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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.

February 26, 2003

Interpretations of Jihad.

A Muslim Under Progress has devoted a lot of thought to the concept of Jihad in a two-part series. In the first part, he ultimately disagrees with me about the meaning of jihad. It certainly won't come as a surprise to anyone that I remain unconvinced. This is why:

1. He agrees with the notion that of the Qur'an intended for jihad to mean qitaal, it would have used the word. The Qur'an supercedes all other authorities.

2. He believes that my interpretation is not valid because I represent a minority within a minority. Islam itself teaches that Truth is universal, my minority status is irrelevant when discussing the merits of my rational argument.

3. Having dismissed my interpretation, he invokes the Hanafi interpretations. Note that Hanafi himself was taught at the feet of Jafar al-Sadiq, the great Imam, descended from Ali AS, whose writings are at the core of the Ismaili interpretations. Therefore he has achieved little to advance his main point, apart from merely illustrating the existence of alternate interpretations of jihad.

I also want to point out that the ayats of the Qur'an that he referred to which ostensibly support the war interpretation of jihad, actually do no such thing. I am willing to do a joint discussion on specific ayats' meanings. The important thing to remember is to NOT take ayats out of context, but look at them as integral pieces of a larger pattern. Nowhere in the Qur'an is an offensive campaign ever justified.

A Muslim Under Progress then lays out an analysis of "just war" from a Muslim perspective. Despite my disagreement with him on part one, I found this to be an excellent and carefully-thought-out analysis. The points are well-supported by Qur'anic references and it provides a valuable perspective. It is important to note that this technically has nothing to do with jihad. As to my own agreement, there are issues of contention, but his writing warrants a more thorough and considered response than what I can provide at this moment. I need to re-read the piece myself and reflect more on what he is trying to say.

(note: underprogress's permalinks are broken, until he republishes his archives. Go to the main page and scroll down.)

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February 24, 2003

Saddam vs. Saudi.

One interesting rationalization for war that I have often heard is that Saddam, armed with nukes, would then proceed to invade Saudi Arabia and grab control of all the oil in the known universe.

Note that during the Cold War, our conventional military stationed in Europe was enough to deter a massive conventional invasion by nuclear-armed Russia. So the argument that we would be powerless to defend the middle east against a nuclear Saddam is flawed.

There is an inconsistency between this argument and the "Clash of Civilizations" idea, which posits that America is the chief villain to terrorists because of our freedom, which threatens their repressive interpretations of Islam. But Saddam is a socialist, unloved by the fanatic OBL crowd. The rhetoric on the recent supposed-OBL tape was clear on this point - referring to the Ba'ath party as "infidels".

Were Saddam to invade Saudi Arabia, Iraq would be at war with Islam. War on their brothers is one thing that Arabs are very good at - but it wouldn't be just Syria, Jordan, and Egypt - Iran and Pakistan would also enter the fray.

And what if our forces were deployed in defense of Saudi Arabia against Saddam? America might even become seen as the protector of Islam...

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February 19, 2003

Eid-e Ghadir-e-Khum.

courtesy al-islam.orgIn the year 10 AH, after performing his last pilgrimage to Hajj, the Prophet SAW declared as his successor, Amirul Mumineen, Moula Ali ibn Talib AS.

The Qur'an says:
'O Apostle! Proclaim (the message) which has been sent down to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His Message. Allah will protect you from Mankind. Verily Allah guides not the people who disbelieve. (5: 67)

Thus it was at Ghadir-e-Khum, the point on the journey from which teh various pilgrims would disperse to their respective destinations as they returned home from Hajj, that Rasulullah SAW called all the pilgrims for one great assemblage. A multitude of seventy thousand gathered about the Prophet SAW, Salman (R.A.) and other Ashab Kiram were instructed to use rocks to make a pulpit, and the Prophet of Allah sat on the mimbar for nearly three hours, and in his moving eloquence, recited 100 verses from the Holy Qur'an and on 73 occasions reminded the assembled, and warned them of their deeds and hereafter.

