Hope after 9/11 – Editorial

hope

9/11 will always be marked as one of the turning points in history. How it happened and why it happened has led to a plethora of analysis world over. Each individual tries to make sense out of it. Some have called it a hoax. Some see it as a long range political game. Others perceive it to be the beginning of another crusade. However, they all come to a common conclusion that the fall of the twin towers in Manhattan, New York, has changed the fate of this world forever.

The 2,973 innocent lives taken that day was only the beginning of more wrath to come over many other innocent and unsuspecting people, who have later been slain hundreds of miles away from the original point of incident – the USA. Subsequently, terror has struck across nearly all continents, mostly annihilating the Muslim population through drone attacks, hate crimes, missing people, forced wars and terrorism incidents. After eleven years of mindless war games played by governments globally, the misery still multiplies for the common man on the street.

It may sound as emotional rhetoric, but I wonder how many of the people, who decide the fate of the world, have had to fight at the forefront? Have they ever witnessed how a bomb tears apart not only human flesh but also families, relations among communities and their future? Those, who inflict war on others, are the ones, who call loss of human life collateral damage. For them, dead bodies are figures to be counted. All of this is in the name of a greater cause: to make the world more secure and peaceful, to punish the evil and later, when they lose their battle, make negotiations with their enemy after killing thousands of people. Why couldn’t this dialogue happen right after 9/11? Why was the entire world sold the false idea that waging a ‘war on terror’ was the only way forward?

After eleven years of occupation, overthrowing the Taliban, and bearing a cost of USD 1 million for deploying each US soldier in Afghanistan annually, US forces still do not know what the Holy Quran means to a Muslim. Instead, their troops dump it in garbage outside Afghanistan’s largest airbase at Bagram and call it an unintentional mistake. Amid reassurances, of course, that they have come to build a bright future for the Afghanis. So life after 9/11, in terms of eliminating mistrust, building better inter-faith and community relations, seem static at one point.

Simultaneously, the service 9/11 has paid to Islam is of great significance. Never before Muslims have questioned their own identity like they do today. The weak labels they carried have suddenly begun to hold more meaning for them. They have opened the Holy Book and attached themselves to scholars in order to seek answers for their own guidance and liberation. Their souls have been stirred up. As a result, Islam has emerged as the fastest growing faith in the world. It is not being imposed on anyone. Rather, it is a rational choice.

For Pakistan, it has been an electrifying decade of events. Reluctant masses as an ally of ‘war on terror’ have been led by corrupt and incompetent regimes ruling the country. Following 9/11, by 2003, Pakistan’s total foreign exchange reserves rose to USD 11.48 billion, as a direct result of foreign graces bestowed upon us for fighting their war. I call it their war, because none of the culprits masterminding or executing their terrorist mission were Pakistanis. However, Pakistan has had to pay the highest price in this whole fiasco.

We have lost more than 35,000 soldiers of ours and they still fight on. Our cities have never been more vulnerable to sporadic bomb blasts. Our border relations with our neighbours have been of mistrust. No foreign press ever mentions the sacrifices made by our people, when 9/11 is cited. Instead, even today we are viewed as the black sheep with great suspicion.

Economically, the inflation rate has risen from 4.4% a decade ago to 16% in the year 2011. External debt has doubled to USD 60 billion in 2011 from USD 30 billion. 60.3% of Pakistanis live on less than two dollars a day, as estimated by UNDP. The short-term gain through the financial meaty bone tossed at us in 2011 to side the war on terror is flea infected now.

I wonder – had we mustered up the courage to say ‘no’ to this alliance, then would we have paid a heftier price than we are paying today? Isn’t Pakistan still being bombed with drones on one side and terrorists on the other? How has terrorism curbed in any way globally? Is this world a safer place through pre-emptive wars as envisioned?

I see little reason for us to cheer, unless we seize the moment and unite as a force against the pack of lies being sold to us. Muslims living in Dar-ul-Islam need to exhibit more courage and organize themselves than those coverts and reverts residing in Dar-ul-Kufr. This is the time to rise above petty differences and challenge the status quo.

Label: Muslim; Type: Secular

secular

It is no secret that the world changed after September 11, 2001. Even secular Muslims, who do not display any visible proclamations of their faith and who have always been “camouflaged” amidst the secular society, have had their lives transformed. For instance, Muslim names, such as Mohammad and Akbar, have received additional unwarranted attention, especially at airport security checkpoints. Regular men and women with the “Muslim” tag have been zoomed in for the sake of security. Being treated differently on the basis of their religion has left many secular Muslims feeling confused and even alienated.

