Category Archives: Islam


How I long to be back in Egypt. Wonderful photos from early 2009.

Nile facing north from Giza

National Islamic Museum (near al-Azhar)

Cairo, from the Citadel

Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Citadel

Entry portal of the Complex of Sultan al-Nasr Hasan

Sahn of al-Azhar Mosque

The National Museum of Antiquity, from Meydan Tahrir

Meydan Tahrir

Sahn of Ibn Tulun Mosque

Old City, from the roof of al-Hakim Mosque

Southern Cemetery

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Current Middle East Uprisings

The current events in the Middle East are disturbing for many reasons. Gruesome, indiscriminate violence by dictatorial regimes against their citizens is nothing new, nor is the desire by dictators to squash democratic uprisings. But never have so many democratic efforts occurred in the region simultaneously.

Uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen come on the heels of successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year. You can read my post on the causes of the democratic effort in Egypt here, and my thoughts on the start of events in Libya in my show notes from Tim Corrimal‘s Episode 157, here.

Let me begin where I left off with Libya, then I’ll discuss Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, last.

As noted previously, the current situation in Libya began with a series of protests and demonstrations on February 15. Within a week these protests had spread and Gaddafi’s regime was significantly challenged. Similar to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the primary goal of the protests in Libya was the cessation of Gaddafi’s 42-year-long regime. Gaddafi has responded to the uprising with brute military force, censorship, and the blocking of communication outlets.

What has occurred since February 15 is essentially the devolution of Libya into civil war. Gaddafi has seen segments of his armed forces defect to a coalition of rebel organizations (a mixture of international entities (it’s alleged the Tunisia and Egypt are assisting financially and militarily), Libyan tribes, National Transitional Council, Free Libyan Air Force, Libyan People’s Army, etc). He has also seen the eastern third of his country fall out of his control and into the control of the hands of the opposition (this control is maintained in the coastal town of Benghazi). Gaddafi has maintained control of the western and central thirds of Libya and has maintained the largest city, Tripoli. I hesitate to call Tripoli the “capital” since it is becoming clear that Libya is divided in civil warfare and Benghazi is now the “capital” of the opposition forces’ National Transitional Council.

Gaddafi has tried to negotiate with the opposition leaders. But his continued use of international paid mercenaries, his violent attacks on his own citizens, and his and his son’s continued public petulance to calls for their resignation have kept the opposition leaders away from negotiations. The UN has taken several measures against Gaddafi and numerous members of his inner circle: freezing their bank accounts and restricting their travel. This was followed up with a resolution by member states to enact a no-fly zone over Libya. This was led, as we all know by now by France and the US (among others) before the US handed off control to NATO.

The efforts to squash political unrest in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt is no different then what is happening in the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan and Syria. Military dictators ruling in the Arab/Islamic World since the 1960s and 1970s under “emergency law” are rampant and have enacted vicious, heinous police states upon their people for decades. They have systematically raped their countries of financial resources and and have syphoned money away from their citizens and into their own pockets.

This is echoed through out the Middle East and is at the heart of the current uprisings. Take Bahrain, for example, a Sunni monarchy that presides over a predominantly Shiia population. While Bahrain is different from it’s neighbors, in that it’s protests are based prominently on religious minority ruling over a different religious majority, the concern is still over-extended leadership and the dangers that poses to a country’s citizenry. Bahrain’s protests were based on greater political freedoms and calls to end the monarchy. After all, as of 2010, more than half of the serving cabinet members in Bahrain came from the ruling family.

After a month of camping out in the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the Bahrani capital, the monarchy called in troops to violently confront the protestors. On March 15, Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency. This pattern of cause and effect – protestors gather, present their demands, state responds by trying to squash protestors, violence ensues, martial law or emergency law is enacted as last resort – has been used consistently by Middle East dictators and despots to control cyclical uprisings.

In Yemen, the current protests began on the heels of the Tunisian revolution and simultaneous to the Egyptian revolution. Starting in Sana’a on January 27, a protest of 16,000 Yemenis kicked off the effort which has been aimed at addressing concerns about unemployment, economic conditions, corruption, and the government’s attempts to modify the state constitution. Protests soon escalated to calling for the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to resign.

Following the lead of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on February 2 that he would not seek reelection in 2013, but instead he would pass the role to his son. The following day, February 3, outraged Yemenis took to the streets by the tens of thousands in Sana’a and Aden, in a “Day of Rage” called for by Tawakel Karman. There were counter-protests organized in in Sana’a by pro-regime forces and organizations. Fridays of protests in Sana’a, in particular, but in other cities have continued throughout February and March.

