Critics of U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution Overlook Opportunities for Global Dialogue

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Much is being made about the U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution, which calls upon member nations, including the United States, to combat defamation of religion — Islam in particular.  Critics of the resolution include CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who describes the opposition against the resolution as a “fight for free speech,” author Christopher Hitchens, and Islamophobes around the blogosphere who scathingly label the resolution a step towards “spreading Sharia law to the West.”

The resolution, “Combating the Defamation of Religion,” was adopted in 2007 and “stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.”  Unsurprisingly, religious groups and free-speech advocates in the United States accuse the resolution of impeding on constitutional rights such as freedom of expression.  John Bolton, former U.N. Ambassador, comments:  “It’s obviously intended to have an intimidating effect on people expressing criticism of radical Islam, and the idea that you can have a defamation of a religion like this, I think, is a concept fundamentally foreign to our system of free expression in the United States.”

I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers terming this issue “freedom under fire” and I see a lot of Islamophobes pouncing on it since it “scores points” for their “argument” that Muslims want to “impose Sharia law.”  What I see missing from these reactions are efforts to engage in global dialogue between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.  Rather than recognizing the importance of much-needed dialogue, Lou Dobbs and Christopher Hitchens spend about seven minutes defending freedom of expression, accusing the U.N. of being a “totalitarian” and “authoritarian organization,” and resorting to typical fear-mongering tactics by saying there are “Muslims who are prepared to use violence at the drop of a hat.”  Dobbs and Hitchens present us with a very singular, misconstrued, and stereotypical perspective on the situation instead of acknowledging social problems such as annually rising hate crimes and discriminatory acts against Muslims in the West, which clearly contribute to the formation of this particular U.N. resolution.

The fact of the matter is that this is a very complicated issue.  Personally, I find the U.N. anti-blasphemy resolution flawed.  Although the resolution aims to prevent violence and discrimination against people of any religious background, I believe the defamation laws can be abused by governments.  Individuals should be allowed to express their views and opinions about religions and cultures without worrying about being criminalized.  I am not against the idea of people criticizing Islam; surely everyone is entitled to their opinion, but what I am against is dehumanization and vilification of religions and entire groups of people.  There is a difference between constructive criticism and hate speech, the latter has the potential to lead to discrimination and hate crimes.  One could argue that organizations like the KKK are entitled to “freedom of speech,” but when they advocate violence towards African-Americans, it no longer complies with the American constitution.

The “Combating the Defamation of Religion” resolution was introduced by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  The fact that the resolution stems from a Muslim organization should indicate the importance of dialogue rather than perceiving the idea as an attempt to “impose Sharia law in the West.”  As I mentioned, I do not support the resolution, but I think it raises an important opportunity for Muslim and non-Muslim communities to achieve a richer and empathetic understanding about issues related to vilification of Islam in mainstream media, pop culture, and newspapers.  During the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan in 2007, for example, the Clarion Fund decided to distribute millions of anti-Islamic DVDs entitled “Obsession” to swing states in the U.S.  Although there are those who continue to argue that the film is an exercise of “freedom of expression,” the larger issue that is often ignored is how Islamophobic imagery was distributed on a massive scale.  Whenever Muslims protested against the DVD and wrote letters to their newspapers, they were often accused of being “over-sensitive” or “impeding on American values.”  Muslim voices were hardly given a chance to voice their own opinions about the DVD and how it made them feel.  Instead, their voices were lost and dumped into a box of Islamophobic generalizations.

The argument that people like Dobbs and Hitchens don’t seem interested in is that dehumanization and vilification of a religion and/or entire group of people is an inevitable companion of war.  In other words, in order to successfully rally supporters for war, one needs to establish an immensely contrasting divide between “us” and “them.”  Demonizing the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the Danish cartoons is an example of attacking the very heart of Muslims and reinforcing the “differences” between non-Muslims and Muslims, not just in the Islamic world, but also within the West.  The Danish cartoons also generated such a negative perception and attitude towards the Prophet Muhammad that CAIR (the Council for American-Islamic Relations) mobilized to hold seminars to educate and enlighten non-Muslims about the truth of the Prophet.  Muslims wouldn’t have held educational programs if they weren’t so concerned about the general public’s perception of their religion after the Danish cartoons and riots.  The mainstream media didn’t seem to be concerned with these stories because they were too busy covering the violent riots in the Muslim world.  The inability to empathize with the sentiments of Muslims all over the world (including in the West) represents a failure to establish communication and understanding.

It is important for freedom of speech to be protected, but when Muslim-Americans experience ignorance, verbal abuse, physical assault, and vandalism, it is society’s responsibility to recognize that they, like every other American citizen, deserve to be treated equally regardless of their skin color, culture, and religious background.  Sensitive issues need to be discussed fairly and openly between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, otherwise stereotypes and misunderstandings will continue to persist.  Islamophobic rhetoric and blindly defending “free speech” are just obstacles and barriers that are created to prevent necessary dialogue.  If people like Lou Dobbs and Christopher Hitchens took the opportunity to engage in respectful and open-minded discussions with Muslim-Americans, they may empathize with how Islamophobic material, like the Danish cartoons and the “Obsession” DVD, have been used to bully, harass, and discriminate against Muslims in the West.

In the end,  it is not simply a matter of “freedom of speech.”  It’s a matter of understanding one another better.  The Muslim-American experience needs to stop being treated as something “foreign;” on the contrary it is an American story that isn’t being given enough voice.  As Muslim students, who protested the Danish cartoons in Washington D.C., wrote on their banners, “Freedom of Speech Does Not Equal Freedom to Hate.”

No Street Hockey at the Islamic Games?

It really doesn’t surprise me that there won’t be any street hockey matches for the 2009 Islamic Games in New Jersey.  What can I say, most Muslims just don’t seem to play hockey at all.  This is something I’ve been noticing all of my life.  Whenever I go to my cousins’ house, they’re up for playing either basketball, soccer, football, and of course, cricket.  Others are into baseball.  Or tennis.  Or badminton.  Or volleyball.  But hockey?  Forget about it.

I’m one of the coordinators for my Mosque’s Youth Club and we usually play basketball every Sunday because that’s what most of the kids want to play.  I always join in even though my shot accuracy is terrible, lol.  I’ll play just about any sport, even if I’m not very good at it, but roller hockey is my favorite sport.  I remember the look on one of the Youth coordinator’s face when my Muslim friend and I told him that we were going to play hockey after Jummah prayer.  It was one of those looks that your fellow Muslim brother/sister gives you before telling you something is haram.  But he didn’t say it was haram, alhamdullilah lol :)

I Love roller hockey.  I Love skating around and turning; I Love stick-handling, passing, and deking out the goalie.  The fast pace of the game is just so much fun.  In my feeble attempts to attract my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters to hockey, I tell them it’s not that different from soccer!  You know, instead of kicking a ball into a net, you’re hitting it with a stick.  And you’re on roller blades.  Okay, maybe they’re not completely alike, but it’s still a fun sport!

Anyway, my friends and I used to play roller hockey almost every single day when we were in high school.  After we’d get home from school, we would go out to the tennis court and play hockey.  About two months ago, we started to play hockey again after about three or four years!  Now, we play at least two times a week.  It’s really great to be playing again, especially when I’m playing with my friends.  We don’t play a rough game — we never have — because we know we would like to wake up the next morning with our arms and legs intact.  I never played ice hockey, even though I’ve ice skated a lot before.  My brother played for a league and it was quite physical, which is one of the reasons I didn’t want to play it.  I always like to joke that I’m better than my brother, but in all honesty, he’s extremely talented, masha’Allah.  He led his league in points and goals, and he scored the game-winning goal to win his team the championship.

