Monthly Archives: September 2007

Pledge of Mutual Respect and Cooperation Between Sunni Muslim Scholars, Organizations, and Students of Sacred Knowledge

Hold on to the ropeHold fast to the Rope of Allah, all together, and be not divided. (Qur’an, 3:103)

Surely, those who have made divisions in their religion and turned into factions, you have nothing to do with them. Their case rests with Allah; then He will inform them of what they used to do. (Qur’an, 6:159)

In light of the Divine Word, we recognize that the historical nature of Sunni Islam is a broad one that proceeds from a shared respect for the Qur’an and Sunnah, a shared dependence on the interpretations and derivations of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), and a shared respect for the writings of a vast array of scholars who have been identified by their support for and affiliation with the Sunni Muslims and have been accepted as the luminaries of Sunni Islam – as broadly defined.

Likewise, detailed discussions in matters of theology are the specific domain of trained specialists, and proceed on the basis of well-defined principles and methodologies, which are beyond the knowledge of the generality of Muslims.

Our forebears in faith, with all the dedication, brilliance and sincerity clearly manifested in their works, have debated and discussed abstruse and complex issues of creed and practice, and have failed in most instances to convince their opponents of the veracity and accuracy of their positions.

The average Muslim is only responsible for knowing the basics of creed as they relate to a simple belief in Allah, His Angels, Scriptures, the Prophets and Messengers, the Last Day, and the Divine Decree.

Recognizing that the specter of sectarianism threatens to further weaken and debilitate our struggling Muslim community at this critical time in human affairs, and recognizing that Allah, Exalted is He, has given the Muslim community in the West a unique historical opportunity to advance the cause of peace, cooperation, and goodwill amongst the people of the world, we the undersigned respectfully:

– Urge Muslims to categorically cease all attacks on individual Muslims and organizations whose varying positions can be substantiated based on the broad scholarly tradition of the Sunni Muslims. We especially urge the immediate cessation of all implicit or explicit charges of disbelief;

– Urge Muslim scholars and students of sacred knowledge to take the lead in working to end ad hominem attacks on other scholars and students; to cease unproductive, overly polemical writings and oral discourse; and to work to stimulate greater understanding and cooperation between Muslims, at both the level of the leadership and the general community;

– Urge Muslims in the West, especially our youth, to leave off unproductive and divisive discussions of involved theological issues that are the proper domain of trained specialists, and we especially discourage participation in those internet chat rooms, campus discussion groups, and other forums that only serve to create ill-will among many Muslims, while fostering a divisive, sectarian spirit;

– Urge all teachers to instruct their students, especially those attending intensive programs, to respect the diverse nature of our communities and to refrain from aggressive challenges to local scholars, especially those known for their learning and piety;

– Urge our brothers and sisters in faith to concentrate on enriching their lives by deepening their practice of Islam through properly learning the basics of the faith, adopting a consistent regimen of Qur’anic recitation, endeavoring to remember and invoke Allah in the morning and evening, learning the basics of jurisprudence, attempting to engage in voluntary fasting as much as possible, studying the Prophetic biography on a consistent basis, studying the etiquettes that guide our interactions with our fellow Muslims, and the performance of other beneficial religious acts, to the extent practical for their circumstances;

– Finally, we urge the Believers to attempt to undertake individual and collective actions that will help to counter the growing campaign of anti-Islamic misinformation and propaganda that attempts to portray our religion as a violence-prone relic of the past unsuitable for modern society, and by so doing justify indiscriminate wars against Muslim peoples, occupation of Muslim lands, and usurpation of their resources.

Saying this, we do not deny the reality of legitimate differences and approaches, nor the passionate advocacy of specific positions based on those differences. Such issues should be rightfully discussed observing established rules of debate. However, we urge the above measures to help prevent those differences from destroying the historical unity and integrity of the Muslim community, and creating irreparable divisions between our hearts. Further, we do not deny the urgency, especially in light of the situation in Iraq, of efforts to foster greater cooperation between diverse Muslim communities. Hence, this document should not be seen as negating any statements, or declarations designed to foster greater peace and harmony between diverse Muslim communities. However, we feel, as Sunni Muslims, a pressing need to first set our own affairs in order.

