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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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

 

An Open Letter To Saudi Arabia

OpenLetterSaudi

1/2/2016

Dear Saudi Arabia,

The word “dear” is a common salutation in any letter, but I feel so conflicted using it in this instance, since not only are you not dear to me, I actually despise you, for what you are, what you have done and continue to do and ultimately what you symbolize in the world.

I write this on behalf of your people, many of whom are my friends and whom I consider extended family members, who languish in your state, unable to speak, watching helplessly as you prey upon basic human rights of your own citizenry.

I write this on behalf of the tortured and executed innocence of your archaic injustice system, where upper social class and male privilege hold greater sway than both truth and justice.

I write this on behalf of immigrant workers, who come to help build your nation, who you treat like animals, and who you further victimize in ways too gross and too numerous to mention.

Despise You

I do despise you for how you have treated Tamils, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, East Africans and other racial groups who constitute a modern day slave labor system in your nation, complete with the viciousness of the days of old; and yet this is not the main reason for this letter.

I do despise you for how my friend (name omitted for security reasons) and his family are brutalized by the elites of your nation, despite being Saudi himself, and have no recourse for justice, since you have a system that blames the victim, when that victim represents a minority of any kind; and yet this is not the main reason for this letter.

I do despise you for how my aunt and uncle were treated while they lived in Riyadh, where he was working for AT&T, and the tales they told me of what they experienced and what they saw with their own eyes, and again this is not the main reason for this letter.

Hold You Responsible

As an American I hold you responsible for all the 9/11 hijackers who came from your country. I hold you responsible for Bin Laden and your export of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which has hijacked the lives of many people, including Americans overseas and continues to hold our tax dollars hostage in military expenditures. I hold you responsible for the Janjaweed, for Boko Haram and for ISIS, all of whom you directly or tacitly support.

But these are not the greatest reasons for why I hate you.

Saudiquote

As a Muslim I hold you responsible for hijacking Islam. In your backwards pseudo-intellectual interpretation of the faith, you have birthed every single example of Islamic terror we see in the world and have made the word terror inextricably connected to Islam in ignorant minds as a result. You gave birth to Islamophobia, because your form of Islam is one that we should fear. You hijacked hajj, the holy pilgrimage, which you don’t even hold on the proper day and your mismanagement has cost thousands of lives.

And still these are not the primary reasons for my disdain.

I hold you responsible as a human being, who sees your citizens, impish oil sheikhs, who travel to places like Los Angeles and London, prey upon women with brutal sexual violence and escape their crimes by using the façade of diplomatic immunity and paying off those who compromise their own values for filthy oil dollars. I am in disbelief that women and both religious and ethnic minorities are treated with greater disdain and inequity than that experienced by those groups before Islam.

Disgust

The greatest reason for my disgust of your regime is the simple fact that all of these valid critiques are looked upon you as a sources of pride and that this pride fuels even greater abuses such as your financial and military support for the genocide in Bahrain and the extermination of the Houthi people in Yemen. The news of your execution of Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, whose only crime was to ask for open elections, speaks volumes that you are a regime who is so wrapped up in the cloak of your perceived self-importance that you strike out at any that you can who disagree with you. You destroy shrines and world heritage sites to make space for your own aggrandizement, but also because those places represent legitimacy and you know you’re an illegitimate ruler of Holy Lands.

This is why I cannot go on the Hajj. I have family and friends who have gone, but I do not believe I can. I cannot enable the misperception that the false hajj you lead is legitimate. I cannot allow one cent to directly inure your kingdom of benefit from my coffers (I know that my usage of gasoline does, and I am taking steps, pun intended to remedy that as well). I cannot allow a visa stamp be looked on by my children, the students I teach as tacit approval of your regime and I cannot practice the cognitive dissonance that so many do who feel the same way.

So I have to deny myself a holy pilgrimage that I longed to do even before I became Muslim and prayed for every day since, and instead devote my prayer to your demise—that from your ashes a just regime emerges that is more in tune with the egalitarian and scientific principles of the true Islam. I will devote my time as an artist and educator to speak out against you and I hope that the Islamophobes in my country take a moment to listen, so that they know that where their legitimate fear can be directed. I will use my words to enliven those you’ve killed, thinking they have gone away—so do not think Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr is dead, he is very much alive and his voice will only grow louder as I add my voice to it, and invite those who are like-minded to do the same.

سیری ناپذیر-89840-shia muslim

There are those Muslims who may read this and say that I’ve gone too far and that the hajj is a pillar of our faith, and yet if Husayn ibn Ali and Zaynab bint Ali, the grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad could break their hajj and leave Arabia just as the usurper Yazeed became Caliph—I believe I am justified in doing so.

There are those Americans who read this and wonder why I am focusing all my energy on you, when there are so many other despotic regimes in the Middle East—and it is because you are the reason for many of their existences as well and I’d rather focus my attention on the head of the beast rather than its tentacles for if you kill the head, the rest will fall.

How do you kill the head; a head created by lies and emboldened by ignorance? With truth and knowledge. This open letter is just the beginning. I have been relatively silent till now, but I can no longer sit pat while innocent people are killed–

You have awoken in me and others who are brave enough to stand with me your greatest nightmare—we will be the truth seeking missiles that will dismantle the infrastructure of your lies and the knowledge bearers who will water the thirsty while rooting out the ignorance you depend on for your existence. Your days on this earth are numbered.

Sincerely,

Professor A.L.I.

A Catalyst For Change

Zaynab2

Shrine of Zaynab

A Catalyst for Change

Learning History & Combatting Terror

By Professor A.L.I.

When my high school history teacher Jeff Ustick first posed the question of what the purpose of history was, to me, I had little idea then that later in life I too would become a historian like him. At the time, there were several quotes he shared with us including the cliché, “those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it,” in an effort to spark a classroom discussion. I forget the ensuing conversation, but in the time since, in which I majored in history at U.C. Berkeley and went on to become a history teacher, I believe I found my own reason for why history should be studied and it is a nuanced perspective on the cliché I re-quoted above.   I believe that history is filled with familiar patterns of human behavior. Once we recognize the catalysts to these behaviors we can begin to predict how humans might behave. This knowledge is therefore vital, if put to use to prevent wars and conflict—however and predictably so, human greed not knowledge tends to drive the actions of these political actors upon humanity’s drama.

Take for example the role we, i.e. the West have played in the Middle East for the past one hundred years.   Not unlike our ongoing relationship with the African continent, or throughout Asia, the Caribbean and also Latin America, we have engaged in the process of raw resource extraction for our profit, we have treated the Middle East as a place to deplete. The singular commodity interest that drives our involvement in this region from aid, to military support, to coups and wars has been oil. There are other resource interests in this region, but oil has been the dominant resource extracted and the need for it has consumed both politicians and robber baron alike. Unfortunately, based on how we’ve proceeded and whom we have backed in our thirst for oil, we’ve shown clearly that we haven’t understood the history of the region and have mucked it up as a result.

Minimization is part of the problem. Our media minimizes whole regions to fit into a neat, homogenous, black and white worldview–simplified both for our consumption and support. We mindfully use language to effectuate this black/white fallacy to those who, in our political system vote, putting people in office. The latter group in concert with business interests, use nation-state action to drastically intervene and subvert the interests of people in the regions we desire resources from. We couch it in language of democracy but have actively worked against democratically elected leadership in these regions. When democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran jeopardized the Anglo-American Oil company (later known as British Petroleum or BP) interests in this region, they worked with our then president Dwight David Eisenhower to utilize the CIA to replace him with a dictatorial Shah, or king. Fancy that! Our nation, which was born in reaction to the policies of King George that had people taxed without representation and whose ideological framing was the antithesis of monarchy, was, two-hundred years later actively supporting/creating monarchy so that multi-national business interests could take advantage of people, effectively extracting their wealth, where they had no voice to stop it. The irony (pun intended) is almost unbelievable.

This is where we are currently, operating in the same way throughout the world. We are not the only ones, the United Kingdom, France and Germany along with China, South Korea and Japan are all vying for the same resources and using similar means in order to wrest control. In the Middle East, we are all interested in oil. We are a fossil fuel driven world, and in this world oil is king. When the British and French became involved with the Ottoman Empire’s losing grip on the Middle East, they created nations, just as they had in Africa that never truly existed except on the resource maps of European dreams. Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia are all made up nations that never existed historically. They were created to help divvy up that region. Iraq and Syria had historically existed but their new borders were more arbitrary than based on the historic record. Palestine became its own issue, which continues to this day, but in the case of Saudi Arabia, you see the sinister machinations of the British Empire, creating the octopus, from whose outstretched tentacles refugees now flee.

سیری ناپذیر-89840-shia muslim

Global Terror

The house of Saud began as one of many tribes trying to control the Nejd and Hejaz regions of the Arabian Peninsula. The House of Saud needed ideological backing and they found it in Abd-Al-Wahhab, a pseudo-scholar who was cast out of his own village as a madman, who had re-discovered the works of Ibn Taymiyyah and continued to argue as he did that Islam needed to be purified and that innovation, or bidah, had overpowered its essence. This framing, later called Wahhabism or Wahhabi Islam gave the Saud the excuse it needed to unify the tribes under its banner and oppose the Ottomans. The British come in and support see Lawrence of Arabia for context and the nation of Saudi Arabia is born. There are arguments out there that the British had knowledge of oil in the Arabian Peninsula back in the 1870’s, when its value would have been more as a source of lubrication for machines than fuel, still, whether they did or not, they created the octopus and its tentacles grow forth from the Wahhabism that spreads, morphs into Salafism, an even more extreme, puritanical interpretation of Islam and creates arms for the kraken of terror named ISIS or DAESH, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Sepa-E-Sahaba to name a few. These arms do not represent the majority of Muslims, however, the arms have spread due to the oil money that fuels its source.