As for the NHL, some of my friends are still really into it, but I can’t get into it anymore.  None of my favorite players are playing anymore.  Even my playing style today still has influences of Eric Lindros and John Leclair, who were both my favorite players.  Recently, however, my brother told me about this fellow playing for the Washington Capitals:  Alexander Ovechkin.  I heard people talking about him so much that I finally decided to look him up on YouTube.  And wow, I think I’m going to start watching NHL games just to see him play.  Watch the video above and check out the goal he scores at 2:36.  It’s insane!  It actually reminds me of one of my “memorable” hockey moments, lol.

Ok, true story.  I played for a roller hockey league back in high school.  My dad, with his Pakistani mustache, was our team’s coach believe it or not, and my brother and I played on the same line together.  We won two championships, which my dad likes to attribute to himself.  “See what happens when you listen to me,” he says (and still says).   Anyway, so it was a tie game and it was taking forever for either team to score.  I believe it was in the third period, but our team shot the ball down in the other team’s end.  I started to skate really fast towards the ball, which was on the far right side of the net.  I honestly don’t know what I was thinking, lol.  There was no angle at the net at all, and yet I was charging for the ball.  As I got closer, I was just like, “oh God, this is going to suck.”  Because I knew I was going to wipe out since I’m horrible at stopping when I’m going that fast!  So, since I figured I was going to fall to the ground, I decided I was just going to shoot the ball towards the net.  Here goes:  3, 2, 1…

WACK!  I took a swing at the ball, cinematically flew to the ground, and slammed into the boards.  Yep, I made myself look like an idiot.  As my teammate came to help me get to my feet, he had this amazed look on his face.  And in his suburban accent, he was like, “Awh man, that was an awesome goal!  That was sick!”  I was just like, huh?!  It went in?!  But how?!  I had like no angle at all!  Apparently I did!  I admit though, I got lucky with that one.  I think my shot accuracy is pretty darn good, but hey, not that good!  So yeah, Ovechkin’s goal reminded me of that.

Anyway, it doesn’t bother me that there aren’t any street hockey tournaments at the Islamic Games, it just makes me wonder if Muslim interests in basketball and soccer are socialized.  It’s not just Muslims, I’ve also noticed non-Muslim Middle-Easterners and South Asians who are into basketball and soccer too, but I never see them playing hockey.  Maybe it’s cultural?  Or maybe if I go to Canada, I’ll see more Muslims into hockey (I was in Canada recently, but not long enough to see whether or not Muslims play hockey).

Oh well, I’m still excited about the Islamic Games.  I’m excited about being a coach.  I’ll wear my suit and tie and yell from the sidelines like Al Pacino :P

Deconstructing an Islamophobe

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Over at Beliefnet, there are plenty of Islamophobes who have the nerve to blame Muslims and Islam for what happened to Aasiya Zubair. I saw one comment that just really set me off and I couldn’t help but to respond. His original comment will be posted first, and below that, I will paste my little deconstruction. I hope he reads it so he can see how ignorant he is. Maybe he’ll laugh at himself too :P

Original post by Islamophobe (signed under the name “Me”):

Ah, the irony. I can sympathize with Broken Mystic regarding his fears of prejudice in the U.S. Yet as a Caucasian American citizen, I know the reality of the situation – the U.S. is clearly one of the safest and sanest places in the world for people of any color, ethnicity or religion.

Nearly everywhere else in the world, and certainly in the vast majority of Muslim-dominant countries, I would be threatened with much more than prejudice – how about loss of life and limb? How about jail time, beatings and – if you’re lucky – deportation, for foreigners who unwittingly offend Allah vis-a-vis some local “holy” man’s personal interpretation of Muslim Law?

Sad as it is, prejudice is a fact of life. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – historically speaking – you may face more scrutiny in a given situation than another individual. There is no use in dwelling on this fact and repeatedly whining about how unfair life is. Life IS unfair, to all people, at all times, in one way or another. So, moving on.

I’m glad to see Mr. Poonawalla’s commitment to ending violence, regardless of it’s form or location. I would encourage him – and all Muslim Americans – to prioritize even higher the need to address the incredible amount of violence and destruction caused by followers of his religion worldwide at this point in time. I’m no religious bigot. In fact, I could care less which dogma a person follows as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to lead a peaceful, productive life in the manner that I choose.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with most of our major religions at some point, today’s Islam is awash with ignorance, brutality, bigotry, incredibly harsh treatment of women, and a populist movement which seeks to force a particularly nasty strain of the religion on every person worldwide at the point of the sword, the bomb, the bullet, or the stone.

Someday, billions of average everyday people who happen to follow the Prophet but otherwise want nothing more than to lead a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, will wake up and look around at what they’ve allowed their religion to become. It will happen slowly, in small pockets, and it will happen from within. The destruction, the violence, the outright murder will simply become so overwhelming that even the typical “average” Muslim won’t be able to deal with the guilt and shame any longer.

Neither the U.S. nor any other military power will have much of an effect on this process. In the short-term, in fact, it will likely result in the kind of backlash we’re seeing today but in even larger numbers. But again, all this (the wars, the terrorists, the violence) is simply a sort of window-dressing that provides a backdrop to the ebb and flow of religious struggles throughout the history of mankind. It’s scary to me how few people understand this. Sooner or later (probably later), as any first year history student could predict, the violence will ebb, the pain will lessen, the conflict will cool, and rationality will begin – however slowly – to re-exert its hold on the minds of the many Muslims who are simply too scared, too ignorant, too poor, too beaten down, or whatever to think logically in the face of the insane mutterings of many of the religions current leaders.

So, here’s my appeal to all of you obviously intelligent and thoughtful people out there: forget about the nay-saying, quit the whining, get past the fear, the threats and the knee-jerk one-liners (e.g., “you won’t find other religions doing that” – read a history book AmWiser, they’ve ALL done it in the name of ignorance at one time or another, and we’re just damn lucky that we live in a place and time where our dominant relgions and social constructs don’t allow the insanity to happen here).

Here’s what you can do with all that hot air you’re expending talking about who’s more peaceful, who’s religion is more charitable, less violent, and more open-minded. Take the time and energy used in that dubious venture and direct it towards a productive effort to counteract the status quo.

Write, speak, and otherwise communicate in any way you can to anyone at all that will listen – but most importantly Muslims like Mr. Poonawalla who have influence and the ability to to use it effectively – the message that only Muslims can solve this problem. Only Muslims will change their own “churh”. Encourage them, one and all, to stand up by the billions in the face of the angry, violent and deadly surge of destruction their religion has become, and denounce it in such a way as to leave no one in doubt about their feelings and their intentions.

Every Muslim Man, Woman and Child has the right and the responsibility to cry out against the evil and the bloodshed propogated on the world under the names of Allah and the Prophet. There is no other way, no simpler path, no magic solution and no other process by which Islam can be redirected towards its original objectives – bringing Man And God closer to one another and preparing the mind and soul of Man to sit with His Savior in peace for eternity.

By whatever name one’s god is called, by whatever words have been used to justify a variety of actions that never were or could have possibly been envisioned by that religions prophets, peace and love are the truest and highest callings of our modern religions. It’s just a fact that some would rather ignore this concept to focus on the minutiae of religious laws, contradictory and difficult to understand sayings, and enmity towards one group or another versus dropping their arms (as in rifles) and spending more time in the synagogue, the church, or the mosque.

It’s really so much more demanding of one’s intellect to become educated, to direct one’s life towards a higher level of understanding about one’s religion, neighbors, and world. It actually takes an effort to think critically about what is important and what is not.

And when millions upon millions of one’s fellow believers are spewing forth filth, ignorance and cruelty in the time honored fashion of the morally bankrupt everywhere – it’s more than just difficult to stand up and speak out. It’s very likely to be dangerous, even deadly.

It’s time for every Muslim to make a choice: to take action to move the religion forward towards more enlightment, or let it erode into a barbaric nightmare of hatred and violence that may last for countless generations.

