Wa Shahid Habib Allah (And the Martyr is Beloved by God)

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“I am and always will be a Muslim. My religion is Islam.” – Malcolm X

Every year, on this day, February 21st, I always get reminded of how this extraordinary man had a profound impact on my life. Reading his autobiography and studying his life in college showed me a human being who epitomized the meaning of a true leader. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t curse or swear, and a lot of that was inspired by Malcolm X. To me, his life represents the life-long human learning experience. Unlike our contemporary politicians and so-called “world-leaders,” he was a man who was never afraid of admitting his mistakes. His humility, passion, and perseverance in the face of sheer adversity will always be admirable to me.

His life also shows how people can dramatically change by the Infinite Grace of Allah subhanna wa ta’ala. Here was a man who was involved in drug dealing, robbery, gambling, lusting after women, and steering prostitutes. Although he did not convert to true Islam in prison, Allah found him and pulled him out of darkness. Malcolm X gave up his old habits and turned towards self-educating himself. It’s amazing how much he would read in prison and take so many notes, and eventually become one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

He broke off from the “Nation of Islam” (which is very different from Islam, so much so that the teachings are completely contrary to what Islam teaches) after performing his Hajj in the Holy City of Mecca. Rumi says one must travel to Mecca in their heart first, but there are such places in the world that are just so filled with the Divine Spirit that they touch people’s souls in such incredible ways. Malcolm states in his autobiography that he had never experienced such sincere hospitality and brotherhood as practiced in Mecca. The Hajj, as Malcolm says, made him change his whole way of thinking. He learned that judging people by the color of their skin was not only wrong, but also un-Islamic and represented the worst human being. Malcolm discovered that there were Muslims of all different colors in Mecca. Malcolm says that, in Mecca, it was the first time he had ever stood before the Creator of All living things and felt like a complete human being. When Malcolm left Mecca, he said:

“A part of me, I left behind in the Holy City of Mecca. And, in turn, I took away with me, forever, a part of Mecca.”

It’s heart-wrenching for me whenever I think about his assassination on February 21st, 1965 and how he was murdered in front of his wife and children. I know that if Malcolm were alive today, many things would be different. There would be more understanding and far less ignorance. But his life continues to inspire young Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. His teachings and his message is needed more than ever now, and it should be our duty to carry out that responsibility. As many say, Malcolm was not killed for who he was; he was killed for who he was becoming. Muslims and non-Muslims alike take great offense when Malcolm is labeled a “racist,” a “black supremacist,” or an “extremist.” Anyone who brands Malcolm those things has never studied his life or listened to the beauty of his words.

May we always remember brother Malcolm in our hearts and prayers for he symbolizes the voice of truth, social justice, and equality; the Martyr of God who will never be forgotten. May our Loving Creator bless his beautiful soul and grant him peace.

“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem… I am not a racist in any form whatsoever. I don’t believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam. I am a Muslim and there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim, nothing wrong with the religion of Islam. It just teaches us to believe in Allah as the God. Those of you who are Christian probably believe in the same God, because I think you believe in the God who created the universe. That’s the One we believe in, the One who created the universe–the only difference being you call Him God and we call Him Allah. The Jews call Him Jehovah. If you could understand Hebrew, you would probably call Him Jehovah too. If you could understand Arabic, you would probably call Him Allah.”

Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz (Malcolm X)

The Truth About Thanksgiving: Brainwashing of the American History Textbook

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Those who are indigenous to this land we call “The United States of America” have been long misrepresented and pushed out of American history textbooks in favor of glorifying those who now rule this nation and represent the dominant culture. What kind of democracy are we when education institutions and teachers refuse to mention the fact that 10 to 30 million Natives were killed at the hands of European invasion and colonialism? What is the point of having a “free market of ideas” when selective and biased history is being taught to our children?

There is no other way to put it, but erasing the memory of an entire race of people through distorted history is a systematic way of deceiving and lying to our children. Not only are we presented with biased history, but we are also subjected to an ever-growing culture of capitalism, in which commercialization of an ambiguous holiday merely pulls us away from facts and meaning. Turkeys are associated with “Thanksgiving” in the same way Santa Clause and the Easter bunny have become synonymous with Christmas and Easter, respectively. Through the guise of innocence, capitalism is constantly telling us to consume because consumption equals “happiness.” Tomorrow is not “Black Friday” for nothing.

And as children dress up as Pilgrims and Natives to reenact the romanticized version of history, they are not only perpetuating stereotypes, but more importantly, they’re being embedded with lies. What do they really know about the Pilgrims and the Natives? Consider a high school history textbook called “The American Tradition” which describes the scene quite succinctly:

After some exploring, the Pilgrims chose the land around Plymouth Harbor for their settlement. Unfortunately, they had arrived in December and were not prepared for the New England winter. However, they were aided by friendly Indians, who gave them food and showed them how to grow corn. When warm weather came, the colonists planted, fished, hunted, and prepared themselves for the next winter. After harvesting their first crop, they and their Indian friends celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

This patronizing version of history excludes many embarrassing facts of European history. As stated by James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” many college students are unaware of the horrific plague that devastated and significantly reduced the population of Natives after Columbus’ arrival in the “new world.” Most diseases came from animals that were domesticated by Europeans. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, which was later “spread through gifts of blankets by infected Europeans.” Of the twelve high school textbooks Professor Loewen studied and analyzed, only three offer some explanation that the plague was a factor of European colonization. The nine remaining textbooks mention almost nothing, and two of them omit the subject altogether. He writes: “Each of the other seven furnishes only a fragment of a paragraph that does not even make it into the index, let alone into students’ minds.”

Why is it important to mention the plague? It reinforced European ethnocentricism which hardly produced a “friendly” relationship between the Natives and Europeans. To most of the Pilgrims and Europeans, the Natives were heathens, savages, treacherous, and Satanic. Upon seeing thousands of dead Natives, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, called the plague “miraculous.” In 1634, he wrote to a friend in England:

But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect…

The ugly truth is that many Pilgrims were thankful and grateful that the Native population was decreasing. Even worse, there was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.

Captain John Mason and his colonist army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.” The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain.

The Governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, further elaborates:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

Perhaps most disturbingly, it is strongly argued by many historians that the Pequot Massacre led to the “Thanksgiving” festivities. The day after the massacre, the aforementioned Governor Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” It was signed into law that, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”

Now, one may ask: What about Squanto, the Wampanoag man who learned to speak English and helped the hungry, ill, and poor Pilgrims? As cited by Professor Loewen, an American high school textbook called “Land of Promise” reads:

Squanto had learned their language, the author explained, from English fishermen who ventured into the New England waters each summer. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, squash, and pumpkins. Would the small band of settlers have survived without Squanto’s help? We cannot say. But by the fall of 1621, colonists and Indians could sit down to several days of feast and thanksgiving to God (later celebrated as the first Thanksgiving).

