This World

Some people have said it’s a scary time to be Muslim right now, for obvious reasons. And I don’t know about that so much, but I do think it is a scary time to be human. It’s a scary time to drive on the road or stop at a traffic light; it’s scary to be in your house, even with burglar bars; it’s scary to walk into a corner shop or even in the mall; it’s scary to even watch the news.

The world is a scary place.

Yesterday, I watched a video of a young boy, 13 years old, being thrown around and kicked and stripped naked by prison guards in a prison in Australia. It crushed me. It angered and infuriated and enraged me. I couldn’t do anything to fix it. Today I saw a video of a small, tiny baby, not more than a couple weeks old, being wildly swooshed around in a bucket of water, held by the arms. Crying painfully. And I cried. Painfully. Real tears. I was writhing in my seat and couldn’t stand the aching that video caused me. It aches now recalling it. I was screaming silently at my screen while I watched. And I was angry that I even saw it at all — what good did sharing the video do? Does it stop the abuse? We don’t even see the identities of the women, so what can be done?? Why did you share it if nothing can be done about it?! I didn’t need to see it!

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Glad Tidings to the Strangers

The Messenger of Allah (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

Islam initiated as something strange, and it will revert to its (old position) of being strange. So, glad tidings to the stranger!” [Muslim]

Glad tidings to us, indeed–all of us who will be attending the long-awaited, much-anticipated, internationally celebrated Strangers Tour!

This event (befitting adjectives for which I cannot even think of) will feature three amazing people (and when I say ‘amazing’, you must know that I mean AMAZING. Maa-shaa-Allah.). They’ve hosted this event in twenty other cities worldwide (source: all the advertising I’ve seen), and it’s been awesome, inspiring and sold out in all of them. Now, I won’t go on to explain in much more detail what this event entails, you can check out the trailer (the video above) for that. I am way too wired right now to explain it coherently–I mean, in just over an hour, I am going to be experiencing some of this awesomeness right in front of my face while I have previously only experienced it through my laptop screen via YouTube. Can you imagine the excitement? This whole city is buzzing with it! Alhamdulillah.

On a less hyped up note, allow me to more appropriately explain the narration quoted above, so that it is understood in its proper context, and not the context in which I have used it (which wouldn’t be entirely wrong, I think, since it is definitely a blessing from Allah that we are able to attend this event, and it will, Allah willing, be a means of us attaining nearness to Him and His Pleasure). When Islam began centuries ago, it was a strange religion to the people of the land. This religion preached the Oneness of an All Mighty, All Powerful God to a people who worshipped stone idols which they had made themselves. The created were worshipping the created. But Islam proposed that, rather, we should worship the Creator, the One who made us, the One who never sleeps, never eats, and never dies. And this was strange. The people who followed this way were strangers in their own land, to their own people, their own family. Eventually, as time passed, the message of Islam spread. People’s hearts began to recognise their Lord. They feared, worshipped and loved only One God. Muslims reigned, because they knew the One who reigned over all the worlds. However, as even more time passed, the words of our Prophet (may Peace be upon him) were proved true: Islam began its return to being strange to people, even its own people. The world fears a religion about which they know little. They fear a people who are different to them, who have different values. Unfamiliarity can be a dangerous thing. And now, even Muslims find their own religion strange; they find their own family and friends strange when they try to be the best Muslims they can be. That is why, to the one who practices and strives for her deen in this world, even when she is looked upon as a stranger by everyone she knows, she will be presented with glad tidings. So, glad tidings to the stranger.

Ultimately, that is what this event is all about. It’s fun and it’s awesome and there’s a lot of hype around it, but, ultimately, it’s just about reminding us that it’s okay to be a stranger in a world full of strange things. We just have to know what it’s worth being a stranger for, and Allah is more than worth it. Paradise is more than worth it.

So I’ll be off now to have a strangely wonderful time with my stranger friends and many other strangers, listening to some other inspiring strangers doing their thing. Before I leave, however, let me leave you with this, so that you can get a taste of what I’ll be sitting through a bit later on. You have to watch it, okay? You just, absolutely have to! It is pure brilliance, maa-shaa-Allah.

Watch it!

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UPDATE [07-05-2012]: Most-amazing-show-ever! Maa-shaa-Allah. All three of them were beyond awesome. What word can I use that is awesomer than awesome? In my next blog post (13-05-2012), I will highlight some of the lessons, words and laughs that stood out to me–or, rather, jumped out at me and slapped me in the face. An awakening it was, indeed.

