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Reviews

Issue 5 May / Jun 2004

First featured in issue 5 - May/June 2004

Click here to go to the Issue 5 archives 

 

Against All Enemies

Inside America’s War on Terror

By Richard A. Clark

Review by Owen Van Spall

 

Given the appalling state of both Iraq and Afghanistan today, President George W. Bush is not without his critics. Richard Clark however could prove the most devastating. An apolitical career civil servant who has served four presidents, recently as head of counter terrorism at the National Security Council under Clinton (and later Bush) from 1998 onwards, he was in a key position to observe the American response to international terrorist activity before and after the World Trade Centre attack, and in particular to chart with growing unease the emergence from the shadows of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Much of this book is a broad history of Clark’s involvement with US counter-terrorism and intelligence activities from the early Afghan- Soviet war through to the Gulf Wars of 1991 and beyond. As al-Qaeda emerged as a definite serious threat in the post- Cold War period following a series of attacks such as the double embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, Clark and his colleagues threw themselves into the struggle to convince Washington of the real danger ahead. Clinton, according to Clark, proved a receptive President (Clinton certainly comes off well in this analysis compared to the current incumbent) to the need for preparation and tough action against the network - by the time he left office; there had already been budgetary and organisational changes. Special forces and agencies plotted many attempts to have Bin Laden arrested or killed. None had succeeded.

Nevertheless what Clark’s book  ultimately is aiming for is an assault on the ideology and policy of the current US administration. He witnessed Bush coming to office believing Clinton’s recommendations on terrorism were largely irrelevant. In an April meeting following the inauguration, Clark recalls Deputy Secretary for Defence, Paul Wolfowitz deflecting his claim that al-Qaeda was an “immediate and serious” threat to the United States –“well, there are others that do as well, at least as much. Iraqi terrorism for example.”

The implications are obvious - Iraq was already on more than a few minds even before September 11. Following the September attacks, the first impulse of the Bush administration was not to turn to Clark and his collated data on the man held responsible, but to use the tragedy as the pretext for the war which Clark believes the neoconservatives in government had wanted all along - the war on Saddam. Bush himself ordered Clark personally, in the face of protests, to see again and again if Saddam was behind it. The real threat slipped away, America’s reputation was tarnished by a war that went in the wrong direction after the wrong target, with innocent people dying.

Largely a ‘I told you so’ history of the now seemingly inevitable clash of the United States with al-Qaeda, his is nevertheless fascinating reading, with author credentials like these (one can hardly argue Clark is ‘soft’ on terrorism as no doubt his political opponents will) the revelations have caused great consternation in the White House and should, unless later revelations prove otherwise, also be taken seriously by those readers wanting to know how we got where we are today in the Middle East.

Signs of God: Design in Nature

By Harun Yahya

Review by Qaiser M. Talib

For those people who have been living on the dark side of the moon for the last decade, Harun Yahya is the Turkish author whose books on faith and science have been translated into over forty languages. They have taken the market by storm and have sold millions of copies all over the world. With such hard-hitting titles as The Evolution Deceit, Darwinism Refuted and Global Freemasonry under his belt, his latest offering is very much cut from the same cloth.

The book, which explores the signs of the Creator in the world of nature, is simply and sincerely written, logically constructed and beautifully presented. It is filled with dozens of spectacular photographs to illustrate the author’s admiration for what he often refers to as ‘Allah’s Artistry’: plants, animals and the universe at large are under contemplation.

Because Yahya has sold so well in the Muslim world, he has now set his sights set on non-Muslims. This latest offering is edited accordingly, for example, instead of ‘Allah’ the word ‘God’ is used throughout the book. Instead of filling the book with Qur’anic verses – though many relate to scientific matters – Yahya has written about God in a very general way so as to welcome into his world those not of the Islamic faith. Where The Evolution Deceit was a samurai sword, Signs of God is more like a scalpel. Undoubtedly, some Muslims may object but I would remind them of the world in which we live, the media therein and images that the word ‘Allah’ may conjure up in the minds of non-Muslims. For the average Westerner, who has only seen the word ‘Allah’ on press releases by groups claiming responsibility for violent and often despicable acts, the word ‘God’ is surely far more inclusive and palatable.

From start to finish, Signs of God is very readable. Let us hope that Muslims and non-Muslims, both of whom have uncritically been taught that the theory of evolution is a stonecold fact, enjoy the logic and straight-forwardness which has made Harun Yahya such a hero to millions of people all over the world.

