On Hamza Yusufs statements, enabling racism and refusing accountability.


Recently, the prominent white American Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf has attracted quite some controversy because of the statements made in reply to Mehdi Hassans critical questions regarding the important question weather, and why, non-black Muslims should stand with Black Lives Matter. He was participating in the RIS-conference (Reviving the Islamic Spirit) Hamza Yusufs reply was almost a text-book example of how a privileged person should NOT react to a question like this. (His statements can be assessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs6HEZHMpDA)

Hamza Yusuf is privileged in many ways: He is a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, educated middle-class Western man. And he is one of those people who refuses to see his privilege and how that privilege has helped him in many ways – for instance, it gave him the possibility to study and become a traditionally schooled Muslim scholar. If he would have been white and female, or black and male, for instance (let alone black and female) it would have been a whole lot harder. (Like is so eloquently explained in these article: https://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/seeking-knowledge-a-cure-for-patriarchal-abuses/)

But anyway. Firstly, he claimed that American society, in terms of its laws, is one of the least racist societies in the world. I beg to differ on that one, but the most important thing is this: Even if this were true, what is the reality on the ground? As someone who studies Law, I regognize this reaction all too well: Since Hamza Yusuf is a jurist, so it is easy for him to look at theory & ignore practice. African-Americans maybe aren’t discriminated against de jure, at least after the Civil Rights Act, but still de facto. Exactly that way of thinking, only looking at the most rosy interpretation of theory and ignoring the facts of life on the ground, is what is at the heart of apologetic conservative scholared Sunni discourse on Muslim women’s lives, rights and places, but also on racism amongst Muslims. They only speak about how it should be, but not on what actually happens. They quote all these lovely Quran verses and ahadith, glorify Hazrat Bilal etc., but fail to confront the fact that anti-black racism is a global problem, and that many non-black Muslims of colour, and white Muslims alike, are very racist against black people and that the fact that God & His Prophet forbade racism doesn’t make any difference for these racists. Yes, the American Constitution promises equality to all, but the reality is that anti-black racism still exists and that it literally kills people: Unarmed black men and women are still subjected to violence, literally slain in the streets, like Trayvon Martin, Kecia Boyd, Amadou Diallo, etc.

Secondly, he brings up the issue of black on black crime to downplay police brutality against unarmed African-Americans AND to divert from the subject at hand: Racist police brutality against unarmed black men and women. These diversionary tactics, will be shown by him more, especially in his clarification a day later. He also refuses to simply answer the questions Mehdi Hassan poses, but goes along with bringing up all kinds of other things.

Then, he brings up the fact that whites are shot twice as many as black people. This might be true, because in America, 70% of Americans are white. But if one looks at these numbers procentually, blacks are overrepresented almost 6 times in being shot by the police.

Fourthly, he claims that “not all police are racist”. This is a rhetoric move called the straw man. First, one constructs an argument that was supposedly (but not in reality!) made by an opponent, and then argues against that – again while diverting from the subject at hand and ignoring the real points the opponent made.

Then, in another move, he claims that there is no Arabic word for racism, and then, in one breath (!) says that there is a word, called `unsuriyya, but that “isn’t really a word, because it didn’t exist in seventh century Quranic Arabic” (!). The truth of the matter is, of course, that there are many dialects of Arabic. Seventh Century Quranic Arabic is a form of Arabic, just like there is Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, etc., etc., etc. `Unsuriyya probably is a neologism, which in this context means, a relatively new word which was created for a new expression. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t “really a word”. Racism as a word didn’t exist in seventh century Arabia, but anti-blackness and tribalism did – That’s why the Prophet had to preach against it, why Bilal was discriminated against many times, and why few Muslims know that aside from Hazrat Bilal, the Prophet pbuh had many black companions and that many of the later ahl ul bayt (= literally “people of the (Prophets) house”; the Prophet’s family and descendents)

Then he goes on about racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry from and against other people and communities, again diverting attention from the subject at hand, racist police brutality against African-Americans.

And to make it even worse, he claims that the term “white supremacy” “makes him sick to his stomach”. Ofcourse it does. God forbid that he loose……his privilege. Being lauded & applauded by non-black Muslims of colour because of the status he gets from his studies, sex, gender, sexual orientation and skin colour. Because the reality on the ground is that while white converts, especially cisgendered, heterosexual males, are often lauded and applauded, black converts simply don’t get the same treatment. What we often get, is straight-up racism, prejudice and exclusion. Verily, a painfull truth, but deniying or downplaying this truth only benefits the racists and enables racism. Just like Hamza Yusuf enabled racism by his denial, diversionary tactics and refusal to simply answer questions that were posed to him.

It’s also telling, to say the least, that Yusuf talked as if being black and being Muslim are two mutually exclusive cathegories……whilst the largest single ethnic group of Muslims in the USA (up to 44%), are African-Americans& Islam came to the Americas on the slave ships. Up to 30% of enslaved West Africans were Muslims.