Note that this text states the first Thanksgiving was on 1621. Indeed, there was a feast on that year, but it was not called a “Thanksgiving feast” nor was it repeated until years later after the Pequot Massacre in 1637. In regards to Squanto, the correct question to ask is: How did Squanto learn English? History textbooks neglect to mention that the Europeans did not perceive Squanto as an equal, but rather as “an instrument of their God” to help the “chosen people.” It is also omitted that, as a boy, Squanto was stolen by a British captain in 1605 and taken to England. He worked for a Plymouth Merchant who eventually helped him arrange passage back to Massachusetts, but less than a year later, he was seized by a British slave raider. Along with two dozen fellow Natives, Squanto was sold into slavery in Spain. He would manage to escape slavery, journey back to England, and then talk a ship captain into taking him along on his next trip to Cape Cod in 1619.

As Squanto walked back into his home village, he was horrified to find that he was the only surviving member of his village. The rest were either killed in battle or died of illness and disease. Excluding Squanto’s enslavement is to paint an incredibly distorted version of history that suggests Natives like Squanto learned English for no other reason but to help the colonists. It is to glorify the Europeans and erase the struggles and experiences of the Native people.

When history is transformed into myths, tales, and bedtime stories, we ignore historical research that enables us to learn valuable and meaningful lessons about our present, as well as about our future. History is meant to be an accurate and honest account of civilizations, cultures, and events; not a body of ethnocentric and selective alterations.

As Professor Loewen states:

Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.

I did not write this article with intentions to offend or say we shouldn’t celebrate “Thanksgiving.” None of us are responsible for the atrocious deaths of Natives and Europeans. None of us caused the plague or the massacres. But as human beings, I do feel that it’s important for us to approach history with honesty and sensitivity. Perhaps some of you don’t believe this history is relevant to you, but I would strongly argue that a history that is not inclusive is a dangerously racist and prejudice one. Yes, we should spend time with our families and Loved ones, and yes, we should be grateful and thankful for all that we have, but not at the expense of ignoring an entire race of people, their culture, and their history. The fact that history textbooks and schools try to glorify the Pilgrims while omitting significant facts about the Natives represents that there is a lot to improve in the United States. Let us not become blinded by super-patriotism or blowout sales of “Black Friday.” Let us give some thought to the Native people, learn from their struggles, and embolden ourselves to stand up against racism and genocide in all forms.

They deserve your attention.

~Broken Mystic~

UPDATE: Thank you all for commenting and sharing your thoughts on this post.  Unfortunately, I do NOT write on this blog anymore, but you can still share your comments on an updated and revised piece I wrote on my new blog (see link below).  Also, there are others who have written excellent articles on the truth of “Thanksgiving” and their work certainly deserves more attention than this post.

Please bring your comments to my new blog here (where I also provide links to must-read articles):

http://muslimreverie.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/thanksgiving-and-forgotten-genocide-brainwashing-of-american-textbooks/

Jerusalem Cries for Peace

I was worried that I was not going to have time to blog about this, but as I waited in rush hour traffic and enjoyed the gentle breeze and pleasant weather, I was reminded of how grateful I should be. Grateful that I am not living under the extremely violent, horrific, and turbulent conditions that others endure on a daily basis. With this realization comes purpose and meaning. In Islam, we are taught that everything has meaning, even the smallest details that we tend to overlook. No leaf falls without God’s knowledge, as the Qur’an says (6:59). For those of us in the west, we typically do not think reflect on the hardships and struggles that people on the other side of the globe are battling (look at what’s happening in China today). Many times, I believe that one of my purposes in this life is to help people in all possible manners. Not just through words, but more through action.

For most of the west, May 15th of 2008 is the 60th birthday for the state of Israel, but for the Muslim world, it is Youm al-Nakba — “The Day of Catastrophe”. I have seen other people decorate their blogs and Facebook profile pages with Palestinian flags and “Free Palestine” slogans. I’ve seen people change their profile pictures to images of themselves wearing a Palestinian scarf, or keffiyah. I have no intention to generalize about people, but from the certain individuals that I know, they display such patriotism for Palestine and yet they hardly know anything about the current events, the history, or even about the politicians. I remember when I was directing my short film, “A Flower from the East,” my main characters were Palestinian, and my film professor asked, “what is the significance of the Palestinian scarf? Does it serve any religious significance?” This question made me reflect on what the Palestinian cause means to me personally, and I believe this is a question we all should ask ourselves. What do the flags, scarves, and slogans mean and symbolize? We have to avoid chanting slogans emptily. It’s like the young and proud Pakistanis who shout “Pakistan Zinadabaad!” (Long Live Pakistan) just for the sake of showing off their Pakistani pride, but not really understanding what they’re saying.

The Palestinian people have suffered a great deal and their story is still neglected by the mainstream media, which is what frustrates Muslims around the world, myself included. A common mistake that many anti-Islamic and even well-intentioned conservatives make is that they think anti-Zionism equates anti-Jewish (yes, I’m one of those people who refuse to say anti-Semitism, since Arabs are Semites too, not just Jews). This is absolutely false. Another mistake is that they think Islam teaches Muslims to hate and kill Jews. Again, this is false. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has nothing to do with Judaism and Islam; this conflict needs to be understood in light of historical context. More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were brutally and systematically evicted from their homes by the terrorist organizations known as Irgun, Stern Gang, and the Haganah, “the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces.” Examples of where these groups evicted Arabs can be found in the villages of Deir Yassin and Duwayma. According to Dan Freeman-Maloy of ZMag, the Zionist forces controlled 78% of mandatory Palestine by 1949. They declared the State of Israel after razing “some 400 Palestinian villages to the ground.” As mentioned earlier, to this day, the creation of Israel is infamously known around the Muslim world as a great historic injustice and/or the Nakba (Catastrophe). In the years that followed, the Israeli military occupation (or the Israel Defense Force) patrolled the Palestinian settlements for “security” purposes. This is not to insult or stereotype the Israreli Defense Force, but just to point out that so many horrific crimes against innocent Palestinians have been committed by countless Israeli soldiers, who are not branded “terrorists” or charged with war crimes. In 1982, the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, ordered the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. He formed an alliance with a Lebanese Christian militia-men, who were permitted to enter two Palestinian refugee camps (Sabra and Shatila) in an area controlled by the Israeli military. They massacred thousands of Palestinian civilians — something that the Palestinians and the Muslim world will never forget.

And the west ponders why the Muslim world is so antagonistic towards them and Israel. Extremist televangelists like John Hagee claim that this is a “religious war,” which sounds very medieval if you ask me. It reminds me of the Crusades, when the Pope Urban II called for a holy war against the Muslims. The truth of the matter is that Christians, Muslims, and Jews have coexisted for centuries. Contrary to the “Islam-spread-by-the-sword” myth, Christians and Jews were allowed to practice their religion, pray in churches and synagogues, and hold honorable positions in the government (for example, the Christians would translate the Greek philosophical texts into Arabic). When the Muslim leader, Salah Al-Din, captured Jerusalem in 1187, he did not slaughter a single Christian civilian. He established peace and coexistence among the Christians, Muslims, and Jews. To read more about Salah Al-Din, read my entry on the Crusades here.

