In Response to a brief essay I wrote in the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s passing, an individual identifying himself as RHM wrote the following comment:
As Salamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh, Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Cynthia McKinney, former US Congresswoman from the state of Georgia, sits today in an Israeli prison where she was taken at gunpoint three days ago by the Israeli military after being plucked off a ship in international waters on her way with other humanitarians to deliver medicine, food, olive trees, and toys for children to the people of Gaza. Some weeks ago she was part of a similar mission on another ship, the Dignity, that was rammed in international waters by the Israeli navy, and was nearly sunk. It was only by the grace of Allah that they made it back to a friendly port alive.
This time, after placing their lives on the line again, these people who would have delivered food and medicine to sick and starving muslims in Gaza are now illegally interned in an Israeli prison. (See this legal opinion from UN ombudsman Richard Falk: UN expert says Israeli seizure of aid ship a crime | Reuters )
Here is Cynthia McKinney’s phone call from her second day of imprisonment in Israel, as broadcast today on WBAI radio in New York:
Now known by her Israeli captors as Prisoner number 88794, Ms. McKinney joins a long line of distinguished, nonviolent humanitarian prisoners of conscience against racism, colonization, apartheid, war, and genocide, from Martin Luther King, continuing on back through Mohandas Gandhi to Henry David Thoreau.
Where is the impassioned outcry from muslims of conscience against not only the imprisonment of these humanitarians, but, even more importantly, against the ongoing genocide being levied against human beings, people who are also members of the umma, in Palestine, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan?
Both Imam Zaid and Sh. Hamza have taken the time and trouble this week to publish essays on the Zaytuna website about the death of Michael Jackson, but they have not seen fit to breathe a word about the genocide in Gaza, no less to write upon the subject, in all of the months, running into years, during which this crime against humanity has continued.
Is the death of a drug-addled pop star of dubious morality, however lamentable it may be that his life and talent have been extinguished, really the most fitting and pressing topic to have our attention directed to, and for us to focus upon?
Are there not vastly more important and pressing concerns for the umma, for all of us as human beings generally, as well as each of us individually? I ask again, what about our brothers and sisters who are being shot at, blown up, mutilated, starved, incarcerated, made homeless, abused and tortured on a daily basis in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Palestine? Where is the outcry from the leaders of the Zaytuna Institute on the lives of these brothers and sisters?
It is nowhere to be found in any measure. But isn’t that just the point? How fitting that Michael Jackson’s funeral will be a ticketed event at the Staples Center in L.A., which will be followed the next day in the same arena by the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Solon of Athens wrote about the polity being distracted from what truly matters by its leaders’ promotion of “Bread and Circuses.” That’s what MJ is for the masses. That’s what American Idol is. Just look at the name. Ibrahim and Muhammad removed our idols twice. It seems we need to clean house again.
Astaghfirullah. The “rock stars” of the muslim umma should themselves be concerned with the state of the people who comprise the mass of humanity and the umma, more than about other rock or pop stars. We as muslims and human beings, our umma, and its institutions and leaders, are all indeed capable of so much better. Are we not? True courage, as exemplified by Ms. McKinney, is certainly an obligation under the blessings of freedom, and it is a duty of our deen.
I pray for us all to be guided rightly Allahu ‘alim. With love and concern,
I feel that I should respond to this post. Although the writer makes several thought-provoking points, there are factual errors that are the basis of insulting assertions. Here is my response, which is too lengthy to be posted as a comment:
As-Salaam ‘Alaikum RHM,
May Allah be with you during these challenging times. I would like to address a few issues you raise in your comment concerning the brief essay I wrote about Michael Jackson. First of all, I did not publish the essay on the passing of Michael Jackson this week, as you state in your comment, which was posted 7/3/09. I published an essay on the subject 6/26/09, just after midnight, over a week before your post and several days before the illegal seizure of the vessel carrying Cynthia McKinney and her companions, which occurred Tuesday, June 30, 2009. By you stating that the article was published “this week” you make it appear as if I knew of the seizure of Ms. McKinney ship at the time I wrote the article on Michael Jackson, and I then chose to ignore that seizure and write about Michael Jackson instead. Simple chronology shows that not to be the case. Allah knows best as to the intention behind your allegation.
