Friday, July 19, 2013

The pitfalls of cut-and-paste da'wah

The legacy of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab, destroyed well and
garden of Companion Salam al-Farsi. A school
built over site where Prophet
Muhammad (SAW) planted date
trees to liberate him from slavery.
© Shafiq Morton
Shaikh Bin Baz calls Imam
Shafi’i (ra) an innovator

One of the truly annoying things about social media is what I call “cut-and-paste da’wah”, so-called propagation by the sweep and click of a mouse.

These cyber missionaries – no doubt of good intent – take great umbrage when their unedited pastings, usually of Wahhabi origin, are challenged. Attempts at debate can often result in chat-room tantrums.

What irks me is that behind all this verbiage is a lingering dogmatic haughtiness – bred of ignorance unfortunately – that arrogantly claims a theological superiority over everyone else. Of particular significance here are the obsessive-compulsive theological inventions of the discredited 18th century Najdi cleric, Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab, that are continually posted on the net.

Shunned by his village and condemned by even his own brother, he decided that we were idolaters on the brink of unbelief and that Sufis and all scholars (except for Ibn Taimiyya) were deviants.

As a result, there is an evangelical crudity, a reproachful fury and a crass disdain for classical tradition and orthodox tawheed in his pseudo reformation of Islam. Wahhabi proclamations of “bida’h”, “shirk” and “kufr”, and their takfir on scholars such as Ibn ‘Arabi, are legend.

However, curiously, ibn Abd ul-Wahhab’s acolytes always ignore the fully attributable and sound Hadith of A’ishah (ra) that the Prophet (SAW) did not fear polytheism after his demise.

In his heyday with Ibn Saud – an ambitious Bedouin chieftain whose daughter he married for political reasons – Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab declared death on all those who disagreed with his flaky canons. His legacy, which is modern-day Salafism or Wahhabism – call it what you will – was historically founded in the blood of the Shi’ah and the Sunni who dared to differ with him.

The slaughter of Taif – where the covers of Hadith and Qur’an mushaf were used to make sandals – is a notable example, as is Karbala. Its hapless inhabitants were killed in the thousands by Ibn Sa’ud’s so-called “ikhwan” on the path of a “purifying” jihad that terrorised the Middle East, and caused the Ottomans to send an army.

It’s often forgotten that the red chequered scarf of Al-Sa’ud’s royal house is a symbol of so-called infidel blood, and that the Sa’ud dynasty’s claim to being a guardian of Islam is as spurious as the idea that all Muslims are Arab.

These are just some of the things that our Salafi/Wahhabi cut-and-paste orators need to understand. The legacy they’ve imbibed is, unfortunately, steeped in terror, slaughter and slander.

So when I saw a Facebook cut-and-paste of the late Shaikh Bin Baz on the Shafi’i qunoot (invocation) during the dawn prayer, I was reminded of the above. Stupefyingly, Bin Baz – a former Saudi mufti – had bypassed over 1,000 years of legal opinion to claim that Imam Shafi’i’s view was an “innovation”.

Bearing in mind that in classical texts there are five categories of bida’h – from necessary and permissible to reprehensible – I still couldn’t help getting the impression that Bin Baz’s view was not complimentary, and that he tended more to the reprehensible.

I really do wish Bin Baz – a direct descendant of ibn Abd ul-Wahhab – peace in his grave. But I can’t let his legal opinion on Imam Shafi’i pass by unchallenged. For what took my breath away was his total avoidance of opposing views, which would be the time-old Sunni method of presenting a legal opinion.

I was dumbfounded that a man who called himself Hanbali (the Saudi Wahhabis claim to be Hanbali) could make such an utterance – or even draw such an outrageous conclusion. Ibn Hanbal had studied under Imam Shafi’i, and is reported to have said that no-one adhered more strictly to Hadith than his master.

I could only see Ibn Hanbal, may Allah bless him, squirming in his grave at the suggestion by Bin Baz that his Shaikh, one of history’s most celebrated legal minds, was a dubious “innovator” on the question of qunoot in the Fajr prayer.

Of course, the other schools of legal thought – Maliki, Hanafi and Hanbali – have differing views, but none of their mujtahids (legal authorities) have ever entertained the bizarre notion that Imam Shafi’i would embrace an undesirable innovation.

Bin Baz also forgets that people such as Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam al-Ghazali, Imam Muzani, Imam Haitami, Imam Nawawi, Imam Rafi’i and Imam Jalal ud-Din Suyuti (ra) were all Shafi’i, and performed the qunoot.

