Tag Archives: Islam

… the Coptic Grave

 

 

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Notes from America: Muslims and Christians – At war in life, at peace in death

On a hot summer afternoon, Standing along with a few hundred Muslims at the Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery located in a remote corner of a Christian cemetery in Burnsville, Minnesota, mourning the death of one of our friends, the reverences and the respect were not just given by Muslims, but also by the staff and workers at the Christian cemetery.

Everyone was taken by the gravity of the situation. Cemetery workers dug the grave, carried the coffin, lowered it into the grave, and waited quietly away until the end of the burial, cleaned up and walked away. What a contrast, Muslims in the United States, in the post 9/11 era are constantly exposed to all sorts of bigotry, discrimination and media demonisation, are chased, attacked, racially profiled at airports, spied on in schools, mosques, and young Muslims are entrapped by the FBI for show. But when they die they are welcomed and given most respect at a Christian cemetery in unmarked graves not too far distant from dead Christians.

I never understood the rules of religious proximity between the dead Muslim and Christian, and if no amount of interfaith dialogue could bring Muslims and Christians together, death can. As a hyphenated Muslim-American living in the US, I couldn’t help but wonder about the one Christian family that was living in my village growing up in Egypt 50 years ago, what became of them, and what trace they had left – if any. I decided to go back to a trip in history and find out more about this Christian family, and why my village was immune to the rift between the two religions.

IMG_2169My village, as I remember it, was a small, unassuming place in the Egyptian Nile delta. Before CNN and Al Jazeera, villagers lived the simple life of a farming community, and their interest in the outside world went only as far as the edge of their fields. The men left with their animals for work at dawn and came back at dusk, while their wives stayed home, busy preparing hearty meals and raising kids to work on the farm as soon as they mastered their first step.

IMG_2149People seemed to consult the same fashion designer, go to the same mosque to pray, eat the same food, celebrate the same holidays, and for generations, villagers kept the gene pool very much confined to the area’s families. I was interested to know more about the Coptic family who lived among us.

The Christian family’s peculiar lifestyle was intriguing to me. In fact, it was a breath of fresh air that invigorated the monotonous village life. “They seemed friendlier than most, and they easily smiled,” commented Haj Abdullah, one of the few relatives left with a sharp memory of the Coptic family history.

IMG_2148Unlike other villagers who worked on the farm, the Christian family was still in the hunting-and-gathering age. “They made their living chasing wild wolves lurking on the outskirts of the village,” continued Haj Abdullah. “The Christian father, Kyriakos, would vanish into the remote fields for days and suddenly resurface with his kill,” he added.

“The Coptic family would drag the dead wolf around in the streets for show-and-tell, describing the grave danger they had just faced and the heroic adventure they had encountered, which earned them considerable admiration from villagers and a handsome handout of rice, corn or whatever the season offered at the time,” explained my cousin Ezzat.

IMG_2157“I knew Kyriakos, the father; he had a great sense of humour,” Haj Abdullah added, “He was a joker.”

“I never thought of them as Christian or Coptic, just my neighbour,” shared my brother Abdel Rafaa. Growing up in my village, I liked to hang around with Sameer Kyriakos: one of the Coptic brothers, known simply as the Copt. Although I had the privilege and perks that came with being part of the majority religion, my alliance with him was personal, and it might have resulted from both of us being considered somewhat social outcasts by most of the villagers.

Both of our families had chosen a career other than farming. My family members were the educators who ran the only village elementary school for years. Sameer was in my class, and I always envied him for being a Coptic during our religion class: he was free to choose to stay or go to the school playground. I wished I could go too, if only to spare myself the abuse of our religion teacher.

Besides his great personality, Sameer had a unique skill: he was a sharp shooter, exceptionally good at using the BB gun, and I was good at using the slingshot. Our pastime was hunting small birds in the summer. We both left the village early in the morning and spent the whole day roaming the field hunting for these birds. The solitude of the field’s greenery and the empty roads gave us the emotional space to be close and good buddies; we talked about anything; kissing girls and other dreams.

Years went by, until the day the father suddenly died. The family was not prepared for this eternal fate, and neither was the rest of the village. Although the cultural tradition of the Muslim villagers to accommodate the Coptic family while they were alive, the religious burial traditions were not flexible enough to accommodate the mixing of their dead in the same cemetery.

“The Coptic family wanted to bury their father at their cemetery located away from the city, as most of them do across Egypt,” said Haj Abdullah. However, “before his death, Kyriakos the Coptic father asked your uncle [my uncle Abd Elhafeez] to be buried with him at the Muslim cemetery,” he explained. My uncle kept his promise to his Coptic neighbour.

“There was some reluctance and hesitation from the villagers,” my brother Refaat said. “Both religions prohibit mixing the dead in the same graves or cemetery,” he explained.

