Profiles in Courage: the Moroccan Jurist Abu Muhammad `Abd al-Salam b. Hamdun Jasus

Dec 16

This is the story of an 18th century Moroccan jurist who did not leave any important collection of legal opinions or an important commentary on a Sidi Khalil or otherwise make an important literary contribution to the history of Islamic law.  Nonetheless, he did something else which is probably more important for the possibility of securing a society governed by law: he willingly became a martyr to uphold the integrity of the law, not by revolting and leading a hopeless quest to overthrow the ruler, but simply by sticking to his values, and insisting that he would not compromise the clear demands of the law for the sake of the ruler’s convenience. The ruler was the Moroccan Sultan, Mulay Ismail Here is a link to an account of the relevant events in the Arabic chronicle, al-Istiqsa li-Akhbar al-Magrib al-Aqsa.

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Egypt Claims It Has Killed Head of Daesh in Sinai

Aug 05

Egyptian military claims it has killed the head of Daesh in Sinai.

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Islam Was an Essential Part of Humayun Khan’s Identity and Heroism

Aug 05

Zachary Kaufman has a piece in Foreign Policy  arguing that Capt. Humayun Khan’s Islamic identity is crucial to understanding his heroism, as well as the heroism of countless other Muslims who have come to the aid of others, even at great risk to themselves.

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Interview with Founder of Black Lives Matter

Aug 05

Alicia Garza, founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, was recently interviewed by Bloomberg.  Too many people still understand racism from the narrow lens of morality, and accordingly, only recognize intentional, conscious racism as noxious. They are, however, blind to the structures that de jure racism has bequeathed us.  As she puts it, “[R]acism is a set of interlocking dynamics: One in three black men can expect to spend some time incarcerated; women are the fastest-growing population in prisons and jails—and 30 percent are black; black folks are on the low-earning end of the economy. Lots of people who are great people are implementing and ­protecting systems, practices, structures that fundamentally exclude, disenfranchise, marginalize black people.”  Undoing these structures is the great challenge facing the US today.  I am hoping that with a Hillary win in the fall, the necessary changes in the Supreme Court can be made to allow us to adopt the broad remedies necessary to undo the legacy of Jim Crow in the US.

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Bloomberg: “Trump is Cratering”

Aug 05

As I’ve repeatedly explained to my non-American friends, Americans are not uniformly crazy, and that I had a better chance of being elected president than Trump.  Bear in mind, I am most definitely not a natural-born US citizen.  These latest polls confirm my view.

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Washington Post’s profile of the son of an al-Qaeda Bombmaker and His Relationship to ISIS

Aug 05

The Washington Post today has an interesting article about the life of Mohammed al-Masri, the only person, the story claims, to have had spent significant time both with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS in Raqqa.  There is no way to avoid recognizing that our indifference to the coup in Egypt played an important role in catalyzing the rise of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), both by vindicating Bashshar al-Asad’s bet that no amount of violence against “Islamists” would be likely to trigger international intervention against him, and by allowing Daesh to claim that it is the only genuine “champion” available for Sunni Arabs.  The sad reality is that US policy in the Middle East under Obama has only succeeded in making al-Qaeda the “reasonable” option. That doesn’t mean that Obama was not right to pursue the policies he chose: it’s hardly the duty of the US to save the Arabs from themselves, but it would have been nice had the US chosen to support the imperfect democratic regime in Egypt in 2013 rather than being indifferent to its fate, and it would have been nice had the US listened to Turkey and established a no-fly zone in Syria prior to Russian intervention.  At a minimum, that would have likely prevented the authoritarian turn in Turkey, and it might have prevented the refugee crisis, which could very well lead to the unravelling of the European project. The refugee crisis already helped produce Brexit.  From a narrow realist perspective of what constitutes US interests, Obama’s policies of benign neglect in the region are probably defensible, but the costs to the people of the region are incalculable, and on top of the active destruction wrought by the Bush administration, is creating a leval of anti-Americanism that is unprecedented. Worst of all, the entire region is slowly drifting into the orbit of Putin’s Russia: authoritarian crony capitalism is evolving from the de facto reality of the Arab world, into a norm that is openly embraced.

