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Malcolm X and Sudan

This article was originally published in Sudanese Community and Information Centre – London.

Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) is by far one of the most influential activists of our time and increasingly so among the current Muslim generation that has gained ‘a new  kind of consciousness’. In  a time where Islamophobia has been on the rise in the West since 9/11 and Muslims are seeing their civil liberties being violated, Malcolm X remains a source of inspiration of strength, critical observation of the establishment and need for greater grassroots mobilisation.

For many people within and outside of the US context, Malcolm X holds a great place of respect and admiration as a man who advocated not only the rights of African-Americans but for the oppressed people of the third world, in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. Even Rosa Parks whose act of refusing to move from a white only seat triggered the civil rights movement, stated that Malcolm X – not Martin Luther King who capitalized on her act – was her hero.

Throughout his active political years with the Nation of Islam until his death, Malcolm X had a few, but interesting, encounters with Sudan and Sudanese. He travelled to Sudan in 1959, visiting Khartoum and Omdurman, he spoke of Sudanese in glowing terms saying, ‘’I was impressed the most by the Muslims of the Sudan. Their religious piety and hospitality are unmatched anywhere. I really felt in heaven and home there.’’

“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”

Malcolm X

Malcolm X in Sudan with Sheik Ahmed Hassoun, 1959.

Malcolm X in Sudan with Sheik Ahmed Hassoun, 1959.

In 1962 Malcolm X felt increased resentment from high ranking members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) in Chicago for his public recognition, and they were suspicious of his aspirations of eventually succeeding Elijah Muhammed. Malcolm sought to deflect these feelings by reducing his media appearances and promoting Elijah Muhammed’s cult by defending the NOI against orthodox Muslims. From the outset, the Muslim community in America looked at the NOI as a heretical cult but rarely spoke against it.

One of the first Orthodox Muslims to publicly criticise the NOI was a Sudanese student at Pennsylvania University called Yahya Hayari. Malcolm responded, both privately and publicly, with a letter to the Pittsburg Courier against Hayari saying it’s ‘’difficult for me to believe that you’re a Muslim from the Sudan’’, he further aggressively defended Muhammed and accused Hayari of sounding ‘’like a brainwashed, American negro’’ that had ‘’been in Christian America too long,’’ yet Hayari continued prompting Malcolm.

In the same year, another Sudanese student from Dartmouth College called Ahmed Osman, who attended services at No. 7 Mosque (the active Harlem Mosque that Malcolm himself set up) engaged with Malcolm during a question and answer session. He directly challenged Malcolm on Elijah Muhammed’s prophetic claims and the assertion that whites were literally ‘’devils’’. Osman was ‘’greatly impressed by Malcolm’’ but not by his answer. Afterwards, the two exchanged letters and Osman sent literature from the Islamic Centre in Geneva with which Malcolm was grateful for and requested more. Despite Osman’s insistence for Malcolm to join true Islam, he was unprepared.  These engagements between Yahya, Ahmed and Malcolm must have helped lay the tracks for Malcolm’s exploration of orthodox Islam as he would later incorporate their discourses against the NOI.

In chapter 18 of Malcolm’s autobiography edited by Alex Haley, when he discusses his Hajj and the warm exchanges with various Muslims who expressed their solidarity with the struggle of African-Americans in the US, he pointed out a Sudanese “high official’ who hugged him and said “You champion the American black people.” In Mecca, Malcolm befriended a Sudanese called Shiekh Ahmed Hassoun who taught in Mecca for 35 years, eventually served as Malcolm’s spiritual advisor, and later taught at the Muslim Mosque Inc. which Malcolm created four days after his departure from the NOI in 1964.  It was Shiekh Ahmed who prepared Malcolm’s body for burial at the Faith Temple Church of God in West Harlem where he lay in state and oversaw his burial.

It’s common that Sudanese feel their country is rarely recognised or mentioned some way or another in contemporary history, however, many should take pride in knowing that Sudanese were closely involved in the inspiring story that is Malcolm X’s incredible life.