Then, the second day of the conference, he comes up with a “clarification” – which is even worse. Instead of assessing & reacting to the critique he got because of his statements, he brings up all kinds of other issues, and centers the conversation around his person. (The clarification can be asessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2jB_GpY9jo )

He tells all kinds of tales about his mother being in the Civil Rights movement, his mother having had an African-American lover, him being married to a Native American Mexican woman, his sisters going to an African-American school……While all these things AREN’T THE ISSUE! The issue was and is his statements, not his mother, his childhood, his wife, his children or his person. Oh, and he was so honored to carry Muhammad Alis casket to his grave. This is the same argument as “O I can’t be racist because I have black friends!” Yes, he talks a lot, but never adresses the subject at hand: His statements. Also, he makes it about his person, talking about his life, his studies and “everyone who knows me”, which tells me two things. 1. He has a huge ego. 2. He isn’t used to receiving critique for his statements. And why would he? Thousands come to his lectures, share them online, praise him – and those are not circumstances to create much self-reflection, to say the least. In my opinion, Muslim leaders –and all&any leaders!- should be held accountable for their statements & actions. One can’t have it both ways: Being lauded as a leader, being sought after for guidance, etc. and then turning around and refusing to react to criticism. This is childish at best and manipulative at worst. And none of those two traits are any good in a leader, plain and simple.

With such scholars and supposed allies, we as black Muslims really don’t need enemies.

More on Hamza Yusuf, BLM & his downplaying, denying & enabling racism.

He denies both white American & Arab racism. O, Lord. My blood starts to boil again, by him downplaying Arab racism & saying that “3unsuriyya” is not a real Arabic word because it’s not 7th Century Quranic Arabic. Stop. Just stop.

I think I understand why Hamza Yusuf downplays & denies anti-black racism in the States. He doesn’t want to look in the mirror and see his own privilege, which gave him the possibility to become a scholar in the first place.

It’s also interesting that he talks as if being black and being Muslim are two mutually exclusive cathegories……whilst the largest single ethnic group of Muslims in the USA (up to 44%), are African-Americans& Islam came to the Americas on the slave ships. Up to 30% of enslaved West Africans were Muslims.

White, American Scholar Hamza Yusuf denies both American&Arab racism.

In this video from 2016, Hamza Yusuf denies both white American & Arab racism. My blood starts to boil again, by him downplaying Arab racism & saying that “3unsuriyya” is not a real Arabic word because it’s not 7th Century Quranic Arabic. Stop. Just stop. With such scholars and “allies” one doesn’t need enemies. Shame on him & shame on his anti-black discourse!

Women in the mosque.

This is an article about an incident in the Taibah mosque in Amsterdam, in April 2015.

Amsterdam Mosque, by Rosalinda Wijks.

AMSTERDAM – Recently, there has been a renewed attention for the position of Muslim women in the mosque in the U.S. The ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) has come up with an initiative to make mosques more women friendly. And Yasir Qadhi, a well-known conservative American scholar of Islam, has wrote an article, supposedly to stand up for women’s rights. One could say that it is a positive sign that mainstream conservative organizations and scholars are now evolving towards a more egalitarian vision.

But…….a couple of things

First of all, the whole fact that this issue is on the table, is thanks to the courage and tenacity of many Islamic feminists and, to a lesser extent, secular Muslim feminists.

Women like the accomplished scholar of Islam Amina Wadud, who basically started the movement that promotes female ritual leadership and inclusion of women in the mosques and came up with new exegetic tools and theoretical concepts. She inspired a whole new generation of feminist Muslim activists like for instance journalists Asra Nomani and Mona Eltahawy.

Other notable scholars and activists are Fatima Mernissi, Leila Ahmed, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Zainah Anwar, Gewndolynah Zoharah Simmonds, Asma Barlas, Riffat Hassan, Kecia Ali, Ayesha Chaudhry and many more.

I, too, stand on the shoulders of these brave women, and especially the work of Fatima Mernissi, Amina Wadud, Asra Nomani, Kecia Ali and Ayesha Chaudhry was and is key in my development as an Islamic feminist, a Muslim, and a woman.

So, if conservatives are now making up their minds, they should first and foremost give credit where credit is due and achknowledge the fact that they, too, stand on the shoulders of these women and are influenced and inspired by decades of struggle and scholarship by Muslim feminists.

Sadly enough, this does not happen. Qadhi cum suis make it seem as though this way of thinking, this movement just fell out of thin air one day, and that these points of view were born of his benevolence.

Never mind also the fact that ISNA has done little or nothing for not only Muslim women, but alsof or African-American Muslims: The largest –and oldest- single ethnic group of Muslims in the U.S.

They did not stand with Black Lives Matter and even issued a statement on the several African-American uprisings (Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.) that was problematic at best and implicitly racist at worst. However, they were quickly to appropriate the language, slogans and activism of Black Lives Matter, even coming up with the slogan “Muslim Lives Matter”, which is, in this context, appropriation and thus harmfull. Many black Muslims –including me- did not like it. Many anti-racist immigrant Muslims neither. (See the following articles: https://muslimreverie.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/why-im-not-down-with-muslimlivesmatter/, http://muslimgirl.net/10302/solidarity-mean-appropriation/, http://muslimnlove.com/2015/05/01/isna-blacklivesdontmatter/, http://www.muslimarc.org/%E2%80%8Ba-black-muslim-response-to-muslimlivesmatter/ )

Not only is the Muslim/Islamic feminist struggle appropriated by conservatives, but even today Muslim feminists receive zilch support from mainstream conservative Muslims. When all these women started their activism, they were villified, called infidels, the subject of death threats and the like. When all of this happened, I haven’t heard or seen one mainstream conservative leader speaking out and explicitly condemning the attacks on these women.

