Friday, November 26, 2010

The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination (J.K. Rowling's 2008 Commencement Address at Harvard)

"The experience of reading a novel

has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of our lives, long after we have laid the book aside. It is an exercise of make-believe that, like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies, so that we are able to empathise with other lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do, it can change us forever.

Mythology, we have seen, is an art form. Any powerful work of art invades our being and changes it forever. The British critic George Steiner claims that art, like certain kinds of religious and metaphysical experience, is the most "'ingressive," transformative summons available to human experiencing'. It is an intrusive, invasive indiscretion that 'queries the last privacies of our existence'; an Annunciation that 'breaks into the small house of our cautionary being', so that 'it is no longer habitable in quite the same way as it was before'. It is a transcendent encounter that tells us, in effect: 'change your life'.

If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight in to our lost and damaged world.
-from pp. 148-9 of Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth

‘Imagine Better’: Can Harry Potter Change the World? ...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Islam in America

has deep historical roots that go back at least as far as the colonial period. Its present development is relatively recent and has occurred over the course of the twentieth century. Because the American Muslim community is still young, it has not taken definite shape or adopted hard and fast points of view. As stated in the introduction: "The beginnings are the manifestation of the ends." Good beginnings promise good futures; putting down a sound foundation makes it possible to build an enduring edifice. But the opposite is also true. It is critical for American Muslims, as we move forward, to lay strong foundations and make new beginnings. Determining the way forward cannot be left to others and cannot be left to chance.
At present, different groups and different visions of Islam compete for American Muslim community's allegiance. The content of ideologies will probably continue for years to come, but ultimately a particular vision of Islam is likely to predominate. Once a distinctive vision of Islam has been effectively established among American Muslims, a new chapter in their history will begin. That vision, once established, will become Islam's default position in the United States and dictate for generations how the Muslim community understands itself and the world around it. It will automatically set its own priorities and objectives. Ultimately, the vision of Islam that comes to prevail here will be the primary determinant of whether Islam succeeds in the United States or fails. If the vision of Islam that finally predominates in America is authentic and wise, it will constitute a wise precedent and an enduring model for further development. If it is deficient, it will remain a constant obstacle for future generations.
Our generation of American Muslims will likely play the pivotal role in the first effective establishment of Islam in the United States. This lot is unlikely to fall to our children or grandchildren. They will either be the beneficiaries of our success or the victims of our failure. Indifference toward the future of Muslims in America is not just an offense to the community; such indifference will lead to irremediable historical mistakes. The supreme societal obligation that falls upon our generation in building the American Muslim community of the future is to identify the priorities and required societal obligations that concern us and to acquire the means to meet them. The five operational principles are among the greatest of our resources and constitute a necessary component of eventual success.
 -from pg. 36-37 of "Living Islam With Purpose" by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah

"In speaking

about creating an indigenous Muslim culture in the United States, it must be emphasized that such a culture would not be a single, monolithic whole, nor would it necessarily develop along the lines of the dominant culture or any particular subculture. American culture, like human cultures everywhere, is not a single uniform entity. It is a complex of many diverse cultures and subcultures existing. They complement and compete against each other and have the same relation with the dominant culture of the mainstream. Endorsement of American culture means being open-minded toward all the multiple expressions of the indigenous cultural heritage. As emphasized before, the maxim "culture has the weight of law" disallows outright rejection of any cultural or subcultural legacy; the maxim allows American Muslims to adopt or to adapt what they like as long as it is not detrimental. Our attitude should remain consistent with Islam's default position that customs are presumed to be permissible, beneficial, and good until proven otherwise; in borderline cases, we have recourse to the maxim "the basic rule in customs in exemption."

In traditional Muslim societies, creative adaptation of indigenous norms was conspicuous and often more beneficial than mere adoption of them. Likewise, American Muslims need not be content with just adopting good cultural norms; it is often better to adapt them imaginatively in order to produce results that are more beautiful and more beneficial than existed earlier.
  -from pg. 35 of "Living Islam With Purpose" by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah

"An excellent example

of an empowered and empowering Muslim woman is the elegant twelfth-century scholar Fatimah bint Muhammad al-Samarqandi [fn 44: The family name "Samarqandi" means "from Samardand." Her family was Syrian but originally hailed from Central Asia.] of Syria. Her father was a preeminent Hanafi jurist and took active part in his daughter's education. Fatimah become widely renowned for her own knowledge. She mastered Hanafi jurisprudence and the sciences of hadith; her legal judgements (fatwas) and transmissions of hadith were held in the highest regard. Fatimah also excelled as a teacher of the various Islamic sciences. She instructed man as well as women, and students traveled to Syria to learn from her and receive their scholarly credentials.

