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The first Muslim sex-shop 6, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
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Whilst I realise that I’ve stumbled upon this story uncomfortably close to April Fool’s Day, it appears that a Muslim Sex Shop – El Asira – has opened – where else? – in Holland. The goal of the shop is to offer sex aids and other erotica that does not ‘offend Shaira law’. Good luck to them.

The shop does not contain pornography or other…err…more physical sexual aids. Instead, through separate entrances, men and women can browse oils, lubricants and a range of supposedly aphrodisiac – and halal – pills.

Assuming that this story is real, whilst the owner may well seek to avoid haram pornography and the like and the Prophet himself may well have given ‘advice about sex in marriage’ I still can’t see how this venture can end happily.

Hat tip: Sultan Al Qassemi

World Press Photo Awards 28, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Jewish settler throws wine at an Arab woman in Hebron

A man is stoned to death in Somalia by Islamic Insurgents for adultery.

On the origin of the minaret 21, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Syria.
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Also at the book launch at the Ismaili Center [see the previous post] the editor discussed a popular story relating to the birth of the Minaret. Back in the x century Arab forces retook Damascus. They went to what is today the Omayyad Mosque which was then a huge Christian church and saw the bell tower towering above them and decided that that would be a good place from which to announce the call to preyre. Lo and behold the idea of the Minaret was born. Or at least, so that particular story runs. Competing ‘versions’ of the origin of the Minaret are welcome…

Book launch at London Ismaili Center 21, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Islam.
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Last week at London’s Ismaili Center there was a book launch. The Center is sponsoring a series of more accessible books on the Muslim world with “A Companion to the Muslim World” being the first. The editor, Aymn Sajoo, was interviewed by CNN’s Zain Verjee on stage where he discussed various aspects of the book.

From time to time he brought up Bernard Lewis in discussing how the media gravitate towards him and his ‘popular name’ when they seek coverage of an issue. I agree with him, though at times he did come across as being jealous of Lewis’ attention.

Later on Sajoo quoted the Jaroslav Pelikan:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

This struck me immediately as a pithy and exceedingly elegant sentence with a rather profound meaning. So far as I understand it, Pelikan sees tradition as being something positive, learned and passed down the generations. Whereas traditionalism for him has negative connotations of people blindly and devoutly following old creeds not because they understand them or agree with them but because they are simply old and thus feel duty-bound to follow them. Though being far from a theology student, I stand to be corrected…

On a British Islamic Caliphate 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, UK.
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I’ve quoted this riposte before, but it needs to be mentioned again in the light of the extra attention the banning of Islam4UK is garnering. One of their (former…) key plinths was the notion that some day Britain will fall under the dominion of an Islamic caliphate. In the quote below, a Saudi preacher responds magisterially to these kinds of absurd notions. Although he is writing and referring to a different idiot, the sentiment and logic are exactly the same.

A famous preacher told me that he heard a speaker giving a Friday sermon in a small room in London and calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. The preacher told me: I laughed at the sight, which was actually tragi-comical: A person with little learning, far from his people and society, speaking in a rented room, unable to build a mosque, staying in the country on a temporary residence permit, calling for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, which Islamic countries, organizations, and groups have failed to establish. I do not know what stupidity got hold of this speaker to make him commit this offense against himself and his reality and indulge in delusions. He would do better to seek greater learning so that he would pray to God with more understanding and say things that benefit his listeners like having true faith and fine morals. Before advocating the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, he should make sure that he can honestly earn the rent of the room where he speaks. He should also bring his residence in the country where he is staying or to where he fled in compliance with the law. Perhaps he went there to flee his poverty or hunger. After that he should improve the image of Islam, which is distorted among many non-Muslims. He can do this by friendly talk, a smile expressing friendliness, sound behavior, and wise actions.

Do you not find it strange for a young man who requests political asylum in Britain and who has no money, no job, no home, and no residence permit, alone and destitute, to stand up in a room and call for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, forgetting that the entire Muslim nation of 1.5 billion people from Jakarta to Nouakchott failed to agree on one resolution pertaining to Iraq, Palestine, or Afghanistan? This brother would like to unite the nation in a room, in a building, in one of London’s neighborhoods.

Islam4UK and Quilliam director on Newsnight 14, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, UK.
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Newsnight on BBC2 had an excellent segment interviewing Anjem Choudary from Islam4UK and Maajid Nawaz from the Quilliam Foundation, the counter extremist organisation.

The introductory film showed the evolution of various extreme Islamic groups in the UK along with, for example, interviews with radicals praising the 9/11 attacks. There was a readily identifiable pattern of a group getting more publicity, their pronouncements becoming more and more extreme until they brazenly advocate violence until they were proscribed as a group by the government. These people then set up another group/party and the cycle began again. Islam4UK is but the latest organisation in this line and has just been banned by the government. Numerous members (at least 20) of these groups have been convicted on terrorist offences.