 

Omar Zaki is an active half-Sudanese student with an BA History degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and former Union Secretary for the SOAS Student’s Union. He is currently doing an MSc in Global Politics at the London School of Economics (LSE) with a focus on conflict, humanitarianism and human rights.
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A Jihad for Love

Islam, as one of the Abrahamic religions, along with Judaism and Christianity, has sometimes been perceived to reject homosexuality. According to mainstream Islamic beliefs, God sent the prophet Lot to the people of Sodom to preach against their wicked practices and urge them to worship God. Among these practices (as mentioned in the Quran) engaged in by the people of Sodom were sexual acts performed out in the open. Hence, the word sodomite. The exact meaning of this passage has been taken as reference to varying activities. The Quran (Surah Al-‘Ankabut> Verse 29) recounts what was preached to the Sodomites. “Do ye indeed approach men, and cut off the highway? And practise wickedness (even) in your councils?” and the Quran also states “If two among you (men) commit it (fornication) punish them both.If they repent and mend their ways leave them both”.(4:16)

 Diverse perspectives on homosexuality exist amongst new liberated Muslims, ranging from condemnation through to the Muslim Canadian Congress‘s welcome for legislation redefining marriage to include same-sex partners. In the documentary, a number of Islamic scholars assert that the Qur’anic verse, “we created you as partners”, need not be limited to male-female couples. The documentary shows Muslim gay marriages (nikah) in the United States, Canada and India. It states that this diversity may lie at the heart of traditional Islamic practice. In the formation of the different Islamic schools of thought, which have now become different denominations, such as Maliki and Shafi, scholars accepted there could be different interpretations of Qur’anic Arabic and people could align themselves to whichever they felt represented them most. The documentary asserts that the modern-day call of the politico-religious right for a homogeneous Islam is a new invention, and not at all fundamental.

 

A Jihad for Love

 

A Jihad for Love (2007) is the world’s first documentary film on the coexistence of Islam and homosexuality.[2] The film is directed by Parvez Sharma, and produced by Sharma and Trembling Before G-d director Sandi DuBowski.

in a time, when Islam is under tremendous attack-from within and without-‘A Jihadfor Love’ is a daring documentary-filmed in twelve countries and nine languages. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma has gone where the silence is strongest, filming with great risk in nations where government permission to make this film was not an option. A Jihad for Love is the first-ever feature-length documentary to explore the complex global intersections of Islam and homosexuality. With unprecedented access and depth, Sharma brings to light the hidden lives of gay and lesbian Muslims from countries like Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, France, India, and South Africa. The majority of gay and lesbian Muslims must travel a lonely and often dangerous road. In many nations with a Muslim majority, laws based on Quranic interpretations are enforced by authorities to monitor, entrap, imprison, torture and even execute homosexuals. Even for those who migrate to Europe or North America and adopt Western personae of “gay,” the relative freedoms of new homelands are mitigated by persistent racial profiling and intensified state surveillance after the terrorist attacks in New York, London and Madrid. As a result, many gay and lesbian Muslims end up renouncing their religion. But the real-life characters of A Jihad for Love aren’t willing to abandon a faith they cherish despite its flaws. Instead, they struggle to reconcile their ardent belief with the innate reality of their being. The international chorus of gay and lesbian Muslims brought together by A Jihad for Love doesn’t seek to vilify or reject Islam, but rather negotiate a new relationship to it. In doing so, the film’s extraordinary characters point the way for all Muslims to move beyond the hostile, war-torn present, toward a more hopeful future. As one can imagine, it was a difficult decision for the subjects to participate in the film due to the violence they could face. However, those who have come forward to tell their stories feel this film is too important for 1.4 billion Muslims and non-Muslims around the world for them to say no. They are willing to take the risk in their quest to lay equal claim to their profoundly held faith. “A Jihad for Love’ is produced by Sandi DuBowski (Director of Trembling Before G-d) in association with ZZDF-Arte Channel 4, and LOGO. Written by

Production

A Jihad for Love is produced by Halal Films, in association with the Sundance Documentary Fund, Channel 4 Television (UK), ZDF (Germany), Arte (France-Germany), Logo (US) and SBS (Australia).

