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Today I rode very briefly with the worst taxi driver in Cairo. He might also qualify for the worst in the world, and I would not be surprised if he was in fact the world’s worst taxi driver.

I am quite sure that he is also a religious bigot and probably a racist, but in the  least he is the worst-mannered person to ever sit behind a steering wheel that I have ever come across.

Earlier today I was with 3 others and we wanted to head over to City Stars mall for some dinner. I hailed a taxi and he pulled over. I greeted him by saying Assalamu Alaykum (may peace be upon you) and told him where we were headed to. As soon as he saw us he would have been able to tell that we were Muslims and that we were not Egyptians, the bulk of my friends being from further down south in Africa.

He agreed with the destination which was about 5 minutes drive away and we jumped in. It was a seemingly normal taxi ride. There was silence except for the news reports on the radio and the constant honking of horns that reminds you you’re in Cairo. The news reports came to an end and the radio station began to play one of those horrible songs that somehow passes for Arabic pop music. I asked the driver if he could play some Qur’an instead. This would be maybe the 100th time that I’d have asked this in my many taxi journeys as it was a polite way of informing the driver that you don’t listen to music.

He responded ferociously, “No!” That is to say, he would not turn the music off and most definitely not to change it to a religious station that plays the Qur’an. Instantly I realised that the driver could not be a Muslim. I’d only ever had 1 other non-Muslim taxi driver in Cairo and he was a very nice man who had no qualms in turning the music off when I had asked him to. This one however was evidently bothered that I asked, I figured perhaps he was insulted that I asked for him to change the radio to the Qur’an station, so I politely asked if he could turn the music off.

“No! I am listening to the music!”, he shouted back. I was amazed! Not only was he clearly being stubborn and rude, he was also ignoring a basic rule of being a taxi driver – If your customer wants the radio off, then turn it off! But I was quickly realising this was not just bad customer service, this was clear cut religious hatred coming from him. He knew well that practicing Muslims don’t listen to music, and as I gazed up towards his rear-vision mirror and saw a small crucifix I was assured that I was not just imagining that his hatred was not religiously motivated.

I told him politely that we don’t listen to music, however he shot back that he does and so would like to keep playing it. I asked him to please close the radio as we really cannot bear listening to it, not just for religious reasons but also because the poor excuse for music that most Egyptians play really is something unbearable. Just the other day my friend was explaining the lyrics of a song we heard playing as we drove past a store which was blasting music from loudspeakers. The translation of the lyrics makes me laugh up until now: “I have very good friends, everybody knows it, if you don’t believe me just go and ask Ahmad.” I can’t imagine that song will be topping the global charts any time soon..

After a bit of arguing he turned the music down. He turned it down all the way, but then moved the knob slightly just enough so the music was slightly audible. What nerve he had! He was obviously provoking us.. But I didn’t say anything, I figured we were not far from the mall so no reason to make too big of a fuss out of it. Then, he ever so casually pulls out a pack of cigarettes. I look over and see him putting a cigarette in his mouth and reaching for his lighter. Dammit.. That guy really knew how to pick at all my pet peeves.

I asked him if he could please not smoke whilst we were in the car. If we were in Australia this would be a no-brainer as smoking is (rightfully so) illegal in taxis. Here in Cairo though its accepted, though its also understood that if someone does not like for you to smoke then its rude to do so. His reaction was not so surprising, “What?! First you tell me to shut the music and now you tell me not to smoke? Who are you to tell me what to do?!” I reminded him that he is working for us, we are paying him to drive us and he has to respect our wishes. He shouted back “I don’t work for you, I work for myself!”, so I told him that if that were so to stop the taxi and let us out. He was fine with that, but pointed to the meter and said I must pay the 5 pounds which had accumulated. Now 5 pounds is not even a dollar, but I was not going to let this slide so easily, after all why should I pay him after he was so rude to us?

The rude driver insisted that I pay him, and stopped the car. I told him I’d get out and not pay, however I realised that perhaps I would be obliged to pay him for the service, even though it was as bad as it was. He kept shouting and threatening to call over a policeman if I did not pay him his measly fare, so I handed it to him and he snatched it away from my hand. He told us all to get out and catch another taxi as we were not welcome in his. A flurry of religious and racial insults followed and I was not sure what to do.. Part of me wanted to knock his teeth out and part of me wanted to just leave and let him wallow in his hatred. I could not leave however without at least saying something, but I was not sure what to say.

Initially I thought of reminding him that if he were a true follower of Christ then he should at least adopt the manners of Christ which he clearly lacked, however as I was about to say this another insult came out from his dirty mouth. It was too much.. I responded without thinking and told him “Yawmakum qaadim” (your day will come soon). He responded by saying “Insha’Allah” (God willing) and with that I left the taxi along with the others who had remained silent for the trip.

