Raveled & Unraveling

24 Jul

Certainly in addition to the many crises impacting us overseas we are still in the middle of a civil liberties crisis here at home and  there seems to be no escape from  nasty public and political talk about us Muslim Americans. I moderate a facebook page called New York Muslims and contribute to another called Interfaith New York, with our recent activities including the Weep for Gaza interfaith vigil on July 30, 2014.

During the last few years I have continued with organizing a range of community workshops  (see Burma workshops) and others (See 2011 Workshops) and continuing to co-host the radio show On Immigration Issues. Our diverse faith community community must contend with and perhaps absorb many social forces– not always an easy task, as I tried to explain in this 2010 paper Selflessness and Self-Promotion in Muslim Civil Society: Questions of Identity in a Community Under Stress.

I continue my work to raise awareness about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma; here is an article I wrote this August about the current situation there.

The Muslim Progressive Tradiitionalist Alliance remains afloat but with only intermittant paid work, my thoughts go towards some of the travels of last year and visits to holy places. May God guide us all on our journeys in thought and in the world. As global citizens and fellow humans, we must care about the situation in Syria and Burma and many other places, along with the continued despoiling of the natural order.

Like many colleagues I have joined events to show solidarity with the Sikh community following the tragic attack in Wisconsin: See our photos and also video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-v9PI4qgY0&feature=share. After the tragic terror attack in Boston last year, the Gaza bombings, and the ongoing insanity of ISIS,  the community is feeling especially vulnerable.  But it is an opportunity to affirm our deepest social and human values.

We continue our interfaith work in Flushing  and elsewhere in Queens. Meanwhile we are happy to write papers on social justice issues important to us, such as this May 2014 paper PAPER FOR ISTANBUL and accompanying Powerpoint images.

As my old Poems of Love & Loss tried to indicate, Love of God is both simple and complicated. Each year Ramadan  is a reminder to increase attention to reflection and to avoid reactive and mechanical thinking and behavior. At the same time, there have been occasions to build bridges (and hopeful not indulge in too much political posturing) at community iftars. Last year our iftar planning committee once again partnered with the Queens Borough President’s office to organize a successful for community service but this year the effort became independent and involved other local partners: see http://queensiftar.wordpress.com/.

Disaster recovery takes many forms. To build resilience we affirm our values, including opposition to injustice and human rights abuse around the world. Here at home, the December 2011 Boycott of Mayor Bloomberg’s Breakfast also marked the beginning of an important new civil liberties campaign to protect NYC Muslims from profiling and surveillance, with MACLC members playing a leading role in sustaining this important policy critique during the last several months.  Until the next update!

Towards a More Progressive Muslim Community

22 Mar

Part One:

rose1

Islam is not the only revelation given to humanity and we shall not disparage others. Though we may discern faults in the practices and philosophies of others, often it is only our misunderstanding of different systems that confronts us. Each nation, people and individual has the right to strive for The Good– and God knows best. As Muslims we can strive to perceive the heart of each tradition and speak to the good in each practitioner, regardless of faith or philosophy. As we are reminded in the Quran, God has created us diverse to know each other and not to judge each other.

While we believe in reason and free, critical thinking as a God given right and responsibility, we Progressive Muslims also urge our community to research and openly share Islamic legal and social findings to inform our thinking and discussion. Too much of our rich heritage is unknown. At the same time as progressive Muslims we cannot accept all interpretations as equal in wisdom and therefore reject the austerities, family law traditions and iconoclasms of tribal and desert cultures as inappropriate for our place and time. We urge all Muslims to choose compassionate readings of Sharia law and refrain from stoning and other harsh punishments. It is far better to educate and improve others by example and direct guidance than to kill them.

To serve the whole human being, Islam must be taught and understood as a practice of spiritual liberation and not simply a tool of social order. Social Justice must be dear to us, along with the humility to know that full justice and full truth is never known on earth but remains in God’s hands. As God’s servants we must strive to implement what is beautiful, truthful and life affirming, not only for our immediate families or social groups but for all creation. The current imbalance in our relationship with nature must be foremost in our thoughts as we work and plan for the future.

