December 2008

English poet and traveller Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840 – 1922), circa 1880.

Webshaykh’s Note: Given the ongoing crises in the Middle East, it is useful to return to earlier commentaries. In the excerpt below the voice of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt echoes with resonance for events currently in the news about Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us all hope that the new year brings tolerance and peaceful intentions for us all.

Wealthy and well connected Wilfrid retired from the foreign service in 1869 and soon the traveling Blunts went east. As Wilfrid noted about his first visit to Egypt in 1879, he was still “a believer in the common English creed that England had a providential mission in the East.” After learning about Bedouin customs firsthand in Syria Lady Anne spoke for both travelers about their interest in no longer looking at the people “with the half contemptuous ignorance” of Europeans. Not only were the Blunts aware and appalled at Eurocentric attitudes, but Wilfrid wrote of Islam as a “true religion,” which certainly had far more to offer African converts than Christianity. In 1881 Blunt bought an estate in Cairo, where he became a neighbor and friend of the Islamic reformer Muhammad ‘Abduh. On a visit to England Blunt arranged a visit between ‘Abduh and the reigning social philosopher, Herbert Spencer; the Egyptian reportedly told Spencer that the East was learning the evil rather than the good from the West, but the best of both was the same.

Blunt was perhaps the most famous aristo-critic of British imperialism in Egypt. With the impunity his elite upbringing bequeathed at the time he admonished Lord Cromer, whose “wrong-headed administration” only served to Anglicize Egypt. He used his impeccable social connections to lobby British politicians, including Prime Minister Gladstone, whose “Oriental” policies he deplored. Blunt’s radical critique of the colonial transgressions committed by the burdensome white race is second to none, including Fanon and Césaire. Consider his prescient diary note at the close of the nineteenth century:

The old century is very nearly out, and leaves the world in a pretty pass, and the British Empire is playing the devil in it as never an empire before on so large a scale. (more…)

A lithographic painting depicting a Muslim funeral procession in India, circa 1888.

Excommunicating Dead Terrorists
by Leor Halevi, On Faith, Washington Post, December 29, 2008

Recently the Muslim Council of India sent an important message to the world’s Muslims. It asked one of the country’s largest Muslim graveyards, Marine Lines Bada Qabrastan, where unclaimed bodies are often interred, to deny burial rites to the nine men who died after terrorizing Mumbai. Refusal to bury the terrorists in a Muslim cemetery signifies not just that terrorist attacks are un-Islamic, a contention often heard, but that their perpetrators become, by carrying these acts, non-Muslim. “They cannot be Muslims or followers of Islam,” declared Muslim Council president Ibrahim Tai, “so they cannot have a final resting place anywhere
on sacred Mother India.”

The question then arises, what should India do with the dead bodies? (more…)

Palestinian rescue workers carry a wounded prisoner in the rubble of the Saraya prison after it was hit by a missile strike on Sunday. Photo by Majed Hamdan / AP.

Gaza: the cycle can be broken

The Independent/, Sunday, 28 December 2008

More than 30 years ago, the American political philosopher Michael Walzer wrote: “First oppression is made into an excuse for terrorism, and then terrorism is made into an excuse for oppression.” It was a good description of the Israel-Palestine problem then, and a good description of the dynamic that would make it worse over the following three decades.

It is a dynamic that operates in contravention of the simple, comforting and wrong principle that two democracies have never gone to war against each other.

The conflict between Israel and the people of Gaza is driven by democratic impulses. Hamas, the Islamic political party and paramilitary organisation, won control of the Gaza Strip in free and fair elections in January 2006. Its charter famously calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and, although that was hardly the issue on which those elections were fought, there can be little doubt about the depth and extent of hostility towards Israel felt by the majority of the population of Gaza. (more…)

Nazende al (Flattering Red) from ‘The Book of Tulips’ ca 1725

by Anna Pavord

But as in any love affair, after the initial coup de foudre you want to learn more about the object of your passion. The tulip does not disappoint. Its background is full of more mysteries, dramas, dilemmas, disasters and triumphs than any besotted aficionado could reasonably expected. In the wild, it is an Eastern flower, growing along a corridor which stretches either side of the line of latitude 40 degrees north. The line extends from Ankara in Turkey eastwards through Jerevan and Baku to Turkmenistan, then on past Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent to the mountains of the Pamir-Alai, which, with neighbouring Tien Shan is the hotbed of the tulip family.

