Understanding 'Islam' and 'Terrorism' Through the Lens of Post-Orientalism

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

As a Muslim I have never been more confused about the role Muslims play in violence and terror in the context of the 21st Century. "Who is a Muslim?" is a question I am sure many have pondered on, even Muslims, dare I say. I am tired of trying to demonstrate that ISIS' ideology is not based on the Islamic faith that I have embraced and cherished all these years. Therefore, when I came across this passage from Post-Orientalism: Knowledge and Power in the Time of Terror I could not help but feel the need to share it because there are points in there that deserve thought and consideration.

As a Muslim who has absolutely nothing to do with the acts of violence done by other Muslims I feel disparaged by those who continue to demand the need for collective Muslim guilt. Why must I feel ashamed of something I did not do nor support? Why must another Muslim's definition of Islam have a debilitating impact on my life? Why must I live in fear of being inadequate simply because Western media have assumed authority over the representation of what constitutes Islam and Muslims? Why must I be subjected to this pressure and injustice?

"What we call 'Islam' is the historical outcome of a colonially ravaged people in search of an ideology of resistance. From the scattered memories of their ancestral faith Muslims have sought to narrate an ideology of resistance and then called it 'Islam'. We cannot, as does Mr. Fukuyama, neglect the last two hundred years of imperialism and the havoc it has wrought on Muslims and then make a transcontinental leap that 'Islam' is this, that, or the other thing. 
'Islam' is nothing except that which Muslims have actively imagined and institutionalised it to be. And Muslims have actively imagined and institutionalised their faith over the last two centuries under very specific historical circumstances, of which Fukuyama is either frightfully ignorant or deliberately dismissive. Islam has been an ideology of resistance as has socialism and nationalism or any number of its amalgamated ventures. Constitutional to that resistance has been the material basis of opposing tyranny at home and imperialism from abroad. 
It was simply a joke, had it not been so pathologically dangerous, to consider Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait as an "Islamic" movement. The Shi'i population of southern Iraq, the Kurdish population of the northern Iraq, and the entire Muslim population of Iran have lot to say to Fukuyama about the 'Islamic' incentives of Saddam Hussein." (Post-Orientalism: Knowledge and Power in the Time of Terror, Hamid Dabashi, 2009, pg. 234- 235)

Update (21/2/2015): I recently came across ISIS Isn't the Real Enemy. The "Game of Thrones" Medieval Mindset That Birthed It Is by Amir Ahmad Nasr. In my opinion, it's a worthwhile read.

Moving Forward: Honouring the Lives of Deah Barakat & Yusor & Razan Abu Salha

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our three winners: Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha. May God grant them Jannatul Firdaus.

Peace be upon you.

Many of you would have heard about the brutal murder of three outstanding individuals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina today. The late Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu Salha and her sister Razan Abu Salha (may God bless their souls) were killed mercilessly by Craig Stephen Hicks who turned himself in to the police and claimed he committed the crime due to a parking dispute. Given what Yusor's best friend, Amira, shared about her experience with Craig Hicks here I have no doubt he is a mentally and emotionally unstable man who deeply resented Muslims, not that the state of his mental health justifies what he did at all. Watching the family's media statement was absolutely heartbreaking. A lot of speculations are floating on social media and people want answers. Perhaps because emotions are high right now, which is understandable considering the socio-political climate in America (and the West, in general, at the moment). I believe many people can relate to Deah, Yusor and Razan because like many of us they were just living their lives as young and ambitious members of their community.

Hence, we need to ask ourselves, "What would Deah, Yusor and Razan do if they were in our shoes right now?"

I'm sure they would do everything they can to honour the lives of victims of a crime like this. They would pray for the victims. They would support and respect their friends and families by offering help and giving them privacy. They would do acts of charity and goodness on behalf of the victims.

Recently, Deah Barakat, a second year dentistry student, started a fundraising campaign to help Syrian refugees in Turkey. His target was to collect $20000 but today it has reached well beyond that amount. I urge you to donate or do good deeds on behalf of him, his wife and his sister-in-law, and if you're Muslim,  please recite a portion of the Qur'an for them.

