Saturday, April 29, 2006

An Incomplete Education: Analyzing and Addressing the Problem of Secular Schooling

In the latest edition of Al Jummah Magazine, Sr. Maryam Haleem's article on An Incomplete Education highlights the dilemma Muslims face from secular education. Her central argument is that secular education stymies Muslims to distance themselves from their deen and that we need to synthesize secular education with Islamic knowledge. Here is what she says in her own words:

“If we do not have integration of Islam’s teaching in our daily subjects, it will just fade softly into separate fables and stories of olden morals and virtues. These prophetic narratives will become merely vague images of what somehow we ought to be, while at the same time there will be resounding feeling that these ancient moral men and women do not really understand what we are going through today, in our time, in our stage of the history of humanity, because they did not live in the same timeline as us, because they were always a world apart, because they were separate and untouched by the real world we were taught.

Because there is very little relevance accorded to Islam though any of the curricula (formal or informal) by which we are learning about Islam, and because virtually all of our education is based on secular (and predominantly Western) sources, our Muslim identity is greatly weakened and, in many cases, shattered. Whether our youth attend Islamic private schools or public schools, they are indoctrinated in the importance, relevance, and superiority in Western education, Secular education. Secularism in all its facets of life, becomes the standard, the pedestal, which we all strive to achieve.”

This wields a profound impact on the Muslim mindset, especially given our relatively ineffectual presence in the West and our sublimated spiritual identities. Instead of raising s up and bestowing upon us the mantle with which we can proudly and gratefully call ourselves Muslim, our education confuses and embarrasses us, even renders us averse to the idea of being Muslim.

Abashment emerges out of the knowledge that our Islamic heritage is somehow seen as less, less, less that our Western inheritance – less important, less civilized, and less sophisticated. This mortification naturally makes us much more inclined to sport our Western identities than our Muslim one. Such an inferiority complex, in many cases, leads to impatience with and, post you-know-what-date, and almost hysterical averseness to “excessive” Islamic thinking. It makes us, as community, far more eager to listen to someone with Western, secular credentials than another who embodies good eloquent, dignified, Islamic values, but who is lacking in a secular background.

This draws us even further away from the already drifting world of legendary prophets and their companions. It makes them the heroes of distant, enjoyable, inspirational stories for the end of the stressful secular day, when we can read about these larger-than-life figures, admire them from a safe remoteness, and all the while stroke ourselves with excuses as to why were are not more like them – inevitably pinning this to the fact that they lived in an obviously different and infinitely less complex world than our own multi-everything, modern one.”

Her analysis in insightful and warranted in era where more and more Muslim parents are placing greater emphasis on secular education at the price of Islamic knowledge. Even those parents that put their sons and daughters through traditional Islamic boarding schools or universities find that themselves and their children are isolated from the general trend amongst Muslims perception that Secular degrees, even in subjects such as ‘Islamic studies’ or Arabic where traditional Islamic schools are superior by Orientalists’ standards, are the only ones worth pursing.

To limit the perpetuation this problem, she suggests that:

We need to reconsider the Islamic way of learning. We need to establish it earnest in our schools… To say it in a sentence, integrating Islam into traditional subjects will give students not only knowledge but, but something of greater value: Wisdom.”

While Sr. Haleem’s analysis raises concerns about this important problem facing Muslims, I find her recommendations to counter this growing trend wanting. She presents an abstract course of action but does not identify the actors (family, community, or universities) who are necessary to implement it into reality.

My own personal belief is that addressing this problem has to begin at a micro-level, with emphasis on the self and the family as the vehicles of mobilization. Even the Qur’an attests that, “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change the condition themselves [13:11].” Muslims parents and students should realize that the burden is upon them to preserve their own deen. Unfortunately, Muslims have not developed enough institutions or social organizations to rely on linking identities in the West with our Islamic values.

