Does History ACTUALLY Repeat Itself?

This essay was inspired by my beautiful and supportive fiancé, Emily.

A couple days ago, my lady was in town and she told me she heard this quote on NPR and was curious what my response on it would be. In all honesty, I tried looking for the quote albeit not very vigorously so you’ll have to bear with the paraphrased quote. Suffice it to say, it led to a lovely discussion between us. This quote remained in my conscious for some time now, clearly, and in combination with my Theories & Methods class I’m taking, I just had to write about it in the style I most enjoy: Informally.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, human nature doesn’t change.” – Unknown

Indeed, both are most black and white statements. However, if one were to closely examine each allegation, interesting and informative scholarship would be found. Most significantly, perhaps is Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History. In the book, readers will take a glance at what historians actually do in their research; that is, to examine traces of history and change things if necessary due to contextual vigor.  To add on to an entry a friend of mine wrote in his blog, History is a science almost. It’s not simply remembering dates; in fact, it’s not really that important. What is important however, is what happened around those times but moreover, to examine why and how things happened. That’s why if you ever ask a Historian about why the Civil War happened, they will give you this long ass answer because it is a complex issue that can’t be resolved in one answer. Of course, you could most definitely say it was Slavery. It was. Ultimately, everything that caused the bloodiest war in United States history, was because of Slavery and whether it should be abolished.

The thing is, a lot of people seem to have this understanding that History is black and white. That we all share the same attitudes on history, but in reality, interpretation is what separates and even divides us as historians. Take for example the case of Palestine and Israel. For many years, the debate surrounding the question of Palestine was if Palestinians were kicked out of Israel to make way for Zionist (not Jewish) settlers. Some scholars argued that the Palestinians left on their own accord, or there weren’t any at all i.e., the land was vacant. The latter half contend that Palestinians were forced to leave and had 48 hours to vacate their homes. That was the debate back in the 1980’s.  Currently it is generally, or at least arguably, agreed that Palestinians were coerced into evacuating but the reasons debated are because Palestinians were victims of ethnic cleansing or because they were a threat to Israeli settlers. The point of this story is not to spark controversy, but to examine that the production of history changes with time.

 For one to contend that human nature remains the same, it then opens another can of worms because it begs the question: what is human nature? And this is a total stream of conscious essay so forgive me if I’m leaving out a bunch of details, but the two arguments of how human nature are for one, savage by nature. And the other, that humans are born without sin but may develop bad habits. It isn’t easy to pick out of those two, especially because contemporary scholarship argues that there are some people that have neurological impairments that cause their inability to recognize bad habits. In other words, there are assholes and there are psychopaths. Assholes will lie, cheat, and steal from you because they just don’t care. Whereas a psychopath will destroy a person’s phone if they’re speaking too loudly on it and because they aren’t able to psychologically “ignore” the negative thoughts in their heads, feel absolutely no remorse. Thereby proving once again, that these sort of scholarly thoughts on human nature will change with time as well. 

Indeed, these various interpretations to come about will present a great disconnect with previous thought, therefore one could argue that history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. History just repeatedly plays a role in how our thoughts on particular epochs shift. It’s an idea, and History as an idea, is produced by people with power and those with a greater voice like let’s say: films, can influence more people because they tend to be more popular than an actual book written by a historian whose work has been accepted by a committee of other historians. The good news is though that, people with power can lose it and people who don’t have power can gain it. You can watch a film about The Alamo and believe Davy Crockett and the others were heroic martyrs of their time, but then along comes a historian who shatters the glass case, like the iconoclasts we are, by telling you, “actually, these guys were just pirates who sought land because of manifest destiny and to expand their slave territory.” Therefore, History is never static; or as my professor so eloquently said it: “the history of history has a history.”

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 19th of September, 2017 at 9:25 P.M. 

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Extending A Helpful Hand: Remembering Hurricane Harvey and the Monsoon Storm in South Asia

The following entry is a summary of an article from The Guardian, whose link is included below. I do not reserve the right to ownership of said article, just the words summarizing the article here. I share this with my readers in remembrance of the victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the victims in Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. May the departed have their sins forgiven and access into paradise. And may the survivors be able to rebuild and granted patience for the things we cannot change. 

Karachi Flood

(Photo: Scenes from the flood in Karachi, Pakistan; Taken from The Guardian)

Around the same time Hurricane Harvey was making its way to Houston, TX we see that people in South Asia including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh are experiencing their own natural disaster. This is in no way a takeaway from the historic destruction the hurricane has caused to the great city of Houston, however it is important to acknowledge that this devastating storm has affected neighboring countries, not cities; each suffering just as much, if not more than the other. Bangladesh for example is 1/3 under water, in Mumbai, India, a four-story residential building has collapsed killing 21 people, Pakistan has experienced 3.8in of rain in some areas of Karachi, and 150 people are dead in Nepal.

Like Houston, however, the flood in these respective South Asian countries is being recorded as, in addition to being deadly, historic. According to the article, it is reminiscent of the 2005 flood in Mumbai, which took the lives of over 500 people. That very year, residents of Louisiana felt the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, which lay dwelling in the hearts and memories of the victims and those of Hurricane Harvey. Moreover, residents feel similar sentiments towards government officials, as also echoed in Houston, condemning their lack of preparation for such a disaster. Although the point in sharing this article is not to compare disaster and casualty rates, but rather to extend hands to our brethren across the ocean and rebuild together, as we have already suffered enough together.