In my opinion, all these initatives are too little, too late, appropriative and hardly sincere. The attitude of mainstream conservatives, however, is not just a problem in the USA, but worldwide – even in liberal, cozy Amsterdam, which I found out the hard way.

On april 12, I walked into my local mosque, the Taibah Mosque, nearby a busy metro station, Kraaiennest, and a shopping center, and walked through the front door into the main hall, or musalla, rejecting the back door and downstairs prayer area designated for “sisters.”

The chairman of the mosque, Hadji Junes Gaffar, told me, “Just leave!” I refused, he pointed at the door and shouted, “Go away!”

When I told him I wouldn’t and that he couldn’t force me to leave, he yelled: “You’ll see how you will be dragged out of here!”

I experienced what happens to Muslim women way too often in mosques around the world if we protest against gender discrimination in the mosque.

I converted to Islam from Christianity in 2003 at the age of seventeen. I was born in the Netherlands to Afro-Surinamese parents. Their roots lie in Surinam (Dutch Guyana), just like most of the men at the Taibah mosque.

Later, the chair man told me he was protecting the mosque’s “rules” about gender segregation.
The Taibah mosque is one of the biggest mosques in Amsterdam and was founded in 1985 by Surinamese immigrants with roots in India and Pakistan.

It’s a beautiful mosque, traditional mosque with four minarets, a large dome, and shining chandeliers in the men’s prayer space.

It stands in a popular neighborhood, the Bijlmer/Amsterdam South-East, where I was born in 1986 and raised. Muslims and non-Muslims hold it in high regard, and it hosts lots of activities.) This mosque has a lot of potential. It could easily become a community center, a source of pride for all of the neighbourhood.

Sadly, this mosque systematically discriminates against women. The men’s hall is big, beautiful and well-lit and covers almost the entire second floor. It is also well-kept and clean.

In contrast, the women’s prayer room, located in a corner downstairs, is small, smaller even than a living room. It is also dirty, dusty and messy, and the loudspeaker doesn’t work, so women can’t hear anything of the sermon or any other ritual upstairs.

It’s not surprising that women often don’t visit the mosque for the weekly Friday prayers, or even the feast prayers after Ramadan and the festivals of Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr.

Women are supposed to take a back door to enter the mosque, ask for a key –which most often is missing or folks don’t know where it is- and pray in the women’s prayer area.

In 2007, I started to attend the mosque every once in a while. Since that year, I asked Taibah to clean and upgrade the women’s area. In 2014, I finally got fed up and started to pray at the back of the main hall.

Many men lectured me about it. They told me, amongst other things, that there was a women’s prayer space downstairs, that women aren’t allowed to pray in the main hall, that it is forbidden for women even to attend the mosque, and so on.

I explained politely that it is not forbidden for women to visit the mosque or pray in the musalla, and informed them about the inadequacy of the women’s room.
Last week,  when I started praying in the main hall, one of the men there starting talking to me. I ignored him and continued my prayers. Then, some of the men fetched the board chairman, who told me: “This is the men’s hall. You can’t pray here. You have to pray in the women’s room. You have to listen.” When I refused, explaining to him why, he started to yell, “Go away!” at me, while pointing at the door. When I told him I wouldn’t, he yelled at me: “You’ll see how you will be dragged away!”
He called the police. When the police arrived, the police officer said I was trespassing, so I had to leave.

But I did tell Hadji Gaffar : “You threatened me today and I’ll leave it at that, but if you touch me or ever threaten me again, I’ll file an official complaint against you.”

The police officer sided with them immediately. Yes, he did let me and the chairman clairify our points of view, but took their side.

Even though I know a lot about the patriarchy reigning in most mosques, and I also know about police abuses and their often siding with the status quo, I never thought they’d go this far.

They chairman told me: “You’re not welcome in the masjid anymore.”

After this incident, I wrote a post about it in English and put it on Facebook. I received a lot of kind words and support,  and my post was reposted on a blog, Side Entrance.  The blog was created in 2012 by Hind Makki, a Sudanese-American activist, living in Chicago..
This blog deals with the position of Muslim women within the mosques worldwide, and has pictures of their spaces, often in contrast with much better men’s spaces.
I also wrote an open letter to the board in which I protested against Abdelgaffar’s behaviour, explained the reasons why I did what I did, and made a proposal for mediation.

I cited several reasons for praying in the main hall.

The women’s room is small, about the size of a small livingroom, dirty  and dusty, and the loudspeaker doesn’t work, which makes an active participation in the rituals performed upstairs, in the ,main hall, impossible.

Secondly, because the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, loosely translated: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

This means in practice, that in order to perform the daily ritual prayer, Muslims have to be clean, and their clothes and the space in which they pray, also. Praying in a dirty space would render my prayer invalid, thereby inpeding me from prayer.

Thirdly because, as everyone who went to Hajj (the compulsory Islamic pilgrimage) knows, there aren’t any barriers in Mecca, Medina or Al Quds (Jerusalem). These are the three most sacred Islamic spaces in the world, and men and women aren’t separated. They pray together, in the same space and in mixed rows. There were also not any barriers in the time of the prophet, peace be upon him.