The sermon of Rasulallah (SAW) and the events of Ghadir-e-Khum have been extensively narrated by historians, but for us Mumineen the prophetic words - 'man kunto mawlahu fa' Aliyan mawlahu' have become the foundation of our faith. It is the bedrock on which the edifice of our faith is built, as such, the day of 18th Zil Hijjah is an landmark day in our calendar - it is celebration and triumph of our Deen.

The Qur'an says,
This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion' (5:3)

Islam was perfected only when the rightful vasi was conferred with nass - and each year we Mumineen reaffirm our allegiance (misak), a celebration of the nass conferred by Rasulullah SAW on Moulana Ali (AS). Misak is in fact a reaffirmation of our faith, our piety, our continuity, our submission to the Will of Allah and His Vali.

This celebration is epitomized in the words of Syedna Taher Saifuddin Moula (AQ):
madihokumu ya ala fatema-tal-ridha
ila suhekum li khairo hadin va sa'eki

So come 18th Zil -Hijjah we Mumineen will gather in the Masjid all around the world reaffirming our faith and celebrating with our Aqa Moula (TUS) as one single entity, the glorious and historic events of Ghadir-e-Khum - the place which has become the symbol of our faith and veneration.

Please note that I do not intend to engage in a theologic discussion about the event of Ghadir e Khum. For documentation and rigorous argument in support of Ghadir-eKhum, see this stellar website run by the Shi'a Ithna Ashari community. This post is not meant to be an argument but is simply my expression of my personal faith and belief. I have no interest in convincing others or starting/continuing a sectarian squabble. I humbly request ask that my beliefs be respected accordingly by my brothers in faith. My thanks to Asghar bhai Fakhruddin for his original essay, which I have co-opted.

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February 13, 2003

Charles in charge, alhamdolillah.

I must come to the defense of the Prince of Wales. Via Glenn Reynolds, we see a brief mention of Prince Charles' supposed "Arabophilia" on Punditwatch:

Tony Snow, on Fox, revealed that Britain’s Prince Charles wears Arab robes and reportedly opposes war with Iraq. Snow called him a “Windsor Cat Stevens.”

The mere suggestion that Prince Charles could be interested in Arab culture has of course raised all sorts of alarm bells. Note that Snow deliberately invoked Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) - a noted convert to Islam. It's unsurprising that already some in the blogsphere are chattering about Prince Charles' supposed conversion to the faith. Glenn updated his post with a photo of Charles wearing what looks to be (gasp!) Arab robes and headcovering (at left). The photo is from a breathless article in the UK ragsheet News of the World, which reveals that Charles actually reads the Qur'an daily and sometimes wears Islamic dress at home. I can imagine the consternation among the neocons already: The Windsors are Wahabis! UK to embrace the Sauds as dynastic brethren!

First, it is important to understand that Charles - recognizing that Muslims are a large and growing segment of his subjects - has done groundbreaking work in reaching out ot Islamic communities across Britain, fostering bonds and always emphasising loyalty and patriotism to the Crown. Apart from the vocal fools on the news, the vast majority of Britain's muslims are fiercely loyal to their nation and this is in large part to Charles' untiring efforts at recognizing them as valued contributors to the culture and diversity of Great Britain. Note that France makes no such outreach, seeing its Muslims as just nother pool of cheap labor. This may account for the lack of fraternite´ among French muslims for the tricolor.

Second, if Charles chooses to read the Qur'an, and wear Islamic dress in the privacy of his home, that is his business, just as his views on the impending Iraq war are. Drawing a causal link between these facts is unfair. What's next, demonizing the Shriners? But I have to doubt these claims anyway, given their source. The News of the World is just another weekly royal-bashing rag, and they are always looking for an interesting angle.

Third, the photo of Charles above is actually of the Prince wearing the topi, the headgear of my own community of Shi'a muslims, the Dawoodi Bohras. The "robes" in this photo are a ceremonial shawl draped around his shoulders (and over the Prince's immaculate tailored suit) by the head of the Bohra congregation in London - both topi and shawl were gifts to the Prince, on the occasion of his visit to the Bohra community's Masjid Al-Husainy complex in Northholt (a suburb of London) in 1996. You can see another photo of Charles in topi and shawl here (keep in mind that this was seven years ago).

