Muslims face prejudice, but Muslims from the Caucasus face a particular kind of prejudice - the kind born of ignorance so great it perversely imbues everything with significance. “There is never interpretation, understanding and knowledge when there is no interest,” Edward Said wrote in Covering Islam , and until this week, there was so little interest in and knowledge of the Caucasus that the ambassador of the Czech Republic felt compelled to issue a press release stating that the Czech Republic is not the same as Chechnya.
Knowing nothing of the Tsarnaevs’ motives, and little about Chechens, the American media tore into Wikipedia and came back with stereotypes. The Tsarnaevs were stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time. Journalist Eliza Shapiro proclaimed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “named after a brutal warlord”, despite the fact that Tamerlan, or Timur, is an ordinary first name in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Her claim is equivalent to saying a child named Nicholas must be named in honour of ruthless Russian tsar Nicholas I - an irony apparently lost on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who made a similar denouncement on Twitter (to his credit, Kristof quickly retracted the comment).
Other journalists found literary allusions, or rather, illusions. “They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ,” explained scholar Juan Cole, citing an 1862 Russian novel to explain the motives of a criminal whose Twitter account was full of American rap lyrics. One does not recall such use of literary devices to ascertain the motives of less exotic perpetrators, but who knows? Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.
Still others turned to social media as a gateway to the Chechen soul. Journalist Julia Ioffe - after explaining the Tsarnaevs through Tolstoy, Pushkin, and, of course, Stalin - cites the younger Tsarnaev’s use of the Russian website VKontakte as proof of his inability to assimilate, then ranks the significance of his personal photos.
"The most revealing image of Dzhokhar is not the one of him hugging an African-American friend at his high school graduation, but the one of him sitting at a kitchen table with his arm around a guy his age who appears to be of Central Asian descent," she writes . "In front of them is a dish plov , a Central Asian dish of rice and meat, and a bottle of Ranch dressing." Again, it is difficult to imagine a journalist writing with such breathtaking arrogance - why is the Central Asian friend more "revealing" than the African-American one? What, exactly, are they "revealing"? - about the inner life of someone from a more familiar place.
One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case - and yes, they exist - is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .
Following free traders and artisans who migrated to and traded with India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia in the fist centuries of the common era; from the 1300s onward, East Africans from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and adjacent areas entered the Indian subcontinent, mostly though the slave trade. Others came as soldiers and sailors. From Bengal in the northeast to Gujarat in the west and to the Deccan in Central India, they vigorously asserted themselves in the country of their enslavement. The success was theirs but it is also a strong testimony to the open-mindedness of a society in which they were a small religious and ethnic minority, originally of low status. As foreigners and Muslims, some of these Africans ruled over indigenous Hindu, Muslim and Jewish populations.
Besides appearing in written documents, East Africans, known as Habshis (Abyssinians) and Sidis, have been immortalized in the rich paintings of different eras, states, and styles that form an important part of Indian culture. Africans in India features dramatically stunning photographic reproductions of some of these paintings, as well as photographs.
As rulers, city planners, and architects, the Sidis have left an impressive historical and architectural legacy that attest to their determination, skills, and intellectual, cultural, military and political savvy. The imposing forts, mosques, mausoleums, and other edifices they built — some more than 500 years ago — still grace the Indian landscape. They left their mark in the religious realm too. The 14th century African Muslim Sufi saint Bava Gor and his sister, Mai Misra, have devotees of all origins, not only in India, but also in Pakistan. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Zoroastrians frequent their shrines.
From humble beginnings, some Africans carved out princely states — Janjira and Sachin — complete with their own coats of arms, armies, mints, and stamps. They fiercely defended them from powerful enemies well into the 20th century when, with another 600 princely states, they were integrated into the Indian State.
Fatwas have caught the fancy of the people worldwide and is popularly used by media, to project Islam as a misogynist religion with impractical restrictions. Zakir Naik, in his speech on the subject, explains why Muslims or Ulemas should not be giving so much importance to Sania Mirza’s dress code. Naik speaks about the importance of “diluting” the global effect of labeling Sania Mirza’s dress code as Haraam for the sake of a positive representation of Islam in the media. He further says that she is a “lesser sinner” than Muslim male cricketers who do not offer Salah at all. However, he also mentions her world ranking is “only” 34th and doesn’t deserve all the attention it is garnering.
