THE MUSLIM BAN WILL DEPRIVE US OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

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By Aisha Subhan
Contributing Writer

*This essay was originally published in The Huffington Post and can be viewed here. If you would like to submit a piece to us, then please email us. 

I, an American Muslim woman am devastated, heartbroken. This ban says to me that my country does not see all lives and human worth as equal. This ban says to me that our nation has developed a cold, wicked heart. This ban says to me that we blame Muslims, that they are the problem that we do not want them here, and we have no concern for where they end up dead or alive.

It didn’t take long for the ban to evoke such feelings, nor to estrange family members from each other, nor to take away someone’s basic desire to live.

Amid these grave injustices and a disheartening reality, I anticipate that the Muslim ban will deprive us Americans of something beautiful. Here, I wish to speak about the beauty of Islam and its followers through my own eyes both here and abroad.

I was born here in Chicago, Illinois and I have my birth certificate readily available for those who wish to get their hands on it. During my life here in America, I have cherished the Islamic values my grandparents brought with them from India to Pakistan and then to the US.

My grandmother has lived her life believing she could cure and mend the world. She is always giving, always on her feet, always leaving her heart open to others. On any given holiday, Muslim or national-American, my grandparent’s home in Southern California becomes an open house for family and friends without holiday plans. Effortlessly, my grandmother’s residence becomes a place all can call home.

Visiting my grandparent’s home, a few themes consume me and enrich my life with each visit. My grandfather’s passion for Urdu and Persian poetry that explore the love of God reflects the heart of the Muslim faith. My grandmother’s attentiveness and tenderness towards her guava and orange trees or her garden that grows mint and curry leaves find their roots in Islamic values. To love God is to love all his creation. It is to perceive one’s own consciousness in equal relation to the nature and reflections of paradise that surround them.

My love for both Islam and the Middle East has sent me across borders and into places like Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. During my travels, I unearthed similar Islamic values but in a different setting.

While admiring an Arabic/Quranic calligraphy book, I imagined the artful strokes of the words raheem and rahman, mercy and compassion, coming alive within the Lebanese-Muslim home I enjoyed on an Eid morning. Muslims everywhere recite the words raheem and rahman, attributes among Allah’s 99 Divine Names, countless times a day. Like the other divine attributes, Muslims are guided to assume these traits on earth in their full human capacity. Mercy and compassion and forgiveness and generosity—these guiding principles profuse throughout the Muslim home.

In Palestine, the emphasis on the family and the way in which Palestinians live is nothing short of beautiful. During my time in Palestine, my host family extended to me the most gracious hospitality. I had never felt so taken care of. During my plane ride home I recall draping the airline blanket over my head, not to concoct some terrorist plot, but because I began shedding tears as my heart recollected all the care and compassion I received in Palestine.

For my trip in Jordan, I travelled with a bag full of Lego donations for Syrian refugees. As these refugee children played with Legos for the very first time, they seized the opportunity to the fullest. Their creative and innovative minds quickly took hold. The children assembled an array of creations on their own yet constantly appreciated the Legos now in their possession. Though deprived, these children still worked to present something beautiful and of their very own. I felt the warmness in their hearts, their eager minds, and their dreams waiting to become known.

In all of these encounters I sensed Islam’s essence and recalled Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s The Heart of Islam. Along with the words mercy and compassion, I perceived the Arabic word husn meaning both goodness and beauty. It is said that Allah loves beauty. In turn, beauty and love share in God’s relationship with creation. Of the most beautiful created things is the human soul. Islamically speaking, the human soul comprises of ihsan meaning virtue, goodness, and beauty. For human souls to fulfill beauty at its greatest height, is to please the One who loves beauty, to love his creation and to love Him, to open one’s heart to the compassion and mercy of the Divine, and to embody compassion and beauty in one’s own heart. And it is this beauty that contains the goodness and love necessary for peace and harmony on earth, in the cosmos, and in one’s center. It is precisely this beauty that I have felt and cherished within my experiences with the Muslim people both here and abroad and it is precisely this beauty that we will be deprived of.

