Friday, 30 December 2011

Lesley Hazleton: On reading the Koran

My Journey to Islam: Dr Muhammed As'ad (Michael D. Berdine)

Dr. Muhammad As‘ad (Michael Berdine)
Director of Cambridge Muslim College

It might have started with the adhan, the call to prayer, that always fascinated that five-year-old boy, and then led him to accept Islam after a long trip across time and place.

It was a spiritual odyssey of over thirty years that took me from my Irish-Catholic-American roots through agnosticism and New Age metaphysics to Islam. It was only in Islam where I found the answers to all my questions and the peace which I had been seeking for a lifetime. It was also in Islam where I found solace and sanctuary, friendships and brotherhood, a new life, a spiritual home and Allah in the fall of 1992.

In 1990, at the age of forty-five, I returned to graduate school at the University of Arizona to begin my studies for a Ph.D. in Modern British Empire History and Near Eastern Studies. This was the realization of a dream I'd had since obtaining my M.A. in British and European history twenty-one years earlier. At that time, in 1969, I had passed up pursuing a Ph.D. program at Brown University to raise a family and take some time off from school. It was at the University of Arizona through my studies of Middle East and India that I once again came in contact with Islam.

From the time I was three until eighteen, my father's position as an executive with the California-Texas Oil Company (Caltex) took our family to live and travel all over the world. Our first overseas assignment in 1949, when I was three, was in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, where my parents, brother and I lived for five-and-a-half years. From there we moved to London for a short time before moving to India in 1956. Once in India, because there was no American schooling available locally, my parents sent me to Kodaikanal, an American Protestant missionary boarding school 600 miles to the south, where I attended school from the 5th to 10th grades. As one of the few Catholics at Kodaikanal International School, I learned much about Christianity -- my own Catholicism -- included, which began a lifelong interest in the subject as well as religion in general. However, my Catholic father became more concerned about my “Protestant” education and, mid-way through 10th grade, transferred me to an American international Catholic boy’s school in Rome, Italy. So, it was from Notre Dame International School in Rome that I graduated from high school two-and-a-half years later in June 1963.

Rome was a fascinating place to learn more about my religion, especially after the “negative” perceptions I’d received about Catholicism from some of my Protestant classmates at the missionary school. It was also a time of historic changes in the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council, some of which I was able to witness in person, or learn about from the Catholic prelates who came and spoke at the school. On my own, I also got to meet a cardinal, some bishops and archbishops attending the Council and had a papal audience with the charismatic and very dynamic ecumenical Pope John XXIII. (Ten years earlier, my parents, brother and I had had a private audience with Pope Pius XII and spoken directly with the Pope at his summer retreat at Castello Gondolfo.) By the time I left Rome, I was thoroughly entranced with my Catholic faith and planning on becoming a priest.

Meanwhile, because of my father’s executive position with Caltex Oil Company -- both in India and in Germany, where my parents moved in 1962 -- when at home or during vacations I met a number of important government, business and political leaders from all cultural backgrounds who were frequent guests in our home.

However, as I look back, it was as a five-year-old in Bahrain and later as a young man in India, where the sight of Muslims at prayer and the muezzin’s call to prayer made the most lasting impression of all my overseas experiences. Just hearing the adhan excited me. It made me feel good inside (as it still does today) and, no matter what I was doing, I always paused to listen whenever I heard it. Little did I know at the time that the adhan would later become such an important part of my life.

Still, it took some time for this to sink in. It was only after moving back to the States, going to college and grad school, raising a family and having a twenty-year business career, when I returned to graduate school and once again became acquainted with Islam. This time, however, it was in an academic setting and through books and class lectures. Once “hooked” on Islam, I eagerly and voraciously read anything and everything I could get my hands on in English on the subject. I bought and devoured all the books I could find. Many were written by western Islamic scholars, themselves converts to Islam like Muhammad Asad, Martin Lings, Victor Danner, and Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall. The fact that there were Western converts to Islam of this caliber further piqued my interest and curiosity. After much reading and study, I sensed a strong, growing affinity with Islam and a complete and total agreement with all its teachings in everything I read.

During the summer of 1992, I read A.J. Arberry's The Koran: Interpreted, Danner’s The Islamic Tradition: An Introduction, Lings' deeply moving and absorbing Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources while away from home studying Intensive Arabic at summer school at the University of Washington. In my Arabic class, I got to know an Irish-French-Canadian woman classmate who was a convert to Islam (and a former Catholic like me). I also got to know better a Pakistani-American Muslim, whom I'd met earlier that year at a conference at UCLA, where we both gave papers. Throughout the summer I talked with both of them about Islam and what it was like to be a Muslim. Soon it became apparent to all of us that my beliefs were the same as those taught by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Islam. However, when gently asked why I didn't become a Muslim, I had no answer. At the time, I was just intellectually content to have found a faith with which I could agree 100%. Moreover, as an historian I was most impressed with the fact that the authenticity of the Qur’an could be verified (two of the original Qur’ans from the time of Caliph ‘Uthman still exist), as could the teachings and traditions of the Prophet (PBUH). This was quite the opposite of Christianity, as I’d learned to my surprise over many years of study. Despite all this, I still gave little thought to becoming a Muslim myself.

At the end of the summer, my UCLA friend suggested I read Muhammad Asad's The Road to Mecca and get a copy of his translation and commentary of the Holy Qur’an. Asad was an Austrian-Polish Jew (Leopold Weiss) who converted to Islam and became a close friend of Abdul Aziz Ibn Sa`ud, founder of Sa`udi Arabia, in the 1920s. Among his many other activities over the years, including being a student and the close friend of Pakistan’s Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Asad became a renowned Arabic and Qur’anic scholar. However, it was reading Arberry’s translation of the Holy Qur’an that summer and realizing no man could have written it that did it for me. I finished reading Asad’s Road to Mecca in mid-October, just before attending the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Portland, Oregon, where I was to give a paper.

As it turned out, the meeting became a reunion of sorts for me with my summer school friends, as both the Canadian Muslimah and my Muslim friend from UCLA were also giving papers at the same conference. Almost as soon as we ran into each other at a bookstore in Portland near the conference site, the Muslimah asked me pointblank, “When are you going to become a Muslim?” I could only respond that I guessed I already was one in my heart and mind. Without a pause, she suggested that I make shahadah right then and there. I hemmed and hawed, but could find no reason not to do so. So, right then and there, in the "new arrivals" section of Powell's Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, with another Canadian Muslimah as a witness, I made my shahadah. Not long afterwards, I left the bookstore and walked to my room at a nearby dorm. I was in a state of euphoria and incredible joy, feeling as if I was walking two feet above the ground. Later, when I saw my friend from UCLA and told him what had happened, and showed him the Qur’an I'd received from our Muslimah friend, he was overjoyed, hugged me warmly and welcomed me to Islam as his brother.

Two weeks later, on November 13, I once again recited the shahadah at Jumu‘ah prayers at the Islamic Center of Tucson. This time it was in front of several hundred people, after which I found myself at the front of a receiving line, where I was welcomed into the Islamic community with hugs and kisses from about 40 Muslim brothers in the most moving forty-five minutes of my life. It was an experience that still lives with me.

Attributing some of the final steps towards Islam to Muhammad Asad’s book, I decided to take his name as my Muslim name. Since he was a convert to Islam like me, I felt his name would also be a good name for me and, hopefully, I would become a good Muslim and scholar like him. However, once back at the University of Arizona, both my Arabic and Islamic history professors to whom I told my story suggested I change my name to Muhammad As‘ad, “The Happiest Muhammad” in Arabic. This name seemed to them (and to me) to more accurately reflect the change in my personality and over-all attitude since accepting Islam.

In the ten years since, my life has been a series of joys and efforts for Islam. While no one else in my family has yet become a Muslim, there is now sympathy and understanding where before there was none and -- in sha’ Allah -- one day other family members will come to Islam. My wife in particular has been most supportive. Since then, I have become active in outreach and da‘wah for the Islamic Center of Tucson, where I am on the Executive Committee and responsible for media and public relations. Beginning early 1993, I have become a frequent speaker about Islam in schools, churches, synagogues and community centers in the area and elsewhere. I also spent the summers of 1994 and 1995 in Damascus, Syria, where I studied Islam and Arabic in an Islamic Call College. Since 1996, I’ve taught classes in Islam and introduced courses in Islamic Civilization and Middle East History at Pima Community College in Tucson. During this time also, while working on my Ph.D. in History at the University of Arizona, I received a second M.A. in 1997 (in Near Eastern Studies) at the University of Arizona. In March of 2001, I went on Hajj.

Finally, in August 2001 I was awarded my Ph.D. in History and, since August 2002, I have been a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso. At UTEP, I teach Middle Eastern and Islamic History, as well as World History

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Book Review: Madrasah Life By Shaykh Dr Akram Nadwi

Madrasha Life is a unique book by the erudite scholar, Shaykh Dr Akram Nadwi which shatters the negative myths of the madrasah system that is increasingly prevalent in the Western world. The book unearths a day in the life of a madrasah student who is in the fadilah course (Masters Level) at the celebrated Nadwat al-Ulama in Lucknow, India. This distinguished school is celebrated for its emphasis on Arabic, Persian, Urdu languages and literatures as well as managing to successfully blend the traditional sacred sciences with the secular. Thus, it is not surprising that the book is glittered with quotations from esteemed poets from Labid to Ghalib.

This book reveals for the reader the daily activities a master’s student undergoes in a classical Islamic education system. Readers are introduced to a group of young master’s students and their educational and social life. The reader discovers the student’s curricula they study, their social antics, the recreational games they play, the conversations and disagreements in detail to the food they eat. Readers will be surprised to see that western and traditional Islamic students are very much similar, they love and dislike grammar, they tease one another, some are proactive and while others just down right lazy. This book beautifully reveals the level of intellectual curiosity of students, their favorite subjects, teachers and social life.