We got out and hailed another taxi, I stood in front of the taxi we had just left from so he could not move until another taxi stopped for us. He managed however to do a sharp turn and speed off, just missing me by an inch or less. Within moments a taxi stopped and we jumped in. He was already playing Qur’an and greeted us kindly. We drove and I thought back at just how rude the previous driver was. As we got to the mall the driver smiled and refused to take a fare from us, being the kind soul that he was. As I always do in these cases, I paid him more than the fare was, and much more than the previous driver got from me.

I cannot rule it down solely to religion as I mentioned before that I have had a Christian driver who had beautiful manners. rather this was simply a case of one man and his hatred for others that really turns him into a horrible creature. I feel so sorry for the next person who ends up with him… And I feel very sorry for him if it just so happens to be me ;)

‘Gay’ Egyptians?

After spending a while in Cairo you will hear many Egyptians telling someone, usually on the other end of the telephone, that they are gay.

I’ve heard it perhaps hundreds of times. Sometimes the person even says it many times in a row, as if to really drum the point in that they are absolutely gay.

The first time I heard it I was a bit shocked. I heard a friend who is married saying to his wife over the phone “I am gay”, and she didn’t seem to mind at all. Me however, I stood there staring at him wondering what had just happened and why he had said what he did.

I confronted him and asked him, “What did you just say to your wife then??” He acted as if it was nothing, just telling me he told his wife he’d be coming home soon. But I insisted, “No! You said something right before you hung up. You said… “I am gay!”

He looked at me like I was the crazy one. I knew what I had heard, I heard it clearly with my own two ears and I knew that he had just said he was gay!! My Egyptian Arabic may not be perfect, but I know what ‘Ana gay’ means!

After thinking about it for a few moments my friend began to smile. The smile quickly turned into laughter. He laughed very loudly and put his hand on my shoulder and waited for the laughter to subside. He began to explain, whilst still chuckling a bit, that in the Arabic dialect of Cairo that ‘gay’ (جاي) means ‘coming’. So ‘ana gay’ simply means ‘I am coming’.

I admit I was quite relieved to know this especially considering that I’d hear the term being used constantly for the coming months. The real problem however came when I had to choose how I would tell people that I am on my way.. I knew the right way to say it in Cairo, but could I really bring myself to say it? I tried for a while to restrict myself to the traditional Arabic way of saying it, until I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to fit in and not seem like a foreigner I’d have to give in, or come out, or whatever it is that people call it when you decide to say ana gay.

I admit, it was uncomfortable, and difficult, and still I feel that tiny bit uncomfortable saying it, lest someone should somehow misunderstand me.. However now I am able to say along with the rest of Cairo in a strong and proud voice, “Ana gay”! (that is to say, I am coming!)

Earlier this week it was announced with much jubilation that the Tullamarine restaurant of Hungry Jack’s (for all you non-Aussies, Burger King is known as Hungry Jack’s in Australia) had rolled out a Halal menu. Muslims of Melbourne rejoiced at the prospect of no longer having to only consume whoppers when in Malaysia or the Middle East, now they could simply drive to Tullamarine and enjoy a nice juicy Hungry Jack’s burger along with every other Aussie. The news spread like wildfire and the store was full within days. You’d think that would be a good thing right?

A few years ago McDonald’s also rolled out Halal menus at certain restaurants across Melbourne, each one being located in areas with large Muslim populations. The first to do so was in Brunswick and I remember seeing the restaurant go from almost empty to overflowing with customers as soon as the announcement was made. McDonald’s joined a number of fast-food restaurants in Melbourne that added a Halal option to their menu, the other well-known chains that offered Halal food before them being restaurants such as KFC, Nando’s and Red Rooster. Now I am not one to pick and choose which restaurant is better than the other, however the status of McDonald’s in the fast-food industry is so well known it does not have to introduced. They own more than 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries worldwide. They have topped fast-food sales so consistently that when one thinks of fast-food and burgers one will no  doubt think of the golden arches. Because of this ‘status’ when McDonald’s announced a Halal menu it was a very big thing in the Muslim community.

Now there will be debate about the significance of well-known fast food restaurants producing Halal food, whether it means that Western/Australian culture is now more accessible to Muslims and this will increase positive integration, or if it means that McDonald’s and others are selling out and trying to secretly feed unsuspecting patrons ‘Muslim meat’. As absurd as the latter sounds, this did make headlines in the news and became a talking point for a few weeks, until everyone got over it and stopped caring and got on with things.

The main lesson that I believe was learned was that there is money in marketing to Muslims. Not just because Melburnian Muslims love a burger as much as any other Aussie, but because there are enough Muslims in many areas to warrant serving Halal food and making a buck out of it. With all the fast-food chains realising this it remained a great mystery why Hungry Jack’s was not jumping on the bandwagon. After all, they own Halal restaurants across South East Asia and the Middle East, even having a restaurant in the heart of the Muslim world, right next to the Grand Mosque of Makkah. So close to it in fact you can eat your burger while staring out the window window at the mosque itself. At prayer times during Hajj the crowds are so thick that people will even pray inside the store. So surely we cannot say that Hungry Jack’s/Burger King is opposed to Halal food.. So why not then roll out a Halal menu in the Muslim areas of Melbourne?

