Sajed Bhandari

America, Books, Cooking, Muslims and some other things

Archive for March 2010

On Changing Perceptions: Article 3 of 3

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On Changing Perceptions: Article 3 of 3

Sajed Bhandari

For most of my life, I have had a parallel education.  I had my secular studies in mostly public institutions starting with elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.  My current graduate studies are in a private Catholic university.  These institutional courses of study taught me the basics of citizenship, science, philosophy, English literature and what have you from a Western European, post-Enlightenment perspective.  In addition to this course of study, I had the good fortune of supplementing my Western education with Islamic social and sacred sciences.  I have had, as far as I can remember, two civilizational influences in my search of knowledge.  These two influences for a time were in competition for which civilization I exactly belonged to and how these two civilizations interacted.  The shift I would like to focus on in this article is from understanding the relationship from a conflict in interest to one that is of a confluence of interest.

My formative years were spent on Long Island.  The public education in the part of Long Island that I grew up was for the most part above average (in comparison to much of the public education in New York City and the rest of Long Island).  To truly do justice to the effect that this education has had on me is beyond the scope of this article.  I will address this in a later article, InshAllah.  I will mostly focus on my classes in the second half of high school and college.

The classes that really affected my thoughts and worldview were usually the ones related to literature and social studies.  Needless to say, both the literature and the approach to history were from a Western perspective.  In high school, we read much of the traditional books.  Catcher in the Rye, A Farewell to Arms, and Angela’s Ashes are a few of the books that come to mind.  We learned about the American Revolution, the Civil Rights struggle of the Black American population, and the structure and function of various governmental institutions in America.  In the background were the science and mathematics classes that I never really paid attention to yet somehow managed to do well.

I began my undergraduate studies at Stony Brook University, located at the eastern reaches of the Long Island Expressway.  I studied economics, government, philosophy and with the need of being a good Muslim boy, the Pre-medical sciences.  Again, all of these classes belonged to the traditional secular curriculum.  I learned about Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and neo-classical theories in my readings of economics.  The European Union, American Foreign Policy, the Cold War, Congress and Political Economy remained much of my focus in my readings of government.  With respect to philosophy, I studied Philosophy of Religion with one of the few believing Christian professors in the Philosophy Department, learned about Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Spinoza and took a class on Aesthetics.  And again, in the background were my science and mathematics classes.  This time however, I did not do as well in those classes.  (For any pre-meds reading this article, which I am assuming is most of you…  FOCUS ON YOUR SCIENCE CLASSES).

In the long nine years from high school to the first year of graduate school however, there has been a parallel education.  In high school I began reading the Quran, biographies of Rasulillah (SAW), works on Islamic politics and renaissance by Dr. Israr Ahmed and Syed Qutb.  I listened to many lectures by English speaking scholars on Islamic governance, history, biographies, jurisprudence and any other branch of Islamic sacred studies.  In college, I had the opportunity to take a few classes with Al Maghrib Institute (The link is in my blogroll) as well as a few months with Sheikh Khalid Abdul-Sattar.  But for most of this time, my Islamic studies were focused on the sacred sciences with teachers who already believed in the truth-claims of the religion.  It was not until my last year at Stony Brook that I began to read about Islam as a social and historical force.  Much of this later reading was in the history of Muslim societies, the role of colonialism and secularism in Muslim societies and the influence that Muslim societies have had on pre-Modern Europe.  Again, the subtle effects that this education has had on my identity are beyond the scope of this article and will inshAllah be addressed in a subsequent one.

Throughout this parallel education, the spheres of study were separate and often times competing.  Education it seems is the process of passing on the intellectual legacy of a civilization to a new generation.  If we understand education from this perspective, then it follows that this parallel education that was once separate and exclusive in their spheres of influence, passed down to me two different intellectual legacies, thus creating two separate identities.  For much of my life this was true.  The social implication of this dual-education was the “need” to choose sides or to choose a civilization.  The political manifestation of this choice was seeing the two civilizations in conflict.

Reading the news, I could not help but see the two civilizations I belonged to in conflict.  Whether it was the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the Palestinian struggle for liberation, or the occupation of Iraq and invasion of Afghanistan, it seemed like the two civilizations that had educated me were in conflict.  This conflict of interest that I saw meant that there could only be one victor in the struggle.  It meant that the interests of the Muslim world and the interests of America and the Western world were inevitably bound to clash.  It did not help much that at this time, the neoconservatives were dictating American foreign policy; the neoconservatives being a group with a philosophy that rested on this assumption of conflict of interest.

