So there’s a fun new fatwa being covered in the international news, and it goes like this: Mars Is Haram.
I know what you’re thinking- come on, it’s just another one of those made-up fatwas, like last year’s Great Syrian Sex Jihad and the Erotic Fruit and Vegetable Fatwa of 2011. Those were great fun for the media, and in all their journalistic glee, they forgot to check their stories. There is something to be said for journalistic integrity, unless there’s a funny fatwa story. Then it’s a free for-all.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the media’s lost sight of due diligence when it comes to stories about Muslims. Remember the man who was too handsome for Saudi? Or the Egyptian Necrophilia Fatwa– where unnamed and unsourced clerics said it was okay for a grieving husband to have “Farewell Intercourse” with his spouse’s corpse for up six hours after the time of death. Grieving wives had conjugal rights to dead husbands as well, because Muslims do believe in equality of the sexes, see?
Remember the fatwa where if your spouse saw you naked, your marriage became invalid? Or how breastfeeding your male colleagues could make them your mahram? Those were fake too.
Muslims generally hear these stories, heave a long-suffering sigh, and go back to worrying about real news- like other Muslims being ethnically cleansed, burned alive, and frozen to death across the world.
We tend to take these stories in stride with the rest of the c@#$ that mainstream media dumps on us already. Yes, yes, we heard already- we are the stupid, violent, intolerant, controlling men who obsess about sex, gender relations, and suspiciously shaped produce – and the women who love them.
The men I mean. Not the fruit. Because there’s a fatwa about that.
So what is a fatwa?
Let’s say I have a dry cough. I read the directions on the cough syrup, and confirm it was for dry cough. But then I read the fine print, where taking the syrup can be risky in conjunction with other medications. Now, I do happen to take some of those medications, but not often. I am looking for some clarity, so I call my doctor and he gives me his medical opinion– not an order- about my specific case. He tells me what he thinks I should do, and why he thinks so. Whether I think he’s right, or whether I want to go looking for a second opinion is up to me. He hasn’t given me an order, he has given me a fatwa.
- Fatawa are legal opinions, not laws
- The purpose of fatawa is to seek clarity. This usually happens in cases dealing with new, specific, or unclear issues.
The doctor told me what he was thinking based on his knowledge, training, and personal experience. He told me why he was thinking it, and I am free to follow it or not. That is a fatwa. Given the number of bad doctors in the world, it seems more understandable then, why there can be confusing Islamic fatawa. Muslims are humans, humans make mistakes, and humans can be expected to have differing opinions, medical or otherwise.
For every two sensible doctors out there is at least one nut-job who tells us to put herbs in our socks or wear a magnetized bracelet to cure the chronic bronchitis I am actually incubating. So yes, it is possible to get a strange non-legally binding opinion- or fatwa- from a real Muslim, the same way I can get an unhealthy recommendation from a real doctor.
What happened to Mars?
It all started with a Dutch Company called Mars One, whose mission is to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.” The company plans to start sending people up to the red planet by 2024, and they’ll be sending them one-way.
According to the original story in the Khaleej Times, the General Islamic of Islamic Affairs and Endowment of the UAE – locally known as the Awqaaf, takes issue with this type of mission.
“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”
Whoever opts for this “hazardous trip”, the committee said, is likely to perish for no “righteous reason”, and thus will be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”.
The committee, presided by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse [4:29] of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”
Professor Dr. Who?
Dr. Farouk Al Hamada is real person. In fact, he’s even really in the UAE. He is a published author, and according to his personal website, he is currently “an adviser at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, Emirates.” His website was last updated on Jan 8, 2012.
He is not, however, the Grand Mufti of the UAE, let alone all of Saudi Arabia as some of the headlines claim. A quick Google search shows that there doesn’t seem to be a Grand Mufti of the UAE, but there is a Grand Mufti of Dubai. His name is Dr. Ahmad Al Haddad; in July of 2013, he made the news with some very sage advice, “Be careful about fatwas on twitter.”
- Taking an unnecessary risk with your life is not allowed in Islam
- A one-way ticket to Mars means you’ll probably die
- If you do go and die, you may be held accountable for killing yourself for no good reason
What Dr. Farooq Hamada didn’t say was:
- Travel to Mars (versus Jupiter) is not allowed
- Flying to Mars (versus walking) is not forbidden
- Colonizing Mars (versus visiting) is not allowed
- Housing on Mars (versus education?) is haram
- Living on Mars is sinful
- Even wanting to live on Mars is sinful
- Muslims traveling to Mars will suffer punishment
There are other opinions about this issue- and they will most likely hinge on whether travel to Mars is a righteous reason or reasonably safe. They have nothing to do with flying, colonizing, the high rate of Martian housing, or nurturing secret dreams of space travel. At this point in time, a one-way trip to Mars is a bit like jumping into an alligator pit. If I’m doing it to save a kid who fell in, I can risk my life because that’s a righteous reason. But if I’m doing it to take a selfie, that’s suicide. And I’m an idiot.
