“THE MEANING OF JERUSALEM THROUGH MY MOTHER’S MEMORIES AND MY FAITH”

March 25th, 2021

“THE MEANING OF JERUSALEM THROUGH MY MOTHER’S MEMORIES AND MY FAITH”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Minaret of Freedom Institute

Adapted from WHAT JERUSALEM MEANS TO US: MUSLIM PERSPECTIVES AND REFLECTIONS

I am a Palestinian-American Muslim. Although I was taken away from it while still in my mother’s womb, Palestine is my motherland in a multi-dimensional sense. My mother was not only born and raised in Jerusalem, but she was named for it. Her name was “Qudsia,” the feminine form of al-quds, “The Holy (one),” the Arabic name for Jerusalem. My father is from a small village just outside of Jerusalem, called Bir Nabala. The Israelis have expanded the boundary of the city to the point where it impinges now on my father’s village.

In 1947 my father returned to Palestine from America to find a wife. He had left Palestine while yet a twelve-year-old boy. His parents had both died and his eldest sister had to raise the family. He came to America to earn money to support the family. Now, he was back looking for a life-mate, and the college-educated city girl, school teacher, and radio pioneer (the first woman to read the news on Jerusalem radio) seemed the ideal wife to hold up under the cultural shock of a move to America.

My mother was pleased to marry this handsome and very intelligent, albeit uneducated, man, but she did not want to forsake her beloved homeland or the environs of the city for which she was named. If he wanted to marry her, he would have to stay in Palestine. He gladly agreed, and, in November of 1947, they wed. And I took up residence in her womb.

In May 1948, less than six months into her pregnancy, the massacre at Deir Yasin took place. My mother had a student from Dir Yasin, and the stories of how the terrorists had split open the bellies of pregnant women to rip out the fetuses and stamp on them had their intended effect.  She was terrorized, and she changed her mind. She would leave family and her ancestral homeland to come to a country she did not know to keep her baby safe from the terrorists.

By the time she got her visa, my mother was too close to term to be allowed to fly on an airplane. They booked passage on a ship (the Marine Carp) instead, and, ten days before the due date, I was born on board. I would not set foot on the land in which I was conceived until thirty-two years later. My knowledge of Jerusalem would come to me through my mother’s memories and the religion in which she raised me.

Jerusalem Through My Mother’s Memories

Raised in America, I envied my classmates who personally knew their grandparents. I knew mine only through my mother’s memories and a photograph of my grandfather in his fez and Ottoman mustache. He had been an assistant to the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem, and his marriage to an Arab woman of Jerusalem spared his life from the anger of the mob during the Arab uprising of 1916.

I had met only one of my maternal uncles, who had come to the United States to study. He passed on a flavor of my homeland through his playing of the lute, an instrument he left behind when his studies were done and he returned home. It hung on my mother’s wall until her passing when it was inherited by my niece, now a musician in New York City. Of my mother’s other brothers, known to me only through her reminiscences, Lutfi was a memorable rascal. One time he got into trouble by sneaking up on a Jewish neighbor and clipping off one of his sidelocks.

My uncle’s juvenile mischief notwithstanding, the image my mother painted of the relations with her non-Muslim neighbors (the “People of the Book” as the Qur’an calls them) was warm and convivial.  She would tell me how she would accompany her Christian neighbors as they walked the stations of the cross. Muslims do not believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) had been crucified (for the Qur’an says that was only what God had made appear to be the case), but that did not stop her from sharing in the spirit of their holidays, as they would share in the Muslim Eids (feast days), when Muslim tradition demands that the meals marking the end of the month of fasting be shared with all close enough to smell the food.

In some ways, life in Jerusalem was atypical for my mother. She was a graduate of the Jerusalem Women’s College. A picture of her graduating class now hangs in my living room.  There were only two dozen graduates that year, a testament to the rarity of higher education for women in Jerusalem in the first half of the twentieth century. Her family was too poor to send more than one child to college, and tradition would have demanded that it be Lutfi rather than Qudsia. But Lutfi was not the academic type and urged his father to let his studious sister go because she would appreciate it more, go. Fortunately, my grandfather’s good sense prevailed over tradition, and he conceded.

Once out of college my mother not only took up teaching, but also got a job with the Palestine Broadcasting System. There she produced award-winning programs on the history of Islam and of the region. She even got to read the news one time when the regular announcer failed to show up. She did not enjoy the experience, as by that time the conflicts between the newly arrived Zionists and the indigenous peoples had become so seriously violent that, she said, she wept as she read the reports.

Her tears are another memory of Jerusalem. I cannot forget the day I came home from school to hear her crying.  No child should have to hear his mother cry. It is for parents to dry the tears of their children. Young children do not know how to dry the tears of their parents.

“Why are you crying?’ I asked her.

“I am so homesick,” was her reply. She missed her family, her neighbors, the sights and the sounds of the holy city. I cannot remember if I was six or eight or ten when this happened. I only remember feeling helpless. It was something about which I could do nothing.

