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
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The Middle East is not a Homogenous Place: A Brief Critique of Ibn Khaldun

me-homogenous

The Middle East is not a Homogenous Place: A Brief Critique of Ibn Khaldun

by Professor A.L.I.

Marshall Hodgson points out in The Venture of Islam, that the period between 1258 and 1503 marks a consequential segmentation pertaining to areas deemed Dar al Islam.  Although there remained greater unity between these lands as opposed to Dar al Harb, invading forces, and changing political boundaries alienated areas like the Maghrib.  Ibn Khaldun’s excised introduction to his world history, is therefore only adequately understood in light of the framework Hodgson furnishes.  Ibn Khaldun’s work is a project of categorization and development of social truths, which are designed to better interpret history.    Unlike Tabari, Ibn Khaldun’s history is less fact oriented, and more devoted to principles of sociological interpretation.  The lack of facts, problemetize many of his sociological examples and principles as they fail to consider that there may exist, groups outside his sphere of comprehension: the Maghrib.  These excluded groups cast uncertainty into Ibn Khaldun’s social equations.  His generalizations are also disputable within the area where they seem most pertinent.  In essence, Ibn Khaldun’s falsafah based history, constrain and limit a thorough understanding of the states and societies that have preceded him in Islamicate history.

Ibn Khaldun asserts in his introduction the existence of two groups: sedentary and Bedouin.  This universal classification scheme lacks inclusion of categories beyond the two, framed groups.  Although an argument may be presented regarding his passing mention of Kurds, Turks, and Slavs as emblematic of a deeper worldly consideration; its manifest flaw are other existing groups near his sphere which problemetize his claims.  Hodgson clarifies that the Maghrib was isolated especially from Persia prior to his introduction of Ibn Khaldun in his research.  This point, when understood in the context of historical events explains why groups like the Mongols are not considered.  The Mongols highly question the sedentary and the Bedouin classification system, as they manifest qualities from both groups that are mutually exclusive.

He later expands this classification scheme to draw out generalizations about both groups which greatly draw question to its application into the Maghrib area itself.  Claims into disposition of courage to Bedouin based on their natural condition rather than the sedentary is based on weak logic.  His arguments can equally be swayed by counter assertions of greater bravery by sedentary groups due the protection of an army, and walls, and the inability to flee attack.  Similarly, his arguments on the purity of lineage seem applicable to his area, where as Hodgson points out there is a constant shifting of rulers, and lack of a consistently powerful dynastic tradition.  He cites a hadith that elucidates the nobility of Joseph and his forefathers: Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  His conclusions concerning the hadith that “four generations in one lineage are the limit in extent of ancestral prestige,” fails to consider other prophets that Muslims acknowledge that emerge from this dynastic tradition such as Moses, Aaron, Solomon, and David.  This particular argument also displays ignorance of Shii belief in the Immamiya: the vice regency acknowledged after the prophet in the Imams, who inherit their pure lineage from Fatima and Ali, and infallibility from the Prophet.

Many of Ibn Khaldun’s statements are generalizations based on examples he has interacted with, within his isolated sphere.  In what seems hubris he fails to even acknowledge the possibility of groups outside his definitions, and in some cases their beliefs and therefore remains an unreliable source for the comprehension of Islamic states and societies outside the Maghrib at any in depth level.  Hodgson cleverly states,

“Ibn Khaldun’s Maghribi focus was very fruitful for him.  But for a modern scholar to generalize from the Maghrib, as some do, can be very misleading, especially if his notion of the other moiety—‘the East’—is almost limited to the Jamai-Sunni Arabs in a period when the greatest cultural vitality was in the Persianate zone.”

Ibn Khaldun presents cultural insights into the areas that he discusses; but the use of Ibn Khaldun should be limited both to his sphere as well as his falsafah school, lest they restrict our historical understanding of the states and societies that comprise the Middle East.

 

From Zaria to the Zarih

Zakzaky

The Trials of Zakzaky and Zeenah

By Professor A.L.I.

Yaro was the first Nigerian I ever met—he was from Lagos and for a time, back in the early 1990’s he would be my roommate. Since then I’ve made profound connections with many Nigerian people of various tribes, ethnicities and linguistic backgrounds. Some have adopted me into their families as an extended member, trusting me with their family suya recipes and dodo-making techniques–this type of familiarity and love breeds both interest and a sense of belonging and so as a result I’ve been tuned to Nigerian frequencies for years–listening to news about its people and nation.  This is how I came to know of a unique movement to reform Islam in Nigeria, led a person, who was returning Nigerian Muslims to the practice of Islam as exemplified by the family of the Prophet Muhammad, and he is known as Sheikh Zakzaky.  I write this piece on the heels of troubling news about Zakzaky, his family and his followers–and for all I know at the time of this article and piece being written, they could all be dead.