This week these questions were put aside when it was announced that Hungry Jack’s in Tullamarine had introduced a Halal menu. Melburnian Muslim Facebookers’ profiles were alight with the news. Message boards and forums announced the glad tidings to the masses and Muslims from all over Melbourne converged upon the restaurant to partake in the consumption of meaty comestibles and fries and it was bedlam for the rest of the day. No doubt the owner must have had a grin a mile wide across his face. Such a jump in patronage would mean more business and more profit. The word of mouth advertising alone would mean his store would become a hot spot for Melburnian Muslims, at least until other Hungry Jack’s restaurants in the North and West of Melbourne would follow suit. But alas, the dream was abruptly put to an end..

“Hungry Jack’s in Tullamarine is no longer Halal!” or so claimed the next round of messages pasted on many statuses. Facebookers were posting the news that Hungry Jack’s head office had decreed that none of their restaurants should serve Halal meat. The order had been given for the Tullamarine restaurant to remove its Halal certifications and to deny that their meat might possibly be Halal. Responses were as one would expect, people cried foul and wondered just how such a decision could be made. Did the Hungry Jack’s chiefs not want Muslim money? Did they not want our patronage or not want to serve us? Were they afraid that the public might reject the culinary adjustments? Did they suspect that ‘Muslim slaughtered meat’ might not settle well with Melburnians at large?

The story became more complex as it was shortly after announced that the restaurant in fact still served Halal food, they were just not authorised to advertise it as such. People were confused and so they contacted the restaurant and after speaking to the manager it seemed that he could assure the meat was Halal however he could just not state it in the store. People remained confused and not sure what to do. Should they return in larger numbers and prove that it would be in their benefit to keep the Halal meat, or should they stay away and protest at what seemed to be a message from the Hungry Jack’s head office that Melburnian Muslims are not welcome, even though the manager of the Tullamarine store wanted their business?

Until now things remain unclear, however the choice will lie with Hungry Jack’s as an organisation to make a choice: Join McDonald’s, Nando’s, KFC, Red Rooster and keep the Halal menu and in turn make a few extra bucks, or, refuse to allow it and alienate Melburnian Muslims and show the hypocrisy of serving Halal meat in some restaurants overseas but not here in Australia.

To choose the second option will be a slap in the face for its Muslim customers and could easily backfire on the fast-food giant. Before this week nobody knew or really cared why Hungry Jack’s had not chosen to serve Halal food at selected restaurants however now it will be on the minds of many and there will no doubt be many  people demanding answers, and I do not think that Hungry Jack’s will want any controversy or accusations made against them. Negative publicity would be the last thing that they want. The choice then is theirs to make and we will see over the coming weeks what they will decide to do. Until then, Melburnian Muslims can sustain their fast-food addictions at many other Halal restaurants available in the city, or even better, stay home and eat a home-cooked meal with their families ;)

In 2010 Abdul-Malik Clare (known also as Abu Hafsah) visited Melbourne as part of some activities he was invited for in Australia.  What makes Abdul-Malik different to most other orators on Islam is that he is blind, something that makes his speeches much more inspiring.

As I got to know Abdul-Malik I found that he had an Irish background that he still associated very strongly with and was very well read and aware of the political situations of Ireland, both past and present. The both of us spoke about Ireland and sharing Irish heritage with him I found it to be such a relief to find another Muslim who not just shared the same background but was also interested in it and was just as eager to talk about it as I was. Abdul-Malik topped me in knowledge of the Irish Gaelic language (I am still a beginner) and knew almost as much about my family’s history as I did. He spoke with a strong conviction about the liberation of Ireland in the same way most Muslims will speak with sentiment about the liberation of Palestine. He also had something that brought out many memories of relatives I used to listen to speaking as a child – he had an amazingly funny sense of Irish humour. Sharp-witted and never missing a chance to insert a smart joke just at the right time.

One night after one of the activities that he was running, Abdul-Malik, myself and some of those helping out on the night went out to a local Afghani restaurant for a late dinner.  One of those who came along with us was a local Imam named Shaykh Isa who I love and admire who is originally from Somalia, and also happens to be blind.

Now Shaykh Isa knew that Abdul-Malik was blind as the nature of the talk introduced this fact, however Abdul-Malik did not know that Shaykh isa was blind as he was not informed of it by anybody. Shaykh Isa sat next to Abdul-Malik at the restaurant and introduced himself and they spoke together for about 5 minutes, still with Abdul-Malik unaware that he was speaking to another blind person. Abdul-Malik introduced himself as being Canadian-Irish and the 2 spoke briefly about this.

