Monday, May 25, 2015

Spiritual Journey: For non-Muslims and Muslims.

Until we truly understand "la ilaha," how can we understand "il Allah"?

Every single person born on this earth is a Divine Being. While Christianity teaches that all human beings are born flawed, Islam teaches that all human beings are born perfect, sinless.
All human beings have access to their Higher Self if they choose to seek it. Seeking refuge in your Higher Self does not mean that your Lower Self is not real. It just means that your selfish or satanic urges are less important to you. When you sprinkle a teaspoon of salt into your drink, it will take away the sweetness, but if you put a teaspoon of salt into your bath, it will not affect much. Imagine if you put a teaspoon of salt into the ocean, nobody would notice it at all! The best way to deal with evil in your personal life is to make it a very small part of your life.
Instead of worrying about our problems we have to get used to dealing with them and even planning ahead for them to arise.
"Those who are first on the battlefield and await the opponents are at ease; those who are the last on the battlefield and head into battle get worn out. Therefore good warriors cause others to come to them, and do not go to others," wrote Sun Tzu in "The Art of War," a Japanese classic from around 500 BC.
This could mean many things on different levels but those who are at peace with the concept that life is all about struggle are at ease, while those who delay are unlikely to attain any victory.
I open a page of the book by Lao Tzu named Tao Te Ching. "It is easy to maintain a situation while it is still secure."
Lao Tzu is said to be an older teacher of Confucius who was a Chinese philosopher also around 500 BC. Totally different country, same insight. We are most at ease when we are maintaining a situation or position, whether it's military, financial or emotional.
It's not that Asian knowledge is so unique or special but rather that it just makes sense when you think about it. Presumably, these sages were drawing upon centuries of past teachings.
The same thing when we read from the Quran. Although this book is only 1400 years old, it discusses stories and concepts that go back to the BC era. A very large portion of the Quran is dedicated to discussing the Laws of Moses and the Teachings of Christ. I think Moses was supposed to have lived about 2000 BC and Jesus around the year 0. The Buddha is also said to have reformed India from its paganism around 5 BC. The scriptural teachings of the Buddha and Jesus tend to overlap. The spiritual goal of selflessness seems to be the common path.
Shaykh Hakim Moinuddin Chishti writes in the book, "Sufi Healing," that "In its progression through life, the physical body passes through stages from infancy to youth, adulthood and old age. Similarly, the soul passes through specific evolutionary stages or stations."
These are described as the Station of Egotism, the Heart, the Pure Spirit, the Divine Secrets, the Proximity to Allah, and lastly, the Station of Union with the Beloved. There is some philosophical overlap between this and the 7 chakras, which are physical energy centers along the human spine. Knowledge of the chakras is essential for directing healing energy into specific realms. Direction of light into the crown chakra is said to be equivalent to spiritual enlightenment or God-consciousness.
Nowadays people are trying to find spiritual meaning beyond what their parents thought they should strive for. Even if they all agree that Paradise is the goal, their plan of action may differ.
"O chivalrous youth! If tomorrow you go to paradise and you look at it from the corner of your heart's eye, in truth, in truth, you will have fallen short of Adam's aspiration. Something that your father sold for a grain of wheat - why would you want to settle down there?" writes Said al-Din Farghani, a disciple of Ibn al Arabi's stepson, Sadr al-Din Qunawi, in the 13th century.
Therefore our entire idea of paradise could be suspect. We need to let go and experience something like spiritual exile and abandonment, until we find our true home. We can only do this by disbelieving all that we have ever been told. "La ilaha" means rejection of all false gods. It means repudiating this world and all its glittery offerings and falsehoods.
Until we truly understand "la ilaha," how can we understand "il Allah." The Asian concept of Taoism, for example yin-yang, gives us the language of balance and opposites. 'There is no god' is like the night. 'except Allah' is like the daylight. You need both for the 24 hour cycle to exist. It is just as important to doubt everything as it is to believe. Otherwise, your belief has no meaning.
Whether we are doing yoga or doing salat, the aim is spiritual Oneness. May we all be strengthened in our spiritual practices however small, so that we may see the Great.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

When is lying cultural?