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Share your thoughts with me below. I love reading them.

U.S. President: License to Kill

Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen October 2008, ta...
Image via Wikipedia

American-born Islamic scholar and leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, was reportedly killed by the American military earlier today. This was by the direct order of U.S. President Barack Obama. Awlaki was believed to be a member of the al-Qaeda group, plotting terrorist attacks against America.

The matter of Awlaki’s assassination has caused much discussion and controversy in the U.S. because Awlaki, although from Yemeni descent, is a U.S. citizen whose assassination was ordered by the U.S. President. Glenn Greenwald, an American constitutional lawyer, says that this goes against the very constitution by which America is governed.

It is reported that in January last year, Awlaki was added to President Obama’s hit list — and this without any due process to determine whether or not he is guilty of the accusations against him. Awlaki was neither indicted nor was there any definitive evidence against him before his assassination. So the questions arise: Does Obama really  have the right to have his own citizens killed without any due process? Does he, as the President of America, have the right and the power to be some sort of trinity — judge, jury and executioner?

Awlaki’s unconstitutional murder is applauded by his fellow American citizens. Greenwald writes on Salon.com:

From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture.  It not only finds ways to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process).  It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

I wonder how these same Americans would feel if the Mighty and Powerful Obama ordered their non-Arab, non-Muslim brother or father to be killed without any substantial evidence or any trial in court.

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Share your thoughts with me below. How do you feel about the death of Anwar al-Awlaki?

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Nothing is Original: How the Media Constructs our Consensus

Is any thought or opinion we have about the world truly our own?

The world is such an enormously huge space, and yet, it’s not really that ‘enormous’ anymore. Things that happen in places as far as Japan, America or Libya are reported to us within hours, or minutes, of its happening, without us ever truly being witness to it ourselves. We never see the fighting and killing that happen in Palestine, except for what is shown to us on our television screens; we didn’t see the bombings that happened in America on September 11, 2001 — except for the images that were played and replayed for us on our television screens. Most times, all we ever see of the world outside of our tiny South African ‘world’, is shown to us through the media, whether it be the news channels on TV, news websites on the internet or the old-fashioned newspapers. The fact remains, we didn’t see it ourselves.

One may argue, however, that seeing the events on TV — in which case a news reporter or video man is witness to it in real-time, and we are, therefore, witnessing the events vicariously through them — counts as us witnessing it for ourselves, too. No, it does not. What we see of what is happening in Egypt or China while we are sitting on our couches, in our living room, in our home in Cape Town, is only what the news reporters/video men want us to see, what they allow us to see.

The same applies for written news — they (the news reporters) only report what they deem worthy to be reported, and from their point of view. Hence, our opinion of any given news event that happens in the world is very likely not our own; rather, we are conditioned (to some degree) into a particular way of thinking and perceiving the world.

In essence, our consensus with what the media tells us of the world is constructed by how they choose to tell the news to us: what type of language they use (i.e. what words they use); what type of images they use; which story they choose to report and which not, etc. As bleak a view as this may be, and as much as many of us may want to deny it, we are conditioned to agree with what the media tells us. To some extent, yes, we do choose for ourselves what to believe, but is it ever truly void of what the media has allowed us to know?

Chuck Palahnuik writes in his novel, Invisible Monsters:

Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.

These words bear undeniable truth, and it extends further than just the people we’ve met in our lives; it reaches to the news channels we have dinner with, and the newspapers and news websites we rendezvous with throughout our day.

Let’s look at an article that appeared on the IOL website on The Sunday Independent page, I hate myself and my mouth, says Scott, which is a report about former Jacaranda 94.2 radio DJ and SuperSport rugby commentator, Darren Scott, who made a racist remark to his black colleague, calling him the k-word. Subsequently, Scott resigned from the radio station and was fired from the SuperSport channel. In the afore-mentioned article, the media attempts to construct our opinion of Scott from the get-go by using a self-deprecating quote from Scott himself as the title of the article. Through this, we are already told that Scott regrets his words and that he is not proud of himself, which suggests that readers should sympathise with him, rather than hold him to trial. The entire article is basically a sum-up of Scott’s side of the story, an opportunity given to him by the media to state his case so that he isn’t just painted as the ‘white, closet racist who just got exposed’, as many other media have done.