Why do I mention history? Because if we really care about the Palestinians and peace among human beings, we must learn from our history. Salah Al-Din and the Christian King Baldin IV were not afraid of negotiating with one another. Right now, President Bush is heavily criticizing Barack Obama for wanting to negotiate with “terrorists.” Notice the terminology: “terrorists.” In the mind of right-wing extremists, the Palestinian leaders, along with the Iraqi and Iranian leaders, are nothing less than “evil.” According to tonight’s CNN report, there are many Jewish-Americans are concerned about Obama’s wanting to negotiate with the aforementioned leaders, particularly with Hamas. My question is: what’s the alternative? Violence? War? Salah Al-Din and Baldwin IV negotiated to prevent bloodshed and slaughter. Salah Al-Din and Balian of Ibelin negotiated for the same reasons. What happens when there’s no communication and understanding? People start to fear one another, and fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to suffering (I learned that from “Star Wars”).

We are told that the Palestinians “hate freedom and democracy”. This is probably one of the biggest insults to human intelligence. By promoting this mentality, we are ignoring what is called cultural responses. When people are oppressed by a foreign invader, they develop a stronger connection with their culture and religious background. When the British occupied India, for example, they stripped the Indians of their language, culture, and religion. Many Indians who studied in England would come back to the India and didn’t even know how to speak their own language. They were culturally confused. The rebellion against the British was sparked by the violent and brutal treatment of Indians, but the Indians also used their culture and religion(s) to energize and motivate them even more. “Why should we be like them?” they thought, “they’re taking away our culture and religion.” So they established a stronger and more patriotic connection with their ethnic identity and used that to fuel their energy to rebel. Cultural response.

Palestinians shout “Allahu Akbar” and other Islamic slogans because of the same reasons I mentioned above. War splits people into a duality, it separates humankind. Dehumanization occurs in the media, in the newspapers, on the battle field, and in society. Terms like “rag-head,” “dune-coons” and “camel-jockeys” (among much worse slurs) are used to dehumanize the opposition. The media needs to vilify the “enemy” in order to rally more supporters of their political agenda. The Nazis did this with the Jews – they depicted them in cartoons with hooked noses and ugly features so that the rest of the country didn’t feel sorry about killing them. The American cartoons even did this to Africans, drawing them ridiculously ugly and mentally retarded (see Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”). It’s important to understand that the same is happening to the Arab/Muslim world. Instead of understanding why people behave certain ways, the media just simplifies it for us. They simplify it so that the rest of the west doesn’t feel like they’re supporting the deaths of other human beings; they want to know that they’re killing “terrorists,” and saving the “innocent” Israel (notice how Israelis use images of children on billboards and television advertisements). No one is born a suicide bomber, something happens to them in their surroundings and environment that cause them to behave that way.

Do I know what it’s like to have a Loved one murdered? Do I know what it’s like to see my home demolished? Do I know what it’s like to be evicted and deported to another country? I have not been in these situations, yet I am deeply saddened and disturbed whenever I hear about what happens. Both the Israelis and Palestinians are suffering heavily, and whenever I speak about Palestinian causalities, I am accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer.” I would like Israelis (and those who support Israel) to know that Muslims do not hate Jews and that there is nothing within Islam that teaches us to hate or kill them. Whenever Palestinians are killed by the Israeli military forces, those soldiers are never called “terrorists.” When Israel bombed Lebanon in 2006, we were told by the mainstream media that it was an act of “self-defense.” And yet, when a Palestinian defends him/herself, it is an act of “terrorism.” I had a neighbor who was once an American soldier stationed in Israel. He saw with his own eyes, Israeli soldiers taking two Palestinian teenagers on top of a hill and then beating their faces in with rocks. He wanted to stop it, but his fellow soldiers held him back and told him to “let it be.” The next day, as my neighbor told me, there was nothing on the news about what happened to those two Palestinian teenagers. What were their names? Who were their families? Who cares?

To my fellow Muslims, I say that we cannot allow hatred toward Jews and Israelis to persist. There were some people on my Facebook who wrote something against the Jews and I was really disturbed by it. I personally do not feel that the state of Israel should have been created without a Palestinian state. Since there are human beings living in Israel now, I do not believe it is practical or even humane to say that they should be annihilated or evicted. They have homes there and they shouldn’t be punished for what their ancestors did. We need to think forward. I believe in a two-state solution. I believe a Palestinian state needs to be established and I don’t think we should rely on the United States government to make that happen. One of the major lessons in life: If you want something done, do it yourself. Never rely on someone else to give you “freedom”. We are all born as free human beings. That is our God-given right.

We must learn from our history. We must learn that despite our differences, we can still get along and establish a much needed understanding. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are the descendants of Abraham — the children of Abraham, peace be upon him. Promoting hatred towards Palestinians/Muslims or promoting hatred towards Israelis/Jews is not going to solve anything. The more we promote these of attitudes, the more of a mess Jerusalem will be. Allah says He does not help people until they change what is in themselves first. I believe there can be peace in the Holy Land. I believe in it because it has happened before. Deep down in my heart, I wish to see the Jerusalem that I see described in the pages of history — a Kingdom where people of all walks of life can live peacefully and together. Allah did not bring us into this world to fight each other. He brought us here to Love.

I dream of a day when the world will announce, “Jerusalem has come!” and over the ruins of war, there is a congregation — a new generation of Muslims, Christians, and Jews who will not tolerate the violence and hatred that greedy and corrupt politicians have fueled relentlessly for so many years. A new generation that will restore the world with consciousness and understanding. Jerusalem is not just the land of our Holy Prophets, it is in your heart. The Kingdom of Heaven is one of unity, peace, acceptance, and Love; it is within us all. And just like anything in life, if you want to accomplish something, you must have the confidence. You must have Faith, and the Universe will open a path for your dreams and aspirations. If we don’t believe, then how do we ever except to achieve anything? What would we be without Love?

Wa ana ba’min be-mamlakt al-Janaah
Wa ana ba’min be-mamlakt al-Houb
Wa ana ba’min be-mamlakt al-Janaah
Wa an-nour al-Hayaat hiya al-duniya
La ilaha illa Allah

(Arabic)

And I believe in the Kingdom of Heaven
And I believe in the Kingdom of Love
And I believe in the Kingdom of Heaven
And in the Light of Life of this world
There is no god, but God

~ Natacha Atlas
From the “Kingdom of Heaven” soundtrack

Biased History

Do not buy this book! Ok, I don’t mean to sound like one of those “boycott (insert alleged anti-Islamic author/corporation)” kind of people, but it’s important to know that this book does not give you a very fair understanding of the Crusades. If you want to read it, that’s fine, but if this is the only book you will read on the Crusades, I strongly urge you to read other books! Specifically Crusades: A Reader (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures) by S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt.