The same concerns about a over-reach and a regime ruling under emergency law propelled Syria to unprecedented protests beginning at the end of January. After the Ba’athist overthrow in Iraq in 1963, the party took control in Syria. Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar have ruled Syria under emergency rule since 1970. Almost all of the constitutional rights afforded Syrians are squashed under emergency rule. It also squelches opposition to the party and the al-Assads. Furthermore, when Hafez al-Assad died in 2000 a controversial amedment was pushed through to lower the age requirement for president so Bashar could succeed his father. This kind of corruption and squelching of rights and free elections are at the heart of not only the current protests in Syria, but as I have discussed, all the protests, demonstrations and revolutions in the Middle East since the start of the year.

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Hate Comes to Orange County

Thanks to Dave von Ebers (@dave_von_ebers on Twitter) for tweeting this video. Utterly disturbing. I have no words.

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Islam 101: Caliphate

I wasn’t initially planning on writing a post on what the caliphate was and what it’s role in the Islamic world, at least not immediately. But, the unending bullshit being perpetuated by some about an “impending caliphate” has to be dealt with.

So, let’s begin with the basics:

Caliphate: (Arabic: khilāfa; Turkish: halife) meaning “successor,” developed as the first government system within Islam. In theory, the caliphate was a constitutional republic based on the Constitution of Medina (also known as the Charter of Medina). The Constitution of Medina was drafted by Muhammad and served as a truce, a cease fire so-to-speak, between the disparate tribes of the Arabian Peninsula that had been engaged in a bloody struggle. The Constitution (drafted shortly after 622) established: religious freedoms, security of the community, the role of Medina as a haram (sacred place) and thus the prohibition of all weapons and violence within it, the security of women, non-violent tribal relations within Medina, a tax system that could support the ummah during times of conflict, parameters for exogenous political relationships and affiliations, a system that could grant protection of individuals, a judicial system for conflict resolution, and a system of regulating blood money (payment between families or tribes in instances of the slaying of an individual in lieu of lex talionis).

The Constitution of Medina served as the foundation for the caliphate. It [the caliphate] was initially lead by Muhammad’s disciples in an effort to continue the leadership and unity heralded by the Prophet. The first period of the caliphate (632-661) is known as the Rashidun period (rightly guided). Was the nearly 30 year period immediately following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. This period saw four caliphs: Abu Bakr (632-34), Umar ibn al-Khattab (634-44), Uthman ibn Affan (644-56), and Ali ibn Abi Talib (656-661). Immediately following the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr was elected to lead the community. He was a very close friend of Muhammad’s and one of the first converts to Islam. The first caliphs were all close friends or relatives of the Prophet. They served as leaders because it was believed that they were the best qualified to follow the path set forth by Muhammad. Hence, “rightly guided.”

Upon the election of the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, the community began to splinter. The Prophet’s son-in-law, Ali idn Abi Talib, believed he deserved to be in charge because he was the only male descendant of Muhammad. Muhammad had no male children who lived to adulthood. His only child to serve to adulthood, marry, and produce heirs was his daughter Fatima. Fatima married Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and ward. Ali’s followers believed he should have become the first caliph and that all future caliphs should come from his progeny. Others believed that the caliphs should be elected based on their qualifications. The firstfitnah followed. This civil war marks the breaking of the faith in Sunni and Shi’ia.

After this split, there were at times one but many times two caliphs. The caliphate marks the core belief of Sunni Islam, government of the majority. This was the presiding political structure of early Islam. From the early 10th century on (about 935) the caliphs no longer had temporal power. They served merely as symbolic figures who could lend their authority to local rulers who had established dynasties throughout the empire.

Now that we know what the caliphate was and what it’s intentions were, we can dispel the ridiculous falsities currently being spread about an “impending caliphate.”

Glenn Beck, most prominently, and others have been frightening their audiences with the outlandish idea that current uprisings, demonstrations, and revolutions in the Middle East are due to a Muslim desire to take over the world, institute a caliphate, and place us all under Shar’ia. I will address the horrendous misconceptions about Shar’ia at a later time.

From a purely definition basis, a caliphate is not possible anymore. Modern economies, political alliances, multi-national corporations, etc make it impossible to erase modern nation-state borders and implement a single governmental unit. It’s just not possible. It’s the kind of threat that sounds good on TV, that hits the right fear-buttons of Middle-America viewers who are under-educated and concerned about what they see on TV. Beck, et al, depend on the fear of their viewers for their success. Period. If the masses aren’t scared, fear-mongers can’t make money. Beck made $32 million dollars pitching fear to his viewers. The goal of Egyptians protesting the Mubarak regime, or Tunisians protesting the Ben Ali regime, etc, is not to unify into some global entity, but to have a true democracy in their country. That’s it. Fears that millions of college-aged kids taking the world with the Muslim Brotherhood as the head of the table is just asinine.