Eventually Shaykh Isa decided to inform Abdul-Malik of his blindness by saying “My dear brother Abdul-Malik, you know, Allah has afflicted me with the same disability as he has afflicted you with.”

In an instant Abdul-Malik quipped back “What is that, you are also Irish?!”

Brilliant humour..!

I could not control my laughter nor hide it and I think I was one of the many at the table along with Shaykh Isa who spent the rest of the night laughing with Abdul-Malik and sharing great stories and beautiful food. It was a night to remember made so much more special by the presence of the blind, Irish-Canadian Muslim convert Abdul-Malik Clare, may Allah bless him and protect him always.

I am back home. Back in Melbourne, back to family and friends, back to my own bed and back to everything I have missed.

For one month.

Yep, I will only be here for a month and then I am heading off again for some more travels before returning to Cairo which has become my new home, possibly for the next year.

If all goes well I will leave Melbourne at the end of December and make my way over to Germany for an Islamic event I have been invited to as well as Holland where I will stay for a few weeks and try to get the most out of the freezing winter weather that they have to offer (I am a winter person, I would choose cold weather over hot any day!). After my European foray I will settle back in Egypt and resume my work there, eagerly awaiting my first vacation back to Melbourne.

Now that I am here though I am making the most of Melbourne and getting out as much as possible. The landing at Melbourne Airport was uneventful, I was again spared the customs routine that I thought had become a permanent welcome-home ritual and walked right through after getting my bags like everyone else. A friend picked me up and we drove out into Melbourne and I savoured the sanity of Melbourne’s roads and how drivers follow the road laws unlike in Egypt where 3 lanes easily becomes 5 and donkey-drawn carts are a regular feature to contend with when driving.

Settling back in has been easy as I am technically on vacation and don’t have too much to do other than getting things done around the house and a few meetings here and there. For the rest of the month I have a few activities planned. This week I will be at the (still somewhat) new Melbourne Madinah for Jumu’ah at 1:30pm as well as what seems to be called “21st Century Youth Seminar – Chill Out Friday @ Madinah” from 2:30pm – 5:30pm which is a small talk aimed at the youth in Melbourne.

I hope to get out as much as I can over the month and I’ll make sure to share my experiences as always, as well as getting around to finally publishing Hajj Experiences and other stories from Egypt :)

Saying goodbye is always emotional.. However I did not realise that I would be crying this much when saying goodbye to Cairo.

Of course I am not that sentimental, but some things really do have an uncanny ability to bring you to tears. In my case, it was tear gas.

As you can see in the video that I recorded whilst in Tahrir Square, a canister of tear gas was launched in my direction courtesy of the Egyptian police. Even though I was not exposed to it for long I found myself barely able to breath and unable to open my eyes for a short while. I guess its not that odd considering that is precisely what tear gas is meant to do, I just never realised how potent the stuff is!

At first I was surprised to see a canister drop down right near me, however the surprise was soon taken over by my instinct and I realised I should make a run for it. As I ran along tears ran down my face and I eventually had to stop running as I really could not see where I was going.

Before I even thought about what I should try to do next, someone came up with a vinegar soaked cloth and told me to breath into it. It helped a lot and I managed to regain my breath easily. The next thing seemed initially odd, he called for some Pepsi and next thing I hear is the same guy telling me to rub some Pepsi into my eyes. Not really being in the situation where I could ask why in the world I would splash Pepsi into my eyes, I took his word and applied some to my eyes. All of a sudden the pain disappeared and I could see again!

Amazing.. A little bit of vinegar and Pepsi was all that was needed. Keep this in mind if you ever happen to encounter some tear gas in the future.

By now you may be wondering. Why in the world was I there in Tahrir Square in the first place?? Well.. I was with a friend and we had just finished an interview with an Egyptian newspaper and we decided to grab something to eat. Usually Tahrir Square is great for this, all the western style restaurants can be found there. Unless of course there is a massive protest taking place. We somehow seemed to have forgotten about this, or at least underestimated just how big the protest had become.

So we wandered up the stairs from the underground Metro, only to walk into a mob that was hurling stones at the police who in turn were firing back with rubber bullets and tear gas. At first it seemed surreal, seeing all this happening before you, just like I saw in early 2011 on Al Jazeera. Next thing I know is I am in the middle of things and then I am running away from the tear gas.

Rather than go home and watch the rest of the protests on TV I decided to stay put on the ground and experience things first hand. Sure it was dangerous, but I felt that I could not leave, especially not after becoming involved in it, though I had not expected to at all. Besides, I still had to find something to eat, and one thing that is great about Egyptians is they are daring and opportunistic entrepreneurs. No matter how dangerous a protest may be, you will always find some guy wheeling his cart through the crowds selling some type of food. I settled for some biscuits filled with a paste made from dates and a bottle of water.