Before the Wahhabi-oil brand of Islam that was sweeping Egypt these days, there was more tolerance.

Members of my father’s family were not known for their religious zealotry, but for their kindness and generosity. ”If the Coptic family had lived in peace with the rest of us all these years without any trouble, there shouldn’t be much trouble while they were dead,” explained my cousin Fekary about Uncle Abd Elhafeez’s view at the time.

“My family consulted no one in the village,” said my brother Nasser. The burial ceremony was completed quietly at my family’s cemetery gravesite. Now and after all these years , like all Muslim graves, which lack any religious symbols or eulogy – only a name and date – just a Coptic family name remains, “Kyriakos” and the dates: “Born in 1911 and died 1962.”

IMG_2170What is so amazing today is that with all the rift between Christians and Muslims, and Islam and the West, and also periodic flair-ups between Egyptian Copts and Muslims, this has never translated into any hostility towards the Coptic family’s grave; no act of defacing or expression of graffiti on the unfenced Coptic grave can be found, which is remarkable in the age of the internet and the global village and religious fundamentalism.

All those years ago, in my village, Muslims and Copts had lived together and died together in peace and harmony. There is very little they can do when they are dead.

Ahmed Tharwat is host of the Arab-American show Belahdan. He blogs at Notes From America www.ahmediatv.com Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @ahmediatv

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Beards and Politics….!

 

Beadrd BBC

 

Notes From America

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.”
― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

Facial hair in Islam is complicated and the politics of wearing a beard brings lots of heated debate and political wrangling. Besides the religious and Sharia one the beard-wearing debate also has important cultural components to it, which it may entangle in and complicate the religious one. The Arab Spring and the election of President Mohamed Morse and the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in securing political power brought a new brand of Arab leader to the public arena — men with beards. Arab Military dictators don’t usually wear beards; they substitute big beards with big black glasses (no idea ). Some like Sadat and now Sisi shave their beards while letting their praying-mark (Zebeebah) grow. Other Arab dictators wore mustaches as a sign of vitality and masculinity. The look was popularized by Saddam Hussein of Iraq, where almost every man has a mustache. Saudi kings came up with their own goatee beards. Yasser Arafat, of course, had a soft beard, but to most westerners he simply seemed to be unshaven.

Beard Arabs
Beards come in different shapes, length and styles. They aren’t only signify different religious identities but have also socioeconomic implications that may be confusing for untrained Western eyes only exposed to terrorists with beards.

Beard Ben LadinYet many terrorists don’t have beards. None of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 had a beard. Right after the assassination of Sadat, and after Al Sisi coup lots of bearded men were randomly snatched out of their homes, put in jail and tortured. Their beards were sufficient evidence for incriminating them. Western media has focused on the attire of Muslim women, such as the hijab, but not enough on Arab men’s facial fashions. Growing a beard under Islam is mandatory for some men; for others it is a matter of identity and a choice, just like hijab for women.

Beard Salfy big
According to brother Burhan from Islamhelpline.com, during the Prophet’s time growing a beard was considered normal and natural for a man. “The Prophet only asked Muslims to trim the mustache (as the Amish do) to distinguish themselves from the pagans” however the prophet left the details and the up-keep to interpretation and religious zealous.

Beard Salafy 3
Western men grow beards mostly for convenience or sex appeal. Muslim men grow beards to indicate their devotion to their faith. Among the Salafy (orthodox Muslim) the longer and more unkempt the beard, the more traditional and pious is the man.

Beard in StarbucksThe Brotherhood beard is more organized and controlled which a reflection of their organizational skills too. During the Jan25th revolution Salafy and Muslim Brotherhood had their one million man marches in Tahrir Square for. Each time the Square was full of bearded men, confident, proud and jolly. Unlike the Salafy, the Brotherhood beard seemed shorter and trimmed. The Salafy beard is rough, thick long and out of control. At one of the fast food chain overlooking Tahrir Square, the place was full of young revolutionaries who were taken a break.

