How To Kill A Troll

HowToKillATroll

Dissecting the Troll

J.K. Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien have taught me one undeniable truth about trolls; that the lack intellectual capacity.  Furthermore, in childhood I learned from simple legends and lore, that trolls lurk under bridges.  Therefore, I should be unsurprised that as an educator, artist, and human being, in the habit of building bridges, and combatting ignorance, that I would attract the attention of these dimwitted beasts.

Most recently, in pieces dedicated to eradicating Islamoracism/Islamophobia or satire critiquing colonial constructions that remain a part of the framework of our status quo, I’ve attracted these trolls.  They lurk on social media, where I share these articles, and songs, and share their ineloquent hatred of me under the bridges I lay with these public posts.  The most common phrase is “go back to where you came from,” which is ironic, in that I am a product of the colonial monster that was set into motion by the wicked wizards that also created these trolls—I would gladly go back to the royalty of my ancestral roots, if they too would recede into the coal-lined-caves from where toxic DNA emerged.

Name-calling doesn’t work on trolls—since words usually go over their heads.   They understand our world only in black and white terms, in which they see what they are as purely good, and whatever is “other” as existing to serve them.  Ignoring these trolls does not sit well with the educator in me either.  I recognize that beneath their grotesque form, mutated by bad magic, and a long-standing legacy of hatred, that they are simplistic beings, who are merely frightened.  To this end, Wordsmyths was born—to educate, annihilate ignorance, and unify that strand of humanity within all of us, my acknowledging the divinity in us all—and by extension our connection to the universe.

WordsmythsWhat does Wordsmyths mean?

A wordsmith is a colloquialism for an individual with deep diction and proficiency with language.  I spell it, purposefully with “myth” replacing “-mith” in order to convey a different meaning.  Specifically, I was speaking to the “mythology” that created trolls in the first place.  Myths, created by “Wordsmyths” to help control ignorant, blind followers, and distract them from the reality of our connection.  The refrain in the song about “One God” is about the “one reality” that binds us all—that the notion of separation is not real, but truly a construction of simplistic minds.

This song is not a critique on religion, or any dogma, but a critique on ignorance.  It is also critique on patriarchy and colonialism (which are also based on and supported by falsified social construction).  The lines “Like the sun and moon, swimming in their own orbits,” refer to the Quranic verses about theses celestial bodies in a chapter, that has an oft-repeated refrain, “which of the favors of your Lord do you deny.”  It’s a chapter that reveals to the reader, in depth of reflection, that the entire universe is one reality and that we are all connected to the many miraculous things in it.  I follow the lines with “our suns and moons, left upon strange doorsteps, African origins…”  These lines are a clear critique of the social construction of race, of colonial realities and chattel slavery—it posits the notion that we are all truly African, coming from one place of origin as homo sapiens.

The lines “phantom opera mask, covers our Moorish features…” refers to the idea that those constructed as “others,” must don masks in order to be relevant in a farcically socially constructed society, such as ours.  Death is referenced, as is life, in creating a sense of liminality throughout this piece.  The lines “Last days, face east, it’s gorgeous, sunset, earth flipped, cats are sorted” refers to the scientific phenomena of pole shift (where magnetic poles shift their positivity and negativity) ostensibly shifting what we consider North and South, as well as lines in Abrahamic faith based traditions about the last days.  The lines “On horizon, I see a cubed Borg ship.” is a nod to Gene Roddenberry and my inner fanboy, while at the same time, envisioning a cube, or Kaaba, as a vehicle for cosmic travel.

Later I say, “religion constructed; pay the doorman, life distorted, rather be a free man like Morgan; yet forging our own chains on purpose; burn bill of rights and habeas corpus, freedom forfeit…”  These lines specifically call out the idea of religion as a construction, and the idea of the promise of freedom of religion, something that chains us to the idea that this is a reality, furthering our separation from the idea of the oneness of the divine and hence our reality, and therefore ourselves.  The verse takes a political turn, when I speak to the truth of what this can mean to a subsection of a population, victimized by Islamoracism, by saying, “unsupported, innocent souls are deported, to an island (Guantanamo), tortured and water boarded, truth serum injected, falsehoods recorded, justifying barrels, oil barons have hoarded, this America, hegemons have exported…”

These lines specifically call out the trolls to respond to a reality that is a clear violation of that document they choose to hold dear, as they champion this land—it is this egregious hypocrisy that not only leads to Guantanamo but to “Muslim Bans” and the dignity of those racialized as “Muslims” in ignorant minds in a hate filled society.