I was very surprised when reading the book because as a masters student myself in an eminent Western university. I know first-hand the level of intellectual capacity my fellow student’s possess. Yet the intellectual level of traditional masters students at Nadwah compared to my university is far greater. The author shows how students are well versed and competent in discussing and critiquing the works of Plato, Aristotle, Satre as well as Ibn Tamiyyah and Bukhari. One can see that that the students at Nadwah have a passion for knowledge and learning that is rarely found in a western master’s education. No wonder that the students at Nadwah are extremely hardworking and intelligent.

I have not come across an institute in the Western World that requires mastery of three different languages, a clear comprehension of different sciences as well as a four year degree, just to be considered as a candidate to enter a Master’s Program. The social and educational interactions dismiss the Western notion that madrasahs are platforms of extremisms, where young brain dead individuals are brainwashed into ideals of extremism. This is far from the truth as acknowledged by Major General Sir Sleeman who argues that traditional Islamic madrasahs are akin to a classical Western education. Moreover their tuition fees are much cheaper too.

“He who holds an office worth twenty rupees a month commonly gives his son an education equal to that of a prime minister. They learn through the medium of the Arabic and Persian languages, what young men in our colleges through those of Greek and Latin- that is, grammar, rhetoric and logic. After his seven years of Study, the young Muhammadan binds his turban upon a head almost as well filled with the things which appertain to these branches of knowledge as the young man raw from Oxford; he will talk as fluently about Socrates and Aristotle, Plato and Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna”

What I really love about this book is the reader can clearly see the relationship of a traditional Islamic teacher and their student. You can see the traditional Islamic students have a respect for their teachers that many western students cannot fathom. Traditional students do not see their teachers as just mere teachers. But as loving fathers.They take their students gently by their hands ensuring a mastery of the subject. Students do not just inherit the knowledge attained, but an Ijazah and sometimes their teacher’s spiritual states. A Ijazah is a certification to teach the subject which ensures that the student becomes part of the Isnad, a scholarly lineage of teachers that goes back to the Prophet PBUH through his Companions, a later venerable Shaykh, or the author of a specific book. This way knowledge is not just taught and merely given away but protected. Each student who requires an ijazah must have mastery of the particular subject, this ensures that academic standards do not drop.

Although teachers are greatly respected, the book conveys the critical thinking of the madrasah system. Opinions are cross examined and criticized in a respectful academic manner. Readers should understand that traditional educations colleges like Nadwah do not result in inflexibility of the mind, obstinate opinions and a monolith world view. Students do not just accept their knowledge blindly.They are taught to challenge their teachers. They critically examine their knowledge and question them. Students are taught to understand the chain of thought of scholars, this result in often questioning a scholar in one science, while admiring him in another. By embarking on research projects and dissertations this also leads to critical thinking. The contribution of Madrasah Life by Shaykh Dr Nadwi is witty and a very fun read while still unearthing the milieu of traditional Islamic schools and their traditions.

Madrasah Life, By Mohammed Akram Nadwi, Published by Turath Publishing,(2007)

Monday, 12 December 2011

The story of Praise

One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling our, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express
is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Prophet of God

by Rafey Habib

Prophet of God, I am
Steeped in the things
Of sin, and wrong:
Unworthy to stand
Beside you,
Or even to sing in
Your praise.

Prophet of my heart, my
Verse is beneath you, my
Only skill, bequeathed by
Birth, perturbed dreams
Of your nights and days.

How can I come near
The cloak that wraps you,
When fear dries my throat,
When I know Who spoke
In your hearing.

How can I read, or
Understand, when I live
At the edge of His commands,
When my sins need
To feel Him forgive?

Where will I find help;
Where will I know the
Good in Self; where
Will I not be alone, if not
In the places you
Have known?

If I stand, arrayed,
Against my own desire,
For fame, prestige, wealth,
Will your shield defend
My faith, against the fire,
Against my own, lower, self?

If I come stumbling,
Across desert and
Grey seas; if I humbly call
Across the sands, will you
Reach for my hand?

Prophet of God,
Do not turn away from me;
Stay... say a prayer for me:
Unworthy to sing
In His praise.

Prophet of my heart,
My lonely art, companion
Of my unworthy
Nights and days.

Al Ameen

(by an admirer of Islam, J.P. [a good chance that this is John Yehya-en-Nasr Parkinson])

Who is this who comes from Hira?
Not in stately pomp or pride,
But a great free son of Nature,
Lion-souled and eagle-eyed?

Who is this before whose presence
Idols tumble to the sod,
As he cries out "Allah[u] Akbar,"
No! There is no God but God?

Wandering o'er the solemn desert
He has wondered, like a child,
Not as yet too proud to wonder,
At the Sun and Star, and Wild.

Oh thou Moon! Who made thy brightness?
Stars, who hung you there on high?
Answer! so my soul may worship --
I must worship, or I die.

Then there fell the brooding silence
That precedes the thunder roll,
And the old Arabian whirlwind
Called another Arab soul.

He has stood and seen Mount Hira
To the awful Presence nod,
He has heard from cloud and lightning --
No, there is no God but God.

Call you this man an "Imposter"?
He was called "The Faithful," when
A boy he wandered o'er the desert,
By the wild-eyed Arab men.

He was always called "The Faithful":
Truth he knew was Allah's breath;
But the Lie went darkly gnashing
Through the corridors of Death.

He was fierce! -- Yes, fierce at falsehood:
Fierce at hideous bits of wood
Which the Koreish taught the people
Made the sun and solitude.

But his heart was also gentle,
And affection's graceful palm,
Waving in his tropic spirit,
To the weary brought a balm.

"Precepts?" -- "Have on each compassion,"
"Lead the stranger to your door,"
"In your dealings keep up justice,"
"Give a tenth unto the poor."

Yet ambitious? Yes, ambitious,
While he heard the strong and sweet
Aiden voices sing, to trample
Conquered Hell beneath his feet.

Islam? Yes, "submit to Heaven."
Prophet? To the World thou art;
What are Prophets but the Trumpets
Blown by God to stir the heart?

And the great heart of the desert
Stirred unto the solemn strain,
Rolling from the Mount of Hira,
Over Error's troubled plain.

And two hundred dusky millions
Honour still "El Ameen's" rod,
Daily chanting "Allah[u] Akbar,"
Know -- there is no God but God.

Call him, then, no more "Imposter!"
Mecca is the choral Gate,
Where till Zion's moon shall take them
Nations in the Morning wait.

(Islamic Review, November 1915, pp.584-5.)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hymn on the Capture of Mecca

By Amherst D. Tyssen

Ye gates, unfold; strong walls, fall down;
Bow minaret and dome!
The seer, who fled with life proscribed,
Returns as conqueror home.

Ten thousand followers swell his train,
All armed with sword and shield;
His foes have found their forces melt,
And now must humbly yield.

No blood he sheds, no fine exacts,
No prince to prison sends;
Forgives, forgets all injuries past,
Treats enemies as friends.

Oh, hence may we a lesson learn
Sweet tempers to display,
And ne'er resent the varied wrongs
We suffer day by day.

Tho' others call our faith a sin,
And motives bad impute;
May we no angry word reply,
But rest in patience mute.

So shall they see that in our hearts
God's spirit truly lives;
And honour with unfeigned respect
The gentle grace it gives. Courtesy of Sidi Yahya Birt

Hymn on the Welcome to Medina

By Amherst D. Tyssen

The governors of Yathreb
They laid their maces down,
They made the Meccan exile
The ruler of their town;
To him they came for judgment
In each disputed cause;
They offered him their tribute,
They bade him frame their laws.

They swore with manly fealty
To serve him e'en to death,
Confessing him their prophet
With life's expiring breath.
Their very lives they perilled,
They laboured and they fought;
For in good truth they deemed him
By God divinely taught.

Lord grant that we, renouncing
All selfishness and pride,
At Thy command may freely
Cast wealth and power aside.
Attentive may we listen
Where'er Thy voice is heard,
And life itself surrender
Obedient to Thy word.

Consistent with Thy precepts
Our journey may we trend,
Stern duty's path pursuing
Unswerving to the end.
Thus we, like Yathreb's heroes,
Shall brave examples be
Of worldly weal discarded
For faithfulness to Thee.

Courtesy of Sidi Yahya Birt

Hymn on Muhammad in the Cave

By Amherst D. Tyssen

The prophet with one faithful friend
In the dark cavern stood,
A thousand foemen scouring round,
All thirsting for his blood.

"Alas, my master," spake the liege,
"Our term of life is sped;
I hear the murd'rous bands approach,
Intent to strike us dead."

"Be not distressed!" in accents firm,
The Prophet's voice replied;
"For God is mightier far than they,
And God is on our side.

"Will He we live, no mortal power
Can take our lives away;
Will He we die, to Him we pass;
No need to feel dismay."

Oh, may we thus through life's rough voyage,
With all its tempests cope;
Make God the Rock whereon we cast
The anchor of our hope.

Come weal: to Him we give the praise;
Come woe: on Him we rest;
E'en death is bliss to hearts assured
Whate'er He sends in best.

