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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.

August 31, 2003

more links on Najaf.

Karachi Dawn: Iraq mourns as toll rises to 125: Ayatollah Bahar al Uloom quits council; four suspects arrested

NAJAF, Aug 30: US forces and Iraqi police on Saturday detained four people in connection with the car bomb attack that killed Ayatollah Baqer al Hakim and scores of his followers in Najaf the previous day.

Two of the four were Iraqis belonging to the Baath Party and two were Saudis, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said. "The four men arrested belong to Al Qaeda. Two of them are Iraqi nationals and two others are Saudis," he said. The CNN in its report claimed that two of those arrested bore Pakistani passports.

As a mark of protest, a senior member of the Iraqi governing council Ayatollah Mohammad Bahar al Uloom quit from the council membership saying the United States had failed to bring law and order to the country.
SCIRI's London representative said the arrests lent credibility to suspicions of an alliance between the Al Qaeda and veterans of Saddam Hussein's government.

"I suspect there was a collaboration here between Al Qaeda and Saddam's people, as well as in the blasts at the UN headquarters and Jordan embassy (in Baghdad)," said Hamed al Bayati.

Referring to the three devastating attacks in a short span of three weeks, Mr Bayati said: "They are using new tactics - car bombings, suicide bombings that have the fingerprints of Al Qaeda. "But Al Qaeda cannot act alone in Iraq. They must have help from inside. That would be Saddam's loyalists."

Juan Cole also has a translation of an Al-Hayat article that sheds more light on Bahar al-Uloom's resignation:

Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a moderate Shiite cleric with ties to al-Da`wa and the Khoei foundation, announced that he was suspending his membership in the American-appointed Interim Governing Council because the IGC was unable to provide security. He complained bitterly that al-Hakim, the Najaf authorities, and the US all had been tipped that there would be a bombing aimed at assassinating al-Hakim, but that no extra steps had been taken to keep him safe. He maintained that some 600 people had been wounded in the blast. This qualified resignation clearly a protest against American failure to make Iraq secure in the post-war period. It is also a blow to the Bremer administration of Iraq, since Bahr al-Ulum is popular and a more credible liberal than Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Abdul Aziz, the brother of the late Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who slain in the Friday attack, is the head of the paramilitary Badr Corps and has spoken about a vision of Iraq as an Islamic Republic in the far future, though it might have a democratic government in the short term. It seems clear that American nation-building attempts in Iraq have been hit by an earthquake.

and Mr Cole also has an interview with Bob Siegel on NPR about the bombing that is worth listening to (partial transcript).

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August 30, 2003

without comment.

haven't seen any muslim bloggers denounce the AllahBlogger yet, though I'm sure that it is forthcoming. But personally I think Allah is in the House is an amusing parody of the same extremist element that I have criticized strongly on this site many times. And even though it was already painfully obvious that the site is not hateful in the same way that the coments at LGF are, the AllahBlogger has decided to make it explicit:

I want to make clear that I have nothing against Muslims--or the adherents of any other faith, for that matter--who practice their religion peacefully. This site is intended as a parody of the radical Islamist mindset with which Americans have become only too familiar in the past two years. I tried alluding in my last post to the distinction between radical and moderate Islam by having "Allah" remark that most of his disciples pray only for innocuous, beneficent things like food and good health. To those moderate Muslims who read this site, then, I'd ask you to bear in mind that there's no malice directed here at you or your beliefs, and I apologize if any offense is given. To any radical Muslims who should read this site, I'd ask you to bear in mind that I hope you die soon, and painfully.

If you haven't actually read some of the posts, consider this post a warm endorsement. I'm also thankful that there aren't comments. One cesspool of hatred is enough.

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August 29, 2003

Live like Ali - die like Husain.