A third alligator option exists, where I’m going in to take a selfie, but the alligator is either tame, toothless, or safely restrained. In that case, I don’t need to have a righteous reason, because I’m not risking my life. That would be like going to Mars if/when traveling by space is like taking a cruise, but one where we’d drink recycled urine.
Is that allowed? Can we get a fatwa on that?
The bottom line is that life is precious, so if I’m deliberately putting mine at risk, I’d better have a good reason for it. If not, my death may be judged as suicide versus sacrifice. If there is more to this fatwa, it’s not in the original story, and the Martian fatwa in question does not appear in the archives of General Islamic of Islamic Affairs and Endowment of the UAE.
Last year alone, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments issued over 337,000 fatawa, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another one in the international news. They are maintained in a searchable archive here, and contain such sensational questions as:
- Is it halal (permissable) to hunt pigeons within city limits? (Hunting in cities or sanctuaries is not allowed without authorization from the competent authorities out of respect of public order.)
- Are the zakat values of stocks based on their original purchase price, or the current market value, and how much is a Nisab? (Commercial shares and stocks are determined according to their current market value. The Nisab is 85 grams of gold. And Allah knows best.)
Why does this keep happening?
Journalists: they dig deep to find buried stories, uncover injustice, and show the world what’s really happening so we can all get up and do something about it. And in their spare time, they play the telephone game.
Without fact-checking information beforehand, major media outlets share stories that humorously “confirm” what they think they know about Muslims, but if a news story features something positive about a Muslim, it is ignored.
This is called information bias- and it happens when people choose to promote or recognize what supports their existing point of view. That’s why a story with a Saudi cleric, two goats, and not a leg of truth between them can make international news, but the same story- without any Muslim affiliations, would be an insult to journalism.
This isn’t limited to news, there are the books too. But the stories aren’t necessarily fake- sometimes they are poignant- or not so poignant– coming of age stories where people wake up, open their eyes, and stop being Muslim long enough to secure a lucrative book deal. This model has been so successful that even non-Muslims try to get in on the act, and some famous frauds- recently Ergun Caner, Walid Shoebat, and Kamal Saleem– gave it a good run before finally being exposed. In doing so, they did their part in lending legitimacy (however phony) to the stereotypes. Because, Islam is so bad even Muslims are leaving it, see?
The Bigger Picture
Fake Ex-Muslims, Former Muslim Tell-Alls, and Freaky Fatwa news all fit into a bigger picture-they are all sneaky manifestations of the straw man argument.
The Straw Man, or Aunt Sally as she’s know in the UK, is a logical fallacy in which someone defeats an argument– not by defeating the argument itself–but by knocking over a dummy argument in its place. Imagine that anti-Muslim bigots are set to box with Mike Tyson, and when the bell chimes, they come out swinging at a mannequin that sort of looks like him. The mannequin goes down, the crowd cheers, and Islamophobia is crowned the heavyweight champion of the Internet.
Fake Ex-Muslims face off against a dummy version of Islam, using their “real life” experiences to prove that Muslims really are terrorists- and then knock that dummy over using a new-found love of Christ and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds.
Former Muslims prop up a paper-back version of Islam as a harbinger of chaos, cultural darkness, and burkas- and use the feather of their touching nostalgia to blow it gently over. Through the rose-tinted lenses of their simplistic narrative, there appears to have been nothing wrong with their country/family/life when it was secular, and there was nothing right when it was “Islamic.”
Freaky Fatwa news is part of the same game. Bigoted–or just irresponsible–media props up dummy versions of Islam- incorrect, backwards, over-the-top, and sexually immature stories of what Muslims do and believe, and with every like, share, and eye-roll, we readers do our part to knock them over.
The success of the straw man argument rests entirely on the crowd’s inability to tell the difference between a mannequin and Mike Tyson, so the more people understand real Islam, the less likely they are to swing at the straw men propped up in Islam’s place.
If you’re a Muslim and you find fake information about Islam getting shared in your social media circles, speak up. Be brave. Be funny. Stand up in the crowd and politely point out that the guy in the blue corner is actually a scarecrow and the real champion is the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Advice for Journalists
If you’re a journalist, and you’re not sure whether a funny story you read about a Muslim is news-worthy, copy the text of the story and remove all references to Islam, Muslims, and Saudi Arabia- and then read it again. Now, ask yourself a few questions:
- Can the story be verified?