Imagine every eighteen to twenty-six year old Muslim having the free opportunity to make Umrah Umrah and spend a week appreciating the Holy cities of Mecca and Medinah. It would without a doubt rejuvenate their eman and remind them of their Islamic identity. Think it’s an absurd idea? The Jewish community already does its own version of it; free Birthright Israel trips.

On an optimistic note, Muslims should not become discouraged by our current situation but rather continue to strive towards integrating their family’s secular education with Islam so that one day, by the will of Allah, parents will crave that their children become Haziful Qur'ans and Muhaddiths.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fragmentation of Pakistan: A Microcosm of the Muslim World?

I’ve been reading some news about Pakistan and I’ve come to the conclusion that Pakistani society is fragmenting at an unprecedented rate.

Here are the two cases I present as my cases:

1. The Glasshouse’s Blogger writes:

“There is a restaurant in Karachi apparently well-known for the high quality of its cuisine. Many people go there for the excellence of its food, but not all. There is a growing set of jaded Seth housewives who visit this eating establishment merely to display their handbags.

Sounds weird doesn’t it? But I kid you not.

These ladies , I am told, live a life engrossed in reading vacuous magazines (such as ‘Hello!’ and ‘Tattler’), watching mindless US Television shows (‘Sex in the City’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’), and are obsessed with the latest diet fads so they can look their glamorous best for the next high profile ball. Even if they lack dress sense, clothes have to be bought in Bond Street or Knightsbridge, shoes from Italian fashion houses and, yes - the ultimate – a handbag or two from Hermes.
…As Ayesha Haq reported in the Herald magazine a few months ago, we have a bunch of housewives married to rich Sethia husbands, who try and one-up each other by exhibiting their Birkin bags during lunch. They are said to line their bags on the table for display, so even passing female diners can take note of these costly accessories.

Outside this restaurant one usually comes across poor beggar children trying to palm off small bouquet of flowers for Rs. 20. Less than half-mile from the restaurant lies Neelum Colony where some of the impoverished classes live. For these people the cheapest ‘Birkin’ bag (costing around Rs. 400,000) could feed and clothe a small family for ten years.”

2. The BBC reports on Pakistan’s Taliban in Waziristan:

Irrespective of whether money is involved or not, foreign militants are the crux of the problem, aren't they? I asked him.
"The issue is the government's poor understanding of the issue," Haji Omar says.
"Afghanistan was an Islamic country with an Islamic system. It has now descended into anarchy.
"The only way for us to put an end to the anarchy there is to wage a jihad against the Americans and anyone who supports them."
That includes Pakistan, the key American ally in the region.
"Yes, we treat all American allies as enemy. We have caught many people who were trying to help the Americans, either directly or through Pakistan," he said.
What happens when they catch such people?
"We do not waste our bullets on them," Haji Omar said with a smile.
"We slaughter them."

The growing divide is not only on issues of rich/wealth, Islamic/secular, rural/urban, but I suspect it runs deeper into other issues as well. I also believe that these are the same problems afflicting other Muslim countries.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Welcome to Atlanta ... Sex Tourism of the Bible Belt

Welcome to Atlanta where the playas play
And we ride on them things like every day
Big beats, hit streets, see gangsta's roamin'
And parties dont stop til' eight in the mornin'

Ludacris knew about it before Reuters reported that sex tourism is thriving in the Bible belt.

Atlanta - In a sleazy hotel room, "Brittany," then aged 16 and drugged into oblivion, waited for the men to arrive. Her pimps sent as many as 17 clients an evening through the door.

A "john" could even pre-book the pretty young blonde for $1,000 a night, sometimes flying in and then flying out from a nearby airport.

None of this happened in Bangkok or Costa Rica, places that have become synonymous with sex tourism and underage sex.

It took place in Atlanta, the buckle of the U.S. Bible Belt, where the world's busiest passenger airport provides a cheaper, more convenient and safer underage sex destination for men seeking girls as young as 10.