So, bearing in mind that this seems to be the primary aim of this article, it is noticed that the larger part of the article is made up of Scott’s comments about the incident. He says things like:

  • “I don’t think I’ve ever had a day when I’ve disliked myself as I do now.”
  • “I’ve got to seriously think if there’s something inside me that harbours some form of racism…”
  • “I don’t like myself for saying it.”
  • “…my own stupidity”
  • “I just want to get to a point where I feel better about myself.”
  • “This has been incredibly difficult.”

Scott is depicted as a man at war with himself, a man who is his own judge, so that others wouldn’t have to be. We see Scott as an innocent, normal person (as opposed to the guilty, ‘not normal’ racist he has been depicted to be) just having a bad day, as the writer says, “Scott rubs his face and eyes and sips strong coffee.” And we are told of the difficulty that Scott is enduring through all of this, with the writer’s very evidently biased comment: “He looks tired and the strain is evident.” There is little room left by the writer for the reader to have any animosity against Scott, the reader has little other choice than to feel sorry for him. This is further emphasised by the repetitive statement of apology, with the writer saying at two separate points in the article that Scott “apologised”, and that “Scott knows he messed up”, as though he is a child who has been caught doing something naughty and is being reprimanded. In an attempt to lighten his punishment, the child admits his error, in the hope to soften up the one who will punish him, which in Scott’s case is the entire South African community.

Whether this attempt has worked on the article’s readership is unknown to me, but to speak for myself, I am honestly unsure of whether to feel sorry for him or not. The very first media that had reached me of this particular incident was of a nature in total contradiction to the one that I cite here. The first media response to Scott’s ‘racist’ comment was a radio talk show that had immediately, without sympathy, condemned him as a racist. So this, too, has played its part in constructing my opinion of the news, and, as a consequence, I have two warring views about the same incident, and my mind doesn’t know which one to allow to ‘brainwash’ it.

So, with all that being said, we see that there is little that we think of the world today, little that we know of the world, that is not influenced by the media. The influence of the media is far-reaching and, try as we might, if we read newspapers and watch news channels, there is little that we can do but accept what they tell us. We can argue and debate various news topics, disagreeing with certain media’s views about various topics, but ultimately, our disagreement of it is also only a result of an opinion or belief that was shaped by some other form of the media.

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Hashim Amla: The Man Behind The Beard

Hashim Amla at a training session at the Adela...
Credit: Wikipedia

Hashim Amla, South African batsman, has been named as the Sports Star of the Year at the recent SA Sports Awards held over the weekend. Amla has also recently been appointed as vice-captain for the Proteas’ One Day International (ODI) and Twenty20 teams. In addition to all of this, our bearded cricketer also enjoys the glory of being ranked as the number one ODI batsman in the world by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

As much as Amla is enjoying professional success in his cricketing career, there have also been many trials and bumps that he has had to overcome. He stands out among his fellow Protea cricketers in many ways, the most apparent of which is his full, thick beard. As a Muslim, Amla grows his beard to follow the tradition of the final Prophet, Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him). Another way in which he sets himself apart is by his request to not have any logos on his sports gear of the beer company, Castle, which sponsors the team’s matches. This, too, is because of his commitment to Islam, as alcohol, as well as the promotion of it, is prohibited in Islam.

Being a practising Muslim playing international cricket at a time when Islam is internationally, and wrongfully, perceived as a fearful religion, no doubt Amla would receive some flack. During a test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa in 2006, a cricket commentator remarked about Amla under his breath, “The terrorist has got another wicket,” incorrectly assuming that he was off the air. This, however, was only a means for Amla to show how strong he is, how disciplined he is, and how un-terrorising he is. Following this incident, Amla’s fans — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — showed support for him and outrage at the remark of the commentator.

The Amla Army showing support for Amla by donning fake beards
Credit: The Times of India

Throughout his career, Amla has shown his mental strength and discipline. His older brother, Ahmed Amla, said about Amla’s beard in an interview:

…it’s about his mental thing — it does play a major part in his mental make-up and discipline, not only for cricket but other aspects of life. Hash is highly disciplined.

Hashim Amla echoes the teachings of Islam: discipline, humility, integrity and respect. This is also what the beard teaches, this is what Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) has taught us, and through emulating the Prophet (PBUH) with such things as growing a beard, among others, Amla seeks to fill his life with the largely forgotten wisdom of these teachings — a wisdom that is now manifest in Amla’s growing success.

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Share your thoughts with me below. What is your take on Hashim Amla? Are you a fan of The Beard?

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Rebels Without a Cause?

