Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws: Islam or Hislam?

How anti-Qur’anic rulings lead to negative misconceptions about Islam.

by Ro Waseem -- May 29, 2014

In January 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by one of his own security guards over a controversial move — opposing the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Although thousands of Pakistanis condemned this by attending his funeral and showing support on social media, religious fanatics hailed his murderer as a hero, recently naming a mosque after him.

As a Muslim, I stand firmly against blasphemy laws. My faith demands that I do so, for it repeatedly asks me to stand for justice and fight oppression.

The Quran shows us that even though God’s prophets were mocked and threatened, they never killed their accusers for hurting their “religious sentiments.” In fact, the Quran opposes any laws that restrain freedom of speech or would have someone killed over differences in belief. Rather, Quran 73:10 says, “Be patient over what they say, and leave them graciously.”

So how did these blasphemy and apostasy laws come to be associated with Islam?

The blasphemy and apostasy laws are found in the Hadeeth, sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammad, which were compiled two-three centuries after his death. Muslims know that no Hadeeth should contradict the Quran if they are to be accepted, given their subjective nature and reliance on the Quran for authenticity.

But early scholars intentionally overlooked this to protect the interests of clergymen and political leaders. These oppressive laws allow them to exercise complete control over people, punishing anyone who threatens their position by declaring them apostates — enemies of Islam. To so many clergymen, religion is nothing but a means to gain power and control people. To keep out competition and force their monopoly, they invent laws in the name of God so “consumers” have no choice but to keep buying their “product.” Or face persecution.

Religious leaders like Tahir-ul-Qadri, a staunch proponent of blasphemy laws, rule people by fear. Add to that the fact that the average Muslim is unaware of the Quran’s teachings, which makes them likely to believe whatever the clergy tells them about Islam. Of these leaders, the Qur’an asks us to be weary: “O You who have believed! A great many religious leaders: rabbis, priests, monks, Mullahs, yogis, and mystics devour the wealth of people in falsehood, and bar them from the path of God” (Quran 9:34).

So what exactly does the Quran say about blasphemy and apostasy?

Quite frankly, blasphemy and apostasy laws are themselves blasphemous to the teachings of the Qur’an. Not in the traditional sense, but because they violate the very instructions the scripture gives regarding freedom of belief.

Regarding apostasy, in Quran 2:256 God says, “There is no compulsion in matters of faith. The right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces false authorities and becomes at peace with God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Knower.”

In a similar vein, verse 109:6 instructs adherents to end a debate by saying: “To you, your belief system. And to me, mine.”

If all that isn’t convincing enough, Quran 10:99 should seal the deal: “If your Lord willed, all who are on earth, would have believed (by not providing free will). Would you then, compel people to become believers?”

When it comes to blasphemy, I often hear some version of, “Hold on. If someone mocks my religion, it prompts me to act violently. You see, it makes me very emotional.”

But this statement only shows an ignorance of the Quran, which says in verse 6:68, “When you see them engaged in vain discourse about Our verses, turn away from them unless they engage in a different subject. If Satan ever makes you forget (i.e. your mind gets engrossed in their discourse,) then as soon as you recollect, no longer sit in the company of the people who confound the truth with falsehood.”

Here, Muslims are instructed to engage with these people if they change the topic. Certainly that means we’re not to have enmity towards them, let alone kill them!

And, again, Quran 28:55 instructs, “Whenever they (believers) hear vain talk of ridicule, they withdraw from it decently and say, ‘“To us our deeds and to you yours; Peace be upon you, we do not seek to join the ignorant.”

Those verses are practically shouting freedom of expression at the top of their lungs! Islam is a very progressive path to God, one in which differences in opinions and beliefs are accepted, not punished (Quran 39:18). On the other hand, blasphemy and apostasy laws lead to negative misconceptions about Islam being an oppressive faith.

But what are we Muslims to do? By not voicing our disapproval, we stand for these anti-Quranic laws and call them Islam. Is that not like setting your own house on fire? There is not a single verse that encourages Muslims to act violently toward those who leave Islam, or even mock the Quran. After all, shouldn’t truth be able to defend itself on its own merit? What good is a forced belief?

We can even take it a step further by noting how rejecters treated the prophets.

Of Prophet Nooh: “They said, ‘If you do not desist, O Noah, you will surely be of those who are stoned’” (Quran 26:116).

Prophet Ibrahim’s father said, ”Do you dislike my gods, O Abraham? If you cease not, I will certainly cause you to be stoned to death! Now get away from me for good” (Quran 19:46). Similarly, the priesthood said of Ibrahim, “Burn him alive and uphold your gods if you are going to take any action” (Quran 21:68).

Regarding Prophet Musa, “[Pharaoh] said, ‘If you take a god/authority other than me, I will surely place you among those imprisoned’” (Quran 26:29). To Musa’s followers, Pharaoh also said, “I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will surely crucify you all” (Quran 26:49).”

These verses should reveal to us a different perspective: all prophets were seen as blasphemers and apostates to the prevalent religion of their time. To condone the oppressive laws of religious leaders today is to support ill treatment of the prophets. After all, you would’ve done the same!

And that’s the most ironic part. If a messenger were to come today, these clergymen and their ardent followers would utter the same threats to him. They have fabricated their own laws in the name of God, so when you ask them to reform, they either consider you a blasphemer or an apostate and have a fatwa issued to kill you.  That’s the scary thing about truth: it doesn’t warrant aggression but is always met with it.

This is not a matter of interpretation, as some would call it. The Quran condemns forced belief in numerous verses. Rather, this is a matter of giving preference to the Hadeeth over the Quran to justify bigotry and extremism in the name of Islam. Having said that, it’s up to you whether you want to rethink your stance or keep blindly following what you have been taught — whether you want to follow Islam or Hislam. Because unlike misguided religious fanatics, sincere believers never force their beliefs on others.

What’s the Golden Rule, again? “Any secondary source on Islam that goes against the Quran should be rejected.”

Often said, but seldom followed.

Islam’s apostasy problem

May 31, 2014

Mustafa Akyol 

As you read this piece, a 27-year-old woman named Meriam Yahya Ibrahim will be awaiting her death in Sudan. For on May 15, she was sentenced to death by a court who found her guilty of “apostasy.” Her “crime,” in other words, was simply to abandon Islam and adopt Christianity. 