For information’s sake, the Shafi’i madh-hab performs the standing invocation of the qunoot in the second cycle of the Fajr prayer; this is based on a narration by Anas ibn Malik (ra) that the Prophet (SAW) made the qunoot at Fajr “until he left the world”.

Shafi’i scholars provide five solid proofs for the above opinion. The Hadith is regarded as sound by imams Al-Hakim, Dhahabi, Haitami and Daraqutni. Imam Shafi’i regards the qunoot as a Sunnah, its inadvertent omission not invalidating the salah if one performs a special prostration of forgetfulness at the conclusion of the prayer.

Imam Jalal ud-Din Suyuti differs from Imam Shafi’i in that he reasons that the prostration, the sujud ul-sahw, is not necessary. The opposing Hadith, used exclusively by Bin Baz, quotes Sa’ad ibn Tariq as saying that his father never observed the Prophet (SAW) performing the Fajr qunoot.

Space does not allow further discussion, but it is a long-standing tradition that the four schools of thought have always treated each other’s widely varying interpretations and ijtihad with the utmost respect, and that whilst there are indeed many academic differences – there has never been any conflict.

This is well underlined by an axiom of the Prophet (SAW) – an axiom accepted by the tongues of scholars that, indeed, differences of opinion are a blessing for the ummah and not a curse. I would contend that the cut-and-paste fraternity need to understand this, and that the unscholarly utterances of Bin Baz need to be seen for what they are.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Egypt protest: Cape Town, Wednesday, 17 July

About 2,000 pro-Mursi protestors marched to parliament in Cape Town to hand over a memorandum expressing concern about the situation in Egypt. The organisers, the Muslim Judicial Council, were disappointed to discover that no state official was present at parliament (which is in recess) to receive the document, which was accepted a day later by the government. The MJC was supporting the SA government and the African Union position that Egypt had experienced a coup, and that Egypt had to put its house in constitutional order.


© Photos Shafiq Morton

Monday, July 15, 2013

Post coup Egypt: reconciliation and aid an urgent priority

© Shafiq Morton
Call it a coup by any other name, but when a duly elected government gets deposed by the military, it’s a coup.

That’s the reality of Egypt today. One of North Africa’s most populous countries is in serious turmoil; this after Muslim Brotherhood leadership was deemed unsuitable for office after a mere 12 months in power.

Egypt’s sweet “Arab Spring” has certainly turned into a sour autumn. Hope and dignity have been replaced by despair and humiliation, and tolerance has been usurped by the brutality of the re-emerged Baltaji, former Mubarak-supporting thugs.

With TV stations and publications closed down, freedom of speech has shrivelled on the bough, and NGO’s – often the organs of the most oppressed – have been effectively silenced by jail sentences.

So how could Egypt, once a bastion of a new democratic beginning, retreat so quickly into the morass of state militarism? It’s a question many have asked since President Muhammad Morsi, admittedly a colourless – if not stubbornly naïve – figurehead found his sluggish hand of national conciliation and “Roadmap” slapped away by roaring crowds.

Morsi – who took power by a slender majority – is said to have faced an Egypt polarised by “political Islam”, and a more secular constituency comprising a wide range of traditional ideologies (such as neo-liberalism and Marxism) not prepared to accept any concept of an “Islamic state”.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s extremely poor performance in terms of being able to successfully accommodate other political parties and its sluggishness in squaring up to pressing economic and social challenges, are just some of the factors said to have created unprecedented historical public outcry against Morsi’s government.

Professor Tariq Ramadan, the internationally celebrated academic (who is a grand nephew of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) has been one of the sharpest critics of the Brotherhood, and of recent events.

Whilst slating the Brotherhood for stupefying incompetency, he also claims that Mubarak was not toppled in 2011 by the people, but by the military, who merely saw the writing on the wall.

According to Ramadan, the hopeful and courageous Egyptian masses – aspiring for genuine justice and freedom – were duped into thinking that they could enjoy a civilian democracy. In a piece entitled Coup d’état, Act II he writes that the Egyptian military merely faded into the shadows and patiently waited its turn.

What is historic, he says, is that Egypt experienced two military coups in the space of three years. According to him, the Egyptian army had not returned to politics for the simple reason it had never actually left politics.

He points at army head General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi – ironically appointed by Morsi – as the obvious key player in the coup. US trained and known to Israeli intelligence, Ramadan alleges that he had been conniving all along with the US and Israel behind Morsi’s back.

Ramadan goes on to explain the position of the Salafist An-Nour party, which broke away from the Brotherhood camp and supported the generals. He says that An-Nour’s sponsorship by the Gulf States (who are firm US allies) puts it firmly into the US orbit, and makes it a victim of neo-colonial divide-and-rule policy.