History has catalysts and human behavior is predictable. What the British did with Saudi Arabia we tried to do with Iran, and then we tried again with Al-Assad in Syria and Saddam in Iraq, after enabling the latter in the first place, and we’ve made a mess of that region, giving the Wahhabi/Salafi beast its building blocks in unemployment, instability, crusader-language that polarizes the them as much as it does the us, and war. We have sold them the weapons that they use against us. We have made our citizens targets, while we have actually targeted theirs with drone strikes and we now sit back and use rhetoric that further enables them, because this octopus needs to feed its tentacles with a combination of ignorance and fear and our media provides dosages of both so it actually is unsurprising to hear brainwashed Muslim teens trying to get to Syria to join DAESH/ISIS or to become brides for their soldiers. All the while, we engage in a steady stream or extraction.

We denounced Al-Assad for his dictatorship, also with Saddam and Qaddafi, but oil stable Saudi Arabia is predictably our friend. We refuse to denounce their treatment of women and religious minorities, the countless abuses they engaged in, human rights violations too lengthy to even list here and a monarchy that gives little real voice to its citizens while exporting a brand of a puritanical and extremist brand of Islam that argues that innocent people can be killed (violating one of the most fundamental core Abrahamic principles of “Thou Shalt Not Kill”) and that Muslims should be in a perpetual state of war against non-Muslims.

My students ask me, what they can do, while straddling the line between cynicism and hope? My human family, fellow Americans, people living in the west and Muslim brethren ask the same question. To all these groups I have the following answer. Recognize the pattern in human behavior and understand the history. Go deeper, even when the media or Hollywood advises you to remain on the surface. There is knowledge at the depth that I will share with you, but continue the research beyond. If you understand the truth I will share and help others to as well, then I am certain that we can combat the wave of ignorance that feeds the Wahhabi octopus. I also believe if our policy-makers were more informed, then we’d be able to create mutually beneficial partnerships for resources (while we also transition to a model that is not fueled by fossils) between nations instead of one that finds us in a manipulative relationship with regions.

Zaynab

The Story of Zaynab

The Truth

What the ISIS/Daeshes, Talibans and Al Qaedas of the world are doing is not new. You can find their model in early Islamic history. In the year 680, and event took place in which a woman from the bloodline of Abraham and Muhammad was brutalized and chained. She watched her brothers, her nephews, including infants, and her own sons murdered and their heads chopped off and placed on spears. She was taken to Kufa and then marched through the desert with the survivors of this massacre, in which her niece and others would perish and placed in a dungeon in Damascus. In spite of this she spoke out, and when she found herself placed before the Caliph named Yazeed, she trounced him verbally with the eloquence of her mother and grandfather and the people took note of her narrative. Her words, which reminded the people in the court of what Islam was truly, a religion of equity and equality and of justice and peace, stirred hearts and the public pressure made Yazeed release her. She continued to proselytize and tell her story until she died. She represented feminism, legitimacy and truth. She is the reason why the largest pilgrimage in the world is to Karbala, where the initial massacre took place. She is the reason why the Taliban focused first on massacring the people of Mazar-E-Sharif (people who claim to be descendants of her bloodline through her lone surviving nephew, and ultimately that of her grandfather). And she is the reason why ISIS aka DAESH, in 2014 attacked her shrine in Damascus where many believe she is buried and is a popular place of pilgrimage. Her name is Zaynab and she represents us.

Her story is so threatening to the octopus, that its tentacles attacked her shrine and her supposed descendants before it ever attacked us. Why is she such a catalyst? What would fear truth? Perhaps a lie? What would fear feminism? Perhaps patriarchy? What would fear legitimacy? The illegitimate? I am convinced that if my students, my fellow Americans, my human family and my sisters and brothers of the Muslim faith understood who Zaynab truly was they could use her as a catalyst to combat the ignorance that feeds the tentacles of terror as well as the kraken itself.

I wrote the song “An Ode To Zaynab” in an effort to raise this awareness and I did so before ISIS ever attacked her shrine—but recent events compelled me to create the hashtag #IAmZaynab and the video that follows, which is an effort to capture this historical truth. This video was made with participation of people throughout the world, from the Middle East, through Europe, Canada and the United States. It is a video of people holding signs that say simply, “I Am Zaynab” along with her narrative captured in a verse that emulates the Masaib or Elegy traditionally given for her in Hip-Hop. It is my hope that through this piece of art, this article and others like it that we allow Zaynab to be a catalyst for us to help change the world with knowledge, born from a place of Authenticity, Love and Intellect. 

The song “An Ode To Zaynab” is available on Professor A.L.I.’s XFactor double-album on iTunes & free-streaming on Spotify.