In conclusion, having called our brothers and sisters to act on these points, we, the undersigned, pledge to be the first to actively implement them in response to the Divine Word:

Do you enjoin righteousness on the people and refuse to follow it yourselves and all along you are reciting the scripture!? Will you not reflect? (Qur’an (2:44)

We ask Allah for the ability to do that which He loves. And Allah alone is the Grantor of Success.

Signed,

Abdelrahman Helbawi
Abdul Karim Khalil
Abdullah Adhami
Abdurraheem Green
Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera
Abu Aaliyah Surkheel Sharif
Abu Eesa Niamatullah
Aisha Faleh AlThani
Asma Mirza
Cheikhna B. Bayyah
Dawood Yasin
Ebadur Rahman
Faraz Rabbani
Fuad Nahdi
Gul Mohammad
Haitham al-Haddad
Hamza Yusuf
Hasan al-Banna
Ibrahim Osi-Efa
Jihad Hashim Brown
M. Abdul Latif Finch
M. Afifi al-Akiti
Mehdi Kader
Mokhtar Maghroui
Muhammad Alshareef
Muhammad Ash-Shaybani
Muhammad ibn Adam
Omar Qureshi
S. Abdal-Hakim Jackson
Shamira Chothia Ahmed
Siddique Abdullah
Suhaib Webb
Tahir Anwar
Talal Al-Azem
Tanveer Hussain
Tawfique Chowdhury
Usama Canon
Usama Hasan
Walead Mosaad
Yahya Rhodus
Yasir Qadhi
Zaid Shakir

28 Comments

Filed under Religion, Umma

Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Review

The Reluctant FundamentalistMohsin Hamid‘s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (London: Penguin, 2007) is a little gem of a novel. It is the story of Changez, a Pakistani from an old Lahori family fallen on genteel poverty, who goes to America to get a good education and make money. It is a tale of enchantment followed by disenchantment. Changez wins a scholarship to Princeton, is a straight-A student and goes right into a top valuation firm, Underwood Samson, earning $80,000 a year. By “focusing on the fundamentals”, the firm’s motto, Changez helps to value companies prior to sale for asset stripping or downsizing. At the sharp end of the market, he is to embody “change”, to be a mujahid for global capital, and not to succumb to “nostalgia”, or to be overly-concerned by the resentful looks of workers who know they are about to be sacked. He is not without compunctions on this score, but hides this well, both from others and himself, and is complimented on being a “shark”, an outsider from a shabby-genteel background who will always be hungry to prove himself. While at Princeton he meets and is captivated by the magnetic but guileless Erica, the daughter of a wealthy investment banker, who secures his entry into New York’s high society.

All, then, seems well until 9/11 when Changez’s new world begins to crumble. He is somehow “remarkably pleased” by the attacks. At the Paki-Punjab Deli, a tiny home away from home, the taxi-drivers talk in quiet voices of friends being beaten up or disappearing, of the bombing of Afghanistan. Changez scours the internet for news of India’s potentially nuclear stand-off with Pakistan after the bombing of its Parliament by Kashmiri separatists. While working in Manila, a look of “undisguised hostility” from a Filipino unnerves him as he glides by in his limousine: should he identify with the downtrodden Filipino or be content with his new-found status as a “Master of the Universe”, as Tom Wolfe dubbed the species? His relationship with Erica becomes stillborn, as she succumbs to her “nostalgia”, her loss and grief for a deceased childhood sweetheart, Chris. Changez can only connect with Erica, break into her intense reverie of love, if he play-acts being Chris, literally becoming not-himself.