As a Shi'a, I am used to others denigrating Ali ibn Abi Talib (SA), denying his status as the Prophet's SAW designated heir and successor, and labeling those who follow Ali's teachings as heretics. I myself have been barred form paying respects at the tombs of the religious leaders of our community, by young boys armed with stones, who threatened to crack my skull if I prostrated myself. There is no anger like that of a believer thwarted from expresssing his belief, but I have always been taught that we must abide, we must have patience, we must do taqiyyah. But no persecution is borne lightly. This was the lesson of the martyrdom of Imam Husain on the plains of Karbala.

And now, this - a suicide bomb attack on the House of Ali AS, on the first day of the Month of Ali AS (Shere Rajab al-Asab).

There is anger, there is sorrow, there is fear, but there is also conviction. The enemies of Ali only have the power to kill.

UPDATE: well, at least the American priorities in Iraq are clear. (addendum: Bremer was on vacation.)

UPDATE 2: Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim is confirmed dead in the bombing. He was widely regarded as a moderate and sought to avoid confrontation with US forces, and his brother serves on the Governing COuncil. An excellent article in the Financial Times details the history of the rivalry between the competing SHi'a groups and the allegation that the bombing in Najaf was the work of Moqtadar's followers. Personally, I cannot believe that any Shi'a would attack the Shrine of Ali. It makes as much sense as Osama bin Laden burning the Qur'an live on Al-Jazeera.

UPDATE 3: Tacitus suggests that Muslim violence against Muslim holy sites is not uncommon, pointing to a siege of the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by some extremists. But the event in question resulted in no damage - ie a physical attack on the structure - it was instead an attempt to take control of the compound. The Sunni jihadists who were behind the siege had no compulsion in executing other believers, of course, which is about par for the course. Also worth noting is that Shi'a blood and the Shi'a holy sites are bomb-fodder for Sunnis worldwide.

UPDATE 4: I'm struggling to redirect my outrage over the incident - I don't believe any force on Earth could marshall against Ali's physical tomb. This was an attack on believers first and foremost.

UPDATE 5: An email on Tacitus' blog suggests the next target could be the holy tomb of Imam Husain AS in Karbala. My initial reaction was simple denial. But I am beginning to see the grim logic of the campaign thus far. The Coalition must send troops to Karbala and make safety at the holy shrines the highest priority of the New Iraqi Army and civil defense.

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August 28, 2003

still in existence.

Bill points to this footnote on page 78 of The Qur'an: A Short Introduction:

The Rafidis, usually descripted as "a group of extremist Shi'is" alleged the 'Uthman had expunged some verses from the Qur'an (Zarkashi 1972 1:240). Literally, meaning "repudiators", the term was also used as a term of abuse by some Sunni theologians for all Shi'is. None of the earlier Shi'i groups that rejected the authenticity of the 'Uthmannic canon are still in existence.

and notes "The last sentence is phrased oddly." Agreed. It is interesting to see how the Qur'anic sanction of taqqiyyah (dissimulation) is interpreted by Sunni polemicists. Thankfully, their scorn blinds them to its use.

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August 18, 2003

holy alliance.

usually, the only thing that unites former rivals is the perception of a common enemy. Whether the perception is true or not is irrelevant. This story alone demonstrates that in Iraq, the US has won the battle, but is losing the war:

NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 16 -- A popular Sunni Muslim cleric has provided grass-roots and financial support to a leading anti-American Shiite cleric, a rare example of cooperation across Iraq's sectarian divide that has alarmed U.S. officials for its potential to bolster festering resistance to the American occupation, senior U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

The ties mark one of the first signs of coordination between anti-occupation elements of the Sunni minority, the traditional rulers of the country, and its Shiite majority, seen by U.S. officials as the key to stability in postwar Iraq.

The extent of the cooperation remains unclear between Ahmed Kubeisi, a Sunni cleric from a prominent clan in western Iraq, and Moqtada Sadr, the 30-year-old son of a revered Shiite ayatollah assassinated in 1999. But ideologically and practically, it represents a convergence of interests between the two figures, who were left out of the Iraqi Governing Council named last month and, in their own communities, have emerged as influential if still minority voices of opposition to the four-month-old occupation.

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August 16, 2003

proslytezation as heresy.