Forthly, the prophet said : “The best rows for the men are the front rows and the best rows for the women are the back rows.” This is an advice, not an order. The prophet never forbade women to pray in the front rows, let alone the back rows. And he never said that praying in separate spaces is compulsory.

The prophet also said: “Don’t stop God’s handmaidens from going to the mosque.”

Sadly enough, the secretary of the board, Mr. Afsal Gaffar, didn’t react to any of my theological arguments and didn’t apologize for Mr. Abdelgaffars rude and hurtful behaviour. On the contrary, he even made excuses for Mr Abdelgaffars actions, thus implicitly supporting what he did. This is what he wrote to me in reply to  my letter:

“Dear Mrs Rosalinda Wijks,

Our mosque has rules. Everyone needs to abide by the rules. We have a seperate entrance for the women and a seperate prayer space for the women. Women aren’t allowed to enter the men’s spaces and men aren’t allowed to enter the women’s spaces. If you don’t obey the rules, or think you don’t have to obey the rules, I can understand why some of the men visiting the mosque got irritated. For them it’s not normal and against the rules of the mosque that a woman performs ritual prayer in the men’s prayer space.

You are always welcome to pray in the womens space. I’ll ask the caretaker to look why you said it isn’t clean in the women’s prayer room. By the way, the women will get a new prayer space soon.

Kind regards,

Afsal Gaffar, secretary of the Djame Masdjied Taibah.”

I wrote Afsal Gaffar back and told them that it saddened me that they refused to react to my arguments as to why their rules and behaviour went against the central tenets of both Islam and Dutch law.
I also told him I was disappointed that they didn’t react to my proposal for mediation.
Thirdly, I told him that I was alarmed that he implicitly defended the chair man’s rude and threatening behaviour, by saying “that he could understand that some of the men visiting the mosque got irritated.”
I reminded him that it was not just “some of the men visiting the mosque” but the chair man, who holds an authoritive position.
I wrote him that when the chair man intimidates, bullies and threatens a woman in public in a musalla, he sends the message that it is O.K. to insult and intimidate a woman because she wants to pray in the musalla.
He thereby gives the green light to bully a woman because she does exactly that for which a mosque exists in the first place – Performing prayer.

He replied to my second letter with a much more agressive note, full of victim blaming, which I don’t even want to dignify with an answer:

“Dear Ms Wijks,

Let’s not act as though you didn’t do anything. You are the one who broke the rules of the mosque. You can use fine words and long texts, but we have a women’s door and a women’s prayer area. You have to use those. And don’t come in the men’s room and act as thought it’s the women’s room. And this is not the first time you were told this. If you can’t obey the rules, then I ask you kindly not to visit the mosque anymore.


Afsal Gaffar.”

A while after these events, I went to the police, but sadly enough, they claimed that Mr Gaffars behaviour wasn’t a threat in the legal sense of the word.

Several other sisters who had tried to pray in the Taibah mosque told me that they were also screamed against and intimidated because they dared to enter the mosque through the front door.(Never mind praying there)

So this matters, because it’s not only me and Taibah: Muslim women worldwide face discrimination and all kinds of policing in the mosque. This kind of harrassment drives women out of the mosques and, sometimes, even out of Islam and the Ummah alltogether.

Through it all, my christian mother and agnost father always supported me in my choices: My father bought me my first prayer rug, and my mother stood by me when I took my first official shahada, or declaration of faith, at Al Nisa, a Dutch Muslim women’s association.

Being a black Afro-Surinamese Muslim woman, I have been confronted with racism and sexism, mostly from Moroccans and other Arabs, almost since the very day I converted.

After I converted, I started to read the work of Islamic scholars Dr. Amina Wadud, Dr. Kecia Ali and  Dr. Leila Ahmed, and American-Muslim journalists Ms. Asra Nomani and Mona Eltahawy,and countless other Islamic and Muslim feminists. I started to realize that the struggle for equality and justice for women within Islam is a global struggle, and that the Islamic feminist movement thrives worldwide.

I read Ms Nomanis Standing Alone in Mecca shortly after it was published. In 2005, I heard about Dr. Wadud leading a gender-mixed prayer, read her book Quran and Woman and even met her at a lecture in Amsterdam.

Visiting the International Conference of Islamic Feminism in Barcelona was a dream come true. I listened to fascinating lectures, met Ms Nomani and performed my first gender-mixed prayer, lead by a Mexican Sufi shaykha, or spiritual teacher.

Studying law in Amsterdam, and Arabic in Amsterdam and Cairo allowed me evolve intellectually and to really grow up.

I also realized that these struggles are the true  jihad fi sabil illah – striving on the way of God, and more specifically, a gender jihad, as Dr. Wadud puts it.

Especially inspired by the mixed prayer, led by Dr. Wadud, and Ms. Nomanis activism at her local mosque, I did something I never thought I’d dare – pray in the main hall, albeit in the back.

Like Ms. Nomani wrote herself, I was alone physically, but not spiritually, because of all of these great women who fight a global fight, and whose spirits I invoked to inspire, guide and relax me.

Sharing what happened on Facebook gave me a tremendous amount of support and comfort, and I firmly believe that the time of talking and “being nice” has passed.

Or as the great Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum sang, “Patience has its limits,” and “Demands are not met by merely wishing; the world can only be taken my struggle.”