Next time someone says there’s going to be a caliphate, tell them there hasn’t been one in 1,075 years. End of discussion. These are national democracy movements. Citizens of one nation fighting for their vote, their voice in how their government is run. No more corruption, no more bribes, no more cronyism, no more torture or kidnapping. Freedom. You have to be one sick human being to make people scared of that.



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Islam 101: What Do Muslims Believe?

I outlined the basic foundational tenets of Islam in my first post in this series, “Islam 101: What is Islam?” I outlined how Muslims associate themselves to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as Muslim belief in angels, prophets, heaven and hell.

This time around I will discuss the Five Pillars of Islam, the ummah, prayer, and the Muslim sabbath. This will give you a good indication of the daily concerns relevant to Muslim belief and practice.

The core, the base of Muslim belief are the Five Pillars. These tenants unite a widely diverse Islamic community that stretches across many countries and many cultures. John Esposito words it well:

“Following the Pillars of Islam requires dedication of your mind, feelings, body, time, energies, and possessions. Meeting the obligations required by the Pillars reinforces an ongoing presence of God in Muslims’ lives and reminds them of their membership in a single worldwide community of believers.” (What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, pp 17 )

The First Pillar: The Shahada

The Shahada (witness, testimony), or declaration of faith, is: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad in the messenger of God.” This is the most fundamental belief of Islam, the keystone of the faith. To convert to Islam one need only make this statement with the full integrity of his person. The first part of this statement affirms Islam’s monotheism.

“God does not forgive anyone for associating something with Him, while He does forgive whomever He wishes to forgive anything else. Anyone who gives God associates [partners] has invented an awful sin.” (Qur’an 4:48)

The second half of the statement affirms the belief that Muhammad is not only a prophet but a messenger of God, a role held by Moses and Jesus before him. This is essential to the Muslim belief that Muhammad is the last and final vehicle of revelation.

The Second Pillar: Salat

Salat (supplicaton), prayer, is performed five times daily: daybreak (fajr), noon (dhuhr), midafternoon (asr), sunset (maghrib), and evening (insha’a). Times for prayer and the ritual actions were not specified in the Qur’an. However, they were established by Muhammad.

In many countries the call to prayer echoes around the city through megaphones mounted atop minarets at mosques throughout neighborhoods. The muezzin, the man appointed to call prayer, intones:

“God is most great [Allahu Akbar], God is most great, God is most great, God is most great, I witness that there is no god but God [Allah]; I witness that there is no god but God. I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come to prayer; come to prayer! Come to prosperity; come to prosperity! God is most great. God is most great. There is no god but God.”

Prayer serves as “reminders throughout the day…to keep believers mindful of God in the midst of everyday concerns about work and family with all their attractions and distractions.” (Esposito, pp 19 )

The Third Pillar: Zakat

Zakat (purification) is tithing. A Muslim is required to contribute 2.5% of their total wealth and assets annually (not just a percentage of their annual income). Muslims believe that they are given their possessions and wealth by God as a trust. Therefore tithing is their responsibility to give a part of their gifts from God to the less fortunate within their community.

The Qur’an as well as Shar’ia stipulates that alms are to be used to support the poor, orphans, widows, the free slaves and debtors, and those working in the cause of God (construction of mosques, religious schools, hospitals, etc). Zakat has developed as a Muslim Social Security of sorts.

The Fourth Pillar: Fast of Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and refers to the month in which Muhammad first receive revelations from God. Muslims fast (abstain from food and drink) from sunrise to sunset in observance of this holy month. They also abstain from all sexual activity during this time. The discipline of this month is meant to incite reflection on human frailty, inspire focus on spiritual goals and values, and it is meant to serve as a time of reflection on those who are less fortunate. Fast is broken at evening with sepcial meals (iftar) meant to gatehr friends and family to enjoy each other’s company, gather in prayer, and the recitation of the Qur’an over the month.

On the 28th night of Ramadan Muslims celebrate the “Night of Power” (Laylat al-Qadr) a night that marks the beginning of Muhammad’s receiving the revelations of God. Ramadan then ends with two nights of celebration: Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking of the Fast). Celebration of Eid is similar to Christmas in its level of celebration, jubilation, gift giving, and family gathering.

The Fifth Pillar: Hajj

Hajj, pilgrimage, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the fifth and final pillar in Islam. Hajj is expected to be completed by every able-bodied Muslim at least once in their life. The hajj season follows Ramadan.