Islam4UK came to prominence recently when they stated that they would conduct a march through Wootton Bassett, the small town in Wiltshire that (all too) regularly hosts parades for members of the British military that lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Though some reports differ, many suggest that Islam4UK were going to carry empty coffins (or something like them) representing the large numbers of Muslims killed directly or indirectly by British forces. The march has since been cancelled. Yet Islam4UK’s main goal – that of accruing more publicity – has clearly been attained.

The video of the exchange can be seen in BBC Iplayer though, as always, only for a month.

Choudary begins by asserting that the fact that his organisation has just been banned is a good thing for Muslims. It shows, he states, the hypocrisy of the British Government, proclaiming freedom of speech, democratic values etc yet banning Muslim organisations.

Enter Majid Nawaz from Quilliam. He is superb. Firstly, he asks whether ‘one hair on your [sic] head’ has been touched by the British authorities. Choudary, obviously enough, obfuscates at this point. Nawaz continues to point out that Choudary has never been to prison or been arrested and that he even takes thousands of pounds for the British government and tax payer each year on the dole (benefit). Moreover, Nawaz suggests that the fact that he is on the BBC’s flagship news programme discussing his party is a testament to the strength of the values that he suggested were not present. It is when members of his organisation(s) and their ilk begin to call for martyrdom operations and the like that they are then shut down. Until this point, Choudary and those like him can, have and will continue to castigate the government and maintain that attacks such 7/7 are legitimate and that British civilians deserve to be killed.

Nawaz’s second question that he puts to Choudary is equally devastating. He asks that given Choudary calls for and predicts that Islam will one say ‘take over’ the UK under some kind of Caliphate, whether Choudary would have him [Nawaz] killed as an apostate. Choudary continually refuses to answer the question and looks ridiculous in the process. He confirms that Nawaz is indeed an apostate and that he would be thus judged by an Islamic judge and “you know the punishment” which is to say that, yes, he would have Nawaz executed.

My automatic reaction to people like Choudary and those carrying placards, for example, demanding death for the Danish cartoonist is to boot them out of the country. They clearly don’t like being here so escort them to Heathrow and wave goodbye. Yet this, I do realise, is hardly an answer. Interviews like this Newsnight one are, I think, excellent and are perhaps a significant part of the answer. When Choudary et al are exposed in a format like this their vile opinions are there for all to see. I firmly believe that from this interview Choudary will not receive any more support, if not the exact opposite. Moreover, I wonder whether it is safer, in the grander scheme of things, to keep people like Choudary in this country. If he were in, say, Pakistan, he would melt away and – I’ve no doubts – become rather more active in the ‘doing’ as opposed to the ‘protelyzing’ side of things. So, following on from ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ let’s keep the Choudarys of this world here, let’s expose their ideas to more people and, most importantly, let’s make sure the their every movement, conversation, telephone call and computer keystroke is wholly and utterly monitored by the good people in Thames House.

Musings on the Swiss minaret ban 1, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
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As I am sure you are aware by now, Switzerland held a referendum and 58% of those that voted have decided to ban minarets in the central European country. Much of the coverage of this topic has been impressively myopic, with even ordinarily trustworthy commentators losing any sense of proportion or rationality. Take the opening sentence of the usually reliable ‘The Moor Next Door’’s article on the topic.

One should register no surprise that the continent which produced the Inquisition, anti-Semitism, the Crusades and the Holocaust would give rise to a sentiment that would lead 57% of Swiss voters to ban the construction of minarets.

Yes, let’s contrast and counter the Swiss example of myopic foolish, false and harmful generalizations with an absurd, manifestly rude and bigoted generalization of 500 years of a continent’s history. Exceedingly poor stuff. There are, of course, just as many vitriolic pieces celebrating this referendum. Both are stirring up the other in a useless competition of half-truths, snide comments and at times unadulterated and naked hatred of some mystical ‘other’.

So, with this in mind, perhaps it is possible to engage in something approaching a reasoned summary and analysis.

The Swiss that voted to ban the minarets were, as far as I see it, essentially duped […so much for an impartial analysis…]. Take the image of the campaign for example [MEI has an excellent article on this topic including a good analysis of the image itself, from which I will borrow some ideas here]. The Swiss flag, the symbol of not only the country itself but of neutrality, implied impartiality, tolerance and the basis of the universal symbol for impartial medical assistance, is being subsumed and blotted out by black, menacing-looking, rocket-shaped minarets. There is also a woman wearing a severe Niqab looking more like Darth Vader’s wife than most Muslim women. This is the kind of hate-stoking image that was never going to lead to any kind of reasoned debate.

So much of the commentary backing the banning of the Minarets portrayed Islam as some kind of monolithic, universally oppressive, insidiously-expansionist religion, ripe to sneak into Europe and subvert it from within. Indeed, overall, this poster and much of the language used has blatant overtones of the World War Two propaganda.