Courtesy of Sidi Yahya Birt

The Prophet's Resolution

By Amherst D. Tyssen

The prophet felt a mission
To preach the word of God,
To brave all opposition,
To fear no threatened rod.
Oh, had his foes the power,
To scale the heaven's height,
To pluck from out their bower,
The orbs of day and night.
On right and left hand place them,
To bar his onward way.
Undaunted he would face them,
Nor brook an hour's delay.
Filled with determined boldness,
His steadfast heart would meet,
The moon's pale silv'ry coldness,
The sun's bright scorching heat.
On, till he saw prevailing,
The cause of God on high,
Or felt, with forces failing,
His lot ordained to die.
Oh, may such resolution,
With courage nerve us all
To bear such persecution,
Entailed by Heaven's call

Courtesy of Sidi Yahya Birt

In Praise of the Prophet: A Ghazel

By Shaykh Abdullah Quilliam Bey Effendi (writing as Prof. Haroun Mustapha Leon)

So long as the heart doth pulsate and beat,
So long as the sun bestows light and heat,
So long as the blood thro' our veins doth flow,
So long as the mind in knowledge doth grow,
long as the tongue retains power of speech,
So long as wise men true wisdom do teach,
The praise of God's Prophet,Ahmed theblest,
Shall flow from our lips and spring from our breast.
'Twas Rasul-Allah from darkness of night
Did lead us to Truth, did give to us Light,
Did point out the Path, which follow'd with zest,
Leadeth to Islam and gives Peace and Rest.
Praise be to Allah! 'Twas He who did send
Ahmed Muhammad, our Prophet, our Friend.

(The Islamic Review, 3 (1915), p.286.)

Hymn for the Prophet's Birthday

Hymn for the Prophet's Birthday

By Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Bey Effendi

The people that in darkness sat
A glorious light have seen;
God's prophet now to them hath come --Muhammad, al-Amin.
For thou the burden did'st remove,
Idolatry's fell rod;
And in the day the idols fell
Before the sword of God.
To bless Arabia and the world
Most surely thou wast raised:
We'll sing thy praises evermore,
Our Mustapha, the praised.
We watch with gentle, fostering care
The seed that thou hast sown;
And trust to hear the world declare
God's prophet as its own.

Coutesy of Sidi Yahya Birt

Monday, 5 December 2011

Poem of the Glorious Morning

Dawn rising from the east is enlivening.
It puts an end to the enveloping silence of the night.
Life manifests itself in every object at dawn.
Birds chirrup, heralding the message of life.
Flowers too, start a new life.
Muslims! Arise and awake from your slumber.
Shine like the sun and seek inspiration from the symbols of life around you.
Obliterate evil.
Your being full of light should put an end to darkness.
Reveal yourself like a flashing light,
unravelling the secrets of the universe.

(Madrasah Life, A student's day at Nadwat al Ulama, Shaykh, Dr, Mohammed Akram Nadwi, Page 11)

Friday, 25 November 2011

12 of Arsene Wenger’s finest quotes

So here follows 12 of Wenger’s finest musings as Arsenal boss:

1. ‘I tried to watch the Tottenham match on television in my hotel yesterday, but I fell asleep.’

2. After a disappointing draw with Middlesbrough in 1998 – ‘If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages.’

3. ‘A football team is like a beautiful woman. When you do not tell her, she forgets she is beautiful.’
So here follows 12 of Wenger’s finest musings as Arsenal boss:

4. Following Sol Campbell ’s departure to Portsmouth – ‘It is a big surprise to me because he cancelled his contract to go abroad. Have you sold Portsmouth to a foreign country?’

5. After Sepp Blatter ’s accusation that big clubs were guilty of ‘child slavery’ – ‘If you have a child who is a good musician, what is your first reaction? It is to put them into a good music school, not in an average one. So why should that not happen in football?’

6. After the success of the Great Britain team at the Olympics – ‘I didn’t know the English were good at swimming. I have been in this country for 12 years and I haven’t seen a swimming pool.’

7. In response to Sir Alex Ferguson ’s claim that he possessed the best team in the league, despite Arsenal winning the title in 2002 – ‘Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home.’

8. After being asked if he’d received the apology that Sir Alex had announced he had sent to Wenger – ‘No. Perhaps he sent it by horse.’

9. On Emmanuel Adebayor ’s stamp on Robin van Persie – ‘I watched it when I got home and it looked very bad. You ask 100 people, 99 will say it’s very bad and the hundredth will be Mark Hughes.’

10. ‘I don’t kick dressing room doors or the cat or even football journalists.’

11. ‘We do not buy superstars. We make them.’

12. After Jose Mourinho accused him of being a voyeur – ‘He’s out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful. When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Should Christian women wear bikinis?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Encounter with a Wali

Translation By Ibn Riaz:

بسـم الله الرحمن الرحيم

By Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Maghāmasī

I know of a man from Egypt who performed Ḥajj 32 years ago in his youth. He, at the time, was riding in a nine-passenger vehicle. In the front seats were a husband and wife. Behind them was a woman very old in age who, due to the congestion inside, was in an uncomfortable position, and her age and body’s condition didn’t help the situation any better. So, the man who I know tried to convince the man in the front to switch seats with the old woman so that she could up front. He refused, but this man kept on pushing him to do it until he finally accepted. The husband ended up going to the back seat and the old woman was able to sit up front. When the old woman felt relaxed and was able to extend her legs she said to this man, in her local dialect, what means, “May Allāh not prevent you from Ḥajj every year.”

This man has performed Ḥajj until now—and I know him—for 32 years. 32 pilgrimages since she supplicated for him that year! Sometimes a new year comes and the time of Ḥajj approaches, but he doesn’t have the money or even the intention to perform it. Yet, without any notice, he’s led to perform Ḥajj by the blessing of that woman’s supplication.

`Alī (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “Allāh has concealed two within two: He has concealed His pleasure in righteous acts, so one does not know which righteous act of his pleases Allāh; and He has concealed His awliyā’ amongst His servants, so one does not know which servant of Allāh is His walī.”

The point here: perform good deeds and desire for them to be sincerely for Allāh’s Sake. Perhaps you’ll do something for someone who is unknown amongst the people—which is better—and his supplications are answered. In turn, he supplicates for you and prosperity is decreed for you while you don’t know from where it came. However, Allāh bestowed His loving Mercy upon you and made an easy way for you to reach your goal. May Allāh allow for us to attain that which He loves through our good deeds.

May His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muḥammad and his family, and all praises are due to Allāh, Lord of the Worlds

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The lost diary of Queen Victoria's final companion

Abdul Karim’s writings, hidden by his family until now, throw new light on a close and controversial relationship, says Ben Leach.

'I am so very fond of him. He is so good and gentle and understanding… and is a real comfort to me.”

These were the words of Queen Victoria speaking to her daughter-in-law, Louise, Duchess of Connaught, on November 3, 1888, at Balmoral. Perhaps surprising, though, is who she was talking about – not her beloved husband, Albert, who had died in 1861. Nor John Brown, her loyal Scottish ghillie, who in many ways filled the void left by Albert, since Brown had died in 1883.

Instead, Queen Victoria was referring to Abdul Karim, her 24-year-old Indian servant.

Her relationship with Karim was one that sent shockwaves through the royal court – and ended up being one of the most scandalous periods of her 64-year reign.

Indeed, such was the ill-feeling that when Victoria died, her son King Edward ordered all records of their relationship, including correspondence and photographs, to be destroyed.

But a new archive of letters, pictures and Karim’s “lost diary”, held secretly by his family for more than a century, sheds new light on their relationship.

The documents tell the story of how Karim arrived in England in 1887 and quickly gained the affection of a monarch 42 years his senior. They chart the remarkable rise of the clerk from Agra in northern India to one of Victoria’s closest and most influential friends.

The author Shrabani Basu discovered the documents after writing Victoria & Abdul, her book on the remarkable relationship between the Queen and her Indian servant. In 2010 Basu was in Bangalore, India, for the book’s launch when she received a call from the British Council. Begum Qamar Jehan, then 85, frail and blind, was one of Abdul Karim’s few remaining relatives (Karim had had no children himself); yet, despite her age and condition, she still had vivid memories of her days in Karim Lodge, Agra (more of which later). Moreover, she had in her possession Karim’s diary documenting the period in which he served Queen Victoria.

Two months later Basu flew from London to Karachi in Pakistan. She was handed the diary – a neat brown journal with gold edges, recognisable as the stationery used in Windsor. It contained a record of Karim’s 10 years in London between the Golden and Diamond jubilees. The pages were also filled with photographs and magazine cuttings. It had been smuggled out of India by the family when they had fled in 1947 following the Partition riots, then kept a closely guarded secret until Basu’s visit. Basu has now updated her remarkable story of the Queen and her Indian manservant with extracts from his diary – plus from Queen Victoria’s Hindustani Journals, which Basu has had translated for the first time.

Karim initially moved to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee – the Queen wanted two Indian waiters there to attend to the Indian princes who would be present. Victoria was instantly charmed by the tall, elegant Karim, and within a year he had transcended from waiting tables to becoming a powerful figure within the royal court.

Yet in the opening paragraphs of his diary, Karim remarks on the humble nature of his status in the Royal household: “Under the shadow of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, I a humble subject venture in the following pages to lay before the reader a brief summary from the journal of my life at the court of Queen Victoria from the Golden Jubilee of 1887 to the Diamond Jubilee of 1897. As I have been but a sojourner in a strange land and among a strange people I humbly trust all mistakes will be kindly overlooked by the reader who would extend indulgence to the writer of these pages.”

He then goes on to describe his initial thoughts on coming to England: “In 1887 with the recommendation of Dr Tyler who was my superior officer at the Central Jail [where he was working as a clerk] I came to England as orderly to the Queen. I must mention that the word 'orderly’ as understood by us in India means one who has to accompany a sovereign or Prince or other high person of rank on horseback. It is a much higher position than the orderly of the British Army who is simply a private soldier selected to attend an officer as a personal servant carrying his orders etc. It was in the former sense of the word that I accepted the proposal to go to England.”
On arriving in London, he notes, he visits the zoo as well as Madame Tussauds. Yet sightseeing was not Karim’s prime purpose; he is there to meet the Queen. He recounts their first audience:

“Dr Tyler and I were instructed to take our station near the dining room and wait her Majesty’s coming. I was somewhat nervous at the approach of the Great Empress who soon entered accompanied by HRH the Duke of Connaught and Princess Beatrice. Dr Tyler at once did homage by kneeling, whilst I did the same in Oriental style. I presented nazars, or gifts by exposing, in the palms of my hands, a gold mohar [a coin] which Her Majesty touched and remitted as is the Indian custom. The Queen was thereafter pleased to speak to Dr Tyler a few words, and so ended my first interview with the Empress of India.”