Even though I won’t go back to that mosque physically, I will be there in spirit, and the issues remain on the table.

If a struggle is what it takes to get equal rights for women in this or any other mosque, I’m ready for it and I’m not giving up.



A place of belonging.

How Islam led me to a place of belonging

, Friday, 27th March 2015 3:00am

Rosalinda Wijks, a young Dutch woman who identifies as Afro-Surinamese, speaks about converting to Islam, seeking a like-minded community of Muslims, and her brief foray into leftist political activism. Through it all, her fond ties to her family have proved crucial in finding a community and helping her discover new artistic interests. This is her story, in her own words. As told to Sya Taha.

Mother and daughter embrace at Rosalinda’s official shahada ceremony
Mother and daughter embrace at Rosalinda’s official shahada ceremony

I converted to Islam shortly after my 17th birthday, now 10 years ago. As a teenager, I started to read a lot about different religions: early and gnostic Christianity, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Then I read two books that hit a note: A book called Islam Verhalenderwijs (Islam in Stories) which describes Islam in tales, some of which Christianity and Islam have in common.

The famous prayer of Rabia al-‘Adawiya al-Basra touched me deeplywhen I was reading about Sufism: “O my Lord, if I worship Thee out of fear from Hell; throw me in hell, and if I worship Thee out of desire for Paradise, banish me from Paradise. But if I worship Thee for Yourself and Your sake alone, grudge me not Thy everlasting Beauty.” For the very first time I felt that Islam might be something for me!

It was two women who brought me to Islam. In that same period I started to read books by Karen Armstrong. The one that interested me the most was A History of God, which is a book about the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Then I read her biography of the Prophet, which convinced me that Muhammad (peace be upon him) really was a prophet. Not long after that, I took my own unofficial shahada on my way home from school, sitting under a tree. And slowly but gradually, I started to practise Islam.

I don’t share the values of the majority of converts here. There are many convert groups and communities, mostly consisting of white Dutch women married or in a relationship with men who were raised as Muslims. They tend to be somewhat rigid when it comes to social rules for women.

Rosalinda takes her first official shahada at a ceremony organised by Al Nisa, a Dutch Muslim women’s organisation
Rosalinda takes her first official shahada at a ceremony organised by Al Nisa, a Dutch Muslim women’s organisation

In the many mosques I’ve visited, I’ve never felt at home – neither as a woman, nor as a black woman. I spent a lot of time with various Muslim communities of different ethnicities – in their mosques, and at parties, community centres and concerts – but at a certain point I started to feel more and more dissatisfied.

My friends and I are building our own community in a Surinamese mosque I discovered a few months ago, just a five-minute walk from my home. A friend had told me about it, and I spread the word to many friends, who told it to their friends. It’s founded and largely visited by Javanese-Surinamese Muslims, but other nationalities are also welcome. The men and women pray in one space – the men in the front and the women in the back. All the sermons and lectures are in Dutch, and they are short and practical. One of the first times I came, the imam came to greet me and asked enthusiastically, “Are you also from Surinam?”

I have been a leftist political activist for years. When I was about 16, I felt drawn to socialist groups because I shared many of their ideals. The overwhelming majority of the group, both in Holland and Belgium, consisted of young Moroccans. Many of them did not know Surinamese culture or the Surinamese people, which meant that I was treated differently: people would ask why I came to a gathering, or questioned whether I was actually a Muslim. I’m not sorry I joined the group, since back then, with the knowledge I had at the time, it was a good thing to do.

The only thing I am really sorry about is that I was involved with and focused on Arabs and their culture and events instead of just finding my own way. I did many good and useful things, but in the end I grew tired of the fact that everything seemed to revolve around politics and that many so-called “comrades” weren’t really interested in me as a person, but more in me as a member of their myriad groups. I was especially disappointed when I noticed that many activist-friends weren’t the least interested in me or how I was doing but only in whether they could campaign and protest with me. I quit when I started getting really busy with my studies and learning to practise my new faith which took much, if not all, of my time.

Rosalinda signs an attestation of faith at her official shahada ceremony
Rosalinda signs an attestation of faith at her official shahada ceremony

I still have many ideals I try to live up to. For instance, I boycott Israeli products and try to eat organic if and when I can. In the years that followed I did occasionally visit a protest march, but I have distanced myself from politics since then.

Dancing allows me to connect with my body, intuition and emotions. All my life I had been the typical intellectual girl – always indoors, always reading – but I have always loved to dance socially at school and Surinamese parties. As a girl I had ballet classes and also tried street dance. Later I enrolled in the first “belly dance” class I found online and I loved it. I started taking regular classes and discovered new musical genres and a whole new dance culture. To me, raqs sharqi, or oriental dance, is a very beautiful art if done authentically and artistically.

My favourite Arab artist is Umm Kulthum because she had it all – talent, business sense, personality and class. She could improvise on the spot, turning a 15-minute song into a 60-minute one by developing the melody and playing with the words. That is soul, that is art, that is life, as I see it. It’s real, living music I love, not music made with a computer program. Allah Al-Musawwir creates beauty and loves beauty, so what could be wrong with music, dance and art?

Previously published at: http://www.aquila-style.com/converts-corner/place-of-belonging/85093/

Hatred against Muslims.

