Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Review: The Crusades, Christianity and Islam by Jonathan Riley-Smith

The Crusades, Christianity and Islam by Jonathan Riley-Smith

Jonathan Simon Christopher Riley-Smith is the author of scores of material regarding the Crusades.

Review: Change from Within: Diverse Perspectives on Domestic Violence in Muslim Communities

Change from Within: Diverse Perspectives on Domestic Violence in Muslim Communities
Edited by Maha B. Alkhateeb and Salma Elkadi Abugideiri
ISBN-10: 0979138906
Peaceful Families Project www.peacefulfamilies.org

This book is a collection of essays and documents related to domestic violence among Muslims, primarily in North America.

It's not an easy read, but it is important. I particularly liked Zainab Alwani's The Qur'anic Model for Harmony in Family Relations and Imam Mohamed Magid's Affecting Change as an Imam. There are also accounts from survivors of domestic violence.

I acquired my copy from the Peaceful Families Project. It included a video which was used in a domestic violence awareness program at my local masjid.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bones, Season 5, Episode 4-Good Portrayal of Muslim in Workforce

I had reviewed quite negatively the 2nd episode of Bones in 2005, but I actually have some good things to say about the latest episode, The Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Season 5, Episode 4. Actor Pej Vehdat plays the minor character Arastoo Vaziri, a lab intern at the Smithsonian. Prior to this episode, his cheesy foreign accent and the writing which constantly highlighted his being Muslim irritated me.

Law & Order Episode "Great Satan"

National Broadcasting Company's long-running series Law & Order's episode "Great Satan" (Season 20, Episode 3) portrays the use of an informant to convict a group of New York City Muslims for a terrorist plot against a synagogue.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance by George Saliba

Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance by George Saliba.
MIT Press: Cambridge, MA and London, UK; 2007.
ISBN: 0-262-19557-7. Hardcover, 315 pages with endnotes, a bibliography and a subject index.

This monograph is a series of lectures which challenge the dominant narrative of the history of science culminating in the European Renaissance. The dominant narrative is that Muslim rulers in the early Abbasid period, under the influence of the Mu'tazila theological school (aka rationalists), sponsored a translation of Persian, Indian and Greek scientific and philosophical texts. When the ahl al-hadith theologians (aka irrationalists), who in large part adopted the Asha`ari theology and who are most identified later with Imam al-Ghazali, persuaded later Abbasi rulers to cease sponsoring rationalist theology, scientific production began to decline. Finally, the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258 CE combined with religious hostility to science to cement cessation of scientific thought and production throughout Muslim lands. In key contact points, such as Sicily and al-Andalus, Europeans were able to reacquire the Greek scientific and philosophical legacy which had been faithfully transmitted by Muslims, and these Europeans later used this legacy to develop the Renaissance. In short, Muslims were a storage facility for Europeans' intellectual property, supplemented with unclaimed items left by the ancient Indians and Persians, until the Europeans could complete renovations.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Houston, TX-Dr. Ezzat's Paintings on Display Until Sept 30

Clear Lake City-County Freeman Public Library in Houston, TX is hosting a display of Dr. Ezzat Abouleish's paintings until September 30. Here is a note I received from him:

The opening ceremony went very well, Alhamd LELLAH, on Monday 8.3.2009. The show has been well received by Moslems and non-Moslems alike. The high spirituality and beauty of Islamic art was astonishing to the show visitors and expressed in their written comments. If you have not seen the exhibit yet, I recommend to visit and to take along the family. I feel our children need it more than us. The venue is Freeman Library of Clear Lake, 16616 Diane Lane (off Bay Area Blvd), Houston Texas, 77062. Tel. 281 488 1906. The display will continue to Sept. 30Th, but the sooner the better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Film: Christian Zionists: On the Road to Armageddon by Stephen Sizer

Christian Zionists: On the Road to Armageddon. By Stephen Sizer. Distributed by Presence Media. http://www.presence.tv/dvd

2 DVDs with six 20-minute segments.

These six segments are lectures by Dr. Stephen Sizer (http://www.stephensizer.com/) which trace the historical roots, theological bases and political consequences of Christian Zionism. The DVDs come with a study guide to facilitate discussion.

The weakest part of this DVD is the section on historical roots, and I think that is primarily due to the lack of time to explain to those unfamiliar with dispensationalism the importance of this doctrine. It was shocking to me to learn that many high-ranking British politicians, including Lord Balfour, the author of the Balfour Declaration, followed this strand of Anglo-Protestantism. Another piece of news to me was that the principal editor of the version of the Bible used by American fundamentalist Protestants, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, was a disciple of John Nelson Darby, the leading proponent of dispensationalism.