Two days later, Dr Tyler received a telegram asking him to return to Buckingham Palace with Karim. The queen wrote in her diaries about her two new Indian servants: “The one Mohammed Buksh, very dark with a very smiling expression… and the other, much younger, called Abdul Karim, is much lighter, tall and with a fine, serious countenance. His father is a native doctor at Agra. They both kissed my feet.”
Karim introduced curry to the royal menu and started teaching her to speak Urdu, offering lessons every evening. As Empress of India – and a committed Indophile – nothing pleased her more.

Yet Karim was dispirited – he was unhappy doing such a menial task as waiting tables and professed his wish to return to his homeland. This is mentioned in his diaries.

The following letter from Queen Victoria that Karim kept in his journal asking him to stay is significant: that letter was one of many destroyed by her son, King Edward, following his mother’s death. Karim, however, had kept a certified copy:

“General Dennehy has read me your petition… I shall be very sorry to part with you for I like and respect you, but I hope you will remain till the end of this year or the beginning of the next that I may be able to learn enough Hindustani from you to speak a little. I shall gladly recommend you for a post in India which could be suitable for you and hope that you may be able to come and see me from time to time in England.”

And recommend him for a post she did: Queen Victoria made Abdul Karim her official munshi (teacher) as well as Indian Clerk to the Queen. This too he notes in his diary: “It was a day I shall never forget and for the same I shall ever thank my God and pray for the long life and happiness of Her Majesty.”

Henceforth Karim travelled everywhere with the Queen, even on her tours of Europe, meeting numerous monarchs and prime ministers along the way. The Queen allowed him to move his wife over to England, and the couple were given their own cottage on each of her estates. In Balmoral, a special cottage was built just for him, and the Queen called it “Karim Cottage” in his honour. The munshi spared no expense decorating and, on the completion of Karim Cottage, threw a house-warming party for the ladies and gentleman of the household.

According to his diaries, Karim seems particularly enamoured by Balmoral: “I admired the scenery for it reminded me so forcibly of the Highland scenery of India which is much resorted to by Europeans during the hot season… I was told that Her Majesty is particularly partial to this residence in the Highlands. During the summer the neighbouring hills are covered with the rich bloom of the white and purple heather and with many kinds of wild flowers. To add to the charms of the scenery the silver Dee flows directly past the back of the castle.”

He isn’t as impressed with Glasgow, though: “Glasgow is a very dirty town but it could not be otherwise as it is purely a business centre. There are numerous manufactories, ship building yards and great iron works. The country round about produces abundance of coal. It is situated on the River Clyde, the water of which is so black and dirty… that no fish can live in the river.”

On one of his many foreign trips with the Queen, this time to Nice, he remarks upon his good fortune: “Events which we never thought or even dreamt of happening to us cause us to wonder at the wonderful ways God makes use of in working out his purposes. This thought came to my mind as I considered the wonderful good fortune that happened to some Indian jugglers who chanced to be in Nice while Her Majesty was there. When Her Majesty came to hear of them she sent a request to have them brought before her to exhibit their tricks. The Queen was highly amused and delighted and the honour which was given to these poor jugglers must have made them happy for life.”

Still, many in the royal court were unhappy with Karim’s constant presence. He was forever by her side and the Queen, a prolific letter-writer, often sent him several letters a day. He became her most trusted companion. Although mother to nine children, her relationship with them was distant – and often strained. She missed her late husband dearly, and was desperate for company. As the years went on, Karim’s influence grew, and in time, the one-time servant had servants himself.

The courtiers’ fears had some substance. Since Karim saw every letter that the Queen sent, he was soon advising her on how to deal with sectarian problems between Muslims and Hindus – advice she passed on to the bemused Viceroy. Unsurprisingly, her solutions always seemed to favour the Muslims – Karim, of course, was a Muslim. He even asked to be given a knighthood – one of the few requests the Queen turned down.

The courtiers’ resentment came to a head in 1889 when the Queen spent the night with her munshi at Glassalt Shiel, the isolated Scottish cottage she had once shared with John Brown but vowed never again to visit after he died. Although it appears to have been platonic, he was 26 and she 70, so eyebrows would have been raised. Several courtiers – and indeed members of the Queen’s own family – attempted to distance the Queen from Karim but to no avail; indeed, she thought their actions were motivated by race – and jealousy.

Karim only notes the hostility towards him in his diaries once, and in passing: “The memorable year [Diamond Jubilee year] did not open well… The unpleasantness I remarked on last year still existed.”

Queen Victoria died in 1901, and Abdul Karim was given a prominent place in the funeral possession. Yet days later, guards ordered him to hand over every letter she had written to him. He must somehow have managed to keep his diary concealed.

The few other documents that survived fire are held at Windsor. These include a journal kept by the Queen that was written entirely in Hindustani, and Shrabani Basu has painstakingly translated all 13 volumes.

The translations also reveal fascinating insights into the nature of the Queen’s relationship with Karim.

Abdul had created a phrase book of everyday Urdu words for the Queen to use when speaking to her Indian servants, as well as visiting royalty, and has written them out in Roman script.

The phrases include the standard ones such as: “You may go home if you like” (Tum ghar jao agar chhate ho); and: “The egg is not boiled enough”.

But some of the phrases are significantly more intriguing. For instance: “You will miss the munshi very much” (Tum munshi ko bahut yad karoge). And: “Hold me tight” (Ham ko mazbut thamo).

The Windsor documents also contain letters from Queen Victoria to Karim, frequently concerning his wife (towards whom, it would appear, she was equally fond), signed: “dearest mother”; or “Your loving mother, Victoria R.I.”

She nearly always signed these in Urdu. Moreover, the intimate details that the Queen included showed how close she had come to Karim. For instance, the Queen learnt that Karim and his wife had been unsuccessfully trying to have children, and decided to get medical advice:

“I spoke to Dr Reid about your dear wife and I think he will understand easily what you have to tell him. It may be that in hurting her foot and leg she may have twisted (moved or hurt) something in her inside, which would account for things not being regular and as they ought.”

Following the letter-burning, Karim and his wife were ordered to return to India. Years of fine living in the Queen’s palaces meant Karim had grown portly. He had also grown rich, and, returning to Agra, built himself a house, Karim Lodge. He died eight years after his return, at the age of 46.

Yet King Edward’s paranoia was not quelled, and he sent more agents to India to demand that all memorabilia relating to the Queen be burned, much to the alarm of Karim’s grieving widow. King Edward had done the same with all mementos of his mother’s relationship with John Brown.

After all these years, Abdul Karim’s family decided to come forward with the diary as they were determined to show him in a more positive light; not the social climber he had been painted as by many. In truth, Karim was one of the Queen’s closest companions, and offered the widowed monarch a great deal of support – and pleasure - during her lonely later years.

Extracted from 'Victoria & Abdul’ by Shrabani Basu, published by The History Press March 7. To order a copy from Telegraph Books for £9.99 plus £1.25 p&p call 0844 871 1516 or visit

Inside Madrasa A Personal History

Above : The famous Darul Uloom Deoband

By Shaykh Dr Ebrahim Moosa

As I walked one morning last spring through the town of Deoband, home to India’s famous Sunni Muslim seminary, a clean-shaven man, his face glowing with sarcasm, called out to me. “Looking for terrorists?” he asked in Urdu. “I have every right to visit my alma mater,” I protested. With a sheepish grin he turned and walked away.

I shouldn’t have been so annoyed. The century-old seminary in Deoband had come under intense scrutiny after the Taliban leadership claimed an ideological affiliation with it via seminaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Journalists, politicians, and diplomats have since September 11 descended periodically on this town near Delhi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, long considered the intellectual and spiritual heartland of Indian Islam.

Once the Taliban was linked to Bin Laden, every aspect of India’s Muslim seminaries, or madrasas, became stigmatized. Top-level U.S. officials, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a chorus of journalists, pundits, and scholars have declared all madrasas to be breeding grounds for terrorists, but they have done so without any evidence and without an understanding of the complexity of these networks of schools, which are associated with multiple Muslim sects and ideologies. They have drowned out reasonable voices—for example, Peter Bergen and William Dalrymple—who argue that not all madrasas can be indicted in the war on terror. But even their sympathetic gestures fall short of providing a realistic picture of what happens inside madrasas or humanizing their inhabitants.

Had I not been defensive, I would have told the man from Deoband that I had lived and studied in several Indian madrasas between 1975 and 1981. A quarter century later, I had returned—not in search of terrorists, but to try to create a bridge between the world inside the walls and the outside.

* * *

“Wednesday 23 April 1975: The start of our four months in India. We slept after reading two raka’as (formal Muslim prayers). After fajr (pre-dawn prayers) and ishraq (optional after-sunrise prayers) we slept again. This was at Khar mosque in Bandra, Bombay.” So reads the first entry I made in my diary on my six-year journey in India’s madrasas.

Mumbai, known as Bombay in 1975, was a bewildering city for an 18-year-old kid from Cape Town, South Africa. Nothing prepared me for the intimidating throng of beggars and street urchins outside the airport, the countless people sleeping on sidewalks, and the heavy-laden monsoon air and strong odors. At the time I wasn’t aware of the full impact of the “state of emergency” that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had imposed to silence her critics, but I knew that fear surrounded me: people whispered about danger and secret arrests. I suddenly understood my father’s reluctance to let me go.