The song finally ends with the argument that our unity, is not an extrapolation from any text, but something manifest in our minds, and the acceptance of the logic of this argument, that we are all connected, leads to peace, in soul and body: “Don’t dismiss it as, ‘Oh yeah, it’s from a core text.’ Process this; in your cerebral cortex. My body says PEACE, my Ka* says hotep.** Who will you worship? One God or wordsmiths?”

PEACE

Professor A.L.I.

*spirit in Kemetic/**peace in Kemetic

p.s. So how do you kill a Troll?  By making them bob their head to knowledge manifest on the mic.

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Chandni and the Clothing Factory and Other Stories by Cold Dal

ColdDal.jpg

Chandni and the Clothing Factory and Other Stories by Cold Dal:

A Critique of Roald Dahl

Racism can slap you across the face when you least expect it.  Sometimes, when you are struck, it’s with such force that it sends you back into your own childhood and makes you wonder how severe the impact of hatred truly was in your life.  My exchange this morning with my colleague and good friend Tarecq Amer, led me down this path as we reflected on the words of a person, who I’d considered one of my favorite childhood authors, and one who we both had been introducing to our own children, with fond memories of giant peaches, chocolate waterfalls, talking animals, and magical children: Roald Dahl.

To call Roald Dahl and active racist would be unfair—but his writing belies a systemic framing of post-colonial narratives that clearly couches non-Western nations as subservient, savage and uncivilized.  His references to these places, and symbolic representations like the wild rhinoceros that kills James parents, the Oompa Loompas working in the chocolate factory or the monkeys tortured by the Twits all draw on the familiar tropes of the era and distill in the mind of the reader the themes of danger and ignorance inextricably related to these places through his writing.

Tarecq and I lamented this—since, we both champion reading, and love the idea of connecting books we read in our youth with our own kids; this led me on an interesting departure from our conversation to a thought—what if I re-wrote Roald Dahl?  What if I were to re-imagine his themes and plots from the perspective of a person of color?  What if it flipped the Orientalist dialectic and introduced an Occidental critique instead?  And what if I did this while flipping the patriarchal binary, so the protagonists went from being white males to brilliant women of color?  Tarecq laughed hysterically as I imagined writing the following 10 books, with the culturally appropriate pseudonym of Cold Dal (lentil soup):