The second section, theological bases, is best suited to an audience able to understand Christian doctrines. I believed Dr. Sizer did a good job, and I felt I understand this segment, but I think it would be difficult for someone unfamiliar with Christian theological doctrines. I hope that a reader with more background in this area might add some additional comments to this blog entry concerning this section.

The third section, political consequences, is accessible to all, and it is of course the reason why this video can appeal to those who seek some peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Book Review: A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide by Mark D. Siljander

A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide. By Mark D. Siljander. New York: HarperCollins; 2008. pp. 260. ISBN: 978-0-06-143828-8.
Mark Siljander served his Michigan district in the United States House of Representatives from 1981 to 1987. He came into office supporting Ronald Reagan’s, Newt Gingrich’s and Tom DeLay’s policies of economic deregulation, supply-side economics and confrontation with the Soviet Union and other communist and socialist nations. In a conversation with a trusted advisor, he revealed all he needed to know and all he wanted to know about Muslims and Islam:
… if I didn’t mind his asking, as a follower of Jesus, what was my strategy in relation to other people in my travels around the world? I replied without hesitation: it was to convert them to the Christian faith. [p. 16]

Review: Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir and Damien Lewis

Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur. By Halima Bashir with Damien Lewis. 2008. One World Books. Hardcover. 316 pp. ISBN 978-0-345-50625-2.
Reading this book should strengthen one’s resolution to oppose the falsehoods that one person is better than another by virtue of one’s birth and that one person should usurp the rights of another if the opportunity presents itself. It is the failure of peoples of the world to nip these falsehoods in the bud which lead to the massive casualties the author Dr. Halima Bashir describes in Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: This is Palestine by George Azar

This is Palestine is a data CD collection of photos by George Azar, with commentary by Mariam Shahin and accompanying music. It is published by the United Nations Development Programme, Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People. It is compatible with Windows and Macintosh personal computers.

I bought my copy from Palestine Online Store. It took nearly five months for it to fulfill the order, so if you need it soon, call ahead and confirm that it is in stock. When I placed my order electronically, an employee contacted me and alerted me to its being out of stock and asked me if I would prefer to cancel my order or receive the item later. So, I thought the customer service was OK.

The photos themselves show the Palestinians as human beings in various phases of life, including the political. It also shows Muslims and Christians. The pictures are from a variety of locations in Palestine.

There is a also a collection of photos of fashion and jewelry.

If you are having a public event about Palestine, I'd recommend using this slide show to play while people are waiting for the program to get started and/or after the program is over and people are milling about.

I have not seen the companion book, Palestine: A Guide. The UN also maintains a photo gallery.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Interview with Founder of Georgia Student Scholarship Organization

On August 4, 2008, I posted a blog entry discussing the state of Georgia's new law which allowed Georgia residents to divert a portion of their state income taxes to student scholarship organizations which would pay the money to accredited private schools in Georgia to pay for children transitioning from public schools.

On May 20, 2009, I conducted an interview with Ziad Minkara, the founder of Liberty Scholarship Foundation. To my knowledge, he is the only Muslim involved with a student scholarship organization. I encourage you to listen to the interview to understand aspects of the school choice movement and how you can support such efforts.

In addition, South Carolina is considering similar legislation. Americans United for Seperation of Church and State is hosting a debate on this proposed legislation on Sunday, June 7, at 6 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbia at 2701 Heyward St, Columbia, SC, 29205. Below is a description of the event.
Sen. Robert Ford's bill to give tuition tax credits to families to pull their kids out of public schools may have died in this last session of the General Assembly, but you can bet that the issue of "school choice" is not deceased. We will debate the issue of tuition tax credits in particular and of school choice in general at our upcoming AU meeting. Tim Moultrie, a Libertarian candidate for SC Superintendent of Education, will argue for the merits of school choice, while Ronny Townsend, former Representative from Anderson and Chair of the SC House Education and Public Works Committee, will advocate for public education. Both will also take questions from the audience. This should be an informative and invigorating discussion.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Review: Great Muslim Philosophers and Scientists of the Middle Ages (The Series) by Rosen Publishing

I read two books in the series Great Muslim Philosophers and Scientists of the Middle Ages by Rosen Publishing. They were the books about al-Khawarizmi and al-Biruni.