 

I Saw Ramallah

by Mourid Barghouti

(translated by Ahdaf Soueif)

Review by Remona Aly

 

After a period of 30 years in exile, Mourid Barghouti recounts the return to his homeland of Palestine. The account is described with a pensive philosophy and a subtle sensitivity that affirms the poet in him. The pages are peopled with those who encompass the humanity of the Palestinians, whose vignettes together with scenes of places paint a picture of how normal life was then. All his memories produce a yearning for that life, yet it is not a yearning to return to those days, but to proceed to a time that would have seen a Palestine 30 years older. One person who is embedded in his memory is his dead brother, Mounif. Barghouti pays tribute to Mounif who emerges again and again like a restless ghost, but for Barghouti, Mounif is always with him on his journey. The presence of Mounif in the book stirs an element of pathos, his loss is more real the more he is mentioned, just as the loss of 30 years life in Palestine can never be recovered.

The language and style of the opening chapter echoes that of Albert Camus’ ‘L’etranger’ (The Outsider) in which the main character speaks in the present tense and first person narrative and is acutely aware of his environment, describing it with a simplicity and attention that produces a vivid and personal narrative. Both narrators are observant and both are like outsiders in their own homes. Barghouti is one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homeland and he brings out the tragic fact of how those Palestinians are like strangers in their own land. Barghouti’s narrative reflects the thoughts and emotions of an unsettled mind and heart. He carries the reader with him on a physical and psychological journey that is sometimes overwhelming and chaotic, and at other times ordered and paced. He continuously puts forth questions that have no reasonable answer, conveying a frustrated tone, rather than an accusing one, and aptly reflects the general feeling of frustration at the Occupation.

I Saw Ramallah is essentially a deeply personal book that comments on politics but is not dominated by that sphere. It is a journey that speaks the poignant truth of the self, and in turn of countless other individuals who each have their own stories and all share a universal yearning for the homeland.

 

Lote Tree Tarbiya –

Ulum Al-Qur’an

Review by Junaid Ahmed

 

The sacred Lote tree is mentioned in surah an-Najm (53) and is symbolic of the pinnacle of human knowledge and understanding ‘beyond which none may pass’. Lote Tree Tarbiya was established to promote knowledge, honour its holders and encourage new seekers. Being a project of the Islamic Forum Europe, the acquisition of authentic knowledge is viewed as an essential prelude to the establishment of a holistic Muslim society.

The most recent Lote Tree Tarbiyyah event was held at the East London Mosque during the first weekend in April and was attended by over 200 students. This two day uloom al- Qur’an course promised to provide a ‘deeper and more meaningful’ insight into the final revelation sent to mankind, and it certainly did not disappoint. The teacher, Shaykh Muhammad Aqram Nadwi, is a graduate of the prestigious Nadwatul Ulama and an expert in the sciences of the Qur’an and Hadith with Ijaza from over 200 scholars including Shaykhs Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and Yusuf Al- Qaradawi. His method of presentation, his vast knowledge – of which only a glimmer was revealed – and his humble personality ensured to create a presence that facilitated learning.

The course it self was divided into three teaching sessions and a question and answer session on each of the days. The extended question and answer session facilitated student teacher interaction while enabling the participants to seek clarification on any points from the day’s presentation. During the first day students were exposed to the history of the text of the Qur’an, principles of exegesis and nizam (hermeneutic/contextual understanding) of the Qur’an. During the second day Shaykh Aqram Nadwi expounded upon the I’jaz (miraculous nature) of the Qur’an, the Qur’an and jurisprudence, and finally the message of the Qur’an. Almost as an added gift the Shaykh, on the final day narrated the famous hadith of Umar ibn al- Khattab on intention through an unbroken chain from his teacher Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, through Imam Bukhari, via Umar Ibn Khattab to the final messenger of Allah. Lote Tree Tarbiya promises to bring scholars of authority and specialisation to all its courses, and if the April course is anything to go by, the attendees of future courses have a lot to look forward to.

One appreciative attendee remarked, “Not only was I overwhelmed by the vast knowledge of Shaykh Aqram Nadwi, but the organisation and programme structure arranged by the brothers and sisters at Lote Tree Tarbiya has also impressed me. In me you have a loyal supporter.”

For information on future courses please

visit www.islamicforumeurope.com or

call 07985 399 949

 

The Passion of the Christ

Produced and directed by Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald

Review by Hajierah Noordien

 The Passion of the Christ is a memorable film. A great line, for me, came from Jesus after being questioned by Pilate, the Roman Governor during his trial - it was about knowing when to recognise the truth. Its recognising truth that ultimately defines what religious path one decides to follow. If you believe in the words spoken by Jesus in the Qur’an (s5;v117) when he is questioned by God about his people he replies “Nothing did I tell them beyond what Thou didst bid me to say: ‘Worship God, who is my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer.’ And I bore witness to what they did as long as I dwelt in their midst,” it profoundly influences the way you view this movie.