- Is the content genuinely interesting, significant, or relevant to your readership?
- Was a real person willing to put their name on this? Is there an original, reliable source or byline?
- Could the text of this email be mistaken for a chain letter?
- If you published this religion-free version, would your editor call you an idiot with no news sense?
If you are looking at a verified news story that is genuinely significant or relevant to your readers, written by someone who wasn’t embarrassed to put their name to it, you’re off to a good start.
If, however the content you’re looking at could pass as a chain letter, or suddenly isn’t funny if Muslims aren’t involved, then please delete it and do something better with your life.
5 Quick Things Americans Can Do For Uyghurs Today
“I may die, but let it be known that my nation will continue their struggle so long the world continues to exist.” Kazakh leader Uthman Batur. He said these words as Chinese authorities executed him for resisting the communist occupation. Currently, China has, one million Uyghurs (Uighurs), Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities held in concentration camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) (East Turkistan) in northwestern China.
Their struggle surpasses the 10 or so years since we have become aware of it. Just like the Rohingya genocide, we waited till the last minute. We are always late and say, “Never Again.” It happens again and again.
In my lifetime, there have been horrendous genocides that could have been prevented to stopped. As a child, I remember Rwanda in the headlines, then a year later Bosnian genocide. Then we hear these demonic stories after the fact. I remember stories from survivors from Bosnia, and thinking to myself, “How are you here and functioning?”
Let us not be fooled to why this is happening now. It is related to economic advantages. The Chinese government’s present signature foreign policy initiative is the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) that seeks to connect the PRC economically to the rest of the Eurasian continent through massive infrastructure projects that will stimulate international trade. The western and south-western components of the BRI require the XUAR to serve as a transportation and commercial hub to trade routes and pipelines that will join China with Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and the entirety of Europe. As a result, the XUAR has become an important strategic region for the Chinese, and the state views its indigenous populations as an obstacle to developing its vision for this future critical center of international commercial networks.1
The expansion of their trade route also ties in Iran hence the sanctions placed, but that’s a different report for a different time. China, of course, has defended their actions by claiming its an anti-terrorism plan. Getting reliable information is hard. China has made it a point to make things difficult for reporters. Yanan Wang, a China-based journalist from the Associated Press, has reported extensively on and from Xinjiang.
In a ceremony at Asia Society on Tuesday commemorating AP’s 2019 Osborn Elliott Award for Excellence in Journalism on Asia, Wang described the subtle ways government minders worked to thwart her reporting: “(Both of the times we went there we arrived at the airport, we had a welcoming committee from the local authorities. They’re always very polite and professional. They say that “you’ve arrived in Xinjiang and we’re here to assist you in your reporting. Tell us what you’re working on so we can help you.” They offer us drives in their car and plenty of hospitality.
Basically, from the moment we arrive, we’re followed by at least one car. There are a bunch of interesting scenarios that we came across. You can see that the local handlers are trying hard to be professional. They are members of the propaganda department, so they’re PR professionals. They don’t want to make it appear like it’s so stifling. At one point, we were taking photos, and someone suddenly appeared on the scene to say he was a “concerned citizen.” He said he’d seen us taking photos and that it was an infringement of his privacy rights. He had this long monologue about privacy rights and about how it wasn’t right for us to take photos of him without his knowledge. We asked him, “Well, where are you in these photos?” and he’d go through all of them. He said we had to delete all of them. He’d say, “This is my brother,” or “This is my place of work, you have to delete it.”
They had all of these interesting tactics to work around the idea that they were trying to obstruct our reporting and make it appear that someone who claims to be a concerned citizen.)”2
On top of that, locals that talk to journalist are punished, sometimes go missing.
I decided to do something this time around; I got in touch with an Uyghur community near my residence to see how an individual could help. It started at a Turkic restaurant, and from there, I have been involved in whatever capacity I am able. Through this effort, I got in touch with a Turkic professor in Turkey who has students stranded as they are cut off from contacting family back in Xinjiang. He helps them out financially; my family and friends help with what they can.
As Muslims in the West, there is no doubt we should act. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim).
How Can You Help Uyghurs
Here are a few things you can do to help:
1. Ask Congress to pass To pass S.178 & H.R.649 Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. Urge your senator and representative to support this cause. It has been introduced. This bill can help the Uyghur community to be treated like Tibetans (another region oppressed by China).
