Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dr. Jackson's preface to Initiative to Stop the Violence

The tumultuous events that have gripped Egypt since the January 2011 revolution have raised many questions. Among the most disquieting has been whether the country would be thrown back into the kinds of Islamist violence it experienced during the 1980s and 1990s. Those decades were the "heyday" of the notorious al-Gamā'ah al-Islāmiyah, and from the time they declared their decision to renounce political violence in 1997 (the subject of this book) suspicions regarding their sincerity have ebbed and flowed. But if ever there were circumstances that might reinstate violence as their primary medium of exchange, the chaos, brutality, and direct targeting of Islamists following the July 2013 ousting of president Mohammed Morsi would certainly seem to qualify. Yet, through all of this, the Gamā'ah has maintained its commitment to nonviolence, and its public statements and gestures suggest an ideological resolve to stay the course.
For weeks following the bloody removal of pro-Morsi supporters from Rābi'ah al-'Adawīyah square in August of 2013, the Gamā'ah's official website streamed the following: "Stopping bloodshed is the religious obligation of our time and the form of religious devotion of our era, being superior to any other supererogatory act of worship." Meanwhile, news reports around this period have them condemning attacks on military forces in Sinai (even as they enjoin the army to "stay out of politics"), and denouncing attacks on Christian churches. This is in addition to various commentaries by prominent members of the Gamā'ah that underscore the fallacy of wanton violence as an approach to change. All of this is consistent with the message of the work under review, which repudiates political violence as a primary language of negotiation.
Yet, the future remains far from predictable. For, beyond the radically changed fortunes of Egypt's Islamists in general, it is difficult to ignore or assess the impact of the military government's mass arrests and torture of prisoners. As the Gamā'ah points out in this and other works, this was a major contributor to the radicalization, resentment, and thirst for revenge that seized thousands of young Islamists in the 1970s and 1980s. And this played an obvious role in the cycle of violence that rocked the country in the 1980s and early 1990s. For now, however, the Gamā'ah appear to be firm in its commitment to nonviolence. Given the present circumstances in Egypt, we can only hope--and some of us will pray--that they continue along this path.
-Dr. Sherman Jackson's Preface to Initiative to Stop the Violence (Mubādarat Waqf al-'Unf): Sadat's Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), xi-x.

The Words of Shaykh Emad Effat - God have mercy on him!

One prominent example [of speaking truth to power in the midst of the Egyptian revolution] was Emad Effat, a jurist from the Dar al-Ifta, or “the Abode of Verdicts”. Ironically, he served at a time when Ali Gomaa’ was head of the institution. Effat disagreed with Gomaa’s politics—but loved and respected him dearly, according to numerous accounts by his students and colleagues. Reports at the time indicated that military forces killed Effat in clashes with protesters in November 2011. Effat was opposed to the return of the Mubarak regime, deeply critical of the military council of the day, and simultaneously had antipathy to the Muslim Brotherhood. When he died, he earned two titles – shaheed al-Azhar (the martyr of the Azhar), and shaykh al-thawra (the shaykh of the revolution). Since his passing, no one else has taken up that banner.
No one could. In the years running up to the outbreak of the revolutionary uprising in Egypt in 2011, Effat wrote to his student and revolutionary figure, Ibrahim al-Houdeiby. The contents of that message show clearly how rare the likes of Effat were – and are:
There are all these good words about respect for shaykhs, giving them leeway and excuses, but where is God’s right to His own religion? Where is the right of the public who are confused about the truth because shaykhs are silent, and your own silence out of respect for senior shaykhs? What is this new idol that you call pressure; how does this measure to Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s tolerance of jail and refusing to bend and say what would comfort the unjust rulers?”
“What is this new idol you invented? The idol of pressure! If we submit to these new rituals, to this new idol, we would then tolerate everyone who lies, commits sins and great evils under the pretext of easing pressure and escaping it. Oh people, these pressures are only in your head and not in reality. Is there a new opinion in jurisprudence that coercion can be by illusion? Have we come to use religious terms to circumvent religion and justify the greater sins we commit? So we use legitimate phrases such as pros and cons, the lesser of two evils, and pressure to make excuses for not speaking up for what is right and surrendering to what is wrong!”

Also see

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Talal Asad on tradition

The concept of "tradition" requires more careful theoretical attention than the modernist perspective gives it. Talking of tradition ("Islamic tradition") as though it was the passing on of an unchanging substance in homogeneous time oversimplifies the problem of time's definition of practice, experience, and event. Questions about the internal temporal structure of tradition are obscured if we represent it as the inheritance of an unchanging cultural substance from the past - as thought "past" and "present" were places in a linear path down which that object was conveyed to the "future." (The notion of invented tradition is the same representation used subversively.) We make a false assumption when we suppose that the present is merely a fleeting moment in a historical teleology connecting past to future. In tradition the "present" is always at the center. If we attend to the way time present is separated from but also included within events and epochs, the way time past authoritatively constitutes present practices, and the way authenticating practices invoke or distance themselves from the past (by reiterating, reinterpreting, and reconnecting textualized memory and memorialized history), we move toward a richer understanding of tradition's temporality.
note 39: [...] One should not take it as given, as progressivists tend to do, that all positive invocations of the past are inevitably "nostalgic."

