Charlie, are you kidding me?

•November 9, 2011 • 1 Comment

BismiLlah al-Rahman al-Raheem,

It happened again. Charlie Hebdo, a french satirical magazine, did a special issue called “Charia Hebdo” claiming that  a character supposedly our Prophet (pbuh) is its editor-in-chief. “100 lashes for those who don’t laugh” says a bearded man with a turban on the cover (guess who?).
To keep it short, and we mentioned it God knows how many times that this is typical. It’s like an old joke, a broken record. Get over it.
The problem is, once the issue came out, the next night, the Charlie Hebdo HQ were burnt down to the ground. (Note: they still don’t know who did it, but they assume it’s the Muslim extremists)

Unfortunately it is that kind of bad humour that gives the extremists an opportunity to cross the line. They’re just giving them a free pass for trouble.
And people like Professor Tariq Ramadan have to go on shows repeating millions of times that this is not what Islam stands for, and it goes against our Shariah (Charia if you’d like), etc. It’s like erasing all the interfaith dialogues and making the Islamic da’ias and scholars start from scratch. It’s growing enmity between religions, widening the gap between each other.
Thank you extremists. Thank you Charlie.

Someone tells me that only Muslims are not allowed to draw the Prophet (pbuh) but non-Muslims can, it’s freedom of expression!
No it’s not, it’s called insulting, it’s called you not getting that with your freedom comes the others’ as well. It’s called you being responsible enough to not reach others’ freedom of belief. It’s you being intolerant and narrow-minded.
Would you like me to stick your head on a donkey and publish it for the whole word to see? Haha you say?
Others will say: well, about Jesus (as)? You don’t say anything when he’s on the cover of a satirical magazine!
Well we should.

We should make it loud and clear that making fun about people is of bad taste. Drawing silly caricatures is like ghiba, backbiting. I’m sick and tired of people pointing fingers, making fun, childishly criticizing each other.

Must read article:


Matewan and Blair Mountain

•October 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As part of my increasing interest in labour rights – especially since the revolution and since there is now hope that we may one day actually have independent unions in Egypt – I stumbled upon this little bit of American history while reading about independent filmmaker John Sayles. This is the story of the Matewan Massacre from Wikipedia:

At the time, the United Mine Workers of America had just elected John L. Lewis as their president. During this period, miners worked long hours in unsafe and dismal working conditions, while being paid low wages. Adding to the dilemma was the use of company scrip by the Stone Mountain Coal Company, because the scrip could only be used for those goods the company sold through their company stores, thus the miners did not have actual money that could be used elsewhere. A few months before the battle at Matewan, union miners in other parts of the country went on strike, receiving a full 27 percent pay increase for their efforts. Lewis recognized that the area was ripe for change, and planned to organize the coal fields of southern Appalachia. The union sent its top organizers, including the famous Mary Harris “Mother” Jones.[1] Roughly 3000 men signed the union’s roster in the Spring of 1920. They signed their union cards at the community church, something that they knew could cost them their jobs, and in many cases their homes. The coal companies controlled many aspects of the miners’ lives.[2] Stone Mountain Coal Corporation fought back with mass firings, harassment, and evictions.[3]

A contingent of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency arrived on the no. 29 morning train in order to evict families that had been living at the Stone Mountain Coal Camp just on the outskirts of town. The detectives carried out several evictions before they ate dinner at the Urias Hotel and, upon finishing, they walked to the train depot to catch the five o’clock train back to Bluefield, West Virginia. This is when Matewan Chief of Police Sid Hatfield decided that enough was enough, and intervened on behalf of the evicted families. Hatfield, a native of the Tug River Valley, was an adamant supporter of the miners’ futile attempts to organize the UMWA in the saturated southern coalfields of West Virginia. While the detectives made their way to the train depot, they were intercepted by Hatfield, who claimed to have arrest warrants from the Mingo County sheriff. Detective Albert Felts and his brother Lee Felts then produced his own warrant for Sid Hatfield’s arrest. Upon inspection, Matewan mayor Cabell Testermanclaimed it was fraudulent. Unbeknownst to the detectives, they had been surrounded by armed miners, who watched intently from the windows, doorways, and roofs of the businesses that lined Mate Street. Stories vary as to who actually fired the first shot; only unconfirmed rumors exist. Thus, on the porch of the Chambers Hardware Store, began the clash that became known as the Matewan Massacre, or the Battle of Matewan. The ensuing gun battle left seven detectives and four townspeople dead, including the Felts brothers and Testerman. The battle was hailed by miners and working class members for the number of casualties inflicted on the Baldwin-Felts detectives. This tragedy, along with events such as the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado six years earlier, marked an important turning point in the battle for miners’ rights.