  1. Chandni and the Clothing Factory
    • The story of an Indian girl who labors on end in a Western clothing factory for little to no pay. The clothes she makes are worn by trendy hipsters in the West, whose daily routine consists of gentrifying neighborhoods, lamenting the latest outrage of the other political party and the occasional convenient protest.
  2. Jin and the Giant Persimmon
    • Jin travels in a magic persimmon across the Pacific to escape the inevitable illegal incarceration of her fellow Japanese-Americans as a result of the racist Executive Order 5066 signed by F.D.R.
  3. BFC: Bastardizing French Cyclops
    • The story of a singular vision-ed French behemoth, which sees no other way to conquer, unless it is to create “brown Frenchmen.”  This myopic beast lurks everywhere on the planet, and while its cowardice amongst its own kind is legendary, it uses cunning and canons to subjugate masses of peace loving creatures in encounters in its planetary predations.
  4. Chandni and the Glass Ceiling (the sequel to #1)
    • It continues where the last story left off, where Chandni realizes that as a young woman, there is only so far that she could go in the factory—and deals with the realities that she is a prime target for human traffickers who profit off of Western predation of young women like her.
  5. Hyperbolic Ms. Hyena
    • An exaggerated story that imagines a word, in which the savage animals of Africa, sitting around a table, with a map, and carve up Europe into spheres of influence. In this imagined imperialist episode, Ms. Hyena, takes control areas occupied by the tribes of the Angles and Saxons, and laughs hysterically as she does so!
  6. Darya the Champion of the Dunya (world in Persian)
    • Darya, a Persian girl from Rey, champions her ancient and direct ancestor Darius, and creates a new empire, which grows and using her marvelous stratagems is able to conquer the West, thereby restoring the honor of her forbearers by avenging the Persian losses to the Greeks and fulfilling the promise of the Ancient Persians. She ushers in an age of peace and freedom of being (faith, expression and politics), much like her great ancestor Cyrus.
  7. Meera Tilda
    • The story of a little Punjabi girl, whose “magic” power is the ability to drown out the colonial narrative that chokes all those around her, making it appear that she is magical. Her story is one of deconstruction and of her pointing out the absurd behaviors that have become a part of South Asian society due to colonialism.
  8. King George’s ‘Targetted’ Sedative
    • This story looks at King George and the sedative he peddles to placate the populations he oppresses throughout the world. It is ultimately an examination of low-intensity-warfare, a strategy expertly used by the British to divide and conquer the populations it would take over throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  9. The Brits
    • A story set in colonial times, that tells the tale of the most disgusting sort of human being imaginable.
  10. Girl: Tales of Patriarchy
    • This story recounts the “true” story of Cold Dahl, a child who grows up in a colonized state. She has to educate herself secretly, while she works for meager wages in a sweatshop.  A shrewd child she is able to tell the stories of her youth, as well as imagined victories for her people against those that stacked all the chips against her.

What if? 

What if, I lived in a world in which I could pick any book off the shelf and not wonder if it would subtly send the message of self-hate towards me or my children?  What if all voices, not just those of white men, were the narrators of what we deem as our cannon, history and memoir?  What if we could strip away every racist, sexist, ‘phobic references in stories and reimagine them with the themes we love and without the hate imbued within? What if Cold Dal really existed?

Peace,

Kalyan Balaven aka Professor A.L.I. aka Cold Dal

A Shallow Grave

ShallowGrave

A Shallow Grave by Professor A.L.I.

He digs a shallow grave.

With a blade blunted by battle.

A child, so young;

That should’ve been playing with rattles

But now a corpse, a dehydrated husk, a shell,

His spirit lingers and divine musk’s the smell.

His mother places her recent newborn into the hole,

This six month old, was born of Yemeni Cloak.

His little lips cracked, dryer than Karbala’s sand.

And his throat lacerated by Hurmila’s hand.

Parents take turns, with palmfuls of earth

To bury the son, who they’d just given birth.

The tears rain on the grave, there is no marker.

As the mother grieves, the father is martyred.

Then the demons descend, upon women in tents.

Fight or flight, torches alight, fire intense.

Wretches reach for spoils, ears bleed as if sliced

And in these fleeting moments for life,

She rushes towards the corpse of another.

The martyred shell of her son’s elder step-brother.

She calls to him, “Ya Akbar! The protector, the brave!”

Now guard the sanctity of your young brother’s grave.

Dragging his frame; weighted so heavy with armor.

All she had left in the world, was this grave’s marker.

She places his cold hand over small earthly mound.

Yet next morning; the wicked army would count:

Seventy-one bodies, and sever seventy-one heads.

As a sign of victory; impale them on spearheads.

Then the malevolent general, recalls the recent tragedy,

And asks where the fruit that fell off this family’s tree?

Where’s the child, the three-pronged arrow extinguished?

Where is its body?  Where is the grave? Who bears its witness?

And they torture the survivors bound, to reveal its location.

Then this dreadful devil, had a satanic revelation.

That if there was a grave, its corpse would bloody a sword and–

This was the same general, who was once an orphan.

Raised by this holy family, so the infant was like his brother.

Now on his order, they stab ground, brutalizing the mother.

Amidst the ashes of tents, lays a headless corpse over mound.

The swords cut into earth, dripping blood, Ali Asghar was found.

They dug this child out of his shallow grave, his family cries.

A smiling cadaver, they cut off his head; as their humanity dies.