They strived to live their lives in the best way possible. That was their jihad. And God willing, they have succeeded in creating a beautiful life in this world and the hereafter too. They did not die in vain, we know that for sure. They were amazing individuals and they will continue to inspire us.  As written by someone on the fundraising page by Deah Barakat: “This is definitely not the end of your life's work."

"You who believe, seek help through steadfastness and prayer, God is with the steadfast. Do not say that those who are killed in God's cause are dead; they are alive, though you do not realise it." (2:154)

Last but not least, we must watch the news coverage of the Chapel Hill shooting with a sharp mind and critical eyes. While we shouldn't adopt the victim mentality we must question and reflect on the role of the media and its framing and  representation of Muslims in mainstream media. We must challenge it and work towards improving it because we are in denial if we don't believe it has an impact on its audience. Don't be silent. Don't be emotional or reckless either. Do what Deah, Yusor and Razan (may Allah bless their souls) would have done. Do what our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would have done.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news via Our Three Winners, a Facebook page set up by their family, in honour of their lives. 

(Update: You can watch Anderson Cooper's interview with Suzanne Barakat here. I hope this is the first of many mainstream media interviews that will open people's eyes, minds and hearts towards the  importance of preventing and countering Islamophobia that is often a result of Western mainstream media's representation of Muslims.)

Life in Wellington, So Far

Sunday, February 08, 2015

"You seem more you there. Is that strange to say? You seem happy," Feda wrote.

It's funny how people notice these things but she's right. I am happy and I do feel more like myself here. Perhaps people who have experienced living in two different countries (or even cities and homes) will understand how an environment can make a huge impact on a person's state of mind. Wellington is the best city I've lived in so far, apart from Kuala Lumpur, because that is my hometown after all. I know I've only been here for over two months but it feels right, you know?

If you follow me on Instagram you would have probably seen the array of photos I've posted. I realise I haven't posted many photos on my blog so here I am to share a few pictures depicting my life in Wellington so far.


Sunday, January 04, 2015

"Love & Light", Petone, Wellington 

“Both light and shadow are the dance of Love.
Love has no cause, it is the astrolabe of God's secrets.
Lover and loving are inseparable and timeless.
Although I may try to describe love, when I experience it, I am speechless.
Although I may try to write about love, I am rendered helpless.
My pen breaks, and the paper slips away at the ineffable place where lover loving and loved are one.
Every moment is made glorious by the light of Love.” ― Rumi

It feels like it wasn't too long when I wrote Dear 2014. It's almost unbelievable but here we are in the first month of 2015. SubhanaAllah walhamdulillah. 2014 was one of the most challenging years for myself and the people of my home country, Malaysia. But Allah (swt) told us to be patient in times of trial and tribulation and I'd like to think we are continuously doing our best to remain steadfast and calm through it all. Patience always pays off. Everything I did in the last 2 years, I did as part of my plan to return to New Zealand and increase my knowledge. I envisioned my dreams coming to life and with much determination and perseverance He fulfilled my prayers, alhamdulillah! 2014 was not easy but it was amazing in many ways, nonetheless. Having said that, I believe 2015 will be a year of healing for me. It's time to heal from the things that have weighed heavy on my heart during my years in Malaysia. But I trust they were all part of my journey to become a better and wiser person. To reiterate what Rumi said, "Both light and shadow are the dance of Love."

Unforgettable Turkey: Cappadocia - Dancing Dervishes & Ihlara Valley (Part 4)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dervishes in motion.

Travelling to a place like Cappadocia was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. I may be in my twenties but I am an 'old soul' and the older I get the more obvious it is or the more intense it feels. Now, it could be due to the fact that I may have a case of the golden age fallacy (something I recently became aware of thanks to a movie called 'Midnight in Paris') I can't help but be in awe of iconic places, achievements or events in the past and admire figures like Rabiatul Adawiyyah, Jalaludin Rumi, Ibn Arabi, Socrates and the like.