And, it’s time for every American to stand up against violence and ignorance in every way, including bigotry towards the followers of the Prophet, the vast majority of whom simply want to raise their children in peace, teach them justice, and watch them grow into the adults who will inherit all their hopes, dreams and aspirations. If you are NOT a Muslim, your duty in this time and place in history is to help every Muslim you can to facilitate the dream of all of us who live in the world of sanity – to live a peaceful, prosperous and productive life while seeking wisdom and spreading love througout the world.

I’ll end with a quote from an unknown author that seemed appropriate -

Time will soon teach you what you were ignorant of

Response by Broken Mystic:

LOL @ “Me”

You wrote: “I can sympathize regarding fears of prejudice in the U.S. Yet as a Caucasian American citizen, I know the reality of the situation – the U.S. is clearly one of the safest and sanest places in the world for people of any color, ethnicity or religion.”

Translation: “That sucks that you’re afraid of prejudice, but hey, America is the best country in the whole world so it’s best for you to shut your mouth.”

You wrote: “Nearly everywhere else in the world, and certainly in the vast majority of Muslim-dominant countries, I would be threatened with much more than prejudice”

Translation: “So if I see a Muslim getting beat up in a hate crime in the United States, I’ll just pat him on the back and say, ‘hey buddy, Muslim countries discriminate against non-Muslims all the time!’ Can’t help you with this one!”

You wrote: “Sad as it is, prejudice is a fact of life. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – historically speaking – you may face more scrutiny in a given situation than another individual.”

Translation: “With wars going on in Muslim countries these days, it just sucks to be you! Sorry Muslims!”

You wrote: “I’m glad to see Mr. Poonawalla’s commitment to ending violence, regardless of it’s form or location. I would encourage him – and all Muslim Americans – to prioritize even higher the need to address the incredible amount of violence and destruction caused by followers of his religion worldwide at this point in time.”

Translation: “This was a nice little blog entry, but since I know EVERYTHING about Muslims despite not visiting Mosques on a weekly basis, I’m pretty darn sure that Muslims don’t prioritize stuff and don’t speak out against violence! I know they don’t speak out because I don’t see it on TV! If its not on TV, it doesn’t happen!”

You wrote: “Unfortunately, as has been the case with most of our major religions at some point, today’s Islam is awash with ignorance, brutality, bigotry, incredibly harsh treatment of women, and a populist movement which seeks to force a particularly nasty strain of the religion on every person worldwide at the point of the sword, the bomb, the bullet, or the stone.”

Translation: “Basically, Islam is a violent religion that promotes brutality, bigotry, oppression of women, and forced conversions. I’m a non-Muslim, so I know everything about Islam!”

You wrote: “Someday, billions of average everyday people who happen to follow the Prophet but otherwise want nothing more than to lead a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, will wake up and look around at what they’ve allowed their religion to become.”

Translation: “The peaceful majority of Muslims are responsible for atrocious crimes like the murder of Aasiya Hassan and terrorist attacks like 9/11! Even you Muslim kids who just want to play video games and watch “Twilight” — you should be speaking out against terrorism because you’re Muslim!”

You wrote: “The destruction, the violence, the outright murder will simply become so overwhelming that even the typical “average” Muslim won’t be able to deal with the guilt and shame any longer.”

Translation: “Every Muslim should feel guilty and shame for the crimes that other people did.”

You wrote: “Sooner or later (probably later), as any first year history student could predict, the violence will ebb, the pain will lessen, the conflict will cool, and rationality will begin – however slowly – to re-exert its hold on the minds of the many Muslims who are simply too scared, too ignorant, too poor, too beaten down, or whatever to think logically in the face of the insane mutterings of many of the religions current leaders.”

Translation: “In order to get people to think rationally, we need to bomb the hell out of them until the violence dies down. War is good!”

You wrote: “So, here’s my appeal to all of you obviously intelligent and thoughtful people out there: forget about the nay-saying, quit the whining, get past the fear, the threats and the knee-jerk one-liners.”

Translation: “Here’s my appeal to you over-sensitive Muslims: ignore Islamophobia, stop standing up for your civil rights, stop being so paranoid about racial profiling and the patriot act, and don’t call the police if someone threatens to blow up your Mosque or your car. It’s ok, there’s nothing to be afraid of, America is the safest country in the world!”

You wrote: “Here’s what you can do with all that hot air you’re expending talking about who’s more peaceful, who’s religion is more charitable, less violent, and more open-minded.  Take the time and energy used in that dubious venture and direct it towards a productive effort to counteract the status quo.”

Translation: “Anyone who posted something on this blog hasn’t done a single bloody thing. I know because I am God.”

You wrote: “Write, speak, and otherwise communicate in any way you can to anyone at all that will listen – but most importantly Muslims like Mr. Poonawalla who have influence and the ability to to use it effectively – the message that only Muslims can solve this problem.”

Translation: “I insulted your religion and now I’m going to tell you what to do. You should listen to me because I know what’s best for Muslims.”

You wrote: “Every Muslim Man, Woman and Child has the right and the responsibility to cry out against the evil and the bloodshed propogated on the world under the names of Allah and the Prophet.”

Translation: “Again, I reiterate, like a broken record, every single one of you Muslims — yes even the CHILDREN — are responsible for the violence in the Muslim world.”

You wrote: “There is no other way, no simpler path, no magic solution and no other process by which Islam can be redirected towards its original objectives – bringing Man And God closer to one another and preparing the mind and soul of Man to sit with His Savior in peace for eternity.”

Translation: “Let me sprinkle in some positive things about Islam just so I don’t get called an Islamophobe (even though the positive things I’m saying about Islam completely contradict everything I just said!) God bless Tokenism!”

You wrote: “By whatever name one’s god is called, by whatever words have been used to justify a variety of actions that never were or could have possibly been envisioned by that religions prophets, peace and love are the truest and highest callings of our modern religions.”

Translation: “Let me speak about peace and Love now, even though peace and Love should have led me to visit Mosques on Friday and actually listen to the sermons instead of making lousy accusations here! Yes, peace and Love. You Muslims need to learn about peace and Love.”

You wrote: “It’s really so much more demanding of one’s intellect to become educated, to direct one’s life towards a higher level of understanding about one’s religion, neighbors, and world. It actually takes an effort to think critically about what is important and what is not.”

Translation: “Muslims aren’t educated and can’t think for themselves, therefore I, a non-Muslim, have every right to tell them what to do.”

You wrote: “And when millions upon millions of one’s fellow believers are spewing forth filth, ignorance and cruelty in the time honored fashion of the morally bankrupt everywhere – it’s more than just difficult to stand up and speak out. It’s very likely to be dangerous, even deadly.”

Translation: “Since I don’t see Muslims speaking out against terror on TV, it must be because they’re freakin’ scared!”

You wrote: “It’s time for every Muslim to make a choice: to take action to move the religion forward towards more enlightment, or let it erode into a barbaric nightmare of hatred and violence that may last for countless generations.”

Translation: “The fate of the world depends upon the choices that Muslims make.”

You wrote: “And, it’s time for every American to stand up against violence and ignorance in every way, including bigotry towards the followers of the Prophet, the vast majority of whom simply want to raise their children in peace, teach them justice, and watch them grow into the adults who will inherit all their hopes, dreams and aspirations.”

Translation: “Yeah, here’s my shield against being labeled an Islamophobe. After all, I’m an intellectual man, if I only spoke badly about Muslims, I wouldn’t look very educated!”

You wrote: “If you are NOT a Muslim, your duty in this time and place in history is to help every Muslim you can to facilitate the dream of all of us who live in the world of sanity – to live a peaceful, prosperous and productive life while seeking wisdom and spreading love througout the world.”

Translation: “O’ non-Muslims, help the Muslims, just like I am by telling them what to do. Tell them what to do because they cannot think for themselves and there are no such things as Muslim leaders. Only we, non-Muslims, can lead!”

You wrote: “I’ll end with a quote from an unknown author that seemed appropriate – ‘Time will soon teach you what you were ignorant of'”

Translation: “Oh shoot, this quote actually just backfired on me! ‘Time will soon teach ME what *I* was ignorant of'”

PWND.