Changez’s moment of realisation comes during a business trip to Chile. Juan-Bautista, the book-loving director of the troubled printing firm he is assessing, somehow discerns this discontent in Changez, and poses to him a question that he cannot answer:

“I have been observing you, and I think it is no exaggeration to say, young man, that you seem upset. May I ask you a rather personal question?” “Certainly,” I said. “Does it trouble you,” he inquired, “to make your living by disrupting the lives of others?” “We just value,” I replied. “We do not decide whether to buy or to sell, or indeed what happens to a company after we have valued it.” He nodded; he lit a cigarette and took a sip from his glass of wine. Then he asked, “Have you heard of the janissaries?” “No,” I said. “They were Christian boys,” he explained, “captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilisation, so they had nothing else to turn to.”

He tipped the ash of his cigarette onto a plate. “How old were you when you went to America?” he asked. “I went for college,” I said. “I was eighteen.” “Ah, much older,” he said. “The janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget.” He smiled and speculated no more on the subject.

Changez’s response is to return to New York immediately: he can no longer be “a modern-day janissary”, “a servant of the American empire at a time it was invading a country with a kinship to mine”. With his newly-grown beard a source of suspicion, he is fired by Underwood Samson and is escorted from the premises by security guards. He also finds out that Erica, committed to a private retreat on the banks of the Hudson river, has drowned herself. With his work visa expired, Changez returns to Pakistan, determined to do his part to stop America “in the interests not only of the rest of humanity, but also in your own”. He leaves his jacket at a kerbside in memory of Erica, who had left her clothes at the riverside before drowning herself.

What is unusual about The Reluctant Fundamentalist is that the entire setting of the novel consists of two strangers, two men, a Pakistani, Changez, and an unnamed American, meeting together at a bazaar restaurant in Lahore one evening. The whole novel is told in Changez’s voice, relating his tale to an American, whose voice we never hear, a telling inversion of normal relations.

Changez’s story is continually interrupted by the American, who seems paranoid and even frightened. Changez offers constant reassurances. No, the tea or grilled meats they are eating are not poisoned. No, the waiter does not seem to have a hostile intent towards you. At the same time Changez’s pointed questions to the American reveal that he has some ill-intent in mind. Is that the bulge of a shoulder-holster under your jacket? Don’t the hourly calls on your satellite phone recall Agency practice?

In the novel’s denouement, Changez is revealed as a fanatic, reminiscent, with his mixture of ingenuity, charm and ruthlessness, to the LSE graduate Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who murdered the journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. As Changez walks the American back to his hotel, he relates the final chapter of his story. A lecturer in finance at a local university, he has become the voice of anti-American discontent on campus and helps to mentor and lead student protests. One of his students gets wrapped up in an attempt to murder an American aid worker; a television interview with Changez condemning American imperial violence is flashed around the world. He has become a target, and feels “rather like a Kurtz waiting for his Marlowe”.

The book ends just before the moment of violence. The unnamed American agent is pulling out a gun as Changez and his student supporters (from the restaurant) close in to either kidnap or kill him. As such the book ends on a question mark and offers no conclusions. It works to confirm the clash of civilisations, embattled as it did then seem in 2002 with the neoconservative project yet to realise its full ambition (and limit) in the killing fields of Iraq. Changez’s reluctance to be the janissary of capitalism seems matched by his reluctance to casually dispatch the unnamed American: he must relate his story first and explain why. The potential of resolution only resides in true dialogue, exchange and understanding to build a more equal world, to find a luminous mixture between “change” and “nostalgia”. Instead, here, there is no dialogue: only indifferent empire and nihilistic resistance.

2 Comments

Filed under Bookish Pursuits, Culture and the Arts, Ghuluw, war-on-terror

Farewell, Robert Jordan

It was sad to hear of the passing away of Robert Jordan on 16th September, whose Wheel of Time series was a modern, if flawed, fantasy masterpiece. The series had captured the imagination of a generation, selling some thirty million copies and was translated into twenty languages.

