It’s a hard life working as newspaper comments troll, having to constantly come up with preposterous put downs, clothe ever more extreme racism as rational argument and maintain a steady supply of bile and venom without pause. Thank goodness we have innocent victims on whom we can hone our skills. Wouldn’t it be terrible if people were allowed to celebrate success, without being reminded that they are the source of all that is wrong with the country and the world? Thank goodness we have selfless trolls always on hand to fight the good fight at every hour of night and day, lest anyone forget to be spiteful or erroneously say something positive or kind. Three cheers for the trolls!


I think we Muslims might be better off focusing our efforts on understanding the Qur’an and recentering our lives around it, rather than making a fool of ourselves by taking words of the Bible out of context — in this case “machamadim” in the Songs of Soloman — and claiming they mean something else.

I learnt long ago that you need to read things in context. The Songs of Soloman in the Hebrew Bible are canticles about passionate intimacy between two lovers. Projecting the name of our Prophet — peace be upon him — onto a word in the midst of an erotic poem is just plain odd.

Read things for yourself; don’t just repeat the claim because it sounds convincing out of context. Reflect on the overall meaning of the passage and then draw your conclusion. It should be our approach in all things: to the Qur’an, to history and to life in general.

Keep your heart alive

You have to nurture your faith to keep it alive. If you let it go, it will go. I have seen too many people leave the deen, steadfast and passionate though once they were. You have to feed your heart and keep good company and close your ears to the nonsense — from outside and within. We’re all taking too much for granted; rejoicing too much for what think we have. In a blink of an eye the light of faith could be removed from us and passed on to a more deserving people. Step back from the maddening clamour of the crowd. Remember to look inward, to renew and reform daily. Remember to keep your faith and heart alive.

Ambiguous authority

Unfortunately we have developed a habit of validating claims not on the basis of what is said, but on the grounds of who said it. And when the person saying it is a scholar held in high esteem, we cannot then hear constructive criticism of what they said. So we rejoice in the refutation of our enemies, apparently secure in the knowledge that our venerated teacher knows best.

We do not ask questions. We do not challenge. We do not say, “Yes, but…” For we know that doing so will be taken as an outrageous slight, worthy only of contemptuous invective and scorn. We are unprepared to face uncomfortable realities; to see the truth laid bare before us. In truth, we cannot, don’t want to or dare not acknowledge it.

But the learned are well aware of what we choose to deny or ignore: that those fatwas we now decry are there in our books of fiqh, and that they have been practised by the cruel and ruthless before us. Our respected scholar knows this. So too many a student of knowledge. Likewise the enemies we condemn. I think we know it too.

Yet as we listen to our revered scholar, we’ll simply nod our heads and applaud. We will defer to their knowledge and wisdom, convincing ourselves that we are just ignorant fools. We will celebrate their latest refutation, eulogizing their stunning literary rout. Our uncomfortable questions will soon be forgotten, pushed to the back of our minds once more.

For at the end of the day it is not what was said that matters, but who said it. The acclaimed and erudite scholar has spoken. So rejoice in your ambiguous authority.

Active gratitude

Do our self-appointed community activists not find it at all problematic that while maintaining a website documenting alleged discrimination against Muslims, they allow people to post inflammatory statements about the Shia, Jews, and non-Muslims in general on their Twitter feed?

Of course not. For those who deem themselves fit to advocate on our behalf feel no compunction about selling us exaggerated stories, half truths and downright lies. Whether a video sowing the seeds of sectarian hatred or a photoshopped image designed to drive others into despair, the end is believed to justify the means. This is not about the pursuit of truth or peace, but about propaganda.

Have we sunk to such depths that we must now make up stories about Fox News, a pro-war, pro-gun, Republican news broadcaster already famous for disseminating untruths about Black people, Mexicans, Arabs, Cubans, Muslims, Liberals and Leftists? Apparently so!

Not content with highlighting genuine broadcasts of this apparently popular US-only news channel, our activists have now begun sharing an obviously fake screenshot of a Fox News item claiming President Obama used a secret Muslim handshake to greet a suspected Muslim — or Police Constable Michael Zamora — on his way into 10 Downing Street with then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in April 2009 (then reported three years later during 2012’s presidential elections, where it remained in suspended animation for another three years until it was finally screen captured and released to the public yesterday on 29 September 2015).