It doesn’t bother me that the author, Thomas F. Madden, chooses to write from a European perspective, but when he uses dramatic narratives to paint the image of the Crusades as a period of “love” and “chivalry,” one cannot help but question his credibility and intentions. Even more so, Madden begins his book with mentioning September 11th and how the terrorist attacks were religiously motivated. He writes: “…radical Muslims, known as Islamists, have called fellow Muslims to take part in a worldwide jihad against the people of the West, who the Islamists regularly refer to as ‘crusaders’.”

What’s odd about this is the terminology. “Islamists?” It just baffles me that an author with his PhD would use an invented term coined by President Bush and FOX News. I also do not understand where he gets this “worldwide jihad against the people of the West;” this is a common misconception and fear that right-wing conservatives try to emphasize on as much as possible so that they can justify their opinions or actions. September 11th was not motivated by religion, it was motivated by the U.S. government’s relentless support of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian settlements. This terrorist attack has been brewing in the Middle-East ever since the first bombing of the World Trade Center and fanatics like Osama bin Laden have been warning the U.S. to stop funding Israel with weapons, tanks, aircraft, and military technology.

Madden also writes: “Americans were shocked not only by the brutality and bloodshed of the terrorist attacks on their country, but by the very fact that the attacks had occurred at all. Who were these people, Americans asked, and why had they done these terrible things? Why were the attacks greeted with joy and dancing in many urban streets of the Middle East? … In search of answers Americans turned to the long history of relations between Muslim and Western worlds. The Islamist themselves pointed to the crusades, asserting that the West had for centuries sought to destroy Islam and continued to do so today.”

I’m still cringing at that “Islamist” word. Imagine reading this in the preface of a book on the Crusades. One cannot help but detect a bias. Later he says the Crusades are one of the most misunderstood events in western history. I wonder what it could be “misunderstood” for? Reading through the book, I was shocked and appalled at how he says Crusaders from Europe marched to Jerusalem with “pious enthusiasm.” Pious? Anyone who studied the Crusades honestly will know that the majority of the Crusaders were no where near pious.

In 1096, Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade in order to capture Jerusalem from the Muslims. Prior to the Crusades, the Christians in Western Europe (Latins) did not get along very well with the Orthodox Christians in Constantinople (Greeks). The Greek Christians thought of themselves as more sophisticated, civilized, and educated, and they perceived the Latin Christians to be barbaric, uncivilized, and unclean. They also regarded one another as blasphemers and heretics because they had conflicting theological beliefs concerning the holy spirit and/or divinity of Jesus (peace be upon him). What heightened the tension even more was that the Emperor in Constantinople wanted to speak for all Christians in the world, while the Pope in Rome wanted to do the same. There was a huge power struggle which led to many excommunications, deception, and persecutions. When the Emperor Alexius I needed assistance to defend against the Turkish forces near Constantinople, he wrote to Pope Urban II. Pope Urban II was so fed up with Christians fighting and killing other Christians that he saw this as an excellent opportunity for Christians to unite and channel their hatred towards the Muslims. What attracted Pope Urban II the most was the prize of Jerusalem — if the Christians could recapture Jerusalem, he would be remembered throughout history as the man who drove out the “infidels” and “saved” the Holy Land!

The Pope’s calling of Holy War was just that. A Holy War. He promised direct salvation; anyone who participated or fought in the Crusades would have their sins remitted and automatically be given entry into Heaven. However, if one should withdraw from the Crusades, he would be considered a coward and never enter Paradise. The Pope used verses from the New Testament to justify the war, and he also exaggerated about the “mistreatment” Christians were experiencing under Muslim rulers. This was very ill-founded since the Greek Christians felt more comfortable in the great Muslim learning cities of Baghdad and Cairo than with the Christians of Western Europe. This makes sense considering the sophistication of the Muslim Empire and the Greeks during that time. Many of the Christians who lived under Islamic rule held respectable and honorable positions, such as translating the Greek texts of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophical giants.

European peasants and knights were so excited about the Crusades because they saw it as an escape out of their brutal lifestyle. The peasant life, for example, was a very demanding and physically laborious one. They weren’t very educated, they traveled mostly for farming, and their medicine wasn’t nearly as advanced as the Islamic world. The nobles (and/or knights) lived a gluttonous and violent lifestyle, where they would not only fight other Christian forces, but also break the pledges of safe-guarding the poor and the women and children. There are accounts where knights have abused their power and raped women. When they learned about the Crusades, they saw many benefits, not just the spiritual rewards, but also the promise of treasures and wealth. To them, it was a time for change, for hope, and for success. Jerusalem was described in the Pope’s speeches as the “land of milk and honey,” “a second paradise” with “fruitful delights”. The Crusaders were so enthused that they felt empowered with divine authority and judgment. On their march towards Jerusalem, the Crusaders encountered a Jewish village, where one of the Crusader leaders, Peter the Hermit, declared them as the “near enemy” (the “far enemy” being the Muslims). The Jews were slaughtered, the women were raped, and the children were shown no mercy. Neither the Pope nor the Patriarch in Constantinople condemned this — it was God’s will.

To his credit, Madden makes a brief mentioning of this incident and he even provides a couple of accounts that confirm the massacre of Jews. However, he states that the anti-Jewish brutality “never made it to the East”. This is wrong. When the Crusaders marched onward to Jerusalem, they marched around the walls singing the psalms of Joshua from the Bible, and then they lay siege to the city. In 1098, Christian Crusaders massacred Muslims and Jews — men had their limbs and heads cut off, women were raped and burned, children were killed. One Crusader account records that the blood was “knee deep” and that body parts were everywhere. Madden leaves out the accounts where the Crusaders wrote that the massacre was a “great glory” from Jesus Christ, and that this victory would “abolish the law of Muhammad, and vindicate the Christian religion.” What is quite distasteful is how Madden tries to argue that the slaughtering of Muslims and Jews was not as bad as its made out to be. He writes:

“It is true that many of the inhabitants, both Muslims and Jews, were killed in the initial fray. Yet many were also allowed to purchase their freedom or were simply expelled from the city. Later stories of the streets of Jerusalem coursing with knee-high rivers of blood were never meant to be taken seriously. Medieval people knew such a thing to be an impossibility. Modern people, unfortunately, do not.”

That’s all he comments on regarding the historical records and accounts. He doesn’t call them accounts, he calls them “stories,” and he never mentions why these “stories” were never meant to be taken seriously. In my opinion, he makes a very poor argument. What’s even more disturbing is the paragraph immediately following the sentences I just cited:

“The dream of Urban II had come true. Against all odds, this struggling, fractious, and naive enterprise had made its way from western Europe to the Middle East and conquered two of the best-defended cities in the western world. From a modern perspective, one can only marvel at the improbable course of events that led to these victories. Medieval men and women did not marvel; they merely thanked God. For them, the agent of the crusade’s victory was God himself, who had worked miracle after miracle for his faithful knights, delivering unto them the land of Christ.”