This will be a quick post. Something which scares the hell out of me: Reading the replies to an article about human rights violations & attempted genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar. And how so much people (mostly white men) defend that. This means that they don’t see us as human beings worthy of rights&respect, but as somehow sub-humans, inferior because of our religion, so it is somehow ok to persecute us? God preserve us, really. These are scary times.

De transformerende kracht van de Koran.

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim
Wal salat wassalam ala al nabi al karim
Wa tawakkul 3ala Allah wal hamdulillah ala kulli hal

In de naam van God, de Barmhartige Erbarmer Mogen de vrede en zegeningen zijn met de vrijgevige profeet En vertrouw op God en God zij geprezen onder alle omstandigheden!

Met deze wens, waarvan de tweede regel ontleend is aan het werk van de grote Nana Asma’u, God zegene haar, begin ik mijn reis door het achtentwintigste deel van de Koran.

Het woord “karim” wordt in het Nederlands vaak vertaald als “edel” of “heilig”. Ik heb bewust gekozen voor het woord “vrijgevig,” om redenen die ik aldus uiteen zal zetten. Het woord “edel” is in het Nederlands een woord dat eigenlijk twee betekenissen kent, nl. iemand van adel, of iemand met een uitzonderlijk goed karakter. De adel is een menselijk sociaal instituut waarin rijkdom, status en macht gebaseerd zijn op geboorte, niet op verdienste. Adellijke mensen werden (en worden soms nog steeds) beschouwd als goede mensen met een hoge sociale status omdat ze rijk en machtig zijn. Het woord “heilig” betekent “volmaakt.”

Beide woorden zijn niet van toepassing op de profeet, integendeel. De profeet werd door Allah swt uitgekozen vanwege zijn goede karakter, niet vanwege zijn sociale status. En “heilig” is een epitheton dat ik liever bewaar voor God, aangezien de profeet, vrede zij met hem, hoe bijzonder en spiritueel hij ook was, een mens was met fouten en feilen.

Daarom noem ik hem liever “vrijgevig,” omdat hij zowel zijn fysieke voedsel als spirituele voedsel deelde met de mens: De koran, een prachtig wonder van schoonheid en spiritualiteit, deelde hij met de mensheid. Ook zijn eten, drinken en alles wat hij had deelde hij met de mensheid. Maar genoeg – laten wij beginnen met onze reis. De koran is geen simpel boek, en juz’ 28 is daarop geen uitzondering. Ook heeft de koran vele verschijningsvormen: De geschreven koran, de gereciteerde koran, de koran als kalligrafie, de koran als sieraad, de koran als medicijn, de vertaalde koran…. We dragen de koran in onze harten en soms letterlijk –in de vorm van sieraden- op ons hart. Juz 28 bevat, net zoals de hele koran, allerlei soorten verzen: spirituele verzen, wetgeving, aansporingen, etc. De verzen die mij echter het meest troffen, waren de volgende, in de prachtige lyrische vertaling van Laleh Bakhtiar.

“If We had sent forth this Quran on a mountain,
you would have seen it as one that is humbled,
One that is split open from the dread of God.
Those parables, We propound them for humanity,
So that perhaps they would reflect.”
(Koran, 59:21)

In dit vers wordt duidelijk hoe groot de kracht van de Koran is. De goddelijke inspiratie die zijn woorden doordringt, is zo groot dat een berg ervan zou barsten, uit puur ontzag voor de macht van God. Dit verhaal is een parabel, een mythe die God aan de mens leert, opdat de mens nadenkt.

De kracht van de Koran kan niet alleen bergen verplaatsen, maar transformeert ook de harten van de mensen, en heeft de wereld veranderd. Telkens stelt God in de koran ons vragen, geeft ons voorbeelden, bemoedigt ons, waarschuwt ons. De koran is als een brief van God aan de mens, een leidraad in het leven. Ook is de koran vol met schoonheid, die vreugde opwekt, en soms lijkt er bijna sprake te zijn van schoonheid omwille van de schoonheid, omdat, zoals de bekende hadith qudsi zegt, ‘God Schoonheid is en houdt van schoonheid’. Het lijkt net of het creëren van zo’n meesterwerk God met vreugde vervulde.

Maar we weten ook dat God al-Haqq, de Waarheid, is, en dat Hij ons in de koran de waarheid leert, en dat Hij ons verboden heeft te liegen.

Ook verbiedt God in de Koran racisme, seksisme en klassendiscriminatie, en heeft de profeet, vrede zij met hem, zijn hele leven gevochten tegen die drie kwaden. Het is dan ook extra wrang en bitter dat moslimlanden en –gemeenschappen wereldwijd vol zijn van die drie kwaden. Natuurlijk moeten we daar tegen blijven strijden, maar misschien is God de enige instantie die die kwaden uiteindelijk kan vernietigen, in Zijn vorm als al-Qahhar, Hij, Die de nekken van Zijn vijanden breekt, de kwaden straft, angsten en innerlijke en uiterlijke demonen verslaat en opkomt voor het goede.

Misschien is dat ook de grootste boodschap van de Koran, naast het feit dat God Barmhartig is: Dat het Paradijs op aarde niet bestaat, maar dat we er niettemin naar moeten blijven streven.

Eerder gepubliceerd op: https://wijblijvenhier.nl/32886/32886/

Koranrecitatie, zang en muziek.