In fact, the court who tried Ms. Ibrahim gave her just three days – so that she could perhaps “recant.” Yet she is still alive, because she was pregnant and recently gave birth to her baby. So the court decided that she will be allowed to live for two more years, in jail, with her baby, which she can breastfeed. Her other child, a 20-month-old boy, is already with her in prison. He will be old enough in two years to be traumatized by the execution of his mother. The husband, meanwhile, is in deep agony, hopelessly frequenting court rooms and prison gates. 

In short, what is being done to Ms. Ibrahim and her family is a ruthless, cruel, outrageous violation of human rights. Yet unfortunately, both the Sudanese authorities and some likeminded Muslims see this only as justice, because they seriously believe that all “apostates” from Islam, without any doubt, should be put to death. 

However, as a Muslim myself, I join many other co-religionists of mine who oppose this apostasy ban, and see it as both an attack on religious freedom and an insult to Islam itself. 

Our first reason is simple common sense: How can a religion claim to be noble, and reasonable, if it tries to keep its believers in the fold with death threats? How can we also expect this threat to make the would-be apostates good Muslims? Wouldn’t they, at best, rather become hypocrites who hide their disbelief merely out of fear? 

The second reason is that the ban on apostasy, which is indeed in Islamic law (shariah), has simply no basis in the Quran, the only undisputed source of Islam. None of its verses say people should be executed for disbelief. Quite the contrary, the Quran vindicates religious freedom, with verses such as, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256)

But post-Quranic Islamic law gradually limited the scope of this “no compulsion” principle. (That is why some Quran translations today “edit” the verse above with a crucial in-parantheses insertion. They write, “Let there be no compulsion in [the acceptance of] religion.” The implication is that you are free to enter Islam or stay out of it. But once you enter, even simply by being born into it, you are not allowed to leave.) 

As I explain in my book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” in the chapter titled “Freedom from Islam,” the ban on apostasy emerged in post-Quranic Islam due to political needs. For the medieval scholars, the apostate was a traitor who could potentially join the enemy army. For the Islamic empires, the apostate was anyone whose ideas looked harmful to public order, and, of course, to the masters of the state.

Yet now we live in a world in which religious freedom has become a norm. Somebody who changes his or her religion does not commit high treason, but merely exercises a most fundamental human right. 

Those who claim to implement the sharia – in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran or elsewhere – should see this reality, reinterpret their laws, and stop killing innocent people. They can begin by realizing that the harm they give to Islam is greater than what the most vengeful apostate could possibly give.

Friday, May 30, 2014

How 10 years of social media has changed Islam

May 30, 2014 

When social media was introduced to our civilisation a decade ago, none of us imagined how it would change the world. It has also profoundly changed Islam, writes Omar Shahid.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and friends have helped foment revolutions, topple dictators, assist extremists and create trolls. Social media has changed the way we interact, think, form friendships and access information. Amid the revolution social media is causing, what is less discussed is the drastic impact it is having on Islam.

Social media poses Islam with a series of serious challenges. Many ex-Muslims are using it to attack and express their grievances with the faith. “Social media is where religion has come to die. We [ex-Muslims] can’t be censored and our voices are spreading across the world,” says Saif Rahman, a former Muslim and author. A growing number of Islamophobes and devout atheists are also taking to Facebook and Twitter to attack Islam. Some, of course, have genuine concerns, while others seem only interested in publicity, generating book sales and capitalising on the Islamophobia industry created post 9/11. For Muslims already on shaky ground with their faith, this is causing confusion, agitation and doubt.

On the other hand, social media has allowed Muslims to share their faith and dispel stereotypes. One example is the Facebook page Hadith of the Day, dedicated to sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, which has well over 6 million “likes”. As a result, many people who would otherwise have no exposure to Islam are flocking to a religion that is rapidly growing. Happy British Muslims, a video parody of Pharrell’s song “Happy” which went viral last month, was one recent example of how some Muslims are using YouTube to express their faith, culture and identity.

But here’s the crux of it all. Social media means Muslims now need to be on their toes. Islamic scholars, once free to say pretty much what they wanted, now need to watch every word they utter. Within seconds, something they say might be on Twitter, getting retweet after retweet as it’s shared throughout cyberspace. Gone are the days when Muslim scholars could make unthinking remarks about homosexuality, or, indeed, any other contentious issue. Today, when scholars speak, they are quick to clarify what they mean, careful not to quote texts without context. Islam, if you hadn’t realised, is being censored.

Last year, Mufti Ismail Menk, a popular Islamic preacher who has close to 900,000 followers on Facebook, was banned from speaking at British universities after a video surfaced of him expressing anti-gay views on YouTube.

A similar ruckus erupted earlier on in 2013 when one prominent Muslim scholar got in trouble for comments he made about homosexuality almost 20 years ago. The well-respected scholar was quick to denounce what he had said two decades back, but the damage had already been done.

Both scholars were quick to distance themselves from accusations levelled at them, which likely mitigated the damage to their reputations. What we are now seeing are scholars, embarrassed by the hysteria they have created, quickly sending out messages that they are for peaceful coexistence, diversity and tolerance. This is normally the end of it, and those scholars become extra careful not to say anything of the sort again. In fact, their mistakes are not only lessons for their scholarly contemporaries, but are helping to change religious discourse.

If it takes social media to weed out all the distasteful religious rhetoric, so be it. Certain views within Muslim communities have been allowed to flourish for too long and it’s about time they were put to bed.

Social media has imparted some very important lessons to Muslim scholars recently. One of them being to hold their tongue or face a backlash – which not only affects them, but the Muslim community at large. Every time a scholar makes a stupid or gratuitously offensive remark, Islamophobia is kindled and your ordinary Muslim is left to deal with the consequences. While it’s true that Muslims should be allowed to express their faith without fear, the more hateful views being eradicated is a mark of progress.

What also added to this calming down of Muslim rhetoric was 9/11. Many Muslim scholars, knowing Islam was now under intense scrutiny, felt obliged to present their faith in a positive way. We only have to look at the brilliant Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who, before 9/11, was much more militant in his approach. Now, especially with the pervasiveness of social media, he has toned down his rhetoric and is particularly careful about what he says.

But what does all this mean for the future of Islam?

