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. 

Advertisements

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.

 

Having What It Takes: A Critique On The Aesthetics of Sexy Bodies

A few years ago I attempted to give a response on the concept of Sexism in Art. I was 20 years old, had never read a book on Feminism or Aesthetics so in retrospect, I probably should not have written what I wrote. Nevertheless, I write this essay as a revision because with the knowledge I have now, I most definitely have grown as a writer and thinker. Therefore, as much as I abhor the language I utilized in my previous essay, I will keep it there because it will show how I am no different from other individuals who speak ignorantly of a subject and once we gain insight of said subject, we would like to take back what we said previously. It’s a natural phenomenon that a lot of people judge others for (including myself) and I think we should stop doing that. My views that I have on world issues or history, or things in general, I do not seek to condemn others if they don’t share my views, nor should I expect others to know what I know because if we didn’t get criticism for what we think we know, it will never inspire creativity; we will just be monotone zombies, blindly regurgitating the information we received from our peers. That being said, I hope my views in the previous essay do not offend anyone. And as of this day, this is my view. Thank you for reading. 

A dollar bill, whether it is torn or wrinkled, never loses its value. On the other hand, a crisp, clean looking dollar bill (even if it’s value is $1) is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Similarly, a perfect looking man or woman is more valuable to others than one that is not well put-together. As harsh as that sounds, it is incontestable that determining one’s attractiveness, or in this case, sexiness, has become the norm. People are constantly fed images of “perfect” bodies in popular culture and lauded for their appearances. Simultaneously, we can take the view that cringes at the thought of someone judging us and/or finding a flaw in our bodies. Nonetheless, there are constantly individuals who attempt to or search for ways, to alter the appearance of their bodies at the risk of us being perceived as un-sexy to someone and therefore, invisible. Furthermore, this issue seems to remain trivial for those who remain ignorant to the pressures of what it means to be “sexy”.  However, by citing inspiration from the following aestheticians: Sheila Lintott, Sherri Irvin, and C. Winter Han, I will examine that change is necessary (and hopefully probable in the distant future) for the concept of “sexiness” to no longer be a form of aesthetics, because in spite of the constant reminders of the lesson taught to us as children, we remain judging books by their cover.

Beginning with C. Winter Han’s essay entitled: From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body, the author touches on a number of excellent points. Specifically, Han points out the ongoing, albeit unchanged, racism towards Asian men. This discrimination extends towards the gay community, where the issue of femininity as a stereotype for Asian Men particularly slurred among Homosexual White Males. Although I do not identify within the LGBTQA Community, this was something I personally felt was surprising. Simply because I was unable to picture a group of oppressed individuals discriminating against another group of people. Somehow, I felt that the silenced gay community could empathize with the voiceless Asian community, yet the evidence Han provides, clearly state otherwise. Unsurprisingly to a number of friends I have in the gay community, shallowness in general, is normative. More specifically, shallowness based on appearance i.e., obesity or lack of muscles. As explained by Han, “unlike media outlets aimed at heterosexual male audiences, gay media plays a dual role in that male bodies on display promote an image not only of what one should be but also of what one should desire. Male bodies in gay media outlets are meant to be not only emulated but consumed.” (Han, 64) And in the case of Asian bodies, they are often portrayed as lanky, infantilized or comically unappealing. Thereby, “depicting [Asian bodies] as androgynous or exotifying them with feminized features, dress, or manners.” (Han, 65)

 

As bad as shallowness is, I would have to argue that discrimination based on racial inferiority is much worse; in other words, it is adding insult to injury to maintain that White bodies are more aesthetically superior to “Colored” bodies. To reiterate, the irony is uncanny to say the least, that a group of men who were teased for their femininity (even to this day) are capable of such grotesque behavior is almost hard to wrap one’s head around.  Han utilizes the example of an “Us Weekly article titled ‘Sexy shirtless [Hollywood] stars!’…When readers click…the article, they are treated to a photo gallery of sixty-three shirtless male starts, sixty of whom are white. Predictably, none of the sexy, shirtless hunks are Asian.” (Han, 70) To say that White Males are perceived as more aesthetic is, in other words, to pretty much state that White Males are ethnically superior. And for it to be nonchalantly portrayed in the media makes it the norm.

 

I would be remiss however, were I not to voice a criticism for this piece, and that is, I felt Han should have specified more on South Asians as opposed to just a bit, as if their struggle is minimal compared to the East Asians. Perhaps I’m being biased in my judgment, as a South Asian male, however there’s actually a short film that touches on this issue called “Yellow Fever” about a young Asian man who is baffled when he sees more and more Asian girls ending up with “White Guys” and not the other way around. He then receives advice from his Indian friend who essentially mocks him and says, “how often do you see an Indian guy with a white girl? It’s like one in a million. Literally.” I will give the author credit for mentioning the examples in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement (Han, 71 & 74) where although, South Asians are portrayed despite being are less popularized in Hollywood in comparison to East Asians. And when South Asians (Indians, mainly) are portrayed, it’s often perceived as a simple-minded person, with a very thick accent (that is often feigned or exaggerated). Moreover, the actor portraying them is usually not even South Asian (e.g., Apu from The Simpsons and Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2) an issue pointed out by Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari in a New York Times article.