Worship is given to us Muslims in specific forms. These forms –specifically the prayers and sequence of movements– are to be honored and felt as deeply as possible. As the language of revelation to the Prophet, Arabic must continue to play an essential role, but so must careful and thoughtful translation into various languages as spoken by the people. Literature and all the arts play an important role in opening the mind into higher awareness and unity and, as long as they do not simply distract or titillate, do not need to be seen as in competition to Holy Scripture. Both in an explicitly Islamic context and in other contexts, culture can serve as a vehicle for spiritual development. To support this trend, progressive Muslims may wish to encourage leadership to more fully develop and incorporate the arts into supplication or supplementary sessions at the masjid.

Muslim artists, Muslim politicians, Muslim citizens cannot be led by base desires or even by self-interest. Our community has far to go in its social development but promoters of utopian schemes too often seek to justify coercive or divisive means by their ends. The temptation to “be right” and to control others should be rejected. Half-conscious egotistical urges and agendas should be understood and put to rest. Let us know ourselves better, even if reality does not conform to our dreams and ideals. Muslims should not hate themselves for their imperfections, nor hate others. The path to purification and greater awareness requires continued prayer and practice.

The purpose of life is like a light that refracts into a colorful spectrum according to our human type and spiritual need. In this context a one-size fits all conformity cannot serve human development and obedience alone may not open the doors to a relationship with divine powers, signs, laws and energies.

We believe that to be supportive of the growth of human potential that our masajid can and should develop and support open and non-hierarchical discussions, encouraging self-questioning and reflection, along with meditative practices that open heart and mind to new places beyond mind and mere imagination. We Muslims need to listen more deeply to each other and to the world. Listening supports the intelligence of the emotional self. Many of the practices of the Sufis are to be recommended as essential support in this journey of service, and love.

And yes, God knows best…

Hope, Warmth and the Winter Sky

4 Feb

The City’s boundaries and dimensions surpass our understandings. Reality flows unknown around us. But at the same time we live in a web of unreality. Our civic order imposes its inevitable logic on our lives; streets mapped by the myth of progress, directed by distinctions between public and the fragile private; our steps quickened by tabloid fear and the unconscious claims of memory.

Considering the city in its unreality, NYC is metaphor for social aspiration and media’s hall of mirrors endlessly reinforce that hungry and protean image.  Like a horde of locusts we are consumed as we move, consuming, over the world. The market’s on life support. We are aspirated. The machine fuels and feeds on youth, on immigrant striving, reducing difference and human beauty to shared and quantifiable dreams of desire.

In song we are the city that never sleeps. We are also the city that repeats its name twice. But such self aggrandizement is a half-remembered dream. Self image is not self awareness, especially when the image is a marketing tool. What is the reality that flows within and around us, the energy of basic life response? Who and what is New York, and how can we know the whole and naked truth, so help us God?

I am tired of the lies we tell. I tell them too. How to escape the web?

Lies and fear feed the military industrial complex with tax and treasure.  In their new book The Rise of the New American Security State, Dana Priest and William M. Arkin detail massive annual expenditures on national intelligence. In 2010, $80.1 billion was spent; plus an unknown percentage of the military’s $58 billion annual budget. Priest and Arkin were also able to construct a jobs database with at least 182,000 recent job openings requiring Top Secret clearance.

In 2011, in the Washington Post series of the same name, Priest and Arkin had already demonstrated how 3,984 federal, state and local organizations are currently working on domestic counterterrorism, with 934 of them newly created since the 2001 attacks. These vast bureaucratic numbers suggest a larger context for the recent report from Political Research Associates (PRA) that $1.67 billion in federal funds were allocated to states for counter-terrorism training in 2010 alone. For many entrepreneurs this funding stream has proved a golden opportunity to enhance the nation’s security– and their own.

Parallel to this boom in homeland security related business, on the federal and state level, right wing think tanks have also located deep pockets both in and out of government in recent years, in order to promote their interests and preferred security state policies. In August 2011 Fear Inc, an eye-opening report from the Center for American Progress, detailed how more than $40 million have flowed from seven foundations over 10 years to fund projects promoting a politically paranoid and highly inaccurate view of Islam and Muslims.

In large part because of such generous financial support over the last decade, a wide range of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories have become accepted wisdom, influencing political and media discourse, most often organized to impact election year politics. One relatively well known example is Donors Capital’s 2008 contribution of over $17 million to the Clarion Fund to produce Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West and to distribute DVDs to more than 28 million voters in swing states.

According to the Pew Research Center, the public’s favorable rating of Islam actually fell from 40% (right after the terror attacks) to only 30% nine years later (during the media assault on the Park51 community center aka “Ground Zero mosque.”)[1].  Once again, xenophobic hate has proved to be an effective and popular strategy. And this all-devouring discourse negativity does not only damage Muslims—it sucks the life from all manner of peoples and tribes and from the dream of Zion itself.