Well, with views being increasingly censored, this will inevitably lead to more pluralistic, tolerant and respectful views – all integral to the Islamic tradition. The moving waves of social media has ebbed Islam along with it, giving Islamic authorities a lot to think about. It is changing the way Muslims think and the way others think of Muslims. In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, Steve Rose, a young British journalist, talks about how social media helped give him a greater insight into Islam.

For the first time in Islam’s history, Islamic knowledge has become extremely accessible. Some of the world’s greatest Islamic scholars are on Twitter, Facebook and can be watched easily on YouTube. Many regularly update their Twitter with Islamic reminders, answer readers’ questions and tweet links to reliable Islamic sources. The inevitable consequence of the flourishing of authentic Islamic knowledge is that the young generation of Muslims, in comparison to their parents who didn’t have the same access to their religious tradition, will be better educated about their faith.

Despite the constant negative headlines, the endless crusade against religion and the threat of social media, Islam is actually one of the great success stories of our time.

That’s certainly something to like and share.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Breathe and Belief

By Zahra Belal

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Sometimes life takes such a turn that the very earth beneath our feet is shaken. We scramble around blindly to make sense of what is happening to us.

In doing so, we pass from stages of shock, denial, incontrollable grief to acceptance or numbness.

Despite all our courage, we are at times helpless in taking charge of our feelings; involuntarily, we seem to sink deeper and deeper in to a dark abyss of self-pity, pessimism and worthlessness.

In times like these, we feel akin to a tree in winter that has shed all its leaves, leaving it branches stark and barren in the cold wind.

We are able to relate to this image of an entity that has nothing to give any more; frozen in stagnation and purposelessness—in, so to speak, death.

Our suffering distorts all our senses, seeping little joys in life, coloring everything in dark. We find it hard to fathom how everything around us can be so normal when there is a storm inside us.

In those moments of despair, there are certain things that we need to remind ourselves again and yet again—ad infinitum.

Foremost is the fact that we are always in a flux, moving from one state to another. This is perhaps why it is said that we cannot step in to the same river twice, for on our second attempt both the river and we have changed.

The phenomenon may not be perceivable to us, it is not necessarily observable or tangible but an irrefutable nature of the world it is—nothing lasts, everything is inexorably and incessantly moving towards one culmination after another.

Our own body is a testament to this with constant reproduction of cells, countless dead cells replaced or repaired by new ones; every moment you are being changed, matured and aged with years that you live.

Look around you. The dynamics of the cosmos beckons us to believe in change; the tireless movement of the planetary objects that shapes our day and night and one season after another.

This is why Allah says again and again:

{And [in] the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness, and [in His] directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason.} (Al-Jathiyah 45: 5).

That you will face hardships in this life is a foregone conclusion. Allah says:

{And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 155).

During our trials and tribulation, we are being closely monitored, which is true for all times, but how we react can either please or displease Allah.

Our vibrant Islamic history is full of such examples. The Qur’an recounts the lives of so many prophets and glorifies their steadfastness (sabr).

And Allah rewarded every Prophet with ease after hardships; we only have to show our commitment for Allah to cool a fire

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) faced one trial after another; orphaned before he was born, lost his mother and grandfather in his childhood, lost his loving wife and uncle in a span of a year, endured persecution from his own tribe and others.

Travelled to Taif with hopes but was rejected with cruelty, forced to immigrate from his place of birth, ridiculed by the Jews of Madinah and made to fight one ghazwa(battle) after another in such challenging circumstances.

Then one day he stood holding his dead son in his arms with tears falling profusely from his eyes. Despite all this, he remained firm in his iman (faith) and true to his cause.

And Allah rewarded every Prophet with ease after hardships; we only have to show our commitment for Allah to cool a fire, part an ocean, grant a throne, send a flock of ababeel, descend thousands of angels and conquer a city.

Allah says:

{O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 153).

The same ayah (verse) is followed by allusion to Safa and Marwah, which Allah says is among his signs, “sha’ar Allah.” In your misery, think about Hajar`alayha as-salam(peace be upon her), a beautiful woman who was stranded by her husband on Allah’s command, in a barren, unhabituated valley with her wee son.

As time took its toll, her son began crying for water but where can water be found in such a lifeless place? Does that daunt her? Does she make a mad dash in her anxiety? Or does she listlessly sit down, giving up and bemoaning her fate?

No, no, not this woman. She gets up and runs from one hill to another, trying to discern for any clues of a passing caravan from a vantage point.
Relate your disappointments and losses in this life to that of the Day of Judgment

This is sa`i—struggle to achieve an end while harbouring complete trust in Allah; believing that He indeed will pull her through.

Sure enough, a spring burst forth from a rock and forever transformed that desolate place into a bustling city.

And Allah found her act so endearing that He prescribed it as part of Umrah and Hajj which is why to this day, droves of people—both men and women—emulate this amazing woman by doing sa`i between the two hills to earn Allah’s pleasure.

In quite moments of reflection, relate your disappointments and losses in this life to that of the Day of Judgment, a day when there is no turning back from what we have earned for an eternity.

If our fleeting sorrows of this life bow us over to this extent, contemplate on how unimaginably tremendous would be a loss on that day, when every atom of good and bad will be weighed.

Indeed, if trials do not remind us of our beginning (inna lilahi—to God we belong) and end (wa inna ilaihi raji`oon—and to Him we shall we return) then we truly have bargained a great loss.

Therefore, feel a kinship with a tree in winter but do not pity it. That tree is far from a symbol of hopelessness, it is indeed a symbol of patience (sabr) as it braves the cold, quietly biding its time till the first glimmer of spring, when sun rays will rejuvenate it with lush, green leaves, when vibrant flowers will break out all over and when its boughs will droop with the weight of the fruits it will bear.

And that is what we need to do; last out the rough patch. Tell yourselves, breathe and believe. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Thomas Paine, Our Contemporary

May 29, 2014

By Chris Hedges

Portrait of Thomas Paine by Auguste Millière (1880).

Cornel West, Richard D. Wolff and I, along with moderator Laura Flanders, next Sunday will inaugurate “The Anatomy of Revolution,” a series of panel discussions focusing on modern revolutionary theorists. This first event will be part of a two-day conference in New York City sponsored by the Left Forum, and nine other discussions by West, Wolff and me will follow in other venues later this year.