On the occassion of the Prince's visit to the masjid complex, he planted a "unity tree" (an oak sapling) with the leaders of the community, to represent the loyalty and pride that the London Bohras take in being citizens of the United Kingdom. The tree also symbolizes the unity of Britain, with all its diversity. The Prince said during the ceremony:

What I really wanted to do today is offer my heartfelt congratulations for what you have all managed to achieve here with your community in building this great complex here. Your commitment to building this very special place of worship and something that is of such beauty is I think a credit to community.
I want to congratulate the Dawoodi Bohra Community on the contribution you make to the economic well-being and cultural diversity of the wider community here in the country. And having met a large number of you as I’ve been going round the mosque and having seen how many different businesses you have all started and grown, I am impressed by what you have managed to achieve. And if I may say so, you are a splendid example of the way I believe different cultures can learn to understand one another much better."

There are more details and photos of the Prince's visit in this special edition of the Asian Age newspaper, published for the occassion. In the same issue, there is a discussion of how the community has integrated into the UK and the ongoing commitment that the Bohras have to being citizens of Britain without sacrificing our beliefs and practices.

The Bohras are described in much more detail in the book Mullahs on the Mainframe by Jonah Blank. I also recommend this entry in the Oxford University Encyclopedia of Islam for a brief overview.

Just to clarify - I am not accusing Glenn Reynolds of defaming Charles. I am defending Charles from News of the World's insinuation that his anti-war opinions (which reflect the general public opinion in Britain) are caused by his secret Arab (implied: Wahabi) sympathies. Since the photo is 1. seven years old, and 2. shows him wearing Bohra (Shi'a muslims ethnically from Gujarat, India) headgear and shawl, this is an unfair, out of context, and factually incorrect characterization. News of the World chose that photo - which is really a symbol of Charles' outreach and vision - and used it to imply the exact opposite.

UPDATE: Glenn posted again, pointing to another article dating from 1997, which also raises alarmist fears about Charles' conversion. The idea is not new. If anything it underlies how reactionary the idea is. The article is a joke - it invokes the Grand Mufti of Cyprus as an authority - that sound you hear is the collective shrug of a thousand muslim shoulders. Who? I find the "Charles is a secret convert to Islam" meme so absurd, I can't let it go. Several others have tried to justify this obsessive attention to Charles by virtue of his position in the monarchy:

But it is the Prince of Wales, and the man will presumably someday become Defender of the Faith -- the Faith in question being the Anglican Church. I'm not Anglican, but if I were, I would certainly have a strong interest in seeing that the titular head of my church actually believed in the tenets of the sect. Hence the perfectly valid speculation about Charles's personal beliefs.

But I find this singularly unconvincing. It's not clear to me if Anglican Britons actually pray towards Charles and Elizabeth or not, but presumably the monarchy wouldn't bat an eyelid about this, given that being Muslim is no less being Anglican than being a playboy or an adulterer is. Presumably the presence of Camilla Parker Bowles at King Charles' side won't faze Anglicans, will it matter if she is wearing a burka? Hey, Elizabeth can dissolve Parliament, technically. Britain has a monarchy with all sorts of rules and powers on paper, but Charles the man actually lives in the real world. This is why I admire his outreach efforts to Muslims, Jews, and other minorities, because he is dedicated to building loyalty and patriotism to Britain (and this is the best use of a monarchy in the modern age - aimed at strengthening the fabric of the nation. Leave the laws and the foreign policy to the Ministers).

What the News of the World is trying to do is take a number of Charles' reasonable comments about what embracing diversity can do to enrich the social and political fabric of Britain, and twists them into wild accusations about "defamation of his own culture" and "denigration of the West". Overall it's just another attempt to smear Charles efforts at recognizing that the face of Britain is multicultural and diverse into some kind of broadly implied treason.

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February 12, 2003

Eid ul-Adha Mubarak.

belated, but let me wish everyone mubarak anyway :)

Remember that the duty of a muslim is to their own soul, and their responsibilities to Allah, first and foremost. We may disagree amongst ourselves as to how best to fulfill that responsibility, but we must always strive for it with respect.

Any muslim overly concerned with the piety of others, or too worried about injustices in this world, has forgotten that to Allah is our eventual return.

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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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