Deciding to study in India was its own journey that began with a crisis of faith. I was barely 16 when a classmate, a Jehovah’s Witness, brought some stinging anti-Islamic literature to our class. I still hear Gabriel reading: “Muhammad was an impostor who spread his message by the sword and was unworthy of being a prophet.” And he added, “Actually, Muhammad cribbed his teachings from Jews and Christians whom he met during his travels.” I had learned at the daily religious school sessions—also called madrasa in South Africa—that as a youth the Prophet Muhammad traveled to Syria with his uncle and was even anointed by a Christian monk. But never did I suspect the Prophet of treachery. This first exposure to the hostility some Christians harbor toward Muslims crushed my unchallenged sense of faith. But the encounter also started me thinking critically about Islam: it would change my life.

A trip to the library did little to reassure me. The refined prose of authors like Sir William Muir and Montgomery Watt leveled the same charges against Muhammad and claims to Islam’s authenticity. On reflection, it seems rather odd that as devout Christians and rational Scotsmen, Muir and (perhaps less so) Watt found it plausible that God could be incarnate in a man from Nazareth but incredible that a seventh-century Arab could prophesy as the Jewish prophets did.

I later found comfort with a group called the Tabligh Jamat. The Arabic word tabligh means “to convey or transmit.” The Tabligh Jamat consisted of lay Muslims reminding their co-religionists of their religious duties. I attended their pious circle at my neighborhood mosque in District Six, Cape Town’s multiethnic and defiant cultural center, where I lived during the school week. Several years later, apartheid’s architects would obliterate District Six to remove any evidence that the coexistence of different races was possible and assign us to racially segregated ghettos.

But questions about my faith persisted. My doubts—and my existential anxiety as a person of color in this white-supremacist world—became unbearable. My plans to become an engineer slowly gave way to another obsession. I wanted to go to India to study the faith of my ancestors, to reconcile that faith with reason. My mother was sympathetic to my cause, but my father didn’t want to see his eldest son as a poor cleric dependent on the benevolence of the community. Born and raised in South Africa, he hardly performed the daily rituals or attended Friday prayers, giving priority to his business. He relented, though, when my aunts reminded him of the promise of paradise for learned scholars of Islam and the Qur’an as well as their benefactors.

* * *

In my heart I was following my mother’s prayers. She had come to South Africa as a 19-year-old bride from Gujarat. Far from close relatives and burdened with domestic chores in an extended family with seven children, one of whom died in infancy, she took refuge in religion. In particularly tough times she would share with me, her eldest, the religious lore she learnt in her childhood in the village of Dehgaam, of how the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, endured life’s trials.

My grandiose plan was also an escape from the drudgery of life: South Africa’s third-rate segregated schools, where discipline was violent and dictatorial, and the weekends and vacations working in the family grocery store in a seaside town 30 miles away. I was aware of the country’s segregationist politics; but I knew little of the lives of black South Africans, and I did not see the black unrest that would erupt on June 16, 1976, after I had been in India just more than a year.

When I arrived in Bombay, Tabligh volunteers received me and the rest of our group; I had agreed to spend four months in the Tabligh program before entering a madrasa. The brainchild of an Indian cleric, Muhammad Ilyas, who felt the teachings of Islam were not reaching the grass-roots faithful in British India, the Tabligh has no real bureaucratic administration, but its presence is felt in almost every corner of the globe. Resigning from his teaching position at a prestigious madrasa in the 1920s, Ilyas devoted himself, against tremendous odds, to revival work (da’wa) in the Mewat, a region straddling two states, Rajasthan and Haryana. He used a small mosque, the Banglawali Masjid, as his base in Delhi, where he cultivated his core of loyal associates. On the same site today a Spartan mosque serves as the international center (markaz) of the Tabligh.

Ilyas had a simple but highly effective evangelical message that he had boiled down to five points to mirror Islam’s five cardinal pillars of practice: grasp the true meaning and implications of the creedal statement that there is no deity except Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger; pray conscientiously five times a day; acquire learning and engage in the frequent remembrance of God; honor fellow believers; and participate in missionary work (da’wa) by spreading awareness of Islam. The Tabligh now hosts some of the largest Muslim gatherings, involving millions of participants on the subcontinent and around the world.

Working with the Tabligh was a grueling ordeal; and overcoming culture shock in India was daunting. We stayed at mosques, ate very basic meals, navigated treacherous roads, and traveled in overcrowded trains. By the lights of my naive faith, eternal damnation awaited these millions of Hindus apparently devoted to idols. In just weeks, India taught me to ask the first and enduring question about the workings of divine justice: how was it possible that a just God could promise me paradise and damn all these people who look like me? Years later, I would discover that many thinkers in the monotheistic tradition were confronted by similar questions, including the 12th-century thinker Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, about whom I would later write a book.

I cut short my four months with the Tabligh to three and headed for the Madrasa Sabilur Rashad in Bangalore along with two other South Africans I met in the Tabligh. At the austere walled campus I found dozens of students apart from the majority South Indians and the few from my home country—young men from Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United States, and a lone Cuban. I occupied the fourth thin mattress in a sparse and cramped dorm room with a West Indian, an African-American, and the Cuban. The latter two would in pursuit of piety rise at 3 a.m. for optional prayers and liturgy, tormenting the rest of us for not doing the same. I saw this “calculator mentality” often in the Tabligh—the preoccupation with rewards for performing certain acts of piety and an attitude that these roommates celebrated.

Daily madrasa routine would begin at least an hour before sunrise with preparation for the early-morning prayers. Afterward students remained at the mosque to read a portion of the Qur’an. Others used the early morning hours to memorize the Qur’an, known as hifz. Breakfast would follow in the dining hall, called “the mess,” a reminder that the British had ruled India. Breakfast consisted of South Indian idli (lentil-rice patties), a crispy roti (baked bread), and chai (tea boiled in milk). Most foreign students made breakfast in their rooms with a spread of eggs, toast, and chai.

I had arrived at the madrasa only one month before it closed for the long Ramadan break, the end of the academic year. But in that short time I chafed at the highly regimented and pietistic environment and, worst of all, the cafeteria food. I took a class on memorizing portions of the Qur’an for liturgical purposes and perfecting my recitation of the holy book. The six-hour day of memorization was tedious, and students would take frequent bathroom breaks, sip lots of tea, and play surreptitiously to pass the time. The day’s memorized passage, as well as back lessons, were recited to an instructor at least twice daily. It took up to three full years to memorize the entire Qur’an. Not having budgeted such a length of time, I selected chapters, which would be useful in the classroom or in delivering sermons, as well as for liturgy. Since all instruction was in Urdu, I also threw myself into learning both Urdu and Arabic in private lessons.

But after almost four months in India, I had yet to enroll in an alimiyya program, required for gaining the knowledge and skills of an alim, the Arabic word for “a learned person.” (The plural, ulama, is today used to refer to Muslim clerics.) I spent the Ramadan break with my maternal grandfather, visiting my parents’ ancestral villages in Gujarat, near Bharuch, a bustling city on the banks of the Narmada River. On the outskirts of Baruch I discovered a small madrasa, Darul Uloom Matliwala, supported by an affluent South African family and enrolling some 200 students at the time.

The centerpiece of the seminary was a three-level Parsee bungalow. Parsees are followers of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion of Persia. They straddle Indian and Anglo cultures and often speak both English and Gujarati. The bungalow was large enough to accommodate several classrooms and administrative space. To the side of the sprawling compound on Eidgah Road was a beautiful mosque of pastel greens surrounded by palms and a well-maintained garden. A student dormitory abutted the tilled fields that ran down to the banks of the Narmada.

The pace was relaxed and congenial. I decided to enroll. By coincidence, three other fellow South Africans came to study as a private cohort with a brilliant teacher, Mawlana Ibrahim Patni, who allowed me to join his group. Mawlana Patni’s talents were such that he could have succeeded as a lawyer or businessman. For the first few months we four would spend most of the day at the back of a class with dozens of 12-to-14-year-olds who were taking elementary classes in the pre-alimiyya program. We were on average 18 years old, writing with white chalk on child-sized black slate boards. At first we hardly understood the day classes we were auditing, but as the weeks and months progressed, things became clearer. By year-end I had a good handle on Urdu, and my Arabic was coming along.

As I adjusted to my new life, I also learned that my naive views about madrasas were not immune to contradiction. Puritanism reigned, and sex was taboo. I recall one evening in Bangalore when the Cuban student raised the alarm in the dorms, claiming that he had caught two Indian students in a homosexual embrace in the bathroom. I was scandalized, and the revelation haunted me for weeks. At home and in the madrasa I was taught that heterosexual conduct outside marriage was forbidden (and had life-threatening consequences); homosexuality was an unthinkable abomination.

Within a few months at the Bharuch madrasa I received my second jolt: I learned that it was an open secret that one of the teachers had sexual relations with younger men or perhaps even boys. Disturbed, but less shaken this time, I was getting a reality check. The personal lives of teachers and fellow students would not be my biggest concern. I realized that Bharuch was a provincial city and the madrasa lacked the more robust intellectual environment I sought, which was available in reputable North Indian madrasas.

After a year in Gujarat, I headed for Darul Uloom Deoband—the most prominent and prestigious madrasa for those affiliated with the Deobandi interpretation of the Sunni sect. Deoband, legend has it, was named after the goddess Durga, who in ancient times lived in the dense forest (van) near a lake (kund). It then became known as the ‘forest of the goddess’ (devi van) or ‘lake of the goddess’ (devi kund), which became corrupted to Deoband.