-Mr. Writer

Originally written on the 1st of September, 2017 at 9:08 P.M. 

Link to article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/31/south-asia-floods-fears-death-toll-rise-india-pakistan-mumbai-building-collapses?CMP=share_btn_tw

Will there ever be peace between India & Pakistan?

Pakistan Zindabad! Hindustan Zindabad! Azad Kashmir!
(Pakistan Live Long! India Live Long! Free Kashmir!) 

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence from India. And tomorrow, will be the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence from Britain. Strangely, we cannot celebrate the two events together. Just ask bollywood playback singer, Mika Singh. Poor guy had the purest intentions to have Pakistanis and Indians come out to his concerts in Chicago and Houston. I wanted to go to the concert in Houston, but I couldn’t because I had an important meeting to attend in San Antonio that day. 

Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time India has become disgruntled by other Indians attempting to work together with Pakistanis. The recently released movie, Raees, with Shahrukh Khan starred a lovely Pakistani woman, Mahira Khan, as his character’s spouse. The movie ended up being banned in Pakistan, due to religious symbols and practices being exploited.Which is sad because Bollywood films tend to be almost objectively enjoyed in Pakistan, especially Shahrukh Khan films! However, Because Bollywood films tend to exclude Pakistani actors,  having Mahira Khan in this film was a big deal. Too bad the film wasn’t all that though.

Anyways, the fact of the matter is there are scarce differences between Pakistanis and Indians; in terms of language, the foods we eat, even the way we look is similar. The main difference is religion and once the British were finally willing to leave India, tensions were transparent between Hindus and Muslims. Combined with poverty, hunger, and violent retaliations on both sides, an Islamic state became appealing for Muslims. And thus, Pakistan (translated as: “land of the pure” ) seceded from Hindustan (translated as: “land of the Hindus” or “India” in Hindi)  But again, this is the only notable difference and to this day, I can’t tell the difference between a Pakistani and an Indian. And I’m Half and Half! I should mention however, there are Muslims that still live in India, despite it being a minority, I would be remiss were I to not mention their existence. India has the upper-hand when it comes to religious diversity in that sense. 

Growing up in the states, and with the mentality that Indo-Pak culture was not cool (because let’s face it, Bollywood movies are cheesy as they come) I distanced myself from it. But then as I got older, I was categorized as Arabs by ignorant racists because I was Muslim and wished people would consider me Indian. Now, I’m in a strange position because I have one of the most common Muslim first names in the world, and one of the most common Hindu surnames. Suffice it to say, I’m back into Bollywood films and attempting to learn more of my roots but the deeper I go, the darker things get.

For example, the fact that I am half Pakistani, may hinder me from going into India. I may be able to enter due to my last name being of the Brahmin caste, as well as my natural citizenship as an American. However, I am strongly passionate that Kashmir, the occupied area in India, which is predominantly Muslim, be granted its own Independence so that may cause a problem for me. Arguably, it’s that, Kashmir, which is the main reason why India and Pakistan have been at war for all these decades.

India had a number of small princely ruled states, including Jammu and Kashmir, which though the population was majority Muslim, their ruler was Hindu and despite the citizens’ protests to be part of Pakistan in 1947, remained part of India. The United Nations failed in attempting to resolve these incendiary feelings between the two neighboring states, and the separation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1971 is further exacerbation of India interfering with Pakistan.

But there are some that don’t care about all that, they just are desperate for unity or to reconnect with old friends they lost during partition. There was one story on Al Jazeera about an elderly Pakistani man who was lucky enough to return to India albeit with some difficulty.

By no means however, is this to indicate that Pakistan is free from condemnation but neither is India. First off, Pakistan failed to envelop itself as an Islamic state for a number of reasons including falling into bureaucratic traps and having multiple coups in their leadership. India on the other hand, seems to have forgotten where they came from. Their first prime minister, Jawaharlal Neru, was a secularist and abhorred organized religion; while he is admired in Indian history, it is perplexing why India would treat Muslims with such malice.

There is hope however, in 2014, there were peaceful attempts made on both sides but nothing lasted. It’s safe to say that there is still, and perhaps always be slight sentiments of distrust between the two countries. And this could be because the countries are still having to fix themselves, respectively. Moreover, there are little things that still happen that can blossom into something beautiful. Be that something little, like an Indian playback singer welcoming Pakistanis to his concerts, an Indian Band honoring Pakistan on their day of Independence. We can learn from the past mistakes and strive for a better future. We can start by having ordinary Pakistanis making friends with other Indians and casting aside their differences. Pakistanis won’t eat Pork and Indians won’t eat beef. We can still enjoy Chicken and Lamb together over a nice cup of chai! 🙂

-Mr. Writer (and Ahmed H. Sharma)

Written on August 14, 2017 at 7:30 PM 

 

Loyalty and Slavery, Is there a Difference?

This is such a broad question to ask, of whether or not loyalty to something signifies that one is subservient in the ideological sense. If I am going to swear my allegiance to my country, does this mean I am forbidden from criticizing it? If I were to do so, does that mean my status as a “loyal citizen” is tarnished?