Hollywood Vilifies Muslims and Arabs Yet Again

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I seriously just wanted to come home today and escape from all the politics and racism in  the world.  Just for two hours.  Is that too much to ask for?

As I drove home from college, I decided to stop by at the video store — a place I haven’t been to in forever — and I browsed around for something to rent or buy.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I went home.  Or, at least, I tried to go home.  I ended up getting stuck in massive rush hour traffic.  I was literally 5 minutes away from my house, but I couldn’t get there because there was only one road open!  So it ended up taking me about 45 minutes to get home, and I’m not exaggerating!

Anyway, I wound up seeing “Taken” tonight because I heard one of my favorite filmmakers, Luc Besson, produced and wrote it.  I haven’t seen a Luc Besson film in the longest time and that’s because he rarely directs movies now.  When I was in high school, I was obsessed with his filmmaking style.  I absolutely Loved his visuals, they were really in-your-face and profound.  I was obsessed with “The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon, the Professional,” and “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.”  None of these films are in my top ten anymore, but at the time, I remember being so inspired by his work that I found myself emulating his style in my own short films.  I was recently showing some of my work to one of my best friends, and I was pointing certain shots out and saying, “Oh, that shot was inspired by Luc Besson!” or “That’s a Luc Besson jump cut!”

So yeah, why not check out what ol’ Luc Besson is up to these days, right?  “Taken” is pretty much about a retired U.S. government special forces operative (played by Liam Neeson) who tries to reestablish his bond with his 17-year-old daughter.  Then one day, she wants to go on a trip to Paris with her best friend, but her father doesn’t approve.  “It’s a dangerous world out there” he basically says.  Of course, she doesn’t listen to him and neither does his ex-wife.  “I’m going to be fine” the daughter says; “she’s 17-years-old, give her some space!” the ex-wife says.  Finally, he gives in and allows his daugther to travel overseas.  And surprise, surprise, she ends up getting kidnapped!  This is what happens, of course, when women don’t listen to men, right?  They get kidnapped by women-trafficking Albanians when they go to France.  It’s priceless when our fearless protagonist informs his ex-wife about their daughter; she has the “oh-my-god-I’m-such-a-stupid-woman-who-should-have-listened-to-my-ex-husband” face.

At this point in the film, Liam Neeson immediately transforms into an indestructible killing machine.  Cracking necks, twisting arms, chopping throats, breaking knees, knifing stomachs, shooting people in the head, parrying punches like Neo, and dodging bullets because evil foreign bad guys couldn’t possibly have the kind of shot accuracy that White people have.  Yeah, he pretty much does everything that Jason Bourne and James Bond does.  At first we think the villains are Russians.  Oh great, I thought, Russians.  Like we haven’t seen that before.  Then it turns out to be Albanians.  Oh wonderful, even better since most Albanians are Muslim.  Now this really ticked me off because my brother has a lot of Albanian friends and my cousin is getting married to an Albanian, insha’Allah.  And now I see them depicted as women-trafficking criminals?  There’s no mentioning of Islam, but there are plenty of close-ups on their “crescent moon and star” tattoos.  Hmm, I wonder what that means?

The same stereotypical images are cultivated again:  “White guy, who is also the protector-of-females, against dark-skinned people, who also happen to oppress and sell White women.”  It’s just the same old garbage recycled again and again.  How many times have we seen this dance before?  Why are we still funding movies like this?  And the worst part of the film is how it supports and glorifies the Guantanamo Bay torture tactics (pictured above).  The scene is disgustingly ethnocentric as our James-Bond-wannabe protagonist electrocutes the hell out of the Albanian character and talks about how it’s so much easier to torture in France since, as opposed to third-world countries, the power doesn’t go out.  After relentless torture, he gets his answers out of him.  Then he kills him.  Hey, torture works!  Maybe they should keep Guantanamo Bay open after all.  Thanks, Luc!

At the end of the movie, our invincible hero finds that his daughter gets purchased by an (drum roll) Arab!  Of course!  How can you make an action-packed suspense thriller without beating up some A-rabs!  Yes, a final showdown with Arabs.  Wonderful.  I think Luc Besson must have been stuck on an ending until co-writer Robert Mark Kamen came up with the ingenious idea of Arab thugs.  Luc probably got so excited, “Yeah, yeah!  Throw that in there!  People Love that s***!”  I Love the fact that the hardest guy to beat up is the dark-skinned, bearded Arab guy (who happens to have a hairstyle similar to mine, so I’m double-offended!).  It’s kind of like those video games where you reach the final boss of the whole game and he just takes forever to kill!  As they fist-fight with some insane choreography, the Arab — oh snap!! — whips out his curved Arabic blade.  Here we go, clash of civilizations right here!  But then Liam Neeson overpowers with his bare hands and forces the knife back onto him!  Dude, he stabbed the Arab with his own medieval weapon!  And of course Liam Neeson wins because, after all, he’s the main character and he’s Liam Neeson.  No one can kill Liam Nesson.   Unless you’re Darth Maul.  Or Batman.  Or some random Crusader in “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Ok, so he has died in other movies, but we know he wasn’t going to die here because Mr. Luc Besson needs to establish his point:  Good guys always prevail over Muslim and Arab scum, women should never divorce their secret government operative husbands even if they’re not around most of the time, and no one should travel overseas because the United States is the best and safest country in the whole wide world.  Not even Luc Besson, even though he’s French.

Oh I should also point out that the film likes to toss in some random Black guys for Liam Neeson to beat up.  They literally come out of nowhere!  It’s like you see him fighting Albanians, but then, whoa! Where’d that Black guy come from?!  Before you can think more about it, he gets thrown off a building or smashed through a window.  “Yes, we need some Black people in this movie,” Luc must have thought.  “Because we want Black people to watch this movie.”  Yeah, ok.  *sigh*  I just don’t get it.  I was so depressed and angry after watching this movie that I couldn’t help but feel like my efforts aren’t worth anything.  I felt like my short films, research projects, activist work, and critiques are insignificant because no matter what I do, Hollywood always has their monster-budget that will produce anything that rakes in the dough.  I felt like writing a letter to Luc Besson, but what good will that do, right?  He won’t care if he loses a fan.  Who am I?  No one.  Just some random Muslim guy whose opinion doesn’t matter.

I really just wanted to escape tonight.  I wanted to get things off my mind and just be entertained.  Once in a while, it’s nice to watch a film that isn’t so absorbing.  It’s just really discouraging how ethnocentric and racist a film can be.  All one needs to do is look at the imagery:  White man in a foreign country that is infected by other foreign people:  Albanians and Arabs.  Seriously, can I have a moment to smile?  I don’t think many people understand what it feels like to feel so uncomfortable in a movie theater when the film itself vilifies your people.  I don’t think many in the White non-Muslim community get that.

But what does Hollywood care about all of this?  Absolutely nothing.  They’re swimming in money.  They could care less about who they offend.  I’m so sick and tired of it all.

So utterly sick and tired of the unapologetic arrogance, ethnocentrism, racism, and Islamophobia…

South Asian Unity: A Priority for India and Pakistan

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Like everyone, Muslims are saddened and horrified by the recent Mumbai attacks. However, unlike everyone else, Muslims find themselves defending their religion from stereotypes, misconceptions, and bigoted accusations. It’s not an easy burden to live with — especially in Western countries like the United States — when the media not only scrutinizes and vilifies your religion, but also criticizes you for “not doing enough” to speak out against radicalism.

What’s worse is the division I’m seeing within the South Asian community, Indians and Pakistanis in particular. I was shocked and appalled at the excessive amount of anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistani bigotry written in discussion boards of South Asian internet forums and group pages on Facebook. Not only are fingers being pointed at Pakistan, but also at the religion of Islam, which has been accused continuously for teaching “hatred” and “waging war” on non-Muslims.