Yes, these same heroic and faithful knights broke their vows countless times not just by slaughtering Jews, but also bringing prostitutes along with them and then raping foreign women whenever cities were captured. These same medieval Crusaders who “merely thanked God” indulged in the riches that they stole from Jerusalem and took back to Western Europe. But to author Thomas F. Madden, this all is presented as merely “God’s work.”

Probably the most insulting part of this book is how Madden tries to discredit one of the greatest leaders in the history of humankind: Salah Al-Din. The Kurdish Muslim general who united the Muslim world under his Ayyubid Dynasty about 88 years after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. For 88 years, the Christians had ruled Jerusalem, and the Muslims were so disconnected that they could not organize a resistance against the Crusaders. Muslim survivors fled to the cities of Baghdad during the month of Ramadan and pleaded with the Caliph to organize armies to defend against the Crusaders, but the Caliph scorned these men and reminded them that it was Ramadan. These Muslims from Jerusalem then shouted, “Our city has fallen, our people have been slaughtered! — what is more important? Ramadan or Jerusalem?!” This cry for help would not be heard until about 80 years later, when the first real Islamic war or jihad against the Crusaders was led by Zengi, who captured a crucial Crusader city in Edessa.

Salah Al-Din eventually came to power when another Muslim leader, Nur Al-Din, passed away. Salah Al-Din now ruled over Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Diyar Bakr, Mecca, Hejaz, and northern Iraq. He had a massive Muslim army which consisted of Arabs, Turks, Persians, Kurds; Sunnis, Ismailis, and Shias. This frightened the Crusader ruler in Jerusalem, who did not want a war with Salah Al-Din. But it was the Prince of Antioch, Raynald of Chatillion who wanted a war with the Muslims. First, he attacked a Muslim caravan, which prompted Salah Al-Din to organize his army and march towards Jerusalem. The King of Jerusalem at the time was Baldwin IV, who was known as the Leper King because of his leprosy. Baldwin IV promised Salah Al-Din that he would deal with Raynald and suggested that Salah Al-Din withdraw his soldiers. Salah Al-Din agreed and retreated. Muslims in Salah Al-Din’s camp even disputed with his decision on retreating, but Salah Al-Din ordered them to be patient. Madden tries to present Salah Al-Din as a threatening man who was “looking for an excuse to attack Jerusalem.” This is absurd. If Salah Al-Din was looking for an excuse, then he already had one when Raynald attacked a Muslim caravan — why didn’t he invade Jerusalem then? The truth is, Salah Al-Din was a gentleman, he empathized and listened to his “enemies.” Unlike contemporary politicians, he is willing to listen to the opposition and consider the terms that they offer. Salah Al-Din’s retreat after agreeing on terms with Baldwin IV represents pure medieval chivalry, and respect for the Christian King.

Unfortunately, Baldwin IV the Leper King died shortly, and his opposer Guy de Lusignan became the King of Jerusalem. Guy released Raynald from prison because he too wanted a war with Salah Al-Din. This time, Raynald attacked another Muslim caravan where he killed Salah Al-Din’s sister. This was the last straw (and understandably) for Salah Al-Din. The great Sultan even swore to kill Raynald with his own hands. Salah Al-Din marched onward to Jerusalem, and he brilliantly lured the Crusaders out to a region known as the “Horns of Hattin” which contained no water wells. The Crusader army was worn out, excessively thirsty, and scorched by the brutal heat. Salah Al-Din’s army wiped out the Crusader forces and even captured Guy and Raynald. There is a famous account where Salah Al-Din offers Guy, the King of Jerusalem, a glass of cold ice for his thirst and wounds. Guy drinks it and then hands the cup to Raynald. Salah Al-Din informs Raynald that the glass was not offered to him. Raynald was decapitated by Salah Al-Din himself, as he had vowed.

Onward to Jerusalem, Salah Al-Din’s army broke through the Crusader defences, and a few moments later, the defender of the city, Balian of Ibelin, approached Salah Al-Din to offer terms. Balian said he would burn down the Mosque and the holy sites before Salah Al-Din could take over the city. Salah Al-Din astonishingly said he would grant every Christian knight safe passage to the sea, and that no Christian citizen would be harmed. No woman would be raped, no child would be killed. Madden gives no credit to Salah Al-Din’s remarkable and unusual amount of tolerance and acceptance during these Medieval times. It is true that Salah Al-Din initially threatened to slaughter all the Christians the same way the Christians slaughtered the Muslims 88 years earlier, but the truth is, a lot of these “threats” were pressured upon him by other Muslims. Other Muslim leaders would heavily criticize Salah Al-Din for being too compassionate and merciful, they criticized him for being too lenient and tolerate with minorities. Not just with Christians and Jews, but with Shia Muslims as well. His own personal physician was a Jewish man named Musa ibn Maymun (or “Maimonides” in Latin), who was one of the greatest philosophers in both Islamic and Jewish history. Regardless, the reality is that there was NO slaughter of Christians or Jews when Salah Al-Din captured the city. On October 2nd, 1187, peace and coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews was finally restored in Jerusalem — the Kingdom of Heaven. The Christian knights faced nothing worse than exile or ransom. Why Madden tries to discredit and downplay Salah Al-Din’s extraordinary act of compassion is beyond me.

After Salah Al-Din captured Jerusalem, Europe went into alarm and quickly organized another Crusade. This time led by the most famous Crusaders of them all: King Richard, the Lionhearted. What’s unsettling is how Madden paints a glorious and heroic picture of King Richard, and doesn’t even mention how atrocious it was for Richard to execute 2,700 to 3,000 Muslim prisoners when he captured Acre. Madden simply writes one sentence of it and avoids discussing it. Every historian, even those who respect Richard acknowledges this as an atrocity. Richard had conquered Acre and tried to negotiate a deal with Salah Al-Din. Salah Al-Din tried to offer a better deal, but Richard got impatient and flew into a rage and then executed the Muslim prisoners. In Medieval times, leaders would not treat their prisoners like this. They would either keep prisoners as slaves or hold them for ransom, not execute them. Clearly, what Richard did was very unorthodox and horrific. Eventually, a long distant friendship would be established between Richard and Salah Al-Din. One day, Richard was sick, and Salah Al-Din sent his personal physician Maimonides to attend Richard, along with a basket of healing fruits. Also, Richard’s horse was killed in battle, and so Salah Al-Din ordered his men to not attack Richard. Richard was allowed to walk through a Muslim phalanx without being attacked! Salah Al-Din then sent him two fresh horses!