Today, the small town of Deoband, 98 miles from the Indian capital, Delhi, is typical, with open air markets, bookstores, food stalls, grocers, barbers, Internet cafes, and telephone exchanges. On its congested roads, man, animals, and vehicles vie for space. Locals joke that Deoband is famous for five things starting with the letter m: moulvis (Muslim clerics), masjid (mosque), mandir (temple), matchchar (mosquitoes) and makkhi (flies). But the spacious courtyard of Darul Uloom Deoband, in its serenity and historical grandeur, is reminiscent of Castalia in Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game: a place without family, amusements, poverty, and hunger, but dedicated to learning and hierarchy. Inside the red-brick walls, a large green cupola rises, dominating the landscape. The madrasa is built like a medieval fort, with four main gates and a courtyard marking the administrative and teaching spaces. Enclosing a larger courtyard replete with manicured lawns and simple flower gardens are extremely modest student residences. A majestic white marbled mosque now looms outside Madani Gate of the main campus.

* * *

Deoband was founded in 1867 in the aftermath of the failed Indian rebellion against British rule. With the defeat of the Moghuls, Muslim India divided into two intellectual paths. One saw the future secured in the embrace of modernity; this school established secular universities such as Aligarh Muslim University, founded by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan. The other embraced tradition through religious schools, madrasas.

Deoband’s intellectual architect, Muhammad Qasim Nanautvi, a man of ascetic taste, a committed traditionalist, and a tireless anti-imperialist, belonged to the latter group. He and Khan were contemporaries and, as evident in their extensive and at times hostile correspondence, clashed over the meaning and place of Islam in the modern world. According to Khan, modern rationalism and science were compatible with a new interpretation of Islam—his. Older and more established doctrines, he believed, might have to be modified, if not jettisoned. (Khan did have his limits—he never entirely reconciled himself with the role of women in modern society.) Nanautvi was also a rationalist, but for him rationalism did not mean modern Western rationality like Descartes and Spinoza. It was, instead, a very early form of Greco-Arabic rationality consisting of Euclidean geometry and Aristotelian logic in the service of the old theological formulations of faith. Even today, this rationalist framework at Deoband and similar schools effectively exclude modern science.

Despite his anti-imperialism, Nanautvi did find European bureaucratic modernity attractive. He was trained at Delhi College, established by the British East India Company. He institutionalized exams, salaries for faculty, stipends for students, and an administrative system at Deoband modeled in part on Delhi College.

Nanautvi and his descendants controlled the main campus of Deoband until 1981 when rivals ousted Nanautvi’s aging grandson during an extended student strike that led to the closure of the institution. The reasons for the schism remain unclear. Students and their supporters at the time leveled charges of nepotism at the leadership and demanded better living conditions and some modernization of the syllabus. Ironically, the ousted administration had been planning to radically transform the Deoband madrasa with the support of a new hastily formed council that was later deemed to be unconstitutional. Two decades later very little had changed at the main Deoband campus. In fact, a breakaway madrasa, a cloned version of the main Deoband madrasa, has sprung up not far from the original campus. The new facility housed some 1,500 students, whereas the main campus housed over 3,000 students.

Deoband and other madrasas on the Indian subcontinent differed from their counterparts elsewhere in the Muslim world: they were privately funded. In fact, their raison d’�(tm)tre was resisting the state, in particular the influences of British rule and the spread of modernity through westernized Muslim elites. In contrast, Cairo’s al-Azhar and other schools in the Middle East had lost their independence to secular governments, who turned religion and clerics into extensions of the state and coerced modernization in certain areas.

For idealistic young men like me, who landed on the subcontinent in the mid-1970s in search of salvation and identity, the madrasas of India and Pakistan were presented as genuine bastions of tradition. We viewed institutions and scholars throughout the Middle East with disdain: they were feckless, robbed of intellectual vigor by governments that were slavish to foreign powers and uninterested in indigenous talents and history. Despite meager resources (extremely meager compared to the bourgeois comforts to which I had become accustomed), the madrasas had great legitimacy in our hearts and minds.

Being a student at Deoband was for me at first a dizzying experience. I devoured my texts, and they opened up worlds to me. Madrasa education drives home the sacred nature of knowledge. One is taught to show the utmost respect for the bearers of knowledge, teachers, and the instruments of learning, books. Novices quickly learn that some scholars cannot even tolerate the sight of paper lying in the street; carelessly discarded paper is the desecration of knowledge. Texts are not only symbols of learning, but markers of progress, too. So, for instance, if you ask a student what year of the program he is in, he will cite the text he is studying; only an insider could translate the name of that text into a specific year of the curriculum.

We studied books that were written in the tenth century and earlier, as well as those from the 15th to 20th centuries. The beauty of the textual tradition lies precisely in its discordant variety: texts serve as palimpsests of the ancient and the modern world. The best professors not only translated and clarified the text; they made an effort to link the ancient world to contemporary realities.

Law, called fiqh in Arabic, is the mainstay of the madrasa curriculum. Fiqh is actually moral discourse that proposes ethical guidelines for society. Learning the classical fiqh texts was exciting and awesome; after all, learning the practices advanced by tradition confers a certain responsibility and authority. I initially held out the hope that the proper application of fiqh would create an ideal Muslim society, only to find out that it would take more than law. I was disturbed, too, that some of what passes as the execution of Sharia practices involved gruesome amputations and floggings. I believed that if there were other ways to deter murder and theft they would be preferable to the practices of early centuries. There were few teachers to whom one could air such doubts. Most would respond with dire warnings of the spiritual and theological hazards of such thinking.

Even as students we would lampoon some of what we were taught, questioning its utility. For instance, in the fiqh class there were endless discussions about seven types of water usable to secure ritual purity: rain, sea, river, and well water, followed by water melted from snow and ice, and, finally spring water. Most of us had only seen water from the taps and wells, and few students from rural India would have had seen snow or the sea, except for in pictures—and pictures were rare, since images of animate objects were taboo. But thoughtful professors would transform arcane lessons into broader discussions, for example about the validity of recycled water for ritual purposes, a possibility unimaginable to the medieval authors of our texts.

* * *

Critics often charge the madrasa system of anachronism, a charge that is partly true. Defenders of the traditional curriculum, which was devised by the 18th-century scholar Mulla Nizamuddin, insist on the supreme pedagogical value of the old texts. They believe that, apart from connecting students to the canonical tradition, the “Nizami curriculum” enhances one’s mastery of every discipline and enables scholars to solve any contemporary problem. But few have been able to rebut the charge that the texts used are redundant and at times impenetrable, save to a few scholars who have spent their lives mastering them. Indeed most texts are frustratingly terse, forcing teachers and students to scour commentaries and super-commentaries for help. The multiple levels of calligraphic marginalia on each textbook page were decorative, but they were taxing to the eyes and mind. For decades critics have petitioned for more lucid texts. But inertia has turned the texts and syllabus into inviolable monuments to the past. The result is that students are poorly prepared and lack the confidence to engage the tradition critically to meet the needs of a changing world. At its worst the system recycles intellectual mediocrity as piety.

After three years in India I started asking questions about the relevance of the texts and how to apply their insights in the modern world and, especially, in South Africa. By now I had become acutely aware of the political challenges of my home country: racism, and the intransigence of the Muslim clergy there to speak out against the evil of apartheid. Reading the uncensored Indian press and following political developments at home through the literature of Nelson Mandela’s banned African National Congress, all impressed upon me the challenges I would face in South Africa. My restlessness drove me to read widely and independently—especially literature written by more contemporary authors. One such author was Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, whom most teachers in Deoband reviled and for whom only the bravest expressed guarded admiration. Mawdudi was the gadfly among clerics who pushed for what is called “political Islam.”

Mawdudi rose to prominence during the dying years of British colonialism and after partition moved to the new state of Pakistan. While he had the credentials, he was not a member of the clerical elite, being for most of his life an autodidact, a gifted writer and founder of a continent-wide social movement known as the Jamat-e Islami. Mawdudi’s prolific writings guaranteed him audiences among modern educated Muslims. As the traditionalist ulama bickered with him on petty issues, Mawdudi emphasized the social dimensions of Islam as an ideology. If Muslims conceived of Islam as a social teaching then they could build new societies. Establishing an Islamic state, fully backed by Islamic laws and institutions, was one of Mawdudi’s ideals. Mawdudi was an ideologue with a vision, a political program, and international influence. Sayyid Qutb, the prominent Egyptian writer and ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood was persuaded by Mawdudi’s analysis that secular materialism was akin to the days of ignorance, jahiliyya, at the birth of Islam.

I thus discovered an interpretation of Islam outside the walls of the madrasa where I could find inspiration and guidance for building society from an Islamic platform. The ancient texts I was studying suddenly seemed musty and stale.

An overbearing government clerk who told my father that my expired passport could not be renewed unless I returned home changed everything. During mysubsequent—and, as it turned out, unecessary—three-month trip to South Africa in 1978, I realized I had been living in a cloistered world. Just seeing the people of Cape Town made me begin to question everything: my lifestyle, attire, ideas about my future. Up to that point, I had hardly spent time in Indian cities; nor did I watch television, go to movies, or listen to music because of the strict moral code I had followed for three years. I had given away all my Western clothes, vowing to wear only what I then believed was “Islamic dress”: the typical loose-fitting knee-length tunic, called a kurta, and loose-fitting pants.

I now knew that if I were to follow the rules of Deoband, not only would my life in South Africa be restricted—I had come to the madrasa to escape such confinement—but so too would be my emotional and intellectual development.

On my return to India I stepped into the precincts of Deoband wearing a T-shirt and jeans, a cavalier affront to my immediate friends. Even though the act was largely symbolic—I would continue to wear the conventional attire—I spurred a debate among close friends about what I thought were the deficiencies in the madrasas. Fellow students and a few teachers predictably labeled me a “modernist,” an insult. Some of my younger teachers who often gently challenged my views, helped me realize how self-righteous I had been in the past about an Islamic dress code and the superiority of the interpretations of madrasa authorities on virtually every matter.