Conspiracy or not, Egypt faces daunting challenges for whoever takes over the reins. Three years of political chaos, and decades of corruption, have brought the country to the brink of collapse. Poverty and food insecurity loom over the Nile like a Biblical locust plague.

According to Dr Hussen Oruch of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, dropping living standards on the back of rising food costs over the past three years has meant that 18-20 million people are already in need of help. He told me that over 20% of Egyptians lived below the poverty level.

A recent article in the UK-based Guardian (6 May) featuring Galal Amin (economics professor at the American University in Cairo) and Samir Radwan (former Finance Minister after 2011) concurs with Dr Oruch’s views.

According to the Guardian report, 25% of Egyptians are below the poverty line with a further 23% hovering just above it. Radwan admits glumly that over 50% of the population is currently impoverished.

But added to that is retreating economic growth (3%), a 60% drop in foreign exchange reserves, the closure of factories, the shrinkage of personal savings of over 50% and the Egyptian pound losing 12% against the dollar. 

Even Egypt’s tourist industry, which accounts for 11% of its GDP, has taken a hammering. A travel industry report by the World Economic Forum rated it in March as the least safe of 140 tourist destinations, even putting it behind Pakistan, Yemen and Chad.

And if those challenges aren’t enough, Egypt’s restive and expectant youth – who comprise a quarter of the population of 90 million – enjoy an unemployment rate of 24%, with females as high as 49%.

This puts into stark focus the post coup bail-out packages – totalling 13.5 billion dollars ­ – which have been put on the table by the US, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It’s a no-brainer that an economic and social implosion in Egypt would be catastrophic for regional stability.

Of course, there is the question as to the nature of the strings attached to the bail out. Will it be business as usual with Israel in the Sinai and a further re-inforcement of the Gaza blockade? Will Cairo be able to effect urgent social upliftment without corrupt officials draining the coffers? Will genuine democracy be allowed to return to Egypt?

Dr Hisham Hellyer, a Cairo-based political analyst, fills in critical detail when he says that against the background of the Brotherhood backlash, and potential dangers of sectarian extremism, Egypt’s new rulers must give clear and uncompromising signals. What Egypt needs right now, he says, is the creation of a truly pluralistic political arena with reconciliation being the most urgent national priority.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Why Israel? Bravely lifting the veils

Why Israel? Anatomy of Zionist apartheid -
a South African perspective.
Authors Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman.
MRN and Porcupine Press.
South Africa is a unique country in the mosaic of the Palestinian struggle. On the one side is the Muslim community, anti-Zionist Jews, the ANC government, COSATU, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and the Palestinian solidarity movement.

On the other side is the pro-Zionist lobby, a lobby that hid behind the skirts of the apartheid government for 46 years, and that betrayed Jewish anti-apartheid activists whilst it benefited from years of sanctions busting with Israel.

But what makes South Africa truly unique is that it’s a place where the majority of its citizens instinctively understand the Palestinian dilemma. Indeed, Israeli apartheid resonates strongly with South Africans, many of whom were forced into Bantustans or Group Areas, and deprived of over 80% of their land.

And when we talk apartheid in Israel, we mean its definition according to a convention of the United Nations that was passed in 1973. This convention has since been re-inforced by the Rome Statutes of 2002. Further studies by bodies, such as our own Human Sciences Research Council and Human Rights Watch, have concluded that apartheid is practised in Israel .

Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman, the authors of the newly-released Why Israel? An anatomy of Zionist apartheid – a South African perspective, hail from a community that was directly affected by apartheid. Dadoo is a researcher at the Gauteng-based Media Review Network and Dr Osman is an executive member of the MRN.

Published by the MRN and Porcupine Press, Why Israel? is divided into 13 parts that deal with various aspects of the Palestinian question. It takes the reader through a systematic tour of the issues with a South African voice, although I would immediately venture that its appeal is universal.

Why Israel? is a thorough work. It is footnoted and its sources are clearly attributed; there’s a useful glossary, an index and plenty of maps and photos. Because of its academic proficiency I suspect that certain arch-Zionists are going to choke on their coffee as they leaf through its 600 pages.  

What they will discover is that Why Israel? exposes some harsh truths: that Zionism is a political, and not a religious discourse; that anti-Semitism is used to vilify anyone who criticises Israel;  that our diamonds, shipped to Tel Aviv, become blood diamonds; that policy is regulated through the bullying and intimidation of the media, and that Jews who speak out are viciously slandered and silenced.