A Lamb Slaughtered

 

Prologue

In the 660’s CE, the wicked caliph, Muawiyya, a usurper and despot, would gift lambs to the children in Damascus, the capitol he controlled, and once these innocent youth had developed attachment to their pets, he had their lambs slaughtered by his soldiers at night, so that these children awoke to the horrific sight, and in despair.  He had town criers announce the lie that these lambs had been slaughtered by Ali, who was the legitimate leader of these lands. The sorrow, turned to rage and these children would grow brainwashed to hate Ali and his family, and they would eventually make up the army that would systematically slaughter the family of Ali… including children and infants. This poem is dedicated to this true story:

ALambSlaughteredA Lamb Slaughtered by Professor A.L.I.

The child whose pet lamb was slaughtered in Damascus,

Grows to be a man steeling himself towards thirsty infants,

Loyalty based on lies, allegiance to despots; his soul burns.

When the veil is torn and death approaches; he mourns.

These are crocodile tears, since the veil was pierced before,

The moment he saw an old man place his child on desert floor.

When his own canteen was sloshing, full of life giving liquid.

He could have undid strap, and his own damaged spirit, lifted–

The flask to the lips of this innocent being; instead he’d see.

The horror brought upon, be an arrow-pronged-three.

In that moment, a mirage caused by his teary, blurred vision:

Of his own lamb, gifted to him; the false caliph’s wicked wisdom.

To have him name his pet, become attached, and then awaken,

To find his beloved friend, murdered by the caliph’s agents.

And town criers announce it as a plot by a man known as Ali.

A shrewd lie, constructed by a usurper, to acquire loyalty.

Political brainwashing so thorough, that this man would believe,

That his lamb was slaughtered, by the Prophet’s family.

Brainwashed thoroughly, he severs limbs of this family’s tree.

A soldier for Yazeed, Muawiyya’s seed, the most sinister breed.

So when the baby was placed before him, he took not a step,

No water for the 6-month old infant gasping its last breath,

He watches this tragedy, and unfolds towards his own death.

He sees the truth; and now bears the burden of great debt.

And yet, when the old man asked him, “If no one was left to help him–

If no one was there to give him aid?” He still grasped his weapons.

And instead of helping, destroys, and lays claims a destination.

An eternal conflagration, burning amidst a hellish congregation.

And he sees himself in this place, wielding the same blade.

That was used by a lie, to cultivate this boy’s rage.

His hands and face are covered in blood, just like Husayn’s–

The blood of his own lamb, that he slaughtered that same day.

Children of Karbala

ChildrenofKarbala.jpg

The story of three children brutally killed at Karbala. They were grandchildren of Fatima and great grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad. The young teen, Qasim ibn Hasan, was stomped to death by horses. Ali Akbar was stabbed in the back and Ali Asghar, known as Abdullah, who was only 6 months old had his throat lacerated. All three corpses were beheaded. These heinous acts were carried out by those who called themselves Muslims, even as they slaughtered the family of their Prophet. These were the predecessors of the Taliban, ISIS, and other hateful groups today.

Islam Today: Husayn’s Legacy

The story of what happened on Ashura, in Karbala, so long ago, reverberates today, not because it is singularly unique.  Mass murder is a common occurrence and so too is the disenfranchisement of women and children is a part of our global status quo—so why is what happened to Husayn ibn Ali so unique and important that millions continue to commemorate what happened to the children of Fatima in the sands of Karbala.

Truth be told, what happened to Husayn, the son of Fatima and Ali, and the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, his family, sisters, daughters, sons, and loved ones, was a precedent for the violence that would be done in the name of Islam, for eons after, and into this modern day.  Islam was hijacked when Husayn was killed, and it was one of three tragedies visited upon the faith by the evil Caliph Yazeed, alongside the mass rape of the women of Medina (the Prophet Muhammad’s city) and the destruction of a portion of the Kaaba in a failed raid.

We remember Husayn so that we don’t forget the rest of the story.  We remember Husayn to remember his family, his parents, and his legacy.