In another related article, Dr Mookhi Amir Ali, while stating that he has better work to do than follow Sania Mirza’s career, goes onto say that she should have used her stature, as a successful Muslim woman, to question the short skirts and bring modesty into the game. She also should have worn a wrap right after the game was over, or chose not to wear the tennis dress, in all the advertisements she was featured in–the very advertisements which chose to feature her because she was a tennis star. The only attribute which will make her a good Muslim, according to him, is if she brought about any changes in the accepted “dress codes” for women in professional tennis.
Sadly, in the Islamic world, a Muslim woman’s piety is often closely related to her dress code. If she misses a prayer or a fast, not many go berserk as they would if she doesn’t wear a hijab. Does being a good Muslim woman begin and end with a hijab? Are Muslim women defined only by their modest dress codes alone? By mentioning that she is a “lesser” sinner, and by repeatedly saying that “at least” she offers Salah, Naik, while diluting some of the hype around her clothing, still suggests there’s a sense of shame in Sania Mirza being Muslim.
As a Muslim from a Christian family, Christmas has historically been complicated for me. Converting to Islam as a teenager, part of what I wanted from my religion was a new identity; the differences between Christians and Muslims held more value for me than the similarities, so I abstained from my family’s Christmas celebration. The boundaries between religions were crucial to my personal reinvention. I believed that there was no way of interpreting Christmas other than through the theological lens in which Christ was the son of God; because this violated my understanding of Islamic monotheism, tawhid, I had to stay as far from Christmas as I could.
In later years, I gave up on my Christmas boycott. I now join in my family’s annual party—with a discreet trip to Denny’s first, because everything at the family dinner has pork in it and Denny’s is the only thing open—and apparently celebrate the birth of someone’s savior, but not mine. I’m now confident enough in my own Muslim selfhood to not let it be won or lost by a holiday. Anyway, the boundaries don’t always mean to me what they once did; but for numerous Muslims with Christian families, Christmas can be a difficult choice. Besides the theological question of whether celebrating Christmas means that you join in the worship of a human as God, there’s the matter of what constitutes proper Muslim behavior. Celebrating Christmas could be classified as bida’a, “innovation,” the corruption of an Islam that’s imagined to be otherwise pure and pristine through mixture with the practices of other communities.
For pro-Christmas Muslims, the esteemed place of Jesus in Islam might offer a rational defense for sharing in a Christian holiday; the Qur’an not only recognizes Jesus as a prophet, but also supports the story of his miraculous birth from a virgin mother. Some Muslims might take part in their families’ Christmas celebrations with the intention to honor Jesus as a Muslim prophet. This can even connect to Muslim traditions regarding Muhammad. Not all Muslims believe that it is appropriate to celebrate Muhammad’s birthday, but those who do might consider the celebration of other prophets’ birthdays as well.
There’s also the well-worn “children of Abraham” narrative, in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians are all said to share in a common heritage and should therefore see each other as spiritual cousins. This isn’t exactly wrong—certainly, one can derive such a position from the text of the Qur’an—but it’s limited, because constructing an Abrahamic family just performs a new set of exclusions. Bringing Abraham into this is only the “tolerant” option if we assume the entirety of the human race to be comprised of believing Abrahamic monotheists. The “children of Abraham” approach doesn’t help when it comes to my friends and family outside of the Abrahamic tent, both those who grew up as Muslims, Christians, or Jews but no longer identify themselves as such, and those who claim other traditions. Quoting a verse of the Qur’an that praises all who “believe in the last day and do what is right,” whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, isn’t going to be the answer every time.
Tina Brown successfully trolled the Internet yet again this morning, with a Newsweek cover bearing angry, bearded protesters and a headline of “MUSLIM RAGE.” The article was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, wife of historian and previous Newsweek troll-bait provider Niall Ferguson.
Sensing the opportunity to troll even harder, the magazine went searching for an outrage-inducing force multiplier…
That’s when the Twitterverse, especially Muslim users, decided enough was enough and hijacked the hashtag.
For its part, Newsweek defended the cover and its depiction of the protesters, telling Politico: “This week’s Newsweek cover accurately depicts the events of the past week as violent protests have erupted in the Middle East (including Morocco where the cover image was taken).”