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

Let’s Hope

I’ve been tagged recently by Shawna. This is pretty cool because I’ve never been tagged before, but it always looked like a lot of fun whenever I saw other bloggers being tagged. So what I have to do is write about 10 things that I hope for in life, and then tag 10 other friends of mine. Thanks Shawna for the tag!

LET’S HOPE!
Tagged by: Shawna

Rules:

1. ON your blog, post the Rules & 10 things you have HOPE for in your life.
2. LINK Tag 10 people (we want hope to spread people!) and LINK the person who tagged you.
3. Comment/Notify the 10 People they’ve been tagged.

10 Things I HOPE for in my Life:

1. To be a good Muslim and please Allah subhanna wa ta’ala. I saw this on Shawna’s blog and couldn’t think of anything better to be in my number 1. To me, being a good Muslim means being a good human too.

2. To find my Soul Mate some day, insha’Allah, and journey with her through this life and beyond. I believe in Eternal Love, I believe in Ever-after, and I believe that Allah creates someone special for all of us — not just to be our spouses, but to be our Life Companions and Twin Halves.

3. As a result of finding my Soul Mate, I hope to have a beautiful family too, insha’Allah. I can only think so much of children since I’m not even married yet, but I Love the dream of having sons and daughters who I can give joy to.

4. A successful career in clinical psychology so that I can support my Loved ones! Love is Beautiful and everything, and I do believe that Love conquers all, but True Love also makes one understand the realities in which we live. I don’t want my children or spouse to be living under extreme financial stress.

5. I would like to be recognized some day as a Muslim filmmaker. I hope to make as many films as I can to help promote peace and coexistence among all people. I don’t mind doing it indie style or with limited budgets, I think that’s all part of the adventure!

6. I hope for all my friends and family to live a happy and full life. I believe everyone deserves to be happy.

7. I hope to live long enough to see my grandchildren, insha’Allah.

8. I hope to help as many people as I can, whether it be emotionally, socially, or even financially (when I do have the finances, that is!) I would Love to play a big part in promoting peace and stability not just in the U.S., but also in places like Kashmir, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, etc.

9. I hope to get a book published one day, insha’Allah. Maybe some of my stories or poems, or maybe a book about Muslim-Americans.

10. To travel the world, especially to see more of my home country Pakistan. I would also Love to visit India, Iran, Egypt, Jerusalem, Japan, Italy, and of course, to do my Hajj (Pilgrimage) again in Saudi Arabia.

So now, I tag the following bloggers:

Farheen
Chickadee
Krishna
Darvish
Aafke
Unique Muslimah

Have fun!

Biased History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call for Unity in Islam

“You shall hold fast to the rope of GOD, all of you, and do not be divided. Recall GOD’s blessings upon you – you used to be enemies and He reconciled your hearts. By His grace, you became brethren. You were at the brink of a pit of fire, and He saved you therefrom. GOD thus explains His revelations for you, that you may be guided.

Holy Qur’an (3:103)

I’m sure that Muslims and non-Muslims alike would agree that the verse above teaches a beautiful and valuable lesson that could benefit all of humankind if followed wholeheartedly. Many times when I have discussions with other Muslims, we tend to emphasize on how there is a serious lack of unity in Islam. Whether it’s about Sunnis versus Shias, Salafis versus Sufis, or Arabs versus Persians, these are problems that are very prevalent in today’s world and they need to be addressed in our communities. However, the ridiculous sectarian violence that ensues throughout the Muslim world isn’t the only issue that needs to be examined, but also the way we treat our fellow Muslims in our own communities. Conflicts are never solved through name calling, slandering, condemning, or hating one another based upon faulty generalizations and misunderstandings, they are solved when there is mutual respect and acceptance of one another.

