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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.

September 30, 2004


This blog has been an intriguing experiment, but I think that its purpose is less clear than before. Accordingly, I intend to reduce posting here and likely will stop completely. I encourage anyone still inexplicably interested in what I have to say to stop by UNMEDIA, where I continue to actively blog under my real name rather than a pseudonym, as I will continue to post there on matters related to Islam, in addition to other topics of personal interest. I may update this site from time to time, but for now, it's usefulness to me has ended.


Shi'a Pundit

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September 22, 2004

interpreting intolerance.

Mr Ali Asghar Engineer is reknowned in progressive muslim circles for his liberal attitude towards the faith. In Bohra circles, however, he is reknowned for an implacable hatred of our orthodox rituals and beliefs. He has long pursued a vendetta against the Bohra community, mis-characterizing our religious practices borne of honest faith as those of a gullible pack of fools in thrall to charlatans. Like Daniel Pipes, his reasonable and eloquent arguments mask an autocratic condescension towards those who profess faith in Islam.

His guest editorial at Muslim WakeUp! is an excellent example of that condescension:

The Muslim world as a whole is not well equipped for understanding the Qur'anic text de novo. The vast masses of Muslims in most countries, due to rampant illiteracy, will continue to require orthodox interpretations for quite some time to come. Muslim countries still live intellectually in medieval times though physically they are now in the 21st century. It is quite a task to usher them into the 21st century in an intellectual sense. Thus the orthodox 'ulama continue to have their own relevance, perhaps for many decades to come.

I think that the subtext here is clear - the orthodox interpretation is associated with the illiterate masses who cannot think for themselves, and those who are true heirs to the spirit of intellectual inquiry within Islam are the enlightened "secular fundamentalists" such as himself.

Secular-fundamentalist muslims often decry the intolerance towards their interpretations by orthodox muslims. Intellectual maturity demands that they offer the same tolerance in return. As difficult as it may be to understand, some muslims embrace orthodox interpretations on an intellectual, as opposed to ignorant, basis.

UPDATE: a commentator replies to my post with a challenge:

But could you illustrate just one example of how you have personally embraced and reconciled an orthodox interprtation on an intellectual basis.
It certainly is easy to proclaim that your personal route to orthodoxy was intellect. But can you substantiate this process through at least one concrete example where a progressive interpretation is in stark contrast to its orthodox counterpart. And then show how you have intellectually embraced the latter.

hmm, where have I seen this before? And how would this erstwhile paragon of tolerant secular interpretation react if a Taliban Wahabi were to demand the same of him? The only real response to such arrogance and condescension is in Qur'an 109:6 - "Unto you your religion, and unto me mine."

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September 6, 2004

please tell me this didn't happen.

I don't want to believe this. But I have to. Because the man and woman described here are my friends, Hujefa and Insiyah, of the Bohra community in Dallas.

08:42 PM CDT on Thursday, September 2, 2004
By STEVE BLOW / The Dallas Morning News

In case you missed it, this happened at the Cowboys game Monday night.

During a break in the game, Texas Stadium cameras showed various fans and the stadium announcer urged the crowd to select a "fan of the game" by cheers and applause.

The camera first showed three men in military uniform. Naturally, the crowd cheered loudly. Some people stood and clapped. It was a nice tribute to our troops.

Next, a woman with a sign of some sort was shown – to scattered applause.

And then, incredibly, the stadium cameras were trained on a man and woman in Middle Eastern attire of some sort – turban and head scarf, along with Cowboys garb, too. And the crowd began to boo and hiss.

Our letter writer was rightly mortified.

Then, to make matters worse, the whole process was repeated – big cheers for the soldiers, polite applause for the sign-toting woman, boos and hisses for the Middle Eastern couple.

And I want to say: Please tell me that didn't really happen.

Even by the low standards of a football crowd, that is just numskull behavior.

First, how did anyone in the Cowboys organization think it would be fun to match some U.S. troops against an innocent Middle Eastern couple in a crowd popularity contest?
Are there really so many simpletons who think our enemy is anyone in a headscarf?

If so, our war on terror is doing more harm than good.

So far I haven't found much to like about either campaign in this presidential race. But a real low has been Vice President Dick Cheney's mocking of John Kerry for saying he would wage a more "sensitive" war on terrorism.

Sure, it makes for some easy tough-guy posturing. But as it turns out, Mr. Cheney's boss – the president – has used the very same word in talking about fighting terrorism effectively.

And both the president and Mr. Kerry are right.

It may not be as much fun as booing and hissing, but we're going to need lots of sensitivity to win this war on terrorism.

In the good old days of past wars, it probably made sense to demonize a whole race or nation as our enemy.

When I was growing up in the years after World War II, we spent a lot of time "playing war." And that meant fighting "Krauts" and "Japs."

But we don't have the luxury of such mindless, broad-brush hate this time around.

This war on terrorism is really more about ideas and attitudes than bombs and bullets. It's a war to win hearts and minds, as is often said. And in a way, we're all combatants in that war.

Once, supporting the war effort back home just meant rolling bandages or rationing sugar.

If only it were that easy now. Fighting this war on the home front means digging deep and learning about world affairs and our own foreign policy. It means stretching to understand cultures very different from our own. And it requires real sophistication in understanding who are enemies are and who they aren't.

I'm afraid that in a few thoughtless minutes Monday night, we lost a skirmish in our war on terrorism.

And lots of people proved themselves unfit for combat.