Sunday’s event will be about Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” “The Rights of Man” and “The Age of Reason”—the most widely read political essays of the 18th century, works that established the standards by which rebellion is morally and legally permissible. We will ask whether the conditions for revolt set by Paine have been met with the rise of the corporate state. Should Paine’s call for the overthrow of British tyranny inspire our own call for revolution? And if it should, to echo Vladimir Lenin, what must be done?

Thomas Paine is America’s one great revolutionary theorist. We have produced a slew of admirable anarchists—Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day and Noam Chomsky—and radical leaders have arisen out of oppressed groups—Sitting Bull, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Cornel West and bell hooks—but we don’t have a tradition of revolutionists. This makes Paine unique.

Paine’s brilliance as a writer—his essay “Common Sense” is one of the finest pieces of rhetorical writing in the English language—is matched by his clear and unsentimental understanding of British imperial power. No revolutionist can challenge power if he or she does not grasp how power works. This makes Sheldon Wolin’s book “Democracy Incorporated” and his concept of “inverted totalitarianism” as important to us today as Paine’s writings on the nature of the British monarchy were in 1776.

There were numerous American leaders, including Benjamin Franklin, who hoped to work out an accommodation with the British crown to keep America a British colony, just as many now believe they can work through traditional mechanisms of power, including electoral politics and the judicial system, to reform corporate power. Paine, partly because he did not come to America from England until he was 37, understood that the British crown had no interest in accommodation; today, the corporate state similarly has no interest in granting any concessions. It became Paine’s job to explain to his American audience the reality of British power and what effective resistance would entail. Paine knew that the British monarchy, which wielded the global imperial power that American wields today, was blinded by its hubris and military prowess. It had lost the ability to listen and as a result had lost the ability to make rational choices. The inhabitants of New York would discover this when British warships and mercenary troops besieged the city.

Paine created a new political language. He wrote in crystalline prose. “Common Sense” was read by hundreds of thousands. It was the first political essay in Enlightenment Europe to call for a separation between civil society and the state, terms that many writers had considered interchangeable. Civil society, Paine argued, must always act as a counterweight against the state in a democracy. Power, he warned, even in a democracy, carries within it the seeds of tyranny.

Paine, as George Orwell and James Baldwin did later, used his pen as a weapon. It was a weapon deeply feared by the monarchies in Europe, as well as the Jacobins in France, who imprisoned Paine and planned to execute him for denouncing the Reign of Terror. He spoke an undeniable truth. He called his readers to act upon that truth. “My motive and object in all my political works, beginning with Common Sense,” Paine remembered in 1806, “… have been to rescue man from tyranny and false systems and false principles of government, and enable him to be free.”

“Where liberty is, there is my country,” Benjamin Franklin once said to Paine. “Where liberty is not, there is my country,” Paine replied. For Paine, the role of a citizen extended beyond national borders. The fight of those living under any system of tyranny was his fight. “When it shall be said in any country in the world ‘My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of happiness’: when these things can be said,” Paine wrote, “then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.”

The key to social change, as Eric Foner pointed out in “Tom Paine and Revolutionary America,” is “a change in the nature of language itself, both in the emergence of new words and in old words taking on new meanings.” The call for revolution that was advanced by Paine, as by writers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, came through the new language of secular rationalism, rather than the older language of traditional religion. But Paine, unlike Rousseau and other philosophers, wrote in the everyday language of working people. He drew from their experiences. And he was the first writer to extend political debate beyond the refined salons to the taverns. He hated the erudite, florid prose of philosophers such as Edmund Burke, calling that type of philosophical and academic language “Bastilles of the word.” He saw liberty as being intimately connected with language. And he knew that those who seek to monopolize power always retreat into arcane language that is inaccessible to the masses. Paine’s clarity will have to be replicated. We too will have to invent a new language. We will have to articulate our reality through communitarianism in an age of diminishing resources rather than the language of capitalism. And we will have to do this in a form that is accessible. Foner cites this as one of Paine’s most important achievements:

Paine was one of the creators of this secular language of revolution, a language in which timeless discontents, millennial aspirations and popular traditions were expressed in a strikingly new vocabulary. The very slogans and rallying cries we associate with the revolutions of the late eighteenth century come from Paine’s writings: the “rights of man,” the “age of reason,” the “age of revolution” and the “times that try men’s souls.” Paine helped to transform the meaning of the key words of political discourse. In Common Sense he was among the first writers to use “republic” in a positive rather than derogatory sense; in The Rights of Man he abandoned the old classical definition of “democracy,” as a state where each citizen participated directly in government, and created its far broader, far more favorable modern meaning. Even the word “revolution” was transformed in his writing, from a term derived from the motion of planets and implying a cyclical view of history to one signifying vast and irreversible social and political change.

Paine also understood what despotic regimes do to the soul. Despotic regimes—and here the corporate state serves as a contemporary example—make war on reason and rational thought. They circumscribe free speech and free assembly. They marginalize and silence critics. They make all institutions subservient to despotism, or in our case corporate power. They employ relentless propaganda to rob people of the language to describe their daily reality. They render them politically alienated. Those who live under despotic regimes, Paine noted, finally lose the ability to communicate their most basic concerns and grievances. And this suppression, Paine understood, has consequences. “Let men communicate their thoughts with freedom,” Paine wrote, “and their indignation fly off like a fire spread on the surface; like gunpowder scattered, they kindle, they communicate; but the explosion is neither loud nor dangerous—keep them under restraint, it is subterranean fire, whose agitation is unseen till it bursts into earthquake or volcano.” Finally, Paine understood that war is always the preferred activity of despotic states, for, as he wrote, war is essentially “the art of conquering at home.”

Paine, who refused to profit off his writings, suffered for his courage. When he returned to England, where he wrote “The Rights of Man,” he was persecuted, as he would later be persecuted in France and in America upon his final return. John Keane in his biography “Tom Paine: A Political Life” describes some of what Paine endured as a radical in late 18th century England.

Government spies tailed him constantly on London’s streets, sending back a stream of reports to the Home Secretary’s office. Those parts of the press that functioned as government mouthpieces pelted him with abuse. “It is earnestly recommended to Mad Tom,” snarled the Times, “that he should embark for France, and there be naturalized into the regular confusion of a democracy.” Broadsheets containing “intercepted correspondence from Satan to Citizen Paine” pictured him as a three-hearted, fire-breathing monster, named “Tom Stich.” Open letters, often identically worded but signed with different pen names, were circulated through taverns and alehouses. “Brother Weavers and Artificers,” thundered “a gentleman” to the inhabitants of Manchester and Salford, “Do not let us be humbugged by Mr. Paine, who tells us a great many Truths, in his book, in order to shove off his Lies.” Dozens of sermons and satires directed at Paine were published, many of them written anonymously for commoners by upper-class foes masquerading as commoners.

