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.”

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 😛

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.

Away with Separation

This is an old poem I wrote a few years ago. I felt like sharing it here. It was written for no one in particular, just for my fellow companions in this world. I’ve written this many times before, but we live in a world where there is more individuality and less community. It is important to establish independence, but at the same time, we shouldn’t feel that relying on our friends and Loved ones is a bad thing. On the contrary, we were created as social beings; we are all on this journey together and we need each other.

A Vision of the Universe awakens the Soul
Life soars, dives, spins, and rolls
Discover how small we are
Yet how precious at the same time

Sparkling dust reveals splendid gems
Leave your world behind
And pass through the Rose Portal
For it is Love from which you stem

Your world is of duality
People of colors, races, and genders divided
Ours is a world of unity
It is here where you feel alive!

Here, we do not say black or white
Here, we do not argue and fight
Here, we celebrate diversity
How wonderfully this delights the King!

Do not crush Flowers by saying “man” or “woman”
We believe in no such division!
The Prophet preached we are One
Fill your heart with this Truth and witness Divine union

After challenges, Lovers rest in arms, young
They listen to the mourning violin
And how it longs for the reward of patience
They are reminded of music they once strummed

By the Heavenly Rivers, they will marry
They will merge into a single Spirit
This is your destiny too, dear companions
To here, the Angels will carry

Beyond this Glorious Universe, we transcend
We can discover its blessed Secrets
Take my hand, I beg you, friend
And pass through this Portal with me

Let us become One

~ 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 ~

Mother Is God in the Eyes of a Child

In a graceful garden of innocence
The children dance in magical splendor
Around and around the carousal, they laugh and cheer
Unaware of the dark world outside

Who protects them from the dark rivers
They know of not?
Who protects them from the cruel places
They know of not?

One day, a little boy saw a white dandelion
Float away and to the unknown
He followed it so harmlessly
But found himself in darkness and lost his way home

His eyes turned and turned
Wandered and wandered
For the glorious sight of the enchanted garden
But his tears made him blind

He fell into the cold waters
And was carried hurriedly down the stream
Dead winter trees envied his purity
And the hungry animals craved for his body

The devil’s rain struck the boy violently
And choked his cries
They watched, they listened, and waited for his death
But silence was broken when light pierced through the red skies

The boy looked skywards and saw a luminous being emerge
A great vision for all the dark world to see
A Goddess shining like the soft moon
Reached her hand into the dark sea

She said: “The child is mine, No harm shall befall him”
Her words are not mere words, and her actions are not mere concern
But Love and only Love
The dark world was left mystified and unlearned

“You see, Dark World?” she sang so beautifully
As she held her beloved child in her arms
“Love will always prevail wherever you wish to lead my children astray”
Though they do not listen now, they will understand one day:

Only a mother will journey in the darkness to save her child
For Truly, as the Prophet said
Paradise is at her feet

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for Being 🙂

~ Broken Mystic ~

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!