Jerusalem Through My Religion

When I was about to enter fourth grade, I began to ask my mother questions about religion. She gave me a copy of the Qur’an that included Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation into English. I began my serious study of Islam, which continues to this day. Within the narrative of Islam is a tale of three cities: Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. The significance of Jerusalem as the city of David, Solomon, Jesus, and Muhammad is the way it links three different religious communities into a single essential religious history. David, Solomon, and Jesus (peace be upon them all) who lived in Jerusalem are mentioned more often by name in the Qur’an (16, 25, 17 times, respectively) than Muhammad (four times, peace be upon him). And Moses (peace be upon him)—for whom the Holy Land was the object of his flight from Egypt, although he never made it to Jerusalem—is mentioned by name 135 times. Mary or Maryam, Mother of Isa or Jesus, is the only woman named in the Qur’an, with her name appearing seventy times. The 19th chapter or sȗrah of the Qur’an is named after her.

This significance is expanded upon by the Hadith (traditional reports about things the Prophet said and did) recounting his “Night Journey” to Jerusalem. The event is alluded to in the Qur’an in the passage (17:1): “Glory to (God) Who took His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque [Masjid-al-Harâm, in Mecca] to the farthest Mosque [al-Aqsa, in Jerusalem], whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things).” The traditions state that the Prophet was transported to Jerusalem (whether materially or in a vision is irrelevant to the point) where, united with all the previous prophets, he prayed together with them to the One God.

This significance of Jerusalem is also attested to by the fact that it was the original qibla, or direction of prayer as well. When the qibla was changed to Mecca, the Qur’an explained (2:142) that “To God belong both East and West” and (2:177) that righteousness lies not in facing a particular physical direction, but in belief and good deeds.

This significance of Jerusalem can be seen not only in the religious texts, but in Muslim history. When Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab conquered Jerusalem in 637, he neither slaughtered the Christian inhabitants (as the Persians had done to the Christians when they conquered the city twenty-three years earlier and as the Crusaders did to the Muslims four centuries later) nor expelled them, but allowed them to remain. When the appreciative Patriarch Sophronius invited him to pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Umar declined explaining that, although it was not forbidden for him to do so, he feared some future Muslims more zealous about religious identity than observant of religious law might use his having prayed there as an excuse to convert the church into a mosque. In later generations some Christians accused Umar of betraying them by letting Jews into the city, but had he made any promise to keep them out it would not have been legal under Islamic law.

My Visit to Jerusalem

Not until I was in my thirties would I finally set foot on the ground of my mother’s native city. My father had become afflicted with cancer and sought to cross a major item off his bucket list by taking his children to visit Palestine. My brother Maher, my new bride Frances (for whom this would be our honeymoon), and I eagerly accepted. After spending a week with some cousins in Amman, we would spend a week in the home of my mother’s big sister in the Old City.

When I told my mentor, Harvard Professor Robert Nozick, about my forthcoming trip, he urged me not to take as discrimination the close search we would receive from the Israeli border guards, assuring me that everyone, even Jews like himself, received the same scrutiny. I think he failed to notice some subtle differences in treatment. On the day we crossed over the Allenby Bridge from Amman to Jerusalem, I, with an Arab name, but traveling on an American passport and with an American accent, got through customs in 25 minutes.  For my parents, with American passports but Palestinian accents, it took 50 minutes. For my cousin, a permanent resident of Jerusalem, it took the WHOLE DAY. Knowing that it would, she had left Amman after dawn prayers.  We waved to her as she cooled her heels in the waiting room in the late morning, and she joined us in my aunt’s house for supper late that afternoon.

As we approached the city, our car, identified by the license plate color as owned by a Palestinian, was stopped by the Israeli police. When the officer poked his head into the car he saw my very American-looking wife in the back seat next to me and hastily explained, “I’m just checking to make sure your seat belts are fastened.”  How thoughtful.

My aunt’s five-hundred-year-old house is ensconced within the walls of the Old City, near Herod’s Gate or Bab as-Zahra. Except for the master bedroom and the tabûn (a special kitchen for baking bread), every room is adjacent to the central courtyard, which itself is partly covered by a grape arbor. The grapes were not yet ripe, but had we come a month later, I think I could have just reached up and grabbed myself a fresh snack.

My aunt had always spoiled her little sister. Her hospitality as well as that of her husband and their daughters now was incredible. As Frances and I were newlyweds, they insisted we take the master bedroom, a lovely chamber with a cathedral ceiling. They did not want us to lack anything, which caused an awkward moment after our supper.

My aunt asked us what we wanted to do that evening, and Frances said she would like to go out for ice cream. A deathly silence fell upon the household.  My aunt spoke little English, so finally my cousin explained the cause of their embarrassment: The ice cream parlor was in a section of the city closed off to non-Jews at night.  “I don’t need ice cream,” Frances reassured our hosts.

The next day, we made our way past soldiers armed with rifles to a camp filled with “internally displaced” refugees. The day after that, Frances had traded in her touristy-looking straw hat for a Muslim style headscarf that provoked visible affection from the locals we met.

Then, we went to the market to engage in some old-fashioned haggling.  My cousin had tutored me on exactly the tone of voice to take in responding to a shop-keepers opening price with an incredulous “shooo?” (“Whaaaaat?”)  Frances admired an embroidered caftan. How much?  They gave a price.  “Shooo?” I said. I offered one fourth of what they asked.  Impossible. They offered half. We walked out.  They chased after us into the narrow old city street. OK. Deal.