But the rise of President Obama and his campaign begged us to ask, are our interests truly in conflict and is this game only capable of having one victor?

The then-Senator begged us to ask if the Palestinian struggle for humanity was necessarily in conflict with Israeli security.  He asked us if the unjust invasion and occupation of Iraq would be a legacy of neo-colonialism or would it be the dawn of a democratic age in the Arab world.  He asked us would the Muslims be okay with Afghanistan being a breeding ground for extremists who have killed more Muslims than they have any Westerner or non-Muslim.  The now-President in his inauguration and speech in Cairo offered the Muslim world a new beginning.  A new beginning that would see the Muslim lands as an equal partner in the creation of a new world; a new beginning that would see a confluence of interest as opposed to a conflict in interest.

The Palestinian struggle, in only my mind, shifted from a conflict of Muslims fighting Israeli oppression to a human struggle for basic human rights.  I now saw the tragedy that was forced upon the Iraqi brethren as perhaps an effort to gain certain liberties that were not available underneath the rule of Saddam.  Although, the lies that were told to the world to justify the invasion or the massacre in Haditha should never be forgotten, I cannot help but be happy for the Iraqis who now have a chance at self-determination.  The only thing I can do now is pray that the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds work towards creating a peaceful Iraq with shared interests in mind.  I have to understand the resolution to these conflicts as in the interests of both the Muslim world and the Western world.  I have to understand that a peaceful state for the Palestinians is in the interests of both “civilizations”.

But more pertinent to my current situation was the new understanding that this nation is a nation I share with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and non-believers.  That it is in fact, my nation.  I have known no other homeland but America.  I know no other faith other than Islam.  So how do I go forward then?  Are my interests in as far as my being American in conflict with my being Muslim?  I cannot see it that way.  Being a good Muslim to me means being a good American.  I follow the laws of my land but speak out when there is oppression and when non-violent dissent becomes not only a patriotic duty, but also a religious obligation.

Rasulillah (SAW) said that Hamza (RA) was the Prince of the Martyrs because he spoke truth in the face of the tyrants.  Thomas Jefferson had said that freedom and liberty require eternal vigilance and that every generation is in need of a new revolution.

There is nothing more American than this. There is nothing more Muslim than this.  And this is my understanding.

Written by sajedbhandari

March 9, 2010 at 5:27 am

Awesome article by Sh. Yasir Qadhi

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Sheikh Yasir Qadhi being awesome again…

I’ll be posting a video of his soon… It’s old, titled Debunking the Male Bias Myth

Written by sajedbhandari

March 3, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Quick clarification on Article 2 of 3

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There was a decent amount of criticism on my last article and rightfully so.

I would like to clarify that what I was expressing by contextualized morality is in regards to how we approach the laws that govern our American society. I stated that this is not a discussion on personal morality. As a Muslim our personal morality in terms of what we think is haram or halal needs to come from the Quran, Sunnah, the Consensus of the Scholars and Qiyas. I was addressing how I approach the laws of our country and which rules and laws that I cant see applicable to me i.e. executing homosexuals, enforcing hijab on women, collecting Jizya. These are laws that I can’t see applying in the modern judicial system based on civic reason that exists in America.

– Sajed

Written by sajedbhandari

March 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm

“On Changing Perceptions. Article 2 of 3”

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“On Changing Perceptions. Article 2 of 3”

Sajed Bhandari

I left off the previous article touching on the idea of approaching identity from a value-based perspective instead of a rule-based perspective.  What is meant by rules-based perspective is that a person’s identity, in this case being Muslim, is distinguished by what rules and laws govern an individual’s belief and practice.  This understanding of identity is intimately linked with morality.  If one approaches Muslim identity from a rules-based perspective, then the laws established by tradition and orthodoxy define his or her morality as well as what it means to be Muslim.  In this understanding, a Muslim is as defined in certain theological terms (relative to which school of creed) and a Muslim’s piety is defined by his observance of what he has been taught is haram and halal.  The rules of creed and jurisprudence become the very definition of what it means to be a Muslim.  This notion creates an absolute identity and an absolute morality.