Despite the challenges in our midst, I am honored and grateful for the beauty and love fellow Americans have extended to Muslims in recent months. Because human souls profess the upmost beauty, we must come together to protect them all.

Photo by Aisha Subhan 

TENSIONS MOUNT IN EAST JERUSALEM

TENSIONS MOUNT IN EAST JERUSALEM

By Alex Shkurko
Staff Writer

Since Israel carried out ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip this summer, following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the brutal kidnapping and immolation of a Palestinian, the state of affairs had managed to remain relatively calm. That is, until recently. The fatal shooting of an an Israeli Arab in the western Galilee town of Kafr Kanna, sparked riots and protest all over Israel. In an incident that was captured on a surveillance camera nearby, Kheir al-Din Hamdan is seen rapping on the windows of a stationary police van with an alleged weapon in his hand, after which an officer exits the van—with a pistol in hand—and shoots the 22-year-old as he walks away. Following his shooting on November 8 riots quickly spread throughout northern Israel, as well as in East Jerusalem, which is home to nearly 260,000 Palestinians. Stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown and a general strike crippled the economic activity of a majority of Arab cities in the Negev on the day following the shooting of Hamdan. At the same time an outbreak of stabbings and intentional hit and run attacks were perpetrated by Palestinians, one in the West Bank and the other in Jerusalem mere hours apart, with 14 people injured in the Jerusalem attack.

The rise in confrontations has been attributed to recent demand by right-wing Jews to be allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, the holiest of Jewish sites and equally revered by Palestinian Muslims as the al-Haram al-Sharif. Tensions have been progressively rising, with both sides feeling increasingly threatened: Israelis by the acts of violence and fears of another Intifada—or uprising—and Palestinians with the threat of losing control of the al-Haram al-Sharif and many of their homes in the aftermath of the destruction and death of the Israeli incursion. Tuesday morning’s attack on a West Jerusalem Har Nof synagogue, which killed five Israelis—four of them Rabbis—has been condemned by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, though he simultaneously asserted Israel is sparking a “religious war”.

Israel has responded with heightened security in Jerusalem, by deploying thousands of police personnel, and by reinstating a controversial policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians who perpetrate terrorist acts. While originally deemed ineffective in preventing attacks, and subsequently phased out in 2005, this deterrence policy has reemerged as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speeches have contained promises to settle “the score with every terrorist” who attacks Israel. Hamas has taken a more proactive approach in encouraging Palestinians to attack Israelis as retribution for Yousuf al-Roumani, the bus driver that was found hanged in his bus on November 16. His death—which further contributed to increased violence and collective resentment—was blamed on Israeli assailants by both Hamas and his family, despite initial Israeli police reports that indicated suicide as the cause of death.

Per the findings of a European Union report released in March 2014, 100,000 East Jerusalem residents are at risk of losing their homes due to increasingly stringent building restrictions imposed on them by Israel. Demolition of the homes of those Israel calls terrorists is in violation of international law that expressly bans collective punishment except when no other alternative is available. While Netanyahu may find this to be effective, it also allows him to present himself as hard on terrorism. This in turn helps to cement the foundation for a January 2015 coalition that will be dominated by conservatives in the Knesset. The homes of the recent Palestinian attackers have already been demolished or their occupants served with demolition warrants, which carry a 48-hour window for appeal. The question of effectiveness has been brought up, not only in terms of their ineffectiveness as a deterrent, but also for their potential to inflame resentment and anger in East Jerusalem—already dangerously high.

In the same light, the recent synagogue attack pose a unique challenge to Israel’s security forces: independent Israeli residents are now waging their own fight and there have been talks of expanding gun rights in Jerusalem. While Netanyahu has denounced Abbas’ speech as inciting further violence, he also criticized the implication that Jewish worship at the Temple Mount, which has been off limits to this point, could contaminate a site they themselves hold to be the most sacred. Abbas’ Fatah party has praised the attackers and called them “heroic”.

