Saturday 22 January 2011

TED Talks - Lesley Hazleton: On reading the Koran

Journalist Lesley Hazleton gives a lecture at TED talks about her experience of reading the Quran.

TED's introduction to the lecture says: "Lesley Hazleton sat down one day to read the Koran. And what she found -- as a non-Muslim, a self-identified "tourist" in the Islamic holy book -- wasn't what she expected. With serious scholarship and warm humor, Hazleton shares the grace, flexibility and mystery she found, in this myth-debunking talk".

I certainly found it fascinating (and it is worth listening to just for Hazleton's wonderful voice alone).

Muslimah WW2 Heroine: Noor Inayat Jaan

Earlier this month the Independent (4 January 2010) reported on Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian Muslimah who acted as a spy for the British in occuppied France during World War Two. I was dissappointed I had never heard of her, but the newspaper mentions her because of the launch of a campaign to raise £100,000 for a bronze bust of her in central London, the first memorial in Britain to either a Muslim or an Asian woman. The article describes how Noor Inayat Khan ended up in France:

"It may have been tales of his ferocity in battle told by her father, Hazrat, which steeled Noor to carry a pistol through the streets of Paris, but she was not a natural warrior. Suffused with Sufism's creed of non-violence, she studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and became a children's writer in the 1930s.

But when war broke out in 1939, Noor and one of her brothers, Vilayat, decided they had to travel to London, setting aside a fervent support of Indian independence which had brought their father into contact with Mahatma Gandhi and dedicating themselves to what they saw as the greater evil of Nazi Germany.

After she was rejected by the Women's Auxillary Air Force, her fluent French, quiet dedication and training in radio transmitting were spotted by SOE officers.

Despite being tortured by the Gestapo during 10 months of imprisonment, she had revealed nothing of use to her interrogators. Her last act was to shout "Liberté!". It is a tale of great courage which has long been recognised on the other side of the Channel, where there are two memorials and a ceremony is held each year to mark Noor's death. But in Britain, the contribution of this Anglo-Indian heroine who gave her life to defeat Nazism has been forgotten."

You can read the full article here.

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Friday 21 January 2011

Taqwa and Knowedge for Deaf Muslims

The Uttrujj Foundation have tried to address the need for Islamic education and knowledge geared towards deaf Muslims through their "Taqwa and Knowedge" course which is aimed at supporting Muslims with sensory impairments.

This video asks some of the attendees of the course what they thought about it. It makes for insightful and moving viewing.

This course is taught by Shaykh Abdul Aziz Ahmed who is a teacher specialising in supporting children with Additional Support Needs in mainstream schools in Scotland. He has been involved in publishing, translating and editing Islamic journals and books.

The foundation are also trying to raise funds to run the course with their "Supporting Muslims with Sensory Impairments Appeal", you can find out more here and donate here.

An Islamic Approach to Banking?

In the Guardian's Comment is free belief section (7 January 2011), Imaduddin Ahmed asks whether an Islamic approach to banking might have prevented the financial crisis that we find ourselves in:

"Imagine a world without a financial crisis. No moral hazard, so brokers won't sell mortgages without carrying out appropriate credit checks. Imagine banks not deliberately selling complex derivatives, knowing that they will be worthless. No short-selling speculation, so companies tinkering on the edge won't be pushed over. Imagine a world with Islamic finance.

"The practices that caused the financial crisis would not have passed muster with sharia boards – committees of religiously inspired legal scholars who conduct a religious audit of a bank's activities. Neither the securitisation of sub-prime loans nor credit-default swaps are acceptable in Islamic finance," says Ibrahim Warde, author of Islamic Finance in the Global Economy and a professor at Tufts University.

"Similarly, negative Islamic attitudes towards short-selling were vindicated by the role short-selling played in many aspects of the crisis and subsequent limits placed on short-selling in London and New York. Some old-fashioned principles such as the distrust of excessive leverage and of open-ended innovation proved well founded. As for the systematic vetting of new products by sharia advisers, it could be looked at as a system of checks and balances, a useful corrective to the groupthink that had overtaken conventional finance."

Islamic finance extends beyond its well-known characteristics: interest-free banking and the prohibition of investment in items or activities deemed un-Islamic, such as prostitution, gambling, pornography, pig farming and alcohol. In contrast to conventional loans, Islamic bank loans are confined to financing the purchase of physical assets, to which they have recourse in case of default."

You can read the full article here.

Co-operating with a Congress Investigation into Islamist Radicalism..

Qanta Ahmed wrote recenty in the Wall Street Journal (07 January 2011) in response to New York Reresentative Peter Kin, the call for congressional hearings on radical Islam in America. Dr Ahmed writes about the responsibility of Muslims to engage and co-operate with the society's they live in:

"Similar to the Christian obligation to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," the Quran and the derived corpus of Islamic jurisprudence support Muslims' engagement with those to whom power is entrusted. Chapter 4, verse 59 of the Quran reads: "Verily, Allah commands you to give over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice."

In one verse, Muslims are instructed: "Let there be one community of you, calling good and commanding right and forbidding wrong" (3:110). Another instructs: "Believers, the men and the women, are friends of one another; they command right, and forbid wrong" (9:71). Impartiality is critical to fulfilling this duty. As it is written: "And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice" (5:8).