Governor John J. Cornwell ordered the state police force to take control of Matewan. Hatfield and his men cooperated, and stacked their arms inside the hardware store. The miners, encouraged by their success in getting the Baldwin-Felts detectives out of Matewan, improved their efforts to organize. On July 1 the miners’ union went on another strike, and widespread violence erupted. Railroad cars were blown up, and strikers were beaten and left to die by the side of the road. Tom Felts, the last remaining Felts brother, planned on avenging his brothers’ deaths by sending undercover operatives to collect evidence to convict Sid Hatfield and his men. When the charges against Hatfield, and 22 other people, for the murder of Albert Felts were dismissed, Baldwin-Felts detectives assassinated Hatfield and his deputy Ed Chambers on August 1, 1921, on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse located in Welch, West Virginia.[5] Of those defendants whose charges were not dismissed, all were acquitted. Less than a month later, miners from the state gathered in Charleston. They were even more determined to organize the southern coal fields, and began the march to Logan County. Thousands of miners joined them along the way, culminating in what was to become known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the first (and only?) time bombs were dropped on American citizens by the American army. The way things are going in Egypt these days, I sometimes get the sense we’re heading towards another revolution, one that will look a lot like Blair Mountain. It’s also very interesting to listen to Sayles describe the strategies relied on to ensure the workers would never unite (taken from his interview with Democracy Now:

Yeah, Matewan is a movie about a labor strike, a coal miner strike in 1920 in West Virginia. The way that the coal operators tried to keep workers divided in those days was what they called a judicious mixture, which would be to hire a third hillbilly miners from West Virginia, a third immigrants from Yugoslavia, Italy, wherever, and a third black miners from the South, where the mines were just tapping out, and they would come up and be — trying to use them as strikebreakers. Often housed them in three different places, put them into the mine from three different places so that they couldn’t even meet on the job. And they thought, “Well, these people will never get together and form a union.” But in fact, the conditions were so bad and the pay was so bad that they found ways to find each other and ended up forming — the UMW was one of the most integrated unions of that time.

You can watch Matewan, the film by Sayles about the Matewan Massacre, on YouTube:


Uninspired…and then inspired once again

•October 21, 2011 • 1 Comment

I’m feeling very uninspired today. In fact, I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. I feel like I have thinker’s block. In the same way someone who has writer’s block is unable to write, I feel I’ve lost the ability to think. I can sit for several minutes, concentrating, eyes shut, trying to focus, trying to formulate one coherent thought. Nothing. All I get is the buzz of Cairo traffic, talk shows, political debates, the never-ending report I have to finish for work, the image of Qadhafi dead, the mundane conversations I keep having over and over again about things there is no point conversing about, like “Do you think the Muslim Brotherhood will take over Egypt? Do you think Egyptians will ever be free?”. The questions that have no answer, and yet people insist on asking them. Buzz, just buzz, that’s all I get. I’m reminded of something Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk says in his book “Other Colours”:

“What’s troubling you”

“You already know. It’s these spring afternoons.”

“You’re depressed”

“It’s worse than depression. I want to disappear. I don’t care if I live or die. Or if the world comes to an end, even. In fact, if it ended right this minute, so much the better.

It’s not a dark and morbid depression, and it’s not melodramatic. It’s just…perspective. This life we’re living right now is just a tiny dot compared to the afterlife, and when I think of it that way, it puts me at ease, it reminds me that one day, all this will be over, no more poverty, no more injustice, no more Qadhafi or Mubarak or Saleh or Asad, and no more boring reports for work. All there will be is justice.