Our lamentation comes in various languages and in different media.  The song above is one such example and it is comprised of four M.C.’s (Yusuf Abdul-Mateen of Blak Madeen, Young Skitz, Professor A.L.I. and Left, in order of appearance) coming together to create a piece of art about Husayn ibn Ali and the authenticity of real Islam; as such, it stands in sharp contrast in the light of what passes as Islamic practice in our modern day.

In addition, here is one more example by Professor A.L.I. featuring Shareef Nasir, about  the love people have for Husayn and what he represents.  Please share these songs and let us all pray for a world of peace, where oppression has no place and no excuse to justify its existence.

PEACE

Professor A.L.I.

Please Share!

HusaynsLegacy

From Iran, With Love

FromIranWithLove
FROM IRAN, WITH LOVE, by K. ALI BALAVEN
I just returned home from Iran—where I spent a significant amount of time in thought, writing curriculum for my Middle Eastern History class, in deep-spiritual reflection at the holiest of shrines, and visiting with the richest person in the Middle East and perhaps, the world.  During my visit with this soul, I had an epiphany, one which I hope will help us avoid bloodshed and thwart the machinations of warmongers.
 
Imam Ali Reza is dead. However, as my most recent visit with him in Iran showed me, he is very much alive.  He is a direct descendant, seven generations removed, of the Prophet Muhammad, through his daughter Fatima.  He is also the 8th holy Imam of Muslims, who honors and emulates the family legacy and traditions of the Prophet. He is buried in the east of modern-day Iran and his story is an interesting parable/lesson for the geopolitical climate of war that looms over all of us now.
 
The Golden Age of Islam saw its height during the lives of Imam Ali Reza, his parents, and his grandparents. This was at a time when Muslim mathematicians, scientists, and physicians would advance the world, while Europe was in trapped in the Dark Ages. All roads led to Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Empire, where wealth abounded. It drew Indian merchants bearing their exotic spices, the Chinese with their fine silks and porcelain, even the Vikings would come to Baghdad to trade their furs. The position of the Abbasids then is analogous to the U.S. in the world now, but all was not well in the Middle East.
 
The Abbasids were usurpers, like the Umayyads before them, seizing political leadership, creating hereditary claims, while systematically murdering and disenfranchising descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. By the time Imam Ali Reza became their target, the Abbasids had already murdered his father and grandfather, under the orders of Harun Rashid, an illegitimate leader seated on an illegitimate throne.
 
Harun Rashid, a despot and hegemon,  directed the systematic destruction of Persian, Azeri, Armenian, Kurdish, and Turkish cultures to advance his own coffers and did so in the name of Islamic rule. His son, Mamun, followed in the wicked footsteps of his father, but with great irony, in order to legitimize his own claim to the throne amidst a power struggle with his own brother, he used the love the Persian people had for the bloodline of the Prophet by forcefully maneuvering Imam Ali Reza to join him in Khorasan (Iran). Once he did this, he realized how popular Imam Ali Reza truly was, and seeing that this posed a threat to the entire illegitimate empire, even his own throne, he laid plans to have him poisoned.
 
Who would not love a person such as Imam Ali Reza, who championed peace over war, love over hatred with only kindness to give to others?  People came to him so that he could pray for them, to help deliver them from bondage, sickness, or debt.  His miracles are widely written about and they didn’t stop when he was given Mamun’s poisoned grapes, which caused this man of love to die an agonizing death.
 
To add insult to injury, Mamun ordered that he be buried next to his father, the very man who murdered Imam Ali Reza’s father and grandfather, in an effort to diminish him to a mere footnote in history. However, his presence there brought his flock, and as the reports of miracles continued at his gravesite, his flock grew and sincere lovers of the bloodline of the Prophet Muhammad continued to come in droves from all over the world.
 
