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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

May 29, 2004

Call to prayer.

The story of the mosque in Hammtrack, Michhigan desirous of broadcasting the muslim call to prayer from its mosque (as is customary in other countries) is a fascinating one. This article in the Detroit Free Press is possibly the best one I've yet seen on the topic. It's well-worth a read.

My opinion varies, but I have zero sympathy for any argument which suggests that the call to prayer somehow threatens the community in any way. Perhaps Hammtrack will be a symbolic line in the sand against the censoring power of the rising anti-muslim tide that causes muslims in American to remember that they do not need to choose between being American or Muslim, but that they should be aggressive in loving both and the revelation that these aspects of identity are in harmony, not conflict.

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Why I cannot hate George W. Bush.

President Bush was interviewed by Christianity Today:

Do you believe there is anything inherently evil in the way some practice Islam that stands in the way of the pursuit of democracy and freedom?

I think what we’re dealing with are people — extreme, radical people — who’ve got a deep desire to spread an ideology that is anti-women, anti-free thought, anti- art and science, you know, that couch their language in religious terms. But that doesn’t make them religious people. I think they conveniently use religion to kill. The religion I know is not one that encourages killing. I think that they want to drive us out of parts of the world so they’re better able to have a base from which to operate. I think it’s very much more like an... “ism” than a group with territorial ambition.

More like a what?

An “ism” like Communism that knows no boundaries, as opposed to a power that takes land for gold or land for oil or whatever it might be. I don’t see their ambition as territorial. I see their ambition as seeking safe haven. And I know they want to create power vacuums into which they are able to flow.

To what final end? The expansion of Islam?

No, I think the expansion of their view of Islam, which would be I guess a fanatical version that—you know, you’re trying to lure me down a road [where]... I’m incapable of winning the debate. But I’m smart enough to understand when I’m about to get nuanced out. No, I think they have a perverted view of what religion should be, and it is not based upon peace and love and compassion—quite the opposite. These are people that will kill at the drop of a hat, and they will kill anybody, which means there are no rules. And that is not, at least, my view of religion. And I don’t think it’s the view of any other scholar’s view of religion either.

Bush is a good man and I will never forget that immediately after 9-11, his first thought was to remind people that American muslims are not the enemy. I cannot hate a man like this. I can, however, vote against Bush in 2004 without needing to hate him, because I do hate what his weak leadership has done to my nation and the lost promise of being a uniter rather than a divider.

But you won't ever find me sneering at George W. Bush. IF you do, point me here so that I can be properly humbled.

link via LGF - I am grateful to Charles for finding this link.

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May 25, 2004

Bohras: The Last Frontier?.

Here's a fascinating peek into the worldview of the prosletyzing Christian worldview - a fact-sheet about my comunity discussing we Bohras as a target group for salvation and the challenges in bringing the Gospels to us. What's remarkable is the confluence of valid observation with false stereotype, such as this:

Unlike other South Asian Muslims, Bohra women may own property and receive an inheritance. They are encouraged to pursue education and business.

The role of the Bohras as a business class has created a people whose primary passion is business—a threat to their strict orthodox obedience to their religious leader, the Syedna Muhammad Burhanuddin.

The truth is that the promotion of women's education - with an emphasis on professional classes such as physicians - is by direct edict of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin TUS, not in opposition to his wishes. The way that this essay simply ascribes the embrace of modernism within my comunity as a non-Islamic-derived impetus reveals a basic unwillingness to part with their a-priori notions in favor of a straw-man characterization that justifies their attempts at conversion. I daresay that if they were to make an honest appraisal, it would be they who might be swayed away from their Christ rather than the other way around :)

Yes, we are the Last Frontier and such we will always remain to such as these.

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May 12, 2004

Arabs react to murder of Peter Berg.

In addition to a good piece on NPR this morning, here are some roundups of opinion from the Arab street about the barbarous murder of Peter Berg by Al-Qaeda militants:

source: Islam Online - Iraqis condemn beheading of American civilian

BAGHDAD, May 12 ( - Iraqis strongly condemned Wednesday, May13 , the beheading of an American citizen in Iraq by unknown people, saying it is against the true essence of Islam.