The power of Paine, as in the case of Orwell or Baldwin, was that he refused to be anyone’s propagandist. He may have embraced the American Revolution, as he embraced the French Revolution, but he was a fierce abolitionist and a foe of the use of terror as a political tool, a stance for which he was eventually imprisoned in revolutionary France. He asked the American revolutionaries “with what consistency, or decency” they “could complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousand in slavery.” He stood up in the National Convention in France, where he was one of two foreigners allowed to be elected and sit as a delegate, to denounce the calls in the chamber to execute the king, Louis XVI. “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression,” Paine said. “For if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Unchecked legislatures, he warned, could be as despotic as unchecked monarchs. He hated the pomp and arrogance of power and privilege, retaining his loyalty to the working class in which he was raised. “High sounding names” like My Lord, he wrote, serve only to “overawe the superstitious vulgar” and make them “admire in the great, the vices they would honestly condemn in themselves.” He ridiculed the divine right of kings. The British monarchy, which traced itself back seven centuries to William the Conqueror, had, he wrote, been founded by “a French bastard landing with armed banditti and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives.” And he detested the superstition and power of religious dogma, equating Christian belief with Greek mythology. “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit,” he wrote. Paine posited that the “virtuous people” would smash the windows of the Christian God if he lived on earth. 

His unrelenting commitment to truth and justice, along with his eternal rebelliousness, saw him later vilified by the leaders of the new American republic, who had no interest in the egalitarian society championed by Paine. Paine attacked former revolutionaries such as George Washington in the United States and Maximilien Robespierre in France who abused power in the name of “the people.” He was driven out of England by the government of William Pitt and then, after nearly a year in prison, was ousted from Jacobin France. He was, by that time, an old man, and even his former champions, in well-orchestrated smear campaigns, routinely denounced him for his religious and political radicalism. The popular press in America dismissed him as “the drunken infidel.” But Paine never veered from the proposition that liberty meant the liberty to speak the truth even if no one wanted to hear it. He died, largely forgotten, a pauper in New York City. Six people went to his funeral. Two of them were black.

The Power of Perception and the Stigma of Mental Illness in Our Muslim Community

By Laila Alawa

May 29, 2014 

I usually say it with a smile and a laugh. “I’m depressed, you know.”

It’s my response to conversations on mental health in our community that often spiral into the “we don’t have those issues in our community” declaration. My response always comes as a shock to the person I am speaking with — their mouth opening for a split second as they struggle to process the information.

For a moment, their worldview has been shaken as they take in the person standing in front of them, a person who seemingly has her life in order. Their perception of me is one formed on assumptions and impressions, all of which can be easily manipulated by me, whom the perception is about.

Perceptions are everything when it comes to those struggling with a mental illness. They are the semblance of sanity and the mask to be put on in the morning when we head out the front door. Yet the so-called reflection of reality seen in perceptions cannot be further from the truth – a truth hidden simply because of a feeling that if it is known, the community (and those around us) will not be able – or willing – to handle it.

Take my conversation, for example. It usually takes a good minute for my conversation partner to believe me when I make the confession about my depression. Because on the outside, it seems like I have everything in the bag: I’m a good, religious woman who works for the betterment of the community, has a steady paying job and has made it on her own. That must mean my life is in order, right? What the outside world sees must be the reality I face within, right?

To assume that our perceptions of those around us are the final say on their realities is petty, egregious and harmful. And these assumptions run rampant – we have come to believe that the in-person facades and online personas of people around us are the final truths. It leads to a crushing sense of loneliness for those struggling and a feeling that translates into fear of reprisal and ridicule if one should reach out to those around them for help.

We Are Mentally Struggling

But here’s the truth: A Gallup poll titled “Muslim Americans: A National Portrait”found that 56 percent of Muslim Americans say they are “struggling.” “Given that one in four Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder, it can only be further extrapolated that the Muslim American community has a problem. On top of that, young Muslim Americans between 18-28 years old are the least happy compared to youth of other faith groups in America.

So with that in mind, why is there a continued insistence on trusting what we see from others rather than what we hear coming from them? It’s a phenomenon perpetuated by an increased engagement with living our lives through social media – we tend to believe the updates we hear rather than the response we get when we ask others, “How are you?” It leads me to wonder whether we as a community are afraid of the truth – which the struggles and trials our peers and friends are undergoing are not always going to be perceivable from the safe distance most of us keep.

Destigmatizing Mental Disorders

There is a certain sort of irony present in the fact that so many Muslim Americans pursue professions in the field of medicine: A dedication to making people feel better that does not always translate into an understanding of the struggle facing those with mental health problems. In fact, within our community, stigma rears its ugly head in the form of the belief that mental health issues are punishments from God: Shameful to speak about and certainly shameful to seek help for.

The stigma surrounding mental health issues only serves to alienate those open about their issues and smother those still trying to come to terms with the fact that something may be wrong. Wrapped about it all is the gauzy film of public assumptions, dangerous in the way that it causes us to believe everything is okay without even asking.

Understanding the danger that silence, perception and stigma brings to both the community and those coping with mental health problems is one step we must take. Another is to actually ensure that the harmful loop of stigma and silence is broken within our community from hereon out.

Organizations are beginning to develop, specifically tackling the issue of mental health in Muslim communities, like American Muslim Health Professionals. We must realize as a Muslim community that seeking help is not to be regarded with disgust. Shame must not be integral to being open about our mental health. And, this can be fostered through mosque and community forums which openly discuss issues that might otherwise be considered taboo. Ultimately, the only progress that will happen is progress we undertake ourselves.

We owe it to the health of the community to begin listening when we ask the question, “How are you doing?” Too often has this question been voided of its true meaning, and we have a responsibility to begin listening to the answer our friends, peers and community members give us. Looking past our pre-formed perceptions and assumptions might take a little getting used to, but ultimately, it will give us the chance to really understand what’s going on – and what to do when the answer isn’t “I’m fine,Alhamdulillah.”