Every year, over 14 million pilgrims come to visit this man, but very few, if any, even know that Harun Rashid is buried beside him in an unmarked grave. Imam Reza’s vast mausoleum is now so huge that I spent one whole day walking through it, meeting with people and praying, and when I checked my step-counter, I was astonished to find that I’d walked 16km! It has expanded over the years, through the loving patronage of his devotees of all faiths, and denominations, with many giving their life savings and property to his trust in their wills. His grave is a tomb covered with gold and precious stones, and when you are within its holiest of holies, its sheer grandeur, built by love, surpasses the dusty legacy the Abbasids have left behind.  It’s because of Imam Reza’s tomb’s continued and exponential growth, that he is described by many as the richest person in Middle East, and by what I saw and experienced, I believe him to be the richest in the world as well.  Therefore, there is both great irony and beautiful poetry in the fact that, in death, Imam Ali Reza vanquished the legacy of those who murdered his family and he did so with love.
 
Imam Reza’s supremacy to the Abbasids is now clear, as measured by those who flock to his metaphysical embrace; and his domain is clearly an empire of love—which is the purist emotion you feel when you step onto the green marble, overcome by the hypnotic lights ricocheting off of precious stones, gold, and intricate glass designs while being simultaneously subdued into bliss by the fragrant dance of rosewater and frankincense.  Then there are the tears of deliverance irrigating worry-worn faces, the smiles, the handshakes, the hugs and kisses, all of which leave me drowning in a sea of love.  I emerged baptized with a sense of peace, only to realize that I live in a world trapped by the tensions of war.
 
Today, Saudi Arabia continues the despotism and hegemony that Harun Rashid championed, continues to destroy places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, while warmongering with Iran; and they do this with our friendship, blessing the name of fighting the terror they themselves spark!  Together, our loathsome friendship has created a new Abbasid empire that stretches from the oil-rich Middle East, to Washington D.C., and the illegitimate ruler who sits atop this throne is our very own president, Donald J. Trump. 
 
Imam Ali Reza taught me that love conquers, not hate, and that war is a shortsighted person’s means of achieving hollow victory.  I fear that we will follow the way of the Abbasids, and of Harun Rashid, reviled by those who champion the ideal of peace, and for history to judge us in the way people treat our legacy after we are gone. 
 
I learned of Imam Ali Reza as a young Muslim and went on my first pilgrimage to Iran, a year after 9/11, to pray for my mother who had been diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma and given merely a few months to live.  That journey changed my life and miraculously, my mother beat the cancer and lived another 6 years. This year, I returned to my Imam to pray for peace.
 
I pray that we all find it before it’s too late.
FromIranWithLove2

The Test of the American Muslim

TheTestOfTheAmericanMuslimDear Daughter,

I have something I want to share with you, which I have never explained to you before.  When I was a young man, I made a decision that would change the course of my life and ultimately yours as well.  The skeleton in the closet of our lives is that as a wide-eyed, peach-fuzz lipped, knuckleheaded, eighteen-year-old, in the middle of one brisk March night, I said the following words that would change who I was forever: “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his last prophet.”

It was long before the frenzied age of rampant Islamophobia and nearly a decade before hijacked airplanes would slice into our hearts, like rusty blades that leave wounded tissue gangrenous with infection, claiming thousands of American lives along with our innocence, in a cacophony of death.  There was no Muslim “Kaiser Soze” (boogeyman) yet; Bin Laden was not in the public conscious and most people in our nation associated Islam with the eloquence and dignity of Muhammad Ali, and not the straggly bearded, turban clad foreign accents that terrorized us from faraway lands.

My two friends, the lanky and tall Abbas and the pudgy faced Osama, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” in unison to affirm the pledge I spoke that night that made me a Muslim, and the sound of their cry ricocheted through the air like a lost memory echoing in the back of my skull, for I too was a victim, spoon-fed imagery of explosive Middle Eastern tropes.  The hidden truth is that in the eyes of America, my brown skin and my unique heritage already categorized me as “other” in the eyes of xenophobic America.   America was already Islamophobic, it just hadn’t learned the vocabulary yet.  I grew up through the hostage crisis, embassy bombings, plane hijackings, and the Gulf War; I’d been the victim of school yard bullying and the default Iranian, Arab, Libyan, and Iraqi in all those instances, and ostensibly a Muslim, because of my brown skin.  The same lovely hued skin you have.