Likewise, the second generation Muslims, who have always identified themselves as European or American, for example, are suddenly finding themselves isolated with the label of ‘Muslim’. They are being compelled to choose sides. There is a loud yet peculiarly subtle declaration that says: “You are either American (for instance) or Muslim.” An identity that was previously a comfortable blend of both is being forcefully split. Secular Muslims, grappling with their identity, are reacting to bring about some sense to their existence in Western societies.

Many have tried to bring some sanity to the situation by embracing the identity of a globalized Muslim. They have put aside their cultural identities to integrate Islam into their lives. They also support secular beliefs as long as they don’t overstep the requirements of Islam. Indeed, this identity crisis amongst these Muslims might prove to be more of a boon than a bane in the long run to erase the phobia of Islam.

Box Feature

From the pen of an agnostic Muslim

I don’t have a lot of significant moments to cite in order to state that the events of 9/11 have affected my life. I’m probably one of the luckier ones. I was born here. I have no accent. I don’t wear a Hijab, scarf, or any other clothing that could distinguish me as a Muslim. I don’t even consider myself to be a Muslim. But when people ask me about my heritage, I always tell them I come from a Muslim background and I always find the need to defend the religion when it comes under attack.

I don’t consider myself to be a Muslim for personal reasons. During undergrad, I was majoring in religious studies. My study into the various religions gave me an understanding about the purpose religion can serve: both good and evil.

9/11 was an example of the evil purpose! However, it does not define the entire Islamic religion and those who practice it for good. The most profound effects that 9/11 had for me were in my interactions with others when it came to discussing Islam. I remember a Christian friend innocently asking me if I felt there was some aspect of the religion that contributed to 9/11 and the terrorism that is oftentimes associated with it. The conversation turned into a discussion about religions and how religious beliefs and doctrines, found worldwide, can be used to justify some of humanity’s most despicable acts.

Yes, I have heard of horrible, ignorant acts committed against Muslims in America post-9/11. Once, when my sister was wearing Islamic clothing, a Ridah, to go to the mosque, some neighbours yelled: “Go back to where you came from.” My sister couldn’t believe someone said that to her. Right after 9/11, the mosque my family attended in California decided to post a USA flag in the front yard to show that we were Americans. Many hate crimes were occurring throughout the nation; this act was a precautionary move in order to avoid more serious harm to the mosque. I have heard of my male relatives being stopped at the airport, because of their beards and names, or told they were randomly selected for a bag search, while going through security.

Personally though, I have not had to go through any of these issues. But there was a change for me post 9/11 – talking about being a Muslim or that my family is Muslim seems to have become a fascinating point now. People are very cautious about it, especially those who do not know anything about the religion or those who practice it. People are curious. The religion has been pushed to the forefront and has become a talking point. I feel it every time I hear someone mention the words ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ in my presence.

Hope After 9/11 – Globally

hope

Every year, my friend and I put up flyers before Ramadan, inviting others in our college in California to join us for Iftar. We hoped and expected to be contacted by Muslim girls excited at the opportunity of breaking their fasts with other Muslims. Instead, who we found were perhaps far more special – a Japanese student who decided it was crucial for her to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran better (she later transferred to Al-Azhar to follow her aspirations), and a young seventeen–year-old Mexican girl, who had been hiding her desire to convert to Islam from her parents for three years and wanted to keep her first fast with us.

At a time post 9/11, when Islam was under intense scrutiny throughout the world and especially in the West, it was heart-warming yet mind-boggling how it still attracted young women with such vigour. Adding to the paradox, as political Islamophobia radically increased in Europe, Islam continued to be the fastest growing religion in the same region. Racist nationalistic governments or political parties in countries like France, Norway and Switzerland initiated steps to remove Islamic “symbols”. Niqab was officially banned in France and they wanted to eliminate Halal food options in school canteens. But these steps across a range of countries have not been able to halt the interest towards Islam. In fact, it keeps bouncing back with more intensity. It was no less than a miracle that Daniel Streich, the man responsible for initiating the successful campaign for banning minarets in Switzerland, not only converted to Islam but vowed to make the biggest, most beautiful mosque in Europe to counter his past hatred for the religion.

However, the most interesting aspect of the conversions to Islam is that although the West accuses Islam of suppressing women’s liberties, a large proportion of those embracing Islam happen to be Western women. Camilla Leyland, a 32-year-old single mother embraced Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’. She explains: “I know people will be surprised to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ in the same breath, but, in fact, the teachings of the Quran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.”