This is not to say, however, that Islam is a religion without numerous faults, problems and issues. Certainly it is plagued (as are all religions) with divisive and emotive issues, not least of which is the role of women, one of the central issues in the referendum.

Yet, after living in the Middle East for several years, after loving parts of it and truly loathing others, after living cheek-by-jowl with Muslims and discussing anything and everything with them for some time now, the image of Islam painted by the Swiss banning campaign was, I firmly believe, wholly partial and unfair. For those whose only exposure to Islam and to this topic as a whole was this poster and similarly alarmist sentiment, I am not at all surprised that those wanting the ban won out. I [uselessly] imagine that a reasoned discussion, analysis and explanation of Islam would have led to a vastly different result

Is there any chance that people and the media generally are blowing this ban out of proportion? Well, yes and no. No, in that such a Luddite-ish move by a supposedly enlightened country is clearly, well, unenlightened and diametrically opposed to espoused notions of religious and cultural tolerance. However, a large part of me doesn’t see this ban as that significant.

Firstly, this is clearly more or a gesture than a real, practical policy to oppose the building of Minarets i.e. they have not just averted the blotting out of the Alpine trees with hundreds of Minarets that were about to be built.

Secondly, if the Swiss really want to ban the building of a tall religious spires it is their country and – whilst I don’t agree with it – they should have the right to do so. Islam can still be practiced, after all. Indeed, as MEI points out, Islam originally stemmed from small room-based gatherings. On a similar note, I believe that the call to prayer should not be broadcast in Switzerland or, for example, the UK. Obviously if an overwhelmingly large majority of the local population decide that they want the call, then that is fine, but otherwise, an alarm clock ought to have to do. Neither a tall tower nor a reminder to get up are intrinsic parts of Islam. If a person wants every last trapping of Islam and can’t do without them, then – and I don’t mean this to sound quite as mean as it can be interpreted – they should live in a Muslim country.

Overall, therefore, I don’t expect that this decision will have a great impact on…well, anything really. Switzerland’s 5% of Muslims may well feel ostracized to perhaps a large degree, which is far from a good thing, but they are still living in a democracy, with high living standards and the freedom to practice every last aspect of the most important parts of their region. There are far worse situations to be in.

A Turko-Islamic Empire 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Middle East.
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turkoislamic empire

…would – apparently and arguably – look something like this.

Hat tip: The ever interesting folks at Strange Maps

New Mecca luxury development 16, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
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mecca hotel

Plans are afoot to build a behemoth super-luxury hotel overlooking Islam’s most important site at Mecca in Saudi Arabia. As one might expect, the hotel will be at the very top end of the spectrum replete with fantastically expensive suites, 24-hour butler service and what every Haaj-goer needs, a chocolate room where chefs will prepare “bespoke pralines and truffles”.

Whilst such uuber-luxurious hotels and gimmicks may annoy some for their unbridled and sheer ostentation, it is part and parcel of today’s capitalist world: it may not be nice but it is, is its own way, necessary. However, to have such luxuries at Mecca is just wrong. Mecca is the end point of pilgrimage for the world’s Muslims. As in Christianity, a pilgrimage is supposed to be an arduous experience giving people time for reflection and contemplation: it is not supposed to be a luxurious jaunt for hand-made chocolates and waiter service.

As far as I see this, developments like this – for which historical buildings are having to be torn down – are utterly against the grain and true meaning of Islam as was the decision to start flights to Lourdes, the Christian Pilgrimage site in France. Certainly in Christianity, and to a lesser though still important extent in Islam, the journey is the key thing. Yes, praying at Lourdes itself is important, but the travails to get there proving your dedication etc etc are just as important (if not more important) than the ceremony at the end itself. Skipping out the journey for convenience’s sake is to woefully misunderstand the nature of the pilgrimage in the first place.

Al Azhar bans the Niquab 10, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Islam.
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The Islamic World’s oldest, most revered and preeminent seat of higher education has banned women from wearing the Niqab, as pictured above, in their dormitories and in women only classrooms.

The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawy  decided to enforce the ban did as the Niqab is not mandated at all by Islam but is instead only a regional custom. However, there is also the very real and practical result of this ban that female students now have to show their faces to male security guards.

Such a move is unsurprising in security conscious Egypt. One one level, the legion of state security organs are ever vigilant in maintaining Mubarak in power. Keeping a closer eye on their preeminent seat of Islamic learning and preventing it from radicalizing is one aspect of this. Those wearing the Niqab are thought to be – ipso facto – of a more austere and extreme Islamic persuasion. This is not so say that they are necessarily extremists: of course they are not; but those wearing it “tends [sic] to be adopted by the most radical elements” as Dunn puts it. Additionally, Egypt’s vast security apparatus is there to protect Egypt’s economic lifeline – tourism – from debilitating terrorist attacks such as devastating attacks in 1997 in Luxor and in 2005-6 in Shark El Sheikh and in Dahab respectively.