Sajed Bhandari

America, Books, Cooking, Muslims and some other things

Archive for the ‘General Muslim Issues’ Category

Book Review: Lipstick Jihad

Book Review: Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in American and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni


Who: Azadeh Moaveni is an Iranian-American woman who wrote this book after living for a few years in Tehran.  She worked as a journalist for Time magazine in Iran.

What: It is a memoir by an Iranian-American woman struggling to reconcile her Iranian heritage with her life in America.  She travels and lives in Iran to discover what being Iranian means to her.  The bulk of the book takes place in Iran, as she covers the life of the youth underneath clerical rule in Iran as well as discovering where her “home” is.

When: Takes place during the Khatami years and ends right after September 11th.

Where: Mostly in Iran, but touches upon her life in California, New York, Cairo and Beirut.

Why: To understand herself.  In the process, she offers a glimpse and critique of Iranian life without it being a thinly veiled, neo-conservative attack on Iran and Iranians (what a lot of other memoirs seem to be about).

Recommendation: My favorite book I have read this year.  READ IT.

Comments: I tagged too many pages in this book, as there were countless passages that touched upon the frustration I feel with conservative society, the façade of piety that forced religiosity creates, but also the beauty that does exist in so many Muslim societies.  The ending of the memoir is particularly powerful as Azadeh talks about the immediate aftermath of being Muslim in America after the terrorist attacks.  There is too much to say about this book, but my rule on book reviews is to keep them short, not be pretentious and encourage you to read for yourself.  Definitely read it.


Written by sajedbhandari

November 23, 2010 at 7:39 am

On Muslim Public Intellectual Culture in America

On Muslim Public Intellectual Culture in America

Sajed Bhandari

            It is exciting being Muslim in America these days.  Since the terrorist attacks in 2001, Muslims in general, and Muslim-Americans in particular have been the focus of much media coverage (most of it negative).  It is nothing novel to say that many American Muslims are looking to reconcile their ancient faith with their new homeland due to an external pressure to create a new identity.  Much of this collective soul-searching comes with the territory of being a new immigrant group or emerging minority in America.  America does powerful things to the people who have the fortune of immigrating here, and Muslim-Americans are no different in this regard.  The experience of Catholic and Jewish immigrants and their struggle for indigenization, their struggle for normalization in the American context, in its essence was not very different from the current struggle that Muslims are facing.  Muslims have much to study about the indigenization process of their earlier counterparts.  They have much to learn about what it means for them in their new homeland and what it means for the rest of the Muslim World.  This collective soul-searching connected with a 1400-year history of public intellectualism, I think, has created the vibrant public life that exists for so many Muslims in America. 

            I would be delusional if I was arguing that all American Muslims are consciously forging a new identity for themselves.  Many go about their days going to school, trying to find a career and the normal trappings of modern day life.  All they want is a good job, a good family and a good way to live the rest of their days.  In all honesty, they may even be the great majority of Muslims in America.  But for many of us, (and most of my friends), we each have searched for what it means to be Muslim and American.  This question has many answers and it provides the necessary environment for the public intellectual culture that Muslim-Americans enjoy.  A friend of mine, before he converted, spoke to me about how interesting he thought it was that college age Muslim students would take time out of their busy schedules to go for two weekend seminars with Al Maghrib to learn about a certain aspect of their religion. 

The various MSA’s do a great job of connecting young Muslims with many clerics who were born and raised in America and an increasing amount that also received much of their clerical training in America.  Secular and progressive Muslim figures, such as Khaled Abou Fadl, Omid Safi, Vali Nasr and the various local individuals hold vibrant circles and gatherings, connecting less orthodox Muslims with a different form of Islamic studies; a form less didactic and authoritarian.  Sufis sit around their leaders in an upstate New York mosque listening to him speak about the love of God and the love for man.  Closer to home, in that New York City university, the American-trained Imam teaches his students about how to be more humble, how to serve their community, how to be constructive members of this republic.  Salafis sit in mosques packed with their friends and fellow students, listening to a Sheikh who after finishing his sacred studies in the Middle East started his PhD in religious studies at Yale University.  More traditional minded Muslims sit cross-legged on lush carpets in front of a black convert, who served in the Air Force, taking notes on their newly bought iPAd in sunny California.  Just at my local mosque, an organizer from Atlanta came up north and spoke to a PACKED house (literally a house) of men and women, boys and girls, about the injustices of domestic abuse.  He quoted verses from the Quran, critiqued arguments of some classical scholars, and brought real life examples of his struggle with counseling abused Muslim women in Georgia.  Various statistics and cases from psychiatric studies dotted the young organizer’s speech to the Muslim public. 