I am strangely reminded of what it means to be a “good child”. If your parents have taught you never to speak rudely to others, but then someone disrespects them, do you not have the right to raise your voice at the offender? Or does that make you an ill-mannered child. I’m going to quit asking questions now and try to provide some answers. 

If the reader may recall, I wrote an essay on what it means to be a “true” (whatever it is you believe in) and scoffed at the incredulousness of how one must adhere to certain stereotypes that another may have impressed upon them. For example, am I an American if I am born and raised in this country? I sure am! Now, am I a “real” American if I am a different skin color? I better be. However, that’s not the case at least from the outsider’s perspective.

Like any non-anglo individual, I get asked where I am from. And my first answer, Houston, TX, is not sufficient enough, despite it being the correct answer. Before, the follow-up question would be: “Where are you really from?” or “What is your nationality?” Finally (and thankfully) it became, “where are your PARENTS from?” when the latter was asked, I’d gladly oblige: Father is from Guyana and Mother is from Pakistan.

It’s not unusual for me anymore to be asked where I get my “exotic” skin color from. When you’ve been asked by numerous people as much as I have, even by people who coincidentally are the same race as I am, you become immune to it. I will admit, I’ll meet another brown or black person and I’ll wonder where they’re from originally as well. The ones who share my experience of being born in America tend to laugh with me when we can’t help but ask the stupid question of where we’re “really from”.

My issue is not with that however, instead, my argument is that despite me being the son of two immigrants (who are now U.S. Citizens) does it mean that I am not granted the same rights as individuals who don’t appear to be immigrants? Even my fiancé’s parents were born in this country, but one would have just assumed they were born and raised in Mexico. To which I argue, is there any problem with that?

As a Historian (in-the-making) I’ve noticed in my studies that immigrants tend to be a huge problem for individuals in most countries during their developments. Everyone seems to hate foreigners coming into their land, but no one seemed to have an issue with colonists evangelizing and/or taking away traditional values from the lands they go to. For example, not many people are aware of what Guyana is or where it’s located. To put it simply, a majority of the population are of East-Indian descent but are unable to speak Hindi, (save a few words) due to British threats of speaking any other language aside from English. But people in the United States, are afraid of people speaking any other country aside from English because they feel threatened that their language will no longer be the majority spoken?

I know I just jumped from one country to the next, but the United States inherited a lot of their behavior from the British despite the United States wanting to do things their own way.

I’ve digressed more than I’d have liked to so I will go back to my original point: If I am loyal to my country, does that mean I must abandon my roots? Personally, I’ve felt a great desire to learn more about my roots and the history of that country regardless of never having visited once. I enjoy living in the country I do and have a great deal of respect for the law in this land. That being said, I do not feel the need to express that by getting annoyed every time someone wonders where I am from. Let’s face it, at some point in the conversation, I’ll have to explain where I get my dark, brown-ness from.

But that opens another can of worms for me. On my father’s side, my grandparents are originally Indian. And Pakistan was once a part of India. Therefore, could I just save face and say I’m Indian? I refuse to for political reasons. I won’t elaborate on that either. Do I say, I’m Caribbean? I do. And the reaction from people who find out Guyanese people speak with a Jamaican-esque accent is MARVELOUS! As for Pakistani, the roots for that gets more complex because Pakistan saw a plethora of foreigners in their country.

More to the point, by having these roots and choosing to immerse myself in the cultures of those countries, I can see how one would perceive that I was not proud to be American. But to that I ask, what is cultural to America? America has always been a melting pot of different cultures. In fact, when I think of how one might imagine how a Texan looks, they would probably picture a cowboy. Cowboys are not native to America at all though, they are Mexican. Which is why it’s surprising how Mexicans in those old western movies were portrayed as lazy or inept. Even the hamburger is German. America gets credit for creating the Cheeseburger but, is that really something worth celebrating? Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Cheese. But sooner or later, someone was gonna try to put cheese on a burger. Do Indians get credit for putting Cheese in Spinach? If not, they should. Palak paneer is AMAZING! 

At the end of the day, if you check my Birth Certificate, it says I’m born in Houston, Texas. Therefore, I classify myself as Houstonian. I’m currently living in San Antonio, and it’s okay here so far. It’s not “my” city. But, that’s just it. My city isn’t perfect either. No city is perfect. It’s insane for one to say which city or even country, is better than the other. And by me saying that, it doesn’t mean I’m not a loyal Houstonian. Moreover, I don’t need to prove how Houstonian I am. Such a sentiment should be echoed by others who feel afraid to say how they truly feel. I know how I am as a person, i.e., I know my flaws, it doesn’t mean I hate who I am.

Therefore, I feel like Loyalty towards an ideology or a belief, is almost interconnected with slavery. Even as a Muslim, I’m inclined to adhere to the principles of my religion. This doesn’t mean that Islam is not open to interpretation in how I read or follow those principles. Islam means Submission; to which, I take to mean Submission to a higher power because we need guidance, therefore, I believe in the basic tenants of Islam, without having to feel pressure of being a “good Muslim”.

