A Brave New Arab World


by Sabir Ibrahim

Over the course of 18 days, a popular uprising in Egypt swept one of the world’s longest-ruling dictators from power. Ripple effects from the downfall of Hosni Mubarak are being felt in Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, and Bahrain as Arabs, emboldened by the Egyptians (who were themselves emboldened by the Tunisians), are breaking long-standing barriers of fear that have thus far kept popular resistance to autocratic rule from taking root. Though it remains to be seen what long-term effect the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings will have on the region, the events of the past month undoubtedly signal the dawn of a new era in the politics of the Arab World.

Discussions of a post-Mubarak future in the Middle East have centered on two key questions: what now and who’s next. Egypt’s fate now lies in the hands of its military, which took control of the country after forcing Mubarak to step down on February 11. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, has dissolved parliament and suspended Egypt’s constitution. Though the army has vowed to stand aside and hold elections within six months, any optimism that the fall of Mubarak’s government will immediately usher in a new era of democracy should be tempered by unease over the absence of a constitution and the concentration of absolute power in the hands of a few army generals. Militaries in poor countries that become involved in politics don’t have a great record of living up to their promises. Continue reading

My awkward moments in Muslim prayer

It can be tricky practicing Islam. Have you ever tried to find the direction of Mecca in a Gap fitting room?

My awkward moments in Muslim prayer


A Muslim who prays in public is like James Bond, but without the bling, sophisticated gadgets and entourage of gorgeous women eager to bed him. Both brilliantly fail at every attempt at stealth. Like the fictional secret agent, a Muslim, despite his best intentions and clandestine efforts, sticks out like a pink elephant when forced to offer his ritualistic prayer, salat, outside the comforting cocoon of his home or mosque.

Contrary to the fear-mongering asserted by professional Islamophobes, Muslim Americans do not wish to impose their religious practices and beliefs upon their non-Muslim neighbors. The reality is that most of us are simply trying to navigate the sometimes tricky — but often entertaining — balancing act of adhering to our religious values and rituals while avoiding societal awkwardness and being seen as modern-day Boo Radleys.

Each time I have to pray and am unable to find a secluded spot, I would love for a magic Muslim portal to open and take me away to a fantastic Greyskull castle. Here, I could pray in solitude, shielded from the curious eyes of fascinated and horrified observers and ride on an armored tiger named Battle Cat while drinking mango lassi from a diamond-encrusted goblet.

Unfortunately, I live in reality.

Instead, I discover I have 15 minutes left to pray the afternoon Asr prayer and I’m stuck in a crowded, Valley Fair mall in San Jose, Calif. Realizing that I’d probably be tazed and shot by Homeland Security if I decided to bust out my Arabic tai chi at the Orange Julius, I seek temporary refuge for my prayer woes in the most obvious location: the fitting room at the Gap. Continue reading

What sharia law actually means

Sharia in America: The real story

Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Last week in Tennessee, a Republican legislator introduced a bill that would make following sharia — Islamic law — a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. How such a law would be enforced is not clear; furthermore, it’s probably unconstitutional.

It is clear, though, that an anti-sharia movement is growing in the United States. Last year Oklahoma voters approved a measure that bars courts from considering sharia. Similar measures have now been introduced or passed in at least 13 other states. Indeed, anti-Muslim political operatives have been warning of “creeping sharia” and “Islamist lawfare” for years, though the anti-sharia efforts have gained new prominence in recent months.

But even basic facts about sharia — what is it? how is it used in American courts? — are hard to come by. So I decided to talk to Abed Awad, a New Jersey-based attorney and an expert on sharia who regularly handles cases that involve Islamic law. He is also a member of the adjunct faculties at Rutgers Law School and Pace Law School. He recently answered my questions via e-mail.

Can you define sharia — is it a specific body of laws?

Sharia is more than simply “law” in the prescriptive sense. It is also a methodology through which a jurist engages the religious texts to ascertain divine will. As a jurist-made law, the outcome of this process of ascertaining divine will is called fiqh (positive law), which is the moral and legal anchor of a Muslim’s total existence. Sharia governs every aspect of an observant Muslim’s life. The sharia juristic inquiry begins with the Quran and the Sunna. The Quran is the Muslim Holy Scripture — like the New Testament for Christians or the Old Testament for the Jews. The Sunna is essentially the prophetic example embodied in the sayings and conduct of the Prophet Mohammed.

After the two primary sources of Islamic law, the Quran and the Sunna, the two main secondary sources of Islamic law are: (1) ijma (consensus of the scholars and jurists, and sometimes the entire community), and (2) qiyas (reasoning by analogy to one of the higher sources).  Other secondary sources of Islamic law are juristic preference, public interest and custom. Sharia is extremely flexible and subject to various interpretations. In the 19th century, Western colonialism decimated the sharia legal system, replacing it with Western codes. This caused a serious decline in the community of jurists. In addition, there is today a debate that revolves around the failure of the modern jurists — not the system of sharia — to develop the sharia to adapt with the current circumstances of modernity.

How often does sharia come up in U.S. courts? Has there been an uptick recently?

It comes up often because the American-Muslim community is growing. With an estimated 8 million Americans who adhere to Islam, it is only natural to see a rapid increase of Muslim litigants before American courts where sharia may be an issue — especially in family matters. Continue reading

Recognizing the Courage of Muslim Athletes


In one of the most astounding polls I’ve ever seen, Gallup reported earlier this month that 69% of Americans were “following the events in Egypt closely,” and 83% of them “sympathized with the protesters.” When you consider the kind of rampant Islamaphobia that’s infected the body politic of this country over the last decade, this level of identification with the Egyptian masses is nothing short of, well, revolutionary.

We now have a sports equivalent to this Gallup poll, revealing that we don’t need Sam Cooke to tell us that “a change is gonna come.”

The US Basketball Writers Association just named men’s player Arsalan Kazemi of Rice and women’s player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir of Memphis as the co-winners of their “most courageous award.” They are being recognized explicitly for challenging  Islamaphobia, bigotry, and ignorance. No one will ever confuse the USBWA with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. But their recognition of what these two players have faced is a smack-down to every Peter King (the US Congressman, not the sportswriter) and Fox News hack who thinks Arabs and Muslims exist only to be demonized. Continue reading

Also Libya: A Poem by Suheir Hammad

Feb. 21: Libyan protesters are believed to be seen in Benghazi, Libya.

also libya

no one tells you

if anyone does you do not listen anyway

if you do still you do not understand

no one tells you how to be free

there is fire in your neck

ocean in your ear

there is always your fear

the words you cannot even

no one is here

when the world opens upside

down you reach toward dawn

your weight on the earth changes

some of us plant deeper

others ache to fly