Dr Muthana Harith al-Dhari, Secretary General of Muslim Scholars Association, strongly denounced the killing, saying it runs counter to the teachings of Islam and "does disservice to our religion and our cause."
Deputy Head of the Islamic Party Iyaad Samarrai said the abhorrent treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers should never give an excuse for treating U.S. prisoners the same way.

"This is absolutely wrong," he told IOL, asserting that "Islam does prohibit the killing or the maltreatment of prisoners."
Al-Dawa Party, led by Shiite Interim Governing Council member Ibrahim Al-Jafari, also condemned the decapitation of the American citizen in the strongest possible terms.

"Undoubtedly, we reject these acts, which run counter to the true essence of Islam and are totally unjustified," said Jawad Al-Malki, a member of the party's politburo.

He said such acts tarnish the image of Islam and play into the hands of subjective media.

"The beheading of Berg is shocking, grisly, unjustified violence and an act of terrorism," he told IOL.

"By the same token, we condemn the barbaric and terrorist practices of U.S. soldiers against Iraqi prisoners, but as we don't want this to befall our people, we don't want it to befall others as well."
William Warda, an Iraqi rights activist, criticized the beheading as "imprudent".

He said the Iraqi Human Rights Organization denounces the killing of any foreigner in such a gruesome way as it has condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by occupation forces.

"We place all human beings on an equal footing irrespective of their race, religion and color," he told IOL.

source: The Age - Iraqis condemn beheading, blame US

"As Muslims we can't accept it, but we don't blame them. It was a natural reaction to the human rights violations we have seen at Abu Ghraib. What the Americans are doing now is terrible," said a 45-year-old woman dentist who refused to give her name.
"Since the man came here to do something good for Iraq, it was shameful. Whoever comes to serve this country will be treated kindly by Iraqis, but I blame the Americans for being behind such activities," said restaurant worker Falah Faisal, 30.
But Muaid Louis Abdullah Ahhad, a Christian who owns a photo shop, denounced the execution and blamed followers of wanted al-Qaeda militant Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi for the beheading.

Zarqawi, who has a bounty of $US10 million ($A14.39 million) on his head, is accused by Washington of leading a network in Iraq that has carried out attacks against the US-led coalition and civilians aimed at fanning civil conflict.

The video of Berg's killing was entitled "Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an American", though it was not clear if he was involved.

"These people aren't Muslims. They are just using Islam as a cover and are harming the reputation of this religion," said a 50-year-old Shi'ite engineer for Iraqi Airways who also refused to give his name.

"I didn't know about it, but if he was an American, he was innocent. He came to Iraq on a mission to help Iraqis," said Ali Abu Nabi, a 29-year-old house painter.

But his friend, Ahmed Taleb, 24, a kiosk owner, poured scorn on the Americans, saying they had done nothing to rebuild the country.

"It's the poverty that's leading these criminals to act in such a way," he said.

Overall, the reaction might best be summarized as this: horror at the beheading, outrage over the justification using Islam, and some sympathy for the revenge aspect (in terms of assigning partial blame). Since by the US military's own estimates, about 70-90% of the detainees at Abu Ghraib were innocents, I'm inclined to dismiss the latter the way I dismiss Oklahoma Senator Inhofe's dishonorable statements.

There is a useful article on Islam Online about what Islam teaches about treatment of Prisoners of War. The invocation of the murderers of Peter Berg of the Prophet SAW as justification of their acts was particularly obscene and they will pay a price in hellfire - American first, afterlife second. Bill Allison notes that the article was spurred by the Abu Ghraib torture rather than the beheading of Berg; however I think that the detail doesn't really have direct relevance, given teh reactions above.