First, why is Pakistan being blamed when there is hardly any evidence? As we have seen in the last eight years, jumping to conclusions has resulted in foolish and deadly consequences. The fact that Indian authorities almost immediately accused Pakistan of being behind the attacks indicates that they deny and dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism. Tariq Ali, who is a Pakistani novelist, historian, and political campaigner, recently pointed out that the Deccan Mujahedeen — an extremist militant group based in India — made a claim to the Mumbai attacks. In his article on “Counter Punch,” Mr. Ali writes:

“The Deccan Mujahedeen, which claimed the outrage in an e-mail press release, is certainly a new name probably chosen for this single act. But speculation is rife. A senior Indian naval officer has claimed that the attackers (who arrived in a ship, the M V Alpha) were linked to Somali pirates, implying that this was a revenge attack for the Indian Navy’s successful if bloody action against pirates in the Arabian Gulf that led to heavy casualties some weeks ago.”

When I looked at my local newspaper, the article on the Mumbai attacks used the following words to describe Pakistan: “volatile,” “rival,” and “archrival.” And I’m sure many of us remember President-elect Barack Obama warning Pakistan that if they are “unable or unwilling” to fight terrorism, then the U.S. will invade the region (which they already have under the Bush administration).

This hostility and antagonism towards Pakistan is irresponsible. For one, Pakistan has been fighting Taliban militants in North-Western Pakistan since 2004, and according to “Times Online” Pakistan has lost about “1,000 soldiers fighting militants in border mountains that have never come under the control of any government.” Thomas Houlahan wrote a brilliant piece for “The Middle-East Times” titled “Pakistan: Separating the Facts from the Myths” where he criticizes the media for reporting a lot of misinformation about Pakistan. He writes:

“Pakistan has lost more civilians in the war on terror than the United States; Pakistan has lost more troops killed in fighting insurgents than every foreign contingent in Afghanistan combined. These facts fly in the face of the misinformation bandied about that Pakistan is soft on terror.”

Houlahan has also pointed out that “more than one in four insurgents killed in the Afghanistan/Pakistan insurgency (4,500 of 16,500) has been killed by Pakistani security forces.” Last night, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Asif Zardari, appeared on Larry King Live and stated that Pakistan had no involvement with the Mumbai attacks. Furthermore, Zardari insisted that he looked forward to building peaceful relations with their Indian neighbors. Despite these facts and condemnations by Pakistani officials, one must question why the media and even the newly elected President of the United States are skeptical about Pakistan’s commitment to the “War on Terror.” Pakistan has been doing America’s dirty work since September 11th, 2001, and has suffered on several occasions for it. We seem to have forgotten about the recent Marriott Hotel bombing in Pakistan on September 20th, 2008.

To see this kind of division and hostility take shape among every day Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and others is discouraging and unsettling. None of us are responsible for what happened in Mumbai and none of us are trying to justify what happened, but when the media starts to influence our fellow South Asians into thinking that “Islamofascisim” or “Islamic Jihad” is simply about killing non-Muslims, particularly Hindus and Jews, then it is imperative for us to engage in mature and civilized dialogue. Because of the fact that a Jewish Center was attacked in India, many perceive this attack to be an “attack on the West,” but what’s so problematic about this assertion is that it completely ignores and overlooks the real factors involved.

Before I continue, it is important to understand that I am not justifying what happened in Mumbai or anywhere else. It’s not about justification, it’s about understanding, and only through understanding can we find the root cause of the problem and develop real strategies to solve them. Rather than chanting war slogans like “Bomb Pakistan!” why don’t we ask intelligent questions as to why an atrocity like this happened? If there is anything that I expect the West and other nations to learn, it’s this: Bombing another nation will only make matters worse; it radicalizes people and creates more violence. This is evidenced clearly in the Iraq war.

Has anyone bothered to ask, “who were the militants” or “who was in that hotel” or “what drives such people to attack innocent people?” Many right-wing pundits will simply say these militants are driven by the teachings of Islam. This kind of ignorance generates mythologies. Mythologies such as “Hindus and Muslims have been fighting for centuries.” Really? Since when? Widespread violence between Hindus and Muslims didn’t start until the 19th century. Prior to that, Muslims, Hindus, and others enjoyed coexistence in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. This is not to say there wasn’t any violence – of course there were under particular Muslim rulers – but for the most part, large scale violence between the communities occurred after British colonialism. Other mythologies formulate, such as “Jews and Muslims have been fighting forever.” Again, since when? Much of the antagonism and wars between Muslims and Jews started during and after the creation of Israel. Prior to that, Muslims and Jews coexisted for centuries, especially in Jerusalem. Before Muslims ruled the city, Jews were exiled out of Jerusalem. Muslim leaders like Umar ibn al-Khattab and Salah Al-Din invited the Jews back into the city (may God be pleased with them).

Without understanding the struggles of Muslims in regions like Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even India, we won’t be about to solve the problems. But what’s frustrating for many Muslims is that the media only uses the word “terrorism” for one group of people: Muslims. In 2002, over 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the Indian State of Gujarat, while hundreds of Muslim women were gang raped. The worst part is that the government was complicit in these horrible crimes and many of the victims have yet to receive justice. Where was the mainstream western media when those atrocities were committed? Did we hear the media call the assailants “Hindu extremists?” Over 200,000 Muslims were butchered in the Serbian genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, but the Serbians were never called “Christian terrorists.” When over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcefully evicted out of their homes by the Israeli military, the Israeli soldiers were never called “Jewish terrorists.” When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the media neglected to report that he was a member of the extremist “Christian Identity Movement.” The Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings never provoked people to point fingers at a religion or even use the word “terrorist” to describe the shooters, but if the perpetrators were Muslim, you could count on the media to label them “Muslim terrorists.”

So why does the media ignore horrible acts of violence when they are committed against Muslims? Why does our government refuse to make efforts to understand why terrorism occurs in the first place? What is probably more disturbing than anything else is government-sponsored terrorism because it hides behind the guise of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “justice.” When things are made more systematic and acceptable, the more chances it has of being unnoticed.

Lastly, more than anything, Indians and Pakistanis have to stop pointing fingers and blaming each other. We can’t allow that kind of hatred and prejudice to present itself in our communities. We have to stand together, ask the right questions, and find the root cause of the problems. Only then will we be able to effectively prevent horrible atrocities – committed by all groups of people – from happening again.

Salaam, Namaste, Sat Sri Akal, Peace.

~Broken Mystic~

You Cannot Believe Without Questioning

There is no doubt that Barack Obama dominated the first Presidential debate against John McCain. Obama was confident in his responses and he completely hammered McCain with a solid plan for improving the U.S. economy, while McCain looked tense and countered with unsubstantial responses. Most notably, perhaps, was how McCain didn’t make eye contact with Obama once, which I interpret as being incredibly disrespectful and immature. As other political commentators and analysts have pointed out, McCain’s debating style personalizes the differences between both candidates. In other words, by not making eye contact or addressing Obama directly, McCain reaffirms his self-perceived dominance over Obama, but he also alludes to Obama being his “opponent” (or even “enemy” according to the Bush Doctrine’s your-either-with-me-or-against-me sermon). Obama, on the other hand, looked at McCain directly and even addressed him by his first name, “John.” Obama even looked into the camera to address the viewers, which I believe earned him a significant boost in the debate.

But there are issues to discuss and question, especially for the Muslim community. There can be no argument that Muslim-Americans have been stigmatized ever since September 11th, but even more so after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. When both candidates talk about the “spirit of national unity” after September 11th, this may be true for most Americans, but it is certainly not true for the Muslim community. There have been over 3,000 reported incidents regarding discriminatory acts, hate crimes, and prejudice towards Muslim-Americans, and neither of the candidates have spoken about it. Obama seemed to allude to it during the debate when he mentioned the world’s perception of American has changed significantly as a result of the wars, but he didn’t mention the repercussions Muslim-Americans have experienced and still endure.

