[This story of incredible bravery needs to be widely distributed. As we try to make sense of such a senseless cowardly act, it is well to remember such bravery by these incredible women]

Pakistanis for Gender Equality, December 18, 2014

As the nation mourns the Peshawar school attack, let us also commend the exemplary bravery shown by these women (amongst others) who gave their lives in the hopes of protecting Pakistan’s tomorrow. Who says women are weak? Can our leaders show this kind of resolve to save this country from the TTP barbarians? Let us not let their sacrifices be in vain.

1) Tahira Qazi. Her personal assistant says she had the opportunity to escape the school but instead chose to stay with the students. As the militants fired shots, she rushed from classroom to classroom, shouting at those inside to lock themselves in. She consoled, protected, and ushered many students to safety. She even phoned parents to come and collect their children. One source says, “the honourable principal was asked by the terrorists ‘where are the students and why are you hiding them?’ She replied: ‘Talk to me, I am their mother.’ The terrorists replied ‘Ok, you die first, in a miserable way.’ She was burnt and bullets were fired in her head directly.” (more…)

There is a very good Youtube video of interviews with a hundred British imams about the problems with ISIS and how it is doing damage to Islam, especially in Britain. It is well worth seeing. The video was posted on July 11, 2014.

When I was young and impressionable, one of my favorite movies was They Died with their Boots On, the Errol Flynn movie about Custer’s last stand. There was Flynn/Custer with his sword raised out in front of his troops heading for the savage Indians. Had it been a fair fight, of course he would have won, but he stood his ground and was the last man standing. Watching this film recently, apart from the totally ahistorical plot of the made-for-Hollywood battle scene, I wonder how many horses were maimed from the trip wires. In a sense Flynn represented a hero against impossible odds, but in another it perpetuated the notion of the white man’s manifest destiny at the expense of the savage “red man.” I doubt it inspired any sarsparilla party types to go out and shoot any Indians, but it certainly reinforced a cultural bias that remains to this day.

I recently came across a film about the death of Husayn, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, at Karbala. This comes in Arabic and Urdu versions and is entitled “The Caravan of Pride” (موكب الاباء). Like the Flynn film, the bias in the film is evident from the start. This is a film highlighting the conservative Shi’a view of an evil and crazed Yazid. Watching the film creates sympathy for the tragic death of Husayn and his followers at the same time that it denigrates the incoming Umayyad caliphs as heretics. It is easy to forget that the event taking place happened in 61 AH/680 CE, before there were any of the Sunni law schools and five years before Abd al-Malik became caliph and authorized a new edition of the Qur’an. (more…)

Abd al-Malik al-Huthi, left; Hashid Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar, right

by Abdullah Hamidaddin, al-Arabiyya Online, February 8, 2014

Framing matters. It shapes the way we react to a story. It focuses our attention to some details and distracts us from others. It connects a story to another set of stories, and separates it from others. Framing can make a story relevant or irrelevant. Ideally framing would be made through a serious process of observation and analysis. But more than often it is guided by the interests of those framing or their audiences.

Sometimes writers lack the sophistication to see the complexity of the world, so they select simple frames. Other times politicians see that a certain frame serves their interests more than another. Thus they only hear stories framed in their preferred way.
Sticking to Nonsense

I am saying this because of the ways the conflicts in the Middle East are framed as a Sunni/Shiite conflict. And I keep asking myself; why this insistence on retaining such a superficial way of analyzing the region and its conflicts? Why insisting on reincarnating Huntington’s clash of civilization thesis albeit in a ‘clash of sects’ variety? (more…)