Furthermore, Why Israel? will reveal  that Mossad has a web of international informers in every Jewish community, and that it hires a squad of hit-men to perform extra-judicial killings world-wide, and that the raft of laws that strangle Palestinian life only serves to privilege the Jewish. 

In spite of bulging with information, Why Israel? is an easy read and an invaluable reference for anyone wishing to get a fuller understanding  of the Palestinian situation. Why Israel? is well-designed and user-friendly, and pithy box quotes (relating to the text) are conveniently situated on right hand pages.

However, in trying to paint such a vast canvas, the authors have obviously had to make sacrifices in terms of content. It’s admittedly always a difficult choice what to leave in and what to leave out.

In Chapter 1, for example, I would have liked to have seen see more information on the historical origins of Zionism, and that the rabbis of Europe declared Zionism an apostasy when the idea was first mooted at the end of the 19th century.

There should have been mention, I feel, that Zionism was not originally a Jewish discourse.  The famous aphorism of “a land without a people for a people without a land” was first uttered by Lord Shaftsbury, an English evangelist, in 1853.  

And William Hechler, an Anglican cleric, wrote The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine two years before Herzl penned his Der Judenstat.

The book also tackles the issue of Martyrdom Operations (or suicide bombings) of which I, admittedly, have always had reservations. Nevertheless, the authors do grab the nettle. Palestinian despair, after all, is driven by the fact that Palestinians do have to face the aggression of the world’s fourth most powerful military machine without a state, or even an army.

This is the measure of the disproportionism that Palestinians face daily, and the authors are right when they quote Dr Samah Jabr as saying that the Palestinian resistance (which is legitimate under international law) has never been fairly assessed.

All-in-all, Why Israel? is a brave book that fully exposes the activity of South African Zionists, who historically, have been the most avid – and the most unquestioning – supporters of Israel. But where Why Israel? really strikes home is in its comprehensiveness, and in this respect its authors have done a sterling job.

In their introduction, Dadoo and Osman write that the aim of their book is to “stimulate discussion, debate, and understanding” – that, I think, it will certainly achieve as the readers of Why Israel? lift the multiple veils of hasbara and disinformation that currently bedevil the Palestinian narrative.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fasting through the ages: from rebirth to redemption

© Shafiq Morton

The Qur’an is briefly descriptive, but richly evocative, when it broaches the subject of fasting. In Surat ul-Baqarah (the Chapter of the Heifer) we are told to fast as others were prescribed to fast before us.
This verse informs us why we fast – to guard our souls – and specifically, that fasting has a long human tradition. Having made this qualification, we are then told about the significance of Ramadan and how to fast.

Today, Islam is the only monotheistic religion that has institutionalised fasting as a pillar of faith. This it has done by sanctifying a whole lunar month, and telling the believer that the fast is a special worship, its true worth only known to the Creator.

But beyond that, little appears to be recorded historically about the human tradition of fasting. It is established, for example, that before the Revelation came down, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to indulge in “tahannuth”, an annual retreat in a mountain cave above Makkah.

Those ancient Arabs who indulged in tahannuth exercised ascetism, but little is known about their actual practices. Fasting, however, would have been familiar to the Arabs via the Jewish tribes in the Hijaz.

The Jewish Halakkah, or Sacred Law, enjoys similarities to Shari’ah on certain questions of fasting. The Jewish Day of Atonement –  the 25-hour fast of Yom Kippur – used to occur on the 10th of Muharram (the 10th of Tishrei) and inspired a famous Hadith.

But where did the practice of fasting originate? The Qur’an, which informs us that fasting was a previously prescribed practice is silent – not wishing to distract the early Muslims with unnecessary detail. Yet it still remains a provocative question. Who started fasting?  

Research shows that almost every revealed religion on earth has utilised fasting. A rare exception is Zoroastrianism, whose origins go back to 2,000 BCE in Persia.

Aboriginal belief, which is the fitrah of human consciousness, uses fasting as a spiritual agent of re-birth. Aboriginal awareness of an afterlife, which is seen in cave drawings from Africa to America, marked a sudden burst of human consciousness over 50,000 years ago.

The question that scientists still struggle to answer today is what was the spark that set off this awareness? Parallels across these cultures seen in their symbolism of the afterlife – as observed by the author Graham Hancock – reveal a collective sub-consciousness.

Was this spark that set off early human spirituality an “Adamic moment” – the real “missing link?” There is no easy answer. Some scholars set prophetic history at about 15,000 years ago. So what about the gap?

The Jinn – those shadowy, fiery figures of a parallel dimension ­– had over 1,000 prophets well before Adam’s (as) creation. However, there are no records of divinely inspired humanoid messengers during that era, although there is overwhelming evidence that some divine consciousness did exist.