If you're an old soul like me it's likely that you'll love being immersed in a place that delights in pure nostalgia and history and not to mention, spirituality. After our hotel check-in and a bit of sightseeing at the Göreme Open Air Museum  we attended a whirling dervishes ceremony at the Sarıhan Kervansarayı which was built in 1249. I paid close attention to every step because it was my first time witnessing such a ceremony in person. We weren't allowed to take photos of the prayer session but I can tell you that verses of the Qur'an were recited melodiously before the actual whirling took place. The acoustics were amazing. I could hear the sound of Turkish classical instruments such as the ney (reed flute) and the  more familiar daf (frame drum) very clearly in the high-ceilinged caravanserai.  Dancing and whirling is not practiced by all Sufis but it is a peaceful way of expressing one's love for God which is quintessential Sufism. It was a new experience for me and I'm always open to learning about the different ways people practice their faith.

Unforgettable Turkey: Cappadocia - Of Cave Hotels & Cave Churches (Part 3)

Friday, December 19, 2014

View of Göreme town centre from Cave Hotel Saksagan.

A whirlwind of events have taken place in the past few months but I'm happy to say things are finally settling down and this blog post is being written by yours truly from the bustling capital city of New Zealand - Wellington. YES, what a dream come true, alhamdulillah! And now I'm finally in the right state of mind to write again and continue my blog series on my trip to Turkey last August.  I love Turkey and I'm completely smitten with it. It's a land I feel very connected to so I'm always happy to talk or write about it. By the way, don't forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the 'Unforgettable Turkey' series if you haven't already.

We adjourned to the region of Cappadocia or Kapadokya ("the land of beautiful horses") in Central Anatolia after spending 3 days in Istanbul. It was a must-see for us as in Cappadocia lies a UNESCO World Heritage site, Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia. This region is famous for its fairy chimneys, hot air balloon rides, cave homes and cave churches. We flew with Turkish Airlines and the flight lasted around 2 hours. We landed in the province of Kayseri where a shuttle bus arranged by our hotel (at the price of USD $10 per person, if I recall correctly) picked us up from the airport to take us to Cappadocia which is about an hour's drive from Kayseri.

Life with Breast Cancer (In Conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I hope it's not too late for me to write about this but October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and having personally known young and otherwise healthy individuals who are/were affected by cancer I wanted to do the least that I could to help PRIDE Foundation in their mission to raise awareness about breast cancer. My friend Ami Schaheera passed away from leukemia earlier this year (may Allah bless her soul and reward her patience with Paradise) so I understand the importance of creating awareness and having a good support network. When I read her interview in EH! Magazine I had no idea she was going through so much while being such a sweet and cheerful fashionista at the same time. She reminded me of Kris Carr, a Stage 4 cancer patient who has documented her life and battle with so much spirit and strength ever since she received the diagnosis.

I'd like you to spare some time to watch Cheryl's personal account of her battle with breast cancer in the video above. One of the things that struck me while listening to her was that she found a lump while performing a monthly self-examination. It's scary to think about how cancer develops. One month ago the lump wasn't there and then there it was. Another thing about cancer is that it can happen to anyone (yes, even men can get breast cancer!) so it's important that we educate ourselves about some key facts on breast cancer:

Unforgettable Turkey: Dolmabahçe Palace & Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul (Part 2)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dolmabahçe Palace,  Istanbul

Well, who knew 2 weeks would fly by so fast! My first post on Turkey was indeed published 2 weeks ago but I'm back and roaring to tell you more about this fascinating city called Istanbul. In my first post I mentioned that we joined 2 tour sessions by She Tours. This post covers the second tour which was a full-day one. After a discount from Mehmet, our hotel manager at The Sultanahmet Suite Life, the tour costed us 55 Euros per person. The original price was 70 Euros per person, if I'm not mistaken. We were taken to Dolmabahçe Palace, Yildiz Park and Pierre Lotti Hill which were on the European side of Istanbul. We also went on the 1-hour Bosphorus Strait Cruise and had lunch at Omar Restaurant, Sultanahmet Square.

Dolmabahçe (Dolma-bah-chay) Palace was constructed between 1843 and 1856 by the Ottoman Empire's 31st sultan, Abdülmecid I, and it was the residence of his 5 successors as well. Yes, right until the end of the Caliphate in 1924. I would say this palace is a must-see because a) it's interior is stunning and b) it's symbolic of the Ottoman Empire's downfall and decline - the love of dunya (the worldly life) and the desire to emulate European ideals while its commitment to Islamic leadership waned, among other things.

[Faith Friday] Putting Life in Perspective: Why Am I a Muslim?