There's a great amount of fascinating debate that occurs at the weblog intersection of Zack Ajmal, Ikram Saeed, Al-Muhajabah, Jonathan Edelstein, and Bill Allison. I am sometimes tempted to withdraw from the political blog world and immerse myself in the literary, religious, and philosophical worlds within their comments sections. If there were some way to unify these writers on a single forum the net impact would be truly impressive.

In the course of one of these bloggers' conversations, Bill makes the following observation:

The juxtaposition of these two ideas—potential salvation through ignorance on the one hand and religion providing the ethical construct for society—suggested to me a kind of heresy. If one accepted both Al-Muhajabah's statement of the orthodox view of salvation and that it is more important to treat people well rather than to pray, then it might follow that the religious duty of the heretic is to maintain a complete silence, lest he inadvertently condemn those who do not share his faith and whom he wishes to treat well to damnation by exposing them to the basics of Islam. And surely, the heretic would find fault with Al-Muhajabah, who goes to great lengths on her main site to introduce non-Muslims to "a good understanding of the basics" of Islam.

Note that Bill is not picking on AM here, but speculating about the extrapolation of the broader beliefs of many Muslims about who is (and who is not) eligible for paradise in the afterlife. AM's own writing on this topic is part of an ongoing attempt to "respond to those Muslims who believe that no non-Muslim can ever enter Paradise, no matter what, and to present information to those non-Muslims who also think that is the position of Islam." I often tackle the more conservative beliefs of Muslims (and the perception of those beliefs by non-muslims) myself, and AM is a great ally in this (though we do sometimes disagree on tactics, more on that later).

Bill makes an interesting point. Speaking from my own Ismaili Fatimi perspective, there isn't any "threshold" for admission to paradise. Heaven is not a Michigan grad school. On the part of the believer, there is either acceptance or lack of acceptance (or outright enmity) of the message of Allah. Entry is a matter of Allah's judgement, which is postulated to be both infinite and perfect. There is always room for Allah's mercy or intercession.

It's almost heresy to definitively assert that ANY particular person, muslim or not, is or isn't bound for paradise. The sole and final judgement is Allah's. And the only thing the religion tells you, really, is HOW to get there. That doesnt necessarily preclude another path, but
there are an infinite number of very, very wrong paths. There is only ONE "right" path, however.

As a result, from my perspective, proslytezation is a value-neutral activity, and the heresy angle doesn't really come into play. My community does not engage in prosetyzation but we have a number of converts each year, usually from the Hindu faith in India, but also some Sunni conversions (mostly in Pakistan) and occassionally even a European.

in the comments, Bill expands upon his point:

Aziz, I think, raises an interesting point as well. Is God bound to follow the law he promulgates? Suppose it is written that man must wear at all time green hats or be damned; suppose a man who otherwise follows all God's laws, and is exemplary in spirit, wears a blue hat. Suppose he does so because he genuinely believes the divinity intended men to wear blue hats, or because he simply prefers blue to green. Would God be bound to cast that man into hell?

I think asking whether God is bound by God's law is equivalent to asking "Can God create a rock He cannot lift?" - essentially, a logic trap. The question itself really is meaningless, like asking "What color are the eyes of the King of the United States?"

Likewise, the issue of what gets someone into Heaven is not reducible or analogous to the color of your hat. It's a far more complex judgement - with the absolute perfection of Allah's judgement as the foundation.

The bottom line is, that God has shown all mankind the religion of Islam. And whether you follow or not, and the degree of that following or not following, is ultimately your personal choice. Whether you attain Paradise will in the end be unknowable until you actually get to that stage - and you can rest assured that the judgement is, by definition, Just. :)

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August 11, 2003

the good of the ummah?.

my earlier "muslim for Howard Dean" piece was published on alt.muslim as a standalone essay. It also sparked a response piece from a muslim who supports Kucinich:

America is a democracy. Bush can be voted out and another president elected in his place. That other president may be someone who will bring benefit to Muslims. Or he may just be somebody who will do less harm to Muslims. In either case, by voting for this other president we will have done something to help the umma, even if it is a small thing. That is exactly what Shakyh Munajjid is talking about. Bringing benefit to the umma and reducing harm.