A new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests that the real figure of conversions to Islam in the UK alone could be as high as 100,000 with as many as 5000 conversions in one year alone. The same study suggested that the conversion rate was more in females, and that the average age of converts was twenty-seven. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that this report was the best intellectual “guesstimate” but added that “either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

Mughal attributed this increase in converts to the prominence of Islam in the public domain and the subsequent public curiosity it provoked. Batool Al-Toma, a 25-year-old Irish born convert to Islam, agrees: “There has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves.” Islam’s latest convert that surprised the UK was Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, recalls the day she decided to become a Muslim: “It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.”

Another celebrity convert, London-based Kristiane Backer, is a former MTV presenter. Kristiane says: “In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system. Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.”

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who carried this research out for Faith Matters, the female converts to Islam, “seek spirituality, a higher meaning and tend to be deep thinkers.” The depth of their thought rings true to me. Yuki had told me that when her sister committed suicide for no apparent reason in Japan, it provoked her family to seek the meaning of life, which is what led her to Islam. Her parents were ecstatic that she had found an answer. My much younger Mexican friend bewildered me with her very deep paintings, depicting souls in trouble seeking peace and light in the midst of trouble.

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey (“From MTV to Mecca”), believes that women who were born Muslims became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against but the culture. The treasures of the true Islam lead so many to embrace it, despite the steps taken to demoralize its followers and mar the faith. It’s a jewel that those born in Islam perhaps take for granted. The image that can never leave my mind is when my young friend in California took out a beautiful wooden box from her drawer to show me, where she cherishingly saved her most price-less possessions: “Her book on how to pray Salah, her silk scarf and her Quran.”

9/11 – More Than a Decade Later

decade

The Past: Soon after the September 11, 2011 tragedy

By Tasneem Vali, Chicago

I was working at Children’s Memorial Hospital in an elite part of Chicago. A bunch of us would frequent several places for lunch. Our favorite was a Greek restaurant – excellent salads and ambience – that is, until 9/11. The week after that cataclysmic event, Margie and I went to lunch and a customer said: “Go back to where you came from.”

 

Even worse than the hurtful comment was the fact that the proprietor, ‘a friend’, didn’t even bat an eyelid. We left, never to return. That left a scar. I decided I would ‘look’ Muslim and started wearing the Hijab. Maybe this was Allah’s (swt) way to make me realize that my education and other privileges have given me a responsibility. I must be a totem for Muslim women everywhere. The way I behave ‘does’ impact what people think of Islam – it is my responsibility to educate myself and make Islam my Deen.

 

Amir Reza has a similar story. The son of Iranian parents who migrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution, Amir and his siblings were born and raised in Central California in a small, agriculturally-dominated town. He believes 9/11 impacted him when he was at college.

 

“I felt I had to be an advocate for the Muslims when people jokingly used the word ‘terrorist’,” Reza said: “I had to be ready with accurate answers and not let such comments slide.

 

“Another way in which 9/11affected me was during travel. Ironically, I grew a large beard in college, so getting through any airport was a challenge. It felt like for two years, I was always pulled out of line to be searched individually or asked a few more questions than most. But, once they heard me speak, they would lose interest and let me go. However, it was interesting to watch my dad (notoriously paranoid) become worried going through security lines. He would say: ‘With a name like Ali Reza, who knows what they could do.’ I would tell him, that this is no reason for them to do anything – and, of course, we have nothing to hide.”

 

The Present: Life in America Today

 

By J. Samia Mair, Maryland

 

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Muslims in America face the same kind of fear, misconceptions and prejudice that they had experienced shortly after 9/11. In some ways, it is worse. For example, it has become politically acceptable, even advantageous, for some politicians to make openly prejudicial statements about Islam and the Muslims. A one-time candidate and frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential election said on several occasions that he would not hire Muslims in his administration. Another frontrunner, known for his anti-Muslim statements, described Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists.”

 

Corporate actions concerned with profits also provide a glimpse into the public psyche. Lowe’s, a national home improvement store, recently pulled its advertising for a reality show on American Muslims, because the founder and sole employee of a fringe organization faulted the show for portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans, not terrorists.

 

But the most disturbing and potentially far-reaching impact of 9/11 on Muslims are the new laws that have been adopted to counter terrorism, such as the USA Patriot Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism and the transfer of US citizens to foreign authorities, a process known as rendition. So, what we have now is an intrusive and anti-democratic legal system in place that can be utilized against Muslims at any time. What would it take to trigger these measures? Many believe that another attack like 9/11 would do it.