The Ummah in Islam

The ummah refers to the worldwide community of Muslims, of believers. Their religious bond transcends racial, tribal, ethnic, and now national identities. Islam was revealed to Muhammad in a time in which identity was defined by tribal loyalties, where there was no over-arching unifying element. Islam came and served as a means of unification and an absolute equalizer. Thus people primary identifier became Islam – they were Muslims rather than Tribe X or Y, etc. This egalitarianism shattered all previous alliances. Muslims should support and defend Muslims at all times. The egalitarian nature of Islam has always been its chief appeal for converters.

The Muslim Sabbath

Friday is the Muslim day of congregational prayer. In both Muslim and Western countries, Friday prayer (juma) is held at noon. Those who are unable to attend noon prayers due to work or educational requirements attend services and religious education on Sundays at mosques in their area.


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Islam 101: What is Islam?

Islam (in Arabic الإسلام) simply put is the monotheistic religion articulated in the Qur’an (“recitation” in Arabic, considered the verbatim word of Allah) and the Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad). Islam begins with the revelations of Allah to Muhammad in 622 in the city of Mecca (modern day Saudi Arabia), in the Arabian peninsula.

The word Islam means “submission to God.” Islam (verbal noun) comes from the triliteral root S-L-M and is derived from the Arabic verb ‘áslama (“to give up, to desert, to surrender [to God]). The Arabic word salaam (peace, in Arabic سلام) also comes from the the S-L-M root.

Practitioners of Islam are known as Muslims. They see themselves as Christians and Jews see themselves: descendants of Abraham, members, branches, of the same religious family. Muslims trace their roots back to Abraham through Ismail (Ishmail), Abraham’s son by Hagar. Muslims believe in prophets, not just the Prophet. Muslims accept prophets of the Hebrew Bible (including Abraham and Moses) and the New Testament (Jesus and John the Baptist). Similar to Christianity, Muslims believe in angels, heaven, hell and the Day of Judgment. Muslims acknowledge that God’s revelations were received by holy people prior to the Qur’an. They acknowledge the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as important religious texts and the figures within them as important religious figures:

“We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel in which is guidance and light, and confirmation of the Torah that had come before him, a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” (Qur’an 5:46)

Muslims consider Christians and Jews as “people of the book,” as a part of a community of believers who received revelations through prophets (scriptures or revealed texts). Just as Christians believe that the New Testament is the completion and fulfillment of the Old Testament, Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad from God through the angel Gabriel so as to correct the human errors of Christianity and Judaism. To Muslims, Islam is not a new religion. They consider it the oldest religion. Muslims consider Islam to be the original and final revelation:

“He established for you the same religion as that which We have sent to you as inspiration through Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, namely that you should remain steadfast in religion and make no divisions within it.” (Qur’an 42:13)

John Esposito, when discussing the originations of Islam, phrases it best:

“The revelations Muhammad received led him to believe that Jews and Christians over time has distorted God’s original message to Moses and later to Jesus. Thus the Torah and the Gospels were seen by Muslims as a combination of original revelation and later human additions such as the elevation of Jesus from a prophet to the son of God. The revelations Muhammad received were calls to religious and social reform. They emphasized social justice (concern for the right of women, widows and orphans), corrected distortions to God’s revelations in Judaism and Christianity, and warned that many had strayed from the message of God and his prophets. They called upon all to return to what the Qur’an refers to as the straight path of Islam or the path of God, revealed one final time to Muhammad, the last or “seal” of the prophets.” (What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, pp 8.)

This marks the basis of the Islamic faith, the foundational beliefs that define the origination of the faith and the role of Islam within the history of monotheistic religions. I will post separate entries about the Five Pillars of Islam, the Qur’an, and the role of Muhammad in Islam. But this will give you a base understanding of how and when Islam began.


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Islam 101

I have batted around the idea of doing a series of succinct posts about the basics of Islam for a long time. Now, in the wake of protests and evolutions in North Africa and the Middle East and a slew of misinformation and fear-mongering in the US media, such a series seems sorely needed.

A few caveats before I outline the first few post ideas. I am not a Muslim. I am not a religious studies scholar. I have not read all the hadiths. I have, however, read the Qur’an in its entirety. I don’t presume to be perfect, and I have from the beginning intended this blog to be both a place for me to express myself and my ideas and for people to engage in discussion. Post comments, questions, or suggestions. If there’s a topic I haven’t discussed that you’re curious about, let me know. If I can speak to any degree about it I will. If I can’t, I will try my best to acquire some information to foster discussion.

So, here are the first five projected posts:

Islam 101: What is Islam?

Islam 101: What do Muslims believe?

Islam 101: Who is Muhammad?

Islam 101: The Qur’an

Islam 101: Mosques 101

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