This is not to say that I condemn those who are loyal to their ideologies, I actually applaud them. I do however, condemn those who blindly show loyalty to their ideologies and reject criticism. In a “perfect world”, if we weren’t meant to accept criticism, why would we strive for better things? More importantly, if we were indeed perfect, why would we have rebellions?

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 8th of August, 2017 at 12:05 A.M. 

 

 

Why I Am a Muslim

My sincere apologies for the delay in writing this. I was supposed to publish this after the end of Ramadan, but I got caught up with other things. Please excuse me and Eid Mubarak!

The fact that I have to explain why I believe what I believe is really annoying. This is an issue that plagues Muslims worldwide, where we constantly have to be spokesmen for Islam but contrary to popular belief, not all Muslims think the same. And for some reason, everyone (including other Muslims) love to judge us based on how we practice or don’t practice. It’s like that scene in the movie Selena:

Image result for we gotta prove to the mexicans how mexican we are, and we gotta prove to the americans how

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where non-Muslims have judged me personally for something and exclaimed, “that’s not what Muslims do” and such a statement will be echoed by other Muslims and say “you’re not a ‘true’ Muslim.” But how do we define what a Muslim is? Because I am trying to make this essay as simple as possible (and because I’m no scholar of Islamic Studies) for the remainder of the essay, Muslim will be defined as simply: a follower of Islam.

Now, let’s try to break that down. How does one follow Islam?

There are several Muslims in the world, and naturally, their way of practice can be arbitrary. Sure, they may share in common certain pillars of Islam i.e., the belief that there is one God, but major (or even trivial) differences based on historical as well as scriptural interpretation hinder any chance of unanimity. The two major sects of Islam: Sunni and Shi’a contain schools of thought within themselves that only exacerbate the disagreements among Muslims. So what I’m trying to say is, there’s no answer that justifiably defines, respectively, what a Muslim is or what they believe.  Moreover, Islam is a religion that welcomes diversity, therefore it is challenging to even determine what features a Muslim must adhere too i.e., not many Muslim women wear their hijab or scarves and not all Arabs or South Asians are Muslim.

Prior to the events of 9/11, indifference was the watchword for people in the United States. There was no reason to be afraid or even worry about Muslims and if one thought about Muslim, they probably thought of Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali, who converted due to the teachings from the Nation of Islam, which some will consider more of a political movement as opposed to a religious school of thought. A similar sentiment is felt towards Ahmadiyya Muslims, like Mahershala Ali, whose beliefs I personally am scarcely familiar with. After the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center, it was said that the attackers were followers of Islam, and people wanted to know: What is Islam? And why do its followers hate us?

With Islamophobia on the rise, many Muslims rushed to put out this metaphorical fire on the effigy of Islam as a religion of Terror. Ordinary Muslims, meaning not Scholars of Islam, had to serve as spokesmen for why Islam didn’t promote terrorism and reassure them, we were not the enemy. Furthermore, some even tried to learn about Islam  As a young child, I experienced threats from classmates myself until I was 15 and was surrounded by intellectuals at a high school who, although they were ignorant of Islam, they didn’t seem to care much and that indifference carried out until my sophomore year.

It was March 2010 that I started to read basic teachings of religion and started teaching myself how to pray and accepted Islam. I stopped eating pork and prayed five times a day but wasn’t reading the Qur’an nor any other books. Essentially, I was just going by faith but still maintained respect for everyone who didn’t share my beliefs and when having to serve as a spokesman for my religion, I became an apologist because that’s all I knew.

When I started my first semester at University, I started drinking and stopped praying because I refused to be a “hypocritical” Muslim, who tried to hide his party-lifestyle and still go to the Mosque on Fridays. I ended up also just walking away from Islam because there were so many things I started reading on philosophy, ethics, and Islamophobia on the rise combined with terroristic attacks made me frustrated with having to constantly apologize for things I wasn’t even responsible for. I lived this way for a few years and oddly, I would get criticisms from Non-Muslims for walking away from my religion because they felt I was a traitor. I tried to keep my apostasy a secret because I was told that the punishment for leaving Islam was death.

Having come back to Islam now, I condemn such critique of Islam by individuals, whose aim is to destroy the religion of Islam off the face of the earth. During my time away from Islam, I didn’t condemn Islam or my lack of faith for profit or to seek sympathy from people simply because I had a bad experience with how the religion was brought up to me. In fact, religion was not forced on me at all. Another reason for me leaving had to do, not with Islam, but with Muslims actually. I will elaborate more on this soon but I don’t want to digress more than I already have. My overall point is that certain writers and critics of Islam, usually do not have a deep understanding on Islam; some will even argue that they’ve only read segments of the Qur’an or have never read it at all. My focus however, is on the critics, who are generally apostates, that tend to attack Islam from an emotional point of view; i.e., their upbringing towards Islam was one that was forced upon them and that is not the religion’s fault, it’s the environment and the ones who forced him who are to blame. Islam, like any religion, is a set of language and symbols that people identify with in order to feel at peace with the world and who they are; to have answers to broad questions and find peace within themselves so that life does not seem meaningless. It’s just a belief. However again, like any religion, there are extremists and people who will try to bastardize scripture because they are looking for political and/or selfish gain. And it is up to ordinary Muslims, such as myself, to speak out against THOSE kind of Muslims.