As far as western Europe is concerned, the tulip’s story began in Turkey, from where in the mid-sixteenth century, European travellers brought back news of the brilliant and until then unknown lils rouges, so prized by the Turks. In fact they were not lilies at all but tulips. In April 1559, the Zürich physician and botanist Conrad Gesner saw the tulip flowering for the first time in the splendid garden made by Johannis Heinrich Herwart of Augsburg, Bavaria. He described its gleaming red petals and its sensuous scent in a book published two years later, the first known report of the flower growing in western Europe. The tulip, wrote Gesner, had ‘sprung from a seed which had come from Constantinople or as others say from Cappadocia.’ From that flower and from its wild cousins, gathered over the next 300 years from the steppes of Siberia, from Afghanistan, Chitral, Beirut and the Marmaris peninsula, from Isfahan, the Crimea and the Caucasus, came the cultivars which have been grown in gardens ever since. More than 5,500 different tulips are listed in the International Register published regularly since 1929 by the Royal General Bulbgrowers’ Association of the Netherlands. (more…)

Fifteen Great Reasons We Should Embrace and Follow the Quran-only Islam

by Abdur Rab,, December 14, 2008

Islam that we should follow is the one guided strictly by the Quran’s tenets. The Hadith, the alleged second source of Islam, is unacceptable as religious guidance as it has given rise to spurious, untenable and ludicrous ideas that have corrupted practiced Islam (See: Chapters 10 and 11 of the author’s recently published book Exploring Islam in a New Light: An Understanding from the Quranic Perspective). The Quran-only Islam seeks to replace the most widely held notions of Islam that have led to sectarian divisions among Muslims, and given rise to the violence, strife, inequality and fanaticism seen so often in western portrayals of Islam. The Hadith believers think that the Quran is not sufficient or easy for us as guidance. The Quran, however, is emphatic on the points that it is detailed and self-explained (6:114; 12:111; 16:89), and straightforward, clear and sufficiently easy to follow (39:28; 43:2; 44:2, 58; 54:17, 22, 32, 40). There are at least fifteen great reasons why one should embrace and follow this Quran-only Islam: (more…)

Michael Muhammad Knight, the author of “The Taqwacores,” which a college professor has called “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims. Photo by David Ahntholz for The New York Times.

Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book

By CHRISTOPHER MAAG, The New York Times, December 23, 2008

CLEVELAND — Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture. (more…)

December eyes are fixed on Bethlehem, which has been an inspiration for artists over many years and indeed centuries. On this Christmas day, take a look at Bethlehem as it might have looked more than a century ago.

Left hand element of a stereoscopic photograph of the Bethlehem region circa 1900. Courtesy of Glenn Bowman.

Approaching Bethlehem. Source: Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee.

The following two illustrations of Bethlehem can be found on the website (Jerusalem in 19th Century Art) put up by James E. Lancaster.

Bethlehem Tinted lithograph printed by Day & Son, after David Roberts, published about 1855.

Bethlehem Engraved by S.Brandard after a picture by W.H.Bartlett, published in The Christian in Palestine, about 1840. Steel engraved print with recent hand colour.

Michael Lecker, Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

[Editor’s Note: The Jerusalem Prosopography Project (JPP) was created by Michael Lecker, Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This online resource will be a valuable tool for all scholars working on the formation of Islam and the early Islamic community.]

The Prosopography of Early Islamic Administration (PEIA) aims at recording judiciously all the biographical evidence available in Arabic primary sources about those who played a role in the state apparatus during the early Islamic period (ca. 622-800).

It is part of the Jerusalem Prosopography Project (JPP) that aims at recording the biographical evidence available in the Arabic primary sources about several well-defined groups of people who flourished during the first two centuries of Islam.

Future projects within the JPP include the CPM or The Companions of the Prophet Muḥammad, the JEA of The Jews of Early Islam, the MSP or The Muslim Settlers in Palestine and the TOH or The Transmitters of Ḥadīth.

Although the PEIA is still far from completion, it was felt that colleagues around the world might find it useful even at its present form. It is being updated on a daily basis. (more…)

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