Friday, October 03, 2014

"So whatever thing you have been given - it is but [for] enjoyment of the worldly life. But what is with Allah is better and more lasting for those who have believed and upon their Lord rely." (Surah Ash-Shuraa, 42:36)

I came across Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan's Friday sermon based on the above mentioned ayah while watching a video of Bayyinah Institute's visit to meet Robert Davila. If you haven't read about Davila's efforts to learn about Islam and the Quran despite the challenges he faces as a paraplegic, you should. Signs of His greatness are everywhere and I believe Davila is one of them. (May Allah subhana wa ta'ala will preserve his sincerity and steadfastness. Ameen.)

"What is your perspective on life?"

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Do you think your current perspective on life could be improved? In his sermon, Nouman Ali Khan said something I completely agree with: When life is in perspective, things become easier to deal with. 

This reminds me of an instance when a university classmate asked me, "Why are you Muslim? You should be a Buddhist. It's more fun!". I wasn't offended. In fact, I like it when non-Muslims ask me questions about my faith. But we were working on a group project at the time and I didn't really know how to respond to that half-joke. So I smiled and continued working on my part of the project. 

But I do think it is a good idea to ask ourselves why we chose Islam or choose to remain Muslim. And to my non-Muslim readers, for the record, if I were to leave Islam (na'udhubillah min zalik) I would not face capital punishment. Although, my family's reaction would probably be equivalent to it. Having said that, family disapproval hasn't stopped me from what I wanted to do in the past :) -  not that I'm encouraging you to upset your family. My point is, it's good to reflect on our choices. If I could go back in time, I would tell my classmate the following is why I'm Muslim:

Unforgettable Turkey: Sultanahmet, Istanbul (Part I)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A seagull overlooking the Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul

Like my late father used to do, I would encourage anyone to travel. To see a different perspective. To experience other cultures as they could make you a better person while teaching you to appreciate the culture you grew up in. To humble yourself. Our 11-day trip to Turkey in August was not without drama but it was no doubt one of the most memorable holidays we have ever been on. It's safe to say I'm very much in love with Turkish food, architecture, Islamic heritage, culture and landscape. I love the fact that  traditional mosques are scattered everywhere around Istanbul. Some were obvious, others inconspicuous. 

Can I be honest? I have dreamt of visiting Hadramaut far more than I have of any city in Turkey. Why Hadramaut? I'm on a spiritual quest. I'm always on a spiritual quest and I believe people who lead simpler lives have better character. I want to learn from them and I need to restore my faith in the Muslim community. But God is the Best of Planners. Turkey is where He led me in the end and I couldn't be more thankful. Alhamdulillah.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

I have been a fan of Sufi Comics ever since I stumbled upon their website less than a year ago. I was more than happy to write a review of their previous books, 40 Sufi Comics and The Wise Fool of Baghdad, and now I'm pleased to introduce you to their new book entitled Rumi. It's a wonderfully crafted 142-paged compilation of a selection of Rumi's soulful poems in visual form. I adore the work that Sufi Comics does and I admire their talent, passion dedication, ma sha Allah.

Rumi (1207-1273) or Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi (rahimullah) was a poet, theologian and jurist from present-day Afghanistan. He is often quoted in books, movies and the social media for his poems on life, love and longing by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, although many might not be aware that when he writes about these things he does not mean them in a literal sense. In fact, here's an article explaining how Rumi's poems are often misappropriated:

The misappropriation of Sufi poetry can be seen as resulting of unfamiliarity with how Sufis made their indications. For example, the intoxication of wine refers to the loss of one's sense of rational self in the sea of Divine Love. The tavern is the experience of being overwhelmed from being surrounded by Divine Presence. Layla is an Arabic female name that linguistically refers to the darkest night of the month, and in Sufi poetry refers to the hidden realm that lies behind outward appearances of this world.

Sufi Comics, on the other hand, has captured the essence of Rumi's message in their latest book in which there are many thought-provoking reminders for us to reflect on. In the chapter titled 'False Thinking', we are reminded that sometimes the thing we are searching and pining for is right under our noses and we can be completely oblivious to it because we fail to immerse ourselves in the present reality and the blessings found within it.

"The whole of life is now, is today, is this eternal moment." — Rumi