Adapted by Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald, The Passion was supposedly based on the four books of the Gospel. It depicts the last 12 hours of Christ’s life. The film opens in the Garden of Olives (Gethsemane) where Jesus, played by James Caviezel, came to pray after the Last Supper. Betrayed by Judas (Luca Lionello) Jesus is arrested and taken back inside the walls of Jerusalem. The Pharisees accused him of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. Jesus is brought before the Roman Governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), who listens to the Pharisees and allows Jesus to speak for himself. Pilate offers the crowd a choice: they can either free Jesus or the convicted murderer Barabbas. They chose Barabbas, thereby condemning Jesus to torture and brutality. After enduring severe flogging he then has to carry his cross to the hill of Golgotha where he is nailed to the cross. He dies and the movie ends with a snapshot of his resurrection.

This movie is beautifully produced – the Aramaic dialogue, authentic looking settings, costumes in hues of brown and black and a perfectly presented score adds to the effect. The movie is extremely violent and the scenes of Jesus’ suffering during the torture were just too much to bear at times. These scenes drag at your heartstrings and it is hard not to get emotional as Mary (Maia Morgenstern) runs to help her son carry his cross.

I can see why this film has been controversial: if you are Christian you may be inclined to think it is a true account. If you believe the Jews and Romans crucified Christ, you may feel resentment because of the injustice and horrific suffering inflicted on him. However, a Christian believing Jesus was the son of God might accept this as part of God’s divine plan. Though the Bible and the Qur’an recount the persecution of the Prophets, Muslims believe the Jews did not kill Jesus, neither are they guilty of deicide. The Qur’an clarifies these false allegations.

Finally, a word of warning: see this movie if you have a strong stomach for violence.

 

CD Review

Tahajjud Therapy

Alif Recordings

By Mohammad Musa

  Alif Recording’s first compilation album called Tahajjud Therapy is clearly a must for everyone. By capturing the event live on CD, the album takes us on a journey that enables a return to the spirit generated during the last ten days of Ramadan 2003 at East London Mosque. The melodious nature of the murattal style recitation is presented at its best. With Shaykhs Abu Tayeb, Esam al-Din and the highly acclaimed Egyptian Ahmad Amer, the CD is a real treat and a unique opportunity to enjoy the diversity that the ummah is blessed with. Each recitor brings a unique form into the verses, which stimulates the senses and heightens enjoyment of the album from start to finish. Abu Tayeb, with his calm and rhythmic voice starts the album off. After surah al- Fatiha, he recites surah ar-Rahman. His level of emotional engagement reveals itself shortly into the recitation as he breaks into tears, which makes the listener wonder about the deeper meaning embodied in the surah. In surah al-Hujurat, he is even more expressive about its themes and undertones. We are then taken on a completely different course with Esam al-Din. He presents a vibrant and highly energised style of recitation. The seriousness he brings and the fast paced accuracy in his tajweed truly activate the senses and instantly stir up feelings. His lengthy and expressive dua in witr (track 9) is a treat. If you listen carefully, you can hear people weeping in devotion in the background. We are then brought down to earth only to be taken up again by the much loved Ahmad Amer. His distinct mujawwad style of recitation is the highest point in the whole CD. It is the last track and well worth waiting for. He starts the last verses of surah Baqarah in a laid-back manner, and then gradually gains intensity and strength. He then maintains his vocals at a high pitch for a prolonged period without loss or break in breathing or wording in the recitation. The power of this is absolutely breath-taking. The title of the CD is reflected in its contents: it serves as essential therapy (shifa) for the mind, body and soul, as noted in the Qur’an.

 

Restaurant

Bukhara at the Conservatory

Osterley Park Hotel

765 Great West Hotel

Middlesex TW7 5NA

Review by Azmat Nisa

 

Bukhara is the treasure of Uzbekistan. The 2,500 year city is home to the Kalyan minaret, left intact by Ghengis Khan after his marauders had destroyed the rest of the city. Forming part of the Silk Route, it still pulls in the tourists. But for Muslims Bukhara is best known as the birth place of the great Imam Bukhari, compiler of the greatest collection of sahih hadith. Now, here in Middlesex, Bukhara at the Conservatory brings you the classic cuisine of the Indian sub-continent with a culinary reflection inspired by the historic city of Bukhara, the birth place of the famous Tandoori style of cooking. With a diverse array of cultures passing through the city including Arabs, Turks, Persians and the Mongols, the cuisine has had many influences. In the 10th century the cuisine was taken to India by the Muslim rulers of the time. The ubiquitous clay oven, the tandoor, staple in central Asia was introduced and Mughlai and North Indian cooking was born.