 

In some ways, though, conditions for Muslims have improved since 9/11. People have returned to their daily lives and most do not live fearing an imminent terrorist attack. Many non-Muslims have defended Islam and the rights of Muslims. More people are learning about Islam, and Muslims across the country are speaking out, spreading the truth about our Deen. It is an exciting yet uncertain time for American Muslims. We face both challenges and opportunities. And we have learned over the past decade that we cannot sit idly by and hope for justice and sanity to prevail.

 

The Future: Beyond Those Three Digits

 

By Kiran Ansari, Chicago

 

What happened nearly eleven years ago was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Amid the grief and devastation felt by the American people, Muslims worldwide were also adversely affected in one way or the other. From visa issues and airport security to deportation, arrests and hate crimes, everyone has a story to tell.

 

However, it is time to move on. We cannot remain apologetic for something that we had nothing to do with. American Muslims, in fact, Muslims everywhere around the world need to take an active part in the community, so the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred without any compromise in our beliefs. From volunteering at your child’s school and visiting a sick neighbour to running for public office, if we plan on living in the United States, we have to be involved. As the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, said: “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

 

If we think that we have it hard, reading a few pages of the Seerah will show us that our trials are nothing in comparison to what the early Muslims had to go through.

 

Some of us may be parents of U.S. citizens; others may send their kids off to college or vacation in America. So, whether we like it or not, America does play a role in the lives of millions across the globe. We cannot change the past, but it is in our power to mould the future. We cannot change the perceptions of every Islamophobe, but we can at least do our part in changing the way our co-workers, friends and neighbours think of Muslims.

 

“They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:134)

 

As Muslims in America and elsewhere, we cannot risk being lost in a melting pot, where everything simmers into one sauce. We have to be proud of our identity like ingredients in a salad. Even when ‘tossed’ in adversity, each and every one of us should work together while retaining our unique taste, texture and colour.

 

The Past: Soon after the September 11, 2011 tragedy

By Tasneem Vali, Chicago

I was working at Children’s Memorial Hospital in an elite part of Chicago. A bunch of us would frequent several places for lunch. Our favorite was a Greek restaurant – excellent salads and ambience – that is, until 9/11. The week after that cataclysmic event, Margie and I went to lunch and a customer said: “Go back to where you came from.”

Even worse than the hurtful comment was the fact that the proprietor, ‘a friend’, didn’t even bat an eyelid. We left, never to return. That left a scar. I decided I would ‘look’ Muslim and started wearing the Hijab. Maybe this was Allah’s (swt) way to make me realize that my education and other privileges have given me a responsibility. I must be a totem for Muslim women everywhere. The way I behave ‘does’ impact what people think of Islam – it is my responsibility to educate myself and make Islam my Deen.

Amir Reza has a similar story. The son of Iranian parents who migrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution, Amir and his siblings were born and raised in Central California in a small, agriculturally-dominated town. He believes 9/11 impacted him when he was at college.

“I felt I had to be an advocate for the Muslims when people jokingly used the word ‘terrorist’,” Reza said: “I had to be ready with accurate answers and not let such comments slide.

“Another way in which 9/11affected me was during travel. Ironically, I grew a large beard in college, so getting through any airport was a challenge. It felt like for two years, I was always pulled out of line to be searched individually or asked a few more questions than most. But, once they heard me speak, they would lose interest and let me go. However, it was interesting to watch my dad (notoriously paranoid) become worried going through security lines. He would say: ‘With a name like Ali Reza, who knows what they could do.’ I would tell him, that this is no reason for them to do anything – and, of course, we have nothing to hide.”

The Present: Life in America Today

By J. Samia Mair, Maryland

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Muslims in America face the same kind of fear, misconceptions and prejudice that they had experienced shortly after 9/11. In some ways, it is worse. For example, it has become politically acceptable, even advantageous, for some politicians to make openly prejudicial statements about Islam and the Muslims. A one-time candidate and frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential election said on several occasions that he would not hire Muslims in his administration. Another frontrunner, known for his anti-Muslim statements, described Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists.”

Corporate actions concerned with profits also provide a glimpse into the public psyche. Lowe’s, a national home improvement store, recently pulled its advertising for a reality show on American Muslims, because the founder and sole employee of a fringe organization faulted the show for portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans, not terrorists.