I had just finished my biscuit lunch and was preparing to drink the bottle of water when I saw a man who had just been struck in the head by a rubber bullet. I rushed to him and he shouted for water, asking for me to wash the blood away. I used the water to wash what I could, however the blood was not stopping. Some others took him over to a nearby ambulance so that he could get treated.

I didn’t really ponder over what was happening.. How I had went from a lazy day and an interview to all of a sudden running away from tear gas and helping people who had been shot. I just took it as I saw it and decided that just as I had helped one man, I could help others. I went and bought 6 bottles of water and 2 Pepsis and began attending to whoever had been hit or exposed to the tear gas.

The response of the people was amazing.. Some of them had just been hit or could barely breath but once they saw that I was a foreigner and was there with them, they could not stop thanking me for being there to help. One of them, despite his injuries smiled and said to me “Welcome to Egypt!” Of course this was not a time for welcomes, rather it was a time for farewells as it was to be my 2nd last day in Egypt. Within a few hours I will head over to the airport and hop on a plane back home to Melbourne.

I will miss what has been my home for most of the last 4 months. I will miss having been stabbed in the arm by a hungry madman during Ramadan. I will miss the crowded and busy streets of Cairo, and I will miss the feeling of being with the revolutionaries in Cairo and feeling like you are seeing  history take place before you.

I don’t know if its the effect of the gas still at work, but I can’t help but fight back a few tears for now, knowing I will soon say farewell to Cairo…

A Pythonesque Moment at Hajj

One of the funnier moments at Hajj this year was when I saw a friend with a bottle full of pebbles during the days of the jamarat (stoning of the pillars as seen in the above picture).

I asked him why he had collected so many when he only needed 21 (7 for each of the 3 pillars). He told me that he had in fact bought the bottle full of pebbles. This of course sounded crazy, as there are literally millions of pebbles lying around on the ground absolutely free of charge for anyone to come and pick up for themselves. Picking up 21 of them wouldn’t take that long either, perhaps less than a minute.

In his defence, he said that the bottle of pebbles only cost him 1 Riyal, however seeing that empty bottles were also lying around ready to be taken, I couldn’t help but feel it was a Riyal that needn’t have been spent.

This whole scenario reminded me of a scene from the movie The Life of Brian which was made by the Monty Python comedy group.

In this scene Brian’s mother who is pretending to be a man (the actor who plays the mother is actually a man, so there is a male actor pretending to be a woman, who is pretending to be a man) is going to a stoning. She needs to pretend to be a man as apparently in Jewish law women are not allowed to go to stonings. As Brian and his mother are on their way a man offers to sell them some stones. Of course the premise of buying stones is quite absurd as they are literally lying around, free of charge.

Stone seller: Stone, sir?

Mother: No, they’ve got a lot there, lying around on the ground.

Stone seller: Oh, not like these, sir. Look at this! Feel the quality of that, that’s craftmanship, sir.

Mother: Hmm…all right, we’ll have two with points and…a big flat one.

The incident helped add some comic relief to the struggles of Hajj and the brother had also seen The Life of Brian so acknowledged the humour behind the incident.

What was almost as funny was trying to explain the incident to everyone else who asked why we were laughing, only to be met with blank stares. It struck the 2 of us that we were the only ones who knew of Monty Python or were able to see the humour in the absurdities of English comedy.

And now for something completely different

I am back :)

So I have not been posting on here for a while, but with good reason :) I have been away performing the Hajj (pilgrimage) and have been tied up with a few work-related matters.

Right now I am still in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and I will be returning within a week back home to Melbourne.

I will make sure to post a few photos and stories from hajj as it was truly a great experience and would love to share a little bit with whoever happens to be reading my blog.

The Cats were one of the groups in the Animal Kingdom, they used to rule over most of the animals of the lands and the stories of their great ancestors were passed down through each generation. They recalled the heroic Lions of the Cat family who in the past ruled over the animals with justice and order.

Those days however were no more. The Cats no longer ruled over their lands any more and the heritage of their ancestors seemed to be nothing but myths. The Cats were no longer lions like before but had become no different to the common domestic cats whose lives were dominated by chasing mice to eat and being ruled over by the other animals.

After the fall of the Lions many animals fought for power among themselves and different groups tried to wrestle the rule of the Animal Kingdom for themselves. A great struggle took place between the Bears and the Hawks that lasted for many generations. Every group of animals began to take sides, allying themselves with either the Bears or the Hawks, however most of the cats were still licking their wounds and sat to the side, watching the 2 sides fight.

In the midst of one of the very cold winters the Bears made a mistake of trying to force the Cats to join them. They marched into their territory and forced their way into their camps. Despite the resistance of the Cats, the Bears claimed that the Cats were now their allies and that they would join their struggle against the Hawks. Despite being weak and injured, the Cats united and drove out the Bears from their territory in the jungle. This demoralised the bears who were surprised that they were unable to subdue the cats and make them their Allies.