Critics like Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim, models itself after Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, in its style of explaining why they have the beliefs they have but both authors admittedly, are not scholars of Religion. Ibn Warraq makes this confession in his Acknowledgements and in his Preface, talks about how he was brought up learning Islam by learning how to read the Qur’an in Arabic, with no clear understanding or explanation of the words in the Qur’an. Such an upbringing is not uncommon for young children brought up by their Muslim parents. Nevertheless, this author decides in his adult life to abandon his teachings of religious dogma, which is fine. He is an adult and therefore he can do what he wants. Warraq then goes on to explain his incendiary feeling towards liberal apologists who claim to be speaking on behalf of “all muslims”. Given that Warraq has already revealed to have Islam “forced upon him”, it’s as if he’s assuming the role of being a representative for all Muslims. Perhaps I’m mistaken? Then why, pray tell, did he write an entire book talking about how Muslims are brought up and on the origins of Islam. Warraq does do justice to the reader by explicitly saying he is not a scholar and shamelessly admits utilizing only secondary sources in his work. Therefore, I dismiss any sort of “praise” for this book being “well-researched”.

A similar sentiment is placed on Ali Sina, who wrote Understanding Muhammad, he describes Islam as a violent religion and the Prophet Muhammad is (among other things) a Psychopath. And its quite clear within the first few pages of his book, that his aim is to eradicate Islam as a religion. I’m not sure what kind of fucked up experience this guy had with Islam, but it must have been graphic considering he’s made it his career to talk shit about it and more so, he claims to be a Christian but nowhere in Sina’s biography does it claim that he’s a licensed Psychologists or Scholar of Psychopaths. Therefore, I can make a similar claims about Sina but that doesn’t mean it’s true. And on the other hand, I have a platform to say them so why couldn’t I? Because, I am not one to stoop to people’s low level.  In addition to Sina, there is Nabeel Qureshi, a convert of Islam to Christianity whose popular book: Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Qureshi discusses his approach to Christianity after being “such a devout Muslim”. I won’t tear too much into Qureshi because I heard he has stomach cancer, we will be praying for him that he makes a healthy and speedy recovery.

Where he and Ali Sina correlate, is that they both essentially say Islam is bad, Christianity is good; Bible is Peace and Qur’an is Violent. Here’s the thing: everyone has this belief that in Islam, the punishment for leaving the religion is death. My personal opinion: I don’t think so. I really doubt that people automatically find out if you’ve left the religion, they will kill you. Now, if you make a big fuss about it, they won’t be happy. And that’s not an unnatural feeling. How many Christian families do you see jumping for joy when they hear their kid is an atheist? That’s what I thought.

Oh Timothy, you no longer believe in God? Well, that’s okay. We will still keep following the word of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior because that’s what he would want us to.

Get the fuck outta here.

I’m not saying we should condemn people for walking away from their religion. Nor am I advocating for people TO leave their religion. My whole point is, beliefs are personal, they don’t need to be shared with the world. If my brother-in-law divorces my sister, then fine, whatever. But if he then proceeds to harass the family, write books and articles talking ill about her, I’m gonna want to kill him. Does that make me a radical sibling or just someone who really cares about their big sister? Therefore, why is this any different than a religious individual who has murderous thoughts about killing someone who is being a dick. Again, I’m not condoning, I’m empathizing. In the words of Chris Rock talking about the O.J. Simpson Trial, “I’m not saying he should’ve killed her, but I understand.”

It was the judgement from so many people left and right by Muslims and Non-Muslims one can potentially receive either if they change religions, or walk away from religions that made me just walk away from it all at the age of 18. I got tired of being an apologist, I got tired of people judging me for not eating pork, and I got tired of Muslims being hypocrites in how they practiced (or didn’t practice) but were still judging me for how I practiced. Finally, at the age of 21, I was brought to a mosque by a girl, who eventually became my beloved fiancé, for a lecture she wanted to attend before the first night of Ramadan. I felt so out of place at the mosque, having not stepped foot in one for 3 years. I sat outside, alone, thinking to myself about everything going on in my life. I wasn’t in a good place financially or emotionally. I decided to go inside and perform wudu, the purifying ritual a muslim does before prayer and I felt clean, and immediately, I was transported back into my 18 year old mindset; before all the bullshit, before I left home and went off to University to fuck up my first and second year of my undergrad career, before I started questioning things, and before I started just hating everyone and everything. Later, I came across a gentleman who was my former Sunday school teacher. He liked me a lot and I really liked him because he wasn’t judgmental and he taught me how to pray and his genuine positive attitude, made me look up to him. He came up to me and said, “Asalamualaikum! You’re back in town? How have you been? Will you be volunteering to teach at the Sunday School now that you’re back?” I’ll admit, I was afraid when my mom found out I left Islam about what she would say, but I was ashamed, at what he might think of how everything he taught me, I just discarded.

Since then, I slowly began the transition into coming back into Islam. I am reading the Qur’an (in English) and the more I read it, the more it makes sense to me. I have read the bible a bit and I have a copy of the Bhagvad Gita, but honestly, Islam just seems like the right religion for me. Not because it’s more true or anything, it just makes me happy. And its something I identify with. It’s a personal belief that is inexplicable and moreover, I don’t need to explain it because it’s not anyone’s business why I am a Muslim. Moreover, I’m Non-Denominational Muslim, in that, I claim no loyalty to any particular sect of Islam, because I feel that people tend to have arguments as a result of these differences in how they practice.