Er bestaan verschillende manieren om islamitische kunst te definiëren. De meest bruikbare definitie is naar mijn mening: ‘Islamitische kunst verwijst naar alle kunst die gemaakt is in landen waar moslims de meerderheid vormden of de heersers moslims waren of zijn.’[i] Het zou te ver voeren om ieder muzikaal genre in ieder moslimland te behandelen. Daarom concentreer ik mij hier op de Egyptisch-Arabische stijl van koranrecitatie en de licht-klassieke muziek

Door: Rosalinda Wijks

Een tegenwoordig onder moslims vaak gehoorde opvatting is dat alle vormen van muziek, zang en dans verboden zijn volgens de regels van islam. Alleen koranrecitatie en nasheed (lofliederen over de profeet) zouden zijn toegestaan. Anderen zijn van mening dat zelfs koranrecitatie en nasheed door vrouwen niet toegestaan zijn. Uiteraard zijn er ook veel geleerden, zowel in heden als verleden, die hier anders over denken. Wat weinig mensen echter weten is dat er een nauwe relatie bestaat tussen koranrecitatie en niet-religieuze muziek en zang in de islamitische wereld. In dit artikel zal het verband tussen koranrecitatie, muziek en zang in Egypte worden onderzocht en zowel de overeenkomsten als de verschillen uiteengezet worden.

Een bekend gezegde binnen de moslimwereld is: ‘De Koran werd geopenbaard in Mekka, gereciteerd in Caïro en gekalligrafeerd in Istanbul.’ Koranrecitatie als kunst en wetenschap heeft haar wortels in de culturen van het Arabisch Schiereiland, maar werd pas uitgekristalliseerd in Egypte.[ii]

Het land had in die tijd al een eeuwenlange, rijke traditie van gezongen en gereciteerde religieuze poëzie, uiteenlopend van de hymnen van de Egyptische priesters in de faraonische tijd tot aan de Koptische liturgie. Hoogstwaarschijnlijk is uit deze mengeling van culturen en tradities de Egyptische stijl van Koran reciteren ontstaan.

In Egypte bestaan er twee manieren van reciteren, namelijk tajwid en tartil(letterlijk ‘recitatie’ en ‘op een langzame en zingende manier reciteren’). De overeenkomst tussen beide stijlen is dat zij allebei gebaseerd zijn op kennis van de tekst van de Koran en van de regels van het reciteren daarvan. Het verschil tussen deze stijlen is dat de tartill-recitatie over het algemeen rustig, ontspannen en zacht is en dat de functie ervan voornamelijk het duidelijk en accuraat overbrengen van de inhoud van de korantekst is. De tajwid-stijl daarentegen voegt aan de basisregels van de koranrecitatie het muzikale Arabische melodische systeem toe en bedient zich hier bewust van om het publiek in vervoering te brengen. Het doel van de tajwidstijl is het opwekken van emoties en religieuze gevoelens bij het publiek. De tajwid-stijl wordt dan ook vooral toegepast tijdens publieke optredens.[iii]

Een reciteur die de tajwid-stijl toepast, maakt bewust gebruik van de verschillende maqams (toonladders binnen de Arabische muziek) en manipulaties van tekst en melodie om een zo diep en groot mogelijk effect te hebben op het publiek. Zo probeert hij energie op te wekken, te communiceren met het publiek en zijn eigen virtuositeit en kennis ten toon te spreiden. Het tentoonspreiden van virtuositeit staat echter slechts in dienst van het publiek en uiteraard van God. In dit opzicht is er een grote overeenkomst tussen de functie en rol van de Koran reciteur en die van de nasheed-zanger of zangeres en zanger of zangeres van seculiere, dat wil zeggen niet-religieuze, muziek. In alle gevallen is er immers sprake van entertainment op het snijvlak van het religieuze en ‘seculiere’ terrein, en is de functie van de artiest het opwekken en uitdrukken van de emotie die het reciet, de muziek of de zang opwekt bij het publiek. Een beroemde Egyptische Koran reciteur was sheikh Abdelbasset Abdessamad (1927-1988).

Licht-klassieke Egyptische muziek
De term licht-klassiek wordt gebruikt om een onderscheid te maken tussen de klassieke Arabische muziek die in de Middeleeuwen aan de hoven gespeeld werd en de twintigste-eeuwse versie. In de Arabische wereld bestaat een zeer rijke en oude klassieke muziektraditie.  De Arabische klassieke muziektheorie stamt uit de negende eeuw. In deze voor de ontwikkeling van de islam cruciale periode werden ook de regels van het reciteren van koranteksten en het islamitische recht uitgekristalliseerd.

De filosoof en geleerde Abu Nasr al-Farabi die in die tijd leefde, schreef Kitab al-Musiqa al-Kabir (Het Grote Boek over de Muziek), waarin hij de Arabische muziektheorie uiteen zette. Veel van wat hij schreef is tot op de dag van vandaag van toepassing. In deze theorie is de melodie gerangschikt in een groep van maqams die te vergelijken zijn met de toonladders in de westerse muziek. Iedere maqam bestaat uit 24 kwarttonen. Welke maqams het meest gebruikt worden, verschilt van land tot land en van genre tot genre. Op dit moment zijn er ongeveer 40 in gebruik in Egypte. Veel maqams zijn verwant aan elkaar en ze worden ook wel onderverdeeld in zogenoemde ‘families’.