In the words of the Prophet (SAW): “Those who are kind and considerate to Allah’s creatures, Allah bestows His kindness and affection on them. Show kindness to the creatures on the earth so that Allah may be kind to you. (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)”

Laila Alawa is a columnist for Altmuslim. She is a writer and cultural critic who has been published at The Huffington Post, The Guardian, School Library Journal and PolicyMic, and serves as the founder and president of Coming of Faith LLC. She is an associate editor at The Islamic Monthly. She conducted a study on Muslim American perceptions of belonging, and is based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @Lulainlife.

Question about hadeeth

I watched this video. They guy, although a learned professor, has a bad attitude. But my question is how can a hadeeth have a sound isnad and yet an unsound matn? It does not make sense to me. One would think if the isnad is sound, as it came from reliable sources linking it back to the prophet, that the matn would be sound also. But this lecture points out, with many examples, that this is not the case. There are many ahadeeth with sound isnad but an unsound matn.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Immigration Must Serve the Public Interest, Not Monopoly Right

- Peggy Morton - May 28, 2014

The demand that the temporary foreign workers program be abolished is gaining strength across Canada, while the Harper dictatorship is desperately doing damage control to save its program of international worker trafficking. At the same time, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is quietly revamping the entire immigration system, and will introduce "Express Entry" in 2015. These changes are part of the destruction of the public authority and privatization of immigration to strengthen monopoly right over all decisions regarding immigration.

Significant changes have already been made to the immigration system for refugees and family reunification. Since coming to power, the Harper government has steadily reduced the number of refugees entering Canada and refused to uphold its duty to refugees from war, especially the victims of U.S.-NATO aggression in which Canada has been an active participant. The Harper government has introduced terms like illegal migrants to try and sow racism and division amongst the people, slashed health care coverage for refugee claimants and stepped by deportations of people whose claims are rejected.

Effective January 2014, the number of parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who can immigrate to Canada has been cut to 5,000 people a year. At the time this quotas was established there were 185,000 applications on the waiting list. The vast majority of families will not be able to bring parents and grandparents as permanent residents and citizens, but only to visit by obtaining a "super visa". A "super visa" allows parents and grandparents to visit Canada for up to two years at a time, and is valid for ten years. Visa holders cannot access medicare and must first show proof of purchase of private health insurance before entering Canada.

Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander is now finishing the work begun by Jason Kenney to revamp the immigration system for economic immigrants. According to Alexander, "Express Entry will lead to a faster and more flexible economic immigration system that will address Canada's economic and labour market needs."

Historically, all applications for permanent residency have been processed, although there were long waiting lists. As of January 1, 2015 this will no longer be the case. Instead people wishing to immigrate to Canada as economic immigrants will file an expression of interest on line through the Express Entry program. Applicants will then be ranked according to a selection grid made up of six factors - proficiency in English and/or French, education, occupation, work experience, age and ‘ability to prosper in Canada'. This information will be made available to employers on-line who can make selections from the list. Only those selected by an employer or nominated in a provincial nominee program, which should be called employer nominee programs, will be "invited" to become a permanent resident. Those "expressing interest" who are not selected will be removed from the Express Entry list after a period of time. No information is provided as to whether they can "express interest" a second time.

Federal programs under which people can be selected include the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, and the Canadian Experience Class. The first three programs together have a quota of 38,000 applications for 2014, not including the spouses and dependent children of successful applicants who may also apply for permanent resident status. Live-In Caregivers will also be eligible to apply for permanent residency after two years or 3,900 hours of work in Canada as a live-in caregiver. Quebec selects its own immigrants and is not part of these streams.

The Harper government has frivolously referred to this new system as "speed dating" to match employers and workers. Alexander brazenly declares that the system is designed to serve the owners of capital. The destruction of any semblance of a public authority which exercises authority over immigration is presented as a matter of "efficiency." What this means is a system to "efficiently" create a vulnerable sector of workers in order to implement Harper's low wage agenda and attack the rights of all. The same bogus claims about labour shortages based on fraudulent statistics used to justify the temporary foreign workers program are also used to permit employers to declare such a labour shortage.

Provincial Nominee Programs

Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) will likely be greatly expanded under the new system. PNPs differ from province to province, but they are mainly employer driven. Employers use these programs to sponsor temporary foreign workers, giving employers enormous power over vulnerable temporary foreign workers. Intimidation, violation of employment standards, refusal to pay the wages agreed to, illegal deduction of broker fees and countless other examples of illegal actions by employers are the logical consequence of putting this power in the hands of employers and privatization of immigration.

An example recently brought to light by CBC quoted an email from labour trafficker Mercan Group giving advice to employers. "We believe a simple reminder to the workers will reverse the effects of the Canadian influence," it says. Mercan advised employers to let temporary foreign workers who are demanding their rights know that "since you are supporting them for the [Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program], you can choose to withdraw your support. An employer choosing to withdraw their support is not punishing their workers, rather, showing them they (the employers) has the right to support them or not." This "path to immigration" must be abolished together as an affront to the rights which belong to people as human beings and workers.

The working class has a right to a say in the decision-making process concerning immigration. The exclusion of the working class in favour of monopoly right to decide causes profound harm and is an affront to the rights of all. It must not be permitted.

All workers in Canada have rights as the producers of all value and providers of all services that Canadians need. All people have rights by virtue of being human. Immigration policy must serve nation-building in Canada, not the narrow interests of the monopolies. The organized working class movement has the duty and social responsibility to exercise its right of a say and control over the decision-making process on all issues including all aspects of immigration and its relation to the dialectic of the labour market.

Not only must the temporary foreign worker program be abolished at once, but employers must not be permitted to further strengthen their dictate over all decision-making so as to push their low-wage, anti-worker agenda.

Immigration must be renewed under control of a public authority to serve the public interest. Employers must recognize both the rights of Canadian workers to a livelihood and security and the rights of immigrant workers as soon as they take up residence or employment. For this to come into being, the organized working class must fight for the political power of a say and control over the decision-making process regarding immigration.

For Your Information
The Express Entry Immigration System

Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on April 4, 2014 that Canada's active recruitment model for economic immigration will officially be called "Express Entry." Set to launch in January 2015, Alexander called "Express Entry" "a major step forward in the transformation of Canada's immigration system into one that is fast, flexible and focused on meeting Canada's economic and labour needs."