This began the decline of the Bears and marked the ascent of the Hawks. With the Bears all but sidelined the Hawks were able to assert  their dominance over the jungle. They began to rally the animals together, calling upon all to join them, promising an era of peace for the jungle unlike any time before. many animals were cautious of the Hawks however saw that they had no choice, if the Bears were unable to stand up to the Hawks, then it seemed practical to ally with the Hawks, at least to save their selves lest the Hawks decided to take their territories by force.

Many of the animals allied with the Hawks, however some of the animals refused to join, foremost among them the Condors who refused to take sides. The Hawks’ response was horrific.. The Hawks descended upon them with no mercy and subdued them to follow and ate those who rebelled. The animals of the forest began to quiver in fear.. They knew they had 2 choices, to hesitantly join the Hawks out of fear that they would not be able to resist them, or they could refuse to join them and become the Hawks’ enemies.

Just like the other animals, the Cats had to make a decision. Some of them decided to give in to the Hawks and some refused to do so. Those who gave in were welcomed by the Hawks, but kept under close watch. The hawks knew that the Cats ruled the Jungle in the past and may decide to try and do so again once they grow. Because of this  the Hawks would occasionally raid the camps of the Cats who were their allies and accuse the elder Cats of wanting to betray the Hawks. Many Cats were purged or taken away by the Hawks, however those who remained were assured that they would be spared so long as they submitted to the Hawks and remained loyal.

The other group of Cats who refused to submit their selves headed to the isolated Valleys of the Jungle, living away from the other animals and away from the dominance of the Hawks. In the Valleys they were able to freely share stories of their past and to live freely, hoping to mature and grow into the Lions that their ancestors were. They knew however that whilst their feline brethren were disunited from them and living under the rule of the Hawks they could never succeed. They needed unity and maturity. So many of the Cats from the Valley would wander back to the Jungle Cats to call them to join them in their cause, so that they as Cats could all hold their heads up high and break free from the oppressive rule of the Hawks.

The Cats however were divided. Some argued that the Hawks may not like the Cats, but they would never turn on them, whereas if they were to rebel it may mean their end. Some others agreed with the Cats from the Valley but thought that the Hawks would be to powerful of an enemy to stand up against. Yet others agreed with the Cats from the Valley and traveled with them to join their cause.

Among those who remained behind there was an elder who believed that the Hawks were no good and that they could not be trusted, but that the stance of the Cats in the Valleys was foolish and would not achieve anything. He would tell the Cats in the Jungle to maintain a peace with the Hawks for their own good and that going to the Valley would be a waste of one’s life as those Cats in the Valley were blinded by false hope and had nothing to offer. He began to rebuild the Cats homes in a bid to keep the Cats happy and away from the Valley, knowing that without comfort they would be open to rebellion against the Hawks. The Hawks agreed to this and began supporting the Cats in rebuilding some parts of their Jungle homes.

The elder had a grand plan to build a meeting house for the Cats which could be used to function as a meeting place where they could be taught about how to live in the Jungle and to not fight against the Hawks. To pursue this plan he went to visit the Cats who had become the Governors of some parts of the Jungle on behalf of the Hawks who placed them in those positions. They he to be careful as the Cat governors lived near the Valley and they had heard that the Hawks were attacking the Cats of the Valley and that he could easily be mistaken for a Cat of the Valley in the midst of a Hawk raid.

He took with him a younger Cat to accompany him in his journey as to travel alone would be cumbersome. As they traveled they met many Cats with whom they sat and spoke. They heard stories of what was happening in the valley, where the rebel Cats were  subjected to daily raids from the Hawks and that the scene was horrific. Some of them had went to join the Cats in the Valley, only to return, vowing to never go back and spoke ill of the Cats of the Valley. The elder Cat assured his younger companion that the Cats of the Valley were not Lions at all, even though they claimed to be, but rather they were foolish felines who would cause all Cats to suffer. He did not trust the Hawks, but he hated the Cats of the Valley.

The younger Cat believed the stories he had heard, but at the same time was not able to reconcile being subjected to the Hawks and remaining their docile servants with the message of the Cats of the valley. He knew that the Cats of the Valley alone could never resist the Hawks but saw the promise of uniting all the Cats together and driving the Hawks out as one species was not just possible, but honourable. He knew that the Cats had once been Lions who ruled the Jungle and did not see why they should not do so again. He was torn between the reality of knowing that the Cats would risk their lives in uniting to rebel and the alternative of remaining disunited and seeing the Cats of the valley wiped out. If the Cats of the Valley were to be slaughtered by the Hawks, who then would ever be able to rally the Cats left in the Jungle?!

As he traveled with the Elder Cat these thoughts ran through his head. He did not speak out loud for fear of chastisement from the older Cats who he knew would disagree with him, for on many occasions he saw how they ridiculed the Cats of the Valley and argued against their cause. They had met with some of the governors who told them that they could be of no help as the Hawks had forbidden them from supporting Cats from other territories, and suggested that they see the governor Cat of  an area of the Jungle known as Torrina. They ventured forth with the hope that this governor would support their plans for their new meeting place.

