Islamic Rituals


Commercial giants are playing fast and loose with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. These days it can be a big juicy Ramadan deal, wherever you live, when you go out after avoiding food and water all day long. Fast food chains are especially eager to break your fast. Somehow I suspect that if the Prophet Muhammad were alive today, he would not order pizza and a coke for iftar. If fasting is only about denying yourself for half a day and then living it up for the other half, it loses all spiritual meaning. There are a number of hadiths recording what the Prophet Muhammad said about the holy month of Ramadan. One of these is related as follows: “When Ramadan enters, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed and the devils are chained” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Modern day businesses are more interested in opening the gates of their franchises and leaving the gates of Hellfire ajar, while quite a few devils seem to have no problem breaking their chains.

Just as Christmas is now about putting presents under a tree and Easter is searching for colored eggs, so Ramadan has become a time to buy rather than contemplate. Capitalism captures religion whenever there is a profit to be made out of a prophet. Restaurants offer special iftar meals, usually with elaborate spreads, and hours are reduced in most Muslim countries so workers can go home and take a nap. Religiosity shines while acting on the ethical principles of the faith takes second place to making sure iftar is exactly at the adhan and not a nanosecond before. This may be the letter of the law, but it misses the whole reason for fasting in the first place.

Then there are the promotions that show the hypocrisy of the appeal. Tsk, tsk British Tesco for inviting Muslims to partake of a Ramadan special like bacon-flavored Pringles. The artificial and the superficial combine to make Ramadan just another shopping holiday.

Time Magazine has a photographic essay on “Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt.”


/© Muhammad Hamed / Reuters/REUTERS

Al Jazeera has a series of photographs of this year’s hajj to Mecca.

The sacred sites of Mecca have a long and rich history in Islamic tradition. One of the most important aspects is the well of Zamzam located close to the ka‘ba in the Meccan shrine. According to tradition this well flowed out miraculously when Ibrahim’s son Ismail was thirsty and scraped his feet on the ground. The well was later rediscovered by the Prophet Muhammad’s grandfather, Abd al-Mutallib. For centuries the well of Zamzam has provided the water for Muslim pilgrims to the site. Regardless of what one thinks about legendary attribution, Zamzam water has been a great marketing tool over the years. On Amazon you can even buy water allegedly bottled at the well in Saudi Arabia, only a mere $15 for 500 ml. In Germany you can buy the same amount for only 3.5 Euros, even though it appears that Saudi Arabia bans the export of Zamzam water.

Then there is the Burj Zamzam Clock, a virtual ibn Big Ben towering over the ka‘ba and shielding a shopping mall and luxurious hotel. Such selling of holy sites has a long history as virtually every inch of Palestine can be linked to some biblical event. But by turning a sacred site into a tourist attraction, does not Zamzam become the victim of flim flam?


Russell Brand on The Sun

The British tabloid, The Sun, which once showed Saddam Hussein in his underwear on its cover, has now taken on the chain Pizza Express for serving halal chicken. The humor of Monty Python lives on in the Fleet Street media. The apparent argument of the article is that slitting the throat of a chicken while it is still alive is cruel punishment. I suspect that the writers of The Sun have a dark motive rather than calling for a campaign to have chickens slaughtered with dignity after being stun gunned. If such a contrived story merits more attention than the ongoing slaughter of humans in many parts of the world, then they seem to be taking a cue from “Fowlty” Towers. I suspect that The Sun does not have an equal disdain of the common practice of raising poultry in such close quarters that they basically eat their own excrement, although excrement is surely an apt topic for this tabloid.

The Sun finds Islam to be a convenient target, failing to have equal animosity to Jewish kosher law, which mandates the same style of slaughter only with a different prayer. And the slitting of the throat is actually said to be a humane way of ending the life of an animal bred to be eaten. True to its name, this halal henpicking is tabloid nonsense, void of any semblance of rationality. Most people no doubt see such a story as funny, but there are enough people out there to use this kind of silly blather to reinforce their own hate of Muslims (and Jews, of course). And then there are those who respond with humor, as does the British comedian Russell Brand on Youtube. So perhaps we need to tell yet another version of the old joke: Why did the chicken cross the road? Just for the halal of it…


Mohammed at the Kaaba. Miniature from the Ottoman Empire, c. 1595. Source: The Topkapi Museum, Istanbul

Folk Astronomy and Islamic Ritual

Astronomy was relevant to Muslims in large part because of several of the ritual duties proscribed in the Quran and Islamic tradition. The three most important of these are determining the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadân, reckoning the times for the five daily prayers, and determining the proper direction of the qibla or sacred direction toward Mecca. While Muslim astronomers later worked out mathematical solutions to some of these problems, correct timing and orientation could be achieved by those untrained in astronomy and with virtually no computation skills beyond simple arithmetic (King 1985:194). (more…)

In a previous post I continued a series on the universal history of John Clark Ridpath. As one might expect, a particularly important place is reserved for Mecca itself. The image above is an ornamentation for the start of Ridpath’s discussion of Islam. The image below is a drawing of the hajj season where any sense of the individual is lost, resulting in a blur of heads.

to be continued


Image: Rihanna’s Instagram

by Fatimah Jackson-Best, Aquila Style, October 28, 2013

International pop icon Rihanna recently made the news after being asked to leave the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. According to a statement issued by the mosque, the singer’s removal from the grounds was based on several reasons, which include attempting to enter the mosque through a gate that was not allowed for visitors, failing to get the proper permission to visit and tour the mosque, and failing to behave in a way that was in accordance with the sanctity of the mosque.[i] Instagram photos of the singer posing in front of the mosque also sparked reactions from Muslims and non-Muslims around the world.

I learnt that she had been barred from entering the mosque on my Facebook wall, from a friend who jokingly reminded me that I could relate to the story, because I had also been prevented from visiting a mosque here in Barbados – twice. (more…)

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