It was time to move on. I was still determined to complete the alimiyya program, but I needed to find a madrasa with less emphasis on texts. I explored opportunities to study in Libya, Iraq, and Egypt to little avail. I was less of an idealist by now, and the burden of becoming independent started to weigh on me as I approached 21. Taking over the family business was certainly not an option; I needed to find a vocation.

I decided to transfer to Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, a madrasa in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow. Nadwa was located on the banks of the Gomti River, which flows through this historic Mughal city, reputed for its refined culture, food, and aesthetic taste and a place where people still feel nostalgia for the days of nobility. In Mughal times this region was known as Oudh, and its rulers were mostly those who followed the Shia rite. In my student days there were occasional Sunni–Shia tensions around the beginning of the Islamic month of Muharram, signaling the Muslim New Year, when public exhibitions of Shia passion plays rekindled ancient grievances underlying the sectarian split within Islam more than a millennium ago. Yet Lucknow was a city that took pride in civility.

* * *

Moving from Deoband to Nadwa is in effect like transferring from the Vatican to a liberal divinity school. Deobandis look askance at Nadwa: in addition to being too modern and too liberal for the Deoband temper, it is more internationalist in outlook. Its former president, the late Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, was internationally reputed in the Muslim world. A one-time colleague of Mawdudi, with whom he would later had differences, he was clearly enchanted by Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood. He wrote extensively on the plight of Muslims in the 20th century and mobilized for their welfare and advancement. Nadwa received a great deal of support from foundations and individuals in the Arabian Gulf, and the campus boasts significant upgrades over the last three decades. Ali Nadwi was a descendent of the Prophet’s family and was therefore known as a sayyid. He wrote mainly in Arabic and strongly believed that a renaissance among the Arabs would have a salutary influence on the rest of the Muslim world. I think that toward the end of his life he was less sanguine about such an outcome.

Nadwatul Ulama was launched in 1898 by a broad spectrum of ulama, traditionalists to modernists, who all believed that the Deoband-type madrasa education did not equip students for the challenges of modern life. Placing a greater emphasis on the liberating message of the Qur’an, Nadwa favored certain departures from the traditional curriculum and emphasized the study of history. Nadwa’s motto was “Synthesizing the profitable past with the useful modern.” Nadwa’s tolerance to intra-Sunni differences made it attractive. Students adhering to the Barelwi school of thought, a more Platonic interpretation of Islam that accepts elements of popular religion, and Salafis, those who follow a scripturalist interpretation, both rivals to Deoband, enroll at Nadwa to pursue different degrees. Students are allowed to attend class wearing Western dress, although the majority wear kurtas.

But while Nadwa offered me space to pursue my own interests, the curriculum was in the end not that different from Deoband. (On a recent visit to both places I was unable to tell the difference.) By now, too, the Nizami curriculum seemed largely redundant. Classes at Nadwa were not very demanding. And I was completely put off by the lifeless study of Islamic law, even though the philosophy and sociology animating law and ethics intruigues me to this day. On my own I frequented the British Library in the Hazratganj area of Lucknow and borrowed widely from Nadwa’s excellent library collection to read new subjects—political science, economics, and English literature. I found Alex Haley’s biography of Malcolm X inspirational and became totally enchanted by Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss), the author of The Road to Mecca, an account of an Austrian Jew’s discovery of Islam and his life as an explorer, a confidante of kings and rulers, a scholar and a diplomat. Asad and Malcolm X kindled in me the desire to write. I published an essay in Arabic in Nadwa’s monthly newspaper and submitted op-ed pieces to the daily Northern India Patrika on politics and Islam.

In 1980 several international speakers attended a conference on Arabic literature held at Nadwa. A tall and imposing Egyptian lawyer and Princeton postgraduate, Mohammed Fathi Osman impressed me. We had several animated conversations about the Iranian revolution that had just occurred. Later, when I was about to graduate, I wrote Osman seeking advice. I received no reply, and decided to visit Egypt and explore a master’s degree at al-Azhar in Cairo. By now I was thoroughly disabused of my earlier, negative views of Islamic education in the Middle East. But just weeks before I was to leave, Osman sent a message inviting me to join the staff of a promising new magazine, sponsored by liberal Saudis, that he was launching in London. The choice between studies in Egypt and journalism in the United Kingdom was a no-brainer. I grabbed the offer and set off for London. Arabia: The Islamic World Review turned out to be the beginning of my career as a journalist. Even though I moved on from Arabia after 18 months, its closure a decade later was a great loss to the world of progressive Islamic ideas.

* * *

Spending six years inside India’s madrasas left deep imprints that over time have become only more significant as I have grown further from my youthful indignation. If given a choice once again at age 18 between a madrasa and a university, I suspect I would opt for a madrasa.

I remain a critic of madrasa education—its inability to provide the big picture of Islamic ideas, its failure to effect the transformation of Muslim societies. Yet madrasas offer something of enormous value. Properly harnessed, they are repositories of classical learning and seed intellectual sophistication that might challenge the shallow discourses of fundamentalism and revivalism that often pass as Islam today. Madrasas are environments of Islamic cultivation of the self, culture, civility, wisdom, and life.

While madrasas are growing in number on the subcontinent, the cherished world of the madrasas of my youth is rapidly disappearing. Shrill rhetoric substitutes for critical and sober reflection as the battle lines are drawn between a triumphant West and the madrasas who believe it is out to destroy them. This atmosphere breeds a debilitating defensiveness and a victim’s mindset. Madrasas of the 21st century will continue to change. I fear that the West’s insistence on casting madrasas as redoubts of terror and proposing invasive surveillance techniques and unilateral curriculum reforms will only force madrasas to retreat into more unpredictable modes of resistance. Madrasas may be forced to defend themselves by more militant means as the political rapids in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh become more turbulent.

My experience in the madrasas is an atypical one: I crafted my own program and selected from what was on offer, whereas most conform to the prescribed syllabus and ideology. Yet as I continued in my work as a journalist, social activist, and then academic in South Africa and now in the United States, I have been able to recover the palimpsest of my madrasa education. I now appreciate these resources in ways madrasa authorities would not approve. Now, as I write about human rights, bioethics, Islamic law, and the ethical interpretation of the tradition, I can do so with confidence and argue that tradition is open to abuse and open to change. In my own thinking, writing, and activism I can push back against the many retrogressive forces and form productive associations with progressive ones. I doubt I would have had the courage to undertake some of this work otherwise.

Friday, 4 November 2011

‘Undercover’ in hijab: unveiling one month later

Mother’s lap is protective and familiar. Leaving this worldview can be uncomfortable, but I can assure you, the rewards are much greater.

Last month, I climbed out of my “lap” and wore a hijab, the Muslim headscarf. I thought this temporary modification of my appearance would bring me closer to an understanding of the Muslim community, but in retrospect, I learned more about my place in the world.

Simplified, one piece of fabric is all it takes to turn perspectives upside-down.

The hijab is a contested, sacred and sometimes controversial symbol, but it is just a symbol. It is a symbol of Islam, a misconstrued, misunderstood religion that represents the most diverse population of people in the world — a population of more than one billion people.

I realized the best way to identify with Muslims was to take a walk in their shoes. On Oct. 1, I covered my head with a gauze scarf and grappled with the perceptions of strangers, peers and even my own family.

Because of perceptions, I even struggled to write this column. My experience with the hijab was personal, but I hope sharing what I saw will open a critical conversation.

My hijab silenced, but simultaneously, my hijab brought unforgettable words.

In the first column I wrote this semester, I compared college to an alarm clock saying, “we see the face of a clock, but rarely do we see what operates behind it.” At the time, I did not realize how seriously I needed to act on my own words — as a journalist, a woman and a human.

A few weeks after I wrote that piece, a guest columnist addressed Islamophobic sentiments regarding the proposed “ground zero” mosque. The writer was Muslim, and she received a flurry of feedback.

The comments online accumulated like a swarm of mindless pests. The collective opinion equated Islam to violence and terrorism.

In response to her column, one comment said, “[The writer] asks us to trust Islam. Given our collective experience, and given Islam’s history I have to wonder what planet she thinks we are on.”

Although I did not know the voices behind these anonymous posts, I felt involuntarily linked to them — because I am not Muslim. I wanted to connect people, and almost instinctively, I decided that a hijab was necessary. A hijab could help me use my affiliation with “white,” non-Muslims to build rapport with the Islamic community and at the same time, show non-Muslims the truth from an unheard voice. Above all, I wanted to see and feel the standard lifestyle for so many women around the world — because I’m curious, and that’s why I’m a journalist.

Before I took this step, I decided to propose my idea to the women who wear headscarves every day. Little did I know, a room full of strangers would quickly become my greatest source of encouragement and would make this project more attainable.

The handshake
Initially, I worried about how the Muslim community would perceive a non-Muslim in a hijab, so I needed its approval before I would start trying on scarves. On Sept. 16, I went to a Muslim Student Association meeting to introduce myself.

When I opened the door to the meeting room, I was incredibly nervous. To erase any sign of uncertainty, I interjected to a girl seated across the room, “meeting starts at 7, right?” The girl, it turns out, was Heba Suleiman, the MSA president. After I explained my plan, her face lit up.

“That is an amazing idea,” she said.

I felt my tension and built-up anxiety melt away. In the minutes following, I introduced myself to the whole group with an “asalaam alaykum,” and although I was half-prepared for it, I was alarmed to hear dozens of “wa aylaykum asalam” in response.

Before I left, several girls approached me. I will not forget what one girl said, “this gives me hope.” Another girl said, “I’m Muslim, and I couldn’t even do that.” It did not hit me until then, that this project would be more than covering my hair. I would be representing a community and a faith, and consequentially, I needed to be fully conscious of my actions while in hijab.