The documentary was filmed in 12 different countries and in nine languages.[1][3] Sharma conducted interviews throughout North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Countries included Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Turkey, France, India, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom.[3] He found many of his interviewees online, and received thousands of emails.[4]

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2007, and has been screened to great acclaim at several film festivals around the world. It was the Opening film for the prestigious Panorama Dokumente section of the Berlin Film Festival in February, 2008. The U.S. theatrical release was May 21, 2008 at the IFC Center in New York City. The film screened at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco on June 28, 2008, and the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival on July 13, 2008.

Significance of the title

The title A Jihad for Love refers to the Islamic concept of jihad, as a religious struggle. The film seeks to reclaim this concept of personal struggle, as it is used in the media almost exclusively to mean “holy war” and to refer to violent acts perpetrated by extremist Muslims.

The film has gone by several titles, beginning with the official working title, In the Name of Allah.[5]

Among Muslims, the phrase (bismillah in Arabic) may be used before beginning actions, speech, or writing. Its most notable use in Al-Fatiha, the opening passage of the Qur’an, which begins Bismillahi r-Rahmāni r-Rahīm. All surahs of the Qur’an begin with “Bismillahi r-Rahmāni r-Rahīm,” with the exception of the ninth.

Producer DuBowski’s previous film, Trembling Before G-d, on Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, also included the name of God, written with a hyphen as in Jewish tradition. Allah is the name of God in Islam and Arabic, and it is often used among Muslims residing in Muslim countries and monotheists in Arabic speaking countries.

Controversy and problems

Sharma’s making of the film has not been without criticism.

bout every two weeks I get an e-mail that berates me, condemns me to hell and, if they are nice, asks me to still seek forgiveness while there is still time

Sharma refuses to associate homosexuality with shame, but recognizes the need to protect the safety and privacy of his sources, by filming them in silhouette or with their faces blurred. In one case, the family of an Afghan woman he interviewed “would undoubtedly kill her” if they found out she was lesbian. In another example, one of the associate producers, an Egyptian gay man, chose not to be listed in the credits for fear of possible consequences.

The film was banned from screening at the 2008 Singapore International Film Festival “in view of the sensitive nature of the subject that features Muslim homosexuals in various countries and their struggle to reconcile religion and their lifestyle,” Amy Chua, Singapore Board of Film Censors chairwoman was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

Critical reception

As of May 25, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 90 percent of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 10 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 55 out of 100, based on six reviews — indicating mixed or average reviews.

In the end this to give you a good idea of how hard it was to make a movie like that If five percent of all Muslims are gay, that means there are 60 million around the world, and it’s chilling to think that many of them wake up each day either painfully closeted or wondering if their lives are in danger. Sharma shines a bright light on this tough topic. He was brave to undertake it, and his subjects were brave to cooperate with him.

Irshad Manji

Manji was born in Uganda in 1968 to parents of Egyptian and Gujarati descent. Her family moved to Canada when she was four, as a result of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians. She and her family settled near Vancouver in 1972. Manji Belong to Shia Ismaili (Agakhani) sect of Islam  She has a bachelor’s degree in History from University of British Columbia.

For wenty years, she studied Islam via public libraries and Arabic tutors. Manji earned an honours degree in the history of ideas from the University of British Columbia. In 1990, she won the Governor General’s Medal for top humanities graduate. She is openly lesbian Currently she is a Visiting Fellow with the International Security Studies program at Yale University.

While Manji has been applauded for her work in “The Trouble with Islam Today”, she has also faced criticism for the book. Critics say that she has resorted to Arab bashing and appeasing the Jewish block to gain name and fame. The book which discusses in length about the way Islam has forgotten its tradition of critical thinking, called “ijtihad”, and the way it discriminates women and promotes violence against people of other faith especially the Jews. The book attempts to explore the Islamic tradition and the Holy Koran to know what the Prophet really preached. Since she is not an Islamic scholar, critics have said that she is not qualified to talk about the issues in Islam and her views are not to be taken seriously.

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to- God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them.

Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny. What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of customs, such as honour killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo? How can people ditch dogma while keeping faith?In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji invites Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop many from living with integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji reconciles faith with freedom, describing a universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them.

Irshad Manji – The Trouble with Islam Today

The Trouble with Islam Today, original title The Trouble with Islam is a 2004 book critical of Islam written by Irshad Manji, styled in an open-letter addressed to concerned citizens worldwide – Muslim or not.