One day we took a day trip to Ramallah, stopping at my father’s village of Bir Nabala. I finally was able to meet the aunt who had raised the family while her brothers went to America to support them. She had not seen her little brother in over thirty years. Every time my brother or I got near her, she would begin to whisper prayers over us.

Bir Nabala means “well of Nabala.” I asked if it were possible to drink of the water of the well. The locals seemed surprised that anyone would want to drink of the well water when piped water was available, but I insisted. The water was brackish, but to me the drink was a satisfying coming-home ritual. We then took a walk to the ruins of the house in which my father grew up, destroyed by an earthquake. Later I was shown the room in which I was conceived. Afterward I stood on the roof of that house and looked at the moon over the Jerusalem suburb and at a nearby hilltop where settlers were building their illegal homes.

My aunt’s neighbor was a professional tour guide, and we joined his tour starting at the Garden of Gethsemane. He said he always took his shoes off there because it is holy ground. We took in the panorama of the city below us, dominated by the golden Dome of the Rock. Beside it is the smaller silver dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Then, at prayer time on Friday we were there, less than a 10-minute walk from my aunt’s house.

As we entered the plaza a Muslim guard shouted at Frances, but backed off when my mother shouted back at him. The Al-Aqsa Mosque was full, so I had to pray on the plaza between the two mosques. The women got to pray in the more impressive Dome of the Rock. I got to pray there later after it had emptied out. On my way in I saw a hole in the wall made by Israeli fire during the June 1967 War. Mosque officials refused to repair it so that no one could ever forget.

Inside, I positioned myself so that I was facing both Mecca and the large rock where some believe that Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him, mentioned by name in the Qur’an 69 times) prepared for the sacrifice of his son. The Qur’an does not name the son in question but, like the Bible, says it was his only son at the time. There was a time when Ishmael (peace be upon him, mentioned by name 11 times in the Qur’an) was his only son and never a time when his second son Isaac (peace be upon him, mentioned by name 15 times) was the only son, so Muslims conclude the son in question was Ishmael. The fact that the Qur’an makes no mention of the name tells Muslims that the story of Abraham’s sacrifice is about the love of God, not about real estate.

I was removed from Jerusalem, but Jerusalem will never be removed from me.

 

News and Analysis 3/23/2021

March 23rd, 2021

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pledged to reestablish the transatlantic NATO military alliance before discussing “any possible withdrawal from Afghanistan” …

… but Washington should not delude itself into believing that there is potential for any meaningful change in Afghanistan by extending the withdrawal deadline:

“An unwavering faith in the justness of God is what sparks our reformist flames as we return to researching, reading and interpreting the scripture ourselves, instead of blindly following the centuries old canonised Islamic literature that was primarily compiled and commentated on by men”:

In Islamic law the groom is supposed to give the bride a gift and Muslim jurists and judges are refusing to solemnize marriages in which the  groom’s family demands a Western style dowry after physical abuse by one groom and his family ended in the bride’s suicide:

A political scientist calls the District Development Council elections in Kashmir “chaotic” and “farcical” and predits “that the crisis of legitimacy will continue to prevail in Kashmir”:

43-year-old Palestinian prisoner Maher Abu Rayan announced that he was going on a hunger strike due to the Israeli Prison Service delaying needed surgery for “which he has been waiting for more than two years”:

After almost 6 years of war and severe famine, Saudi Arabia finally offered a cease-fire deal in Yemen amid the possibility of political negotiations with the Houthis:

Calgary Muslim call for increased “efforts to ensure the safety of racialized and religiously diverse residents after a girl was beaten and her hijab torn” during a walk in the park:

Israel has refused to comment on its apparent move to sabotage the ICC investigation into its war crimes:

The Malaysian government may let nurses decide for themselves whether or not to wear a headscarf at work:

News and Analysis 3/22/2021

March 22nd, 2021

A year after receiving a hero’s welcome in Israel the traitor says he “had no choice” but to sell U.S. military secrets after America “stabbed Israel in the back”:

“Israel’s Walla news website cited unnamed Israeli officials who said Maliki’s ICC visit was the reason for the revocation of his … Israeli-granted pass that enables dozens of senior Palestinian officials to move freely through border crossings”:

Fighting D.C. officials’ opposition to “the Army’s plan to add a buffer zone of about 250 feet to 500 feet (75 meters to 150 meters) from the shore of the Washington Channel,” two U.S intelligence officials say Iran is threatening to assassinate the Army’s vice chief of staff as the U.S. assassinated their Qassem Soleimani:

The United States, along with allies including “the European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom”, announced sanctions against China due to “serious human rights violations”:

The surprise visit comes amid increasing doubts that the U.S. will withdraw by the promised May 1 deadline:

“France and other European countries, like Belgium, have taken similar steps against halal meat, while local authorities forced a halal supermarket in a Paris suburb to sell alcohol and pork products”:

China released a data that “showed it imported no Iranian crude”, while imports from Oman and Malaysia, “which Iranian supplies are often re-branded as” have surged:

News and Analysis 3/20/21

March 20th, 2021

“We came here legally and my husband wants to come here legally” — a U.S. green card holder:

Saudi minister Adel Al-Jubeil stated on Friday that the missiles using to attack its Aramco refineries were “Iranian-manufactured or Iranian-supplied”:

Iran intends to begin cold testing its restored Arak nuclear reactor which U.S.-abandoned JCPOA had shut down:

Polls show the Israeli election is headed for a “deadlock” as a desperate Netanyahu seeks to support from those so extreme as to have been outlawed even as he tries to buy Arab votes with promises of government funding:

“The Americans and their followers are acting like pirates as they are targeting the Syrian oil wealth and oil supplies” — Syrian oil minister Bassam Tomaa:

Israeli soldiers shot 42-year old Atef Yussef Hanaysheh in the head with live ammunition as he demonstrated against a wildcat settlement near his village. Israel says the villagers were throwing rocks at the occupation army:

The U.N. charges Iran’s use of prolonged solitary confinement and sleep deprivation against the scientist who went to “Iran to attend workshops on disaster medicine” constitute torture:

  • UN Rights Experts Call on Iran to End Torture of Swedish Scientist Ahmadreza Djalali (Jurist)

Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan tested positive for COVID-19 just two days after receiving his first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine:

Islam, Science Fiction, and Extraterrestrial Life

March 19th, 2021

Jörg Matthias Determann’s Islam, Science Fiction, and Extraterrestrial Life: The Culture of Astrobiology in the Muslim World (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2021). 270pp.

Reviewed by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Anyone susceptible to believing stereotypes depicting the religious views of Muslims as violent variations of Christian fundamentalism would expect a book subtitled “The Culture of Astrobiology in the Muslim World” to be a very short book indeed, featuring a fatwa against the notion of extraterrestrial life as blasphemy contrasted with a couple ex-Muslim writers of bad fan sci-fi fiction. Instead, Jörg Matthias Determann has produced a fascinating collection of numerous examples of a wide variety of men and women from Muslim majority countries or of Muslim persuasion engaged in an almost equally wide variety of activities ranging from serious science to flying saucer cults, along with a panoply of sometimes profound and sometimes silly, sometimes derivative (or outright plagiarized) and sometimes ingenious (even original) science fiction. Suitable for use in a university level course the book is downright pleasant read for anyone with any curiosity about Muslim interest in astrobiology and science fiction.

The opening chapter, “The Lord of the Worlds” is named after the opening verse of the Qur’an which praises God as the Lord of a multiplicity of universes. This places the notions of multiple planets or even the “multiverse” comfortably within the most sacred text of Islam. While early Muslim commentators understood this notion of multiple worlds to include the multiplicity of creations across a wide variety of dimensions (material, spiritual, intellectual, animal, vegetable, mineral, etc.) they would not have been inclined to exclude any conception of multiple worldliness as beyond the Divine dominion. Even the notion of space travel was not new to the Arabs as the second century Syrian writer Lucian of Samosata had written “A True Story about a trip to the Moon” (p. 4) fourteen hundred years before Cyrano de Bergerac’s fantasy on the same theme. The notion of extra-terrestrial life is not problematic for a religion in which God is Lord of all the worlds in the way it is for a religion that conditions salvation on the sacrifice of the Divinity’s “only begotten Son” for the redemption of the dominant species on a single world. Determann notes that “much science fiction from Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey and other countries reflected and promoted dreams of a united Islamic world.” It is no surprise then to learn that Muslim science fiction writers have imagined both believing and disbelieving aliens.

Chapter 2, entitled “Missions and Mars” looks at scientific journals and popular magazines. In the West, the notion of “panspermia” (that the seeds of life are spread throughout the cosmos) is associated with Enlightenment writers like Benoît de Maillet (pp. 39-40). Determann notes their debt to Muslim predecessors such as Zakariya al-Qazwini, the thirteenth century author of Marvels and Strange Creatures Existing (p. 40). Gustave Flaubert called de Maillet’s Telliamed an ‘Arabic book'” (p. 40). The reciprocal influence of such works on later Muslims took a while to emerge, but a couple of centuries later Christians and Muslims were seriously debating extraterrestrial life” (p. 41).

Rather than threaten Muslim religious sensibilities, the spread of the Copernican paradigm moved the Bengali physician and poet Mir Muhammad Husayn to argue, “each of the fixed stars along with its planets and satellites is a universe by itself” and that “the existence of an infinite number of worlds demonstrates God’s omnipotence” (pp. 43-44). The attempt of “colonial administrators and missionaries to equate European astronomy with Christianity largely failed” (p. 45). Reformers such as Obeidallah Ubedi and Syed Ahmad Khan strongly urged Muslims to embrace science, feeling it poses no threat to Islam (pp. 45-46). Khan said, “The Work of God and the Word of God can never be antagonistic to each other.” Court official Mohamad Abul Hasan Siddiqi boasted that although “[t]he first chapter of the Book of Genesis has always been a puzzle to the church commentators … the Last Book of God , the Quran, has saved its believers from such a labour-lost task” (p. 47). While some tried to argue for heliocentricity from the Qur’an, most felt it to be a matter religiously indifferent, although one Syrian translation of Jérôme de Lalande’s Treatise of Astronomy “transformed the text into a geocentric one” in which “Uranus and the asteroids … all rotate around the earth” (p. 49).