But the most disturbing and potentially far-reaching impact of 9/11 on Muslims are the new laws that have been adopted to counter terrorism, such as the USA Patriot Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism and the transfer of US citizens to foreign authorities, a process known as rendition. So, what we have now is an intrusive and anti-democratic legal system in place that can be utilized against Muslims at any time. What would it take to trigger these measures? Many believe that another attack like 9/11 would do it.

In some ways, though, conditions for Muslims have improved since 9/11. People have returned to their daily lives and most do not live fearing an imminent terrorist attack. Many non-Muslims have defended Islam and the rights of Muslims. More people are learning about Islam, and Muslims across the country are speaking out, spreading the truth about our Deen. It is an exciting yet uncertain time for American Muslims. We face both challenges and opportunities. And we have learned over the past decade that we cannot sit idly by and hope for justice and sanity to prevail.

The Future: Beyond Those Three Digits

By Kiran Ansari, Chicago

What happened nearly eleven years ago was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Amid the grief and devastation felt by the American people, Muslims worldwide were also adversely affected in one way or the other. From visa issues and airport security to deportation, arrests and hate crimes, everyone has a story to tell.

However, it is time to move on. We cannot remain apologetic for something that we had nothing to do with. American Muslims, in fact, Muslims everywhere around the world need to take an active part in the community, so the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred without any compromise in our beliefs. From volunteering at your child’s school and visiting a sick neighbour to running for public office, if we plan on living in the United States, we have to be involved. As the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, said: “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

If we think that we have it hard, reading a few pages of the Seerah will show us that our trials are nothing in comparison to what the early Muslims had to go through.

Some of us may be parents of U.S. citizens; others may send their kids off to college or vacation in America. So, whether we like it or not, America does play a role in the lives of millions across the globe. We cannot change the past, but it is in our power to mould the future. We cannot change the perceptions of every Islamophobe, but we can at least do our part in changing the way our co-workers, friends and neighbours think of Muslims.

“They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:134)

As Muslims in America and elsewhere, we cannot risk being lost in a melting pot, where everything simmers into one sauce. We have to be proud of our identity like ingredients in a salad. Even when ‘tossed’ in adversity, each and every one of us should work together while retaining our unique taste, texture and colour.

Hope After 9/11 – Globally

By Fiza Fatima Asar

London-based social media marketer for the non-profit sector

Every year, my friend and I put up flyers before Ramadan, inviting others in our college in California to join us for Iftar. We hoped and expected to be contacted by Muslim girls excited at the opportunity of breaking their fasts with other Muslims. Instead, who we found were perhaps far more special – a Japanese student who decided it was crucial for her to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran better (she later transferred to Al-Azhar to follow her aspirations), and a young seventeen–year-old Mexican girl, who had been hiding her desire to convert to Islam from her parents for three years and wanted to keep her first fast with us.

At a time post 9/11, when Islam was under intense scrutiny throughout the world and especially in the West, it was heart-warming yet mind-boggling how it still attracted young women with such vigour. Adding to the paradox, as political Islamophobia radically increased in Europe, Islam continued to be the fastest growing religion in the same region. Racist nationalistic governments or political parties in countries like France, Norway and Switzerland initiated steps to remove Islamic “symbols”. Niqab was officially banned in France and they wanted to eliminate Halal food options in school canteens. But these steps across a range of countries have not been able to halt the interest towards Islam. In fact, it keeps bouncing back with more intensity. It was no less than a miracle that Daniel Streich, the man responsible for initiating the successful campaign for banning minarets in Switzerland, not only converted to Islam but vowed to make the biggest, most beautiful mosque in Europe to counter his past hatred for the religion.

However, the most interesting aspect of the conversions to Islam is that although the West accuses Islam of suppressing women’s liberties, a large proportion of those embracing Islam happen to be Western women. Camilla Leyland, a 32-year-old single mother embraced Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’. She explains: “I know people will be surprised to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ in the same breath, but, in fact, the teachings of the Quran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.”

A new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests that the real figure of conversions to Islam in the UK alone could be as high as 100,000 with as many as 5000 conversions in one year alone. The same study suggested that the conversion rate was more in females, and that the average age of converts was twenty-seven. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that this report was the best intellectual “guesstimate” but added that “either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

Mughal attributed this increase in converts to the prominence of Islam in the public domain and the subsequent public curiosity it provoked. Batool Al-Toma, a 25-year-old Irish born convert to Islam, agrees: “There has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves.” Islam’s latest convert that surprised the UK was Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, recalls the day she decided to become a Muslim: “It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.”

Another celebrity convert, London-based Kristiane Backer, is a former MTV presenter. Kristiane says: “In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system. Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.”