It’s just an acute sense of the Quranic aya “Surely, we have created man into toil and struggle”. In the Quran, the actual word used that has been translated into “toil and struggle” is “kabad”. The original meaning of “kabad” is the middle of the day, or the hottest part of the day, or to be walking in the middle of a sand dune such that taking one step forward is with great difficulty. You are born into the world crying, that is your destiny and you have no say in the matter. You cannot choose to come out of the womb with a smile on your face, that is how you are destined to come into the world, but how you leave this world is up to you. We will all struggle through life, whether you’re living in a slum and worried that the water your children are drinking might give them cholera, or whether you’re like me, just exhausted by the lack of ability to think (that really puts things into perspective doesn’t it). But in the end, we will both leave this world, and that poor slum-dweller may leave this earth with a peaceful smile on the lips and the words “la ilaha illa allah” on the tongue.

I hope when it’s my time, I don’t leave this earth still thinking about that never-ending report I have to finish for work.

The approach to Art all Muslim artists should know

•September 27, 2011 • 4 Comments

BismiLlah al-Rahman al-Rahim,

It all started out with an e-mail. A fresh Fine Arts graduate asking for some basic pointers on how to lead her art into a more Islamic style, how to make the form fully express its Islamically inspired content. It seems simple right? Just copy old Islamic art with its patterns, take some arabic calligraphy classes and you’re set, right?
But that’s the answer I got:

As much as I would very much like to help you to find the right track to fulfill your aspirations it is quite strenuous for me to address too many issues with a clear map highlighting their inter-connectiveness. I think the best way is that, on my next visit to Egypt, I will try to let you know in advance and we can attempt to arrange for a suitable meeting to discuss these various aspects directly.

A few months later, I get a call and before you know it I am sitting on a couch, hearing things that I’d never thought I would.

Dr. Ahmed Moustafa is a giant in modern Islamic art. A pioneer.
After obtaining the highest degrees in the Fine Arts faculty in Alexandria and a MA, the country gave him a scholarship for a PhD in London. Since he trained in the “Neo-classical European” style, the professors weren’t really impressed with his work. They weren’t denying that it was very strong anatomically and composition-wise, but what was he trying to say? They’ve seen this style millions of times, they started it, they owned it, it’s their culture. So where is his?
“It was like I was offering them left-over food, or like I had cooked a typically English meal for them.” Dr. Ahmed says today, recalling his early years.
They kept on asking him what was his culture? what did it express? He was dumbfounded. He could recite all the big names of European art from the Renaissance til Modern times but he was unable to artistically express anything from his homeland, identity, religion. “All that I knew about Islam was the basics and that my name was Ahmed. It was like my whole identity was in a box and I never bothered to open it. I remember praying to God and asking him: ‘Please God make my talent subservient to You…'”
After finishing his studies, Dr. Ahmed had a few days left in London before his papers were ready for him to travel back home. He went to the library and came  across an article by Nabia Abbott debating with Eric Schroeder Ibn Muqla’s contribution to Arabic script (click here to read it). He was impressed that Western academics were discussing Arabic scholars, calligraphers, that he had not a single idea about. He asked the Library assistant if they had any books about Ibn Muqla. “Unfortunately not, but you’re in luck because Ms Nicolette Gray is here, you could ask her” Nicolette Gray the expert in Roman lettering.
He took the article to her, she was really interested but unfortunately could not help him solve the issue discussed in the paper. “Let me ask Basil and get back to you.” That’s Basil Gray the famous specialist in Islamic miniatures and also Ms Nicolette’s husband.
“Ibn Muqla’s been bothering scholars for 250 years with his script. It remains unresolved. Are you interested in researching it?” said Mr. Basil. Egypt is breathing down my neck, they’ll cut off my salary if I don’t come back, Dr. Ahmed would say. “That’s not the problem here. The issue is if you would like to do it or not. The rest can fixed easily.” Ms Nicolette would finally assure him.
And so  began Dr. Ahmed adventures in Arabic script. Leading him to Morocco, Turkey, and years and years of research, he finally submitted his PhD at Central St Martins College of Arts under the title: ” The Scientific Foundation of Arabic Lettershapes according to the theory of “The Proportioned Script” by Ibn Muqla (272-328AH/886-940AD)”.
It was a breakthrough.