While Muslims, appalled by his hostility to the Prophet (pbuh), demonstrated against the historical work of H. G. Wells, they had no objections to his science fiction (p. 47). Yet, a perception that Christians and materialists were using Western science to challenge Islam provoked the Egyptian physician Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi to publish articles in which he claimed the Qur’an contained allusions to scientific facts “unknown during the time of the prophet Muhammad” including terrestrial “rotation and the common origin of all planets in ‘smoke'” (i.e, gas and dust, p. 56) and that the stars move independently from one another rather than being embedded in a fixed sphere” (p. 57). He also claimed the Qur’an referred to the creation of animals in the heavens as well as on earth (p. 57). Allusions to extraterrestrial life in Arab periodicals was so frequent that the “scientific imagination then shaped important books on Qur’anic exegesis” (p. 62). The al-Azhar trained religious scholar Tantawi Jawhari incorporated some elements of modern cosmology both in his multi-volume exegesis The Jewels and into a work of utopian fiction published in 1935 (p. 62). Even professional astronomers got into the game. Helwan Observatory’s Abdel Hamid Samaha lectured “on cosmological ideas in the Qur’an at the Lund Observatory in Sweden,” informing his Western audience that his understanding that Qur’anic statements indicated “the existence of life either identical, similar or probably different from ours in the outer space” came both from his Muslim religious beliefs and that “also as a scientist I am inclined to believe that such is at least very probable” (p. 62).

Chapter 3, “Trips to the Moon,” focuses on science fiction films, from which we learn such interesting tidbits of jurisprudence as that a “Pakistani woman may marry an alien as long as he is a Muslim” (p. 71). Determann rejects attributing the rarity of Pakistani sci-fi films to Islamic cultural bias since there are plenty of Muslim contributors to sci-fi films coming out of India (p.74). The difference, he concludes, is that while Islam per se does not inhibit the creation of science fiction films, a secular political environment seems more conducive to their production (p. 75). He notes, for example, that although Saudi Arabia “is comparable in its authoritarianism to” its socialist neighbor states, it started banning cinemas in the 1950s (just as science fiction films were gaining popularity) on the grounds that public theatres brought “unrelated men and women together” (p. 75). This hostility is directed at the medium films rather than the genre of sci-fi. The Saudi grand mufti’s 2017 denunciation of cinema as venues for of depravity that “might show movies that are libertine, lewd, immoral and atheist, because they rely on films imported to change our culture” (p. 75) may reflect the cultural climate of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan as well (p. 77).

Determann finds, however, that “[i]nterest in space and its creatures only increased over the course of the 1950s” in the broader Muslim world (p. 84). Dystopian stories then appearing, like those of Egyptian Tawfiq al-Hakim “could be interpreted as critiques of the modernizing projects that governments like his own were engaged in” (p. 85). The growing number of literary and stage sci-fi pieces in Egypt spilled onto the silver screen in 1959 with the release of “Journey to the Moon,” but (p. 86) there was no sequel or imitation once Nasser’s socialist regime nationalized the major media companies including the entire film industry (p. 87). State repression quashed “scientific imagination” even as it inadvertently inspired it (p. 88). With the movie industry in state control, that inspiration erupted on the stage (pp. 88ff). One explicit example of Islamic science fiction was The Fifth Dimension, a story in which German physicist repentant of past work for the Nazis, his niece, and her journalist fiancé escape an earth fated for nuclear annihilation to discover a utopia on Mars. The author, Ahmed Raef, was a protégé of his fellow prisoner Muhammad Qutb (p. 89). Following the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideals, the freely elected ruler of the Martian utopia has sworn “to follow the laws of God, not to be unjust, and not to follow personal interests that may cause him to deviate from divine guidance.” Further he is subordinate to “a council of 100 wise people” and subject to a recall process that may be initiated by any citizen.

The influence of Western science fiction is pronounced, and the Turkish film “Tourist Omer in Star Trek” could easily be argued to be a violation of copyright (p. 96). Although Determann focuses on science fiction by Muslims he does not ignore the influence of Islamic culture, people, and landscapes on non-Muslim science fiction such as Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’s “Star Wars” (pp. 96ff). However, he does not mention Daniel Moffit’s Mechanical Sky trilogy.

I would have been more comfortable if Chapter 4 had it been called “Muslim UFO Cults” instead of “Islamic UFO Religions.”  The previous chapter ends with a segue asserting that in contrast to the “light entertainment” of Muslim sci-fi films, the publications of these cults often drew large audiences by “promoting dark and complex conspiracy theories” that sometimes “combined Middle East politics with Qur’anic exegesis and space research” (p. 104). A Kuwaiti UFO sighting in 1978 (p. 105) is the first of “a wave of sightings over the Gulf countries” around the time of the fall of the shah of Iran. Determann notes differences in the reports of sightings in different parts of the Muslim world. Malaysians reported space aliens as tiny humanoids, only “three to six inches” in size (p. 109). More broadly, Muslims were quick to identify aliens with the jinn mentioned in the Qur’an (p. 109), non-human entities made of smokeless fire but which Muslim traditions hold can assume other shapes.