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who carried this research out for Faith Matters, the female converts to Islam, “seek spirituality, a higher meaning and tend to be deep thinkers.” The depth of their thought rings true to me. Yuki had told me that when her sister committed suicide for no apparent reason in Japan, it provoked her family to seek the meaning of life, which is what led her to Islam. Her parents were ecstatic that she had found an answer. My much younger Mexican friend bewildered me with her very deep paintings, depicting souls in trouble seeking peace and light in the midst of trouble.

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey (“From MTV to Mecca”), believes that women who were born Muslims became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against but the culture. The treasures of the true Islam lead so many to embrace it, despite the steps taken to demoralize its followers and mar the faith. It’s a jewel that those born in Islam perhaps take for granted. The image that can never leave my mind is when my young friend in California took out a beautiful wooden box from her drawer to show me, where she cherishingly saved her most price-less possessions: “Her book on how to pray Salah, her silk scarf and her Quran.”

Pity The Nation

pity the nation

Pity the Nation…

By Khalil Gibran

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave,
eats a bread it does not harvest,…
Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years
and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.

In 1998, an event in Pakistan drew elation across the Muslim world – we became the first and only Muslim nuclear power, Alhumdulillah. We, the vanguard of the Islamic Ummah, delivered the latest WMD (weapon of mass destruction) now in Muslim hands. After all, Allah (swt) has commanded us: “And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know…” (Al-Anfal, 8:60)

Armed with the latest technology, Pakistan was all set before 9/11 to take its rightful place in the comity of nations; it had earned their honour and respect. Two major world conflicts had been on Pakistan’s agenda since its creation and remained to that fateful day: Palestine and Kashmir. Both involved Muslims in the ‘little guy’ position, and both had the financial, political and social support of the people of Pakistan.

The Soviet-Afghan War was another crucial political stance that Pakistan chose to back. It supervised the entire war, aiding the winning Afghans, and in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR and its withdrawal, influenced the political landscape that resulted in the Taliban gaining power in Afghanistan. Pakistan now had a protected western border.

Iran, Pakistan’s other important Muslim neighbour, received undoubting support during the Gulf War (Iran/Iraq in the 1980s), eventually winning against the Saddam regime.

Thus, contrary to the CFR’s report (Council on Foreign Relations) which states “that Pakistan used to be a world pariah: censured and sanctioned for its nuclear ambitions”, Pakistan’s geographic location enabled it to provide a leading voice and play a decisive role in major international issues.

Post 9/11, Pakistan was offered a choice, a dichotomous choice – to consider only two alternatives when, in fact, there were additional options (shades of grey between the extremes). An incorrect logic (fallacy) was used in an attempt to force a choice: “If you are not with us, you are against us.”

One man, the then all-powerful General Musharraf, decided to make the biggest U-turn any country has ever made in its history, regarding its foreign policy. He ‘volunteered’ Pakistan in the US’s ‘War on Terror’, initially for a paltry $ 4.2 billion (approx. $26 per person). This quickly turned into a ‘War of Terror’ for Pakistan.

Taking up arms in Islam can be classified into three categories:

  • Self-defence: where the individual is authorized to take action to protect himself.
  • Retaliation: this involves the state. An individual cannot retaliate, or else you will have people killing each other at will, resulting in chaos.
  • Pre-emptive violence: this also involves the state. The when-a-country-hasn’t-done-anything-yet-but-might-do-something-in-the-future-so-we-should-go-after-it-now stance.

It suffices to say that none of the above applied to Pakistan, when it decided to enter the ‘War on Terror’. Being on the invading side against former friends that Pakistan had helped meant abandoning all its previous policies, resulting in the loss of Pakistan’s world stature and respect. More importantly, Pakistan had no religious, legal or any other type of reason to become a party in this war.

What has Pakistan lost? Politically, it lost its allies, its integrity in the international arena and became infamous for having a corrupt government and being a creator of terrorists and terrorism. Economically, it has lost $ 2 trillion, and experienced an inflation rise of 300%. Loss of human life stands at several tens of thousands. Drone attacks have wreaked havoc in the tribal belt, traditionally Pakistan’s line of defense on the western front. But these are merely facts and figures.

Pity the nation that has lost its youth to senseless pursuits, where the price of bread is ten times more than the SMS package offered by cellular phone companies – targeting the teens and tweens of Pakistan.

Pity the nation that has lost its voice of morality in the pandemonium of clinking coins, where the concept that ‘might is right’ prevails and the common man has no hope for justice, or the time to pursue it due to the rising living expenses.