Others have heard me say this before, but I often wonder that if the Prophet (peace be upon him) were alive today, would he recognize this Ummah that we’ve become? The Wahabbi extremists that govern the Holy City of Mecca are delivering fatwas for Sunni Muslims to kill Shia Muslims, destroy their Mosques and Shrines, and call them “kaffir” (infidel). The Palestinians continue to suffer at the hands of the brutal Israeli occupation and yet the so-called Muslim nations have done nothing to help carve out a Palestinian state for their brothers/sisters in Islam. Would the Prophet neglect fellow Muslims killing one another, would he tolerate the way Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Taliban are oppressing women, would he remain silent whenever Muslims kill innocent people vengefully? The disturbing truth is that there are extremist Muslims out there who really believe that oppressing women, vengeance, and killing Shias or Sufis is actually what the Prophet would do. Their arguments are based on the fact that the Prophet engaged in battles, but the reason why this argument is weak is because they ignore how fighting in Islam is only permitted out of self-defense. There are strict rules regarding fighting that these extremists obviously don’t adhere to (i.e. innocent men, women, and children shall not be killed). The tragic part is that most Muslims who align themselves with this kind of mentality have never even read the Qur’an in its entirety. Instead, they just take the Mullah or Sheikh’s word for it. I don’t have a problem with listening to elders, but when these elders preach arrogantly and pompously about Islam, I cannot help but feel like this is completely contradictory to the peaceful teachings of Islam. I remember one Imam was literally screaming at us for not waking up on time for Fajr and how we will burn in hellfire for it. He was shouting so much that spit would fly out of his mouth and his face would turn red. I chose to ignore his khutbah (speech) and read the Qur’an instead. After the prayer, I decided that I would never return to that Masjid again, and I haven’t. Why do we focus so much on the negative? Why always about hellfire, punishment, and torture when the Qur’an is mostly about Mercy and Compassion? As the Qur’an says:

Don’t you see how God sets forth a parable? A Good Word is like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches reach to the Heavens, it brings forth its fruits at all times by the leave of its Lord. So God sets forth parables for men in order that they may receive admonition (Ibrahim, 14:24-25).

Unfortunately, this type of mentality makes a huge impact upon the Muslim youth. They develop this belief that anyone who doesn’t follow their religion to a “t” is a deviant or even an “infidel”. I’ve known some of these people who won’t even allow themselves to befriend Christians, Jews, or other non-Muslims. When they speak to other Muslims, they are very quick to criticize them on things like praying five times a day, memorizing Surahs (chapters), and learning the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). While these are honorable and important practices that all Muslims should aspire to do, the beauty of it can get lost when individuals use them as a measure of another’s person’s faith. Is a person really a bad Muslim if they don’t pray five times a day or doesn’t memorize enough Surahs as you do? Is Islam really about who is better and who is not? Is it really about competition and seeing who has a stronger Iman (Faith)? This kind of separation not only distracts us from larger issues that concern our community, such as improving our relations and image in the eyes of the non-Muslim world, but also from learning about Islam, ourselves, and from each other.

The Faith part draws a lot of confusion, at least to my mind, because its certainly not something you can measure. Consider the body and the mind; they both can be measured with time because they have limitations. The body ages, physical beauty fades, bones become weak, people lose their hair and get bald (that’s a scary thought), etc. The mind also grows old and loses its storage capacities, people’s memories start to fade, they forget things, etc., but what about the Soul? What about the Heart and other Unseen qualities, including Faith? How do you measure such intangible things? I certainly can’t look into the Soul of another human being and say he/she doesn’t believe in God, or he/she is a good or bad Muslim. Can you?

Of course there is nothing wrong with praying five times a day or memorizing Surahs as I mentioned above, but when one turns these traits into a form of competition (i.e. annoying, condemning, and judging other people for not doing the same), then what is the value or purpose of those prayers and practices? If you pray five times a day on a consistent level, then masha’Allah, may Allah reward you, but why remove this Beautiful quality from yourself and hurt a fellow brother/sister just because they don’t do the same thing you do. Sadly, many young Muslims think too outwardly and less inwardly; they forget about how these things should purify their internal qualities, they forget about self-cleansing, purification of heart, modesty, humbleness, kindness, generosity, and the many other qualities that made up the Prophet Muhammad’s true character, peace be upon him. If you are praying steadfastly, then please make sure that your outward actions reflect that. Don’t you think the Beauty of what you do gets drained when your faith becomes competition?? Think about what Prophet Muhammad said, “He who lets the people hear of his good deeds intentionally, to win their praise, Allah will let the people know his real intention (on the Day of Ressurection) and he who does good things in public to show off and win the praise of the people, Allah will disclose his real intention and humiliate him.”

The Holy Qur’an says: “And swell not your cheek for pride at men, nor walk in insolence through the Earth, for Allah Loves not any arrogant boaster(Luqman, 31:18-19).