The Right Wing machine has us all hooked up to a gurney. This is why we cry out. One government official too many has lied to us. And yet, around the world religious leaders (including Muslims) are not immune from this disorder in the name of order.

So it’s time for change. Ground Hog Day has come and Commissioner Kelly has seen his shadow, even faintly patterned in pale newsprint as a politely implacable Times Editor sneaks a look at her watch.  Deadlines and breadlines. Time comes for all of us, even Mayor Bloomberg.

And it is always time for change, whatever season’s here. Change may never be comfortable for us, except when we are at play in dreams.  Whether a campfire or flat screen is flickering before us, the comforting warmth is temporary. Night surrounds us even as the black of space surrounds our day. Even so, the embrace of a loving and cosmic Attention may awaken us from dream. We may still be able to learn how to know, understand and renew some small measure of an inner freedom– even under the icy surveillance of the far off stars, far from any human myth of progress. There may be hope even without dreams.

A New Season

29 Sep

“Fordson,” the Muslim Football film made a little splash around the 9/11 anniversary here in New York. It got more attention than the mini terror alert that was reported days before, right on time. Good sign?

Can well practiced sports teams offer a more positive image of the legend of the Fall than the teams that hijacked planes on that day? Can (Muslim) football finally compete with the war on terror as an aspect of American harvest ritual? 

Or, rather, is the real collective ritual simply a staring at a screen, any flickering screen, as at the campfire in the vast primeval night of our ancestors?

Perhaps we American Muslims have enough myths and symbolic enactments and enough distractions. And we are about to enter more deeply into an election year, God help us! But this flickering unconsciousness is a global problem.

I just read in the New York media how the Pakistani media is currently demonizing the USA. And we know how little confidence the USA (and many of our fellow citizens) place in Muslims, Arabs, and Pakistanis. The communication gap is widening. What to do?

The “Peace and Dialogue” mafia will continue in dreamy but persistent efforts to build trust, regardless of policies, as if mutual understanding will lead to agreement on the issues. It is nice and sometimes noble but does not seem to be working and we can and do go round and round. While we’re at it, why not teach every football huddle in America to do Dikhr? Work directly on the spirit and the still point of all the turning…

I hope our hearts can still speak to other hearts. But lack of energy, unbalanced energies, can reduce our natural love of humanity to hunger and resentment. An inner/outer strategy is called for.

Beyond sustaining interfaith dialogue and developing more effective civic engagement, we Muslims would do well to expand our intrafaith conversations; including not only dialogue but also explicit differentiation, since there is no way we can all conform to the same views. Nor should we.

It would be healthy, however, to define down the “Kuffar” concept, which can be so destructive to living in a pluralistic culture. Too many scholars carry heavy and outmoded intellectual baggage and too much of our tradition is obscurely understood. The issue of religious reform should not be relegated to the margins. Progressives and Traditionalists need to talk and listen to each other. We need to clean house if we don’t want to hear a knock at the door at five am.  Should law enforcement be the only approach?

And beyond media-friendly dramatic prophesy and narrative arc, we as Muslims need to develop more nuanced thinking as well as more centralized and accessible centers of public conversation. Our populations are unfortunately used to their conspiracy theories and politics of blame. And we have had prophets, both true and false, in high places and low. The prophets will always be run out of town after their 15 minutes of fame, regardless of their worth. Instead, we now need teachers of nuanced thinking, good examples who might teach us how to transform ideals into specific action steps to create a more just and humane society. We also need to create stronger institutions, but not to build bureaucracies.

And the words of our Prophet, peace be upon him, should be distinguished from all the commentary. What is the spirit and logic of his life and service? What are the deepest meanings of the Revelation?

Though our laws are based on the US constitution let us all oppose the virulent and absurd attacks on Sharia in this country. I recently signed a statement by Muslim leaders and activists that affirms the value and importance of Sharia. That said, I would most likely disagree with many of the other signers in my interpretation of these laws. But I stand with them.

I am not an “Originalist” regarding the Constitution nor am I regarding the deen. Harsh punishments must make way for efforts to educate and guide the spirit. There should be no compulsion in religion—that really diminishes its spiritual value.