Beard Salfy Ihkwan and Azhar

Confident bearded men walked in and instead of asking for burgers or fries, they asked if they could do the pre praying wash (wodoua). After Military coup in Egypt, this toppled not only the first civilian elected president but toppled the first elected bearded president. During Morse’s one-year tenure beards are worn by almost everyone — taxi drivers, shopkeepers, teachers, ministers, bank robbers. Even policemen and some military personnel demand the right to wear beards. General Al-Sisi heavy-handed treatment of Brotherhood and his new jihad for “Moderate Islam” lots of brotherhood bearded men shaved or went underground away from public eyes. In ex- dictator Mubarak days, you didn’t notice bearded men that much; having a bearded friend in one’s group was a public eyesore, which could limit your access to only beard-friendly places. As private clubs and some restaurants started refusing to admit bearded customers, even have signs to profess their beard policy. At Egyptian airport (as in Western airports), you would see bearded men undergoing a lengthy humiliating facial profiling from airport security.
Beard Morsi 2You don’t have to be a Salafy or a Muslim Brother to have a beard — even men of the secular left can wear a beard, a political one, as popularized by Che Guevara. In Egypt, in post Arab Spring elections beards have played a vital political role. Because many Egyptians are illiterate, people didn’t vote based on how long is candidate records, but based on how long is their beards. Officials use a pictorial ballot; and having a beard could give a candidate an edge. Egyptians voted heavily for bearded candidates Muslim Brotherhood and Salafy candidates have dominated. In hindsight, the problem with Morse and his brotherhood clans, they paid more attention managing their beards than managing the country affairs.

 

Bush Salafy
Ahmed Tharwat. Host/Producer /Public Speaker
Arab American TV show BelAhdan (with open Arms)
Weekly Talk show airs on MN Public TV,
Blogs at Notes From America
www.ahmediatv.com
You can follow him at fBook and Twitter/YouTube/ ahmediatv
email: ahmediatv@gmail.com
Minnetonka, MN

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The last honest city in America … !!

 

vetage LV

 

The last honest city in America …

I just visited Las Vegas for the first time. In all of these years in America, Sin City had never successfully seduced me in spite of its flashy façade screaming its invitation and its attractive moral slogan, promising to keep everything I do a secret. But recently, I found myself in the heart of the beast. I stayed at one of the big chain hotels where a multinational company was holding an international sales conference for the Middle and Far Eastern branches. This event brought lots of Muslims to the desert city for an unlikely pilgrimage, where they could be seen congregating and strolling in the casinos at ease. I thought the casino should have offered footbaths and praying rooms to handle the influx of gambling brothers. It also occurred to me that for those of you who think Muslims are coming to America to change our Judeo-Christian values, you can relax a little. Gambling and other hedonistic pleasures are alive and well and have become an American pastime and sport.  Americans spend almost $50 billion on gaming every year, more than what they spend on movies tickets. 70% of all gambling revenue comes from these wonderful, colorful entertaining slot machines, where millions of people spend most of their time trying their unlucky fate, cut off from time and the pressures of modern life. However I was very skeptical about what Sin City could offer me, since I don’t enjoy gambling or rental sex. But there was something very refreshing about Las Vegas, something I didn’t find in other major cities on the east or west coasts like Boston, New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, those big shot cities with their tired sophistication and pretense of “higher culture.”  Las Vegas offers an honest artificiality. Vegas is in your face, brutally honest about its shallowness. Las Vegas doesn’t promise the illusion of hope that our free market consumer culture tries to every minute of our life. Las Vegas is the illusion. The miniature Las Vegas version of the Statue of Liberty doesn’t represent or claim liberty, and they make sure it stays that way. The Egyptian-style pyramid of the Luxor hotel, the replica Eiffel tower over the Paris hotel, the Venetian, and Caesar’s Palace are all imitations, fakes to lure you in for gambling and paid pleasures. Forget about the Eastern sophistication and pretension of New Yorkers, Bostonians, or the fantasy ideal of the west coast epitomized in Walt Disney and Hollywood beauty. Those cultural ideals, not real, are all merely facades displayed in museums and culture centers. Las Vegas doesn’t exhibit culture in museums, doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it really is – a place for fun, gambling and sex for sale. “For me,” writes author Marc Cooper, “Las Vegas is the American market ethic stripped completely bare, a mini-world totally free of the pretenses and protocols of modern consumer capitalism. Watching it operate with barely any mediation generates nothing short of an intellectual frisson.” If the desert produced religion in the Middle East, the Las Vegas desert produced heaven!

Everything happening in the casinos on the strip, these cathedrals of commerce, has replaced culture. Even at the airport, once you get through security, you can start getting busy gambling where the real terrorist you will face is your luck. You don’t see a church, a temple or a mosque. You don’t see a cultural center, no government buildings – they’re not worth faking. This city is governed by a higher moral code where no one cares who you are or how much money you make. The slot machines and prostitutes don’t care either and both treat you the same. Latino immigrants standing in the street with wallet-sized cards of naked young women promoting the only literature of the Sin City to its visitors. You don’t have to pretend in Las Vegas, since whatever happens there is honesty. You don’t have to pretend that you are going to make it there because you know you are going to lose, and so is everyone else.  You don’t have to pretend to love someone to have sex; you know you are going to pay and there is no use feigning otherwise. People come from all walks of life to indulge in an “honest” world of artificiality. To have a true fake city like Las Vegas, you need to always admit the original source of the falseness, make no claims. In Vegas unlike in other cities, they don’t claim liberty with the original Statue of Liberty; they don’t claim history by displaying a model Sphinx; they don’t claim sophistication with the replica canals of the Venetian. American East Coast cities in which they profess sophistication and great cultural history make the mistake of also trying to claim its origins. New Yorkers didn’t give us modern life and liberty, the French did. Bostonians didn’t give us sophistication and culture, the British did. So if you lost your heart in San Francisco or couldn’t make it in New York, go to Las Vegas, where you may find your soul.
Ahmed Tharwat