The sun had gone down and the Cats had almost arrived at the cave of the governor. All of a sudden a wicked screech came from above. It sounded like a Hawk ready to descend on its prey, and so the 2 Cats looked up. They saw exactly what they thought it would be. A big, ferocious Hawk that was heading towards the Valley. Its eyes were red with hate and its claws were braced, ready for attack. They both knew what its mission was, it was flying past them towards the Cats of the Valley ready to strike and kill one of their brethren.

The younger Cat froze and stood in shock. He had heard before about the stories of the Hawks swooping on the Valley and attacking and slaughtering the Cats, however they were only stories. Now he was seeing it close up, a Hawk flying by ready to kill Cats. Surely he knew these things were happening, but he had always put thoughts about it aside, preferring to keep busy with finding food, with caring for his family, with playing in the Jungle.. But now seeing it before him made him think. How could the Cat governor sit in his cave knowing that the Hawks were feasting upon the Cats of the Valley, only because those cats wanted to live in pride, as the successors of their great ancestors who came before them? How could the cats of the Jungle submit themselves to an enemy who did not respect them, allowing themselves to be treated worse than the lowest of animals of the Jungle? How could any Cat be content knowing that they were once brave Lions, but were now mere Cats unable to fight off the predatory Hawks? He wondered about these things at that moment, every thought he had ever had replaying itself in his mind.

“Hurry up”, said the elder Cat. “We are almost at the governor’s cave, I can see it just ahead.”
The younger Cat quipped, “But what about the Hawk that just flew over us? We surely can’t let it go on, it is flying for the Valley and will strike against our feline brethren!”
“Don’t worry”, said the elder Cat, “Even if we wanted to stop it, we would not be able to, besides, we have something more important to do right now, we must go see the governor so he will assist us in building our meeting place.”

The younger Cat dragged his feet along.. He had no choice.. The elder Cat was right, what could they do to stop that Hawk? But he realised as well, that whilst they could not stop that 1 hawk that night, they would not stop any Hawks ever whilst they worked for them, submitted to them, built meeting places to subdue the animals and to speak against the Cats of the Valley. He knew that he would not abandon his brethren once he would return. He was inspired to live hoping to be a brave Lion and not a weak Cat whose only dream was to build a meeting place to issue propaganda for the enemy. He would never forget the sound of that bloodthirsty Hawk and vowed to never again remain weak and foolish standing on the sideline seeing Cats of any part of the Jungle being slaughtered.

To unite the Cats, to become Lions, to again rule the Jungle. He was just one lone Cat, but he was a Cat who could now see clearly thanks to the event of that dark night.

Are there left-wing Muslims? Is there a such thing as an ‘Islamic Right’?

I’ve been hearing these terms used frequently but with no consistency or agreed upon meanings. Recently someone mentioned in their conversation that Al-Qaeda is an example of an Islamic group that belongs to the ‘right’ of other Islamic groups. I was interested to hear this as the reasoning for them claiming so was because they said Al-Qa’ida are ‘rightist’ because they are akin to rightist groups such as fascists. I wondered if they truly knew how wrong this was, but also wondered why they decided to use a Western style of defining Islamic groups, placing them in the left-right spectrum that was inspired by the French parliament.

It is becoming common that just as non-Islamic political groups and  political opinions are always classed as being left-wing, centrist or right-wing, so too people with a non-Islamic background try to impose the common left-right political classification upon Muslims. Usually however, it fails miserably and there is no agreed upon system of classification nor is there any way of avoiding confusing the left-right of Western style politics with anything that is invented for Muslim groups.

The reason why people are not able to frame Muslim groups into the usual left-right political spectrum can usually be split into 2 main factors. It is either due to a lack of knowledge about Islamic culture and politics or due to a belief that Islamic politics works the same way as other political systems that we know of. Nonetheless due to our own backgrounds and familiarities, we tend to look at things we are unfamiliar with through the lense of what we already know. An example of this was when I spoke with someone trying to explain the difference between Al-Qa’ida and the Muslim Brotherhood, with the former being what I will describe later as ‘black banner’ in their outlook and operations and the latter being moderate and preferring to focus on reform and education.

The other person was following what I was saying, but couldn’t quite understand what I was trying to outline and I could see that they weren’t entirely grasping what I was saying. So I decided to give them example – “Picture Al-Qa’ida as being like the Bolsheviks, calling for a political revolution and the ousting of leaders in a violent grab of power, now picture the Muslim Brotherhood as being like the Mensheviks, being more moderate and not calling for the same violent revolution, preferring to focus on reform rather than a grab for power.”

All of a sudden the person said “Aah, now it makes sense.” He could now understand the difference in the 2 Islamic groups by comparing it to what he already knew.