I liked both books for the following reasons:

  1. They were in general not "religious", meaning they did not attribute scientific progress or lack thereof to religion, particularly Islam. When discussed, secular factors, primarily sponsorship by the wealthy and powerful, were identified as the cause of scientific progress.
  2. They contained illustrations with informative captions, sidebars introducing tangential lines of inquiry, and discussions of the subjects' ideas and their place in their intellectual milieu.
  3. They have a glossary and a recommended reading list.
I got these two books from my public library. I encourage librarians to acquire these books. For this blog, I'm planning to start tagging books I believe appropriate for public libraries with the tag "Good for Public Library."

The publisher recommends this for grades 5-8. I think it could benefit students at all levels, yet the writing is accessible to the younger age group the publisher recommends.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Review: Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad by Marnia Lazreg

Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad, by Marnia Lazreg, is an eloquent plea to end torture. Professor Marnia pursues a historical, anthropological and philosophical inquiry into France's use of torture in its war against Algerian independence from 1954-1962.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Review: Al-Mudarris Quran Software

MuslimMatters.org published a review of Al-Mudarris Quran Software.

I have not used the software or any software like it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Film: 'Bama Girl

'Bama Girl follows University of Alabama seniors in their campaign to be elected homecoming queen. It ended up focusing on Alpha Kappa Alpha member Jessica Thomas, an African-American who had set her sights on being the homecoming queen since her first year in the university.

I saw the movie as part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers when Rachel Goslins screened her film in Augusta, GA's Imperial Theatre.

I had held a lot of anti-white fraternity/sorority life ideas since my undergraduate days. I used to repeat phrases like "buying friends" and "muffies and buffies" (before Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Now I've mellowed a lot since then, and I realized that people participate in white fraternities and sororities for a lot of different reasons, and I should not just judge people right off the bat. In addition, I did not spend my university life feeding the poor, so it's not like I was really that morally superior to people who spent their time dressing for socials and singing arcane songs.

But some of those anti-Greek ideas still remain, and I did not think I would be sympathetic to any students who cared about homecoming (I have yet to buy University paraphenalia such as sweatshirts), much less actively campaigned to become homecoming queen. As I watched the film and learned about the Machine's efforts to coordinate the white Greeks' votes behind a candidate and Jessica Thomas's gathering of her friends and supporters, including one who worked in an electoral campaign for the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I asked myself why could not these people work to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reduce carbon emissions and demand an end to the prison-industrial complex and the war on drugs.

But if I go beyond my crass Marxism, I admit to myself that this coalition building and canvassing is training for lives of public advocacy. While I may scorn university bodies such as student government and homecoming, I have to admit that those activities are an effective introduction to corporate and government work.

My other problem with the homecoming queen (and king) is its sexism. A quick search on the term "homecoming queen protest" came up with the following headlines:
I don't remember even hearing about a homecoming queen election at the University of Virginia, and fellow alumni told me that University of Virginia did not have a homecoming queen.

In addition, I have come to believe that part of being an "ally" with the "oppressed" is respecting the goals they set for themselves. While I may not consider an African-American winning the homecoming queen election at University of Alabama to be a milestone on the road to ending American white supremacy, obviously some African-Americans have considered things like homecoming queen elections important.

The film itself is humorous, gentle in its treatment of the people who appear in it and short enough that my interest did not stray.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Film: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson is a 2-DVD, 220-minute documentary about Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

The first DVD covered Johnson's quest to win the heavyweight title, and the second DVD covered society's persecution of the champion, eventually leading to his arrest, flight from the United States and eventual imprisonment.

I hope that people can watch it to understand the comprehensive, pervasive white supremacy which encompassed all sectors of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. That Euro-Americans considered boxing a sphere of racial competition is symptomatic of a deep pathology of which I have never heard in other places, even where there are patterns of racial, ethnic or tribal discrimination.

Additional Resources:

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Film: The Iron Wall

The Iron Wall is a 58-minute documentary about Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. It focuses on the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The film's official web site is an excellent source of information about the film. It is available for purchase in North America from Palestine Online Store.

What's there for me to add here? The film is gruesome in its detail of the appropriation of Palestinians' land. The film uses credible interviews and hits most of the important points U.S. audiences need to know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review: Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas

James Hodge and Linda Cooper. Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books; 2004. Foreward by Martin Sheen. 244 pages, including index. ISBN-10: 1-57075-434-9.

The authors chronicle the life of Father Roy Bourgeois and the development of the School of the Americas Watch.

Father Roy fought in the Vietnam War. There, he met a French missionary, who, through his example of caring for the Vietnamese poor and sick and injured, set Bourgeois on a path away from violence. After years of searching, he began a career as a clergyman.