Pity the nation that has betrayed its citizens in exchange for friendship with the bully, where the government trades its citizens to please the tyrant and buries its head in the sand when the common man asks for justice, for instance, drone attacks, the Raymond Davis case.

Lord Macaulay, in his 1835 address to the British parliament said: “Do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage…for if the Indians (prior to partition) think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem…and they will become what we want them: a truly dominated nation.”

Pity the nation that will not understand, that will not teach its children and youth its history, and that will not admonish its young when they belittle all that is theirs in favour of all that is foreign.

Pity the nation that has lost its identity; we love our country from afar. Let someone else suffer the suicide bombings, drone attacks, etc. Acquire money and travel to greener pastures. Pakistan has seen a mass exodus of qualified people, while the country needs these people in order to progress.

However, there is hope, for Allah (swt) says: “O You who believe! Take not as (your) Bitanah (advisors, consultants, protectors, helpers, friends, etc.) those outside your religion (pagans, Jews, Christians, and hypocrites) since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you. They desire to harm you severely. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, but what their breasts conceal is far worse, indeed we have made plain to you the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses) if you understand.” (Al-Imran, 3:118)

All is not lost, only if we understand and act. We have the technology; we must educate and focus on our youth. Life after 9/11 in Pakistan is not a struggle; it is a focused move ahead towards a common goal – to revive Pakistan’s economy, education and moral status internationality, to reverse the ‘brain drain’ and to trust the ultimate design that Allah (swt) has for us. Ameen.

Box Feature

Are you contributing towards the positive in Pakistan, a decade after 9/11?

  • Are you trying to encourage unity among yourselves, regardless of what you want and what you do (in terms of age group, profession, etc.)?
  • Are you endorsing merit and justice in your own capacity?
  • Are you buying Pakistani products to help the local economy?
  • Are you curbing wastage?
  • Are you putting on hold an extravagant lifestyle?
  • Are you educating yourself and others about Islam, and the responsibilities that come with it?
  • Are you discouraging foreign cultural invasion?
  • Are you setting a personal example for youth and children?
  • Are you refraining from patronizing incompetent people based on ethnicity?
  • Are you boycotting corrupt politicians and their parties?

Box Feature 2

Positive trends in Pakistan post 9/11

  • Masajid are thriving in great numbers.
  • Muslim lifestyle publications have penetrated the market.
  • There are a myriad of workshops on Islamic guidance and counselling.
  • Schools have been established with integrated curriculum (Deen+Duniya).
  • An Islamic financial system is in place.
  • There is a more conscious endorsement of the Shariah dress code.
  • More individuals at all levels are coming forward to found and fund welfare organizations
  • Pakistan is the leading Muslim country to pay Zakah.
  • Pakistanis are realizing their identity as a Muslim.

In a nutshell, Islam is returning to the Muslims. Yes, Pakistanis are not perfect. We need to work harder, and with more competence and cooperation. However, there is great hope. We should not feel dejected and give into maligning and mud-slinging. Self-criticism should be aimed towards improvement and not disappointment and pessimism.

Conversion of Yvonne Ridley to Islam

yvonne

The conversion of a prominent English lady journalist, Yvonne Ridley, to Islam is not something ignorable in the recent history. By embracing Islam a few years back, Ridley has, in fact, stunned the Western world. Unfortunately, such a thick smoke of bigotry has been spread around Islam by the so-called “civilized and educated Westerners” that it appears to them as a mere symbol of terror and tyranny. Conversion to Islam, therefore, by a distinguished personality, a woman in particular, amid this prejudiced environment, seems something unbelievable.

Yvonne Ridley (now Mariam Ridley) had no specific awareness of Islam before 2001 or the 9/11 incident. But astonishingly, the circumstances took a sudden turn, and Islam became the centre of Ridley’s thoughts. Professionally, she had been deputed to Afghanistan as a journalist by her newspaper for covering then-ruling Taliban, who were and are still regarded as the rigid, rude, uncultured and merciless warlords. Also, the Taliban had remained reluctant towards the western media, which had been exhibiting a hostile attitude against them.

Ridley entered into Afghanistan, donned with a long Burqa as a safety measure. Unfortunately, she was detected by the Taliban and immediately taken into custody. As a routine practice, the Western journalists always keep themselves ready to face any sort of risk, in pursuit of acquiring breaking news. Likewise, Ridley probably was also determined to face any sort of challenge inside Afghanistan for the same purpose. Unluckily, however, she was spotted and, as stated above, was imprisoned.