First steps “undercover”
Two weeks later, I met Heba and her friend Leanna for coffee, and they showed me how to wrap a hijab. The girls were incredibly helpful, more than they probably realized. Although this project was my personal undertaking, I knew I wouldn’t be alone — this thought helped me later when I felt like ripping off the hijab and quitting.

Responses to my hijab were subtle or nonexistent. I noticed passing glances diverted to the ground, but overall, everything felt the same. Near the end of the month, a classmate pointed out that a boy had been staring at me, much to my oblivion. The hijab became a part of me, and until I turned my head and felt a gentle tug, I forgot it was there.
For the most part, I carried out life as usual while in hijab. I rode my bike and felt the sensation of wind whipping under my headscarf. I walked past storefront windows, caught a glimpse of a foreign reflection and had to frequently remind myself that the girl was me. Hijab became part of my morning routine, and on one morning I biked to class and turned around because I realized I left without it. At the end of the day, I laughed at my “hijab hair” pressed flat against my scalp.

The hijab sometimes made me uneasy. I went to the grocery store and felt people dodge me in the aisles — or was that just my imagination?

I recognize every exchange I had and every occurrence I report may be an assumption or over analysis because few of my encounters were transparent. The truth is, however, very few of my peers said anything about the hijab. My classmates
I’ve sat next to for more than a year, my professors and my friends from high school — no one addressed the obvious, and it hurt. I felt separated from the people who know me best — or so I thought.

A gap in the conversation exists, and it’s not just surrounding my situation.

Just over a week ago, I turned on the news to see Juan Williams, a former NPR news analyst fired for commentary about Islam. Williams said, “If I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

His statement revealed an internalized fear. And I saw this fear when my colleagues dodged the topic. When I went back to ask “why?,” several said it was too “touchy” or insensitive to bring up.

A hijab is a just symbol, like a cross, a star or an American flag. I am still the same Cassidy Herrington — I didn’t change my identity, but I was treated like a separate entity.

Talk is not cheap
When someone mentioned my hijab without my provocation, I immediately felt at ease. A barista at my usual coffee stop politely asked, “Are you veiling?” A friend in the newsroom asked, “Are your ears cold?”

My favorite account involves a back-story.

I love Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, and I garnered an appetite when I was young. My childhood home neighbored my “third grandmother,” the most loving second-generation Lebanese woman and exceptional cook (not an exaggeration, she could get me to eat leafy vegetables when I was a child zealot of noodles and cheese). I remember knocking on her back door when I was five, asking for Tupperware brimming with tabouleh.

When King Tut’s opened on Limestone, my school year swiftly improved to a fabulously garlicky degree. At least once a week, I stopped by to pick up the tabouleh, hummos or falafel to medicate my case of the newsroom munchies.

On Oct. 21, the owner, Ashraf Yousef, stopped me before I went inside.

“I heard about your project, and I like it,” he said. “And you look beautiful in your hijab.”

This encounter was by far the best. And it made my shawarma sandwich taste particularly delicious. I went back on my last day to thank him, and Yousef said, “I’m just giving my honest opinion, with the hijab, you look beautiful. It makes your face look better.”

Yousef asked if I would wear the hijab to his restaurant when the project was over. I nodded, smiled and took a crunchy mouthful of fattoush.

False patriotism
I did not receive intentional, flagrant anti-Muslim responses. I did, however, receive an e-mail allegedly “intended” for another reader. The e-mail was titled “My new ringtone.” When I opened the audio file, the Muslim prayer to Mecca was abruptly silenced by three gunshots and the U.S. national anthem.

I spoke to the sender of the e-mail, and he said, “It was just a joke.” Here lies a problem with phobias and intolerance — joking about it doesn’t make it less of an issue. When was it ever okay to joke about hatred and persecution? Was it acceptable when Jews were grotesquely drawn in Nazi cartoons? Or when Emmet Till was brutally murdered?

The e-mail is unfortunate evidence that many people inaccurately perceive Islam as violent or as “the other.” A Gallup poll taken last November found 43 percent of Americans feel at least a “little” prejudice against Muslims. And if you need further confirmation that Islamophobia exists, consult Ann Coulter or Newt Gingrich.

I’ve been asked, “Will you wear the hijab when it’s over?” and initially, I didn’t think I would — because I’m not Muslim, I don’t personally believe in hijab. Now that I see it hanging on my wall and I am able to reflect on the strength it gave me, I think, yes, when I need the headscarf, I might wear it.

Ashraf said, “A non-Muslim woman who wears a hijab is just wearing a headscarf.” (and apparently, my face “looks better.”) Appearances aside, when I wore the hijab, I felt confident and focused. I wore the hijab to a news conference for Rand Paul, and although an event coordinator stopped me (just me, except for one elusive blogger) to check my credentials, I felt I accurately represented myself as an intelligent, determined journalist — I was not concerned with how I looked, but rather, I was focused on gathering the story.

So now, I return to my first column of the year. I’ve asked the questions, and I’ve reached across the circles. Now, it’s your turn. You don’t have to wear a hijab for a month to change someone’s life or yours. The Masjid Bilial Islamic Center will host a “get to know your neighbors” on Nov. 7, and UK’s Muslim Student Association is having “The Hajj” on Nov. 8. These are opportunities for non-Muslims to be better informed and make meaningful connections.

I want to thank Heba for being a friend and a resource for help. Thank you to Ashraf Yousef and King Tut for the delicious food and the inspiration. Finally, I apologize to the individuals who feel I have “lied” to them about my identity or who do not agree with this project. I hope this page clears things up — you have the truth now, and I hope you find use for it.

Why are we so afraid to talk about this? We are not at war with Islam. In fact, Muslim soldiers are defending this country. Making jokes about terrorism is not going to make the situation less serious. Simply “tolerating” someone’s presence is not enough.

If you turn on the news, you will inevitably hear the prefix, “extremist,” when describing Islam. What you see and hear from the media is fallible — if you want the truth, talk to a Muslim.

Cassidy Herrington is a journalism and international studies junior. E-mail

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Shaykh Nurettin Can Passes to the Mercy of his Lord

Assalaamu alaykum warahmutAllahi waBarakatuhu,

Dear brothers and sisters,

May I ask those who are able to recite Sura Ikhlas 3 times and a Fatiha for the soul of this great scholar.

Short Bio

During the regime of Attuturk some of the great Ottoman Scholars moved to Eastern Turkey to avoid the repression of the time.

Shaykh Nurettin Can rahimullah studied classical texts and was a Master of many outward disciplines including Hadith , Fiqh and Tafsir. He studied under many of the last of the great Ottoman Scholars.

He had ijaza in tasawuf but never taught any students this science.

Towards the end of his life he had people flocking to him to take ijazas in the outward sciences. People as far away as Indonesia sat in his madarasa in the Uskuder area of Istanbul.

The link to many DPers is that Sh Muhammad Yaqoubi was also his student and his teacher. Sh Muhammed spent much time at his home this last Ramadhan and I personally felt the love these great scholars had for each other.

Sh Nurettin also had one of the greatest book collections in the world.

May Allah perfume his resting place and make it into a garden of Paradise, Ameen

What Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi said concerning him :

I, with a lot of sorrow and grief, announce that the great erudite scholar and the dear brother and friend, shaykh Nurettin Jan of Istanbul passed away peacefully in Turkey on Wednesday evening, Oct. 26th, 2011 in his 60, after having been in coma for two weeks due a stroke he had as a result of irregular blood pressure.

Shaykh Nurettin was a dear brother and a close friend and I was deeply saddened by the news of his death; as it is a big loss for me on a personal, level and for the Muslim World; as he was not only a local scholar but well known and highly repsected in many countries; hundreds of scholars, professors and imams studied under him.

He devoted his life to the service of this deen and the sacred knowledge and its students. He suffered from several ailments due to his sacrifices when he was a child studying the shari'a sciences.

He told me many stories of the difficulties and the pain he had to go through during his early years of study in the towns South East of Turkey where his family of Kurdish descent lived. They had to study in secret to avoid being cought by the secular regime which banned private institutes. He would walk for miles in the snow with freezing temprature from a village to another because of not having enough money to take any transportation. He and his classmates would share few dry olives every morning in the school, which was a room in a cellar with no ventolation often sealed during police surveiance. He was teaching everyday from six in the morning till noon in his private school and library till before he died.

We had a lot of memories together and he was very close to my heart. His love and respect for me as a member of the Family of the Prophet PBUH was beyond description. He asked me several times for an ijaza and insisted; and I gave it to him just to please him; as he himself was a great scholar but with qualities which are rare in our time, one of them was modesty.

Last time I spoke to him was two weeks before his stroke; I phoned him from Sweden and his voice was frail. As soon as I heard the news of his stroke, I travelled to South of Turkey to see him; it was not easy to see him lying in a hospital with life supporting machines. It was clear that Allah Almighty loved him and wanted him out of this world. He had the stroke in the place he loved most and in the company of his own teacher, the great 'Allamah sh. Burhaniddin, as he was his guest and they were sitting privately. He was excited and thrilled and forgot about his health. Although his doctor advised him not to travel by plane, he went to see his teacher and to attend with him the inauguration of a new madrasah. He never stopped sacrificing for this religion till he paid his life as a price, but we know that the reward Allah promised for such scholars are beyond description.

I pray that Allah Almighty grant him the highest ranks the Garden and that he be resurrected with the Prophet PBUH and his family.

We stand by and sustain his family members, especially his three sons, Muhmmad Asil, Muhammad Wasif, and Muhammad 'Akif, in their grief. And I send my sincerest condolences to his teacher the great 'Allamah Burhanuddin of Tello and to his students and friends.

We know that words seem futile now in the midst of this loss but we also know that du'a is a powerful means of requesting mercy for him and solice his family and for us all.

Therefore, I request brothers and sisters to make khatem for him and recite Yasin as many times as possible and beseech Allah to grant him the rewards. May Allah reward you all.