Fatimah al-Samarqandi was a personal counselor of Nur al-Din Zangi. Nur al-Din is counted among the most significant rulers in Islamic history; he is remembered primarily for preparing the ground for the success of his vassal Salah al-Din (Saladin). Fatimah was renowned for her beauty and was widely regarded as the most beautiful woman of her time. Kings and princes unsuccessfully sought her hand in marriage. She chose instead to marry one of her father's students, al-Kasani, who is ranked today among the most brilliant Hanafi jurists. Fatimah chose him because of a commentary he wrote on one of her father's principal legal works. Al-Kasani's commentary, The Most Marvelous of Beneficial Things (Bada'i al-sana'i), constituted his marriage gift and is one of the classics of Islamic jurisprudence. Few if any works in the Hanafi school show greater attention to the rationales and ultimate purposes of the law. Although al-Kasani ranks among the most competent of jurists, it was Fatimah who corrected and edited his legal opinions. His esteem for her was so great that he would not sign the legal opinions he issued until Fatimah signed them first.

[fn 45: 'Umar Rida Kahhala, A'lam al-nisa' fi 'Alamay al-'Arab wa al-Islam, 5 vols. (Beirut: Mu'assasat  al-Risalah, 1991), 4:94-95; see also Abd-Allah, Famous Women in Islam, 14 CDs (Chicago: Nawawi Foundation, 2004).
 -from pg. 28 of "Living Islam With Purpose" by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah

Yahya Birt: Islamophobia Studies and Policy Round-Up

"A religious psychology

narrowly molded by lists of dos and don'ts is greatly handicapped. Muslims with such an identity struggle not to feel alien or out of place in surroundings where their list of dos and don'ts is not shared. They not only have problems relating to non-Muslims; ironically, it is often more difficult for them to interact with other Muslims who do not conform to their way of thinking. In reality, laws, behavioral standards, and even reasonable lists of dos and don'ts are part of the Islamic ethos, but they must have their foundation in sound knowledge, core values, and universal principles like those epitomized in the five operational principles. When Islamic identity is based on core values and universal principles within the parameters of acceptable behavior, it is empowered to function with self-confidence anywhere and with anyone: it ceases to be psychologically vulnerable in diversity and becomes receptive to the broadest cognitive frames.
-from pg. 27 of "Living Islam With Purpose" by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah

"The presumption of permissibility

is crucial for personal growth and community development of Muslims in the United States. Some Muslims regard Islam as little more than a list of dos and don'ts, and, generally, the don'ts outnumber the dos. When Islamic identity is behaviorally defined in this fashion, it fosters a psychology permeated with debilitations, inhibitions, and narrow cognitive frames; prohibition is made Islam's default position, and the religion is given the appearance of permitting very little and prohibiting everything else.

The presumption of permissibility emphasizes that the reverse is true; Islam's real default position is one of general permissibility with an affirmative attitude toward the world. The basic rule of general permissibility does not mean that the clear prohibitions of Islamic law are discarded. In fact, it lays stress on the fact that prohibitions in Islam are grave matters and must not to be taken lightly. Because prohibitions are grave matters, they demand cogent proof based on sound knowledge, not on hearsay, misgivings, or inhibitions. Ibn Taymiyyah adds in his discussion of the presumption of permissibility that it is reprehensible for a Muslim to be preoccupied with the minutiae of what may or may not be forbidden or to be obsessed with constantly asking about them.