The problem with this is that the similarities may exist, but in reality there is never a direct correlation and to assume so would be foolhardy. Al-Qa’ida may be radical and revolutionary, but they are a world apart from the Bolsheviks. Nonetheless the ease of using these comparisons makes it easy to introduce Islamic politics, however once a picture is drawn and one understands the general stances of the various Muslim groups, all such comparisons to non-Islamic groups that one knows of should be discarded and a focus be placed on the Islamic groups as they exist in reality.

One of the things that helps in some ways to analyse the Muslim groups in a way familiar to most non-Muslims is to chart them on a political compass style map. Just as we could say that al-Qa’ida is revolutionary more so than the Muslim Brotherhood, we could call them left-wing Muslims. Of course the problem is that  their conservative religious views would place them as being somewhere on the far right in the minds of most, hence the confusion that abounds in placing them to a ‘left’ or a ‘right’.

I once made a small chart that mapped the differences of Islamic groups in my Making of the Modern Middle East history class at university and found that it helped the other students grasp what we were discussing so well that I decided to expand on it and make something more detailed.

What I believe is best to do is to abandon about the existing left-right divides that are used by Western political views, and to define the Muslim groups in a political spectrum suited to the surroundings in which they exist. To do so I started to make my own political spectrum map charting some of the more well-known Muslim groups and estimating where they would stand.

Here is the map, followed by an explanation of what you see below it:

As you can see there are 2 directions, 1 represented by left-right and one represented by top-bottom. The left-right spectrum defines religious stringency/accommodation and the  top-bottom defines political outlook.

Jurisprudential Stringency/Accommodation (left-right)

The jurisprudential outlook describes each groups stringency in dealing with different interpretations of Islamic texts. The designation of one group to the left and one to the right is random and not based upon the left/right used in Western politics. What I have used however as the criterion is their manner in tolerating different Islamic opinions. Those on the left are strict textualists who believe that their group is right and that unless you share their view then you are wrong and deviant. Those on the right are far more accommodating of different opinions and are open to the existence of valid differences or they place little importance on regulating the opinions of its followers.

Going with this understanding I have placed groups like the Madkhalis to the far left as they are known to be very isolationist and do not tolerate any differing from their group’s views. As many say about them, if you differ with them in even a small matter then you are ‘off the manhaj’!

To the right are groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir who are not as demanding of their followers in strictly adhering to a set of theological or jurisprudential rules. Difference of opinion on matters is tolerated and people not chastised for doing so. This does not mean that these groups to the right do not hold certain opinions on jurisprudential matters, but rather that they are accommodating to anybody who may differ and do not set adherence to their opinions as being a prerequisite for associating with them or working with them.

Political Outlook (top-bottom)

To the top we find groups who are politically neutral or absent. They either do not get involved in politics whatsoever, or they believe that they are not of much importance. To the bottom are what I call ‘Black Banner’ groups. The name is taken from the idea of armies marching through the lands under black banners fighting against the disbelievers and uniting the Muslim nations into one global Caliphate. Those towards the bottom have a universal outlook, eschewing nationalism in favour of a Caliphate and are heavily concerned with political involvement of Muslims and political dominance of Islam. Their political view would be the antithesis of secularism which allows division of religion and the state. Of course in many ways this is what Islam essentially is, however due to divergence of Muslim groups over time they have become divided on this matter.

To the bottom we find the Naqshbandis and the Madkhalis, both of whom (generally) refuse to take part in politics and see it as something not needed, preferring to focus on internal reform (tarbiyyah). Towards the centre we find groups who embrace Islamic politics, however limit themselves to localised or nationalist aspirations. An example of this is Hamas in Palestine, who call for Shari’ah (Islamic law) in their land however are not focused on expanding their rule on a global or pan-Islamic frontier. To the far bottom are groups who are dedicated to the establishment of a global Caliphate and are heavily politically-motivated. Examples of this are Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al-Qa’ida and Takfir wal-Hijra.


So as you can see this was my attempt at starting to think about how we would define a Muslim political spectrum. I didn’t find any previous discussions on this so I feel like I am wandering into uncharted territory, however I believe that it is important to try and establish in order to create a coherent way of looking at the Islamic groups that exist, but I do also believe this is only a start and my chart has much room for improvement. I have already changed the classifications of some groups a number of times, especially the Taliban who I find it difficult to place in both left-right and top-bottom classifications. I have settled on their position for now as generally they are not a very politically-motivated group and they limit themselves to their local area, however they are more politically-inclined than the Deobandis that they evolved from. Also their religious classification varies.. I felt inclined to place them further to the right but at the same time found enough evidence for them to be considered as slightly textualist like the Deobandis.

If anybody has any comments please do feel free to add them to the discussion of this matter, and do keep in mind as I said earlier that this is only a beginning and its bound to be imperfect, but I do believe it is a good start!


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