Alexander also stated that the government does not want to "pick the winners" but instead is putting decision-making in the hands of employers. It promises quick processing, while the monopolies continue to claim an acute labour shortage in which they need people "yesterday."

Anyone applying to immigrate from outside Canada before entering Canada will only have the option of applying under the Express Entry Program. "Express Entry" candidates who receive a valid job offer or nomination under a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) will be "invited" to apply for permanent residency.

Under new regulations, economic immigrants can be admitted through three federal programs, the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program and the Canadian Experience Class. The Federal Skilled Workers Program includes 50 occupations such as managers, IT analysts, software engineers, accountants, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, investment brokers and others in the financial sector, etc. with a quota of 25,500 including 500 PhD graduates. There is a sub-cap of 1,000 applications for each occupation. The quota does not include those who have a confirmed valid job offer.

Federal Skilled Trades Program: 5,000 applications a year will be accepted, for the 90 skilled trades rated NOC Skill level B. Only 100 applications will be accepted in each trade. The major sub-groups include industrial, electrical and construction trades; maintenance and equipment operation trades; supervisors and technical occupations in national resources, agriculture and related production; processing, manufacturing and utilities supervisors and central control operators; skilled food services workers (chefs, cooks, butchers and bakers.)

Canadian Experience Class: 8,000 applications will be accepted with a limit of 200 applications for each National Occupational Classification (NOC) B occupation. These are occupations which usually require college education or apprenticeship training. Applicants must already have skilled work experience in Canada.

The Federal Immigrant Investor and Entrepreneur Programs remain on hold. These programs have been rife with fraud and scandal.

On average about 250,000 people immigrate to Canada every year. In 2012, 160,000 people came to Canada as economic immigrants (62 per cent), 60,000 in the family class (25 per cent) and 23,000 (9 per cent) as refugees. Others not included in these categories totaled 3.5 per cent.

No to Harper's Low Wage Agenda!: Abolish the Temporary Foreign Worker Program!

- Peggy Askin - May 28, 2014

Evidence continues to mount that the claim of a labour shortage used to justify the Harper dictatorship's labour trafficking through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is completely bogus.

The report of the Parliamentary Budget Office shows that the Harper government's claims about a growing labour shortage have no basis in fact. Recently Auditor General Mike Ferguson confirmed that the federal government was using unreliable statistics to support its claim that Canada had plenty of jobs but no workers with the skills to fill them.

This conclusion has been supported by economists at the TD and BMO bank and the Conference Board of Canada who have weighted in publicly and who point out that the number of job vacancies is decreasing, not increasing. Even the Fraser Institute, known for its anti-social, anti-worker propaganda, has acknowledged that the TFWP is driving down wages.

The Harper government was forced to stop using Kijiji data when it was exposed by the Parlimentary Budget Officer that its numbers depended on such completely unreliable sources. The Globe and Mailcalculated that with the Kijiji job postings removed, Canada's job vacancy rate plummeted from the 4 per cent Finance Canada touted in the March budget, to just 1.5 per cent.

Now Jason Kenney, Minister of Unemployment and Anti-Social Wrecking is trying to weasel out of this situation by claiming that the Canada Job Bank database is a reliable source of information about unfilled jobs and a labour shortage. He responded to questions in parliament by stating, "the job bank is a useful platform to connect unemployed Canadians to available jobs."

This claim has been shot down in flames just like the Kijiji data. Investigation by news media confirm that jobs remain in the data base many months after they were filled. Workers point out that they receive no response when they apply for job postings, and applications submitted through a media-sponsored email address confirmed this fact.

None of this is surprising. According to Kenney's own admission, the Canada Job Bank database relies on employers to update the information and remove jobs that have been filled or for which they are not recruiting. But employers have no stake in maintaining an accurate database. In order to apply for a labour market opinion (LMO) to hire a worker through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, employers are only required to tell the government that after posting positions on the job bank they were unable to find a qualified Canadian. As an Air Transat pilot, outspoken in his criticism of the way the TFWP is being used in the aviation sector, said, "It's my opinion that many of the aviation jobs posted on the job bank are just there to fulfill the requirement that jobs must be posted there before an LMO is applied for."

How would Jason Kenney know if data from the Canada Job Bank is any more reliable than Kijiji? This is not a frivolous question. The fact that the job bank provides no useful information on the number of unfilled jobs in Canada is not a mere technical problem. The Harper dictatorship is wrecking the public authority and politicized private monopoly interests who are motivated by their own narrow greed and desire to grow their capital, not by upholding the public interest. Disinformation about a labour shortage serves the interests of owners of capital.

It has destroyed the national long-form census, and carries out ongoing wrecking of Statistics Canada, attacks the Parliamentary Budget Office and then claims it know what is going on in the Canadian economy through Kijiji or information provided by employers through the Canada Job Bank. Whatever works to serve the demands of the monopolies is the watchword of the Harperites. As for nation-building and defending the public interest, these are considered outdated and irrelevant.

Consider Kenney's response to a question in parliament about TFWs working in the Windsor area, where unemployment is at 9 per cent, one of the highest rates in Canada. According to Kenney, members of parliament should defer to the monopolies who have the right to decide.

"Mr. Speaker, in fact, contrary to what the member just said, we do have a very good idea of what sectors those workers are working in. I have in front of me the report on labour market opinions issued for temporary foreign workers in the Windsor area, and the overwhelming majority of these LMOs were issued for industrial instrument technicians and mechanics for less than six months. These would typically be people who are installing equipment, equipment that is purchased from perhaps the United States. They come up here to either repair or install equipment.

"If she would bother to speak to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, they would tell her that without these repair people, the equipment in the factories would stop producing and all the jobs would be lost."

According to Maclean's magazine, the report tabled by Kenney including information only on the 641 LMOs issued for manufacturing over a 40 month period. There were 1551 TFWs working in the Windsor area on December 1, 2012 and it is well known that the program has expanded since that time.Maclean's estimated that the report provided information on 20 - 30 per cent of all TFWs ion the Windsor area. It contains no information on whether there are workers in Windsor who can fill these jobs much less why these companies are not required to train Canadian citizens or residents for these jobs.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is part of Harper's anti-social agenda putting downward pressure on workers' wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions. It creates a sector of vulnerable temporary foreign workers trafficked from around the world in order to attack the rights of all. This program and the anti-worker government sponsoring it both have to go!