America had already considered me “the other” in many ways, long before I became one, and back then I always had a cowardly way to retreat from the otherness they asserted upon me.  I could say with conviction that I wasn’t Muslim or an Arab, or anything else other than what I was.  Or take it a step further, become strategic and grow to hate and then bully the Muslims around me. The venom inside me had burgeoned into racial and ethnic slurs that I found myself using under my breath, and eventually I’m loathe to admit, at the top of my lungs in order to distance myself from those who had distanced me from my identity as an American.

I became the bully that I despised by targeted the false-identity they ascribed to me, in others and challenging their othering with self-hate.  In that clouded time, Chuck D and Lord Jamar cut through my mental fog and spoke directly to me through cassette tapes stuffed in Walkman’s while the Poor Righteous Teachers taught me like no other teacher had in school and collectively, these Hip-Hop artists introduced me to a man named Malcolm X.  It was ultimately Malcolm who began the process of healing me, and by the time I met your uncle Abbas as an eighteen-year-old college kid, I was enamored with the discipline in the faith of Islam.

Abbas, now a successful surgeon, was the first practicing Muslim I had ever met, and in him, I saw a Muslim who was emblematic of what Islam taught, as manifest in the example set by Malcolm; in our friendship, I discovered the essence of Islam, is love. This was a far outcry from the Muslims I had met through Hollywood, showcased in the media, or those whom I’d previously interacted with. Our brotherhood helped introduce me to Islam, but my decision to become Muslim was a choice to become what the world already thought I was—it was ultimately a resolution to embrace my otherness.

From that day to this one, I have survived by living in the hyphen; as a Muslim-American, in a nation that devolved rapidly from President Bush making a distinction between American Muslims and those who committed the atrocities on 9/11, to a president calling for a Muslim registry and travel ban. The otherness I’d embraced in my youth now encircles me like the serpentine wrappings of the pariah I’ve become—but one I would have been regardless of my choice to become a Muslim or not. The Qur’an foresaw the test we’d face as Muslims in America when in Chapter 29, it states, “Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.”

The great secret that I have kept from you is that I didn’t choose this life for you—but that it was chosen for us, by the ignoramuses that have equated brownness with otherness and have hung hyphens around all of our necks.  The fact is whether you choose Islam or not, you will be inextricably related to it, and you can deny it at every turn, join the bullies, or choose to follow this path and thereby control the hyphen.  This is the test.

Whether you choose to wear a scarf on your head or not, you will be a default ambassador for Islam.  You will be forced to explain it and its practices at every turn and stupid people will question your nationality because of it; they will question your loyalty and they will typecast you into the role of other, so they can define themselves as civilized citizens while they demonize you. This is your test.

What may seem like a vice grip akin to a being trapped between a rock, or in this case Iraq, and a hard place, is truly a special place to be, because like the Quranic promise of a test of faith, there is a test of what it means to be American too.  Ostensibly America is just a promise.  It is a dream deferred until it is tested and realized for those collecting on its promissory notes.  For example, it takes a person like Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to test the promise of the freedom of expression by sitting during the national anthem, just as it takes a conscientious objector like the late Muhammad Ali to test freedom of religion.  It will take someone like you embracing the otherness they cursed you with in order to litmus test the promise of America for yourself, by walking this path, donning a scarf, and ultimately living in the hyphen, until America accepts you for what you are and who you choose to be.  This is America’s test, not yours.

Love,

Dad

Stop Using Islamophobia

Islamophobia12

Why not Islamophobia?

The original definition of this term, coined in the 1970’s was not one that invoked the notions of uncontrollable fear, but one that spoke to systems of oppression; however, over time a lay definition has taken over, one which absolves agents of hate, arguing that they too are victims–victims of a uncontrollable phobia.  Sadly, this not only does a disservice to those oppressed by these agents but the fight against this type of hate because it absolves the system of its culpability.

Therefore Islamophobia no longer helps to describe a system that actively “racializes” all those that it associates with Islam (not necessarily by declaration of faith, but by physical cues like brownness, facial hair, or head covering) into a monolith to be exploited, oppressed and to limit civil rights, for the excuse of safety.