The image is so poorly edited that it is hardly necessary to do a reverse image search on to source the original undoctored image — but doing so will reveal that the original screen capture has in fact already been twice used for satirical effect. Indeed its current incarnation must have started out as satire, before it was picked up by serious activists intent on tagging it #islamophobia; surely nobody could actually believe this was real. Sadly they could: the activists’ followers shake their heads in disbelief, stamp their feet about the rampant #islamophobia in their midst and share the unbelievable news report on their own timelines, thus setting in motion another viral controversy.

Is it any wonder we look like complete idiots to the rest of the world? We wail about discrimination and oppression of our people (limited though that category has seemingly become, given widespread sub-sectarian posturing), while failing to acknowledge either the existence of discrimination against others elsewhere or oppression promulgated at the hands of Muslims themselves.

We mix truth with falsehood in an effort to make a more potent case for the sense of despair, victimhood and disenfranchisement felt by the social media generation. Our activists spend their days trawling the internet and news channels for tales of discrimination and prejudice, which they will then publicise via Twitter and Facebook without a second’s thought, where it will be picked up and shared by their followers and their followers’ followers for days on end without pause. And if a story cannot be found, an old story from a decade ago will be trawled up and reported again as if it just happened. Or a story will just be made up, or exaggerated, or turned on its head. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day: bearing false witness is just par for the course in the battle for hearts and minds.

Activism in our communities needs a reboot; nay, it needs a holiday. Truth is meant to be our guiding light: “speak the truth, even if it be against yourselves.” The constant drip-feed of desperation and unceasing torrent of despair is clearly designed to drive individuals towards distraction and radical action. In place of gratitude — so emphasised by the Qur’an — we become a heartless, wretched people unable to see any good in others, driven forward not by the light of faith, but by that perpetual inner anger at the world.

If our self-appointed community activists will not desist — and there’s no indication they plan to — many more will simply withdraw, sick to death of the ever increasing polarisation occurring between communities. We are tired of the constant litany of the misdemeanors of the other, when in real life we are all largely rubbing along just fine. The alternative — the anarchic madness of Syria a prime example — does not bear thinking about.

One day we will have to reflect on the lessons of the Qur’an: about truthfulness, kindness, justice, gratitude. Might we recall the words of Sulaiman one day — peace be upon him?

“This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful, his gratitude is only for the benefit of himself. And whoever is ungrateful, then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.” — Qur’an 27:40

Or will we just carry on regardless with the constant toing and froing of Left versus Right, Muslim versus Atheist, Sunni versus Shia… scoring points against the other on the basis of a random story reported online or in the press, driving ourselves to utter madness? An individual decision for each of us in these times.

Antisocial Media

There is a video doing the rounds on social media which, it is claimed, shows a Shia man in Mecca praying towards Karbala:

‪#‎Makkah‬ – This Shia is praying towards Karbala and the ‪#‎Kabah‬ is behind him!

The response is entirely predictable; each time the video is reposted on Twitter or Facebook, a new barrage of rabidly inflammatory sectarian remarks follow. Few seem willing to ask obvious questions, such as is the claim accurate or true?

Of course this claim has a back-story, brought to life by the Saudi Al-Arabiya and  Israel National News websites late in 2013, which reported the musings of Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, as a doctrinal schism. Personally I don’t know why people of influence insist on making ambiguous statements that can easily be misconstrued or misrepresented by others, but it’s pretty clear that he was speaking in spiritual terms. To my knowledge, no Shia Muslim actually prays towards Karbala in the physical sense. 

But that will not deter those intent on promoting sectarian divisions by posting and reposting a video of dubious providence online. The social media generation seems not to care about truthfulness, accuracy or reliability — those Quranic maxims once so important. Nowadays “Verify it!” is always far from the mind. The pursuit of truth has been displaced by propaganda.

The first time I encountered the video, I suggested that the individual seen praying in the wrong direction was just a confused old man. But the next time I encountered it, my Obsessive-Compulsive urge to investigate everything got the better of me. I am too much a cynic to believe even half of what I read or see online. Friends hate me for it, I’m sure, but I just can’t help it.