Madden presents Richard as a stronger military force than Salah Al-Din. He states that Richard’s victories in the Muslim cities of Acre and Arsuf “wiped out Salah Al-Din’s victory at Hattin.” This comparison is really inappropriate. This again shows how Madden is trying to discredit Salah Al-Din. Madden even goes as far as stating the Third Crusade (Richard’s Crusade) was a “successful one,” despite the fact that Richard never conquered Jerusalem. He then writes about how “tempting” it is to envision Richard ruling Jerusalem, as if Salah Al-Din was some kind of tyrannical and oppressive leader. Richard was ignorant for the most part. He didn’t even know that Jerusalem was sacred to Muslims until he met with Salah Al-Din’s brother. Like most medieval European Christians during that time, a huge amount of ignorance towards Islam persisted. I personally believe that Richard was a good man at heart, and if him and Salah Al-Din were not forced to fight one another, they would have seen eye-to-eye. Madden doesn’t bother to mention this. It’s all about Christians versus Muslims; the faithful, pious Christians versus the infidel, evil Muslims.

The bottom line is that this book is extremely biased and strips so many important aspects regarding the personality, character, and policy of certain Muslim leaders, especially Salah Al-Din. European writers, scholars, and historians even state that Salah Al-Din represented the ideal knight, the ideal for medieval chivalry. One European writer even wrote that Salah Al-Din was secretly Christian, in order to explain his extraordinary and unusual amount of tolerance. Of course this is not true, but it’s funny how some of these Europeans tried so hard to explain why Salah Al-Din was so compassionate. The truth is, Salah Al-Din was a devout Muslim, a very religious man, and he was the shinning example of none other than Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. I fear that if someone is simply interested in picking up one book on the Crusades and they choose this one, they are going to miss out on this great figure in the history of humanity. And they certainly are not going to perceive the Muslims any better than how they are depicted in today’s media. I hope that I have helped balance things out a little, but if anyone is interested in what really happened, I recommend the book mentioned above. As well as “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes” by Amin Malouf. I know the title makes it sound biased too, but it is actually quite objective. It is also important to read from the Muslim perspective since we often only hear about the Crusades through European eyes. We need to stop perceiving everything as a clash of civilizations — there has been dialogue throughout the centuries, and history shows us that we can communicate with the opposition. History shows us that we can come to an understanding, that we can build bridges, and that we can coexist. As depicted in the film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” directed by Ridley Scott, Balian of Ibelin is utterly astonished when Salah Al-Din promises that no Christian man, woman, or child would be harmed. He says, “The Christians killed every Muslim behind these walls when they took this city.” Salah Al-Din says, “I am not those men. I am Salah Al-Din. Salah Al-Din.”

Why write a book that reinforces the separation that plagues our world?

Take Down a Musical Instrument

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a computer electronic music program I have called FL Studio. Playing piano has been a hobby of mine since my father bought me an electronic keyboard when I was in 6th grade. A good friend of mine also owned a keyboard and he would always try to play melodies from movie soundtracks, so him and I would compete with one another on who could play a certain song first. Sometimes, we’d call each other over the phone and show off with what we figured out. The first tune I played was the “Mission: Impossible” theme, lol. This went on for a while and before I knew it, I could play “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars,” “James Bond,” “Back to the Future,” and even classics like “Fur Elise.” I don’t remember exactly when I created my own song, but I know it was some time in high school. I guess I got bored of playing other people’s music, and also, I thought about creating music for my short films.

I never took any piano lessons, which still seems to surprise people when they see me play. I took a “Rudiments of Music” class in my Sophomore year of college and our final project was to write a composition. When I played my piece for my teacher (a song I called “Writing in the Dark”), he was impressed and said that I played like a professional. It was also cool to see him read my musical notes and play my song! It reminded me of the feeling I get when I see actors give life to the dialogue that I write in my screenplays. The more I practiced and played piano in front of guests and family members, the better feedback I received. My friends would tell me “compose your own music for your films,” and I just took it as a compliment and never thought about it seriously. I got my new keyboard when I graduated from high school in 2002, so yeah it’s pretty old, but still decent. Even though I wanted to form a musical band with my friends, it just remained talk and ideas, it was never as serious as our filmmaking.

So recently, I felt a desire to professionally record my music and when I learned that I could do this in my own house, I got excited and did research on what I needed to make this possible. It turned out that all I needed was a MIDI cable, which would enable me to hook my keyboard into my USB drive. FL Studio is an amazing program and I’m just amazed at how much people can do with it. I don’t mean to sound like a cheap advertising commercial, but the possibilities seem to be endless! I have a couple of plug-ins for orchestral and ethnic instruments — acoustic sounds that I would never get from my keyboard. I’m sure we all see the pros and cons of the technology age, but when it comes to creating music and filmmaking, computer programs such as FL Studio provide so many opportunities. Even with YouTube (where I plan to upload some of my short films, insha’Allah), one can share his/her work with so many people in the world.

I think it’s a beautiful thing for people to express themselves through artistic expression such as music. I know there are some Muslims who condemn music as being haram (forbidden), but I really mean no disrespect to their opinions and views on this matter. Prohibition of music is never even mentioned in the Qur’an; on the contrary, the Book of Zabur (Pslams) is mentioned and Muslims are taught that Prophet Dawood (David), peace be upon him, had a beautiful singing voice. I spoke with a contemporary Muslim poet in Philadelphia one year and we discussed the issue of music in Islam, and he told me that it’s a shame so many Muslims condemn it because music is very spiritual. The Qur’an itself, and the way it is recited, is actually very melodious, as is our daily prayers. Even in Islamic history, in the centuries following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, many Muslims theorized about music and even influenced Medieval European music. Give Medieval European music a listen some time, and you will notice how you can find similarities in Arabic music. This is because 11th century Italy used earlier Arabic musical notations from the 9th and 10th century. In his book, Historical Facts of the Arabian Musical Influence, H.G. farmer presents the following comparison of Italian and Arabic notations:

Arabic Alphabet:   Mi    Fa    Sad   La    Sin   Dal   Ra

Italian Notes:          Mi    Fa    Sol    La    Si     Do    Re

It is also interesting to note that the Spanish form of music known as “flamenco” was created by Spanish Muslims who faced expulsion, forced conversion, and even death from the Catholic reconquest of Granada. Many of these Spanish Muslims (or ‘Moors’ as the Europeans called them) joined gypsies on their way out of the country. “Flamenco” derives from the Arabic term “fellah mengu” which means “country vagabonds.” What’s even more fascinating is when one looks at the evolution of musical instruments. From the 8th and 9th centuries, music instruments from the Muslim world spread into Northern Christian Spain, France, and Italy via Muslim entertainers and minstrels. According to historians and authors Dr. Rabah Saoud and Michael H. Morgan: “The Muslim ‘oud will spawn the European lute and later the guitar and mandolin. The Arabic ghaita will evolve into the Scottish bagpipe and Spanish and Portuguese gaita. The Muslim qanum will give birth to the English harp and the German zither. The Persian kamancha and Arab rabab will morph into the fiddle. The Muslim zurna, a woodwind instrument, will lead to the oboe. The Persian santur, an early form of the hammered dulcimer, will give rise to European keyboard instruments.”