Ibrahim Yaqoub Al-Zakzaky is an Islamic scholar from Zaria, Nigeria, who studied Islam and continued to study it until he re-connected to its primary sources, which include the narratives belonging to the family of the Prophet.  Most Muslim ulema (scholars) or psuedo-scholars as they should be called, are not life long learners and limit the scope of their study to the memorization of Qur’an and ahadith.  Hence they have a hard time relating to the realities of the modern world, as they have not understood the context of these texts, nor those who embodied its values like the family of the bloodline of Muhammad through his only surviving child, Fatima.  These narratives have been threatening to the Saudi regime (in its illegitimacy) as well its Wahhabi-Salafi octopus, whose tentacles stretch out over the globe as ISIS/DAESH, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram.

The latter group works its wickedness in Nigeria at the behest of its Saudi paymasters and it is this group I suspect is behind or at least in the very least involved in the latest Nigerian military backed atrocities carried out in Zaria against Zakzaky and his family. Last year Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah lost three of their sons at what is referred to as the Qods Day Massacre, a peaceful protest of Nigerians commemorating the significance of Jerusalem to Muslims.  A week ago, it seems that Sheikh Zakzaky, his wife and three more of his sons were killed along with their followers in estimates that range from 1000-6000 people by the Nigerian military in Zaria.   Reports of a mass grave with over 800 bodies have just been verified by independent human rights organizations in the area but no one has yet heard from Zakzaky or his wife Zeenah—however we are being told by the Nigerian military that they are in custody.

I am greatly troubled by this as an educator and a Nigeriaphile because I’ve followed Zakzaky’s career from afar and admire what he has tried to do. Those who follow the news casually may remember the global lament and attention paid to the kidnapping of 300 girls by Boko Haram; it was Zakzaky who was the main critic of this organization before this tragic event, its other numerous atrocities, and throughout the mass kidnapping episode up until the recent massacre, which may have claimed his life.   Even as global news ceased to talk about the happenings in Nigeria, focusing their lens on ISIS and other tentacles of the Wahhabi kraken, Zakzaky kept his focus on Boko Haram.

Sheikh Zakzaky worked fervently to build ties between Muslims and Christians both in and outside of Zaria. At one point, due to his following he was referred by many outside observers as the most influential Islamic leader in Nigeria and when he transitioned, as he learned to a form of Islam emblemized in the practice of the family of the Prophet; it put him at odds with Saudis who have invested heavily to spread of their Wahhabist interpretation of Islam in the region.  Their ideology, which is based on the re-Arabicization of Islam preached by 14th century ideologue Ibn Taymiyyah, in which figures like Muawiyya and Yazeed, former caliphs who targeted and eventually murdered the family of the Prophet are considered hero figures.

Zakzaky’s work with the Nigerian Muslim community flourished and names like Fatima and Ali, as well as Zaynab and Husayn, became re-introduced to the people–even as their shrines were attacked in the Middle East by Wahhabi-Salafi extremists.  His peaceful marches reminding Muslims to stand up against all forms of oppression, in solidarity with Christians and other groups was a revolutionary concept in a region that was once controlled by the British through divide and conquer strategies.  In Zakzaky people had an individual who represented human beings, and was loved by Christians and Muslims of various denominations–and this love made him a target by those who profit off of war.

Yaro once told me that the people of Nigeria, especially his people who honored and invoked Orishas as conduits to the divine, would truly understand and embrace Islam in its original sense, instead of the Arabized Islam that was being proselytized to his people.  He argued that Islam with respect for the family of the Prophet was more in line with culture of saintly veneration, of conduits to the divine and I find myself unsurprised by Zakzaky’s success in Nigeria as a result.

Sheikh Zakzaky developed a powerful Islamic movement centered around the commemoration of the event of Ashura in Karbala, which retells and reenacts the story of how the caliph Yazeed murdered Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad along with his family and tortured and chained Zaynab, his sister, after murdering her children and cutting off their heads to display in his Damascus palace.  Yazeedian methods are still being used by the ISIS/DAESH’s and Boko Haram’s of the world–and the story of a family who stands up to such violence, unwavering in their faith, remains a powerful testament to true Abrahamic principles and as a result Zakzaky’s efforts spread like wildfire and threatened fringe extremist groups like Boko Haram because their form of Islam requires the ignorance of their adherents to the peaceful & justice oriented way Islam was practiced by the family of the Prophet.