Serving a mission in Bolivia, Father Roy began to realize that the violence peoples of the Americas endured was not an accident. Rather, it was partly the result of policies his own government pursued.

As other Catholic missionaries, both clergy and lay persons, were murdered in Latin America, Father Roy increasingly found that the trail of blood began in Columbus, GA. There, in the U.S. Army base Fort Benning, the United States was operating the School of the Americas. This school attracted military personnel from most countries of the Western Hemisphere, and it was the only educational program entirely taught in Spanish.

Although the school had been operating since the 1950s, information about its existence and activities was not readily available. Chance meetings and unrelated news reports led Father Roy to begin protest vigils at the base, demanding the closure of the school. Due to the dedication and persistence of Father Roy and other activists, this vigil has grown into the School of the Americas Watch, a leading organization advocated peace and justice in Latin America.

The book is a good balance between Father Roy's personal transformations, information about the human rights abuses of the graduates of the School of the Americas and the cover-ups of the successive U.S. governments of U.S. support of these abuses.

I believe that Muslims in the U.S. can learn a lot about the challenges in improving U.S. policy towards predominantly Muslim countries by studying U.S. policy towards the predominantly Christian countries of the Americas. They would find that the U.S. has been an equal opportunity imperialist. I hope that U.S. Muslim activists would then form productive alliances with other justice-seeking Americans and press the U.S. government to refrain from human rights violations, preemptive wars, covert actions and trade agreements that fail to protect workers' rights, subsistence agriculture and the environment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: Shadow Speaker

Read the review of Shadow Speaker at Muslima Media Watch. I have not read the book.

Review: Al' America

The blog Media and Islam has a review of the book Al' America: Travels Through America's Arab and Islamic Roots
.
I have not read the book.

DVD: The Tipping Point: Changing Perceptions of the U.S.-Israeli Relationship

This is a DVD of a panel discussion held at Cooper Union in New York City on September 28, 2006. It focused on the arguments in John Mearsheimer's and Stephen Walt's book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. The panel included John Mearsheimer, Rashid Khalidi and Tony Judt, who were more or less defending Mearsheimer and Walt, and Ambassador Dennis Ross, Ambassador Martin Indyk and former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who criticized Mearsheimer and Walt, more or less.

On the whole, I find historians' reasoning and outlook more sound than political scientists and politicians, whom I find in comparison to historians to be overly focused on details and misleading data lacking causal mechanisms. So it was pleasant to hear Khalidi, Judt and Ben-Ami, and Mearsheimer was good, and Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk rarely made points which I thought worthwhile.

The forum is a good introduction to the arguments about how U.S. policy towards Israel is constructed.

It also includes two bonus features. It may be better for those unfamiliar with Mearsheimer and Walt to watch the bonus features first, as they illustrate how they make their arguments.

I think it is important for Muslims involved in policy debates regarding Palestine to hear these discussions so that they don't imply in their arguments that American Jews are making backroom deals to use United States power to suppress Palestinians. The "lobby" and its ability to influence U.S. politicians is a function of a whole congruence of factors, many of which have nothing to do with U.S. Jews. Perhaps Muslims can learn from a study of the pro-Israel lobby is how to advocate at many different levels of society simultaneously and continuously.

I purchased my copy from http://www.cnionline.org.It is available on Amazon.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Karen Armstrong: The Role of Religion in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Karen Armstrong's talk at the Capitol in Washington, DC with a 20-minute or so Q&A period is being distributed by the Council for the National Interest Foundation.

The talk is basically a summary of positions she has laid out in her book The Battle for God. Her prime contention is that intra-religious battles about how to react to modernity result in social identities which, in situations of stress and political conflict, emerge into fundamentalist political movements.

She takes a little more time to deal with Christian fundamentalists, but she address Jews and Muslims as well.

This talk is a great way to address people who say things like "Those people are always fighting" or "God said there would always be war" or "God says we must do such and such (politically)."

The program is 78 minutes long.

Film: Gaza Strip, by James Longley

Update: James Longley has made this film available for free. Please consider donating to support the work. Also, read the comment he made regarding Israel's July 2014 attacks on Gaza.


Gaza Strip from James Longley on Vimeo.

The documentary film Gaza Strip by James Longley runs 74 minutes. The special features include some striking still shots, a map of the Gaza Strip showing the extent of Jewish settlements in 2002 and a narrated audio track by James Longley, which I have not yet heard.

You can also read other reviews of the film.

The film includes profanity in Arabic which is then translated into the English subtitles.

The film includes a segment describing Israeli use of a gas weapon which caused neurological symptoms. I had never heard that before.