Photo credit:  Photodune

This week, I am thinking about a certain type of lie, that I do not understand because I didn’t grow up with. In the Anglo-Saxon-American culture, yes means yes, no means no and it’s ok to say, “I don’t know yet.” If I personally were to tell a lie, it would only be a deliberate attempt to get away with something that I don’t want the other to know about. But I would never say, “I’ll meet you at 3:00 inshallah” and not show up!
What purpose does this type of lying serve, and what is going through the mind of the person doing it? Avoiding conflict? Is it really so important to be agreeable that you would then inconvenience the person? Your word is your honor! If you habitually lie about things that don’t even matter much, where is the person inside you that another person can connect with? Or is there just a persona?
Some people lie habitually. I have noticed certain cultures don’t like to say no, or they don’t want to disappoint you, or they don’t want to get in a deep discussion about what they can and cannot offer versus what they want. To me, honest back and forth is the basis of relationship!
For example, someone has been doing this to me repeatedly. It could be anything from “What are you doing today?” to “Do you want to buy a house together?” But it’s usually a friendly attempt on my part to coordinate plans, goals and dreams. The person will respond agreeably, then after a while, will stop responding. Then when confronted, will make up a story, and the previous conversation dead ends. Or, when asked a simple yes or no question, would not answer, and then again make up a story about not getting the text or some other excuse.
It’s clearly meant to avoid a certain type of discussion. There might be a miscommunication or misunderstanding about coordination of plans vs. having time (two separate issues in my mind).
The other thing some do is becoming silent to send a message of displeasure rather than just stating what the problem is, putting the other person in the position of having to read your mind.
This irritating behavior can be frustrating. Are they arrogantly neglecting our need to communicate? …or maybe they haven’t said the simple truth throughout their entire life?
“Many cultures don’t have the same black and white standard of Americans,” advised Ashley Jones, who has been in a cross cultural marriage for the last eight years and enjoys hosting foreign exchange students in her home.
“You want to have a yes/no black/white conversation which is very American style. I know I have come to a place where I get more direct when I need a definite answer from my students. I guess those cultures have much looser definition of lying. I don’t think it is a lie specifically to deceive with malice but more of saving face or not wanting to disappoint. I think when dealing cross culturally, we have to give grace and adjust our expectations.”
Not only is there an East-West conflict about communication styles, but in both cultures men often engage in attempts at female appeasement to avoid upsetting her rather than just discussing the situation as they would do with a male friend. Maybe some of this weird communication style has to do with sexism. Some men don’t view women as someone you coordinate together with; it can be more about mutually pleasing each other rather than working together as a team. Women can be loved deeply but are not always part of decisions.
Some cultures, due to political oppression, may also have an exaggerated fear of being accused, resulting in overreaction. If you are sensitive to being interrogated by the police, you might overreact to your wife asking for attention. Even a normal question like “Are you home?” might make a man feel obligated to do whatever she wants or she will be upset.
“To a large degree, I have noticed this phenomenon in East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. This is a desire, both for the sake of courtesy and avoidance of conflict. To put it mildly, it can be frustrating when one is engaged in negotiation or evenly simply trying to plan social events. Obviously, cultural programming, of ANY variety, is a tricky issue to deal with, particularly when it has been absorbed into spiritual and religious practice,” Christian Zedd told TMO. His parents worked in Iran from 1974-1978 when he was aged 12-16. 
“Truth be told, we ALL carry our upbringing’s cultural inheritance with us. About the best we can do, corny as it sounds, is call them as we see them and play the cards as they’re dealt, recognizing that we don’t all have the same cards.
Basically, the closer the relationship, the more important it is to clarify the terms and values. One can work or chat with just about anyone on the planet. For something like marriage or a business partnership, there had better be virtual identity of values and focus. That would boil down to one’s faith and the role of faith in one’s life.”
“Why do Lovers Lie?” on states: “When interdependence is high, telling the truth is important. Telling the truth allows people to coordinate their actions, create intimacy and closeness. But, interdependence also makes deception more likely. Because partners expect and demand a lot from us, telling the truth carries more risk.
“Telling the truth in a close relationship can lead to increased conflict, negativity and it can restrain one’s goals (i.e., “you can’t do that”). As it stands, both telling the truth and deception are needed to make a relationship work. Intimacy requires honesty, but complete honesty tears couples apart. Finding the right balance, can be difficult for many couples to do.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Was the Boston Bombing case a Show Trial?:

Eyewitness Account: Questions that were not asked.

On the morning of the verdict, April 8, 2015 in front of the courthouse, there were old ladies passing out anti-death penalty literature based on Roman Catholicism; Veterans for Peace were there with their white flag holding signs about "blowback," and later on an Islamophobe with his face covered with an American flag held a sign saying,""Dzokhar Tsarnaev was not a follower. He is just another Islamic terrorist declaring war against (kafirs mean infidels) Non-Muslims people. He is just trying to please his god (Satan)" and something about "Islamofascism."

There were many many intimidating looking police and Homeland Security vehicles preventing any traffic in front of the courthouse, guards, police dogs and many cameramen.

As expected, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty. He did not react with any emotion. He seemed to be "not there," leading many to speculate that he had been heavily drugged. Throughout the trial, his eyes looked kind of strange.

It was still astonishing that he was found guilty of all 30 charges, including the bomb that his brother is said to have placed down, and the death of the police officer that was already determined to be shot by "friendly fire" during the chaos at Watertown. He was also found guilty of killing the MIT police officer even though investigators only claim to have found his brother's fingerprints on the gun. The entire trial was carefully controlled, with defense lawyers looking to the judge for permission to speak, witnesses looking to the CIA and FBI officers for cues.

The big elephant in the room was all the questions that were not allowed to be asked. The defense was not allowed to ask whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was even armed when officers pumped more than 100 bullets into the boat where he was hiding.There is definitely some huge cover-up going on, something that the government does not want coming out! It was a show trial.

"The prosecution and the defense have been doing a startling job. They are amazing. I've covered a lot of trials and it's absolutely the best tried trial I've ever seen in my life. The choice of witnesses ... the timing of the prosecution's case, was unbelievably good," commented Russian author Masha Gesser. "But structurally it's not the role of the American justice system to find the truth. The American justice system administers punishment. It does not conduct inquests and it does not find facts."

The FBI's failure to protect the public "is either grounds for indicting the Bureau for incompetence, or it is an indication that these brothers were, like thousands of others, caught up in some web of provocation, either as plot infiltrators or informants," writes Russ Baker.

Those who have been paying attention are still scratching their heads at all the things that made no sense, like why Tsarnaev would calmly spend several minutes in the store deciding which snacks to buy, while his brother held a man at gunpoint in a hijacked vehicle. Or why they thought it would be better to hijack a car when they already had a car. Or why they would kill a cop in order to get his gun, when they already had a gun.

A skeptic I talked to at the courthouse speculated that the Mossad, whose Israeli agents had immediately swooped into Boston to capitalize on the post-bombing situation, had created the diversion by killing the officer in order to steal classified information from MIT.

"What also doesn't make sense is for the prosecution to omit a chunk of time from that video, which can clearly be observed in the video linked above (as evidence by the timestamp and the cars passing on the upper left corner of the video). There is really no need to edit out any part of the video if everything happened exactly as the prosecution has described it," writes Klaus Marre of

The prosecutors had justified this video editing as saving the jury's time, but they had not cared about wasting hours and hours of the jury's time listening to irrelevant testimony. Most Americans are not asking these questions. They are debating what the best punishment for the little terrorist should be, based on what would hurt him more. There is a vicious lynch mob mentality that is seething with hate and anti-Muslim prejudice.

If it were really true that Jahar bombed the marathon in retaliation for US war victims, which we know nothing about except from a note that mysteriously appeared three weeks later in the boat where he was captured, then the American people are the ones who should feel the most remorse! Because the American people would thus be morally responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing. Their eyes should be wet with tears of shame for the suffering that they have caused to innocent people, and thanksgiving to God that only four people were killed this time.

Instead, the event has served to create a fascist public mentality, to create support for ongoing killing of Muslims around the world and strip away civil freedoms at home.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Did Jesus Die?

The most religiously significant Christian holiday, Good Friday is upon us; celebrated as the day that Jesus was tortured and then crucified by the Roman regime. Many old churches in Europe are decorated with very gory pictures of his suffering, generally called “The Passion of Christ.” While some might view him as one of many prophets who were killed by the government for the political content of his sermons, Christians take a mythical view, that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, and that understanding his story of sacrifice absolves mankind of their own sins.
The Quranic take on individual responsibility is a bit different.
“Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it.” (Quran, 99:7-8)
The amazing historical legends surrounding the man’s death – or non-death – are incredibly varied. While Catholics believe that Jesus literally died around 3pm and was buried that night, in early Christianity there were many disputes among sects as to whether or not Jesus died and then his soul ascended, or whether he was actually raised up to heaven a moment before death, or whether the entire scenario was staged, and a false person executed in his place, after which Jesus went on roaming the world teaching! Islam is also filled with similar disputes. Many Muslims literally believe that the wrong person got executed and some sects even teach that the real Jesus wandered all the way to India and died a natural death there, though locals claim that grave to be that of a Muslim saint. Regardless of the truth, Jesus is not here to defend himself.
“Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take you and raise you to Myself and clear you (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith, until the Day of Resurrection: Then you will all return unto Me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.’” (Quran 3:55)
The Quran, without describing the event in any detail, confirms that God raised Jesus to Himself. The belief that Jesus is alive with God, then, is common to Muslims and Christians. In response to the enemies of God, the Quran says:
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah” – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” (Quran 4:157-8)
On face value this would appear to be a legal argument or perhaps an emotional reaction, but according to Ibn Kathir, whose work is considered authentic by traditional Sunni scholars:
Ibn Abbas said, said, “Just before Allah raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, ‘There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.’ He then asked, ‘Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place. Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Paradise).’ One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, ‘You will be that man,’ and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof of the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him.” Al-Nasa’i, Al-Kubra, 6:489
While this an interesting scenario, it is not clearly described that way in the Quran. When it is said that he appeared to die but he did not die, one could take a philosophical approach, taking into account another verse from the Quran:
“Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. They rejoice in the Bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve. They glory in the Grace and Bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffereth not the reward of the faithful to be lost (in the least).” (Quran 3:169-171)
In a very real sense, every person who is tortured to death or killed by or because of any government died for all of our sins and because of our sins, because we failed to make a decent world.  
Nevertheless, every man is responsible for his own actions and the consequences. Nobody else can die in order to absolve our sins. We are not responsible for the sins of others. What we are responsible for, in this life, is how sincerely we tried to understand and implement Christ’s teachings.
What did he tell us to do? That is key.
“O you who believe! Be helpers of Allah: as said Jesus the son of Mary to the Disciples, “Who will be my helpers for (the work of) Allah?” Said the Disciples, “We are Allah’s helpers!” then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: But We gave power to those who believed against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed.” (Quran 61:14)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Matanov Pleads Guilty

On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, a terribly sad and terrified looking 24 year old Khairullozhon Matanov entered a “guilty” plea to accusations that he had lied to the FBI about the extent of his friendship with Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev. He had also deleted his search history from his computer, knowing that the FBI would soon be visiting. Because his lies and deletions were irrelevant to the Boston bombing investigation - he had lied about things like whether or not he ran into the brothers at a local halal restaurant, or if he drove them there, and everything he deleted was public information - he had long maintained his innocence of any criminal action. He had lied out of nervousness, not out of a desire to impede the bombing investigation; in fact he was the first person to go to the police to identify the brothers when their photos came on TV.

“I know who they are, but I don’t think they did it,” he told the police.

The tragedy of this case is that hundreds of people knew who those brothers were, but they did not say anything. And none of them are being prosecuted. This should tell us that it is always a bad idea to cooperate with any FBI request, even if you sincerely want to be helpful.

At the first hearing I attended for the young Matanov last year, the government had made many insinuations about his many generous wire transfers overseas to his family, “wondering” if he was funding terrorists. But since then all these transfers have apparently been accounted for, so the government was left with nothing but the obstruction of justice charges, which the judge himself noted were immaterial. The slimy government prosecutor made up for this by threatening “terrorism enhancements,” which could bring his maximum sentence from 20 years to 37!

Judge Young took a lot of time speaking directly to Matanov, making sure he understood the charges, that he understood that he is considered innocent until proven guilty, that he has a right to a trial, that he understood what he was agreeing to and what he was giving up by pleading guilty. It sounded like the judge was trying to talk him out of it. Matanov hesitated many times, consulting with his lawyer, before he went through with it, while wiping tears from his eyes.

He told the judge he felt he was innocent but he didn't want to go to trial and risk spending decades in prison, so he was accepting the deal. He really didn't want to plead guilty. He had written me in many letters how much pressure he was under. The government wanted him to work as an informant and told him they would let him go free today if he would agree. He refused. Then they said they would reduce his sentence to 7 years if he pled guilty. He refused. He wrote to me that his father was an honorable man and his grandfather was an honorable man and he would never plead guilty. However, during a prison visit he sadly told me that there are “very powerful people” putting a lot of pressure on his lawyer and he felt he had no other choice. It is still up in the air whether or not he will be deported after serving his 30 months prison time and 3 years probation.

Matanov is quite nervous about where they are going to send him. He had been beaten by guards playing the National Anthem, while being held at Plymouth County Correctional Facility. Activism from supporters resulted in him getting transferred to the much quieter pre-trial Donald Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island. He is no longer being beaten, but is being kept permanently in “the hole.” He is being treated differently than all the other prisoners. No one else gets put in “the hole” unless they cause trouble. He is being kept in isolation and even during the one hour of rec time per day, he is separated from the other prisoners by a fence. He said most of them are Latino. They are all allowed to talk to their families through glass, but he is forced to talk on a video monitor, which is very low quality and the sound crackles so bad you can’t hear. What is strange is that Stephen Silva, the Tsarnaev friend who was caught dealing heroin and admitted that he gave them a gun, is being kept in general population at the same prison, but Matanov, who is only guilty of paying for dinner, is being treated like a terrorist, maybe because he is Muslim. Matanov said the prison says they are isolating him for his own protection.

After he is sentenced, he will be moved to another prison. He was visibly nervous about this unknown, when I visited him earlier this month.

The judge has until the next hearing, June 18, to decide if he will accept the plea deal or reject it. If he rejects it, the case will go to trial and Matanov will again be presumed innocent, Judge Young said. Young told Matanov that if found guilty, he could sentence him to even less than 30 months. However, he could also choose to accept the government’s terrorism enhanced sentencing guidelines. What a totally confusing and horrible choice to have to make.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Overcoming neglect: true life precedes true love

Photo credit:  Photodune
In nature, animal offspring is occasionally rejected by the mother. This leads to almost certain death. The reasons could vary from the mother’s lack of resources – for example a starving dog might only be willing to nurse the strongest two puppies and let the other ten die – to the rejection of one particular baby for being “different” from the group. The rejected one might need extra care, which would drain the resources of the group. Or the “different” one might attract danger. For example, white baby lions are often abandoned and left to die by their mothers, for fear that the brightness of their color would attract predators and endanger the entire tribe.
In most human societies, abandoning one’s baby to die is a serious crime, so it is not often done, but parents quite frequently emotionally reject their children, abuse or neglect them. This could be due to a lack of the parent’s ability or willingness to care about the child’s needs, or from a desire to punish the child for being “different” from the group expectations. The parents might provide the child with three meals a day and even pay for their college expenses, but there is limited guidance and emotional support. The parent either does not invest much effort to connect emotionally with the child, or else outright crushes the child’s self-esteem in various ways.
Unless the child has another adult caretaker in his life, who compensates for the lack of parental empathy, who helps the child develop trust in an emotionally safe relationship, the child will grow up to be an adult with an underdeveloped sense of self and a handicapped ability to fulfill his or her adult intimacy needs with another adult. Children without an extended family are especially vulnerable, because there is no one to run to when home becomes a hostile environment.
Children will only flourish if the following types of needs are consistently met: 1. Physical needs for affection and protection; 2. Emotional needs for caring, regard and interest; 3. Spiritual needs for recognition of their worth and basic goodness; 4. Verbal needs for welcoming inquiry, positive feedback, and multidimensional conversation.
Relational Therapist Pete Walker MA, MFT writes in “Emotional Neglect and Complex PTSD,” that people neglected as children “never learn that a relationship with a healthy person can become an irreplaceable source of comfort and enrichment…  Love coming their way reverberates threateningly on a subliminal level. If, from their perspective, they momentarily ‘trick’ someone into seeing them as loveable, they fear that this forbidden prize will surely be taken away the minute their social perfectionism fails and unmasks some normal flaw or foible.”
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by childhood abuse or neglect is usually characterized by emotional flashbacks that invade the present and overlap one’s perception of reality. Various personality types will respond in different ways to these flashbacks. Safety is the ultimate goal of each type of reaction.
Walker groups flashback reactions into four categories: Fight, flight, freeze or fawn. Fight reactions generally involve displaced anger. Obsessive compulsions are viewed as a form of flight, or distancing oneself from the traumatic emotions; freezing could include oversleeping or TV watching; and fawning involves pleasing behaviors intended to prevent rejection:
“Servitude, ingratiation, and forfeiture of any needs that might inconvenience and ire the parent become the most important survival strategies available.”
The good news is that healing from C-PTSD is possible. The first step is learning to recognize that an emotional flashback is occurring and to train the mind to stop the thought and redirect focus. Types of emotional flashbacks are feelings of toxic shame, powerlessness, and rejection. These feelings can creep into our day or even into our sleep, disrupting normal functioning. Repetitive refocusing eventually establishes new neural pathways around our habitual pain.
The second step is to learn to recognize and value your “inner child,” and to be the kind of adult that your younger self required. This means learning self-empathy and self-care skills. This requires validating to the inner child that the attacking negative emotion is truly horrible and bad. When an emotional flashback is happening, our adult self needs to step up and defend our child self, creating healthy boundaries by angrily saying “No!”
“How DARE you tell my inner child that no one could ever love her!” we must learn to tell our inner critic when such deeply-ingrained destructive thoughts arise.
Then we need to take our inner child by the hand and make her feel worthy of love by stomping off together to the gym, or the park, making and eating a healthy meal, getting our hair done, improving our home, or whatever makes us feel like we are getting ready for true life.
The third step of healing is learning to develop authentic human relationships. It is often recommended to hire a therapist when first experimenting with raw honesty. The establishment of trust in a “safe enough” relationship is when you can be your whole self with another person, who is not going to leave, even though you exposed yourself. This requires another person to be safe and caring. While an ideal partner is not always readily available, learning to recognize what is NOT an authentic relationship comes first – and with it the ability to free oneself from people who trigger emotional vigilance and other psychic defense mechanisms. We also have to recognize that not everyone can be our best friend. We have to protect our inner child from public rejection by using our adult sense of self to choose wisely about whom we reveal our secrets to, while being open to experiencing many emotions with one who has earned our trust.

The endless possibilities of spring

Surely God Who gives the dead earth life will raise the dead also to life. Indeed, He has power over all things. (Quran 41:39)
SpringAs I scrape the ice off my car, I find it hard to believe that Spring is almost here. The world around me has been cold and grey and uninviting for quite some time. Yet the time has come to start thinking about planting seeds. It is also time to start thinking about what I want to do to expand and improve my life, using my resources, with my love, now that the period of constriction is passing. Sometimes this might mean spreading out and trying new things. Other times it means staying where you are but growing taller by digging your roots in deeper. If you had lost hope in the past, maybe now it will be your turn to shine. It can’t hurt to hope.
My children have been pressuring me to get a house. They feel cramped sharing a tiny apartment and they want their own rooms! At first glance it seemed to me that, given the rent I am paying, I should consider buying a home. But then I did the math and realized that even if we shared the expense with another family, it would be much too much of a responsibility to maintain and heat a large house. Plus, with two of my children in high school and possibly going off to college soon, and dreaming of senior year trips to Europe, it makes no sense to go into debt. If my son wants a house, he can start working and saving for his own future home. That’s his dream, not mine. So after exploring my options I am now content with my decision not to make any immediate changes. You can’t always know if something is good or bad except down the road. Best thing is to keep an open mind and don’t rush to a decision.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
While remaining open-minded, it is still wise to dream fully and completely irrationally. If money were no object, what would you want to do in the next year, in the next ten years?
It’s good to say, “inshallah” while making plans, but when we pray, we are supposed to just ask God for what we want without any inhibitions. We should conjure up a pure vision of what we truly want, what would make us truly happy, and ask God to let it happen. God loves for people to ask for what they want. If the prayer is not answered in this life, your beautiful vision still serves your benefit in the hereafter. There is purity in the honest wish for a true desire.
We should dream and make plans for what to do in the coming months, by ourselves if necessary! For too many years I have waited for someone who wants to do things with me and stayed home for no reason. Our children will only be young once. Are we going to spend every day working and sleeping and sitting on the computer? Or are we going to get some sand in our shoes? Even if we don’t have any money we can take a walk in the park.
Spring fever is when you just can’t sit still in class anymore. Spring is all about going outside and shedding extra outer layers, both literally and figuratively. We will probably visit more places, and see more people. We will go on picnics and day trips to the beach. The possibilities are endless! It is a good time for marriage, when all the fruits are ripe. Are there any actual priorities left undone? Passports expired? Start there, with some spring cleaning and some basic projects.
This morning I heard a bird sing for the first time in a long time. It was more like a loud angry squawk. Another very important essence of spring is rage. The seed is so frustrated that it bursts. Without a certain level of passionate discontent, there is no growth, no life. So do whatever makes you happy and alive. Envision what you imagined that you would be doing when you are older, now that you are. Whatever is constricting you from your full potential, rebel against it! Be whole! Be free! Take total responsibility for your life and seize what you want out of this day.
Starting small, my spring resolution is to fill yogurt cups with organic potting soil and plant herbs on my windowsill. Maybe some sewing projects, bake some bread. Maybe I will learn to harvest alfalfa sprouts or make yogurt. Soon the flowers will be blooming, and so should we. It will be time to fly a kite, to go fishing. Have a great day everyone! The sun is shining!

Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a contributing writer for The Muslim Observer. Her views are her own.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

FBI Ensnares Facebook User

Judge Puts Defendant in Mental Institution for Rant

In another heartbreaking story coming out of Raleigh, North Carolina, a young Muslim man with no criminal record, Abdul Basit Sheikh,  is being prosecuted by the same US attorney as Ziyad Yaghi faced, Jason Kellhoffer. Sheikh is accused of providing material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization because he attempted to travel to Lebanon with the intention of training to join Al-Nusra Front. His parents described the 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant to the US as “depressed” and said he spent most of his time in front of the internet. Sheikh had contributed many religious and political comments to discussions on Facebook. He posted a number of gory videos of things like pro-Assad soldiers being executed, Mullah Omar of the Taliban and other famous Islamic preachers calling for the destruction of America, and had praised the Islamic fighters against Assad and the Islamic Caliphate.

In 2013, the FBI created a page in support of Islamic militants. Sheikh joined and thus began an online friendship with an FBI agent, who encouraged him to go to Syria and join al-Nusra and facilitated his travel arrangements. Sheikh booked a one-way ticket to Turkey for 9/5/13 but had second thoughts and failed to show up at the airport. He then informed the FBI agent that in November 2012, he already traveled to Turkey in order to join the Free Syrian Army but had become disillusioned with them because all they wanted was money, thus he became more interested in supporting the Caliphate. Via Facebook private message, the FBI agent offered to put Sheikh in touch with “a trusted brother with JAN (Jabhat al-Nusra),” who was in actuality an Online Covert Employee.

Sheikh then began to correspond via Skype with this FBI employee, saying, “I want to help the mujahideen, in any way I can.” He stated his belief that al-Nusra was the most disciplined group fighting Assad. The employee asked him if he would be willing to fight, and encouraged him to travel to Northern Lebanon for training before going to Syria.

On November 1, 2013, Sheikh bought a ticket to Beirut via Canada and Turkey. On November 2, upon his arrival at the airport gate, after being allowed to check in his bag and go through security, he was arrested by law enforcement. On November 12, the US government charged him with “Material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

What the indictment fails to mention was that the FBI agent who communicated with him on Facebook was posing as a Syrian nurse, and that their messages contained romantic content. A large part of his motivation for traveling was marriage.

“The Sheikh case points out the hypocrisy of prosecuting people who support an anti-Assad group the government judged as terrorists while the Obama administration favors other fighters in the same bloody conflict,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

On March 5, 2014, Sheikh told Federal Judge Terrence Boyle that he wanted to replace his government-appointed lawyer Joseph Gilbert with an attorney hired by his family, and stated that he was being “physically and morally abused” in prison.

"I am concerned about his competence," Gilbert said.

Prosecutor Jason Kellhoffer told Boyle that he saw no need for a psychiatric exam at this time, and Boyle did not order one. In June 2014, Sheikh was declared mentally competent to stand trial.

However, nearly a year later, on January 7, 2015 Judge Boyle suddenly ordered him to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution about seven minutes into the competancy hearing, when Sheikh interrupted the proceedings, telling the judge he was ready to tell a jury his story that day and it was a story a US jury should hear.

He was not only concerned about his arrest at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in 2013 when he was attempting to leave the country. Sheikh also argued that the United States should pay reparations for war deaths in Pakistan, his native country, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East – “100 camels worth of monetary compensation,” reported Anne Blythe in the News Observer.

“In a series of run-on sentences, he talked about cluster bombs, the pain he felt for Pakistanis killed in the conflict, President Barack Obama, the US attorney general, his family, the government and his desire to be released from custody.”

“If you’re trying to make a record that you’re not competent, you’re doing an excellent job,” said Judge Boyle.

“No, I’m competent,” Sheikh exclaimed. “I have a right to travel the world!”

Boyle ordered Sheikh to be involuntarily committed in a hospital for 120 days for psychiatric treatment. He told Sheikh he faced the possibility of the involuntary administration of psychiatric drugs so that he might better understand the seriousness of the charges against him.

“No thanks, no thanks,” said Sheikh. “I am perfectly all right. My belongings should be returned to me and I should be allowed to leave this country.”

In August of 2013, Thomas Walker the US Attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District said he “made changes in his staff” after a federal appeals said it was concerned with the conduct of prosecutors. Judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have publicly complained the offices did not turn over evidence to defense attorneys.

While the heads of government departments were “transferred out,” lower rung prosecutors such as Kellhoffer continue to engage in overzealous prosecution of idealistic Muslims who pose no threat to the United States.

This should serve as a warning to be very careful about anyone you meet online that seems to agree with all your opinions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kazi Toure: A warrior retires

Non-Muslim Political Prisoners Suffered Much before Muslims Became the Targets
African-American, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans Suffered US "Justice"

On Friday March 13, 2015 former Black Panther and political prisoner Kazi Toure celebrated his 65th birthday in a cozy gathering at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He looked very sharp wearing a silky black jacket with a red Chinese dragon on the back and a leather top hat over his long dreadlocks. Many young children of activists were in attendance at the event, as well as some old timers related to the struggle for liberation including Jimmy Barrett. The walls were covered with posters of liberation icons like Ramona Africa. 

The gathering began with an African celebration called a “libation.” A young woman poured water from a glass into a dish below, while mentioning the names of ancestors and role models whose spiritual energy they wanted to invite into this gathering. People around the room also invoked names such as Harriet Tubman and Leonard Peltier. This set the mood for a very meaningful evening.

The first speaker was Eddie Cortez, a Puerto Rican former political prisoner who spent many years in the penitentiary for “seditious conspiracy.” He spoke about Oscar Lopez Rivera, the longest serving Puerto Rican political prisoner, who has served 35 years. Obama freed the Cuban 5. Why won’t he free Oscar Lopez Rivera? On December 14, 2014, for the first time, the Puerto Rican governor came to visit Rivera in Terre Haute. But nothing further has happened. No US Congress has ever addressed the issue of Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth vs. as a free country, even though every Puerto Rican church and political party supports freedom.

He mentioned Leonard Peltier, who has served 36 years, Sundiata Acoli, who has been in prison for 40 years, and Jaan Laaman, Kazi Toure’s co-defendant. In 1979 he and Kazi Toure helped to organize the Amandla Festival of Unity to support an end to apartheid in Southern Africa, which featured musician Bob Marley. Laaman was sentenced to 53 years in 1984 for bombing government buildings.

“How much punishment is enough?” Cortez asked. He then told a cute story about how prisoners managed to smuggle in birthday cakes by organizing a group to distract the guards.

“We need to change the face of America,” he said. “We need our own system, not socialism or communism. What we need is creativity in the face of oppression.”

Next, Palestinian activist Dr. Lana Habash spoke about the need for clarity against Zionist hasbara within current political activist movements. “It’s not complicated, it’s just wrong.”

She spoke about Amer Jibran, who was very active locally in Boston against Zionism against US wars of aggression. He led a high profile confrontation against the yearly Israeli Independence Day celebration, which used to draw 10,000 people. He was deported in 2004 but remained politically active in Jordan. In 2014 the Mukhabarat, Jordanian intelligence, used ropes to enter his home and kidnap him. He was held for two months without charge. Then in August 2014 the Jordanian State Security Court charged him with a list of terror offenses related to Hezbollah, which basically amounted to speech and were based on forced confessions.

“Amer’s writings were never against Jordan but against Israel and US wars,” Lana said. “We must reject definitions of terrorism. The political prisoner is our oxygen. They represent who we are, who we must be, and the task ahead. We must carry on the struggles they went to prison for.”

Next spoke Ray Levasseure, another of Kazi’s co-defendants. He said he met Kazi when our country was at war with South America and there was the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Both of them were “packing,” he said. They meant serious business. He said he was surprised to be here today, especially looking at 65 in the rear view mirror. He was underground sometime already when Kazi started getting his feet wet. He spent 20 years in ADX prison for activities related to the United Freedom Front (UFF). 13 of those years were spent in solitary.

Governor Deval Patrick denounced UMass for letting Ray give a talk. The police lobbied against him and prevented his speech about Black Panther Party related political prisoners in America.

Born of French-Canadian immigrants, Ray was imprisoned for an anti-apartheid bombing of a South African office in New York City. Nobody was hurt because that was not the intention. He noted that the government is more concerned about property destruction against military installations than they are about bloodshed.

Ray mentioned Tom Manning, another of their co-defendants, who is still in prison for bombing US military installations for UFF. He also knew Oscar Lopez Riveras from prison. Tom is having a lot of medical problems and as a result cannot walk. Medical problems are devastating to anyone, but when experienced in the Supermax segregation unit, the suffering is incomparable. Tom has had many surgeries. He needs to use a walker but could not do so because of problems with his shoulders. Dr. Lana Habash led a campaign for him to get shoulder replacement surgery, which happened 2 months ago. He is now in the early steps of rehab. If all heals well, he will be out of his wheelchair and onto crutches for the first time in six years. Tom suffered many brutal beatings in prison. Ray talked about how important it is to send a letter, make a phone call, especially for professionals like Dr. Habash to step in and do something. 

He mentioned a long-time prisoner, who has been forgotten. He just needed a couple magazine subscriptions. He is now serving time with Imam Jamil al-Amin. Ray met him during his pre-trial detention decades ago. They were given one hour a day out of their cages to walk up and down the tier. The prisoners began to befriend each other. It was an amazing time because so many revolutionary movements were going on. During these tier walks, Ray met members of the Irish Republican Army, Palestinian and Mexican groups, Puerto Rican, Black Panthers, etc. Kazi has told me similar prison friendship stories.

There are so many disparate groups, each with their own little defense committee. Everybody knows about Mumia but they don’t know about Kojo Bomani or Grayling Brown. Inside of the prison, these political prisoners bonded and watched each others’ back, but on the street supporters can’t get along because of too many different agendas. Filiberto, who was murdered by the FBI in his home in Puerto Rico, issued a call for a conference for all political prisoners but Freedom Now collapsed and the Jericho Movement has not achieved what Filiberto had in mind. We need to work for a larger sense of unity, Ray concluded.

Musical entertainment from a rapper called Optimist then ensued, with a band called Foundation Movement.

Yusuf Islam Wows Huge Crowd in Chile

Musician Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, performs during the International Song Festival in Vina del Mar city, northwest of Santiago, Chile, February 27, 2015. Photo credit: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
In 1971, Cat Stevens’ rendition of the Christian hymn, “Morning Has Broken” reached #6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 in the US Easy Listening Chart in 1972. My family’s church sang this hymn every Sunday of my childhood. Also in 1971, he provided nine songs to the soundtrack of the black comedy Harold and Maude, a film which was very important in my impressionable youth. But by 1977 the pop singer Cat Stevens had already embraced Islam and taken on the name of Yusuf Islam.
“To some people, it may have seemed like an enormous jump, but for me, it was a gradual move to this,” he stated regarding his conversion.
Yusuf Islam stopped performing music for almost 30 years and used his wealth to busy himself with humanitarian service.
“A lot of people would have loved me to keep singing,” he said. “You come to a point where you have sung, more or less … your whole repertoire and you want to get down to the job of living. You know, up until that point, I hadn’t had a life. I’d been searching, been on the road.”
He finally found and married the ‘hard-headed woman’ he had prayed for in his song, Fauzia Mubarak Ali, on 7 September 1979 in London, and had five children with her. He became re-interested in music when his son brought a guitar back into the home.
I was very impressed with Sister Fauzia’s performance in 1987, when she and her husband came to Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan campus to promote the cause of Islam. Yusuf’s speech was interrupted by hecklers including a stripper who shouted out that she was a liberated woman, to the point where he left the stage and on stepped his wife, who calmed everybody down and explained Islam from the point of view of a woman. It made a long lasting impression on my 16 year old self, though it took a lot more travel before I made a decision to embrace Islam.
I visited an innocent Muslim prisoner yesterday who began to sing the old Cat Stevens song that I hadn’t heard in years, “Trouble, oh trouble set me free…” I was so surprised that he knew the song, being 20 years my junior and from a foreign country. It was an amazing moment.
This inspired me to learn the chords on my ukelele. Which I did, thank you very much. Learning a song once in a while is so important for keeping one’s youth.
While I was searching for the song online, I found out that just last week, February 2015, Yusuf ‘Cat Stevens’ Islam gave a deeply moving, almost two hour superstar performance at Festival de Viña del Mar 2015, Somos el Canal Histórico in Chile. I cried when I watched it!
While his songs on cassette tape formed my youth and guided me towards Truth even beyond where my parents could lead me, I had never actually watched the man perform. The man is a superstar, but with the most humble mannerisms, even in front of a crowd of thousands.
Except for the white sneakers, the adorable grey bearded man on stage could be assumed to be any grandfather from the Arab or Pakistani community anywhere in the west. Except that he is surrounded by an amazing sound system, magnificent stage display, light show, and multi screens… old ladies crying, lovers holding each other, so much love, the entire audience knew all the words, despite English not being their native language.
“We’re in the mood for children!” is one of the only comments he made between songs. At another point, after a rocking number he spoke, “You can see why I used to dance.”
Honestly my heart broke at that moment. At the pinnacle of success as an artist, he is still dealing with this conflict of religion in his old age. His period of introversion was so very important, to gain knowledge, but it was righteous that he decided to use the power of his music for the common good. His songs were the soundtrack to my young adulthood. Without Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam, there would be no me as I know me.
Although I could not interest my teenager in the Cat Stevens songs from the 70s, he still remembers Yusuf Islam’s English-Arabic rendition of Tala’ al Badru ‘Alayna from the Bosnia album, which used to play in the family car when he was a toddler, back when I used to have a working CD player.
In September 2004, Yusuf Islam appeared on the US No-Fly List and was prevented from meeting with Dolly Parton, who is the biggest Christian songwriter in America. Homeland Security claimed there were “concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities.” The two recorded a version of his song “Peace Train” on her album, anyway.
One of the coolest things he has done with his power in this life was suing media companies for slandering him. Every dollar that he won, he donated to charity.
In a very emotional moment near the end of the show, the female host reappeared all covered up in respect, wearing a black shawl. The love and deep gratitude, the crowd’s adoration was so thick and sincere.
Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a contributing writer for The Muslim Observer. Her views are her own.