The other issue at large is the superiority complex among various ethnic groups. One mistake people generally make is that they associate Islam with a particular culture, namely Arabic culture. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, finds its home in the hearts of people with many different backgrounds. A Korean Christian, for example, will differ culturally from an American Christian, and the same can be said about the cultural diversity that exists in Islam. A Moroccan Muslim and an Indonesian Muslim will differ in many areas in respect to culture, but it doesn’t mean one is a “better” Muslim. Although there are different cultures in Islam, no matter what part of the world they’re from, all Muslims read their prayers in Arabic. I think this is where the association with Islam being a “non-white” religion comes from (along with other reasons of course). As some of my other fellow bloggers pointed out, there is an Arabization of Islam, i.e. most Muslims follow the dress code and cultural practices that are distinctly Middle-Eastern. It’s almost as if being Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian, Nigerian, or Bosnian doesn’t have any value anymore because those cultures “distort” the religion of Islam. Sadly, I’ve met many Pakistani Muslims who don’t find anything special about being Pakistani, but they’ve adopted to a culture that is either Egyptian, Palestinian, or Saudi (I’m aware that these cultures are different from one another too). Being Pakistani myself, there are certain practices in my culture that are different than Middle-Eastern cultures, but being Muslim doesn’t mean I have to give up being Pakistani or the language of Urdu. The beauty about Islam is that it is compatible with all cultures and all human beings. As the Qur’an says: Among His proofs are the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors. In these, there are signs for the knowledgeable (Al-Rum, 30:22).

I remember being criticized by a fellow Arabic-speaking Muslim brother just because I cannot speak Arabic. I was really insulted and offended by his words because all it made me think afterwards was: do I have to speak Arabic to be a good Muslim? Thankfully, this experience didn’t stop me from learning Arabic, it just made me more aware of how Muslims of different cultures perceive one another. I personally want to learn Arabic, but I don’t believe that speaking Arabic fluently is going to make someone a better Muslim. To say that God only speaks Arabic is not only insulting, but also a very prejudice and backwards way of thinking. During the time of Jesus (peace be upon him), the extremist Rabbis would say that Angels only understand Hebrew, and not Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus as his followers). This kind of ethnocentrism tears our community apart and it can be very frustrating that people don’t learn from their history. The Ummayad dynasty was known for this kind of ethnocentrism and their unfair treatment of non-Arab Muslims like the Persians and Turks. The Abbassid dynasty which reigned in Baghdad would eliminate Arab nationalism from their empire and was very tolerant towards the non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities. They also displayed more tolerance towards Shia Muslims. Those who are familiar with their Islamic history know that civilization and achievements in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy, and medicine flourished. Now look at the state of the Muslim Ummah and look at how much Muslim nations have “accomplished” from fighting and discriminating against one another.

I think we would all agree that non-Arab Muslims at least take the effort to understand Arabic, and a large portion of them actually end up learning how to speak it fluently, but how many times do we see Arab Muslims learning the languages of Urdu/Hindi, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, Senegalese, or Bahasa? Just because the Qur’an was not written in these languages, must we think that Arabic is the only Divine language? I know that the guards in Saudi Arabia will familiarize themselves with some Urdu in order to speak with the South Asian immigrants, but they’re not doing it out of personal interest. This is the same problem I have with American soldiers who take Arabic classes in the United States; they’re not doing it out of personal interest, they’re doing it so they can speak the “enemy’s” language. Non-Arab Muslims learn Arabic so that they can attain a better and richer understanding of the Qur’an, but the way extremist Mullahs and Sheikhs perceive this is that the non-Arab Muslims are inferior.

We need to eliminate the divide that exists between Muslims – whether it’s about who is the “better” Muslim or who hails from a “better” culture/civilization. It doesn’t matter in the eyes of God. God is not going to judge you differently just because you descend from a group of people who invented algebra or built some of the world’s first hospitals and universities, He’s going to look at you as the individual. I also believe that we should speak to our fellow Muslims (and ultimately, all human beings) in a respectful and mature manner. I was on someone else’s blog recently and was really outraged at the way we speak to one another. It’s a horrible feeling when someone comes along and says you’re not worthy enough of being a Muslim just because you don’t pray five times a day, memorize Surahs, speak Arabic, or descend from an honorable family. Who are we to say that we are better when no one can ever possibly be better than God? Who are we to judge when that power only belongs to God?

Let’s start building unity in our communities. Let’s stop separating ourselves in the Mosque. Get to know the Pakistanis, the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Nigerians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Indonesians, the Europeans, or whatever nationality your fellow brother/sister in Islam belongs to. In Truth, we are born with different cultures, in different countries, but we all come from the same place, and that is from God. Is that really so hard to see?

By the way, the beautiful picture in this post was created by ~Proama, you can see more of his work on Deviant Art!