Despite repeated assertions that Israel’s longstanding policy of forbidding Jewish worship at al-Haram al-Sharif will not be repealed, they have provided little solace and hope: despite Netanyahu’s promises, members of his own Likud party have paid repeated visits to the site and publicly spoken out in favor of erecting a third Jewish Temple there. The movement is headed by the Temple Institute, whose stated mission is to “see Israel rebuild the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem,” and have successfully fundraised more than $100,000—its original goal—through a crowd-funding website.

The rise in confrontations has been attributed to recent demand by right-wing Jews to be allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, the site of the Jewish temples, the last being the “Kodesh Hakodashim,” or the “Holy of Holies,” destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It remains Judaism’s most revered and sacred place, which is said to have held the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The very same site is also venerated by Muslims, who call it “al-Haram al-Sharif”—or Noble Sanctuary—and regard it as the third holiest site following Medina and Mecca. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque sit on this plateau and are equally revered for their connection to Mohammed’s ascension to heaven. Naturally, this is a site of contention between the two religious faiths. While Jews and Muslims may disagree about the name of the boy who—according to both faiths—was nearly sacrificed before God intervened, they both hold the Foundation Stone to be a significant vestige that bridges the heaven and the earth and also the site where Isaac or Ishmael almost lost his life.

Since the annexation of East-Jerusalem following the 1967 war, colloquially known as the Six-Day War, King Hussein of Jordan agreed to become the religious guardian of East Jerusalem and its religious structures—most notably the al-Haram al-Sharif. Jordan’s special role in holding religious authority was cemented in the Washington Declaration, which signaled a serious commitment to the future status of Jerusalem and the al-Haram al-Sharif. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) regarded this agreement as illegitimate, since they believe the Palestinian people hold the rights to the holy site. More specifically, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat viewed it as an attempt to extract political power from him and his movement. [1] Since the time of the agreement, Jews have been cautioned and warned to not pray on the al-Haram al-Sharif and are threatened by police removal if they attempt to defy the long standing status quo. Rabbinic scholars themselves, most notably Maimonides, argued that it is not permissible for a Jew to step onto the Temple Mount because of the possibility that they are standing on top the Kodesh Hakodashim.

What’s significant now is that both Abbas and Netanyahu seem to agree that the al-Haram al-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa mosque will remain standing and that no serious plans for destruction and the rebuilding of the third temple are realistic options. The furthering of opposing religious narratives is beyond toxic for two peoples that have found themselves at odds, not only politically but religiously as well. Naturally, Netanyahu must resist the temptation to further alienate East Jerusalem’s residents and the Palestinians; what recent events show more than anything is the near inevitability of an Intifada and a long war, with more blood spilt. Reinforcing their own positions, while important for their respective standing in their communities, need to take a backseat to the basic need for Abbas and Netanyahu to come together, with at least the blessings of their bases, in order to build a plan for moving forward. Even if such a course seems idealistic, the violence and demolitions will only escalate and magnify the intractability of the situation, and reinforce divisions many of their followers already feel and think.

However, in catering to their respective bases, both Netanyahu and Abbas have highlighted the potential for peace that still incredibly exists somewhere in the void between Fatah’s calls for violence and Netanyahu’s plans to erect more than 1,000 apartments in East Jerusalem. Israel has no better partner for peace than in Abbas: that 30 would-be attackers have been arrested in the West Bank is an act of good faith that might provide an opportunity for new dialogue. Netanyahu earlier this week jointly blamed Hamas and Abbas for providing the necessary fodder that led to Tuesday’s brutal attack on an ultra-orthodox synagogue, largely attended by non-Zionists. Abbas himself, after pressure from US Secretary of State John Kerry, finally condemned the Har Nof synagogue attack, and then faced significant opposition from Fatah leaders who refused to condemn the attack and instead said that it was the natural reaction to Israeli assaults. The dueling narratives, despite Al-Aqsa incitement and reactionary violence, must find a way to come together under a single roof—a space that has no room for accusations and recrimination, but instead looks for solutions that move beyond polemics and playing to the extremists on both sides.

1. Ahimeir, Ora, and Marshall Breger. Jerusalem: A City and Its Future. N.P. Web.

Photo by Etienne Valois