In conclusion, the diversity in thought and the passion with which so many of my friends approach their identity search, I hope will continue to foster the vibrant public intellectual life of Muslim-Americans.  I did not write this entry in order to say Muslims are some how unique in this experience.  I did write this entry however, to express the hope I have in our community, a community diverse in thought and skin colors, diverse in belief and in practice, a community of individuals that will embrace both their ancient Muslim heritage (in whatever form the individual sees appropriate) and their proud American one.  I am very hopeful and ever the optimist.  For my friends who are not so active in this public life, the only thing I can say is get out and find what works for you!  Not everyone is going to be a Salafi.  Not everyone is going to be a Sufi.  Not everyone is going to find peace in secular and progressive Muslim circles.  Not everyone will find what he or she is looking for from the Shia clerics.  It’s not so important to me where you go to find answers to your identity; what is important to me is that you realize that there is something out there for you.  As Ali (RA) said, “There is enough light for he who wants to see.” 

Do not sit idly as history is made around you.

Written by sajedbhandari

November 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

“About Stony Brook”

“About Stony Brook”

Sajed Bhandari

What can I say about Stony Brook?  What can I Say about the Muslims there?  What can anyone say about what gave birth to who they are?  What can a person say about what created them?  Only God can speak of creation with the authority of its author.  Someone asked me what happened to those questions I asked at Stony Brook, those empty months after I had left its campus.  My years there, I never knew you really. I saw you walking about, I read the articles you wrote.  I never really knew you though.  Well I never really spoke to you until that day I questioned you.  You asked me why is it that I have not written that article.  I have written so much since that day, that day I visited my old campus.  I have written a book, shitty poems, articles and essays.  But not those words.  Not the answers to those questions I asked.  Yes I was busy with school, yes I was busy with my family in places so far away from where I would call my home.  Yes I was busy with all things that occupy the mind and time of any individual in this world.  I said to you through the most disconnected of means that I was busy with something else other than writing that article.  My answer, my friend, and I call you a friend because you know like any other and like myself, what this life is really about and what this struggle is about.  My answer then is that question I asked in the beginning.  How can anyone write about what gave them life?  Any effort to describe life, life really as what it is, is a futile task.  We write about things we can understand apart from ourselves.

I cannot understand my experience, my four years at that campus, in that town apart from myself.  The teachers I had met, the friends, the fans, the objects of beauty and of desire, I only really found at that small town, so east of anything.  I remember those moments in sujood, those doubt-filled prostrations to my God.  Those moments, my head on the ground towards a distant land, a land of my spiritual forefathers, those lands of an apostle I would never meet in this world.  Stony Brook, that room in that decrepit and aging building. That small, tiny room.  I spent so many moments with my head on the ground feeling so close to something other than myself, to my brothers I bowed with, to those sisters behind the barrier.  To God and to myself, yes to myself.  I felt so at home, so far away from those who gave birth to me, to those who lived in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and struggled with me side by side.  That small town, by the port, by the sound, by the bodies of water and by the suburbs that surrounded it.  You asked me why I did not write that article?  I did not write that article yet because I am not ready.  I am not ready to truly write down how I felt those years, those months, those autumns and those moments along the roads that furrowed through that campus.  This is not a poem to Stony Brook; I am not a poet and I am poor in my words.  This article, these words, they are my lament.  I wish to write about my time there, I wish to write about the questions I asked all of you.   I will one day.  I do not promise often and I do not promise much.  I do promise you all that I will write one day.

I questioned you all.  Those doctors, those lawyers, those accountants and those leaders of this world who will one day bring us to salvation.  Salvation, not in some distant world after death, but rather salvation, of comfort and of peace in this world, in this lifetime in this consciousness.  I will write to you all one day.  But, I am not ready yet to part with my life there.  I shudder at the idea of having to explain even one thought I had in those walls, those roads, and those windy moments of existence underneath a Stony Brook autumn.  I hesitate because how can an illiterate and utter hopeless fakir as myself even begin to write about my life there?  I took notes of what you all said, I listened carefully, and I lived the experience with you.  I attempted to write sentences and paragraphs about that night with you all.  I truly tried and I tried and for the first time in my short and long life, I failed at writing a thing.  I failed because, to you it was one night, a weekend night, empty and desolate as Stony Brook gets get during the weekends.  I failed because to you all it was one night an older, somewhat familiar face returned and distracted us for a few hours.  I failed because even though all I was, all I really was, was a distraction.  I failed because with all the good and the beautiful that I have experienced, my life there, my life in those academic and social walls, truly created me.