Ahmed El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History
Cambridge University Press, 2013

by SherAli Tareen, New Books in Islamic Studies, January 10, 2014

In his brilliant new book, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History (Cambridge UP, 2013), Ahmed El Shamsy, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago, explores the question of how the discursive tradition of Islamic law was canonized during the eighth and ninth centuries CE. While focusing on the religious thought of the towering Muslim jurist Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi‘i (d. 820) and the intellectual and social milieu in which he wrote, El Shamsy presents a fascinating narrative of the transformation of the Muslim legal tradition in early Islam. He convincingly argues that through al-Shafi‘i’s intervention, a previously mimetic model of Islamic law inseparable from communal practice made way for a more systematic hermeneutical enterprise enshrined in a clearly defined scriptural canon. Through a rich and multilayered analysis, El Shamsy shiningly demonstrates how and why this process of canonization came about. Written in a remarkably lucid fashion, this groundbreaking study will delight and benefit specialists and non-specialists alike. In our conversation, we talked about the shift from oral to written culture in early Islam, the contrast between the normative projects of Malik and al-Shafi‘i, al-Shafi‘i’s theory of language, the social and political reasons for the success of his legal theory, and the transmission of al-Shafi‘i’s thought by his students.

For an interview with the author, click here and scroll down.

Celebrating Saudi Arabia’s National Day

In case you missed it, September 23 was Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the oil-driven nation’s 4th of July. Not surprisingly many people, proud of their country, took to the streets to celebrate. But what is good for the state is not necessarily seen as good for the faith, especially in the conservative Wahhabi/Salafi variety that weds tribal origin with a dogmatic theology. The tension between a strict form of Islamic practice and the diversity that instills cultural practices has always been a problem, perhaps even more so with the wealth economy that the current generation of Saudi youth has grown up in. In 1927 King Abdul Aziz established the Committee for Promotion of Virtue and The Prevention of Vice. In short this is known as the “religious police.” For those less familiar with Islamic doctrine, this relates back to the classic Quranic principle of al-amr bi- al-maʿruf wa-al-nahy ʿan al-munkar, generally translated as commanding right and and forbidding wrong. There is a long history about the use of this penchant phrase, analyzed in detail by Michael Cook in his Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2010), a work of over 700 pages.

Abdullah Hamidaddin has written an interesting commentary on a recent tragedy on the Saudi National Day in which a car of religious police chased a vehicle that apparently was thought to contain two drunken men. In the chase the car careened off the road, killing the driver and his brother. The religious police fled the scene, but the chase was captured on a cell phone video. When the video was posted to social media, there was an outcry to rein in the zealous religious police. In this case it turned out the men had not been drinking.

What were these “thought police” thinking? I say “thought” rather than “religious” police, because the very nature of the committee leads to a kind of witchcraft mentality. (more…)

For an interesting article on the death of the Syrian religious scholar Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Bouti, see the article by by H.A. Hellyer at Tahrir Squared.

by Will McCants, Foreign Policy, The Middle East Channel, October 12, 2012

Salafis, or Sunni puritans, have been much in the news since they sparked riots at U.S. embassies throughout the Arab world protesting film clips lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. A television personality on a Saudi Arabian-funded Salafi satellite channel in Egypt first fanned the flames, and Salafis ranging from the militant Mohamed al-Zawahiri (the brother of al Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri) to the mainstream Salafi political party al-Nour fueled the blaze when they blamed the U.S. government and called for protests against U.S. embassies. Salafis in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere took up the torch, resulting in attacks on U.S. and other Western diplomatic installations across the Middle East.

Others were involved, of course, and the protests were small compared to the protests over the Muhammad cartoons several years ago. Nevertheless, the Salafi-driven protests are one more sign the ultra-religious right is asserting itself as the guardian of the moral order in Sunni-majority countries revolting against the ancien régime. Their noisy performance on the public stage poses a major challenge to emerging democratic systems, fueling polarization inside and fears abroad. But the new political realm also poses challenges to the Salafis who are on unfamiliar ground politically and ideologically.

To understand the political behavior of Salafis today, keep four things in mind: their religious beliefs do not predict their political behavior; they are a minority in almost every Middle Eastern country; the countries where they are a majority are incredibly wealthy; and their appeal and power arises from their commitment to an ultraconservative creed that is out of step with the mainstream. (more…)

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