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May 9, 2004

Ayatollahs against theocracy.

via Pejman Yousefzadeh, comes an example of moderate (ie, theological mainstream) muslim leaders speaking out against tyranny in Islam's name:

"Seyyed Hossein Khomeini, a Shi'ite Islamic cleric like his grandfather the late Ayatollah Khomeini, told the Voice of America had he been in his grandfather's shoes he 'would never have taken such an action as issuing the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.'

"In an exclusive interview that aired today, Khomeini told the VOA Persian television show News and Views that, historically, some Shiite leaders and scholars have considered themselves Velayat Faghih (supreme leaders) who expect people to abide by their verdicts, even when they involve death sentences. Although his grandfather was included in this group, he pointed out Islam accords this kind of decision-making authority only to prophets, not to ordinary people.

"Khomeini went on to say that he is open to the idea of meeting author Salman Rushdie after watching a series of interviews with Rushdie on VOA, believing that he might benefit from the writer's knowledge about religion, especially the religions in the author's native India."

Note that this is the grandson of the Ayatollah who personifies the face of Iranian clerical oppression. The important thing to realize is that teh freedom to speak out so forthrightly is a fragile one. Many muslims living in tyrannical states cannot speak freely. In iRan, the reason that such public dissent is even thinkable is precisely because the reform movement has been growing from within, a groundswell that is entirely homegrown. If, as the hard-liner neocons demand, America were to pose a military threat to Iran, rest assured that all the progress that has been won at such cost would be undone in a moment.

Contrast Iran with Iraq. Liberty cannot be granted, it can only be aided, by an external entity. If democracy takes root - as seems inevitable - in Iran, it will be far more robust than the pseudo-sovereign Iraq that will be no different from Egypt in being a US client state. Iraq is the rhetoric, Iran is the reality. Maybe.

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May 8, 2004

why perceptions matter.

Via a roundabout ego-search, I came back across the article by James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly about the investigation into who shot Mohammed al-Dura, a Palestinian boy whose death was caught on tape during a firefight with the IDF. What struck me, however, was the relevance of the concluding paragraph to the larger designs upon the Middle East that our present Administration is pursuing:

In its engagement with the Arab world the United States has assumed that what it believes are noble motives will be perceived as such around the world. We mean the best for the people under our control; stability, democracy, prosperity, are our goals; why else would we have risked so much to help an oppressed people achieve them? The case of Mohammed al-Dura suggests the need for much more modest assumptions about the way other cultures—in particular today's embattled Islam—will perceive our truths.

I think that the torture at Abu Ghuraib is notable in that it gave the conspiracy theorists their first crack at actual evidence for their theories.

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Just Go.

Iraqi blogette Riverbend has a long rant about Abu Ghraib, cutting through the fog of our domestic media's coverage about Rumsfeld's testimony and Bush's speeches and drops with unadulterated fury the verdict upon our nation: guilty.

Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

I want to argue with her and explain to her that these actions were not representative of us, but how can my abstract statement make any headway against the reality that she has to face? Like Jonathan, I'm beginning to question whether our presence in Iraq truly is better than the alternative.

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May 6, 2004

The mujahideen of Najaf.

The San Jose Mercury News features a Knight-Ridder exclusive on the Thulfikar Army, with an actual interview of a member:

AN-NAJAF, Iraq -- Armed with a 9mm handgun and grit, Haidar is trying to do what the U.S. military camped nearby hasn't done: Drive the gunmen of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from this holy city.

Since mid-April, Haidar and scores of other men from An-Najaf have gathered nightly in the city's sprawling cemetery to attack members of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Only a few gunmen are targeted each time to prevent big firefights that might injure civilians, said Haidar, who spoke with Knight Ridder on the condition that his last name not be used.

``If we capture them and they swear on the holy Koran they will leave Najaf and never come back, we let them go,'' the 20-year-old furniture maker said. ``If they resist, they are killed.''

The group claimed to have killed at least a half-dozen Mahdi gunmen and chased off more than 20.
Before joining Thul Fiqar, Haidar said he had shot his 9mm handgun only once and that was into the air to celebrate the capture of Saddam.