I say I will write one day about those questions I asked you all.  I never promise things.  But I do promise that I will write, about the questions I asked and about the answers you offered.

Written by sajedbhandari

September 16, 2010 at 11:26 am

Thoughts on Rima Fakih

leave a comment »

“ Thoughts on Rima Fakih ”

Sajed Bhandari

Watching a breaking news piece on TV, I automatically say to myself, oh God don’t let him be Muslim.  I was on Yahoo News the other day and saw a picture of Rima Fakih.  For some reason, I had a similar reaction.  After realizing she didn’t blow anything up and instead, she had won Miss USA, I was relieved and happy for her.   I also however felt bad for her.  Not only was she going to get the garbage that Islamophobes give to any Muslim in the public eye, but she would not be supported by a great portion of the Muslim-American community.  I would like to present three of my thoughts on Rima Fakih’s win in the Miss USA Pageant.  The thoughts are on Rima Fakih’s contribution to Muslim-American soft power, Islamophobic attacks on Rima and Rima being a symbol for an alternative image of the Muslim-American woman.

I have spent a lot of my conscious life watching stand up comedians.  Stand up comedians that come from a minority group tend to make a lot of jokes about both external and internal stereotype of said group.  This allows members of that group to address certain social issues that arise in their groups as well as neutralizing any perceived threats the greater society may have about that specific group.  This was the beginning of my understanding of soft power.  Rima has contributed greatly to Muslim-American soft power with her win in the Miss USA pageant.  I do not know much about beauty pageants, but I know that the winners are expected to travel and give speeches on empowering girls and achieving your dreams.  It is important to have a Muslim-American woman contributing to such virtuous discourses and being in the public eye while providing this service.  In providing an empowering message to girls around the country, Rima will become a role model for many.   The benefits that the Muslim-American community as a whole will receive by a Muslim-American woman providing such a service to so many of the youth are self evident.

Secondly, I was not shocked, but nonetheless saddened to see the reaction of a lot of the conservative media personalities.  As mentioned, the reactions were not surprising.  Some accused her of having ties to Hezbollah while others said that it was conspiracy theories that lead to her winning.  I will not dwell on these issues because as a general rule, I try to think of conservatives as little as possible and secondly, I do not wish to taint this positive event.  I will say however, that this linking of public Muslim figures to terrorism needs to be addressed for what it is, racism and Islamophobia.  But that is for another article.

Thirdly, Rima offers an alternative image of what a Muslim woman is.  I know many of us delude ourselves into thinking Muslim women are all chaste individuals covered in colorful or solid black bed sheets.  That is a very nice delusion to have, but the reality is there are also many Muslim women who do not wear hijab nor subscribe to traditional understandings of modesty in dress.  Rima is an example of a woman who can embrace her Muslim heritage, but not have to wrap herself in the hijab in the process.  It is a much more telling image of many Muslim women in America than the deluded idea that all Muslim women wear the veil and lower their gaze as they walk by.

In conclusion, I am happy for Rima.  She has achieved a dream of hers that I am sure she has had since she was a child.  I only wish success for her.  I am proud that America will be represented by a Muslim woman in the international scene.  I hope that she has a bright future.  She can only bring benefit to the Muslim-American community and my only hope is that as she continues to succeed, she publicly embraces her heritage.

Written by sajedbhandari

May 19, 2010 at 1:54 am

Watch this and Implement it.

leave a comment »

The scholars of the deen say that knowledge is not that which is memorized, but that which benefits.  Knowledge will only benefit if you put it into action.  So, get active…

Written by sajedbhandari

April 26, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Another letter to Dr. Abou El Fadl

leave a comment »