Hinduism, regarded as the world’s oldest religion (its actual origins are unknown), developed in the Indus region. It has a universal understanding of fasting, one that would be understood well by Muslims.

Hindu sources describe fasting as an austerity, a “tapas”, which involves the cessation of contact between the bodily senses and their sensory, or source objects. In this tradition, the deprivation of the ears, the eyes, the mouth, the tongue and the stomach allows the brain to focus on God.

But let’s get to the beginning of prophetic history, which is said to have begun in the Indus region when Adam (as) first set foot on Mt Serendib in Sri Lanka. The question is – did the father of modern mankind, Adam (as), fast? I would argue that he did.

For when he reached Makkah and started pleading with Allah, his mouth and his tongue would have been moist with prayer; his eyes would have been blinded with tears; his ears would have rung with words of imprecation, and his stomach would have been empty.

Indeed, Adam (as) was in the primordial state of the person fasting. Being a prophet, devotional perfection would have been his natural state. Us weaker mortals have to deprive our nafs, the cauldron of our desires, first.

Moderation – which  Islam propagates – is evidenced through the fasting of the Buddha. For after six years of zealous ascetism, his ribs “sticking out like the rafters of a hut” and his backbone touching his stomach, he realised he would die before he achieved realisation.

Indeed, it’s reported that only after the Buddha gave up his extreme ways did he finally experience his spiritual awakening.

We’ve spoken about fasting in the Judaic tradition. Fasting is mentioned in the Christian scripture over 30 times. The book of Jonah, for instance, talks about the fast of Nineveh – when prophet Yunus’ people made repentance.

Jesus, the great ascetic, fasted for 40-days in the Judean desert. It culminated in the Shaitan telling him to jump off a mountain to see if Allah would protect him, and Jesus retorting that it was Allah’s job to test him, not his (Jesus’) to test Allah.

Interestingly, the voluntary Christian fast of Lent – usually about 40 days prior to Easter – is said by some historians to have its origins in ancient Egyptian tradition. The temple priests, who had to fast as part of their training, would fast for 40 days before the festival of the god, Osiris.

Osiris, the husband of Isis, was killed by Seth, but in a cyclical realm would enjoy resurrection. The festival, said to celebrate the northern hemisphere spring in April, would culminate in a “baptism”, or rebirth, by the priests bathing in the Nile.

No offence is intended to Christianity. The point of our example is that for thousands of years, the practice of fasting has always meant – in some way or another – a sincere aspiration to a rebirth of the human spirit.

However, Ramadan – which has been bequeathed to mankind by our Creator’s most beloved, Muhammad (SAW) – is something very special indeed. For how many ancient communities could boast that they had a month whose beginning would bestow Mercy, whose middle would confer Redemption and whose end would promise Paradise?


Monday, July 1, 2013

Obama addresses Cape Town

Obama in action.
© Shafiq Morton
US President Barack Obama speaks on the same podium at the University of Cape Town that Senator Bobby Kennedy did in 1966, when he visited South Africa at the height of apartheid, making a speech on human rights that enraged the then Nationalist government of Hendrik Verwoed.

Previously in the day Obama had spent time with Nobel prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and visited Robben Island, an experience he described as "humbling".
Former President Nelson Mandela, was an inspiration not only to South Africa, but to the world, he said. Mandela was the ultimate testament to the process of peaceful change.
He told the audience that the South African anti-apartheid divestment campaign is what whetted his appetite for a political career. He emphasised the role that the youth of Africa, with 60% of it under the age of 35, had to play in its exciting future.
On the policy front he said that the US in Africa was moving from aid to a "partnership of equals". Africa was the rising continent with some of the fastest growing economies, and people were noticing this.
US policy would be backed up by three over-riding principles: opportunity, democracy and peace, this underlined by a focus on energy, eradicating preventable diseases and clean government. Corrupt government, he said, eroded democratic values and continental development.
He elicited a  sustained round of applause when he said that there could only be progress (in Africa) if governments served the people, and not the other way round.
Announcing the New Trade Africa Initiative, President Obama revealed that 7 billion US dollars would be invested (together with 9 billion from the private sector) in doubling the energy capacity of sub-Saharan Africa. He told the audience that the US would be "unapologetic" in lending "muscle" to those who were victims in the continent.
Obama also announced that next year there would be a summit held in Washington for sub-Saharan leaders, and for youthful continental leadership as well.
President Obama concluded that if one wanted to see the difference between tyranny and oppression, South Africa was the place to see it. "If any country has shown how the power of human beings can change destiny, here's the one," he said.