Host of the Arab-American TV show, Belahdan
Belahdan airs on Minnesota Public Television

Ahmed blogs at: Notes From America www.ahmediaTV.com

Can be followed on fBook and Twitter: @ahmediaTV

 

 

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ISIS Halloween Costumes…. a white privilege!

ISIS costum

Halloween is one of the biggest party holiday on American calendar, ranking third behind New Years Eve Parties at number one and Super Bowl parties at number two. In terms of consumer culture, The Huffington Post reported, that Halloween ranks right behind Christmas in the amount of money people spent on it, about $6billion ever year, $4B of it on costumes alone. . Halloween supposes to be a fun secular holiday enjoyable to anyone despite his or her personal cultural or religious beliefs. The Halloween season remains a yearly celebration and the fun of wearing costumes is a huge part of this cultural festival. Each year we see infusion of new costumes based on our own pop culture and our entertainments industry mandate, however world events and wars plays a role in American Halloween costume celebrations. It seems based on the country with which we are having a war, our war machines propaganda, tends to demonize our enemies to rally the Americans people around wars, ..exp. Germens, Japanese, Vietnamese; and Halloween costume used to reflect our attitude toward this countries and its people. In the last 30 years or so most of our wars are wagged in countries with majorities Muslim populations which makes Arabs and Muslims an easy target for Halloween costumes fun. And culture caricatures. Costumes that range from, Ayatollahs, Taliban fighter, Hamas, to Arab sheicks, and hijabs,. Halloween party, which also called a masquerade party is a day where millions of Americans let their hair down sort to speak , and show our inner selves celebrate our ignorance and bigotries . Halloween costume moved from mythological scary caricatures, witches, monsters, superman, pat man, to more of cultural appropriation stereotypes costumes. Native chief, red nick, wicked greedy Jew, to Arab sheikh. According to Wikipedia: cultural “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements, taken from minority cultures by members of the dominant culture, and then using these elements outside of their original cultural context. This cultural property may be forms of dress or personal adornment, music or art, religion, language, intellectual property or social behavior, all of which may have deep cultural meaning to the original culture, but may be used as fashion by those from outside that culture.
“Cultural appropriation is itself a real issue because it demonstrates the imbalance of power that still remains between cultures that have been colonized and the ex-colonizers.” Explained Jarune Uwujaren, a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism.
And she went on to explain that, “One of the reasons that cultural appropriation is a hard concept to grasp for so many is that Westerners are used to pressing their own culture onto others and taking what they want in return. In the post ISIS craze era that swept the western psychological landscape, with media hype and social chatters, people find it amusing to wear ISIS costumes in so many take and interpretation, and actually posted them on social media. You are not going to find an Arab/Muslim being that amused or daring to wear ISIS costume this year, only white folks have the privilege to have fun with ISIS costumes. The host of one of Halloween party that I was invited to, asked me about my costume this year, I jokingly said ISIS costume, suddenly, more than 20 years of friendship almost wiped out on the phone.
Looking on some of the ISIS costumes posted on the social media , Women and men wearing them, young and old, but the overall arch images used in the ISIS Halloween costumes, that bring them all together, man always fully covered, even the face with Niqab, but women almost always, are wearing scantily tight black leather costumes with guns in her hands, not sure about leather and jihad, something only those people know, women ISIS still a sexy object with a gun, men look like cool gangsters, gothic, in one of the costume, you can see a man wearing black ISIS dress, with hip hop jacket, holding a young woman wearing a very tight leather short leaning on him in a seductive way. ISIS western woman hasn’t given up totally on her sexuality even during her jihad. These ISIS costumes doesn’t really tell the whole story about ISIS, or teach us anything about Islam or Muslims, these ISIS costumes reducing a rich divers culture and history to just a simple stereotype of a complicated historical phenomenon, that Muslims themselves don’t understand and  grapple with .
The Halloween ISIS costume doesn’t not just appropriate the Muslim culture, but also it appropriates western women body as ISIS does; where ISIS men cover their women’s bodies, and western ISIS uncover them.

Ahmed Tharwat
Host/producer TV show
Public Speaker, Freelance Writer

 

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