You further state, “…but they have not seen fit to breathe a word about the genocide in Gaza, no less to write upon the subject, in all of the months, running into years, during which this crime against humanity has continued.” Apparently, you do not read what has been posted on this website in recent months concerning the situation in Palestine. If you took the time to read what has been posted on this website you would have noted the following passage which was written in an article entitled, Looking Into The Abyss:
“In America and Israel it is frequently said that Hamas is guilty of killing the political process evolving between Israel and the Palestinians, owing to its obscurantist insistence on Israel’s destruction. The truth of the matter is that the political process died long before Hamas even ascended to power. Although it is frequently stated, again in Israel and America, that there is no meaningful political process between Israel and the Palestinians because Israel can find no Palestinian partners desiring peace, the truth of the situation, captured by what Henry Siegman writes in the New York Review of Books, is to the contrary:
Whatever one’s reading of Hamas’s intentions as it takes over the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, the notion that its sweeping electoral victory spells “the end of the peace process” is nonsense. The peace process died when Sharon was elected prime minister in 2000. More correctly, it was killed—with malice aforethought—by Sharon’s “unilateralism” with which he implemented the disengagement from Gaza, which in turn provided cover for his continued unilateralism. That he was bringing off the disengagement against the wishes of the settlers helped to divert attention from his refusal to have any negotiations with the Palestinians.
Unilateralism continues to serve as the euphemism for Israeli policies that are expropriating half of what was to have been the state of Palestine, and are concentrating the Palestinian population, about to outnumber the Jewish population, in territorially disconnected Bantustans that make a mockery of the promise of an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state made in the “road map” of 2003, which was put forward by the Quartet of the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia.
Israel’s unilateralism and the callous disregard for Palestinian suffering that it involves is the real reason for the collapse of any viable political process between the Palestinians and Israel. The arrogant political morality that such unilateralism is predicated on is captured in the remarks made by Dov Weissglas, a top Israeli political advisor and a member of the Israeli government’s “Hamas Team” when he joked about the prospects for the Palestinians in the aftermath of their electing the Hamas government, to the raucous laughter of an assembly of high-ranking Israeli officials: “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but they won’t die.”
Weissglas’ callous statement marked the beginning of the Israeli campaign to destroy Gaza. The current crisis, like the punishing invasion in the aftermath of the capture of Gilad Shilat by Palestinian forces, are just murderous escalations in a campaign dating back to the Palestinians’ election of the Hamas government. Contrary to Weissglas’ quip, many Palestinians have died as a result of the sanctions, bombardments, and extra-judicial assassinations preceding Israel’s all-out assault on Gaza. As for Hamas, it was never given a chance to prove its commitment to the peace process.”
Perhaps these, and similar words that have appeared on this website do not qualify as “breathing a word” or, “no less to write upon the subject.” If they did it would be far more difficult to defame your fellow Muslim with snide accusations of being a “rock star.” Since my prose does not meet your standard as condemnation of Israel genocide and politicide against the Muslims of Palestine, perhaps my poetry might. These words were penned and published on this blog in the aftermath of the recent slaughter in Gaza:
Gaza: InThe Hangman’s Rope
They see no death, no blood, no pain;
too blinded by an ancient claim.
So take the land, destroy the man,
And bomb the babe in mothers’ hands,
Uproot the olive, kill the dove,
to Hell with charity and love.
When those twain die, so too does hope,
a victim of the hangman’s rope.
And who is there to fear the Reaper
when no one is his brother’s keeper.
Our tribe we must ourselves protect
with murder, which we must perfect.
So goes that atavistic claim,
To justify the bombs that maim,
to justify the phosphorous shells,
the fire of this worldly hell.
A worldly hell the Gazans know,
that testing ground, that weapons show.
But from that ground the will persists.
From pools of blood rise clench’d fists.
And then those fists hurl sticks and stones,
that smash the walls of stolen homes.
From mounds of rubble come the words,
of futile cries to just be heard.
Heard through the death, the blood, the pain;
that others have a valid claim.
And through the fog of war it’s clear,
no one alive would care to hear.
So kill them all so be their fate,
their claim is ours, but theirs can wait.