Hearing the news of Zakzaky’s capture/torture/or demise, I felt compelled to write in my personal journals and was urged to share my reflections by my extended Nigerian family members, Yaro and Abdul-Rahim, an American Islamic scholar who, like me felt so broken-hearted over the most recent tragedy to befall Zaria and Zakzaky that he compelled me to write a piece and tell Zeenah and Zakzaky’s story as only a Hip-Hop educator can by telling this story and asking the questions we have all had hearing of this tragedy and so I have and the lyrics to my piece follow the video below:

From Zariah to the Zarih by Professor A.L.I.

I spit like oil slicks that Shell spills in Niger delta

Exposing corrupt politicians, spirit of Saro Wiwa

Invoke brother Ken, before other men,

Understand this battle is commerce of elements

They coerce presidents; replace ministers,

With the sinister, the most wicked on this earth,

The sickness they insert, into wombs so at birth

Young seeds will wield, the weapons that assert

The will of the beast, so righteousness stay alert

See a Sheikh emerge, sparked by Hussain’s thirst

A Shia, but at first, was just another brother

Who understood Islam, but not Yemeni cover

Given sight, blinded by light, of the mother

Of her father, like Fatima there is no other

He shuddered, then evolved, and led his people

Became target, they fear, revolution’s sequel…

 

Ya Sheikh, are you alive, are you safe?

The pictures we’ve seen, make us shake

Their Bloodied faces, and Mass graves

Will you survive their torture and awake?

 

Ya Sheikh, are you alive, are you safe?

The pictures we’ve seen, make us shake

Their Bloodied faces, and Mass graves

Will you survive their torture and awake?

 

From Zaria to the Zarih, Islam is what he studied

Till photos emerge, of a body left bloodied

Why was he threat, a cleric guiding heretics

Who’s pockets knew lint more than money Arabic

An advocate for unity between Abrahamic branches

Representin’ PEACE, is kryptonite for the kraken

Whose tentacles damage, strangle whole planet,

The Taliban in Kandahar, brotherhood in Kemet

Isis is global cris, Boko Haram’s a cancer

For West Africa, its head lives in Saudi palace

So Zakzaky’s movement used for target practice

His followers are slaughtered, mass graves stacked six

Of his sons martyred, divide and conquer tactics

The Zariah Massacre, is the epitome of tragic

Zeenah and Zakzaky’s story is that of sacrifice

Like Jesus and Husayn, the resurrection and the life

 

Ya Sheikh, are you alive, are you safe?

The pictures we’ve seen, make us shake

Their Bloodied faces, and Mass graves

Will you survive their torture and awake?

 

Ya Sheikh, are you alive, are you safe?

The pictures we’ve seen, make us shake

Their Bloodied faces, and Mass graves

Will you survive their torture and awake?

 

Shout out to my my Nigerian fam… my Yoruba fam, my Ibo fam, my Fulani fam, my Hausa fam… It’s all love… PEACE from Cradle to the Grave.

 

 

The Cycle of Oppression

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The wine trickles down my face, you sought to disgrace
Instead I take your ‘chosen place’ beyond the heavenly gates
To drink the wine with my beloved that doesn’t intoxicate
So I await the day of judgment to see the Ahlul Bayt

But wait…

Will it be Intercession or a grand intervention…?
A reality check to the ‘so called’ victims of oppression
Those words written only for the hypocrisy that exists
The story of ‘sliced wrists’, and of shackles that now fit

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Tamil refugees trapped in the fertile crescent, chained
So I can’t believe you when you beat your chest and wail for Hussain
I remember Jaan, Bilal, even the bloodline of Hajar
They are responsible for the prayers, the meek offer
Along with Sumana, Susan, and the eyes of Hakima
This train of thought is not the Zion or FEMA


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You see…

Oppression is when your footsteps, cannot be heard
In places your mother bore you, or a flightless migratory bird
When your shadow is shackled, your breath incarcerated
When your dreams are murdered, imagination lacerated

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No oil or diamonds to fund nonprofits to broadcast your story
Or shout outs by Amy Goodman, or a Papal stamped allegory
No presidential address, no parliamentary speech that stresses it
Yet women and children are undressed, shipped, in new vessels
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To become the new slaves, of a new trade, on this new day…
So, I feel for Arab victims, but my criticism is not veiled
It’s direct against those that claim to be victims yet victimize
Like the Arabs that ensnare my  Pinoy and Malay cousins

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And my Tamil brethren, or what Tamils do to indigenous tribesman
The cycle goes on… even though there is nowhere to hide from
The wrath that descends, upon the domes of the unrighteous
Inspired by these evil acts, I was forced to write this…