In America, a mother ship played a significant role in the mythology of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. In their mythology the white race, itself the product of a eugenics program initiated by a mad scientist name “Yakub,” had enslaved the naturally black people of Earth. They would be rescued from their oppression by the Mother Plane, “a wheel-shaped wonder under the control of black Muslim scientists … able to defy Earth’s gravity, lift up mountains and generate its own oxygen and hydrogen.” (p. 112). With the rising popularity of flying saucer theories “some scientists and officials felt obliged to counter them with more cautionary accounts” (p. 119). Yet Determann suspects that one balanced account by a scholar trained in both religion and science may “have inadvertently lent legitimacy to the topic,” despite the author’s boldfaced declaration denying any “evidence for the existence of any life like on Earth” (pp. 119-20). A character in the Turkish Sci-fi film “Buddy” seems to suffer from UFO envy when he asks, “Why do they always come to the Americans? Let them come to us once” (p. 122).

Not all Muslims enamored of flying saucers see them as mechanical objects from outer space. The influential Jordanian professor of Islamic Law Umar al-Ashqar identified them as jinn who reside on Earth (p. 129). The Egyptian journalist `Isa Dawud also rejected an extra-terrestrial origin for UFOs, offering a conspiracy theory explaining “that their owners were humans with ‘dreams to rule the world'” (p. 130). Determann suggests that Virginia-based Voice of America journalist Abdul Aziz Khan drew so many parallels between 20th century UFO sightings and stories in the Qur’an and went so far as to imply “Muslims … must believe in UFOs” (p. 133). He even argues that the word for “covering up” truth, kufr, in the Qur’an refers is the conspiracy to cover up the truth about UFOs (p. 134). On the secular side, an extremist Kamalist who billed herself as “Turkey’s first female UFO researcher” (p. 134) hailed Ataturk as “the first world leader to see the extraterrestrial origin of his own people” (p. 135).

A reference to Begum Roqeya’s 1905 utopian story Sultana’s Dream, about a technologically advanced future society called Ladyland, where women dominate the public space and “men live in seclusion” (p. 139), paves the way for the examination of literary science fiction in Chapter 5, “Building Nations and Worlds.” A century after Roqeya’s groundbreaking work, Arab sci-fi was so underdeveloped that UAE sci-fi pioneer Noura al Noman “actually believed that there was none” (p. 141). She blamed the Arab educational system for ignoring the sciences, unaware that in Syria, where sciences were taught in the schools, magazines published hundreds of such stories (p. 141).

Dystopias are critically respectable given the prevalence of authoritarian governments in Arab world and were especially popular in the wake of the collapse of the Arab spring, though they were just a small part of the genre in the Muslim world (p.142). “Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Indonesia stood out through the sheer quantity of novels and short stories they churned out” (p. 142). Often the subject matter in sci-fi produced in the former colonies was as “concerned with nation-building as it was with world building” (p. 143). Pakistan’s writer Asrar Ahmad, writing under the name Ibne Safi (“Son of the Pure One”), combines a commitment to religious purity with an enthusiasm for religious pluralism and “an excitement about technological futures (pp. 1413-4). The work of Bengali author Zafar Iqbal shows his” hostility towards political Islam” yet “occasionally employs his religious imagination” (p. 147), and will even (albeit rarely) feature personal piety (p.148). His wife argued that his reputation as “anti-Islamic” was undeserved, insisting “that none of his books contained ‘anything that goes against Islamic sentiment'” (p. 148).

Influences on the Egyptian writer Nehad Sherif range from Egypt’s Kamel Keilany to “medieval authors al-Ma`arri and IbnTufayl as well as … Jules Verne and H. G. Wells” (p. 149). With a nod to the debates over religion and science “in the context of competition between Christian and Muslim missionaries,” one of his characters contrasts scientific discoveries that were once “denounced as ‘unbelief’, ‘atheism’ or ‘apostasy'” with his prediction that humankind would soon stand on the moon and on other planets, adding, “Trust that all of this will only happen by the command of God and his perfect will” (pp. 150-1). In his novel The Time Conqueror he defends the permissibility of cryogenics by reminding us that “God, ‘who created us’, gave us the ability to discover.” His works on alien encounters were “framed in religious terms” that were inclusive while at the same time privileging Islam (p. 156). He died in 2011 hailed as “the dean of Arabic science fiction,” a favorable comparison to America’s Robert Heinlein (p. 157).

Determann includes authors skeptical of Islam such as Eliza Vitri Handayani. who conceived of our universe as “a game in an alien kid’s computer” which would explain “[w]hy many of his rules seemed arbitrary or egocentric…. He is, after all, just a child” (pp 173-4).

The final chapter, “Muslim Futurisms” turns to the Muslim world’s engagement with new technology in both research and fiction. The UAE planned “to establish a city on Mars by 2117” (p. 177) The discoverers of organic material on one of Saturn’s moons included two founders of the Astrobiology Network of Pakistan (p. 180). Although the Iranian nuclear agreement failed to thaw U.S.-Iranian relations, “[m]ajor American presses had long … published articles by Iran-based authors, citing freedom of speech in their defense” (pp. 183-4). One of them “detected at least nine planets between 2010 and 2018 alone (p. 184). Another co-authored a poster session at the American Physical Society session in Denver on “use of microlensing for exoplanet detection” (p. 185). Determann doubts sanctions can “stifle Iranian creativity.” (p. 191).