I honestly cannot fathom why other Muslims are fighting one another simply because they do not share the same interpretation. And that is another thing, when people say Islam is a violent religion and they try to cherry pick quotes from the Qur’an. All scripture is a matter of interpretation; “we come as human beings with our pre-conceptions, prejudices, experiences, and ‘pre understandings.’ Our minds and hearts are already full of concepts and ideas…that we bring to the text before we even open its pages and pronounce its words.” (Dr. Scott Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle, Progressive Muslims, P.203)

Also, I consider myself a Progressive Muslim, as opposed to a Moderate Muslim, because I feel that Progressive Muslims show respect to the classical Muslim thought but leave room for contemporary interpretation. Furthermore, I believe that Islam is in no need of reformation, if anything its Muslims and Shari’ah Law (created by Muslims after the death of the prophet) that need to be put in check. According to Amina Wadud in her essay on American Muslim Identity in the book: Progressive Muslims, she states that Malcolm X, and subsequently other black Muslims that turned to Sunni Islam, did so with the mindset that Islam and Muslims were colorblind. I have my reservations about the latter statement. Surely, I get a lot of compliments from elder Muslim ladies that my fiancé is fair-skinned and resembles a Pashtun (an ethnic group in Pakistan that is generally fair-skinned and well-respected, arguably because they are fair-skinned). Never mind that she is actually Mexican (and a Tejana/Chicana orgullosa!)  but also, the kind of condemnation against other dark-skinned South Asians in general, make me reluctant to say Muslims are colorblind. Muslims are still human beings with flaws nonetheless, so I digress.

There are also Muslims that pray differently or don’t practice at all but still identify as Muslim or will protest when people will proclaim Islam to be a violent religion. The honesty that stems from these individuals is respectable. I do however, have a problem with Muslims that will not practice Islam but judge other Muslims on how they p\actice or try to serve as a representative of Islam, when they clearly don’t believe in it. I don’t have an issue with anyone else worshipping a different way.

“O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” (Qur’an: 109; Surat Al-Kafirun)

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 5th of July, 2017 at 1:07 A.M.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“True” Identity: An Essay on Self-Awareness & Sensitivity

Who are we? We seem to be asked this question a lot and no one knows how to properly answer and no response seems satisfactory. In the past, people would identify themselves through their last names.  “My name is So and So, son of Whatshisface” And with that form of identification, people gained an impression of you, despite their interaction and properly getting to know you is a priori. It seems unorthodox, however simultaneously, it is understandable.

Arranged marriages function in the same way; this person’s father knows this girl or boy’s father and they thought “hey, you probably don’t have a shitty kid, let’s make them get married!” And the other said, “Yeah!” Then they have kids and they live happily ever after.

However, you don’t need to be a scholar in Anthropology to know that every human being is different. Moreover, no law is universally adhered to by individuals and that’s arguably, why we have problems in society. We can place the blame on religion or humans being savage by nature, but either way the only thing we can essentially agree on is that we cannot find anything to agree on.

Immanuel Kant argued how we can ascertain objective validity but because I’m no scholar of Philosophy; plus, Kant uses a special kind of vocabulary that scholars to this day are trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Instead, I will attempt to break the words down as if we were speaking actual English. First, the word: Objective, meaning universally accepted. This is a challenge because everything is arbitrary. Translating the work of philosophers like Kant, for example, is never universally accepted. And the word Valid, put simply just means true. That being said, it will make the following essay more comprehensible.

When we try to attempt and identify ourselves, in terms of contemporary standards, there is a lot to consider. And our need for personal identity is unavoidable. However, the crux of this essay is that we often have to prove our identity because some people are unconvinced of what we identify with because we do not contain 100% of the traits to adhere to that identity. To better clarify, let’s use the example of a father and son. Let’s say the father was a star athlete in his youth, when introduced to his son, if he is not a star athlete as well, but rather, a “nerd”, eyebrows would be raised as to how that was possible? If you don’t believe this, you’re not a superficial person and you should be very proud of yourself. But I’m not referring to you. Not everything is about you, okay? With that, readers hopefully can empathize where I’m going with this and will agree with me when I say, that just because the “nerdy son” of the athletic father does not mean that he is not legitimately his kid. In other words, you can’t identify yourself as something without someone telling you that’s not who you really are.

Which sounds like b.s. because who knows you better than yourself? Your parents? Sure. But, only you know your inner most thoughts. However, there’s people that love to say, “Oh but you’re not a real so and so because you have, do, or believe such and such.” I’ll use myself as an example of identification. Cause none of my friends would allow me to use them as examples. Just kidding! I have no friends.

Just kidding. I didn’t ask them. Because I’m lazy. And that’s why I have no friends.

So, how do I define myself? And this will not be in any particular order. The fact that I have to explain it, will be addressed in subsequent sentences. First, I’m a man. But am I a “real man” How does one define that? What kind of things define a man? Do I like Sports? That’s pretty masculine, right? No, I don’t like sports, so I guess that makes me less of a man? I don’t drive a truck, no; I drive a Hybrid. Guess that’s also a no for me to be a “real man”.  But nonetheless, I am a man. This is who I am. By the way, this is not supposed to be a critique on Trans-Genders because ultimately, what I’m saying is if you are who you say you are, it shouldn’t matter what other people think.