Torched cars and buildings. Violence and chaos in the city streets. Citizens opposing the country’s authority. Thousands of police deployed to control violent unrest of citizens. Innocent people injured or killed by their fellow citizens in a protest against some or other cause.

Ah, it must be somewhere in the Middle East again, right?

We’re so tired already of hearing about the civil unrest in Syria, Libya, Egypt or one of those Middle Eastern/Arab countries. Is there really a need for yet another blogger’s comments about the situation in these countries? Give it a rest already.

But, wait… what’s that? These events did not take place anywhere in the Middle East?

Nope, not the Middle East. This time, the story is not about Mubarak, or Gaddafi, or even Assad. This time, it’s closer to home than many in the ‘civilised’ Western world is comfortable with. The discription and images above are the result of recent riots that occurred in the British capital, London — situated in Western Europe.

The riots began on the night of the 6th August in one of the poorer areas of England — Tottenham, London. The riots had originally started out as a “peaceful protest”, in reaction to the then recent killing of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by a policeman. It is alleged that  Duggan had a firearm on him, or was about to draw one; consequently, the policemen reacted to this, thus fatally shooting Duggan. The residents of Tottenham then resorted to expressing their anger in the way of rioting and looting, which in later days spread further across London, and then across the wider Britain, in the cities of Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.

When I first read the news about these riots in London, I was confused. I didn’t know why it was happening, it seemed so unexpected and unjustified. Yes, I knew it was somehow the result of the killing of Mark Duggan by a policeman — but I still didn’t understand why it was happening. The killing of one man — however wrong the circumstances of his death might have been — did not seem to be a likely cause for the subsequent mayhem and disorder in the streets of London. I went on to read different news articles about this particular story, trying to get a broader picture, trying to find the cause, the root of the problem, because I was sure that I must’ve missed something, and that the rioting citizens of London did, in fact, actually have something substantial to riot about. But I was wrong.

According to Mark Adomanis, in an article he wrote for Salon.com:

Judging from all available press reports, it seems that the rioters have no clear political grievances whatsoever besides, perhaps, a generalized hatred of the better off and ‘the system.’ Most of the violence, theft, and property destruction have been committed by people that seem to be taking advantage of the atmosphere of chaos to pocket clothing, electronics, and food that might otherwise be unaffordable.

After a short period of denial (because the situation seemed so crazy to me that it was hard for me to believe that, with all the protesting happening in other places around the world for basic human rights, there were people in London rioting and causing the injury and death of people and their property for apparently no reason at all), I eventually accepted that the situation was just that — young people throwing a tantrum, unhappy with the state of things, unhappy with the state of their community, unhappy with their lives. But it was a tantrum with fatal consequences.

But still, questions remained: Why did it result in such violence? Why are these people unhappy? What went wrong that they felt this was the only way to let the world know? It had originally been suggested that the riots stemmed from a “long-simmering resentment among the black community at heavy-handed policing” (Spiegel Online International), and yet, it was found that the rioters consisted of youth from varying ethnic backgrounds; among them were black youth, white youth, as well as Asian youth. Clearly, then, there is not a strong racial factor here. Another, more plausible, explanation claims that the riots are a long-time-coming result of the inequality of the stratification system present within British society. Lower-middle class British youth suffer social exclusion, forever condemned to being in the social class into which they are born, with little or no hope of ever clawing their way out. The Berliner Zeitung, a German newspaper, writes:

The country has lost faith in every authority: the banks, politicians, the media, the police. The corruption has reached even the smallest unit — the family. There is a generation growing up without values of any kind.

This is a neglected generation of people. These are youth who feel that they have been given up on, and so they, too, have given up on society and its various social institutions.

While there are indeed some who took part in the riots simply ‘for the fun of it’, reveling in opposing authority, or just simply seizing the opportunity for violence, the opportunity to ‘legitimately’ steal items from stores that they may otherwise not be able to afford to shop at, there are still those whose cause was real and sincere to them — though not regarded as such by many. Though their motives may not be political, they are certainly personal, and to ignore them and their reasons would only be to silently sit, letting it simmer and fester, and wait for the next ‘unexpected’, ‘unjustified’ burst of violence and mayhem.

Sources:

http://www.news24.com/Tags/Topics/uk_riots

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/08/09/london_riots/index.html

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,779413,00.html

Pictures taken from News24 Galleries http://www.news24.com/Galleries/Image/Images/World/UK%20riots

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