Another amazing scene is a large number of children standing around and taking cover every 10 seconds or so as gunfire breaks out, but otherwise acting as if it was normal.

The most unbearable scene is a dialog where Muhammad Hijazi, a thirteen-year old boy who appears frequently in the documentary, talks about what he thinks might happen to him after death. He relates the conversation he imagines might take place between him and God and his assignment to Hell or, perhaps, purgatory.

The film's footage was shot in 2001 (I think).

As I was watching it, I was thinking that most of my previous office co-workers would not be able to handle the truth of this movie. The Palestinians Longley interviews express a deep pessimism combined with a determination to resist.

I purchased my copy from Amazon.com.

James Longley has also directed Iraq in Fragments. He is currently working on a documentary film about Iran.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film: The Refusal-Story of Franz Jägerstätter, a martyr for justice

I purchased this DVD at the School of the Americas Watch rally in Columbus, Georgia, USA in November 2008. The movie was originally released in West Germany in 1971. This DVD has English subtitles available on-line, but no extra features. It runs for 95 minutes. The DVD label includes the web site for the Center for Christian Nonviolence. I spoke with John Carmodi of the center on January 26, 2009, and he told me that the web site's store was being rebuilt and it should be available again shortly. In the meantime, people who want the DVD can call 302.235.2925. [May 13, 2009-New English language translation of Franz Jägerstätter letter's and writings from prison].

I showed this DVD to my 12-14 year-old students at the weekend school at a masjid in Augusta, GA. Before it began, I told them that the film was the story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to serve in the German army in World War II when drafted and was then executed as punishment. In the discussion which preceded the movie, one student asked me why we'd watch something about Christians. Another asked me if I wanted to show that not all Germans were bad. Class ended before we could discuss the film, so I'm eager to see what the children have to say next Sunday, and in sha Allah I'll report back.

Aside from the fact that my assigned textbook is poor in quality and the students don't read it and discussing it is painful, I showed the video to the students (and I'm recommending it to the blog readers) because it raises so many ethical and religious questions. I'm going to list a couple off the top of my head, and perhaps you can add more in your comments:

  • What is a martyr, or shaheed in Arabic? I wanted to link to the Wikipedia entry, but the version I found was shockingly inaccurate. I spent some time editing it, although it is still not that good.
  • Did Franz Jägerstätter object to war in general, or the specific war in which he was asked to serve?
  • Is there a moral difference between one role and another role in an army? In other words, if I'm a medic who never shoots, am I better than the sniper or the person who plants the mines or the artillery spotter?
  • Should Franz Jägerstätter have tried to escape from the army? In the movie, he declares his opposition at the draft board and was immediately arrested. Should he have concealed his opposition and tried to escape?
  • In the movie, Franz Jägerstätter takes certain measures to reduce his involvement with the state. For example, he sells some of his land so that his agricultural production quota is reduced. He refused state assistance for storm damage. Were these measures necessary?
  • By his actions, Franz Jägerstätter brought hardship to his family. Should that hardship have entered into his decision making?
  • Why do undemocratic institutions like the military and totalitarian governments preserve the forms of the judicial process?
  • Why was the German military eager to "settle" the case by making an arrangement whereby Franz Jägerstätter would agree to participate?
  • Was the village priest a collaborator? Was he blameworthy? What about the district bishop?
  • Franz Jägerstätter seemed like a lone dissenter among the villagers and the clergy. Should the fact that no one else believed like him have led him to think that he was wrong or deluded or misguided?
  • Some of the villagers interviewed years later made statements to the effect that the era of the war presented no good options for anyone. They certainly did not make seem to believe that their side in the war was evil. Why might those people who lived those times not see Nazi Germany as the evil we in the United States see it as today?
My main purpose in showing this movie to the students is to get them to think about these kinds of questions and to get them to expand their understanding of martyrdom.
p.s. On January 25, we had about 15 minutes to discuss this. I was surprised that most of the kids associated martyrdom with fighting on the battlefield. I tried to get them to understand that a martyr is a person who is killed for a good action, and that anyone who risks harm because of the good he/she does has a portion of the status of a martyr. When I asked which famous U.S. Muslim had refused military service, sadly only one of the 12 or so present realized I was talking about Muhammad Ali. In sha Allah, we'll get more discussion next Sunday. The students did enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sonbolight Kids Web Site Focuses on Materials for Children to Enjoy Eid

While there are only a few items currently available from the sonbolightkids.com web site, I hope that Muslims support it in the hope that it develops into a quality supplier of decorations and children's activities materials for Eid.