Further, he thinks “war has been productive in the Middle East even in cases where it has been devastating” otherwise (p. 192). Iraq+100 transforms Americans into” violent and hedonistic aliens.” Yet, a young student among the aliens “has doubts,” fearing divine retribution from the “Setter of the Cosmological Constant” (p. 193). Palestine+100 “won a PEN Translates award and NPR selected the volume as one of its favorite books of 2019+ (p. 194). Determann wonders if some Muslims’ aversion to the theory of evolution might inhibit the scientific imagination in ways that war and sanctions have failed to do (pp 194ff.) “While evolutionists in Iran and Pakistan enjoyed considerable influence,” Turkey has been victimized by con artist Adnan Oktar (a/k/a “Harun Yahya”) who, notwithstanding convictions for fraud and sexual abuse, was part of the campaigns that removed evolution from Turkish textbooks (p. 195). Nonetheless, there was an increase in serious sci-fi films in Turkey in the 2010s. Among them, “the psychological drama Ivy, … less successful at the box office” than more comical sci-fi, was “well received by critics and festival judges” (p. 200). Politically astute viewers could see the Turkish government in “the captain whose ship is going nowhere, … while his five crewmembers stand for different parts of society: workers, pious Muslims, young people, leftists and Kurds” (p. 200).

In 2017, Saudi Arabia “surprised critics of its human and women’s rights records by granting citizenship to a robot named Sophia” (p. 204) while planning “a new solar-powered city that relies on robots and self-driving cars (p. 205). In 2018 the Pakistani-born artist Saka Afridi created the art-form of Sci-fi Sufism that mixes “mysticism with technology” and draws on the influence of Afrofuturism, IslamoFuturism, “Arthur C. Clark’s novel Childhood’s End and art by Hiroshi Sugimoto, as well as Muhammad’s ascension into heaven” (pp. 205-207). There is now an “Islam and Science Fiction website (p. 208).

Determann closes his book with an acknowledgement of the controversy posed by the intersection of Islam and Western science fiction. On one side we have a biologist at Duke University protesting that the hijab has no place “on the bridge of the starship Enterprise [for it] would imply that Islam had survived to the 23rd century, while we have no reason to believe that any other modern human religion can claim similar” (p. 209). On the other side we have the actor leVar Burton who praised African American activist Blair Imani’s cosplay appearance as his character Geordi La Forge in a hijab at the 2017 Comicon in San Diego as the “best cosplay of Geordi, EVER” (pp. 209-10).

Given the broad geographical scope of Determann’s subject of study and the wide variety of languages involved, this book is an astonishing achievement. Anyone seeking an introduction to the intersection of science fiction and/or extraterrestrial life with Islam needs this book.

News and Analysis 3/18/21

March 18th, 2021

From its founding in 1948 until today Israel has employed a variety of policies to deprive Palestinians of their property and  implement its settler  colonialist project:

Iran released footage of its new revolutionary guard base, an underground facility that contains “advanced munitions including scores of missiles”:

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rejected a request from the United States and Israel to postpone Palestinian elections due to their fears that the “Hamas would win the parliamentary elections”:

Saudi Arabia continues to imprison and threaten scholars, writers, and journalists that criticize the current establishment. “Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a popular but controversial religious scholar  has been in solitary confinement since 2017”:

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant rejected a request from  New York attorney and executive at the Zionist Advocacy Center, David Abrams, to release the names of the “64 presenters at a 2018 conference sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine”:

President Biden told media on Wednesday that he was still deciding whether or not to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan:

Iran’s FM bashed the United Kingdom after Boris Johnson expressed “concern about Iran developing a viable nuclear weapon” on the same day that Britain unveiled plans to “bolster its arsenal from 180 warheads to 260… reversing a previous commitment to reduce its stockpile”:

Biden “overstates US-Saudi ties” in his strong defense of his decision “to waive any punishment for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in the murder of a US-based journalist”

Protests and a First Information Report (“a written document prepared by the police when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence) are provoked by school textbooks and poli-sci guides that quote anonymous “experts” to link the religion of Islam to terrorism:

News and Analysis 3/15/21

March 15th, 2021

Iran is too proud to make the first move after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the JPCOA. Biden can break the impasse by using Reagan’s “trust but verify” policy, announcing the U.S. will immediately resume compliance trusting that Iran will allow the IAEA will be able to verify that Iran has followed suite promptly thereafter:

Israel receives new criticism after interrogating “two of the five children detained last week for” picking wildflowers near an illegal settlement:

Civil society groups report “psychological trauma … [including, in some cases], early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder” in over “93 percent of children impacted by” Austrian police raids targeting Muslim households last November:

The first ever Muslim nominee for an lead actor Oscar is just the tip of the iceberg, as observers see “an influx of Muslim students headed to careers in media, from screenwriting to journalism to movie production” and anticipate “a flood of young people will be in a variety of writers’ rooms in the next five years”:

Going against the tide of BJP bigotry, a Brahmin explains what drew him to Islam was that “[i]n Islam, be it a beggar or a banker, all stand in the same rows for namaz [prayer], all are equal in the eyes of Islam. You don’t have to be rich or born into a particular social category to be close to Allah”:

The Taliban has agreed to send a 10 person delegation for a peace meeting that will take place in Qatar on the 18th of March:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has not had any involvement, directly or indirectly, in any armed attacks by any entities or individuals against the United States in Iraq” — Iran’s UN envoy Majid Takht-Ravanchi:

Analysts indicate that “[l]osing Abs would be a major blow to the Houthi rebels”:

A Pakistani envoy to Sri Lanka raised concerns regarding the country’s newly announced ban on burqas, stating, “The likely ban on Niqab will only serve as injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe”:

News and Analysis 3/13/21

March 14th, 2021

Both parties in Afghanistan are highly skeptical of U.S. attempts to accelerate a political settlement. “Pressure from the United States never works… we know this because they have already tried all forms of pressure for 20 years”:

Upon her release after a five year sentence, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was immediately summoned to court on a new charge. “British FM calls the new trial “unacceptable” and calls on Iran to let her return to Britain”:

Security footage captured two masked individuals as they launched flammable materials through a window of a Muslim private school in Sweden:

On Saturday, Sri-Lankan officials told the media that the country would be banning burqas and shutting down thousands of Islamic schools:

Israel has targeted roughly a dozen vessels according to a Wall Street Journals report that stated, “Israeli operatives were suspected of planting a limpet mine on an Iranian vessel anchored near Lebanon in February … en route to Syria”:

As footage shows about 10 Israeli settlers, equipped with masks and batons, approach the Alayan family before pelting them with rocks moderately injuring the man and lightly injuring his wife:

Abid Riaz Qureshi, a Pakistani-born American Muslim and attorney from D.C, was nominated for district court by President Obama in 2016. Media reports indicate that the Biden Administration is “considering naming Qureshi to U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia”:

A video showing two men severely beating a Muslim boy who allegedly entered a Hindu temple to drink water “sparked outrage”:

Siddarth, previously a devout Hindu,  narrates his journey to becoming a Muslim and describes how India’s polarizing establishment has made daily life a struggle for Muslims who “are living as second class citizens. I have felt the difference, I’ve seen it with my own eyes”:

The representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN says plans in the leaked documents “to change children’s beliefs is a galling violation of human rights”:

News and Analysis (3/12/21)

March 12th, 2021

Five Palestinian children were detained for hours for picking wild vegetables near an illegal settlement in what the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem calls “another example of the absolute disregard on the part of Israeli authorities and forces on the ground to the wellbeing and rights of Palestinians, no matter how young or vulnerable”:

David Abrams, a lawyer and executive director at the Zionist Advocacy Group, is known for weaponizing the Public Records Law in order to target pro-Palestine activists by releasing their names to Canary Mission, which is  “a website that blacklists Palestinian rights activists by creating dossiers on them and labelling them anti-Semites”:

While Israel and the U.S. strain to focus to distract international intention with an alleged Iranian nuclear threat, Israel has been building what appears to be a new reactor to produce Tritium, allegedly for the purpose of enhancing their arsenal of “80 nuclear warheads”:

Biden authorized an airstrike that killed seventeen people in northern Iraq. “Analysts suggest that the strike was intended to strengthen U.S position in negotiations with Iran”:

The persecutions of Muslims by China’s Communist government obscures the fact that in the past Chinese emperors favored the minority community “because of its ethics, which—as far as the emperors were concerned—promoted harmonious and peaceful relations between the diverse peoples in the imperial territories”:

The Interior Ministry’s accused Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society (IAPSRS) of “questioning Islamic rulings such as qisas [retribution in kind and] promoting falsehood by publishing statements against the Islamic Republic of Iran”:

One of Iran’s top nuclear scientists argues that “the one who has left the JCPOA has to come back first” …

… but the U.S. refuses to return to compliance:

Drones laden with high explosives that Israel claims were in use in an operation “against resistance naval forces” killed Gaza fishermen:

News and Analysis (3/9/21)

March 9th, 2021

The Pope was moved by the sight of “the ruins of mosques and churches in Mosul,” and called Ayatollah al-Sistani “a humble man” of “wisdom and prudence,” and stated that “it was good for my soul to encounter him”:

“[A]pplicants who were refused visas prior to Jan. 20, 2020, must submit new applications and pay a new application fee. Those who were denied on or after Jan. 20, 2020, may seek reconsideration without re-submitting their applications and do not have to pay additional fees”:

“[T]he use of the law to dictate what women should wear is problematic from a human rights perspective” — U.N. human rights office spokeswoman:

Muslims “filed nearly a quarter of religious discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017, according to the latest data available”:

On the plus side, a treaty approved by Congress could not be unilaterally dumped by a future President; on the negative side, a Congress just might not approve any reasonable treaty:

Surge in Iranian oil sales to China in recent months demonstrates an increasing ineffectiveness of sanctions:

In response to Israel’s accusations, Iran suggests that the blowing up of the cargo vessel Helios Ray “has all the characteristics of a complicated false flag operation”: