Anticipating questions from the “modern” Pakistanis

I am (was, it happened) scheduled to give an “Islamic Talk” before a group of largely non-practicing Muslims who are doing a fundraising dinner for Pakistan. How unfortunate of an audience that I was selected to give this talk. I do not mean this to be humble, I mean that sincerely, if they knew how dark and empty my inner-soul was, they be shocked. However, I was authorized by a Shaykh and maybe at least my outward can be of some benefit.

I know this crowd. They tend to have a fairly hostile approach towards outwardly religious people. I once wore a pakol and pashtun clothing (I am Pashtun) and a woman came up to me and asked me “Are you from the Taliban?” It was fairly rude, because she didn’t even greet me or know who I was. When I said no, mostly in shock, she said “okay, then you can stay”. It was worse because I am very much not cultural, so to have my fledgling expression attacked was disheartening. But I won’t play the victim.

Anyways, before any talk that I present, on any topic, I practice in my car. I also anticipate the sorts of questions that people will ask me afterwards. In particular with this audience, I anticipate someone coming to me and saying that they like Islam, but these Mullahs who study in madrassas are all intellectually backwards and come to foolish conclusions.

I plan to basically criticize modernity, but not do it from a position of ignorance.

Modernists are a very confused group of people. They differ on basic points of morality that I bet even you would disagree with. For example, did you know that they no longer say there is just male or female? Want me to justify it for you from their perspective? (Engage them in a little bit of back and forth, make points they cannot refute).

You think you’re being “modern”? All you’re doing is being a laughable imitation of European culture. Your sleeveless shalwar kameez is not “modern”, its just not Pakistani.

Do you think you’re being educated? Auntie, I have a Masters degree. I’m more educated than you.

Did you know that in modern society, men do not protect women? Men have no obligation towards their wives at all. After all, we’re all just people who happen to have different different biology.

You think technology is so great? Did you know that technological advancement has been slowing down? Most of what we have is basically implementation of existing technologies. The basic principles are the same.

You think we are a golden age of physics? Lets take physics. You argue that physics is a glory to our knowledge and insight. But in modern physics, you have two irreconcilable theories that both explain the world and stand up to empiric observation. How can this be? Similarly, every 100 years or so the entire scientific paradigm changes. And in every period, it is presumed that its current conclusions of science is eternal truth. Then those eternal truths change!

You need to re-evaluate the way you look at the world. This European idolization is backwards.

Atheists Cannot Make a Moral Claim

Yes, I mean it. Atheists cannot be moral.

Why? Because if they applied their lack-of-beliefs (for lack of a better words) to its logical conclusions, they would recognize that morality is not objective. It cannot be measured, observed, or even speculated about. It is a non-rational concept.

Typically, atheists appeal to things like “universally” accepted human rights or notions like “harm no one and do as you please”. But these concepts are arbitrarily, they have no basis. They do not rest upon anything tangible or objectively measurable.

Most atheists presume that, absent of religion, we will all fall into a secular utopia, where humanistic values are self-evident and adopted by all. But this isn’t true. Removing religion does not default to humanism, in fact it does not default to anything.

For this reason, when I hear “that is wrong” from an atheist, my immediate question is “wrong based by what standard?” And I never get an answer.

There only thing holding morality is the last vestiges of Christianity – although, even that is on a sharp decline.

May the “New Atheists” live to see the results of their project.

Thoughts on the notion that “A Literal reading of the Qur’an allows for terrorism”

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “A literal reading of the Qur’an allows for violence” — that groups like ISIS can justify themselves from the life of the Prophet, that just like how Levitical Law or  the Old Testament have violent passages the Qur’an does too, but “moderate Muslims” simply do not follow them anymore. When I hear this, I hear “I can prove creationism through scientific journals”. Only those who are deeply ignorant of Islamic scholarship or perhaps those whose lens has been colored from analysis of other religions could reason this.

I need to start with an absolutely critical premise. Islam has a “True Scottsman”. That is to say, Islam has a normative scholastic tradition that is widely shared, even without mass awareness and even given regional variations of Islam. Specifically, Sunni Islam has four legal schools, known as madhhabs, which are closely related yet distinct sets of principles and conclusions that are used as frameworks to interpret the Qur’an and prophetic tradition to derive Islamic law. Shia Islam has significantly broader variations, but with the exception of the Aga Khanis or ‘Alawis, they tend to only be around disputes of leadership and cultural and political identity, not practical law. That aside, Shias tend to coalesce around a single legal framework. These 4+1 schools are effectively absolute in their penetration of the Muslim world and provide a concise framework for what normative, orthodox, mainstream, approach to Islamic law. Granted, there is debate even within these schools, but even then there is a consensus or normative opinion and other minor opinions are taken as a rukhsa (acceptable opinion in the event of a dire circumstance or to free someone from blame).

For centuries, the general populace read the Qur’an and pondered its meanings. But specific formulations of Islamic law, practice, applications and rulings derived thereof were delivered to the masses through the scholars. Typically Muslims did not simply read the Qur’an and hadith texts to reach to their own personal conclusions on law. Instead, they relied on the established scholastic tradition through one of the four schools. This provided a dispassionate, sound legal framework not affected by personal desire. Additionally, it was rare that the average Muslim directly delved into the books of hadith without guidance. This was not withholding knowledge from the masses, as anyone could become a scholar by attaching himself to the coterie of a scholar. Instead, it is this was recognizing that hadith are inherently highly contextual reports. Some hadith are considered formally abrogated, some are still applicable, some are general, some are specific, etc.

Now to ISIS and related groups: Groups like ISIS started as a theological schism from classical Islam. From their perspective, they were returning to classical Islam that was free from scholastic interpretation and unnecessary clutter. But in reality, they were jettisoning centuries of scholarship, even if it dated back to the first three generations (Salaf al-Salih), both theologically and legally, that they reportedly claim to adhere to. They eliminated all schools of Islamic thought as “following the madhhab” or “following your shaykhs” instead of following the prophetic tradition. With this in mind, they reinterpreted the Qur’an and Hadith without even the requisite basic knowledge. They pick up the hadith texts, find what they think justified their position, and cite it as Islamic justification.

Outwardly, they appear scholarly, authoritative and maybe even convincing. But their ignorance is acutely palpable to anyone with basic knowledge of the Shari’ah, but seems convincing to the ill-informed. This is perhaps most analogous to creationists who have little-to-no scientific knowledge, but will cite research papers they do not understand to disprove established scientific conclusions.

Ironically, the so-called “Moderate Muslims” are responding not with liberal or progressive interpretations of Islam, but with classical interpretations that date back since day one, whereas the terrorists are the ones who espouse modernistic, “reformed Islam”. There is a shift to “reform Islam”, which typically means move it away from traditional Islam and let the masses interpret it as they choose. As Dalia Mogahed pointed out in her discourse with Irshad Manji, the idea that a free-for-all to interpret Islam is any less valid than centuries of scholastic interpretation is exactly the kind of thinking that gave Osama bin Laden legitimacy.

(I’ve listened to the entire talk, but can’t seem to find it online!!)

I’ll close with a statement from Ibn Taymiyya. He said that every deviant group in Islam’s history has always justified themselves with the Qur’an and Sunnah. But they always have done so by accepting parts and rejecting other parts. Groups like ISIS and their ilk are deviant innovators and should be challenged both militarily and theologically.

There is a highest number!

Common belief: There is no highest number because with any number you can just add 1.

But, I don’t think there is any such thing as 1 or 10 or 89234. These are abstractions and abstractions are as real as unicorns – meaning they are not real.

Numbers, instead, are only real in their association with that which is tangible. So, if you have 3 apples, 3 exists as a description of the apples. If there are 10 apples, then 10 exists. But if there are only 10 apples, there is no such thing as 11. 11’s existence is entirely contingent on reality.

In this sense, if you counted every divisible thing in the universe, from the smallest particle to the largest star, the number you arrived at is the largest number. That number’s existence is entirely contingent on the number of uniquely countable objects in existence. Adding 1 to that number computes a theoretical number that does not exist.

Some might disagree, they’ll say the proof that numbers are real is that we can work with them to produce models and theories with real utility. I would say the same thing can be done with unicorns. That doesn’t make unicorns real.

I’ll note that my brother disagrees with me on this, he says numbers exist the same way, say, “Economic theory” exists. It doesn’t have physical existence, it has a different kind of existence. I dunno, that’s a tricky one.

Your thoughts?

My view on Shi’ism

Before I begin, I am not anti-Shi’a nor have anti-Shi’a feelings. I am sickened when I hear about bombings of Shi’a masjids by Sunnis. Of course I take deep issue with Sahaba-cursing, as any and all Sunnis would. But, this post has nothing to do with condemning anyone. It is purely my perspective on the Shia/Sunni schism.

Why I never became a Shi’a

The primary and single biggest reason I never accepted Shi’ism is because of the Shi’a practice (and some Sunnis do this too) of calling out for assistance to the Ahl al-Bayt. In particular, you hear ‘Madad ya ‘Ali!’ (Help me Ya ‘Ali عليه السلام). This directly contradicts the verse of the Qur’an.

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ يَبْتَغُونَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمُ الْوَسِيلَةَ أَيُّهُمْ أَقْرَبُ وَيَرْجُونَ رَحْمَتَهُ وَيَخَافُونَ عَذَابَهُ ۚ إِنَّ عَذَابَ رَبِّكَ كَانَ مَحْذُورًا

Those whom they call upon do desire (for themselves) means of access to their Lord, – even those who are nearest: they hope for His Mercy and fear His Wrath: for the Wrath of thy Lord is something to take heed of. – Surah Israa, Verse 57

Instead of asking Allah, or even the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم which would still be wrong, they are asking Imam ‘Ali or Imam Husayn عليهما السلام for help. I fail to see how this is not polytheism. I once saw a man slice his back doing Zanjeer Zani, self-flagellation, and was told by other Shias, “Bus, Imam Husayn qabool kareyga” (English: Enough, Imam Husayn will accept). They want their action to be accepted by Imam Husayn عليه السلام not by Allah. If that is not polytheism, then there is no such thing as polytheism on the face of the Earth. I have heard rationalizations and at best it can be argued that they are asking Imam Husayn عليه السلام to make du’a for them, but the presentation and style is so close to polytheism that it seems best to avoid it entirely.

Aside from that, personally being in an Iranian Maatam program was shocking. It seems as if rather than a genuine display of emotion for the savagery that our dear Imam faced, they were artificially showing off to others. For example, when I first heard the story of the death of Imam Husayn عليه السلام, I really did cry. (I remember, I was driving by our masjid.) That was unplanned spontaneous genuine emotion. Nowadays, Shi’as ritually organize and plan ahead (ie, not spontaneous) to harm themselves with knives and blades. They are more interested in showing off to others their extreme devotion and self-harm than actually reflecting on Imam Husayn’s عليه السلام life and death. One thing that I find absurd is the complete arbitrary nature of the ritual. I have been told that you should not gravely harm yourself and doing so is haraam, but question what the basis is for that injunction. Why is using blades acceptable at all when even mild Zanjeer Zani is harming the body? Why not use guns on the body? Why not cut off a limb or blind oneself? After all, you won’t die, just as blood-letting will not kill you.

Another factor was the obsession with historical events that cannot be changed. Every Shi’a lecture is about why a member of the Ahl al-Bayt عليه السلام is better than one of the khalifahs or leaders or military generals or what-have-you. It has very little to do with controlling the ego, the desires, alleviating grief, sadness, anger, depression or other emotions that come one’s way. Shi’as will argue that these historical events are important. Important is a relative term, the killing of the 3rd Khalifah ‘Uthman رضى الله عنه is important to Sunnis, but we do not obsess over it to the point where we neglect the religion itself. But it seems that they are more interested in talking about why Banu Umayya was wrong over knowing Allah and his messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم. To be honest, I have heard perhaps 1-2 talks from Shi’as on any topic besides Imamah.

Finally, whenever I would read Shi’a websites and articles that presented arguments for their positions, they would often quote directly from Sunni books of ahadith. Whenever they did this, they would always quote ahadith that supported their positions (ie, a criticism of ‘Aisha رضى الله عنها) but then selectively disregard the ahadith about her righteous characteristics – from the same book! I found that highly disingenuous.

Where do I think Shi’ism came from?

In summary, my personal perspective is that Shi’ism began as a political movement with valid objectives and concerns and over time evolved into a theological ideology.

During the early period of Islamic history, there was political instability and a series of uprisings against the Banu Umayya government. These uprising movements had legitimacy because political leadership was usurped by governments that were more interested in consolidating power, authority, control and wealth than actually spreading the message of Islam.

Due to their corruption, oppression and family rule, the arrival of Banu Umayya was not welcome by many Muslims. This led to dozens of uprisings, most famously the one by Imam Husayn عليه السلام. When this uprising was crushed by ‘Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad and the like during the tragic events of Karbala, it created intense pain, a feeling of being wronged, and that clearly the bad guys had won and gotten away with it. Numerous secret and not-so-secret groups arose to challenge Banu Umayya, overthrow their power, and attempt to re-establish righteous authority, such as the uprising by ‘Abdullah ibn Zubayr رضى الله عنه and Imam Zayd bin ‘Ali عليه السلام.

One by one, these uprisings were crushed. But the sentiment that the government should be stopped remained. Many of these movements saw the family of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم as the most worthy rulers to have authority. At the same time, I am certain not-so-religious minded people wanted to have anyone in power besides the current government – a confederation based on various motivations. Either way, they opposed the government and started a new political party which became known as the Shi’a.

The Shi’a never achieved their goal of trying to overthrow the government. Instead, generations of state-persecution of essentially anti-government forces led them to become insular, radical, and ultimately create independent and extreme theologies that the Muslim world did not know before. They were never a unified theological movement, which is why there there have always been dozens of Shi’a sects and groups, but they loosely maintained the same political agenda.

Over centuries, the original political agenda was lost.

Back-Filling the Imamat Concept

The concept of Imamat as the Shias believe is not clearly mentioned in the Qur’an as you would expect if it truly was so integral to Islam. So where does it come from?

I believe that it came from the various Shi’a groups picking their respective leadership and over-time some built them up as being infallible, perfect leaders. I say some because because not all Shi’a groups revere the Imams as the Ithna ‘Ashari do. No doubt, even the Sunnis regarded them as great Muslims, but not as infallible. Since the family of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم were selected as the only legitimate leadership, his applies retroactively to Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام who is then also seen as infallible. In turn, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman رضى الله عنهم, who were from Banu Umayya, are disregarded as usurpers and disbelievers.

Which then leads to the next question…


Why do the Shi’a curse many of the Sahaba? I suspect the basis of this two fold.

First, if the family of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم should have always been the leaders, then even Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman رضى الله عنهم were wrong to now have “stolen” leadership from Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام. But we know that the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt عليهم السلام from the testimony of Imam Zayd ibn ‘Ali عليه السلام himself! So who created this idea? It was started from those who hated Banu Umayya so much that they extended that hatred backwards.


There are no-doubt explanations for the following inconsistencies, but there are also explanations from people who believe in a flat-earth theory.

Imam ‘Ali عليه السلام married Umm al-Banin and had the children Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. I have heard the explanations, but they seem too convenient and too coincidental.

Imam Zayd bin ‘Ali عليه السلام refused to curse Abu Bakr and ‘Umar رضى الله عنه.

The utter disunity of the Shi’a, specifically that the Ithna ‘Ashari were historically not the majority group – it was the Isma’ilis. Their lack of a central theology suggests that they independently developed rather than through the guidance of their alleged Imams.

And finally…Unity?

It depends what you mean by unity. If you mean that we should work towards common efforts, such as civil rights, helping the poor and needy, peace, prosperity, economic and social stability, and the elimination of hate? Then yes, I am unified with the Shi’as.

But if you mean we should pray in a single masjid, Sunnis should immerse themselves in Shi’a practices and celebrate Eid al-Ghadeer and the like, then no, I do not believe in unity.

My observation about unity is that it usually begins from the Shi’a, not the Sunnis, and usually involves Sunnis praying behind Shi’as and adapting Shi’a ideas into their practices.


The Bad Reason for the Second Amendment

I’m very pro-2nd amendment, I personally own a .22LR rifle, used to own a 9mm, and plan to buy a Mosin-Nagant sometime in the future. However, I completely fail to understand the rationale of some, not all, gun-rights activists. Specifically, those who argue that guns are a necessary tool to over-throw or push back a tyrannical government in the impending future dystopia.

First off, the following reasons in support of the second amendment are unquestionably legitimate:

  • Sportsmanship – When you target shoot just for fun, what’s commonly referred to as called plinking.
  • Hunting – Though it can border on the immoral, killing an animal for food is not only natural, its by far better for the prey than to be raised in a farm from birth and injected with hormones and all that.
  • Historical Value – Because you want a piece of modern history, which has shaped the destiny of the world.
  • Self-Defense – This comes with strong caveat. Use a pistol-caliber round for home-defense, a shotgun or at most an AR-15. Some people get nutty with thousands of gizmos and add-ons. I think that’s over-kill. Unlikely you will need a powerful round beyond what I mentioned. So in general, this is a valid reason.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets talk about the one majorly invalid reason: Fighting back against an out of control government. This almost always take the form of the US federal government restricting freedoms, putting people in camps, devaluing the currently, and what they call “Shit Hits the Fan” scenarios. If this is your primary reason for owning a firearm, your reason is not only irrational, it is absurd and going to get you, your family and potentially your neighbors killed. Turn back while you have time and support peace!

The inferiority of militia groups

If you ever spend time looking up militia groups online, you cannot help but not take them seriously. They’re mostly immature, army-wanna young guys looking for a fight. At best, they have small arms, camouflage clothing, and spirit. At worst, they’re overweight, boast minimal training, mostly consisting of running around with their gun, and are highly irresponsible with their rhetoric. Its as if they want a conflict to break out!

Realistically speaking, if the government wanted to stop your and your cell, short of going into hiding, they would kill you in a heart-beat. If you were ever found to be a serious threat, they would send a drone to bomb you and your entire group. They could do this from 100 miles away, without you having the slightest idea it was coming. And not, your militia group would be relegated to the mountains and die of starvation or exposure, far away from the areas they want to control. I don’t care if you have 10,000 rounds per soul, you would not stand a chance.

In open conflict, a well-trained, well-equipped, well-funded, well-established National Guard would make short-work of these militia-types. It will not be a Second American Revolution, it would be an entirely asymmetric conflict with the Federal Troops winning.

The Eventuality of Conflicts

Even if you could eventually defeat a tyrannical government, its not always worth it. Put down your romanticism and look at the human cost of civil wars.

The past fifty years have seen countless conflicts against national governments. Two examples that immediately come to mind are the Chechen separatist movement of the ’90s and Syrian Rebels in the on-going civil war. In both cases, smaller, less-equipped irregular troops were able to deal a serious blow to the national military. But, at what cost?

I have no defined views on who to support in the Syrian conflict, its one big SHTF scenario. But what I can say is that millions of people have had their lives destroyed, lost limbs, been traumatized, had their wealth and fortunes destroyed, lost family members, and seen their proud country reduced to rubble. An estimated 1.7 Million people have left to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. And even when this damn war ends, the country will be left with open-wounds along sectarian and political divides that never existed in the past — at least not like this.

In the case of Chechnya, the capital city Grozny was reduced to a heap of rubble. I once read that 1/4th of the entire ethnic group was killed in the two wars. Watch the following video. If you eyes are dry after watching this, your heart is dead.

That poor boy looking for his sister…

That is war! Even if you are fine, suited up in your battle-dress uniform, armed to the teeth, the civilian populations who even ostensibly support your cause are subject to the brutal wrath of a faceless state — all in the name of security.

In the past, wars were localized. It was possible for populations to remain isolated from conflict in their own cities. If their walls were high enough and strong enough, they could resist even a six month-long siege. But in modern times, wars are more bloody, more violent, and cost more than they have ever in the history of history.


Finally, I want to close with a final point. In ‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyya, a classical book of theology, the author says

We do not recognize rebellion against our authority or those in charge of our affairs even if they are unjust, nor do we wish evil on them, nor do we withdraw from following them. We hold that obedience to them is part of obedience to God, The Glorified, and therefore obligatory as long as they do not order to commit sins. We pray for their right guidance and pardon from their wrongs.

Though this is a bitter pill to swallow, but the reasons are clear: Fighting creates chaos and bloodshed which is worse than oppression. In these difficult times, forgive each other, have forbearance over the mistakes of others, support peace, put down your weapons and run away from the fight!

Having said all that…I can’t wait to go hunting some rabbits 🙂

My experience accosted by the World Mission Society Church of God

To others, this is offensive. To me, this is beyond fun. I was at a gas station with a friend at 12:30am with a friend when a man dressed in a suit and tie power walked in our direction. My first thoughts were that this guy might need something or wants money. Instead, he asked me if I had read the Bible. Great, I like the Christian street preachers, I’m still waiting to hear the whole “Have you ever told a lie? Then you’re a liar” bit. but unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, this was not that kind of encounter. zhang_gil-jah

This man, whose name is Keith, immediately went on to tell me that just as there is a “God the Father”, there is also a “God the Mother”, and showed me a picture of her. This was the picture to the right.

Right off the bat, I realized that he was not a normal Christian. Second, I wanted to get technical with him and say “God created gender and therefore he could not be subject to gender”, but then thought that might be too much for the moment. He got his iPhone and started showing me that God created humanity in his name, suggesting male and female, and since every living being has a gender God must also have a gender. He then said that because God refers to himself as “we” in Genesis, that it must mean that there’s a plurality and that Ellohim means “Gods”. I am still not certain if he meant plurality of Gods or plurality of parts of God within the hypo-static union.

At that point, and after several attempts, I finally got him to listen for a moment. I asked him if he was familiar with Semitic languages, which he said no. I said Hebrew and Arabic are in a family of languages and since I speak functional Arabic, I can speak about this with a degree of authority. In Semitic languages, there is such a thing as a “royal plural”. But as I was explaining this to him, it seemed like he was so excited, he was just waiting for his turn to speak and was not really listening.

Now, around this time I mentioned to him that I am a Muslim. Almost by definition, that means that the Christian Bible is not a primary source of guidance for me. But he entirely used the Bible as his basis. But I ignored that problem for now. He randomly went into the Sabbath being Saturday. I don’t disagree with him, but what did that have to do with me? He made another point about Isaac haven been given the covenant, but I did not follow him. He said something about how Jerusalem refers to his “God the Mother” figure.

A funny moment was when he randomly jumped to how the “Bride of Christ” is his “God the Mother”. I said the Christians interpret the Bride of Christ as the Church. He immediately said that they are wrong and worship Satan. I said they would say you are wrong, upon which he immediately said “yes, but they are wrong”. I said again “right, but they would say you are wrong and you worship Satan”. This back and forth happened 4 times, but it did not sink in for him.

At this point a good 10 minutes had passed and I did not want to leave my friend waiting around as I talked to this crazy guy, so I said I had to go. He said he wanted my number upon which I very bluntly said I was not going to give my number to a person I just met, but would like his email address or website. He flatly told me that he is not interested in hearing opposing views because when a prophet comes, you do not listen to Satan. I tried to tell him that there is a difference between “listening to Satan” and entertaining valid questions. But that fell on deaf ears. In the end, he told me that the only way to heaven was through his faith. If I was not in “polite mode”, I would have told him that he’s a polytheist and idol worshiper. I also thought this morning that his faith must be weak if it cannot even hear reasoned criticism. But it did not occur to me.

One thing I could see in his eyes was his absolute conviction of his faith, an impatience with hearing others, inability to stay on topic which suggests that he is so convinced of his faith that there are multiple thoughts going on in his head at the same time and he cannot control himself. He did not want to listen, understand or know his audience. I went to their website and there are a few observations I have:

  • They focus on pushing forward their specific doctrines based on the Bible, rather than general topics that might appeal to non-Christians;
  • They are big on self-promotion and pointing out their awards, their community service and how much people love being in the faith, work with the UN, etc;
  • Their videos use a lot of “constructed emotion”, through background music or showing smiling faces, etc. Its more image than substance.

I do not know much more about them, I am not certain if they are a cult or not. But I want nothing to do with them.