The holy texts of Islam emphasize that one's greatest allegiance should be to justice—superseding family and co-religionist ties. "Be strict in observing justice, and be witness for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against your parents or kindred," the Quran says in chapter 4, verse 36.

Justice is the cornerstone of Islamic life—despite the appalling reality of many Muslim-majority countries today. Every faithful Muslim must contribute to the preservation of justice within their society.

You can read the full article here.

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Sunday 9 January 2011

Reverts in Britain

The Independent (4 January 2011) attempts to identify the number number of people reverting to Islam in the UK and speculate about their reasons why in an (somewhat sensationally-named) article entitled: "The Islamification of Britain: record numbers embrace Muslim faith"

It cites a number of sources for figures around how many people have become Muslim, but highlights a figure from the thinktank Faith Matters of as many as 100,000 reverts and as many as 5,000 new reverts each year. As to why, the article quotes a number of reverts:

"The fact that the Qur'an is the same now as it ever was means there's always a reference point. The issues of women's rights were shockingly contemporary. The more I read, the more I found myself agreeing with the ideas behind it and I could see why Islam coloured the lives of my Muslim friends. It made sense, really, I didn't and still don't want to be Muslim, but there came a point where I couldn't say that I wasn't Muslim."

"I was very ignorant to Islam for most of my life and then I went on holiday to Morocco, which was the first time I was exposed to Muslims. I was literally a racist before Morocco and by the time I was flying home on the plane a week later, I had already decided to become a Muslim."

"I liked the way the Muslims students I knew conducted themselves. It's nice to think about people having one partner for life and not doing anything harmful to their body. I just preferred the Islamic lifestyle and from there I looked into the Qur'an. I was amazed to see Islam's big emphasis on science."

"Everything is so consumer-driven here, there are always adverts pushing you to buy the next thing. I knew there must be something longer term and always admired the sense of contentment within my colleagues' lives, their sense of peace and calmness. It was just one of those things that happened - we talked, I read books and I related to it."

"I know it sounds odd, but one day I was Tracey the Christian and the next day I was Khadijah the Muslim, it just seemed right. The only thing I knew about Muslims before was that they didn't drink alcohol and they didn't eat pork."

You can read the full article here.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Muslim's Wearing Things

Pictures of Muslim's Wearing Things may be a strange name for a blog, but it came about in response to comments by former NPR analyst Juan Williams during a discussion with Bill O'Reilly on the O'Reilly Factor:

"But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

The blog states that :

"Juan Williams, among other ignorant people, has an irrational fear of Muslims, and thinks you can identify them based on what they look like. Here I will post pictures of Muslims wearing all sorts of things in an attempt to refute that there is such a thing as "Muslim garb" or a Muslim look."

The blog is great fun - eye-catching, attractive, diverse and interesting. I like that it is a humurous response to something negative based on lack of knowledge.

You can visit the blog here and view a gallery of all of the pictures here.

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Sunday 2 January 2011

Pew Research Center Report: Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe

The Pew Research Center has recently published "Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe" a report looking at the origins, philosophies and demographics of various Islamic groups and movements currently active in Europe. It covers Sufi orders, Tabhligi Jamaat, Gulen Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood amongst others.

The Pew Research Centre's website says:

"Over the past two decades, the number of Muslims living in Western Europe has steadily grown, rising from less than 10 million in 1990 to approximately 17 million in 2010.1 The continuing growth in Europe's Muslim population is raising a host of political and social questions. Tensions have arisen over such issues as the place of religion in European societies, the role of women, the obligations and rights of immigrants and support for terrorism. These controversies are complicated by the ties that some European Muslims have to religious networks and movements outside of Europe. Fairly or unfairly, these groups are often accused of dissuading Muslims from integrating into European society and, in some cases, of supporting radicalism.

To help provide a better understanding of how such movements and networks seek to influence the views and daily lives of Muslims in Western Europe, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life has produced profiles of some of the oldest, largest and most influential groups -- from the Muslim Brotherhood to mystical Sufi orders and networks of religious scholars. The selected groups represent the diverse histories, missions and organizational structures found among Muslim organizations in Western Europe. Certain groups are more visible in some European countries than in others, but all of the organizations profiled in the report have global followings and influence across Europe"

The report is available on the Pew Research Centre site here and at the ISSUU site here.

There is more information at the Pew Forum here.

At first glance the report looks well researched - what do readers think?

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Help Sheikh Dremali

The Dremali Foundation was set up by Sheikh Ibrahim Dremali to share his experience and passion for Islam, science, and education and to revive the value of knowledge.

In 2006 Sheikh Ibrahim was diagnosed with Hepatits C, and despite painful and invasive treatment, continues to suffer from the disease. The foundation, with the assistance of the wonderful Sister Zohra Sarwari, has been trying to raise funds for his treatment. The video they have put together makes a strong case for us to try and assist mash'Allah:

You can watch video's of the Sheikh teaching here.
There are useful PDF document's by the Sheikh on taharah (purity), salah and zakat (alms) here.
There are a number of useful audio talks by the Sheikh here.