forgot to bring the relic, so he found a dogs tooth in a skull by the road, wrapped it in a silk scarf and told his mother it was one of the Buddhas teeth. She was delighted,and she and her friends prayed to it every day. Eventually the tooth began to radiate a powerful spiritual light. The point of this story is it was the faith and motivation focused on it that made the tooth holy, not it's history of belonging to Buddha or a dog. I think that this is equally true of dietary practices followed by many religions, and I have no doubt that many Muslims have benefited from the devotion required to follow the rules of Halal.