[fn. 41: Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Qawa'id al-fiqhiyyah, 206, 211-218)]
 -from pg. 27 of "Living Islam With Purpose" by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah

"Since presumption of permissibility

is the dominant rule,  Muslims are not required to prove that things are permissible; only claims of prohibition demand proof. Today, many Muslims take it lightly to declare things forbidden; the opposite was true for the companions and the authoritative voices of Islamic law. Their inhibition, to the extent that they may be described as having inhibitions, was to pronounce things forbidden unless they were not already clearly known to be so. When the great legal scholars of the past took the decision to classify something as forbidden based on personal interpretation, they based their arguments on conclusive evidence, and even then they made their decisions with marked hesitation.
-from pg. 27 of "Living Islam With Purpose" by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah

Somalis in Twin Cities Shaken by Charges of Sex Trafficking

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Classes for next semester iA

The Enlightenment and Its Legacy

The Enlightenment, the 18-century cultural and intellectual movement in the West, has had a lasting influence on our present values and political thought. Reason, freedom, skepticism, critical thought, progress - and even democracy - are values and commitments we have inherited from this era. In order to specify the thought of this period (as well as debates and disagreements), we will first read various authors of the Enlightenment, including Montesquieu, Rousseau, Kant, and Wollstonecraft. In the second part of the course we will turn to the legacy of the Enlightenment. We will consider the doubts and critiques that have arisen. For example, Nietzsche and Freud (and psychoanalysis) have questioned the primacy of reason in both individual and collective action; Adorno and Foucault have questioned the ethics of political rationalism; and recent feminists have noted the paradoxes of the Enlightenment's rather narrow and implicitly gendered view of equality and citizenship. Do such criticisms alter our view of the basic tenets of Enlightenment thought? Or, on the contrary, might we read them as continuing the "spirit of critique" inaugurated by the thought of the 18th century?

Politics, Power, and Society

The nature and dimensions of power in society. Theoretical and empirical material dealing with national power structures of the contemporary United States and with power in local communities. Topics: the iron law of oligarchy, theoretical and empirical considerations of democracy, totalitarianism, mass society theories, voting and political participation, the political and social dynamics of advanced and developing societies, and the political role of intellectuals. Considers selected models for political analysis.
African American History Since 1865

The purpose of this course is to explore and probe the experience of African-Americans since the Civil War, emphasizing black life and culture paying particular attention to gender relations, everyday life, race and racism, significant individuals, key events, and relevant institutions.

Approaches to Asian/Pacific American Experience

This interdisciplinary course provides a general introduction to the themes of Asian/Pacific/American Studies through class discussions, guest speakers, and visits to community organizations in addition to traditional class methods. Emphasizing historical perspectives, it explores concepts of home and community, as well as Asian and American in the context of Asian/Pacific/American experiences. Issues covered may include: diaspora and migration, colonialism, orientalism, labor, family/community formations, national and international law/policy vis-à-vis A/P/As, intersections of sex/gender/race, education, popular culture and representation, activism, pan/ethnic identities, and electoral politics.

New Book: British Secularism and Religion: Islam, Society and the State

Glenn Greenwald: Government yells "Terrorism" to justify TSA procedures

How Do We Respond? Part 2 – Hamza Yusuf

Ebrahim Moosa: Sharia, Theology and Modernity

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chalmers Johnson passes away at 79

A Scholar and A Patriot: the Death of Chalmers Johnson by Jacob Heilbrunn

The Impact Today and Tomorrow of Chalmers Johnson by Steve Clemons

There's an interview with him on CounterPunch from May 6th, 2010.

I just read the fourth chapter of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic on "U.S. Military Bases in Other People's Countries" two nights ago actually!..

To whom it may concern (On Somalian refugees in Yemen)

Chris Hedges: Power and the Tiny Acts of Rebellion

Gays Attacked in Uganda After Mag Publishes Info

Juan Cole on the future of air-travel

And, you have to wonder whether air travel was not anyway a bubble. It depends on inexpensive fuel, which probably won’t be with us for long. It has a very big carbon imprint, which may soon be illegal. And it is vulnerable to low-tech chemical sabotage. Our generation perhaps, and the next one almost certainly, will have the unprecedented experience of having their world become larger and less accessible, after two centuries during which it shrank and seemed conquerable.

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

the irony (and another example in support of the main argument of the article I think) is whether you click on the link and scroll down to see how long the article is, (6 pages) and decide it's too long to read (like I first did) ;)