This is profoundly wrong. When I cast my vote I am doing it as an American, not a muslim. From my perspective, trying to effect change "for the good of the ummah" by political action makes no sense, unless you are willing to admit that what's best for the ummah is not necessarily best for Islam.

Islam is eternal. The impact of the 2004 election upon Islam, the religion, the revealed Truth of Allah, will be absolutely zero. Ariel Sharon could be elected President with Daniel Pipes as his Veep and it would make no difference to Islam.

The ummah, on the other hand, is a loose political identity of muslims worldwide. This presumably includes the Sunni fanatics who tried to kill me in Yemen because of my Shi'a beliefs. It also presumably includes Udai and Qusay Hussein, who were not averse to reciting Qur'an verses in between bouts of debauchery. The ummah includes entire countries, such as Syria and Pakistan, whose pursuit of regional self-interest sometimes does much greater collective harm to muslims as a whole than Bush could do in twenty thousand lifetimes.

As such I reject the idea that we need to be on the lookout for the "ummah" when casting our vote. It's the height of arrogance to even presume what threads of fate will, in the end, tie together and benefit muslims as a whole. Only Allah can judge these things - and ascribing cosmic significance on behalf of the entire believer-politic to your vote is to take what is no more than your opinion and try to wrap it in the Qur'an for legitimacy.

Using religion - or even religious unity - as a validator of your political beliefs is a fundamental abuse of religion. And it offends me profoundly.

So let's dispense with the grandstanding and get down to the basic principle: your vote for President of the United States is solely a function of your political beliefs. Al-Muhajabah has done an excellent job in making a principled case for Kucinich, not just on his position re: the Middle East and Iraq, but for his generally Progressive position at the far left of the American political spectrum. I greatly admire AM for her principles and her dedication to them - she is admittedly far more progressive than I am and I disagree with her on the issues to some extent, but she is honest about her beliefs and does not try to wrap them in the Qur'an for legitimacy.

(I'll tackle the substance of why I won't vote Kucinich in a separate post..)

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universal problem, unique solution.

This is one of those irony-laden situations that frankly drain my optimism.

In Yemen, there are two kinds of internet cafes - ones that let you sit with your back to the wall, and ones that don't. The former are commonly understood to be safe havens for (obviously, male) patrons more interested in porn than in fatwas. Some of the more accomodating cafes even have partitions between terminals for absolute privacy onscreen.

(Point 1 - porn is as popular in oppresively conservative religious countries as it is in secular, sex-drenched America.)

Naturally some "Islamic" "authorities" (the terms deserve separate sneer quotes in this context) take issue with this. Their response? outlaw partitions in the internet cafes.

(Point 2 - as usual, religious authorities find ways to legislate morality, seemingly oblivious to the fact that doing so renders honest piety utterly indistinguishable from simple fear, and therefore equally worthless.)

The response of the internet cafes? Invoke Islamic law and (successfully) argue that removing the partitions would violate women's modesty:

The cafe owners, meanwhile, have formed an organisation to defend their business and have come up with a cunning argument against the removal of partitions: it discriminates against women. Partitions allow women internet users to be segregated from men in accordance with Islamic custom, they say, and removing them in effect deprives women of their right to use the internet.

The segregation argument is the one that they are relying on. While it is tempting to admire the cunning of the internet cafe owners, and applaud the fact that the internet users have now avoided a needless imposition on their liberty (said imposition which, of course, completely contradicted the Islamic principle of choice and reason as the foundation of belief), it is equally true that this "liberty" was won by legitimizing the oppression of women (ie, the mandate of partitions for womens' modesty), in order to enable the objectification of women (granted, a more universal problem).

I can't complain - with partitions, maybe some enterprising young firebrand might stumble across the texts of Locke, Jefferson, and Syedna Qazi Noman. Heck, they might even stumble across Shi'a Pundit (my ego blooms with a thousand facets).

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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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