June 2009

By Ali A. Allawi, The Chronicle Review, June 29

I was born into a mildly observant Muslim family in Iraq. At that time, the 1950s, secularism was ascendant among the political, cultural, and intellectual elites of the Middle East. It appeared to be only a matter of time before Islam would lose whatever hold it still had on the Muslim world. Even that term — “Muslim world” — was unusual, as Muslims were more likely to identify themselves by their national, ethnic, or ideological affinities than by their religion.

To an impressionable child, it was clear that society was decoupling from Islam. Though religion was a mandatory course in school, nobody taught us the rules of prayer or expected us to fast during Ramadan. We memorized the shorter verses of the Koran, but the holy book itself was kept on the shelf or in drawers, mostly unread. The elderly still made the pilgrimage to Mecca to atone for their transgressions in preparation for death — more an insurance policy than an act of piety. I don’t recall ever coming across the word “jihad” in a contemporary context. The political rhetoric of the day focused on Arab destiny and anti-imperialism. (more…)

Group of Yemenite Jews, postcard c. 1910

by Salma Ismail, The Yemen Times, June 28

SANA’A, June 28 The death sentence passed on Abdulaziz Al-Abdi, charged with killing Yemeni Jewish and father of nine Masha Al-Nahari last December, heeds mixed reactions among the Jewish community in Yemen.

Despite growing US and Israeli pressure to bring them out of Yemen and settle them in other destinations, the majority of Yemen’s Jews prefer to stay in their ancestral homeland, as long as the government ensures their safety.

Last Sunday’s ruling overturned a previous March sentence that deemed the defendant, a retired pilot in the Yemeni air force, “mentally unstable” and ordered him to pay a “blood fine” of YR 50.5 million, about USD 25,000. (more…)

by Abbas Barzegar, The Guardian, Friday June 26, 2009

It’s not about the election, Ahmadinejad, or the even the protesters. The world has been captivated by the events in Iran because for many, Iran is to Islamism what the Soviet Union was to communism and presumably today we are somewhere near the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Indeed as the media has been telling us, all the right ingredients are here: a charismatic leader, fractions in the political hierarchy, and a critical mass of protesters. The opposition has begun shouting “Allahu Akbar” from the rooftops and wearing black to commemorate their martyrs just like they did 30 years ago. Iran’s diaspora pundits and dissidents have come out in droves to tell us about the unwillingness of the police to use force on the protesters … just like they did 30 years ago. There are even dissident clerics in the fight, and better yet the protesters now have Twitter and Facebook to help.

I don’t know whose cruel joke this is, but these protests have never been about a revolution nor have any of the opposition leaders ever suggested that. (more…)

Recently a friend sent me copies of paintings by the Iranian artist Iman Maliki, whose gallery can be seen on his personal website. These powerful images are worth sharing.

How Far Will Iran’s Rulers Go to Consolidate Their Power?

Akbar Ganji, Foreign Affairs, June 24

AKBAR GANJI is an Iranian journalist and dissident who was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006 and whose writings are currently banned in Iran.

Iran is a paradoxical nation. On the one hand, its political structure is a fundamentalist sultanism run by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and personified at least in the eyes of the outside world, by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On the other hand, Iran is farther along the path to democracy than most countries in the Middle East. It has a sophisticated political culture: its intellectuals, women, and young people are highly literate, cosmopolitan, and committed to the ideals of democracy, human rights, and nonviolent social transformation. The majority of Iran’s population stands against the country’s fundamentalist regime. (more…)

Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 era are deepening ties between hip-hop and Islam

by Suad Abdul Khabeer, The Root, June 23

Real hip-hop heads know that Islam and hip-hop have been longtime friends, feeding off each other’s energy. Muslim ideals of self-respect and social change have inspired some of the greatest emcees, and hip-hop is giving voice to the dreams and daily struggles of a generation of Muslims. This cross-pollination between Islam and hip-hop is vividly illustrated in a new documentary, New Muslim Cool, which premieres tonight on PBS.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, New Muslim Cool chronicles three years in the life of Hamza “Jason” Perez, a Puerto Rican Muslim, family man, emcee, interfaith prison chaplain and social activist. (more…)

[Note: The following excerpt by a Muslim intellectual is perhaps the best antidote for the ongoing violence of mosque bombings, Taliban and Basij brutality towards Muslim women and vitriolic sermons.]

Islamic Perspectives of Inter-Community Relations

by Maulvi Yahya Nomani (Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand) TwoCircles.net

The issue of what Islam has to say about inter-community relations is one about which much misunderstanding exists. Anti-Muslim propagandists claim that Islam preaches hatred for non-Muslims, and that the Quran is a menace to world peace. They go so far as to argue that world peace is simply impossible as long as the Quran exists. In order to back their propaganda, they have deliberately twisted and misinterpreted certain verses of the Quran. Many people with little knowledge have fallen prey to this poisonous propaganda, which has been aggressively spread on an enormous scale through the media. (more…)

by Donald K. Emmerson, Stanford University

[A trivially different version of this essay appeared in AsiaTimes Online on 6 June 2009, reposted on the East Asia Forum on June 11]

US President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech on 4 June 2009 in Cairo, the second of three planned trips to Muslim-majority countries, was outstanding.

First, it opened daylight between the US and Israel. Israeli settlements on the West Bank are impediments to a two-state solution and a stable peace with Palestine. Obama did not split hairs. He did not distinguish between increments to existing settler populations by birth versus immigration with or without adding a room to an existing house. The United States, he said, does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. Period.

The American Israel Political Affairs Committee, which advertises itself as America’s pro-Israel lobby, cannot have been pleased to hear that sentence. But without some semblance of independence from Israel, the US cannot be a credible broker between the two sides. It is not necessary to treat the actions of Israeli and Palestinian protagonists as morally equivalent in order to understand that they share responsibility for decades of deadlock. New settlements and the expansion of existing ones merely feed Palestinian suspicions that Israel intends permanently to occupy the West Bank. Nor did Obama’s criticism of Israeli settlements prevent him from also stating: Palestinians must abandon violence. Period. (more…)

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