However, a shift towards a value-based understanding of identity creates a subsequent shift in how these values manifest themselves in what is called in Arabic, al muamalat. This is roughly defined as social interactions.  A discussion on how personal morality is affected by this shift in perception is beyond the scope of this article.  However, not only is it beyond the scope of this article, a discussion on how personal morality is affected by this shift is neither important nor desirable when one speaks about reform in the Muslim mind and society.   The primary focus is on how my views of social interactions have changed from an absolute morality to a contextualized morality.

Socially, I have never been particularly conservative.  With that said, how I internally viewed homosexuality, gender-relations, and sectarian relations were influenced heavily by the orthodox/traditional understanding.  Homosexuality, although not something I personally abhorred, was an issue that I was taught had certain rules.  It was not permissible to be homosexual.  I was taught they chose to live that lifestyle and it was a lifestyle that God hated.  The verses usually quoted to defend such a position centered on the verses describing the people of Lot and their “lewdness”.  With respect to gender relations, I was taught that women are essentially sources of temptation and that the spheres of male and female were separate but equal in Islam.

The most orthodox influence on my thinking however, was in the realm of sectarian relations.  Sectarian here is defined as both inter-religious and intra-religious.  With respect to the non-Muslims, I was taught that they did not believe and would only corrupt my faith and my actions.  With respect to other sectarian groups amongst the Muslims, they were for the most part innovators, deviants, or severely misguided.  The manifestation that this perception of the other undertook was isolation.  As a side note, as much as I would like to say it is only one tradition or orthodox sect that has this mentality, in truth, Shia, Sufi or Salafi sectarian views permeate internal religious discourse and study.

The aforementioned social issues are taught from a rule-based perspective.  What is the rule regarding one’s interaction with homosexuals?  What is the rule regarding one’s interaction with people of the opposite gender?  What is the rule regarding one’s interaction with other sectarian groups?  All of human interaction had a specific rule and specific law that had to be followed.  Again, the level of an individual’s piety was determined by how many of the laws he or she outwardly followed.  This classical understanding of human social relations and the laws that they established were forged within a very culture and time-specific context.  As 21st individuals, one still had to ascribe to this absolute understanding of social relations.  This absolute understanding was presented as the Will of God as understood in the interpretations of the early Ulema.

However, at this point in my life I cannot see the laws regarding social interactions as applicable to me.  I am an American Muslim living in a 21st pluralistic society.  Bangladeshi immigrants who never stressed the separations of genders or hatred of those who believed otherwise raised me.  This idea that my upbringing and my current situation were somehow incorrect because an Imam in the early centuries of Islam had deemed it so according to his understanding was laughable.  Beyond it being laughable, it was inherently incompatible with who I had become as a person.

I began to realize that my Muslim identity could not rest in the pious observance of the laws or memorization of certain points of dogma.  I found myself following a social ritual that did not make sense to me anymore.  This was the trend towards a contextualized morality in terms of social interactions.  I had to define for myself how I would interact with the civil society around me as a New Yorker and with the polity as a whole in as for as my being American.  But in this I had to be true to myself.  I could not pretend to despise homosexuals for a lifestyle that was different from mine.  I could not mock Christians and Jews for their beliefs.  I could not sever my relationships with individuals that I held as sacred simply because they were female and not married or related to me.  These were absolute morals that I simply never truly held.

So the trend towards a contextualized morality was the beginning of an understanding that laws and dogma did not define my identity as being Muslim.  Rather, there was a history, a set of peoples, food, clothing, literature and scientific achievements that formed the core of my Muslim identity.  In addition to this, the discovery of the five higher objectives (faith, life, intellect, wealth and the future generations) and Islam’s intention to protect these objectives became the basis of my contextualized morality.  The issue became an effort to be true to these five higher objectives in a context of being American by nationality, New Yorker by locality and immersed in a pluralistic society that included freethinkers, non-Muslims, homosexuals, women and any other category different from me.  It meant being true to the values within my immediate context and not true to the laws as established by earlier Imams.

This was the shift from an absolute morality to a contextualized morality with respect to social interactions.

Written by sajedbhandari

March 1, 2010 at 3:52 am