In the book the author aims to provide an examination of what she describes as “the inferior treatment of women in Islam”; “Jew-bashing that so many Muslims persistently engage in”, “the continuing scourge of slavery in countries ruled by Islamic regimes”, “literalist readings of the Koran” and “the lost traditions of critical thinking Ijtihad“.

The Trouble with Islam is an open letter from me, a Muslim voice of reform, to concerned citizens worldwide – Muslim and not. It’s about why my faith community needs to come to terms with the diversity of ideas, beliefs and people in our universe, and why non-Muslims have a pivotal role in helping us get there.” – “That doesn’t mean I refuse to be a Muslim, it simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah.

In the book, Manji says that an Arab failure to accept the Jews’ historical bond with Palestine is a mistake. Manji writes that the Jews’ historical roots stretch back to the land of Israel, and that they have a right to a Jewish state. She further argues that the allegation of apartheid in Israel is deeply misleading, noting that there are in Israel several Arab political parties; that Arab-Muslim legislators have veto powers; and that Arab parties have overturned disqualifications. She also writes that Israel has a free Arab press; that road signs bear Arabic translations; and that Arabs live and study alongside Jews.

Irshad Manji – The Trouble with Islam Today

Chapters
  • “The Letter”
  • “How I Became a Muslim Refusenik
  • Seventy Virgins?”
  • “When Did We Stop Thinking?”
  • “Gates and Girdles”
  • “Who’s Betraying Whom?”
  • “The Hidden Underbelly of Islam”
  • “Operation Ijtihad
  • “In Praise of Honesty”
  • “Thank God for the West”
Faith without Fear, a film which explores Manji’s journey into Islam in the 21st century. On first glance, Faith without Fear mirrors the contents of Manji’s internationally best-selling book, The Trouble with Islam Today. Like the book, the film deals with the injustices that are committed in the name of Islam.
“This film began not as a critique of Islam but as a quest for the beauty in Islam,” Manji explains. “I soon realized that to find the beauty of my faith, I needed to have basic questions addressed: Is the problem religion itself or the manipulation of religion? Does Islam contain the seeds of a solution to the horrors that are committed in its name? How much responsibility should mainstream Muslims take? Above all, if Islam never existed, what would the world be missing?”
In Amsterdam, Manji explores the way in which repression of free expression in the ummah (Muslim community) is masquerading under the imperative of unity. Manji comes to the conclusion that if Muslims are going to accept the fruits of modernity, including their right to worship freely, then they must make room for debate and dissent. As Manji says, “When Muslims shield ourselves from that challenge, we declare we’re incapable of growing, and that our faith is too. Islam deserves better from us.” Finally, turning to Spain, Manji illuminates with much excitement an historical vision of Islam that Muslims can embrace in the 21st century-an Islam that is vibrant, tolerant, and intellectually dynamic. As Manji puts it, “This is the Islam that I love.”
In Faith without Fear, Irshad Manji remains the spiky-haired public intellectual who speaks truth to power, but now her indignation at the injustices carried out under the banner of Islam is grounded in respect and love for her faith. Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of mythology, wrote that all great journeys must go through three stages: separation, initiation, and a return. Going into the unknown, experiencing a transformation, and bringing back the prize of the quest. In this wonderful documentary, Manji takes us with her on a journey of discovery, we experience her transformation and reap the benefit of the boon of knowledge that she carries back with her.

Manji was awarded Oprah Winfrey‘s first annual Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction.”[34] Ms. Magazine named her a “Feminist for the 21st Century,”[35] and Immigration Equality gave her its Global Vision Prize.[36] In 2006, The World Economic Forumselected her as a Young Global Leader.[37] She has also been named a Muslim Leader of Tomorrow by the American Society for Muslim Advancement.[38] In May 2008, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Puget Sound.

I do believe that a substantial reform is impossible without brave reformists who are ready to question everything. Throughout history, reformists have uttered ideas that initially repelled or scared the hypnotized majorities in their “holy bandwagons.” There cannot be a slow transformation, but a shock, a radical jump, a paradigm change among Muslim masses.

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