So take the land, destroy the man,
and bomb the babe in mothers’ hands,
Uproot the olive, kill the dove,
to Hell with charity and love.
When those twain die, so too does hope,
it’s Gaza in the hangman’s rope.
As far as your claim that my so-called silence to the suffering of Palestinians has been “running into years, during which this crime against humanity has continued,” you should do research into a person’s history before you proceed to publicly insult them. In the past, I was one of the principal writers for one of the leading English language Palestinian magazines, and wrote about the crimes of Zionism from every conceivable angle. However, that does not count, it does fit into your prejudiced assessment?
As far as that so-called silence is concerned, when I helped to raise over a quarter million at the Muslim Community Association (MCA) in Santa Clara, California, for the people of Gaza in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter there earlier this year, I do not think that I did that with silence over the issue. That to does not count I suppose.
In response to your question, “I ask again, what about our brothers and sisters who are being shot at, blown up, mutilated, starved, incarcerated, made homeless, abused and tortured on a daily basis in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Palestine? Where is the outcry from the leaders of the Zaytuna Institute on the lives of these brothers and sisters?” I say again, you obviously have not been reading what has been posted on this website. As far as speaking out on behalf of the Muslims suffering from a senseless and unwinnable war in Afghanistan, I refer you to my article, Drilling and Killing for God.
As far as the role of the United States in encouraging the overthrow of the Somali Islamic Courts regime through an Ethiopian proxy army, I refer you to my article, The Somali Crisis.
To quote from that particular article:
Before the rise of the Islamic Courts government, Somalia had been torn by over fifteen years of internecine warfare. The sea and airports were closed, the cities were unsafe, the economy had collapsed and the social fabric of the country shattered. Upon assuming power in 2006 the Islamic Courts government proceeded to establish order in the country, beginning with the divided and dangerous capital Mogadishu. Shortly thereafter, order was established in the capital, the markets were bustling, the harbor and airport were reopened, and healing was beginning between the tribes that had been at odds with each other during the civil war.
Apparently this was not good enough for America. Using the pretext that the Islamic Court government was somehow affiliated with Al-Qaida, an allegation never proven, the United States backed an invasion by the Ethiopian army in support of a weak, despotic, ineffective Somali government that was on the verge of total collapse. The result was the end of peace and stability and a return to the warfare, tumult and confusion that had exacted such a devastating toll on the Somali people for much of the past two decades.
Once again hundreds of thousands of people are forced to flee Mogadishu and surrounding areas. Once again innocent lives are being needlessly lost, and once again a Muslim country is introduced to the brand of “democracy” America seems to offer exclusively to Muslims, the type that flows from the barrel of a gun.
I further explained the origins of the Somali pirates and the propagandistic way their existence is being used in my article Somali Pirates: More of the Same or a New Way Ahead.
Your response is written as if the page and a half I wrote about Michael Jackson is all I have ever written. This is what happens when one’s passions blind one to the truth. How does that page and a half essay compare, for example, to the twenty-four pages documenting my trip to Mali as part of an effort to call attention to Muslims suffering in Africa? I can assure you that it was no trouble, nor a bother, nor a time consuming effort to write a few lines about Michael Jackson. I wrote the essay the night of his passing before I went to bed. As for the twenty-four pages for Mali, that effort took a trip to Africa and many sleepless nights documenting my observations. Yet none of that, along with hundreds of other pages written concerning the plight of Muslims all over this world means anything in comparison to a page and a half on Michael Jackson.
Speaking of Africa, since you falsely claim I wrote the essay on Michael Jackson the week of June 3rd, when you posted your comment, I will let you know the truth of the matter. I was aware of Cynthia McKinney’s predicament. However, on the day the story broke, Tuesday, June 30, I had to fly from California to the Washington DC area to teach at the Fawakih Arabic Intensive in Hearndon, Virginia. I caught a flight that departed San Francisco Airport 7:30 in the morning and landed in Virginia 4:30 that afternoon. As soon as I reached the venue I had a two-hour session. For the next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, I taught for five hours a day. I am not sure that you would understand what kind of energy and preparation goes into teaching five hours in a single day, but I do not think you would care anyway. You would be too busy looking for the flaws to provide yourself the opportunity to justify your assessment of my being a Muslim “rock star.”