Salam Alaikum,

I want to start off by apologizing to you. I met you once in December 1997 at the Islamic Center of Southern California, it was an MPAC retreat or something similar I believe. I felt very uncomfortable at that center because of the blatantly unlawful “mixing” of men and women. I had been accustomed to and very comfortable with the fact that essentially women are a great “fitnah”, similar to days as a 6 year old in elementary school when women (girls) were to be avoided because they had cooties. For some reason the former reason seemed mature and the latter childish. I heard a series of uncomfortable talks about Muslims needing to be a part of America and reexamine themselves bla bla bla, though I found them uncomfortable because they were given by people who weren’t veiled, I listened because they were given by people who were similar to me and I just felt had been misguided by a place of great fitnah, as the Islamic Center of Southern California. You also gave a talk there and I felt an heir of superiority when I heard Maher Hathout introduce you as a graduate of Islamic Studies at Pennsylvania and Yale. Pennsylvania and Yale? Ah this man is no doubt a sell out to the West unable to maintain his Muslim identity, a grand part of the Zionist conspiracy to prevent Muslims from sticking to their “deen.” I completely ignored you and felt a large lull of arrogance in me. This was an arrogance I deserved to have because I knew everything about Islam from the 20 or so lectures ranging from the all encompassing Hassan Al-Banna’s 20 points to the halal meat controversy that I had listened to by engineers in our local Islamic Center here. It did not bother me that in Surat Al-Jathiya Allah says that Arrogance is only for Him or the warning of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that any one with a mustard seed of arrogance in their heart will not enter Jannah. It also did not bother me that I too was getting my education at a Western University and I too could be a sell out to the west. Naturally, this was because my education was in Computer Science and not in Islam and that CS was a science I could comfortably learn from the “Kuffar.” I unlike you however, would never resort to learning the deen from “them”. In essence, I was like the snobby 13 year old brat who harassed his siblings persistently, as you describe yourself as once being.

Anyways, back to my apology, when you came and spoke, I looked in your eyes and saw a man who was frustrated by the ignorance of those around him, of course from his own ignorance no doubt. I want to apologize for not giving you the respect that a human being should give another human being, much less one that is much more learned than he is.

I left that weekend and returned home where I continued reveling in the comfort of Zionist conspiracies and penetrating lectures about the “misguided” people who would wet toilet paper and then use it to clean themselves after defecating when Shari a clearly states the object must be either dry or water, followed by a sarcastic comment “Wet tissue paper is neither dry nor water it is … pizza” audience “ha ha, oh Sheikh you are too funny.” I laughing along with them. No doubt from then on I would be more careful about my defecation techniques lest I be amongst the misguided.

“Sheikh, what do you think of soccer and basketball and such things? The Prophet (PBUH) allowed us horseback riding, swimming, archery etc. But such new sports are obvioulsy ‘Laghu’ and in Surat Al-Muminoon it says ‘wa latheen hum 3n illaghu mu3ridoon'” And then I would think to myself, oh he’s an old man, Islam is for all times and places, other sports can be included to fit modern times. For you see, I was open minded. I am told Muslims can have differing opinions. For instance, some scholars allowed the Wudu’ to be wiped on only leather socks while others (liberals) allowed for cotton as well, not withstanding the controversy of if there is a hole in the sock.

I listened to Sheikhs analyze the problems of American life by citing the two top problems Muslim youth were facing: An inability to articulate Quran with proper Tajweed, and lack of Hijab on the girls. I wasn’t aware of it, (I basically caged myself in from reality) but most of these youth, whose “dawa” skills “sheikhs” were concerned about, were shooting up, drinking, and engaging in sexual maladies of different kinds. This is of course a problem that does not need to be dealt with except by reminding people it is haram. Muslims, do not have these problems because “Islam is the solution.” And the Quran already solved these problems 1400 years ago. We can help, by making sure our mosques at least have a complete separation of the sexes and that Muslim children don’t mingle between sexes. I wonder how they are supposed to meet that Muslim spouse of the future. It never occurs to anyone that perhaps by not offering healthy solutions to these natural tendencies, Muslim youth are either being driven to complete repression (the option I vied for), or to living dual lives. Parents of these kids may be surprised to find that their children would seek marriage from outside the community, though it should really not come as a surprise to them. Its strange, instead of Islam being the solution, we changed it to “Muslims are the problem”

We were taught that even having only Muslim friends is misconception, but to have only GOOD Muslim friends (someone with a PhD told me this). As of late I began noticing how immature Muslims were for closing doors on themselves from the outside world. Muslim kids put through Islamic school to help them “maintain an Islamic Identity” and hear the Adhan all day, graduated, and all went to the same public high school where they socialized with each other exclusively, and did not mature as such. I noticed 16 year old Muslim boys (mostly graduates of the Islamic School) playing freeze-tag in the parking lot of the Mosque, a proud site indeed, for their identities had been preserved?