The interesting element in the story, however, is that the detention Ridley had suspected before and for whose evasion she had attired Burqa proved conversely a blessing to her. Her confinement in a house for ten consecutive days shook her from within. The Taliban’s compassionate and kind conduct toward Ridley pressed her to seek answers from her heart to such question as: “Are they really the rude and hard-hearted people, as my friends in the media portray?”

Detention of Ridley by the Taliban, however, provoked the entire ‘civilized’ society of the West, leading to a vast circulation of prejudiced and concocted news in their periodicals about the Taliban. With the detention of Ridley, the West had, in their sense, acquired a vivid and candid proof of the Taliban’s barbarism, whereas the facts were quite contrary. An absolutely unique and positive conduct was portrayed to the lady by the Taliban. Also, Ridley might have expected a torturous treatment from them, namely sexual abuse or physical assaults. However, no such behaviour was ever extended to her. Instead, they demonstrated a treatment which a brother extends to his sister or a father exercises over his daughter. This attitude obviously opened the eyes of Ridley and forced her to reconsider Islam. Later, after her release from the captivity, she disclosed to the media that the Taliban had left no stone unturned to leave a nice impression over her through their conduct.

“They honoured my feminism,” she once narrated. “Although the face veiling (Hijab) did never appeal to me, they made it incumbent over them to practice it with me. They never beat me,” she added, “never starved me and never insulted me. Any time they intended to visit me, they first used to knock my room’s door. They also provided me an absolute isolation for my lavatory requirements.” Ridley went on to narrate: “I remained in their confinement for ten days but never did they attempt to touch or sit just close to me, because of which I remained ever fearless from them.”

Still, however, upon return to her native land, the UK, after her captivity, the media flocked to her in an attempt to pick every minute detail of the Taliban’s conduct. “Were you ever molested, deemed like a toy, starved, gang raped or tortured?” A series of such questions were forwarded to her, but quashing their stance, Ridley replied: “No, no, never. They were never rude. They were nice fellows, aware of my pains and sorrows. They acknowledged the respect of women all the time. Although known as uncivilized Mullahs (clerics) by us, their behaviour still was marvelous.” But in place of getting pacified, the biased media flashed disgusting news against the Taliban in their journals: “She has been brainwashed. She is uttering all this because of the Taliban’s coercion. She is hiding several facts.” And so on and so forth.

Then, once in England, her mind instigated her to re-study Islam: a religion whose imitators had so nobly treated her when they could have exercised any cruelty. “Let it be revisited,” she decided. Taking in her hands the Holy Quran, the basic source of the Muslim faith, she exclaimed without the least hesitation that the Quran was the only book awarding peace and justice to the entire world. In a response to the editor of “Sunday Telegraph”, London, Ridley remarked: “I have found the Quran to be a beautifully written book prompting nothing but peace, love and understanding.” More amazingly, she added that the Burqas have been her favourite dress since then, and she puts them in her suitcase on every journey. “I still have the original one I was arrested in,” she informed.

Eventually, she stood up to proclaim: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.” By pronouncing this, she meant that her conversion to Islam was in no way coerced and that she had willfully thrown herself into the fold of Islam.

From then onwards, Ridley became a Muslim who remains ever impatient for the enhancement of her faith. Her soul then did not permit her to sit calm anymore. She already had in her mind the commandment of Allah (swt): “Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allah) magnify!” (Al-Muddaththir, 74:2-3)

She bore the standard of Islam in her hands and devoted herself to its circulation, declaring publicly that Islam was the religion most suited to her.

I, the writer, once came across a comment made by a Muslim revert upon her acceptance of Islam, wherein she had stated: “I have not just embraced Islam but, in fact, have returned to it.” In other words, she had returned to her original and natural religion. She was referring to a Hadeeth, which informs that every infant coming into the world is born on natural faith (Islam), but later his parents, kinsmen and friends drag him towards some other faith (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.). Likewise, Ridley had not just embraced Islam but had returned to her original belief.

The lesson we can learn from this story is that if the Muslims would correct their attitudes from within (their interactions, discourses, manners, etc.) and cultivate in themselves the charisma that attracts people, one-third of the world population, to speak safely, may fall into the folds of Islam.

Ridley is now a practicing Muslim, deeming it her due obligation to propagate and expand the truth of faith, which she has discovered. When she delivers speeches, travels across the world and wears a full-length Burqa, you will notice in her a lady, who is emotional for the circulation of Islamic tenets. We immensely respect her for returning to the original and natural faith.