July 2007

One of the distinguishing features of Islam as a faith in contact with the real world has been a virtual prohibition against celibacy, at least the kind that creates priests and nuns in Christianity. “There is no celibacy in Islam,” said the Prophet, who also noted ”Marriage is my Sunna. Whosoever keeps away form it is not form me.” The issue would seem to be less the idea that one must have sex than one should fulfill one’s created sexual nature in this world with an emphasis on having children. So it seems quite the innovation to see that in some parts of Pakistan Muslim nuns are being created, at least in principle. The following article was published recently in Asharq Alawsat.

Married to the Quran

By Mohammed Al Shafey, Ashraq Alawsat 22/07/2007

Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat- In Pakistan, an act is taking place in certain provinces that deprives a Muslim woman of her social rights. This act is the so-called marriage to the Quran [known as Haq Bakshish], a practice that is widespread in the Sindh province in the south of the country.

In this type of marriage, young girls are asked to dedicate themselves to memorizing the Holy Quran. Their families then hold a ceremony to marry the girl to the holy book. A girl places her hand on the Quran and takes an oath that she is married to it until death. (more…)

The BBC has started an interesting project focusing on the disastrous war in Iraq. In one its web pages it is monitoring the effects of the war, week by week, by looking at casualty figures, the pressure on hospitals and quality of life for ordinary civilians.

The war in Iraq has been a disaster. Bush gifts Americans and British people with grief and a dark future of fear, and the Iraqi people with genocide and a multilateral civil war. The only happy guy, were he not probably long dead, would be Mr Osama bin-Laden, who would have seen his corporation and franchise of terror wealthy as never before. But we know that the Bush family is used to exchanging gifts with the bin-Ladens. It is a long tradition, which this time, probably, has its Freudian side.

However, if President Bush still believes that his controversial surge strategy in Iraq is succeeding, it can only mean that he is still speaking to who he thinks is a god. Yet this god can only be Kūkā`ilimoku Ki`i Hulu Manu, shown above, the Hawaiian feather-headed war god.

Gabriele Marranci

By Omar Dewachi

The recent failed terrorist plots that targeted the heart of London and Glasgow airport came as a shock for many as the identity and background of the suspects were revealed. Most of the detained were medical doctors who worked in Britain and who had Indian, Iraqi and Jordanian backgrounds. The fact that they were doctors was seen as a betrayal of the medical profession with its aim to save lives. However, the bigger shock in the UK was that these were overseas doctors who were working in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), the main provider of health care to the country. As the new Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, promised in his first press conference to review the NHS recruitment, more background checks and surveillance of overseas doctors is going to take place. However, one wonders how this surveillance is going to take place and who is going to pay its heavy price and consequences? Britain has always imported its medical staff from abroad using them as an expandable labor pool. In this wave of hysteria about background checks and surveillance, the contribution of the overseas medical population in building Britain’s NHS must not be forgotten. (more…)

The children of Israel, so says the revered Bible of Judaism and Christianity, had a weakness for other gods and magic. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. This includes the launching of the latest Harry Potter book in Tel Aviv on the sabbath. The BBC carries the story:

Israel row over Harry Potter sale
BBC News, Thursday, 19 July 2007

Bookstores will be opening on the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day, to sell the final installment to eager fans.

Most shops are normally closed for trade on the Sabbath, which runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Religious politicians are accusing the bookstores of putting profits ahead of religious sensitivities for agreeing to open their shops. (more…)

By Bruce B. Lawrence

Robert Benchley, the American humorist, once quipped that “there are two categories of people in the world, those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.” Less funny, but persistent is the reflex to divide all approaches to Islam into two categories. The first are those who seek the truth in Islam. They ask: What are the various forms of Islam? How can we determine which is the true form of Islamic belief, and how do we know what are authentic norms for Islamic conduct? In opposition, there are those who have already decided there is no truth in Islam. Instead, they regard Islam itself as the true enemy—the enemy of global peace, the enemy of civil society and, above all, the enemy of Western civilization. (more…)

Has your atlas arrived yet? The New York Times reported yesterday that prominent American scientists and politicians are receiving what purports to be an “Atlas of Creation” from a Turkish media guru self-named Harun Yahya. No, it is not revenge for the “War on Terror.” Nor is a glossy book of patent nonsense, no matter how intelligently designed and styled as “probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin’s theory” much of a challenge. Scientists will recognize it for a “load of crap,” as Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, impolitely phrased it.

The “War on Terror” has manufactured a whole host of new enemies. But what a strange bedfellow is Charles Darwin, who liberated science from the dogmatic demands of religious apologists like Mahdi Yahya a century and a half ago. Darwin’s approach now summarizes all of modern science, a steady advance in knowledge because no specific idea is ever held sacred. This does not mean that scientists must abandon religion and faith, but it does offer a view of the world in which human reason is not abandoned under the cloak and rhetorical dagger of a supposedly spiritual quest for moral behavior. (more…)

Today’s BBC has a report about the daily toll of mutilated bodies dumped into the Tigris River in Iraq and found in nets down river. Once a symbol of a river of paradise, the Tigris might as well be fed these days by a burning lake of fire. There are times when perhaps the best way to respond is in poetry.

A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is excellent; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there. The name of the second river is the Gihon; it is the one that winds all through the land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it is the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. (Genesis 2:10-15)

Eden is lost
yet again.
The weeds of war have choked the marshes
where the water god once spoke of life.
Nothing rises in Eden today
but the dust of a hate I can not measure.
God’s good well is dry
and the fields lie parched,
savaged by unwanted salt and more lies. (more…)

Some days ago a journalist contacted me for comments on the Glasgow terrorist attack. He asked me, at the end of the interview and off the record, ‘Gabriel, why do you think they hate us so much that they want to kill us, even not knowing who we are, what we think or how we live?’ This is not the first time that I came across this question; of course ‘they’ are the ‘evil terrorists’, the cruel, heartless, and hateful people who take their own lives in order to take yours and mine. Scholars, politicians, and journalists have discussed this point in different ways.

Politicians and journalists prefer to focus on how inhuman and evil these people are, and they often speak of ‘acts of evil’, one of the catch phrases of Blair and others since 9/11 . Yet are these people just ‘evil’ and inhuman, with a sadistic pleasure for killing themselves and their victims? How could we try to understand what goes though their minds? Are they fanatic Islamists dying for their ideologies? Are they heartless monsters who do not care about either themselves or others?

What can bring a person, say a father, with a happy life and family, a middle class job, a ‘British way of life’, to try to sacrifice his life and those of innocent civilians, to ‘the cause’? I have met some people during my research who support suicide attacks for the cause of Palestinians as well as in the ‘defence of Islam’. I interviewed some for both my book, Jihad Beyond Islam , and more recently for my last book Understanding Muslim Identities, Rethinking Fundamentalism , I also met some during my research in prison who were accused, and then jailed, for ‘inciting terrorism’. Rather than focusing on the reasons for which they are ready to sacrifice their lives, in this post I shall concentrate on another question: Do they feel guilty to kill innocent, unknown people? Do they really, as many journalists and politicians suggest, kill us because they hate our ‘way of life’, or because they think that we are devils?


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