Anyways, I also want to thank you because It was an excerpt from one of your books that a friend of mine read to me that I felt took a shield off of my head and allowed one of God’s greatest gifts to function, my brain. Prior, Hassan Al-Banna, was the only person who could analyze problems in American Life. Muslim life in America is to be seen by this man who lived in Egypt 70 years ago. We are not to just take his moral insights and inspiration from his dedication, but we are to actually do the exact same things he did in a different society. Thus, I heard Sheikhs treading the “controversial” waters of Saint Worship and bizarre Sufi excesses, issues which of course have zero relevance to anyone they are being addressed to. We had been taught that anyone not holding up Al-Banna’s poster (or holding other posters besides) was a traitor to Islam. That excerpt from your book helped me make the distinction between criticizing Islam and what Muslims have done. Since then, I have valued the reading of books (written in the 20th century by people whose biggest issue is not the nature of halal meat or the amount of eye and forehead women can expose in public). I have read “Conference of the Books” and “The Authoritative and Authoritarian: Islamic Law and Women.” I’ve also ordered your reader from the UCLA library and read most of the articles in it. I’m too anxious to wait for the publication of your “Reasoning with God Book” in the states so I’ve ordered it from in England. It should be arriving in the next couple of weeks. I have read other books by Fazlur Rahman, Esack, Armstrong, Lewis, Esposito, Hashmi, Ghazali, and others as well as some classical books. This is quite a shift from someone who loathed reading all through his life and whose mosque religious training had taught him to be scared of any books except the Quran, Bukhari, Kitab al Kaba’ir, Riyadh us Saliheen and for a taste of Islamic Thought in modern times, Sayyid Qutb’s, Milestones. One “Imam” when asked about a prescribed reading list even said “we know everything in Bukhari is authentic, read that, and drink it.” I can not imagine someone who is allegedly trained in Islamic Scholarship would ask laymen to read Bukhari without any training, no less to just “drink it.”

I have learned reading is the only way to learn about this religion because Islamic Centers strive to make us ignorant and shallow minded (whether purposely or not) with regards religion and life in general.

I have been disillusioned by Mosque Politics, which are similar to the lunchroom politics of 8 year olds sitting at the “cool table” in the cafeteria. The institiution of the “fiqh session” makes my stomach curdle. “Sheikh, is music halal” “Wallah, there is dissension among the scholars, some allow it if it does not incite fitnah, some allow just the drum, and some completely forbid it, but truly no Muslim would think of listening to music when they know of the tragedy of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya? How can anyone face Allah having enjoyed themselves in these matters in such dire times?” Quite a display of Jurisprudence I must say. I struggle to listen to khutbahs and control myself from outburst. Anyways I keep rambling. I know you are a busy man and I thank you for taking the time to read my email. I hope my little quip will show you another example that your writings are not just theories hovering in academia but are encouraging others to reexamine themselves and their communities, and are having an impact. I ask Allah to give you and others like you patience to continue your work in helping to resurrect Islamic Intellect and Civilization and I ask that he keeps you humble to him and protects you from the plots of extremists and ignoramuses. Thank you for everything you do, and for helping me open my mind to reality instead of self-inflicted delusions.

Salam Alaikum

Written by sajedbhandari

April 25, 2010 at 11:53 pm

A letter to Dr. Abou El Fadl by Anonymous

leave a comment »

Dear Dr. Abou El Fadl,

I recently finished Conference of the Books and wanted to thank you for your inspiring work. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you as a progressive Muslim scholar in the 21st Century. I thank God that you have the courage to keep the intellectual fires burning in a dark age. For many years, I have been drawn to the Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the legacy of early Islam. At the same time, I have been repulsed by the modern ugliness you describe so well in your book. I often despair for the state of the Muslim world. When I read your work, I feel there may be some room for hope — perhaps even some room in Islam for people like me, who feel the truth of the Prophet’s message, but cannot accept that embracing a religion would mean surrendering our intellects at the door of the mosque. Honestly, I’m not sure I will ever find the courage to visit an American mosque or even be open about my faith, but I fasted my first Ramadan this year. I took Shahada in my heart and have kept up daily prayers. As I approach age forty, it is frightening to be starting such a journey, especially considering my thoroughly Western upbringing, but then I consider that the Prophet received revelation at this age, and he too was frightened. With God’s help, anything is possible. I just wanted you to know that your writing has been a wedge keeping the door of Islam open for me, despite the enormous pressure of ugliness and intolerance, and for that I thank you.

Sincerely, [Name withheld by request]

Written by sajedbhandari

April 25, 2010 at 11:52 pm