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Ken Burn’s The Civil War

Dec 26

Thanks to Netflix, I finally managed to watch Ken Burn’s epic documentary, The Civil War.  It brought me back to my days as a kid and teenager when I was an avid Civil War buff, devouring all the books I could find on that conflict.  William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses Grant were of course my favorite generals, there was no figure I found more contemptuous than George McClellan.  Nothing in this documentary has given me reason to doubt my childhood judgments on these men.  (Although I find it interesting that the people of New Jersey had it in them to elect McClellan governor in later years — I suppose the promise of America is that the possibility of redemption is always around the corner.).
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Strategic Voting in Monday’s Federal Election

Oct 16

Regarding the upcoming Federal election this Monday, it is crucial that Canadians opposed to Harper and his Federal Conservatives avoid vote splitting.  This means that they should look to which of the non-Conservative candidate in the voter’s riding has a better chance of defeating the Conservative candidate.  This link helps voters determine whether their riding is a swing riding, i.e., in a competitive race where, if the liberal and NDP voters coordinated, they could defeat the Conservative candidate.  This document also dispels much of the confusion that surrounds strategic voting in the GTA, and is directed specifically toward the concerns of Muslim voters in the GTA.

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Constructing Authority in Early Islamic Legal History

Aug 03

Anyone who is a student of early Islamic history is familiar with the numerous controversies surrounding the rise of Islam and whether Muslim accounts of early Islamic history can be deemed to be generally reliable or whether Muslim histories of the early community should be dismissed as little more than pious accounts of sacred history.  The recently deceased Patricia Crone was probably the most famous of the “revisionist” historians who adopted an extremely skeptical stance toward the early Muslim sources.

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The Lunacy of Lunar Sightings — A Brief Reply

Jul 20

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has a short and valuable blog post entitled “The Lunacy of Lunar Sightings” in which he defends a middle position between naked-eye sightings and the use of astronomical calculations to determine the beginning and end of Islamic months.  He argues for the need to establish Islamic dates based  on a combination of the best-available scientific evidence along with naked-eye observation.  I still think, however, it does not make the case for continuing with naked-eye observation rather than simply using calculations to determine the beginning and end of Islamic lunar months.  Here, the decisive question is whether what is required is certainty or probability.  The very fact that in traditional fiqh, the beginning and end of months could be established by the testimony of individual witnesses, and not the kind of corroborated testimony that Shaykh Hamza seems to demand in this essay, shows that certainty is not required in this matter. And, when this is combined with the element of practicality — something Shaykh Hamza dismisses too easily, I believe — it seems that simply using astronomical calculations, regardless of the fact of the naked-eye observation, makes sense.  As far as an official public calendar, sure, that does require certainty, and perhaps there should be a specialized astronomical institute that can maintain an “official” Islamic calendar, but as Shaykh Hamza knows, one of the great disputes in fiqh on this matter is the debate between ikhtlilaf al-matali` and ittihad al-matali’, basically, whether the lunar calendar is the same in all places of the world, or differs according to one’s location on the planet.  I believe that, if the standard is naked-eye observation, we must adopt the principle of ikhtilaf al-matali’, which renders the possibility of a unified Islamic calendar impossible.  But in any case, at least for Muslims in the west, none of this is really relevant because we don’t use the hijri calendar for administrative purposes, only for religious ones, and from that perspective, having a sound basis to believe that the month has started or ended is sufficient.  (There is also another fundamental point of disagreement with respect to how to interpret the Prophetic hadith on this topic: did the Prophet (S) tell his companions either to observe the moon or to count the days because that was a ritual command, or because that was the means that was easily available to his people to calculate the month?  Shaykh Hamza’s position is that the means the Prophet (S) communicated to his companions were themselves a part of the ritual. There is certainly support for that position from the tradition, but why should we reject what seems to me an equally plausible view that it was simply the most convenient means available for them to calculate the month? After all, the Prophet (S) did not tell his companions to fast based upon the government’s declaration that the month has begun, nor did he tell them to cease fasting based upon the government’s declaration that the month has ended, but the jurists all concluded that a judge, based on competent testimony, can declare the beginning and ends of months.  It seems bizarre to then say that we can’t use astronomical calculations to determine the beginning and ends of months because they do not correspond perfectly with naked-eye observation.

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