So began my ten-minute investigation: what was that building in the background at the end of the video? I started with a Google Image search of buildings around the Kaaba. A satellite view of the Kaaba via Google Maps followed. One building looked very similar to the building in the video, so I zoomed in and clicked on various photos of it. It was an entirely convincing match.


If I am not mistaken, the building in the background at the end of the video is the Dar Al-Tawhid InterContinental hotel. Unfortunately for those claiming that the video shows a Shia man praying towards Karbala, this would mean he’s actually praying more in the direction of Jeddah, or Sudan, or Brazil. Completely the wrong direction for anywhere in Iraq.

Could it be then that my initial supposition was correct? A confused old man, possibly from South Asia, who’s used to praying to a Qibla of 256 degrees? Could his prayer mat with built-in compass be at fault? Could he be missing mental faculties? Could that just be where his flying carpet landed? Could there be another reason for this man’s mistaken actions? Could he be given another excuse? I hope so, because at times I’ve been know to pray in the wrong direction by accident too.

On social media these days people seem all too ready to share anything and everything, regardless of its accuracy or truth. It’s a sorry reflection on our state; a people supposedly concerned about verifying the accuracy of information that comes to us. A people supposedly concerned about the truth. It’s a tragedy. Who knows who will be harmed as a result of misinformation so readily shared?


Clash of cultures

Does it not occur to the British-born fighter lamenting the manners and etiquette of local Syrians that they may in fact resent outsiders coming into their country to lord it over them? Has it not occurred to him that the populace of so-called liberated villages may not actually see themselves as a liberated people, but as a people conquered and brutalised by outsiders?

Indeed, is there not something very British about this strange lament? That of an uninvited guest complaining about the locals’ manners, whilst simultaneously destroying the fabric of their society? Oh, but the irony, seemingly lost on the author: the act of accidentally praising the West for its superior manners, administration skills, neighbourly relations, fairness and rules of the road.

I guess what was left behind was not all rotten; that a nuanced understanding of the world was always possible, if only dogmatism could be set aside. Instead foreigners descend on an unknown land, ignorant of its history and culture, and complain about self-inflicted misfortunes, all whilst the native population flee their homes in ever larger numbers, desperate to escape the imported madness unfolding around them. A clash of cultures indeed.

No precedent

A respected scholar writes,

“We are at a very critical juncture in the history of Islam. There is no precedent for the spectacle that is created around the atrocious crimes, killings and murders of takfirist movements.”

But of course there is precedent, isn’t there? One only needs to pick up and read a history book to find that these kinds of outrageous crimes have been perpetuated throughout history by our coreligionists, from the very earliest days.

This approach of romanticizing the past is part of the problem.

Those perpetuating these despicable deeds know there is precedent for their behaviour, both in the actions of their predecessors and in their literary inheritance.

The job for those that condemn them is to first condemn the evils of the past, acknowledging that they were also wrong. To proclaim with loud voices that ours is a diverse tradition and that such unspeakable wrong has been committed in our name before, just as much as the breathtakingly good.

But that is a dangerous road few wish to travel down. The stakes are too high: a precipice on one side, rock falls from above on the other.

Whitewashing history and covering the truth are always preferable… but fool no one. Least of all the barbarians we must condemn.


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To be noticed

The lesson of the week for those seeking to influence public opinion is to not publish gory photos of children killed in war.

Ten thousand child deaths in Syria might have been avoided had there been an iconic photo capable of going viral (unfortunately most injuries were just too graphic for that).

The hundreds of children killed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen or by Israel in Gaza had no hope of reaching the masses and provoking global demands for change.

We must be pushed outside our comfort zones, yes, but not too much. The informed have known for years about the brutality of these wars and the desperate refugee crises caused by them.

Some hoped Angelina Jolie’s face would go viral to raise consciousness – and indeed she did an admirable job advocating on behalf of the destitute. But not even a pair of starving children eating breadcrumbs from the ground had the power to effect real change.

Only this photo could have gone viral. Gruesome but not offensive. Horrific yet sanitised. A peaceful babe in aweful circumstances. An angel that could speak to the masses.

Pity the thousands of other tragic children who could not speak and be heard either in life or death, whose unspeakable wounds were seen but never noticed.