Ook de theorie met betrekking tot  ritmes is gecompliceerd. Ritmische patronen verschillen sterk in lengte en er bestaan meer dan 100 ritmes.

In de oorspronkelijke klassieke muziek, werd gebruikgemaakt van het zogenoemde  takht-ensembles, die meestal bestonden  uit een oud (luit), qanun(geplukte citer),  kamanga (viool), darbuka (vaastrommel) en riqq (tamboerijn).

In de twintigste eeuw voltrokken zich in Egypte grote sociale, culturele, religieuze en economische veranderingen, die verband hielden met de Britse koloniale overheersing.

De klassieke Arabische muziek kwam in aanraking met de klassieke Westerse en Latijns-Amerikaanse muziek. Grote componisten wisten muziek te creëren die aan de ene kant westers beïnvloed was (door het gebruik van grote orkesten met violisten, accordeons, soms een piano en later zelfs een keyboard en melodieën afkomstig uit bijvoorbeeld Oost-Europa en Latijns-Amerika). Maar die aan de andere kant in essentie Arabisch bleef door het gebruik van de Arabische maqamat, gezongen poëzie en improvisaties van zowel zangers als musici.

De licht klassieke muziek uit de twintigste eeuw is onder meer vernieuwend door het gebruik van westerse instrumenten en grote orkesten. Umm Kulthum (1900-1975) was de belangrijkste vertegenwoordigster van dit genre. Enkele mooie voorbeelden van haar muziek zijn ‘Inta Umri’ (Jij bent mijn leven) en al Atlal (De ruïnes)

Overeenkomsten en verschillen
Wat de overeenkomst is tussen deze kunsten en hoe de grenzen ertussen vervagen, wordt nog duidelijker als men allereerst in aanmerking neemt dat zowel koranrecitatie als zang traditioneel gezien geïmproviseerde kunstvormen zijn.

Ten tweede worden zowel koranrecitatie als zang in verschillende sociale en rituele contexten gebruikt, bijvoorbeeld bij religieuze feestdagen, tijdens verlovingsfeesten, bruiloften, begrafenissen en geboortefeesten. Vaak wordt er bij deze gelegenheden zowel koranrecitatie als zang gebruikt.

Het verband tussen beide kunstvormen wordt bovendien nog duidelijker als men in aanmerking neemt dat bij koranrecitatie gebruik wordt gemaakt van dezelfde maqams als in de licht klassieke muziek. Vrijwel alle grote klassieke Arabische zangers begonnen hun religieuze en muzikale training door het leren reciteren van de Koran. Tot op de dag van vandaag volgen studenten zang aan het conservatorium in Caïro ook lessen koranrecitatie om hun uitspraak te verbeteren.

Verder speelt zowel bij koranrecitatie als bij zang het publiek in Egypte een actieve rol. Dit gebeurt door de artiest aanmoedigingen toe te roepen, te applaudisseren, soms een stukje mee te zingen en fooi te geven. Meestal gebeurt dit uit waardering van de kunst van de Koran reciteur of zanger(es) en/of als een manier om met vrijgevigheid en rijkdom te pronken.  Dit is overigens vooral het gebruik in volkse milieus; in de officiële concertzalen en in meer strikte religieuze kringen wordt dit niet op prijs gesteld.

Tot slot maakt veel zang en muziek, of die in de basis nu religieus of seculier is, gebruik van religieuze thema’s en soms zijn dit dezelfde thema’s  als welke in de Koran voorkomen.

Tot slot
Concluderend kan ik vaststellen dat er, in ieder geval in de Egyptische context, een nauwe relatie bestaat tussen koranrecitatie en klassieke zang. Beiden zijn cultuuruitingen die een belangrijke maatschappelijke rol vervullen en al zeer lang bestaan. Enkele voorbeelden die ik eerder noemde, geven bovendien aan dat er in meerdere opzichten duidelijk sprake is van wederzijdse beïnvloeding.

Alhoewel veel geleerden en de meeste moslims een duidelijk onderscheid maken tussen (al dan niet seculiere) zang en koranrecitatie, is dit onderscheid voornamelijk theoretisch van aard en in de praktijk moeilijker te maken.

Een vraag die bij dit onderwerp onvermijdelijk opkomt, is wat iets tot muziek maakt. Die vraag wordt in verschillende culturen, tijdperken en in diverse lagen van de samenlevingen anders beantwoord. Voor de gelovige met een holistisch wereldbeeld, die gelooft dat al het goede en mooie, dus ook muziek, van God komt, zal dit echter niet zo van belang zijn, omdat alle schoonheid en kunst in wezen een reflectie is van de Eeuwige Bron van Schoonheid, Die dit allemaal mogelijk heeft gemaakt.

[i] Mirjam Shatanawi. Islam in beeld: Kunst en cultuur van moslims wereldwijd.Uitgeverij SUN, 2009

[ii] Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, Jon Lusk (ed) The rough guide to World Music:Africa and the Middle East. Rough Guides Ltd, 2006

[iii] Kristina Nelson: The art of Reciting the Qur’an, Amazon.com, 2001

Eerder gepubliceerd op: http://www.nieuwemoskee.nl/2012/11/koranrecitatie-zang-en-muziek/