Of course literary critics are usually sniffy about popular literary genres like fantasy or sci-fi, and Jordan’s works were no exception, although, as the Times obituary notes, the Wheel of Time series had even begun to win some of them over:

In fact, the epic sweep, intricate plotting, constructed languages and intelligent character development of Jordan’s work won over many sceptics, and, some would say, helped to imbue his genre with a new respectability.

An epic tale of good and evil, The Wheel of Time was metaphysically interesting in that the chief protagonist was more a Hindu or Buddhist avatar than a messiah figure. The series felt more dualist than monotheist in positing the Devil figure as a powerful and active malevolent force for evil in the world. The series had a complex and rigorous moral framework with real insights into ambition, duty and politics, and, most importantly, into how difficult it can sometimes be to recognise evil if it is disguised as the good. The plot reached a level of complexity that, in trying to get to grips with it, felt like keeping track of current geopolitics, attempting to get one’s head around a thousand factions, each with their own agendas. Jordan completed eleven books in the series, spanning several hundred thousand pages, in which the heroes criss-cross the map, discovering all the peoples and lands of Jordan’s intricate and prodigiously imagined fantasy world. It’s as if Frodo and company had embarked on several quests and not just the one to Mordor. Jordan, who also saw military action in Vietnam, described the epic swordfights and massive battles in the series with the veteran’s unsentimental insight into the complex interplay between fear and courage, self-interest and altruism, and loyalty and betrayal on the battlefield. The series was also notable for having several central heroines in a genre that has generally been male-centred.

I thought there was some influence of Frank Herbert’s Dune series in the Wheel of Time series as the main protagonist in both returns to conquer and renew civilisation through the support of nomadic and uncorrupt desert peoples. It seems highly likely that Herbert drew on Ibn Khaldun‘s famous theory of civilisational renewal to provide the philosophical and architectural underpnnings to the Dune series. For Jordan’s Aiel read Herbert’s Freman; for Herbert’s Freman read Ibn Khaldun’s Bedouin. (A hint is a reference to Ibn Khaldun’s Kitab al-Ibar in Dune, a history that he wrote, which is used to refer to a moral and survivalist handbook used by the Fremen.) Both Jordan and Herbert also portray the medieval Catholic Church as power-hungry and manipulative: Herbert with his matriarchal spin on the Papacy in the form of the Bene Gesserit and Jordan with his take on the Inquisition in the form of the Children of the Light.

The Wheel of Time was well sustained in the first half of the series but began to loose its intensity and focus with the sixth novel, becoming overly drawn out, meandering and wordy in the second half. Still, many readers persevered because the series retained an epic momentum that kept them wanting to see it through to the end.

At the age of 58, Jordan was struck down by coronary complications caused by a rare blood disease, amyloidosis. In his last year he had attempted to finish the final and twelfth installment, A Memory of Light, and he wrote with dignity, humour and determination online about his struggle to overcome his condition. No doubt he will be missed by his millions of readers.

1 Comment

Filed under Bookish Pursuits, Culture and the Arts

America's Two Faces to the World

Herman Melville (1819-1891), the American novelist, essayist and poet, from his vantage point of the nineteenth century, speculated about America’s future role in the world. He defined two faces that America could show to the world:

Intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in externals but a savage at heart, America is, or may yet be, the Paul Jones of nations. [1] (from The Writings of Herman Melville, 8 vols, ed. Israel Potter)

We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world; the advance guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours. (from White-Jacket)

The history of twentieth and twenty-first centuries have given us ample evidence of both faces, and much still turns on which countenance is now presented to the world.

Note

[1] Paul Jones (1747-1792) is regarded as the founder of the American Navy and he developed a reputation as a skilled and ruthless sea captain. Disraeli, one of his early biographers, saw him as more a pirate than anything else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture and the Arts, History