Islamoracism is therefore, a more accurate term of this type of systemic hate.  I encourage my fellow educators, and diversity practitioners to switch the nomenclature, as a coalition of Muslims and Sikhs that I am a part of have.

To help, a group of brown M.C’s of various faiths and non-faiths created this piece:

An Open Letter to ISIS

OpenLetterISIS“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” — Emerson

To ISIS/ISIL aka DAESH,

Stop with your bulls—. Just stop. You may pull the wool over the eyes of downtrodden, simple-minded, and ignorant Muslims—as well their counterparts in the reactionary West, but your cheap parlor tricks with the Qur’an, replete with revisionist history acting as your cut-rate magician’s assistant, will not con the vast majority of us who recognize the charlatan behind the façade of piety.  The Saudi oil-dollars that pay for your photo-shopped pamphlets, the Toyota trucks you use to transport your tools of terror, and the monetized motivations of your suicide bombers will not suffice for a grand song and dance routine you use to misdirect the audience from what you’re truly doing.

I/we know Islam through Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X—the snake oil you sell will never be anything more than propaganda, recognized by any who know Islam as the religion it truly is, as something that can have nothing to do with it. The very idea of an ‘Islamic State’ is farcical when you attempt to bring it into vogue with a non-Islamic state of mind. Every explosion you mastermind and/or inspire only punctuates your hypocrisy and further de-legitimizes the political claims you make.  For every innocent non-Muslim who you’ve caused the death of, at least twenty innocent Muslim souls could testify alongside them about your depravity, stupidity and sheer evil.

If Islam is good, you are the opposite of what it stands for as a religion and the violence you breed is diametrically opposed to the definition of peace, inherent in the linguistic root of the faith itself. So I, as an American Muslim hate you, for you have, through the force of your wickedness, dismantled the framework of love established by the Prophet Muhammad and his family that inspired exploration, mysticism, poetry, academia, and humanity. You have made ‘Islam’ a word to be reviled, and have damned every Muslim, living anywhere on the globe, to an apologetic existence.

When you sever heads, you are no different than Yazeed, the illegitimate Caliph and mass-murderer who ordered the beheading of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.  When you plow vehicles into our blameless masses, you do so with the same moral turpitude as the crusading forces that once annihilated countless, Muslim and Jew alike, in their insatiable thirst for power in the Holy Land.  Every knife thrust or explosion that claims innocent life is no different than the viciousness of colonial regimes, or the totalitarian governments that assumed power in their wake throughout the Middle East and curtailed basic human rights with torturous violence.

You and your Saudi sponsors may be too obtuse to comprehend why I began with words from Emerson in his essay entitled “Self-Reliance,” which I was re-introduced to recently by my friend Dick Bradford, so I’ll try to explain it simply, such that even minds tainted with an ignorant, black-and-white world view can grasp it.  If religion becomes a mere sequence of actions or rituals devoid of essence, then while it may have consistency, it will have little else. This is what you prescribe, a formula of faith, with no choice or faith in it. To practice Islam in this way would indeed be as Emerson so eloquently stated, akin to the hobgoblin of a little mind—to translate that into terms that would resonate in the iconography you hold dear; it would be like Shaytan (Satan) consuming one’s mind, leading the faithful to faithlessness.

I’ve written as much when I penned a letter to your benefactors in my “Open Letter to Saudi Arabia” and I’m not the only one calling attention to your false logic, and the hopeless machinations of your directionless cause. Reza Aslan is doing it in scholarship, Leila Sarsour through activism and Mehdi Hasan on television. I speak to you, not only as a Muslim like they do, but also as a father, teacher, and an artist, who was American before becoming Muslim over two decades ago.  I believe that you’ll be nothing more than a disgusting footnote in the arc of human history, and all those who choose to be associated with you or your philosophy will be reviled by the world just as the Nazis rightfully are. In the end, you’ll not only fail at your own short-term goals of making us fearful but you will have provided the means of your own destruction by bringing us together in our collective hatred of you.  Your days are numbered.

Sincerely,

Professor A.L.I.

p.s. Read full letter on Kindle