"Men fly in, are met by pimps, have sex with a 14-year-old for lunch, and get home in time for dinner with the family," said Sanford Jones, the chief juvenile judge of Fulton County, Georgia.

"Men fly in, are met by pimps, have sex with a 14-year-old for lunch, and get home in time for dinner with the family," said Sanford Jones, the chief juvenile judge of Fulton County, Georgia.

Here is the craziest part:
The pimps even held an annual "Player's Ball" in Atlanta in 2003, openly buying and selling women and naming a "Player of the Year," according to the Atlanta Women's Agenda study.

The risks are worth it. While there are few reliable statistics, child sexual exploitation is believed to be the world's third-biggest money maker for organized crime, said Stephanie Davis, policy adviser to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

These so called "pimps" are nothing more than modern-day slave traders! What's saddening is that how music videos and pop culture is glamorizing the once sleazy pimp into a respectable figure. Especially when songs like it's hard for a pimp out here are winning Ocars!

All I can say is you can only expect groups/artists producing alot more risqué music lyrics.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Debunking An Economic Myth of Illegal Immigration

A recent NY Times report is casting doubt on the claim that illegal immigrants undercut the wages of Americans. Below is the first four paragraphs:

California may seem the best place to study the impact of illegal immigration on the prospects of American workers. Hordes of immigrants rushed into the state in the last 25 years, competing for jobs with the least educated among the native population. The wages of high school dropouts in California fell 17 percent from 1980 to 2004.

But before concluding that immigrants are undercutting the wages of the least fortunate Americans, perhaps one should consider Ohio. Unlike California, Ohio remains mostly free of illegal immigrants. And what happened to the wages of Ohio's high school dropouts from 1980 to 2004? They fell 31 percent.

As Congress debates an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, several economists and news media pundits have sounded the alarm, contending that illegal immigrants are causing harm to Americans in the competition for jobs.

Yet a more careful examination of the economic data suggests that the argument is, at the very least, overstated. There is scant evidence that illegal immigrants have caused any significant damage to the wages of American workers.

Aside from the economics of it all, how the US should deal with its illegal immigrants is a complicated question, that will require a complicated solution. One thing it cannot do simply ignore it because it will create an American underclass, a 'shadow society'. In the end those illegal immigrants will eventually become citizens by marrying or having children in the US. In the mean time, the more we simply adopt an 'ignore them' policy, it will create a problem when they are legal citizens because then they will carry the resentment of being ignored and distance themselves from American civic society.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Irony of "Collateral Damage"

Today,the NY Times reported how the Supreme Court turned down a long-shot appeal filed on behalf of two Chinese Muslims being held at Guantanamo Bay while the U.S. government tries to find a country to take them.

What I find ironic is how the US gov't is holding these innocent Chinese Muslims (ethnic Uighurs) at Guantanamo Bay because returning them to their homeland will lead them to be persecuted.

Here is the rational for holding them:

''We don't want to put them on a boat and shove them offshore,'' said Robert Turner, a former high-level State Department official in the Reagan administration who now teaches at the University of Virginia. ''It's one of those tragic cases ... there are no easy answers. These guys are, in a sense, collateral damage to the war.''

Given that they return and will be persecuted by the Chinese gov't, I dont know if their conditions under the US are any better? After all, its still Guantanamo that they are comparing as a better option to returning to China!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers."

As a Muslim, I often feel like a Stranger amongst other Muslims.

My mother recently had her operation (alhumdulillah, it went well) and in the aftermath of the local aunties comming to visit her as she recovers; they leave stories of the most recent neighborhood scandal.

I'm past the point of being tired of those never ending tales. After a point, one doesnt want to deal with that. But a sense of community with fellow Muslims still remains in ones heart.


On a different note, Daniel Drezner's got a good dicussion on remind me again.... why hasn't Rumsfeld resigned?

The reality of the situation in Iraq has made it clear that serious strategic mistakes have put the US into Nietzsche's abyss. General Patton may have said, "Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy," but it seem the contropositive of that is equally true.