Yet the men have a major tactical advantage over Mahdi members, many of whom are from nearby Al-Kufah, Baghdad and other southern towns. Thul Fiqar fighters are hometown boys who know every inch of An-Najaf, including the hundreds of pathways in the cemetery, which is the largest Muslim burial ground in the world. This cemetery is where they have concentrated their attacks against Sadr's gunmen, who go there at night to monitor U.S. troop movements in the distance.

The immediate impact is negligible, Haidar admitted. Mahdi Army numbers in and around An-Najaf are estimated in the thousands, compared with the 250 claimed by the Thul Fiqar. Their quest also comes at a high price. Four members of the new group have been killed in firefights with the Mahdi Army, said Hashim, 27, a Thul Fiqar leader who refused to give his last name.

``The Americans made us happy when they got rid of Saddam Hussein,'' Haidar said. ``We're happy to return the favor by getting rid of the Mahdi Army.''

I'm pleased at the depth of detail in this article, which nicely counters the reductio-ad-Iran approach to any news of Iraq (see Dan Darling for a more realistic assessment of Iran's influence).

This is sort of a historical moment for me. Until now, I've never seen an example of modern-day jihad - the violent kind, precipitated by necessity, a true defense of the Faith. These mujahideen are true exemplars. I keep hammering the analogy to Jacksonian warfare because the militant form of jihad is nearly indistinguishable.

The full text of the article has been posted to the UNMEDIA list.

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May 3, 2004

The sword of Ali AS.

Time magazine devotes a small piece to the Thulfikar Army in Najaf:

Locals say the gunmen in the Volvo came from a new group calling itself the Thulfiqar Army, seemingly named for a famed two-pronged sword that in Shi'ite tradition was used by Imam Ali, the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Two weeks ago, the group began distributing leaflets ordering al-Sadr to leave Najaf immediately or face death. Since then, residents say, Thulfiqar has killed up to four Mahdi Army militiamen, a figure challenged by al-Sadr officials, who claim the group is the invention of American propaganda. U.S. officials say they believe the group exists but have few clues about its composition. "We don't assess it to be a very large activity at this point," coalition spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said last week.

The article devotes some speculation to who may be controlling it, raising the specter of Iran. Frankly I find it tiresome to invoke Iran at all turns. The Iran-Sadr connection! The Iran-Chalabi connection! and now the Iran-Thulfikar connection? Even these glimmering, sketchy and even conflicting reports strongly suggest that the Thulfikar Army is a home-grown operation, a true grassroots insurgeny. Perhaps I am an idealist, irrevocably tainted by the rhetoric of Howard Dean, but I do believe that sometimes, the People do indeed have the Power.

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May 2, 2004

a useful resource indeed.

Attempting to "reveal" the warlike nature of Islam, an LGFer has posted a list of 111 ayats from the Qur'an that he interprets as uniformly justifying and making compulsory the murder of non-muslims. To be honest, it's a useful list, because anyone actually familiar with the Qur'an and who makes modest effort to read the ayats surrounding the excerpted ones will understand exactly how hollow their case is. As Charles has noted, context is the key to understanding; this list of ayats is the signpost which honest seekers of Truth will follow in that spirit. Those who have an a-priori vision of Islam, and jihad, will of course not need such a list to justify their belief.

For example, consider this story (via LGF) about the Islamist governor of Zanfara state in Nigeria who has ordered all churches therein to be demolished. According to the story, the governor has invoked the Qur'an, claiming that there is an injunction to fight the unbelievers wherever they are found. Looking at the handy ayat list, it seems that this nutbar is referring to Ayat 2.191. However, looking at the surrounding ayats for full context:

2.190 And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.
2.191 And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.
2:193 And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.

These are Jacksonian ideals, indeed. The governor of Zamfara state is mis-using the Qur'an, and guilty of the same selective readings with which to further his agenda as some commentators at LGF with an anti-muslim agenda. Theirs will be a shared recompense.

Disclaimer - translations of the Qur'an are inherently flawed. But if that is the field upon which we must engage, so be it.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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