Another way I identify myself as, I’m Muslim. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of all the Islamophobia going around but I sure have noticed it. I’m blessed to say that I haven’t experienced any discrimination first hand (as an adult) but I have constantly had to serve as a spokesman for Islam, which I graciously accept. And as a spokesman, I  I will be posting another article where I expand on this because it is necessary, but in the meantime, I will conclude by stating, I don’t act as an apologist for terrorism caused by psychopaths claiming to do it in the name of Islam. Because of my progressive beliefs, a lot of people will regard me as “not a true Muslim” and that’s because I do not adhere to what they regard as what Muslims truly believe.

It’s like when some people regard African Americans as not “black enough” if they do things or talk a certain way that doesn’t coincide with the stereotypes people have of them. And that’s a shame because who the hell are they to determine what is something and what is not. Simultaneously however, I will sympathize how powerful words are in this day and age, where we should be careful with the words we pick.

A perfect example of this is: Stand-up comic, Jim Norton, notorious for his raunchy style of jokes about him being a shameless albeit honest, womanizer, would self-describe himself as a “pervert”. But in his most recent, 2016 special, Mouthful of Shame,  Norton admits he was wrong to describe himself as such because the type of adultery he would commit would always be consensual, therefore to categorize himself as such would assume that he sleeps with underage girls or is a rapist.

Back to my point, there are people who truly identify with things but they don’t make sense to people. Here’s the thing: they don’t need to make sense to you; they are not YOUR beliefs. It’s not until you empathize and listen to the concerns of theirs, where you understand why the individual believes the way they do. Take Muhammad Ali for instance, when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Ali, a lot of people refused to acknowledge him by his new name. Claiming things like, “that’s the name he was born with, so I’m gonna call him THAT!” But his reason for changing his name was because it was at this time that he embraced Islam and was essentially born-again. African Americans acquired their surnames from their slave-owners, thereby explaining the phrase “that’s my slave name.” And even if you still don’t agree with it in the end, that’s okay too. But at least your grievances are not in ignorance. However, it’d be simple enough just to accept it and let people be happy.

In the end, all I’m trying to say is that there is an inexplicable desire for us to strive for something greater than ourselves and discover who we are and what our purpose in life is. Some turn to religion, careers, or drugs. Don’t do drugs though. And when we discover ourselves, often times we may believe we are something and people have a right to guide us if we are mistaken, like in the case of Jim Norton, but that’s okay because we are humans and we are going to make mistakes. In the end, we’re all just trying to make sense of ourselves and the battle will be less intense if we’re not having to defend ourselves against people who don’t understand and berate us as a result of it. Live and let live, and live and let die.

 

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 13th of June, 2017 at 7:00 P.M.

 

Should Muslims Support LGTBQ?

This essay is dedicated to my friends: Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Trevor Boffone, and Josh Inocencio and to all the comrades in the LGTBQ Community. I also dedicate this essay to my Brothers and Sisters in Islam. Also it should go without saying, that this dedication extends as well as to those in the Muslim community who identify as Queer/Trans those who have come out and those who are too afraid to come out.  Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh.

Should Muslims support Gays/Lesbians/Transgenders? Let’s get right into it; to answer this question in a few words, of course! This may come as a shock to some people but Gay/Lesbian/Trans people, like Muslims, are normal people. I should know cause I am Muslim. I’m not Gay, but I am Pro-LGTBQ rights. Most people freak out when they meet someone gay, lesbian, or trans, but there’s not really anything foreign about them except the obvious. In fact, I met a gay couple that had been together for more than 20 years and it blew my mind; but not for the reason why you’d think that. Considering that most marriages among heterosexual couples keep falling apart, it was surprising to hear a couple that actually valued their relationship. When I asked them for advice on marriage or relationships, they gave the exact same advice you’d get from any other straight couple: communication, trust, remember why you fell in love in the first place, and don’t have kids, cause they ruin everything (just kidding!) (I’m not kidding)  But based on that, it brings me to the point that, how are you gonna say that marriage is supposed to be only for a man and woman when men and women can’t even get their shit together? But moreover, why can’t Gay people just have rights?! Like basic Human rights. I have only had one bad experience with a gay person, and that was cause he was an asshole, not cause he was gay. He doesn’t deserve rights. (okay that one, I’m kidding) 

There’s a misconception among individuals who don’t understand, nor wish to, the struggles that Muslims share with the Gays. As a matter of fact, there are even Muslims that identify within the LGTBQ community, and I had no idea. I know that’s naive to say but it’s just one of those things you don’t think about but as soon as I heard it, I was like, “Oh, well, of course. Why wouldn’t there be?”

Since the origin of Islam, Muslims were a class of people that were outcast from society and the fact that members of the LGTBQ community would identify with Islam, is not very surprising. Despite the verses in the Qur’an that state Homosexuality is wrong or an abomination, as well as Conservative Muslims have been very vocal against same-sex marriage (as have Conservative Christians; especially Conservative Christians) there are still Muslims out there that are Queer and or Muslims. And while you have all those things, luckily there are Muslims out there that are extremely tolerant of this because it doesn’t matter.