Pretty cool, huh? As we consider history and then observe the type of music being produced in the world today (including in the Muslim world) we see less art in the entertainment industry. I’m sure there were Muslim clerics who prohibited music in the past, but I believe it was tolerated overall. I believe we see Muslim clerics condemning music today because of the type of material there is. Mainstream Arabic music, for example, emulates Western pop music. It tries to be unique with its tabla drum rhythms and Arabic scales, but the songs are so formulaic that Arabic originality is lost completely. Even in mainstream Pakistan and Indian music, we see the emulation of mainstream western music, despite the usage of sitars, flutes, and tablas. The emphasis on sexuality especially is very strong and its no wonder why clerics call music “haram.” I understand how music with pornographic and violent lyrics are considered haram, but what about the true artists and musicians out there who are making music to inspire spirituality, social change, unity, and peace? We don’t see the true artists put into the spotlight anymore because maybe these artists aren’t as “attractive” or “pretty” as record companies would like them to be, or maybe their lyrics aren’t as controversial and provocative as they “should” be. I find that there are very few mainstream musicians out there who are creating music for the passion of it. It’s so money driven that I cannot even bring myself to ever listen to the radio. My choice of music is very selective, and many of the musicians I listen to are Muslim, Middle-Eastern, and South Asians who aren’t even well known in their own communities! Musicians like the Iranian female singer/composer Azam Ali, the Indian-American composer Karsh Kale, the Turkish mystical musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Iranian New Age artist Jamshied Sharifi, Moroccan spiritual singer Hassan Hakmoun, the late Nubian traditionalist Hamza Al-Din; or the countless ethno-electronica bands and artists like Samsara Sound System, Afro-Celt Sound System, Dhol Foundation, Al-Pha X, Cheb i Sabbah, Mercan Dede, etc. Let’s not forget the legends like Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Egypt’s Umm Kalthoum. Non-Muslim musicians like Lisa Gerrard (you may have heard her hauntingly beautiful vocals if you’ve seen the film “Gladiator”) and Elizabeth Fraiser also fit in this category of true artists. There are also many Sufi-inspired bands like Stellamara and Lumin.

Azam Ali’s “Niyaz” album celebrates ancient Sufi poems, and the band describes their album as “folk music for the 21st century.” Azam Ali sings Urdu and Farsi poems that have been penned by divinely inspired poets hundreds of years ago. Should we deny the talent and say that these kind of songs that praise God, the Prophets, and spirituality, are haram? I think the big misunderstanding that people make is that they think music is meant to replace prayer. Music has a place in this world and its not meant to argue that prayer is not a worthy practice. I believe that people are born with beautiful Gifts and if they do not share that Gift, then the world will be missing out on it. We would be denying our purpose in this world. I’m not trying to win a Grammy or anything, but I still consider music to be a special hobby of mine. It has also been a little therapeutic for me. It helps me express myself with all that I’m going through these days. Anyway, I thought about sharing some of my latest recordings on my blog.

The first song is called “Incomplete”. It’s only about a minute and a half, it was just a trial run because I was just testing out the program. This is just a short version too, I have the longer version but I haven’t recorded it yet. Insha’Allah I will soon. Right click on the title below and click “save target as” if you want to save it. You can play it with Winamp or Windows Media Player.

Incomplete – Viola Section.

The second song is called “Ya Nabi.” It can be difficult to record this song because of the two layers of piano and strings. I like the new orchestral sound it has to it, but I still think it sounds much better when I play it live. Anyway, my friends say that this is my best song. I made it for Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. I can’t remember exactly when I came up with it, but I remember that it was after 9/11 when I was upset about Islamophobia and how our beloved Prophet was being vilified in the media (and still is). It has a very cinematic sound to it and sounds a little sad in the beginning, but it symbolizes my sadness at how someone so beautiful can be vilified.

Ya Nabi — Slow Strongs.

In advance, thank you so much for reading and taking the time to listen. The recordings are not the way I would like them to be, but I think they’re nice for a quick trial run. I find music is to be very spiritual and I think we need to encourage the Muslim youth to explore their creative sides more, rather than discourage them.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we Love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~ Jalaluddin Rumi,
13th Century Islamic mystic and poet

Dixit Algorizmi (So Said Al-Khwarizmi)

Recently, I had to present a speech for one my classes on the achievements and contributions of Islamic civilization. I was so pleased with the response from my peers that I decided to share a portion of my presentation on my blog. I’ve decided this will be a continued discussion on my blog and I will focus on different aspects each time I write about it! Islamic history is one of my favorite subjects, and while it is amazing to note all the achievements that Muslims have contributed over the centuries, it is also disappointing that this is a history often untold, forgotten, and even rewritten. Unfortunately during a time when the U.S. is at war with Muslim nations, people tend to generalize, stereotype, and forget about how the “enemy’s” civilization has also played a significant role in shaping our world. Without acknowledging this lost history, many misconceptions about Islam are bound to persist. Islam and democracy, for example, is considered to be incompatible by harsh critics of Islam. However they neglect the Muslim Empire when it expanded across the Middle-East after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Tolerance and coexistence was widely practiced and many of the Muslim Caliphs and leaders knew that in order to have a successful and civilized society, free-thinking and freedom of expression was very essential.

The Latin words in the title of this entry are found in 12th century manuscripts and translations of Mohammad Al-Khwarizmi’s work. Al-Khwarizmi was an extraordinary 9th century mathematician who was among many of the great Muslim contributors during the Golden Age of Islamic civilization. His very name “Al-Khwarizmi” is where we get the word “algorithm” from. He also invented algebra (derived from the Arabic word “al-jabir” which means “to restore”) and discovered the Indian numeric system, which he later adopted and systemized into society. These are the same numerals (Indic-Arabic numerals) that we use today: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. I made a poster board for my presentation and displayed the evolution of these numerals which were used in different parts of the Muslim world – Spain, Baghdad, Cairo, etc. – and eventually in Europe. The Europeans used this numerical system since it was an easier way to compute numbers rather than using Roman Numerals! Could you imagine Roman Numerals on your cell phones or using them to make calculations at the store? This was an enormous achievement which is still evident today, but there are some extremely biased and anti-Islamic historians who say that the Muslims “stole” the brilliance of the numeric system from the Indians. It would be a faulty accusation to state that the Muslims arrogantly claimed that the numerals were an Islamic invention. Anyone who studies the actual history will learn that Al-Khwarizmi was thirsting for knowledge and learning. He was in a library in the great city of Baghdad where he came upon the texts of Indian mathematicians. Al-Khwarizmi ordered the Sanskrit texts to be translated into Arabic and once they were, he acknowledged the genius of the Indian mathematician. One of his works attributed the invention to Indians even in the title: Kitab al-Jam wal tafriq bi-hisab al-Hind – “The Book of Addition and Subtraction to the Hindu Calculation.” Another profound discovery Al-Khwarizmi made from the Hindu mathematicians was the number “zero”, which did not exist in Roman Numerals. The term “zero” started as “sunya” in Sanskrit which means “void” and “empty”. In Arabic it is “sifr”, and in Italian “zefiro”, and finally “zero” in French. Not only was this a huge breakthrough in mathematics, but also in the fields of engineering, technology, astronomy, philosophy, and even in theology. In respect to theology, the “zero” – nothingness – taught Al-Khwarizmi that reason and revelation ultimately leads us to the same source (i.e. God). Reason and revelation, or Intellect and Love, must coexist. This was also a fascinating topic all throughout the Islamic world (and eventually beyond) because it re-confirmed the Qur’anic declaration that God is in the numeral (see Qur’an 72:28 and footnotes below) as well as how God created us out of “nothing”:

“Did the human being forget that we created him already, and he was nothing.(Qur’an19:67)

God reveals Himself in numbers, the physical world, as much as He reveals Himself through the Unseen. This is the way of Islamic living, to use both the practical mind and the feeling heart. Where does Reason and Love spring from? Where is their Source? Certainly God is the Source and He blesses us with these capabilities. If one is simply Loving, then how will he know his boundaries, how will he know his limits? If one is simply Reasoning, then how will he know that to overcome his doubts, he would have to listen to his heart? How will he find Happiness? Certainly, the notion of living forever is not logical or rational; it comes from revelation, from Faith. This intercommunication of Reasoning and Love is the balance that Muslims strive to establish.

It is also worth mentioning the significance of algorithms. They are a set of numerical calculations and instructions that produce various kinds of results when carried out. Algorithms are critical to computers, programming, engineering, and software design. Without algorithms, typing this blog entry (or using a computer at that) would not be possible! As mentioned earlier, Algebra is probably the greatest of all of Al-Khwarizmi’s achievements because it is considered the first step into moving mathematics from the physical to the abstract. In other words, mathematics wasn’t just about counting how many items you purchased or calculating the cost anymore, it would extend far beyond physicality. As stated by Michael H. Morgan, author of “Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists”, Al-Khwarizmi’s new ways of calculating will “enable the building of a 100 story towers and mile-long buildings, calculating the point at which a space probe will intersect with the orbits of one of Jupiter’s moons, the reactions of nuclear physics… intelligence of software, and the confidentiality of a mobile phone conversation.”

His other achievements included writings on astronomy and a treatise on the Jewish/Hebrew calender. A lot of Al-Khwarizmi’s contributions to the world as we know it has been forgotten. Many historians agree that the European Renaissance would not have shaped in the way it did if it were not for the accomplishments of great Muslim thinkers like Al-Khwarizmi. Nowadays, when we watch anything about the war, we tend to see a clash of civilizations, but we do not see the forgotten history; we do not see how both East and West have learned and developed from one another. Insha’Allah, if others have found this entry intriguing and enjoyable, I will continue to post more about the great Islamic contributions to the world.

It’s sad at how the Muslim world is crumbling these days because of war and disunity. The fact that Al-Khwarizmi was Persian and a Shia Muslim represents the level of tolerance and coexistence that was enjoyed during the reign of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad. This is the kind of unity that needs to be established in the current Muslim world. I believe the young Muslims, especially in the West, have serious potential to resurrect the spirit of our ancestors! Insha’Allah, may we all strive for that.

Avicenna and The Floating Man (or Woman)


Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn ‘Abdallah ibn Sina
was one of the great Muslim scientists and thinkers during the Islamic Golden Age in the 11th Century. He was known as Ibn Sina in the Muslim world, and “Avicenna” in Europe when his works were later translated into Latin. Though he exercised his skills at mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy, he was mainly known for his developments and discoveries in medicine. It’s interesting to note how this 11th century Persian Muslim and physician believed that the only way to understand the functioning of the human body was through scientific testing and observation. He felt that theories contained no value unless proven. He also believed that tuberculosis was infectious, while the Europeans rejected this belief for about 400 years; Avicenna was eventually proven right hundreds of years later by European physicians and scientists.

One new fascinating aspect that I recently learned about Avicenna is how his work touched upon ideas that were later developed by Carl Jung and Norman Cousins. As author Michael H. Morgan writes, “[Avicenna's] theories about the mind will prove remarkably prescient, finding expression some 900 years later in modern psychology as well as science fiction.” One of Avicenna’s most famous philosophical theories describes the human mind-body connection and how man has awareness of his own existence despite not knowing his surroundings or environment. In his “Floating Man” argument, Avicenna writes:

“Imagine, a man floating in a room with zero sensory input, no sound, no gravity, no sensation of any kind, floating in complete darkness, no sensation even of his own body because no part of his body touches any other part — say the man was created this way, would he be capable of thought? Can the human mind have thoughts without any external sensory input? If so, what would this man be thinking? Would the floating man have awareness of anything?”

Avicenna answers: “Yes, even though the man has no awareness of his environment, or anything external to himself, he would at least be aware of his own existence.” It’s interesting to note how this idea is a precursor to Rene Descartes’s famous philosophical statement: “I think, therefore I am.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my own existence and questioning what reality is. These existential thoughts are notorious for being looped-thoughts, i.e. it just keeps leading you back to where you started in the first place, until you just eventually go insane. But mysticism is different from existentialism because it emphasizes more on ideas that encourage us to reflect upon our self, who we are, where we are, and where we are going. I’m sure we’ve all thought strange things like “what if all of this is a dream?” or “what if nothing is real at all?” We get caught up in these questions that we almost become numb to feeling the Beauty that exists in our reality. This is one of the many reasons why I believe that if there is no Love, then reality is false. Without the heart being open and receptive to Love, reality is one big lie, one cannot see the Sun, smell the flowers, or hear the music. He may be breathing and thinking, but is he alive?

Like Avicenna’s floating man, we may be aware of our existence, but how many of us are cherishing the Beauties that Allah has created for all of us? People rush to school, rush to meet deadlines, rush to work, get stuck in rush hour every day, come home and eat, and then go to sleep, only to wake up the next morning and repeat the same process over again. Are these beings really alive if they have no knowledge of who they are, what their purpose is, and how to establish a relationship with God? By no fault of our own, we humans live in such a chaotic, operatic, and busy world. We try to say our prayers, we try to stay mindful, but those external forces tend to obstruct us from getting closer to our dreams. In the Holy Qur’an, God speaks of the Divine Signs and how there are always around us, and they not only exist in every Created thing, but also in the Unseen World — the World of Feeling. But what happens when someone finds that Great Love that we all long for, and then loses it to mystery? Does he/she fall only to rise up again, or does he/she become like the floating man: hanging in darkness, unaware of his surroundings, and trying to find his/her self again?

I want to smile. We all deserve to.

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