But Unity is elusive indeed. The tendency is for almost every Muslim leader to create a locus of power around him or herself as if we are all competing warlords fighting over some mountain valleys, not serving a vast and disaffected minority population in the richest country in the world.  We have many little leadership circles of that huddle in the field but don’t play as a team. However the opposing team is well organized and we know who they are. The ball is in our hands!

The reader is most likely part of the problem. So am I. We might blame the internet, and handheld devices, for helping to distract us on the field. More and more information may stimulate the brain but is not freeing our minds. But the minutes are ticking away. God is everywhere but our actions also matter. Now.

The season turns and I look up to see leaves like cornflakes brown and dry against the milky bowl of sky. It’s time to wake up. Time to stop debating possible plays and get in the game—and God willing throw that “Hamduillah” pass up and over and across.

Death of Bin Laden

2 May

Bin Laden’s deadly attack on the World Trade Center almost ten years ago was a terrible distortion of our faith. Terrorism is never permitted by Islam.

Despite his reference to various political grievances around the world, Bin Laden’s evil actions should not be mistaken by anyone as examples of acceptable political action. We agree with President Barak Obama for correctly noting in tonight’s speech that Osama Bin Laden was a mass murderer of Muslims and not a representative of Islam.

Like other Americans, we feel relieved that Osama Bin Laden is dead but we note that al Qaeda may persist in its errors and in its threat. Those who continue to spread negative and vicious religious interpretations must be most strongly condemned. So should those who use the existence of violent extremism as a pretext to oppress Muslims anywhere.

Islamic leadership must face the challenge of educating the community to work for positive change in preferably nonviolent ways. This year, we have seen this beginning to take place in the Arab and Muslim nations.

One may wonder if Osama Bin Laden was executed and regret that others lost their lives in the process.  And yet one must also wonder why Osama Bin Laden had been able to live in Pakistan so close to Islamabad, and for so long.  Full disclosure should be made. Our military men and all those who work protecting our shared human values deserve nothing less.

One must hope that instead of continuing the cycle of violence this will move us closer to peace and the end of military engagement in Afghanistan as elsewhere. In this path we Muslims find guidance in Surah 16, verses 125 through 128.

Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance

What is TABLE 32?

28 Nov

AA

Named for the chapter & verse in the Quran that affirms the unique value of human life, TABLE 32 is a space for honest & open discussion among Muslims, but open to respectful dialogue with all people.

A project of the Muslim Progressive-Traditionalist Alliance (PTA), TABLE 32 offers a place for honest & sincere discussion of human life, consciousness and being.  The purpose is to clarify & promote life affirming understandings in context of our faith tradition, without denying any complexities that may arise.

The subject is a sensitive one, at a time when in the Muslim world, terror plots claim civilian lives on a regular basis and exploitation, corruption and injustice seem to be entrenched in government and society. While the problem of violence is obviously not confined to this faith community, Muslim discourse will be the main focus of TABLE 32.

TABLE 32 offers food for thought, a framework and a forum to exchange ideas through the Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance which seeks to educate and inspire local communities through interfaith and intrafaith dialogue, bridging sectarian and cultural gaps and, most specifically, engaging diverse Muslim and immigrant communities in civic engagement projects, social justice programs and acts of conscience.

In 2011 and 2012 this new group worked to sponsor and participate in panel discussions  about progressive issues (Left Forum, Anarchist Book Fair, Flushing Interfaith Council, Brooklyn Peace Fair, several downtown NYC events for the 9/11 Anniversary, civil liberties programs and a range of dialogues and workshops)  and seek to build relationships among diverse Muslim leaders in the USA with a range of points of view, in partnership with other community groups.

This project explores Islamic based scholarship and fully accepts the role that human intelligence plays in adapting and implementing tradition.  Some interpretations of Islamic tradition distort the spirit and ignore the context of the teachings as a way to support  forms of violence in local or global power struggles. What false and misleading interpretations are influential and how can one more effectively guide our brothers and sisters towards alternative paths both life enhancing and deeply rooted in taqwa, tawheed, deen and iman? What effective, non-violent tactics may be available to those who struggle for Justice?

At the same time, as in the Quranic verse itself, we will also acknowledge the agreement between diverse faith traditions on this matter.  Stay tuned! With peace.

Quran Chapter 5 “The Table”

28 Nov

“For this reason We ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for murder or for serious crimes, it is as though he killed all humanity;  and whoever keeps it alive, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.  And though certainly Our messengers came to them with clear arguments, even after, many act excessively, beyond bounds.” Chapter 5 “Maedan–the Table”,Verse 32

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.