Ibn Muqla is so important in Arabic calligraphy because he put down the theory of cursive writing. He was the reason behind the change of Kufi script to Cursive (thuluth, muhaqaq, toumar). Dr. Ahmed says that most Arabic calligraphers don’t know what these terms stand for. And he even states that there was a hierarchy in Arabic calligraphy:
The Geometrician: the one who sets the rules of calligraphy
The Investigator: the one who verifies that the rules are followed
The Teacher
The Calligrapher

Change happened because Kufi script is linear and dry and there’s consistency in its thickness. And as they say : “الرطوبة علامة الحياة ” which literally means that moisture is a sign of life.
The first one to put Ibn Muqla’s theory into practice, his first indirect disciple was Muhammad Ibn al-Bawab. He implemented all his instructions.

There’s a golden rule that says that every work of art is a success if there’s a perfect equilibrium between content and form. When these both are totally compatible, then the work is perfect.
Content in Islam is from the Almighty  Himself which is the Qur’an. What form will be of the same stature?
This content is perfect. What form could possibly equal it?
The answer is from the Almighty Himself. It appeared in the 3rd century Hijra/10th A.D. in “The Theory of Proportioned Script” by Ibn Muqla  ” نظرية الخط المنسوب لإبن مقلة “.

Which brings us to answer the famous question: why did Islam prohibit drawing figures?
Islam did not prohibit it. It was a simple conclusion based on what God Almighty says:

وَلاَ تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ
And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge
(Surat al-Israa, verse 36, {17:36})

If you haven’t seen the Archangel Gabriel (AS), why bother yourself trying to draw him (AS) ? You’ll never get it right.
But if you wish to show me how to mount a horse, please draw it for me. And draw it beautifully.

Syriac, Aramaic, and Hebrew are old dialects of Arabic. But they only have 22 letters. Arabic has 28. Just like the phases of the Moon. You might say but the lunar month can have 29 days, we would say and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordered us to count لا as a separate letter. Thus 29 letters.
And Dr. Ahmed went on and on about geometrical rules, sevens, golden section.

All and all, he emphasizes on the beautiful posture in space, in other words حسن الوضع .
Because we must remember that Ihsan is superior to Jamal. Jamil is beauty on the sensual side, and Ihsan it’s beauty at its core. Allah doesn’t associate “Jamil” to Himself in the 99 Names. Of course He is Jamil in everything sensual. But sensual is only the outer layer. Once you see the core, the outer becomes insignificant.
So one must rethink about the words we use to describe God Almighty.

 أَنِ اعْمَلْ سَابِغَاتٍ وَقَدِّرْ فِي السَّرْدِ وَاعْمَلُوا صَالِحًا إِنِّي بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
[Commanding him], “Make full coats of mail and calculate [precisely] the links, and work [all of you] righteousness. Indeed I, of what you do, am Seeing.”
(Surat Saba’, verse 11, {34:11})

So our work of Art must be done with Ihsan and we will be rewarded with good deeds. Aesthetics and ethics are two sides of a different coin, you cannot have one without the other.

For more info about Dr. Ahmed Moustafa: 

Thoughts on “Des hommes et des dieux” movie and a surprise movie!

•September 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

BismiLlah al-Rahman, al-Rahim,

I love movies, who doesn’t? Tastes may vary from one person to another of course. I tend to rather go for the Cannes and Berlinale selection. Yes, I prefer critically acclaimed films than the popular ones. But that’s just me.

Anyways, in 2010, the Grand Prix award -the second best after the Palme d’Or- went for the French movie “Des hommes et des dieux” (Of Gods and Men) by Xavier Beauvois.
It tells the story of nine monks in a monastery in, according to Wikipedia, Tibhirine, Algeria.
Living peacefully among their Muslim “brothers and sisters” where they cure the sick and plant vegetables, suddenly they are threatened by (guess who?) Muslim terrorists who kill anyone who doesn’t follow their sect.
Refusing to rely on military help or going back home, they choose to stay and face the circumstances with “love as Jesus would’ve done”. Seven of them were assassinated by the extremists.

My first thought was : “Ha! Typical!” We realize quite obviously who the “Gods” are and who the “Men” are. It is a conflict between the Algerian government and the Muslim extremists. The monks just happen to be in the middle, refusing to adhere to either side, insisting on staying since they don’t want to “abandon” the villagers.
We see scenes where they are totally immersed in their rituals: choirs, prayers, planting, cooking. A nearly saintly life.
I was so upset that Western non-Muslims always portray Muslims as terrorists and “BinLadenists”, yada yada yada.