And that’s where my take comes from; a friend of mine, Josh Inocencio, is currently writing an article for OutSmart Magazine, a Houston as well as LGTBQ Based magazine, about Gays and Lesbians supporting Muslims. I’ll be sure to include the link once it’s been published and everything. He asked to interview me as a Muslim born and raised in the United States, and someone who pretty much stopped practicing for 2-3 years but has been again since 2015 (but more on that another blog). Not to mention that I’m a fellow Writer/Student-Activist/Philosopher and Historian-in-the-Making 😉  Members of the LGTBQ community in support of Muslims is in my view, heartwarming. In fact, even before the implementation of the epic Muslim Ban, the hashtag #illwalkwithyou was especially being vocalized by members of the LGTBQ community.

Now fast-forward to a few months later, the Trump administration pushes through a Muslim ban, something “no one” (sarcastic quotes) saw coming that affected members of the LGTBQ community as well that identify as Muslim.  Now, if you’re Queer, you’re already putting yourself in a vulnerable position and then to accept a religious belief; and Islam, at such an epoch of heightened Islamophobia, you’re just asking for trouble. But in my eyes, they’re a Brother and/or Sister in Islam and Asalamualaikum.

The crux here is that beliefs are personal: we don’t need to be able to fully comprehend what the other’s beliefs are. I take the cultural relativist approach here and contend that you can think something is strange, sure but that’s all. The thing is, concepts that are foreign to people tend to be believed to be wrong. It’s juvenile when you really get down to it, the idea that: “I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong!” Who are we to tell others that because they are that Gay, they are an abomination because they follow Islam, Christianity, things they just hold dear; simple beliefs, are wrong! When we humans are imperfect ourselves.

That’s why we need to quit trying to focus on these little details and focus on the big issue. We are struggling together and we need to overcome, together. Still however, many communities of faith: there is a serious question of homophobia that needs to be confronted. And of course, the Muslim community, like most communities, have a gay community and some are hidden some are not. But we hope that one day, all faith will be able to move past that.

Perhaps it’s the utilitarian in me but it’s just that those that approach religion and their beliefs usually distinguish their beliefs from the sect they follow or their upbringing, they are happy with what they regard as the truth even though all religion is based on faith and not necessarily fact. By saying that, I may get in trouble because I’m implying that all religion is capable of being wrong but there’s certain things that religion cannot prove, they’re miracles. I’m not going to say I don’t believe in miracles, it’s just that there’s no way to prove it that cannot be true. Historically and scientifically, the stories don’t make sense.

Again, I identify as a Muslim. Non-Denominational. A practicing Muslim as well. The ring I wear on my index finger is not just words in Arabic, these words are the pledge one takes when they declare themselves a Muslim. I don’t believe in tattoos, so this is the next best thing for me. My beliefs are very personal and dear to me, and as a result, I don’t see the need to impose them on others, but this does not change Islam from becoming one of the fastest growing religions in the country; the only reason for that, I imagine is because it’s the only religion that tends to make sense (or at least it does for me).

The five basic pillars in Islam are set in stone: Pledge your belief that there is only one God, perform pilgrimage, fast on the days of Ramadan, five daily prayers, and give a very small portion of your paycheck to charity. I follow all five of the pillars in Islam (but I haven’t gone on Pilgrimage yet) The rest of the teachings in Islam, I cherry-pick here and there what works for me; I do consult Imams and whatnot to make sure I’m not doing anything that is too taboo. That being said I don’t drink, eat pork, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, etc. But it is because I won’t follow EVERYTHING that certain sects will acknowledge, that I won’t say I’m a very religious person. I most definitely and unhesitatingly, will take the side of my Muslim brothers and sisters in distress over in Syria, Aleppo, Palestine, and Kashmir.

When asked why I say non-denominational, it’s because in my experience, different sects have argued about religion for centuries and even condemned one another (like the most recent sect, Ahmadiyya) by stating “they’re not real Muslims.” One of my favorite things an Imam has stated during the Friday prayer khutbas (sermons) was how he abhorred how other Muslims will disrespectfully attempt to correct the behavior in how certain Muslims pray or stand or kneel (because they’re not doing it “correctly”) and the Imam encouraged us to, when faced with such a dilemma: “Our brothers and sisters in Islam are dying in Syria and Aleppo, and you’re worried about me?!”

I digress and conclude that there have been a long tradition of Muslims and Gays working together on progressive issues (that have to do with minorities and ensuring that we don’t get any infringement on our rights) when there was a Muslim ban, the LGTBQ community got involved,  so when there is an assault against LGTBQ the Muslims should be aware and educated so they can support them. Progressive Muslims need to be more vocal and active in their participation and I am not trying to impose my progressive beliefs, but I do implore conservative Muslims or Muslims in general, to open their hearts and their minds to understanding the struggles of our Queer brothers and sisters. The saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend; please acknowledge that the LGTBQ community is far from our enemy, and it’s time we realize it. Our time seems limited with each day that passes and rather than bicker or find fault with one another based on who people love or what religion they practice, we need to find common ground. The main common feature we share, is that we are civilized human beings; so let’s act like it.

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 22nd of March, 2017 at 1:45 P.M. 

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