 

This essay could not be complete without mentioning two specific philosophers who do a wonderful job in illuminating the struggles women have in attaining a specific body type that  is both “sexy” and gives them reason to be relevant. Their relevancy however, is limited to them only being regarded as objects despite overcoming numerous efforts in the workplace as well as educational gain to be able to “sit at the grown up table”. These philosophers, Sheila Lintott and Sherri Irvin, in their essay, Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness, of do a wonderful job by shining a light an issue that perhaps some people notice, but no one sidea of women having to be “sexy” to be relevant. But their relevance is limited to them being regarded only as objects; and this simply won’t do.

 

Primarily, the authors attempt to break down the idea of the word “sexy” and relate it to how women were seen as objects of reproduction. In subsequent years, feminists will rise up and reject this notion of sexiness as “women are more than reproductive machines, even when considered as sexual beings.” (Lintott & Irvin, 303) The latter definition of sexiness “has to do with sexual pleasure and satisfaction” (Lintott & Irvin, 304) To clarify, the authors contend that “the prurient conception of sexiness classifies pregnant, disabled, and elderly women as asexual, as unable or unfit to engage in sexual intercourse and give or receive sexual satisfaction.”

Another point the authors touch on is how we can challenge these notions of sexiness with ethics: “to find someone sexy, in the respectful sense, is to recognize the sexualized subject animated in a body and to respect the subject in part for how they choose or choose not to infuse their own version of sexuality into their own body.” (Lintott & Irvin, 306) In other words, we mustn’t place our own interpretations of sexiness as universal terms but rather, look for the particular characteristics of the individual that makes them sexy; i.e., in their own way.

With that said, Lintott and Irvin seek to determine whether or not notions of sexiness can be considered aesthetic. According to them, it is possible, however “attributions of sexiness…should be responsive to the person as they actually are, not merely as they seem to us.” (Lintott & Irvin, 315) It seems like because individuals are unable to make fair judgements on what is sexy and what is not, make the idea of sexiness as aesthetic very problematic. Particularly, because for Lintott and Irvin, we cannot simply “say ‘He is sexy, and by that I mean I would experience sexual desire for him if I were attracted to fat men’; ‘She is sexy, and by that i mean that a person who finds it possible to experience desire for elderly women would desire her.’” (Lintott & Irvin, 310)

Though Lintott and Irvin’s empirical vigor through their examination of Feminism cannot be overstated,  I do begrudge that heavy emphasis on sexual objectification on women (which is understandable, considering this is supposed to be a feminist piece). Though not often as women,  it should be noted that men are capable of sexual harassment. Furthermore, being a feminist is seen as a “man-hating”, radical movement.  Historically, this may have been the case in the 1960’s but that is besides the point. Also, this article of course, is an obvious exception; plus, usually the ones making that critique are men. But it does not change the fact that some men are objectified and deemed unsexy if they do not have certain appeals (i.e., the six pack, “tall, dark and handsome”). I say this, not to drive attention away from the overall message in the essay, because it is an issue that needs to be resolved but for some reason, has not; my intention is only to bring up something which the author(s) may have missed.

These two articles share in common the desire to challenge the status quo of discriminatory views and stereotypes. And in this essay, I have attempted to demonstrate that judgments of bodies considered “sexy” should not be considered aesthetic due to the nature of constant pressure with societal norms plaguing individuals in attaining a particular appearance, at the risk of not being accepted. Moreover, further examination of the works by Aestheticians: Lintott and Irvin, Han attest the arguments I have made here. The concept of “sexiness” and “masculinity” is irrefutably perplexing and incontestably, subjective. Therefore, members of society must grasp that we do not all have what it takes to be the epitome of either characteristics in this world.

Furthermore, it is incomprehensible as to why individuals should particularly care or judge anyone based on their appearance.  According to both articles, perceptions of “beautiful” and “sexy” are ingrained in our minds and what we define as a “sexy person” is this artificially shaped subject of a specific race or color; and perhaps our reason behind why we do this, is because we are continuously exposed to images or advertisements in the media that is, especially in today’s popular culture, the standard. And simultaneously, albeit unfortunately, we ignore the fact that people are not meant to be categorized as objects of our appraisal.

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally Written on the 10th of May, 2017

Works Cited 

Han, C. Winter. “From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body.” Body Aesthetics. Ed. Sherri Irvin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 60-78. Print.

Irvin, Sherri, and Sheila Lintott. “Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness.” Body Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 299-317. Print.