Until I found out it was a true story from 1996. Shocking.

So I just took a step back and said to myself, wait a minute, it’s been going for years now, it is only natural that they portray us like fanatics. Yes, they shouldn’t generalize all the Muslims, but where is the rest? Where are all the Muslims directors to tell the true stories from their side? Stories of our brave youth, men who fought injustice and corruption? Like for instance, the story of how Ahmed Oraby was supported by spiritual Muslims to defeat the English, or how Shaykh Abdel Qadir al-Jilani was the reason behind Saladin’s chivalrous behavior, or maybe even the story of Si Kaddour Benghabrit who hid Jews inside his mosque in Paris so they could escape the Nazi terror… Lots of movies to make there.

Have no fear, they will be told inch’Allah, all in due time. One of them is even coming out in theaters on Sept, 28th in France!!

“Les Hommes Libres” (Free Men) by Ismael Ferroukhi is the true story Si Kaddour Benghabrit’s (played by Michael Lonsdale who played a monk in “Of God and Men”) life risking decision to hide Jews inside the Mosque in Paris and give them false Muslim identities so they could escape the country from the Nazis. And guess what? It was part of the 2011 Cannes selection. I like that movie before I even see it!

Excited? I know I am!!

HTBE series: What is the monoculture? part 1

•September 11, 2011 • 2 Comments

BismiLlah Al Rahman Al Rahim,

This lecture was given by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah called “Contemporary Monoculture: an Islamic perspective” at Zaytuna College. If you wish to watch it, kindly consider being a Zaytuna Companion.

These are notes I took while I watched it. By no means do they fully explicit Dr. Umar’s view in it totality. If you have questions, you could try contacting him through his Nawawi foundation website.

“In us, we have the 99 Names. They are manifested in us. A special gift. For example, plants are dominated by the Name al-Razzaq (Giver of nourishment: oxygen, fruits, etc.), water by al-Mohyi (Giver of life).
Humans are abd al-Jame’ (servant of God, the Lord of all the Names). That makes us the knower, the speaker. But also the weaver of culture, to negotiate reality, to speak, to walk, etc. We are the makers of culture.

We must learn to articulate our culture, teach people to be human beings.
There’s a dua’ that says: God give me إنسانية (humanity)
So our culture includes: learning arabic, memorizing the Qur’an, tafsir, fiqh. And we have to apply those rules wisely, properly. Not as a straight jacket but as a tailor made suit.
–> Don’t give fatwas if you only know the book. if you do that, you are misguided and you misguide.
you have to know the context and how do you apply it to the given situation.
You want to take Islam to the people? Teach how to be human beings. How to be married, how to raise and educate children, etc.

Now, the monoculture is destroying all of that whether by intent or just by reality.
You go from Chicago to Beijing, people are wearing the same jeans, the same logos on their T-shirts, etc.
There is no East or West anymore. And this is a problem, because Chinese have their own culture.
The monoculture removes all of it. It’s good for marketing. But it makes us zombies. The same and yet different.
You got that style, wearing that logo, certain holes in your jeans, I got this style, this logo, other holes in my jeans.
This is  a great danger, it harms people deeply.
It’s like the totalitarian regime, we are being manipulated without knowing it.
It creates the one-dimensional man. One source of knowledge.

In Islam, there are 3 sources of knowledge:
– Experience
– Empirical reasoning (on experiments) –> reason a priori: math, the basis of philosophy
– Revelation

(part 2 coming soon inch’Allah)
My deepest apologies for not updating the blog more frequently. Du’as please!

Poetess of the week: “Seeking Meziana”

•August 24, 2011 • 4 Comments

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Rahim,

A friend of mine sent me her blog. In each post there’s a picture she took and a couple of sentences.
I knew she was a talented photographer but she is also a very sensitive writer.
Her few words can make you meditate for long moments, while you dive in her pictures.
What her heart feels is powerful, its vibes reach you no matter the distance. (After all distance never really matters anyways.)
This is me talking under her blog’s (in other words her) effect.

On Giving

Sometimes, the complete stranger next to you gives you so much that you are left feeling as if your souls have met before.   Her words were filled with a  certainty and hope Divinely placed..  I ask for her all that she seeks.  May it be so.

By The One Who Gives, this is Meziana.

See what I mean?
More of it here: 

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