(With files from the Toronto Star, Macleans Magazine, the Globe and Mail, and Canadian Press, and Hansard)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Islam Is Non-extremist, Some Muslims Are

Hannatu Musawa — May 28, 2014

Without saying more, I could leave the title of this article as it is. However, doing so would be unfair to most Muslims who have been gravely misunderstood and misjudged due to the actions of a misguided few. It would also be unfair to people of other faiths who harbour misconceptions about Islam due to the actions of a misguided few, especially when viewed through the perspective of current events.

Let me clarify at this point that Islam does not allow extremism, not even in acts of worship especially where it would cause hardship to the worshipper or those around him/her. I’ll provide some authorities from the Holy Qur’an to buttress this point: “… If God had wanted, He could have been hard on you. God is Almighty, All-Wise “(Surah Al-Baqarah, Chapter 2:220). Also, in (Surah Al-A’raf, Chapter 7:42 ) Allah says: “As for those who believe and do right actions, We impose on no soul any more than it can bear. They are the Companions of the Garden, remaining in it timelessly, for ever.”

There are also prophetic narrations that condemn extremism. In Saheeh Bukhari, Volume 001, Book 002, Hadith Number 038: The Prophet said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should NOT BE EXTREMISTS, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the nights” (narrated by Abu Huraira). Also in Saheeh Bukhari, Volume 009, Book 092, Hadith Number 396: We were with ‘Umar and he said, “We have been forbidden to undertake a difficult task beyond our capability (i.e. to exceed the religious limits, e.g., to clean the inside of the eyes while doing ablution)” (narrated by Anas).

Our judgments and opinions about people’s character, disposition, race, religion and tribe are mostly based on the actions of individuals with similar backgrounds. Stereotypical you may call it? That is just the way it is. We’re human beings and we may likely not be able to help it. With Islam, people erroneously judge Muslims based on the actions of extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and now the infamous Boko Haram.

I would like to make use of some analogies to give a distinction between Islam the religion on one hand and Muslims through whom the religion is perceived or viewed.

Imagine, if you will, two individuals are given brand new cars to test-drive for an hour. The first individual returns the test vehicle in the same pristine condition in which he received it; while the second individual returns his test vehicle and it is a total wreck. The side mirrors are hanging, the rear bumper is dented, there’s a large gash across the side and there are weird sounds coming from the engine. Who would you blame for the wreck? The car that has no control over how it is driven or the driver who was in total control of the car? I guess the question itself yields the expected answer.

Not convinced? Here’s another analogy: You’re out to lunch and you decide to try out a new restaurant. Before you taste the food to decide if it is good enough to make you a regular patron or to recommend it to friends, a number of factors may come in to aid in your decision. These could be: Is there adequate and hassle-free parking? Is it in a safe neighbourhood? Are the waiters/waitresses polite and professional? Did they take your order without errors? Did the food arrive late? Did it taste good?

Just as a car has no control over who drives it and how it is driven or a restaurant is adjudged based on the courtesy and professionalism of its staff, the same principle applies to Islam and other religions. The followers of any religion are the window through which others view the religion. Inasmuch as you can find a lot of proof within the religion itself to show its true meaning and purpose, the actions of those who practise the religion may loom larger, thus obscuring its actual intent. And in recent times the actions of some Muslims under the guise of doing ‘’Allah’s work” have cast a dark shadow over the real message of Islam.

As far as doing “Allah’s work” goes, Boko Haram people are doing a bang-up job. Their atrocities of recent have been increasingly shocking. So shocking in fact that Al Qaeda itself recently expressed outrage over some of Boko Haram’s blood-spilling campaign, especially the Chibok abductions. As a terrorist group, you know you’ve really crossed the line when another terrorist group with whom you have a lot in common cannot condone your actions.

Every religion has at one time or another had extremists who took it upon themselves to go over and beyond prescribed limits as a show of devotion to their beliefs. David Koresh was a Christian extremist and leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect, believing himself to be its final prophet. A 1993 raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the Branch Davidian ranch outside of Waco, Texas, in McLennan County. Koresh, 54 other adults, and 28 children were found dead after the fire.

Jim Jones was another Christian extremist and head of The People’s Temple and is best known for the mass suicide in November 1978 of 909 of its members in Jonestown, Guyana, and the murder of five individuals at a nearby airstrip, including Congressman Leo Ryan. Over 300 children were murdered at Jonestown, almost all of them by cyanide poisoning. Warren Steed Jeffs is another extremist who was charged and convicted of child sexual assault and incest. Despite these grave offences, I wouldn’t judge Christianity as an extremist religion. Neither would I support anyone to do so as the crimes in question are those of individuals and not the religion. Besides I’ve lived a better part of my life amongst Christians and some of my best friends are Christians who have stood by me in difficult and trying times. What sort of friend would I be if I considered them all to be extremists based on the crimes of a few Christians?

Sometimes, certain captions used by the media play on the subconscious and give the wrong impression about Islam. Many times, we see news headlines that focus more on the religion itself than on the individual crime. The usual headline we see is “Islamic Extremism”. I feel the term “Extremist Muslim” best fits the description as it is not a quality in Islam that turns people violent, but the people themselves that are the problem. It is not a problem within Islam per se; it is a problem with a particular mind-set that very few Muslims fall into, which results in a very potently dangerous effect.

I have on several occasions heard people pronounce fatwas to the effect that Boko Haram sect members are not Muslims due to the horrible trail of violence and destruction they leave in their wake. As Gimba Kakanda rightly said in his article entitled “Of Conspiracy Theories and Denials”, what the Boko Haram insurgents perpetrate is understandably un-islamic but they are Muslims. Disqualifying them as non-Muslims is not only a cheap escape from this maddening reality that begs for our honest confrontations but questions the authenticity of our own faith too.

No doubt, the actions of Boko Haram and other extremist groups are morally and religiously reprehensible. This fact cannot in any way be defended or denied. However, it is neither fair nor is it enough justification to place all Muslims into the same blood-stained cesspool.

So, is Islam an extremist religion? NO. Are some Muslims extremists? Regrettably, YES. As a friend of mine, Bello Saulawa, said, “Islam is perfect, Muslims are not. Want to know about the religion, study the faith, not the people.”