2. Stay informed. The mainstream media is not the place to get accurate information on the situation. Be skeptical of where the data is coming from, stick to reliable sources that are verified. As mentioned above, journalists find it difficult to report.
4. Boycott or reduce buying Made in China products
5. Follow these links for updated information: facebook.com/Uyghur-Human-Rights-Project-227634297289994/ and facebook.com/ChinaMuslims
This crisis is an ethnic cleansing for profit. These are dark days as we value profit over people.
1.Statement by Concerned Scholars on mass detentions | MCLC …. https://u.osu.edu/mclc/2018/11/27/statement-by-concerned-scholars-on-mass-detention s/
2.Why It’s So Difficult for Journalists To Report From …. https://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/why-its-so-difficult-journalists-report-xinjiang
Retire Aladdin To The Ends Of The Earth
By Jinan Shbat
I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Ohio, where I never felt different than the kids in my neighborhood. Sure, my siblings and I had odd-sounding names, and we spoke a second language. But to our neighbors and classmates, we were white, like them. However, that perception changed when I was 11-years-old, when a Disney cartoon movie named “Aladdin,” was released based off of a character created by a French orientalist at the height of Orientalism. At first, my siblings and I were excited because we thought Disney had made a movie that represented us. However, shortly after the movie came out, the questions began.
Are you from Agrabah?
Do you have a magic carpet? Are you going to be married off to someone your parents choose? Do you have outfits like Jasmine?” My head was swarming with all these questions, and I admit, I was intimidated. A little scared, too. I didn’t know how to answer them, and so I just shook my head and walked away.
My parents thought they were doing us a favor by buying the movie and have us watch it anytime other kids came over to play. This just created a larger divide between us, and soon my siblings and I were the “other.” It made me hyper-aware of my brown skin, my visiting foreign grandparents, and my weird-sounding name that no one could ever pronounce correctly. As I grew up, the movie and its racist, Orientalist tropes followed and haunted me. Anytime anyone found out I was Arab, they would ask, “oh, like Aladdin?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Was Aladdin Arab? South Asian, Persian? These were all different ethnicities, yet the movie seemed to be an amalgamation of them all, set in a fiction land I could not identify.
Why is Disney’s Aladdin Harmful?
It may not seem like a big deal to be misidentified in this way, but it is. And these stereotypes that have been present in Hollywood for decades are a huge disservice to our communities- all our communities- because when you misidentify a person’s culture, you are saying that all people of color are interchangeable— which is dehumanizing.
With the new release of the live action version, “Aladdin” is reinforcing the trauma and obstacles we have had to fight for the last 30+ years. The addition of a diversity consulting firm made Disney look good; it showed good faith on their part to receive feedback on the script to try and improve it.
However, issues remain with the original story itself, and no amount of consulting will change that.
Although the Aladdin remake was marked by controversy over Disney “brown-facing” its white cast, and despite original Aladdin’s racist history, last weekend Disney’s live-action version soared to $207.1 million globally. Money experts tell us that the remake success comes from the “power of nostalgia”- that is, the film’s ability to connect with feel-good memories.
The original production is the second highest grossing film project in Disney history. Last weekend, millions flocked to the remake in record numbers, despite critics’ negative and mixed reviews.
The accompanying Aladdin Jr. play is also a major concern, sales of which will skyrocket because of the film. Disney only recently removed the word ‘barbaric’ in its description of Arabs in the opening song. Many more problems abound, but Disney promises through its licensing company, Music Theatre International, to keep the concepts explored in the original production intact.
A Whole New World Needs Less Anti-Muslim Bigotry
From my perspective, as an organizer that fights a huge Islamophobia network in my daily work, it would be a disservice to my work and our community to sit by and allow racist, Islamophobic, orientalist tropes to make their way into our theaters, homes, and schools. What exactly is not a big deal in this movie? The depiction of Arabs and South Asians as one demographic, the storyline of forced marriage, power struggles, a black man playing a genie literally bound by chains to a lamp?
Hollywood’s history of Islamophobia needs to be rectified. There is a plethora of writers, actors and creative minds with alternative positive portrayals of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Our consumer appetite must shift to embrace authentic stories and images about people like me.
Aladdin is beyond repair; in its original form, it is problematic. No number of meetings with executives will fix the problems that are still prevalent. It should be retired, indefinitely, and put on the shelf with all the other racist caricatures from Hollywood history.
It’s our duty to speak out- and if you don’t believe we should, then you can choose to stay silent. I cannot.
Jinan Shbat is an organizer in Washington DC.
Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks
In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.
Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.
The statement reads:
“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!
Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.
Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”
Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.
The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.
Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy. Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019 at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.
“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.
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