That Friday morning, I got a ride to Washington DC, left my wife in the hotel lobby to check in for the ISNA Conference, and left immediately for the DC Jail, without even setting foot into my room, via the subway in order to do the Jumu’ah there. I know that is not something Muslim rock stars are supposed to be doing, so apologize to you for that. After returning to the hotel, I barely had time to get a bite to eat before I proceeded over the next 48 hours to do ten sessions. You might call it ten sessions being a Muslim “rock star” I call it ten sessions serving my community because I was asked to do so by six different organizations. Among my sessions was participating in the first panel in the history of ISNA dedicated to the physically and mentally challenged and disabled. Unlike a rock star, I did not impose myself via a public relations staff on those organizations; they asked me to assist them in their respective efforts, and I gave everything I had trying to accommodate them. I might add, for your information, from those ten sessions, there was not a single honorarium.
I left the final session I was involved in 7:30pm Sunday evening, went to my hotel room hastily packed and went straight to Dulles Airport to catch a 10:05pm flight that night to London to participate in a four day, four city tour in England to help raise money for Islamic Relief’s efforts in Africa, which started Monday evening, the same day I arrived. I thank Allah that since returning from Mali I have helped to raise over $300,000 for the Muslims there. I am still in England now in the middle of that tour. That is why I haven’t had time to write anything about the travesty involving Cynthia McKinney.
Again, in response to one of your rhetorical questions, “Are there not vastly more important and pressing concerns for the umma, for all of us as human beings generally, as well as each of us individually?” Yes there are. If you do not like or appreciate the way I sacrifice my time, health, family, and ability to try to deal with them there is nothing I can do to help you. I will pray for you.
As for Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, I am not going to write much in his defense because he would not wish that I do so. I will say that he hastily wrote his essay on Michael Jackson the same day I wrote mine with no idea I was going to write anything on the subject. His essay focused on the fleeting nature of the this world, the delusionary and inhumane nature of our popular culture, and the inevitability of death. When does writing about these things become condemnable? To quote from his essay:
In the manner of Elvis or the Beatles, Michael is unwittingly both a cause and a symptom of America’s national obsession with celebrity, currently on display in the American Idol mania. Celebrity trumps catastrophe every time. Far too few of us make any attempt to understand why jobs are drying up, why mortgages are collapsing, why we spend half-a-trillion dollars to service the interest on the national debt, why our government’s administration, despite being elected on an anti-war platform, is still committed to two unnecessary and unjust wars waged by the earlier administration, wars that continue to involve civilians casualties on an almost daily basis. Instead, we drown in trivia, especially trivia related to celebrity. And the response to Michael’s death is part of the trivial pursuits of American popular culture. The real news about death in America is that twenty Iraq and Afghan war veterans are committing suicide every day. But that does not make the front page nor is it discussed as seriously as the King of Pop’s cardiac arrest.
Nevertheless, Michael’s very public death notice is a powerful reminder that no matter how famous or talented or wealthy one is, death comes knocking, sometimes sooner than later. Michael has now entered a world of extraordinary perception, a world that makes his “Thriller” video seem mundane. It is a world of angels and demons, and questions in the grave, a world where fame is based upon piety and charity. Given Michael’s reported conversion to Islam last year, Muslims count him as one of our own, and we pray that he can finally find the peace he never found in this world and that he is in a place, God willing, of mercy, forgiveness, and solace.
Did you even bother reading the essay you so flippantly condemn? He is talking about the very things you accuse Muslim “rock stars” of avoiding. Discuss these issues in the context of Michael Jackson’s death only enhances their relevance. The only other thing I will say concerning Shaykh Hamza is that he has sacrificed time with his wife, his five sons, and his health has suffered mightily as a result of his running around serving this community. I will leave it at that.
Finally, you state, “Astaghfirullah. The “rock stars” of the muslim umma should themselves be concerned with the state of the people who comprise the mass of humanity and the umma, more than about other rock or pop stars. We as muslims and human beings, our umma, and its institutions and leaders, are all indeed capable of so much better. Are we not?” I will be the first to acknowledge that I can do better. What about you? By the way, it sure is a lot of fun being a Muslim rock star.
May Allah help us all.
Imam Zaid Shakir