The Bukhara is a sister restaurant of the famous Bukhara Restaurant in the Delhi Sheraton. The chef, Vijay Singh Rawat, spent three years at the Sheraton Bukhara before joining the Bukhara at the Conservatory. The owner of the hotel and restaurant, Dr Kang, an Indian Sikh and qualified nutritionalist is keen to ensure the food he serves is healthy. The restaurant uses no artificial food colourings or additives. The menu is extensive, mouth watering and very exciting. We sampled the tandoori fish which was made from fresh cod fillet, lightly spiced, cooked in the tandoor and served with salad and fresh slices of lemon. The fish was cooked to perfection - succulent and light. We then had the allo matar ki tikki, Gellafi kebab, tandoori chicken tikka and chilli panile. All dishes were perfectly prepared and truly delicious. In particular the chilli panile was exquisite.

The main course was cod tandoori style, dahl bukhara, chicken kurchan and panile makhni. The dahl was soft and tender, with a hint of ginger and very creamy. This is historically a pauper's dish but was certainly fit for a king. The panile makhni was a favourite of mine and I went to the effort of asking the chef how this was prepared. He was not, however, prepared to give up his secret except to say he used ground almonds in the sauce. Normally this dish has a very rich sauce; however, I found it to be surprisingly light, which I enjoyed. A range of different breads and rice were made available, in particular the tandoori lachup parata was very tasty.

 

Dhikrullah

An Exhibition of Contemporary Islamic Art

28 March - 3 April 2004

The Whitechapel Centre, Myrdle Street, London E1

Review by Shargil Ahmad

 

London’s East End recently hosted a unique and refreshing exhibition of contemporary Islamic art by British Muslims. The showcase of inspiring work by a coterie of young artists skillfully reflected the re-emergence of dynamic Islamic art in Britain.

The ‘Dhikrullah’ (Remembrance of God) project, spearheaded by Visual Dhikr, aimed to promote and celebrate Islamic art in Britain, something it did successfully by luring art lovers from across the capital. The work, a showcase of diverse mediums from the traditional oil paint to the trendy aerosol can to the ultra-modern digital print on canvas, defiantly declared itself a testimony to a new culture that is emerging from the continual fusion of Islamic and British traditions.

Set in the large hall of a converted Victorian school, the canvases were displayed on boards that weaved in and around two Mongolian yurts, one of which housed an animated projection showing a series of Islamic teachings. The aroma of traditional Asian food and drinks combined with the glow of Moroccan lanterns not only juxtaposed wonderfully with the Victorian building but also induced an exotic atmosphere not usually found in gallery spaces.

The unique ‘digital canvases’ by Ruh al- ‘Alam and Abu Ta-Ha represent an attempt to tackle the stigmas associ ated with digital art. The vector-style geometric Kufic calligraphy, combined with layered textures on the canvas prints, is a new concept that proved to be very popular. A further series of paintings, themselves in a wide range of styles, depicted subjects as varied as silhouettes of Jabal an- Nur to the Shahada in complex kufic script.

Mohammed Ali, a graffiti artist turned web designer, revives his passion for the aerosol can to create original art pieces; further challenging the current frontiers of Islamic art. His growing reputation as one of the very few people in the world attempting to fuse Islamic art with graffiti provided another dimension to the exhibition. His large canvases ranged from inscriptions representing the central Islamic concept of ‘Tawhid’ to exploring the notion of ‘Hijab’. The colourful yet controlled stencil work on canvas is far removed from the popular perception of graffiti – often associated with vandalism of inner cities walls.

Vaseem Mohammed contributed to the  week long event with his ever popular blend of classical calligraphy and post-modernist abstract work, lending another, more traditional, element to the exhibition. His work balanced the wide range of contemporary designs present at the show by depicting the more conventional calligraphic styles. Raadiyah Bint-Safar showcased her acrylic canvases of amazingly refined calligraphic art, along with Ayesha Ahmad who paints using organic materials on canvas. Both artists’ work demonstrates the time and effort put into creating the intricate and timeless art.

 

Future exhibitions are planned, visit www.visualdhikr.com for more information.




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