When it comes to Iran, Obama is right in his approach of strong diplomacy, while McCain wants to paint Iran as an “existential threat” to Israel and the West. While Obama pointed out that Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the most powerful man in Iran, he didn’t point out another key fact and that is this: Ahmadinejad never said “wipe Israel off the map.” This is an over-used slogan for war – you repeat it enough times, it becomes true. The Guardian’s article “Lost in Translation” cites four different translations – which include professors, the BBC news network, the New York Times, and even the often anti-Islamic and pro-Israel news station called MEMRI – and none of the translations contain the word for “map.” What Ahmadinejad actually said was, “The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” The Iranian President was clearly referring to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands, which has created a lot of Arab and Muslim bitterness and antagonism towards Israel and the West. This is an extremely important issue that the West needs to understand if they are truly interested in establishing peace in the Muslim world. Obama seems more likely to acknowledge this issue, while McCain seems determined on attacking Iran since its acquisition of Nuclear Weapons is such an “existential threat.” I wonder if McCain bothers to think about how many countries in the world, especially Muslim countries, feel threatened by the U.S. possessing nuclear weapons. I do not support Ahmadinejad or any of his views, but the truth of the matter is that the U.S. has no right to invade or bomb Iran. I feel it would serve a great benefit to both candidates, as well as to the people of the world, if they actually watched Ahmadinejad’s interview with NBC news anchor, Brian Williams.

When the issue of Pakistan came into the picture, McCain accused Obama of wanting to invade the country. “You don’t invade an ally,” McCain said, “You don’t do that.” Obama responded and stated, “No one said anything about invading Pakistan.” This may seem to debunk McCain’s accusation, but Obama continued and said that there needs to be more U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan since Al-Qaeda forces are “in those mountains.” He also said that if Pakistan was not willing to cooperate, then the U.S. would intervene and take out Al-Qaeda. The problem with this tactic is that it contradicts Obama’s foreign policy with Iran. Obama has stated before that he will hold a congregation of all the Muslim leaders and discuss with them what needs to be done. Communication is essential in building strong alliances, and lack of communication is the reason why there is so much tension between the East and West. And yet, despite his aspirations for strong diplomacy, Obama’s statements towards Pakistan are hostile and accusatory. His tone and choice of words vilify Pakistan, which unnerves Pakistanis and generates suspicions about Obama’s intentions. Pakistan has lost a lot of soldiers while combating extremist factions and doing America’s dirty work. Pakistan has been disrespected by the American press numerous times, including in a political cartoon where a dog was labeled “Pakistan.” Every Pakistani knows how huge of an insult “dog” is.

What troubles me is when I see my fellow Muslims reducing themselves to the exhaustive “terrorism” rhetoric. “Terrorism” is a word used by contemporary politicians and the media to describe only one group of people: Muslims. Consider the Virginia Tech shooting, or the Amish school shooting in 2006, or the Church shooting in Missouri, or the Omaha mall shooting – were the perpetrators ever called “terrorists”? What about Ariel Sharon, who was responsible for massacring thousands of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps? What about George W. Bush who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S., Iraqi, and Afghan causalities? Despite how they terrorized people, the answer is “no,” they are not called terrorists. But if they were Muslim, don’t you believe the media would pounce on that and label them “terrorists?” Obama should not be concerned with putting pressure on the Pakistanis or threatening to attack them, but instead, he should be focusing on building an alliance with them and understanding why the extremist factions are opposing Pakistani leadership. These extremist groups identify with the Palestinian and Iraqi struggles, and therefore they oppose any affiliation or cooperation with the United States because the U.S. government funds the Israeli military and also has soldiers stationed in Islamic countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. There are also reports that President Bush secretly approved orders in July of 2008 to permit American Special Operations to carry out ground assaults in Pakistan without approval from the Pakistani government. Without taking these issues into consideration, neither Obama nor McCain will fully understand why violence ensues in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I agree with most of Obama’s policies, including his policy on cutting taxes for the middle class, and making college and health care affordable for citizens, but this doesn’t mean that I cannot criticize him. I know there are a lot of Muslims who support Obama, but you shouldn’t hesitate to say he is wrong on certain issues like Pakistan. Don’t be afraid to disagree – no one is perfect, and that includes politicians and world leaders. I will not blindly follow someone, and no one else should. For eight years, we have been criticizing the Bush administration and calling those who support him as blind followers, so the last thing we want ourselves to become is blind followers of Obama. Like everything in life, we cannot believe in something unless we ask the right questions first.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” – Malik Al-Shabazz (Malcolm X)

Salaam/Peace

~ Broken Mystic~

Rudy Giuliani’s Islamophobic Remarks

As I was driving home from school the other night, I tuned into NPR and listened to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention (RNC).  I found most of the speeches to be pretty typical and generic; nothing out of the ordinary or spectacular.  Sometimes, I really don’t understand how some American citizens (or citizens of any country) can be so trustworthy of politicians who constantly glorify the candidates they favor.  I understand support, but when you glorify someone, you paint such a perfect image of them, as if they are saints, super-human, or without faults.  And in the realm of politics, who would want to elect a leader who admits his/her flaws?  We want to vote for perfect people, right?  After all, that’s what leaders are “supposed to be,” right?

When we glorify people, we are subsequently erasing their flaws and humanity.  We are making them equivalent to Prophets (depending on your interpretation of Prophets) and even, to God Himself.  We don’t see them as human beings like ourselves; instead, we perceive ourselves as inferior, incapable, and imperfect compared to the leader.  This is why we turn to them, because we believe they possess traits, characteristics, and skills that we lack within ourselves.  This is the brainwashing of politics that I absolutely despise.  Even some of the greatest leaders that I admire like Salah Al-Din and Haroun Al-Rashid had flaws.  In fact, I admire a leader more so when he/she admits his/her mistakes.  Malcolm X for example was never afraid to announce his mistakes, and his actions reflected the kind of leader who was open and receptive to learning and improving.

As my thoughts wandered on these issues, I heard loud applause and cheers when the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, walked on stage.  At first, he made the expected remarks and criticisms of the Obama campaign, and he even encouraged the audience’s disrespectful mockery of Obama’s experience.  A few moments later, Giuliani made remarks that reminded me why I sometimes feel so insecure living in the United States.  For four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the term “Islamic terrorism,” he said loudly, while the audience booed at the Democratic party.  “I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe they will insult someone. Please tell me, who they are insulting if they say, “Islamic terrorism.” They are insulting terrorists!”  Thunderous cheers and applause followed.

As I was driving past the street lights, the gas stations, the department stores, and the neighborhoods, I felt so disconnected from everything; like I didn’t belong.  I felt like I couldn’t recognize anything for a moment.  I couldn’t help but feel discouraged, powerless, and subordinate.  The fact that thousands of people agree with Giuliani’s statements is probably the most disturbing thing to me.  It represents how prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance exists in a significant portion of the United States.  It’s too obvious for people see how the word “Islamic” automatically associates terrorism with the religion of “Islam,” and yet, Giuliani is able to follow up with some ridiculous statement that doesn’t make any sense at all!  “They are insulting terrorists”?  First he mentions “Islamic terrorism” and then he says it insults “terrorists.”  All he did was omit the “Islamic” part in the last sentence!  How hard is it to see the hypocrisy, the manipulation of words, and the brainwashing?  How hard is it to see the Islamophobia?

No, Mr. Giuliani, saying “Islamic terrorism” insults the 5-7 million Muslims living in the United States, as well as the estimated 1.4 billion Muslims around the world.  It not only reinforces misconceptions and ignorance about Islam, but it also implicates that terrorism is only conducted by Muslims.  When the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Omaha mall shootings occurred, the shooters were not described as “terrorists.”  When some Israeli soldiers bulldoze Palestinian homes, harass and murder civilians, or launch rockets into Lebanon, they are not called “terrorists.”  When some American soldiers rape young Iraqi girls, torture prisoners, and deliberately kill innocent civilians, they are not called “terrorists.”  But you can surely count on the fact that if the shooter of Virginia Tech was Muslim, the headlines would have been labeling him a “terrorist.”

As the RNC crowd cheer and applauded Giuliani for these remarks, I felt so outnumbered and hated just because of what I believe.  I felt so hated just because of who I am on the outside and on the inside.  These kind of fear tactics and word associations are what generate divisions, hatred, and violence.  It doesn’t help our society at all, especially with the way our foreign policy is now.  If you support the Republican party and Giuliani’s statements, how do you answer for this?  How can you prove to me that his remarks don’t promote Islamophobia?  How can you assure me that this will not trigger more hate crimes, stereotypes, and discriminatory acts that Muslims, including myself, experience?

Politicians say they are right with us, the people.  They say they understand the hardships and struggles that we endure.  They say they know what it’s like to pay for high gas prices or search exhaustively for a job.  They say that they’re by our sides, but the truth is, they’re not.  They don’t present themselves as fellow commoners or citizens.  They present themselves as perfect and flawless people.  They present themselves as all-knowing entities who can make declarations, laws, and judgments in a disturbingly Divine manner.  They present themselves as gods.

~ Broken Mystic ~

Sufism: A Journey Into the Heart of Islam

Lately, I’ve been receiving many questions about Sufism: “What is Sufism?” “Is it Islam?” “What does it teach?” I think there are many misconceptions about Islam’s spiritual dimension, especially from Orthodox Muslims. I decided to share some of my knowledge about Sufism in order to help clarify what it’s really all about. I hope you all find it helpful.

I think the best way to understand Sufism is to know that it is not different or separate from Islam. Sufism is Islamic mysticism (or spirituality). And mysticism is essentially one’s journey for Self, Love, and God. It’s a journey that emphasizes more on the inner struggle and dimensions of a human being, but since we’re not secluded monks, we have to also establish a bond with the outside world, i.e. our purpose. The Qur’an says [28:77] : “Seek — among that which God has bestowed upon you — the Hereafter. But do not forget your portion of this world either.” To me this refers to the balance that we must establish in the inner and outer worlds. If I am too spiritual, then I will miss out on my purpose. If I am too secular, then I will truly be dead. I will have no knowledge about who I am, who I Love, and where I am going.

This is a little something I wrote about Sufism on a discussion board one time: “Sufism” is merely a word if treated like a word. Just like “Islam” is simply a word if treated like one. The meaning is what’s important. Islam is submission, i.e. to the One and Only Eternal God of the Universe. Whatever you may call it, spirituality did not begin at a certain time or place, it has always been Present, even before the creation of the Universe. The Law of Submission exists in all created things, it exists in the Universe, in the air we breathe, in our cells, in everything we touch, feel, and hear. It doesn’t matter what you call it because that Divine Beauty is always Present because its Source is Eternal.

Here is another thing I wrote about it when I was speaking to someone who was asking if Sufism and Islam are different:

Sufism is the heart of Islam, just because something didn’t have a label or name in the past doesn’t mean it never existed. The spiritual teachings of the Sufis always existed, including and especially during Muhammad’s revelations, peace and blessings be upon him.

The way of the Sufi is the way of the Muslim (submitter) – to tear down the walls of separation, to discover one’s Self, to unveil the Secrets of the Universe, and to fuse in union with God. You cannot separate the Qur’an or the Prophet Muhammad from Sufism in the same way you cannot separate Sufism from Islam. “There are many numbers, but only One is counted” says Shabistari, a 13th century Sufi poet.

Like the Sunnis and Shias, the Sufis interpret the Qur’an in a unique way. For example, the Sufis would look deeper into certain verses like the following:

[15:28] Your Lord said to the angels, “I am creating a human being from aged mud, like the potter’s clay.

[15:29] “Once I perfect him, and blow into him from My spirit, you shall fall prostrate before him.”

[15:30] The angels fell prostrate; all of them.

From these verses, the Sufis would emphasize on how Allah’s spirit is within us all and that the Angels admire us because of this innate Gift. If one observes Persian paintings (which are heavily influenced by Sufism), one will see depictions of Angels always smiling and adoring human beings. It comes back to these verses. So the fact that Allah’s spirit is within us, we human beings can all make contact with this inner Divinity — not saying that we are God, but just that we are more than flesh and bone. A lot of us have forgotten about this spirit, we live life without God-consciousness and awareness, and many times, it’s not our fault. We just get caught up in so many things in the world.

The profound works of the 13th Century Persian Muslim poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, are so beautiful and Divinely-inspired that he is often synonymous with the word, “Sufism.” However, it’s not like he started his “own religion.” On the contrary, Sufism sprung in the same way that Shia Islam came about — these Muslims like Rumi noticed that the Muslim rulers were becoming more and more corrupt, emphasizing too much on the material, while the extremist and so-called “religious” Muslims were calling everything haram (forbidden). The Sufis expressed themselves through poetry and they wrote about how Muslims needed to bring Islam back to its True and Spiritual roots. Here are some beautiful verses from Rumi:

The thousand spears of Pharaoh, Moses knew,
With just one rod how to split them in two;
Medical sciences once Galen taught
But next to Jesus’s breath they’re worth naught;
The finest poetry was put to shame
The day illiterate Muhammad came

~ Rumi

This next one is especially important since it shows that Sufism is not separate from Islam:

I am the servant of the Qur’an as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.

~ Rumi

Another interesting aspect about Sufism is that learning is not just about reading books or memorizing verses. Learning is also about experiencing — in fact, a lot of emphasis is based on one experiencing the Beauty from Allah’s Divine Love. As exemplified here in a Punjabi poem by the great 17th-18th century Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah:

paRh paRh ilm hazaar kitaabaN
qaddi apnay aap nou paRhiya naee
jaaN jaaN waRhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich waRhiya naee
aa-vaiN laRda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal laRiya naee

(Punjabi)

Yes, yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self
You rush in, into your Temples,
Into your Mosques,
But you have never tried to enter your own heart
Futile are all your battles with Satan
For you have never tried to fight your own desires

~ Bulleh Shah

There is a movement art in Sufism that is quite famous: The Whirling Dervishes (as you can see depicted in the Persian painting above). Many strict Muslims misunderstand whirling meditation, and they find it to be blasphemous since there is singing and dancing involved. However, as I mentioned, the whirling meditation is a movement art, and it is in no way meant to replace prayer. It is a form of zikr (or dhikr) which, in Arabic, means “remembrance/mindfulness of God.” The Sufis emphasize heavily on being mindful of God at all times, so that one journeys through life with a clear and less-conflicted mind. No one is expected to learn how to whirl because it is not compulsory. It is something that must be acted upon, something that must be a choice, and something that a person needs to feel. In South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.), there is a popular Sufi music tradition called Qawwalis, which are best described as Love and Devotion Songs. But these Love songs are not sung in praise of romantic relationships; they are sung in praise of God, the Prophets (mainly Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), Imams (like ‘Ali, peace be upon him), and Sufi mystics (any song about romantic relationships will always incorporate God). The songs are traditionally sung live with acoustic-only instruments (tabla, guitars, harmonium, sitars, flutes, etc.) and they are mainly driven by ecstatic and passionate wailing, which symbolizes the human longing to be reunited with the Divine. From mystical poetry and music to dancing, the Sufis find these forms of art as a way to absorb themselves in God’s Love. It is also a way to empty one’s self of longings and desires, so that one becomes free of the ego and empty. God fills the void with His Beauties.

In conclusion, it’s important to understand that Sufism is not different than Islam, but rather the inward dimension of Islam. The Qur’an, of course, is the basis for everything, but there are deeper meanings and secrets that are embedded in the Message. Since we are not Prophets, we cannot communicate directly with Allah, however we can follow the Prophetic Light. There is always going to be more to learn in Life — that is one of Life’s Hidden Joys. The most unhearing people are those who think they know everything.

As Muhammad, peace be upon him, once said, “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” The more we learn about ourselves, the closer we are to God. The further away we are from who we truly are, the further we are from God. This journey is not just one of learning, but of experiencing; to feel Divine Love with your mind, body, and soul — your Entire Being. It is a journey of self-discovery, and self-discovery ultimately leads to a state of Oneness, Peace, and Ever-Lasting Love. May we all acheive that with the help and guidance of our All-Loving Creator. Ameen.

~ Broken Mystic ~

Divided Muslims

At about 5 PM yesterday, my power just shut off for no apparent reason. There wasn’t a thunder storm or anything, but everyone else on my block had lost power too. It wouldn’t turn back on until 10 PM! In those 4 or 5 hours, I went out with my mom to a local Halal Pizza & Grill restaurant. I usually like going here, not just because of the delicious food, but also because I have a very friendly relationship with the Egyptian, Palestinian, and Hispanic people who work there. I always feel welcomed, I’m always greeted by name, and it’s just impossible to leave the place without a smile.

But last night, as I was enjoying my pizza and halal buffalo wings (lol), a young Muslim man dressed in traditional Arab garb and fashioning a long black beard stormed into the restaurant loudly, “Asalaam ‘alaykoum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu!” Of course, my mom and I returned the “salaam” and then watched him sit at the table in front of us. He was accompanied by another young man who also had an olive complexion, but was wearing a short-sleeved collar shirt and jeans. The Muslim man walked to the counter and gave his order loudly in Arabic — this doesn’t bother me and it’s nothing new either; I mean we Punjabis are very loud too. I don’t like how non-Arabs or non-Muslims think that the Arabic language is an “angry” language. Just because people speak loudly doesn’t mean they’re “angry,” they’re just very passionate about their language.

Anyway, I just wanted to clear up that stereotype/misconception. So, the two young men take their seats and the Muslim man starts giving his friend a lecture about Islam. My guess is that the second man was a convert to Islam, but I don’t know that for sure. My mom and I were silent while we ate because we were listening to the speech that the Muslim man was giving behind us. At first, I liked the things he was saying. He was talking about how Muslims don’t worship Jesus (peace be upon him) and then he explained why. He also spoke about how Allah is everywhere, sees all things, watches over us, etc. He discussed how Allah has no partners, and that associating partners with Him is the greatest sin (“shirk”). He was very passionate and knowledgeable about what he was saying, but then he started bad-mouthing other Muslims. That’s when I really wanted to leave. Did he forget about this verse?

“Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.”
[Qu'ran,
2:62]

He said, “there are a lot of ignorant Muslims out there. Very few Muslims really follow Islam. They think that just accepting the Oneness of God means you are a Muslim. This is false! This is not true! You can believe in the Oneness of God, but it must be Allah subhanna wa ta’ala.” Ok, that wasn’t too offensive, but I started to detect the arrogance in his voice. He continued, “there was an Arabic Sufi — may Allah bring him back to us — who innovated a lot of things, and innovation is a huge sin in Islam. He tried to unite all the monotheistic religions; obviously this is an innovation!” I really couldn’t believe I was hearing this and I honestly felt the urge to interrupt him and ask him why he was so offended by the Sufis. He spoke about how Christians and Jews are “ignorant” and “misguided” and worship “different gods.” I understand that Christians may argue that they do in fact worship a “different god” by worshiping Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should criticize their faith, especially when teaching a young person. I know I wouldn’t like it if I were in a public place and I heard a priest teaching someone that Muslims are “misguided” or “blind to the Truth.” Then I heard the man talk about the “way of the Salaf,” which is supposedly all about following the way of Muhammad, peace be upon him. The interesting thing is that all the different sects in Islam claim to be following the way of Muhammad!

His complaints against other Muslims continued: “You see so many young Muslims who are ignorant and misguided. They know the stats of Kobe Bryant and other sports players, and they wear their jerseys, when in actuality, when the Day of Judgment comes, those celebrities will want to be in the place of a Muslim.” I think we’re a little unfair to celebrities most of the time; just because they’re famous, does that mean that they’re sinful? Does it mean that they have no spiritual foundation in their lives? Then I heard him speak about the various forms of “polytheism” — one example he provided was someone who prays or gives charity in the Mosque just to show off. This is called “minor polytheism.” I wonder what the man would have thought about me if he saw the black t-shirt I was wearing. The front reads: “I Know My Role Model.” And on the back, it says “He was Merciful, Forgiving, Compassionate, Patient” and the many other attributes of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Would I be accused of “showing off” just for wearing this shirt?

Other than the accusations against other Muslims, this man placed so much emphasis on Islamic scholars. More so than the Holy Qur’an itself. I have read the works of many scholars, but I could never follow every single thing that they preach because I find many things to be innovated. I’m sure I would be accused of blasphemy here by many other Muslims, but God knows what is in my heart. For example, I was debating with a Muslim brother on Facebook, but I was really taken aback about how arrogant he was behaving towards me. Even when I cited other scholars and sources, he would say that their works aren’t “credible.” He gave me a link to the website “SunniPath” where many scholars say the following about Shia and Sufi Muslims: “[They] are without a doubt out of the fold of Islam…therefore, Salat behind a Shia should not be performed. If one did so, it must be repeated, as it may not be valid.”

Wow. Masha’Allah. This is our Ummah (Nation/Community). This is what our Imams and “leaders” teach to build a better, stronger, and united Muslim society. This kind of close-minded attitude is what ruins our Ummah and tears it apart. I would condemn Shia and Sufi scholars who said the same thing about Sunni Muslims. How could I follow a scholar who teaches this kind of separation? I was born Sunni, so does that automatically make me better or superior to another Muslim from a different denomination? I Love the writings of Rumi and I follow much of what he teaches, but even he says things I don’t agree with. Why should I be expected to follow everything that a human scholar teaches? What happened to following the Word of God: The Qur’an?

Just this morning, i saw a shirt on Zazzle.com, and it says “Discrimination against Muslims is racism. Muslim discrimination against others is religion.” Of course this upsets me, but then I think about these scholars and the Muslim man who I saw last night. Are we surprised that non-Muslim people feel this way? What saddens me is that we don’t know how to accept one another. I would rather just call myself “Muslim,” not Sunni, Shia, or Sufi. I can’t swear allegiance to one school of thought, however I believe I can learn a lot from all schools of thought.

Last night, when the power turned back on, I picked up my Islamic book “The Ultimate Action,” which my mother brought from Pakistan, and read something completely related to what happened in the restaurant! Sobhan’Allah! I decided to share an excerpt from the book, but before you read it, keep in mind that this is from a Sufi scholar, and Sufis are often associated with drinking alcholol and using intoxicants. Although this scholar mentions alcohol, he condemns it throughout the book (because it has been declared impermissible in the Qur’an) . He only brings up alcohol to make a point. He first cites a poet and then delivers his commentary:

Ostentation as permissible you consider, while wine as impermissible.
Is this the code of the nation, is this the action
prescribed on the Path?

“He is referring to the dry ascetics who consider intoxicants to be impermissible while a reprehensible sin like show, which has been referred to as minor polytheism, they consider to be permissible and are constantly involved therein and it does not even cause them to flinch even the slightest. Do not be fooled by this self-claim to obedience. Our condition is such that outwardly, we appear to be the epitomes of purity and abstention from sin, we are scholars and men of letters, we are spiritual guides and all else to boot, but our inner state is known to Allah alone. Far greater than our outward accomplishments and capabilities are our souls plagued with spiritual ills.”

I just wish we could learn to accept one another for who we are. We may interpret the Qur’an differently from each other, but does that mean we should be divided and bad-mouth each other? I feel very uncomfortable around fellow Muslims who behave as if they will determine whether or not I go to Heaven. I find myself inclined to Sufi texts, not because I’m Sufi, but because of how spiritually moved I feel after reading. The book I mentioned above asks: “How is salat (prayer) not an act of Love?” It reminds me of how the Universe was created and why Allah created all of us. How is that not Love?

Salaam/Peace

~ Broken Mystic ~

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

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