I'm at a loss for words, not just because it happenned to my friend, one of the best friends I have. It's because it happened. Please, someone tell me it didn't. But it did.

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Massive assault on Najaf?.

what the heck is going on -

US warplanes pound Iraq's holy city
From correspondents in Najaf
September 6, 2004

US warplanes spearheaded a massive two-pronged assault to crush a Shiite Muslim uprising in Iraq's city of Najaf.

Jets screeched overhead as massive explosions and tank and machine-gun fire boomed through the city and smoke engulfed its historic centre, home to the Imam Ali shrine, revered by Shiites all over the world.

Thousands of US forces, backed by Iraqi police and national guard, mounted a pincer movement to trap Moqtada Sadr's fighters in the heart of the city, before going on to raid the militia leader's empty home.

Iraqi and US troops sealed approaches to the mausoleum, as hundreds of terrified residents, urged on by attacking forces and the city's mosques, fled through the dusty streets.

"Leave the city. Help coalition forces and do not fire at them," one announcement instructed in Arabic. "We are here to liberate the city."

wasn't the Sadr issue defused due to intervention by Sistani? If so, it will need to be re-defused after this.

Google News reveals that only international outlets are carrying the story. At present, domestic media hasn't caught up.

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September 4, 2004

Al Jazeera to launch English-language channel.

intriguing news:

The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera, denounced and bombed by the US and banned by the Iraqi government, has begun recruiting staff for a channel in English that will show news and documentaries.

"The brief is emphatically not to do an English translation of the Arabic channel," said Nigel Parsons, the project manager. "It will have international appeal and fill a lot of gaps in existing output."

The original Arabic news channel, established in 1996 and funded by the emir of Qatar, not only bucked the trend towards frivolity and light entertainment but broke many taboos, interviewing Israeli politicians and allowing debate of a kind rarely seen on Arab television.
The English channel's target audience is worldwide - "not just Muslims who don't speak Arabic", Mr Parsons said. "I think we might have a ready audience there, but it is not going to be an anti-western or anti-American channel. Absolutely not."

The aim will be to fill a gap in the market vacated by other channels.

"If you take CNN, in the [United] States, they have been dragged to the right by Fox. Internationally, they definitely had a bad war in the Gulf. They have lost some credibility on the international stage.

"Where the BBC would come into the equation is that there has been a definite retreat ... on the news channels. Levels of coverage of the developing world are 40% of what they were when Michael Buerk first did the Ethiopian famine."

Surely Al-J can never silence its critics with regard to bias. Given that scrupulously fair news organizations like NPR get hammered by left and right alike, and that Fox news is passionately defended as a bastion of objectivity by its fans, I think that arguing about bias is a fools' errand.

What is more important is that al-J provides an authentically independent voice - free of control from either the Arab regimes or the Bush Administration, both of whom hate al-J for essentially the same reason. The ideal of free speech is served well by a media that is accountable to none and that is aggressive about airing all points of view.

Keep in mind that in addition to airing bin Laden's rants, they also provided more hours of convention coverage (both DNC and RNC) than all the domestic channels combined. The audiences of Al-Jazeera are getting both sides indeed - and I think that our side, not bin Laden's, fares better in the comparison.

Al-Jazeera will be an element in the eventual reclamation of true political liberty in the Middle East. The authentic, hard-fought, springs-from-within kind.

Note that the channel has been systematically targeted for silencing here in the US, from DNS attacks on its website to being banned from the NYSE (one, two, three). The trend continued at the Democratic convention, where al-J was forbidden to show its logo on its skybox (unlike other media outlets). The RNC, however, had no problem. Kudos to the RNC, and shame on the Democrats.

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September 3, 2004

liberty is hard.

This post at UNMEDIA both summarizes the Tariq Ramadan visa affair and also makes abroader case for its implications on the Bush Administration's view of the muslim world. It's a length essay which ultimately makes a case for John Kerry rather than Bush, from a Muslim-American perspective rather than an artificial "good of the Ummah" one.

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September 1, 2004

MWU interviews Tariq Ramadan.

MWU's Ahmed Nassef scores an exclusive interview with Tariq Ramadan. To get a taste for his moderation, here's one Q and A about the French ban on headscarves:

MWU!: Explain the differences in how the hijab controversy is viewed in Europe as opposed to the US. In France, it seems that most liberal and progressive non-Muslims very much support the law and see it as a protection of secularism.

Tariq Ramadan: Actually, this is an especially French phenomenon, because of the country's very specific history. When you look at the 1905 Reference Law, you find that there is no problem for Muslims to live as Muslims in France. We say that France should just implement this law and enforce it strictly and equally. But this new law is a step backward. In 1989, the State Council said there is nothing in the scarf which is against secularism. We have to be careful about those using secularism as an ideology, confusing secularism with no religion at all. The atmosphere in France is very passionate, as if we are touching the sense of French identity. Becaue there are more than 5 million Muslims in France, their presence raises questions about the future identity of the country. But if you go to other European countries, the scarf is less of an obsession.

I should point out that my position on the headscarf ban is more conservative than Ramadan's, in that I think it's a trampling of free expression. But my position is informed by my American identity, and my belief in the Bil of Rights (notable the First Amendment), which does not strictly exist in Europe. As Ramadan points out, Europe (and esepcially France) have a different concept of identity. Ramadan's work generally addresses Muslims in the West but his focus is on Europe, whereas my focus is on America. I respect his position therefore and concede that the headscarf ban may be acceptable to European muslims on the basis of French identity, but I'd be against it if it happenned here.

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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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