-Talal Asad, "Reconfigurations of Law and Ethics in Colonial Egypt" in Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 222-3. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

About Cambridge Muslim College

The Cambridge Muslim College works to enhance training and Islamic scholarship to help meet the many challenges facing the community in modern Britain. The College is committed to promoting the highest standards of academic excellence in Islamic studies in the contemporary context while maintaining respect for the religion’s authentic traditions and sources. Drawing on resources and expertise in Cambridge and beyond, the College’s mission is to help mobilise the many existing strengths of British Muslims to produce stronger, more dynamic institutions and communities.  
The College welcomes Muslims of all backgrounds who wish to deepen their pastoral skills and their awareness of contemporary developments in Britain and the world. It is independent of governments and is not affiliated to any Islamic movement. CMC provides a prayerful context for strengthening da’wa skills and scholarly resources to support all who care about the continuing health and dynamism of Britain’s Muslim community.  
The College is under the direction of Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (T. J. Winter), Shaykh Zayed Lecturer in Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. The College is accredited by the British Accreditation Council for Independent Further and Higher Education.

Friday, April 3, 2015

"The Irony of Democracy", a Zaytuna Faculty Lecture by Imam Zaid Shakir (from 2012)

Zaytuna College Conference (Livestreamed) Tomorrow: Forging Islamic Authority: Navigating Text and Context in the Modern World

The Muslim world is in crisis, and the crisis is multi-layered. In many ways, the crisis revolves around the issue of Islamic authority. If international law recognizes nation states, what role is there for solidarity on the basis of a trans-national ummah? With national boundaries, to what extent can Muslims have solidarity with non-Muslims, whether as minorities in non-Muslim lands or in countries with a Muslim majority? Are there limits to a believer’s allegiance to a secular state? What texts are to be considered authoritative when approaching these questions? And is there one locus or multiple loci for legitimate interpretive authority? While the focus of the public discourse remains on the headlines, a much deeper epistemic debate is at hand centering on re-constituting Islamic authority in the post-Ottoman, nationalist and post-colonial periods. The complexity of this debate is muddled by a set of external circumstances that impinge into a scholar’s inner sanctum: globalization, neoliberal economics, corporatization, and commodification of knowledge, all of which challenge traditional frameworks for analysis and modes of transmission. Attempts at re-constituting Islamic authority have taken many forms but questions still remain. Indeed, we have arrived at a point where Islamic authority is limited, non-existent, sidelined, or mocked due to engagement in tangential and inconsequential debates. Where are we? Who are “we?” And where are we going?
To view the free livestream, please visit this page on Saturday, April 4, 2015 at 8 a.m. PDT.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Imam al-Ghazali on Funerals

Know that funerals are a lesson to the man possessed of insight, and a reminder and a counsel to all save the people of heedlessness. For these latter are increased only in hardness of heart by witnessing them, as they imagine that for all time they will be watching the funerals of others, and never reckon that they themselves must needs be carried in a funeral cortege. Even if they do so reckon, they do not deem this to be something near at hand. They do not consider that those who are carried now in funeral processions thought likewise. Vain, then, are their imaginings, and soon their allotted lifespans will be done.
Therefore let no bondsman watch a funeral without considering that he himself is the one being borne aloft, for so he will be before long: on the morrow, or on the day that follows: it is as if the event had already occurred.
Such, then, was their fear of death. But nowadays never do you see a group of people attending a funeral without the majority of them laughing and enjoying themselves, speaking of nothing but the inheritance and of what [the deceased] has bequeathed to his heirs; the sole though in the mind of his friends and relatives being of the devices by which they might obtain some share in his legacy. Not a single one of them (save those who God wills) meditates upon his own funeral and upon how he shall be when he himself is carried in a funeral cortege. The sole reason for this is the hardness which has afflicted people's heart through their many acts of disobedience and sin, whereby we have come to forget God (Exalted is He!) and the Last Day, and the terrors which lie before us. We have taken to playfulness and neglect, and to busying ourselves with that which is of no concern to us. We pray God (Exalted is He!) to rouse us from this heedlessness! For truly, the best of states in those who attend funerals is that they should weep for the deceased; moreover, if they had any understanding they would weep for themselves rather than for him.
 -al-Ghazali in The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife. Translated by T. J. Winter (Islamic Texts Society, 1989), 97-98.

Part of the quote was copied from here. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

PRACTICAL SPIRITUALITY: A Study of Ghazali’s ‘Beginning of Guidance’ with Ustadha Zaynab Ansari
This course is a study of Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali’s work entitled The Beginning of Guidance (Bidaya al-Hidaya) on practical steps that a person can take in order to improve his/her spiritual state. The Beginning of Guidance represents an epistle being, as it were, a direct correspondence between Al-Ghazali and one of his disciples. In this gem-filled text, we learn that Islamic spirituality is eminently practical and practicable and is found in the everyday moments of worship and routines of life that all of us—on some level or another—experience. Spirituality in Islam is not an exercise in esotericism, but, instead, the manifestation of applying what we know in the context of who we are and what we do. In other words, spirituality is inextricably linked with our daily realities and is not divorced from our very human experiences and associations. The course will be taught by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, an accomplished teacher and member of the Lamppost Education Initiative board of directors.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Human Rights Watch: After Liberation Came Destruction Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli (March 18, 2015)

This 31-page report documents, through field visits, analysis of satellite imagery, interviews with victims and witnesses, and review of photo and video evidence, that militias looted property of Sunni civilians who had fled fighting, burned their homes and businesses, and destroyed at least two entire villages. The actions violated the laws of war. Human Rights Watch also documented the abduction of 11 men during the operation, in September and October.
via Democracy Now

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Support the Lamppost Education Initiative

Lamppost Education Initiative (Lamppost) is a non-profit educational effort that prides itself on contextualizing and grounding the teachings of Islam in America while maintaining the integrity of its historical message. Our mission is to facilitate access to the unique intellectual contributions of a select number of Muslim American scholars, inspire spiritual and social transformation, and empower through education.

Check out the Lamppost Website and support their work here.