Reflections from my Spiritual Journey to Makka

Owais Bayunus

Hajj is considered the fifth pillar of Islam, meaning every Muslim who can afford it and is in good health has to perform Hajj, pilgrimage to Makka, (at least) once in his lifetime.

My very first recollection of people going to perform Hajj was in my childhood in Karachi, where all the pilgrims from Pakistan used to assemble at the harbor to board ships heading towards Saudi Arabia. There was a distinct difference between them and the rest of the people who were not going to Hajj. The men were all dressed in white, women well covered, and you could see children running around dressed similarly. They were more organized than other people and always remained with their group, lest they get lost and be a problem for themselves and others.

When one of my father’s friends went to perform Hajj, my father took me along to bid him farewell at the passenger ship. In those days, the rich pilgrims normally flew to Jeddah directly and the middle class and the poorer people would take a ship to Jeddah, a journey of almost seven days.

The ship was fully occupied by almost two thousand people, and it had a separate open place for the daily prayers. The impression of seeing these pilgrims remained on my mind for a long time, and whenever I would read about the pilgrimage to Makkah in books, I would remember seeing the same pilgrims.

Several years later, while I was on an assignment to Nigeria, I once drove near Niger’s border south of Sahara. There, I came across a caravan, which, I was told, was heading towards Makkah for pilgrimage almost 18-20 months away. There are many such caravans in the Sahara heading to Makkah on camels and on foot, any time of the year. I remembered the saying “All roads lead to Makkah,” which seemed to be true. Upon leaving Nigeria, I accepted an offer to teach in a University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, it was very close to the Hajj season. So I decided to go there just in time to be able to perform this religious duty also. Continue reading

Why artists of the Muslim world need to get on with the story

Wajahat Ali

Pep Montserrat for The National

During the time of the Prophet Mohammed, the storyteller was valued more than the swordsman. Through poetry and eloquence, the speaker used his artistry to weave words and rhyme like magic, often enthralling the audience as he used fiction and history proudly to narrate his tribe’s triumphs and tragedies.

Yet many modern Muslims have decried creative endeavours such as music, filmmaking, acting and theatre as “un-Islamic”. However, the watershed victory of President Obama in 2008 ushered in a new generation comprising vibrant, progressive Muslim artists who use their talents to redefine a bold new vision of art. One that reclaims their hijacked heritage, restores dignity to Islam and Muslims, deconstructs stereotypes and uses art as a means to build bridges of understanding.

When the two towers fell in New York, they took with them the inhibitions of many fear-mongering and prejudiced Islamaphobes who were given a licence under the Bush era to publicly spew vitriol against Islam and Muslims as harbingers of terror and cultural stagnation.

A narrative was immediately set, casting the protagonists as the West – a nebulous and nonsensical term referring to America and select parts of Europe – and the antagonists as Muslims and immigrants.

Unfortunately, Hollywood often tried progressive open-mindedness, but routinely failed, aside from the excellent Syriana starring George Clooney. In trying to portray Muslims positively, most mainstream Hollywood features can only muster depictions of Arabs against a backdrop of terrorism and extremism. It should surprise no one that a 2009 ABC poll revealed that 48 per cent of Americans don’t hold a favourable opinion of Islam; more than 50 per cent don’t know a single Muslim; and nearly 29 per cent believe mainstream Islam advocates violence.

However, because of the backlash against Muslims after 9/11, many Muslims renounced the traditional career path and opted for more challenging roles in the arts and media. Throughout history, marginalised groups and oppressed minorities have used art as a means to fight back against intolerance. The ingredients that fuel such sentiments are generally political – random profiling at the airport, for example – as well as a renewed respect for one’s identity, culture and people. The phase that many Muslims went through from 2001 to 2007 was a necessary step for artistic evolution, as it contained righteous indignation against inequality, vocal affirmation for one’s religious and racial identity, and healthy doses of political activism.

Continue reading

Muslim American Hereos: The Zeitoun Family

By Shahed Amanullah, August 26, 2009
Victims and heroes
When acclaimed, Pulitzer-nominated author Dave Eggers (“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”) heard about the Zeitouns, a Muslim family in New Orleans who were caught up in the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, he knew he had a uniquely American story that needed a greater voice. After Katrina struck, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American father of four, travelled the flooded streets in an old canoe to help out his fellow neighbors. But when Abdulrahman went missing on September 6, 2005, many – including his wife Kathy – expected the worst. Relief came to the Zeitoun family with the news that Abdulrahman was still alive – but imprisoned unjustly as a suspected terrorist. After news of Abdulrahman’s incarceration and subsequent release became more widely known, Eggers spent three years interviewing and researching the family across the US, Spain, and Syria – the results of which can be seen in his new book Zeitoun. Here, Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun speak to altmuslim exclusively to tell how they reacted both to Hurricane Katrina and Abdelrahman’s arrest, their dedication to their neighbours and New Orleans, and the establishment of the Zeitoun Foundation to help with the ongoing reconstruction of their city.

Can you paint a picture of your life in New Orleans before Katrina? Explain to us what happened in the days after Katrina. In the book, you and the children left town, but your husband stayed behind to look after your business and help your neighbors. What happened to him?

[Kathy] My husband and I own two businesses, a painting contracting business and a rental property business, and we have five kids. Our lives were very busy at the time, alhamdulillah – we just live to work and work to live.

I was at my family’s house in Baton Rouge, and we would keep in touch [by cellphone], but over time it died. However, he found a phone in one of our [apartments] that was working because it was above the water – subhanallah how that phone was still working when everybody else didn’t have one. He would call me and we would talk 2-3 times throughout the day. One day – on the 6th – he said he would call around 12, but we lost contact. He was going to see one of our client’s houses that lived over on North Kagan – they were very good clients and were like family. He went, but he never called me back. Our daughter just turned five – she was the one who was closest to her daddy, and she was affected the most She wouldn’t eat, and she lost a lot of weight.

But even after all of this, and after everything that happened to him, we feel truly blessed because worse things happened to other people, and at least we can tell our story.

Describe to me being a Muslim in that community. Have you experienced any difficulties?

[Kathy] Most times people are very pleasant to me, but there have been instances where people were not nice. But if I show a strong front, then people will think twice before they [harass me]. Most people are just looking [at my hijab], so I just smile and say, “How are you?” I just think that laughter is the best medicine that anyone could ever have. If you can find any humor in any situation, then you’re good to go. I feel that when I wear hijab, it gives me strength to deal with certain situations. After 9/11, a lot of women at my kids’ school took off their hijabs, and I was the only one in my whole area that wore hijab for a long time, but I refused to take it off. I think I never wore it with as much pride as after 9/11, because I knew the difference.
Continue reading

Do Narcissists Have Better Sex?

Narcissism Sex MECKY / Getty Images New research shows Americans are more obsessed with themselves than ever. Hannah Seligson examines the ways our love lives are coming to reflect our record-high levels of self-regard.

When John Edwards invoked “the narcissism defense” in his explanation last August for why he cheated on his wife, the moment felt a bit anticlimactic—male politicians have long reinforced their stereotype as egomaniacs who think they’re God’s gift to women. But a new book asserts that more and more Americans are developing congressman-like levels of narcissism, which begs the question: Are our relationships suffering for it, just like Edwards’ did? How can a person who can’t stop looking in the mirror maintain a healthy love life?

These are people who agreed with statements like: “If I ruled the world it would be a much better place,” and, “I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.”

“The culture of narcissism is about your personal happiness coming first and your partner coming second,” says Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity and a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It’s what’s at the core of divorce.”

According to researchers, there’s a groundswell of narcissism in our society. In a new book, The Narcissism Epidemic, psychology professors W. Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge chart the dramatic rise in the number of Americans who have a clinical narcissist personality disorder. These are people who are more than just a little bit self-regarding. In a nationally representative sample of 35,000 Americans, one out of 16 respondents registered as a narcissist on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. These are people who agreed with statements like: “If I ruled the world it would be a much better place,” or, “I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve,” and, “I find it easy to manipulate people.”

Narcissism functions on a continuum, which means that because more people register on the extreme end of the spectrum, there’s a surge of people in the general population—in the median area—that are displaying narcissistic traits. And the numbers for youth are higher than any other age group—nearly 10 percent of twentysomethings reported symptoms of narcissism, compared to just over 3 percent of those over 65. Continue reading

25 things journalists can do to future-proof their careers

Posted 26 August 2009 10:37am by Chris Lake with 12 comments

I know a number of journalists who are growing increasingly concerned about the sustainability of their careers. Those working for offline publications tend to worry more than most, and with good reason, given the tide of bad news in this space.

25 things journalists can do to future-proof their careers

But despite the problems with business models, there will always be a need for journalists. It isn’t game over for journalism, not by a stretch, it’s just that the game is changing. Old media journalists will need to learn some new skills and adapt mindsets to accommodate changes in their industry.

As much as anything it is a cultural shift: a mental challenge for traditional journalists. And I’m not just talking about 20-year veterans of the industry, but those young pups who have completed their NCTJ courses and moved into the world of local journalism. To many, and despite their youth, the internet is a thoroughly alien place. But more and more journalists will end up writing online, and they need to embrace it while they still have the choice to do so.

Over the years I have evangelised about technology and the internet as something that helps – rather than hinders – journalists. But I’ve encountered literally dozens of offline hacks who sneer at ‘the internet’. To them, journalism can only be considered ‘proper’ if it finds a home in newsprint. I assume many of these people have since been certified clinically insane, as it’s totally nuts to think that a newspaper magically improves the quality of a story.

Or is it? Perhaps there’s something to this. After all, a newspaper story doesn’t just have to be about text… the format also allows for a large image, for example, which may lend additional weight to the story. But hey, if that holds true for newspapers then what about the internet? An article online can include video, audio, image galleries, links to further reading, a direct response channel in the form of reader comments, and it can be read in any number of ways (online, RSS readers, mobile devices, etc).

Considering all of the above, I think it’s up to the journalist to broaden their skills, to help futureproof their careers. It may mean figuring out how to write for the web, or simply using technology as a career aid. I see a future where journalists will need traditional skills and so-called new media skills, and will not be limited to writing for one media platform.

So here, in no particular order, are some suggestions that I often pass on to journalists who want to learn practical new skills and expand their horizons:

  1. Start a blog. Publishing anything on the internet used to be difficult, due to content management systems that were about as user friendly as Satan. They left a bad taste, but it’s all change nowadays. It has never been easier to publish all kinds of content online. You don’t believe me? Try Posterous, which allows you to post articles online via email. Start your own personal blog today. Or better still, start a subject-themed blog. This will be very empowering if you haven’t done it before. Posterous will have you blogging within five minutes, and you don’t even need to register and sign in to start publishing.
  2. Collaborate. If you’re worried about not having enough time to maintain a blog, then why not collaborate with some other people, or join an existing blog or some other publication? It will help broaden your experience, your CV, and is especially useful for offline writers looking to accumulate some online skills. People can achieve so much more when they work together. Continue reading