A Death

It is usually never a good thing when you get a telephone call at five in the morning. So when the phone rang at that time and I started to answer the phone my wife instructed me not to answer the phone. When I asked her why she said “ it is my mother and I know if she is calling me at this time it can only be one thing and I don’t want to know.” She said this referring to her ailing grandmother, who raised her as my grandparents raised me, in her mind there was no doubt that the phone call was meant to give her the news of her grandmothers death.

I decided to pick up the phone anyway and hand it to her and it was her brother who was calling to tell her that her fears had come true.

Her grandmother was born in a rural area of Puerto Rico and was the oldest daughter out of eleven kids. At about the age of eight she began caring for several of her younger siblings and never went any farther in school and never had a childhood. She would work hard taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, and the sick elderly people in the family, until she got married in her early-twenties and moved to Bayamon (a suburb of San Juan) like hundreds of thousands of rural Boricuas who came to the city for the promise of jobs and a better life. Just like in America, when millions of southern blacks flooded the Northern cities in the early and mid 20th century, the rural peasants soon found that they had left sub-standard housing and backbreaking work in the country for life in a dangerous, crowded and noisy urban ghetto.

Living in Bayamon she gave birth to 4 kids, and raised one other, and she didn’t move to New York until she was in her late fifties and never learned English. Like so many other older Latinos in America my wife’s grandparents went to Spanish-speaking churches, watched Spanish TV, and while their bodies were in Brooklyn their hearts were in Puerto Rico. As a child my wife had to translate for her grandparents to the bill collectors and the doctors, telephone companies, and utility companies. They didn’t get out much, and that was part of the problem with their health, because they lived in the Albany Projects in Crown Heights Brooklyn and were terrified to go out at night and only nominally confident to go out in the daytime.

The Grandmother would sit in her small apartment and watch Spanish TV and read the Bible with five locks on the door and hear the gunshots, drug feuds, police sirens, loud music, and lovers quarrels and that was all the America she ever got to see. Well, not all the America; she did have a front row seat to the infamous Crown Heights Riot between African-Americans and Hasidic Jews. But, for old people like her, who have no money and live in bad neighborhoods the last days are usually harsh unless you have family that will help you out and that is only so good. My mother-in-law did help her towards the end; but she moved from one projects to another (from bad to worse) and lost the ability to walk because she never walked (use it or lose it) and she just slowly died away.

In her last days, before she lost consciousness, she found solace in reading the Bible and religious tracts. Like a growing number of people in Latin America she had rejected the Catholic Church and become a born-again Christian (Pentecostal) and she will be buried besides her husband, a tough but gentle old-school Puerto Rican man, in New Jersey ( in New York even the commute to the cemetery is long).

Night at the Hospital

I hate hospitals and going to them for any reason but yesterday I was encouraged to do so by a few different people. I knew I had a hernia and I could see and feel the bulge (or whatever it is) in my stomach; but I didn’t take it that’s serious. However, I visited my local pizzeria, a classic New York joint, and talked to Joe the old Italian guy behind the counter who had just had a heart attack four days ago but was already back at work because he said staying at home drives him crazy.

After telling Joe about my stomach he wouldn’t shut up and went on and on about me having to get it checked out and then admonished me for my diet of pizza, Philly cheesesteaks, strombolis and the like, which of course I buy from him. After leaving there I called my grandmother and nothing gets her excited more than any hint of sickness or ailments and then my wife and they both I agreed I should have it checked out so I went to Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn.

Wyckoff is like most inner-city hospitals in that it is a third-world operation. It is crowded, dirty, unorganized and is manned by staff who just kind of leisurely stroll around and don’t get excited about anything and are not in a hurry to serve anyone. After waiting a few hours and being rudely interviewed and checked on by a gay Asian nurse I sat in the waiting room for three hours as Puerto Rican teen mothers sat with their unruly kids and baby-daddies ( all black btw), transvestites, a woman telling how she puts vegetable oil in her car engine, and a guy telling how his uncle works at the post office but gets a social security check in a dead guys name, so I couldn’t wait to be seen and get the hell out of there.

When I got in the back it was crowded and police officers were hovering over someone who had been assaulted trying to get info on the attackers while I sat next to a young gang-banger who was threatening to shoot up the place unless he got some attention. On the other side of me an elderly Puerto Rican woman was having some religious tracts read to her by her daughter.

I got a bed, and because my name is Lee, was sent a Chinese female doctor to see me, and she was rude and nasty and abruptly walked away without saying anything when she found out I wasn’t Chinese.

So, it was going bad; but then I was sent two residents, one a Muslim woman from India and another a young man from Vietnam and both had did their med school in the Caribbean island of Dominica, and they were very friendly and nice and talked to me until the regular doctor came, a guy from India, and he confirmed I had a hernia and gave me an appointment with the surgical clinic on June 30th. Hopefully two years from now those two residents will be that warm and friendly.

The White Masjid of the Future

An African-American Muslim brother recently told me that Islam would be a true success in America when we have mostly white masjids in cities throughout America like we have predominantly African-American masjids in every sizeable American city (and several in many). The brother constructed a vision of the white masjid in his mind as being one in the suburbs with a golf course and akin to a megachurch and I have a different vision. Given the demographics of the white people who come to Islam and those descendants of immigrant Muslims who mix with white Muslims I see the white masjid as being an urban masjid more like a Reformed Jewish Synagogue or an Episcopalian Church. So here is my vision,

-The Imam has a degree from al-Azhar and an English Litterateur Degree from a liberal arts college and you can still see the whole in his ear from where the ring was. In his khutbah he often references things such as butterflies, rainbows and waterfalls and kind of sounds like Garrison Keeler.

-Jummahu and prayers start on time and anyone late will miss out and once the building reaches its capacity, as set by the fire marshals, no one will be allowed to enter by the sisters guarding the door. Carpooling to the masjid will be encouraged and there will be bike paths leading to the masjid.

-Low-fat and low-calorie Ramadan iftar dinners will be served. You will be able to sign up for an Atkins compliant, South Beach compliant, and veggie compliant dish.

-Fundraisers will include bake sales, craft shows, and canoe trips.

-The imam will be an employee of the female dominated shura.

-The masjid will have sports teams for the youth but they will all be non-contact and low-risk sports and helmets and padding will be required for bike riding on masjid premises.

-The masjid will be a public polling place for elections.

-The masjid will host community events such as neighborhood association meetings, Red Cross events, fundraisers, interfaith events and self-help seminars.
-There will be a Muslim therapist on staff.

Responding to Extremism, Taylor and DR. Paul, and Tough Karl Rove

A lot of people have told me over the last few days that I should have just let Suhaib Jobst be and we should just leave people like that alone and I can respect that opinion but I take a different one. It is important that we as Muslims stand on the frontlines in condemning extremism in our own community. This is not done to appease some non-Muslims who are never going to be appeased no matter what you do; but to encourage what is good and forbid the evil as we are commanded. This also must be done so that the youth will not be led astray by the likes of Jobst and others. If the likes of Jobst, others in America, and the legions of Muslim lunatics in Britain, are followed the youth will be thrown into destruction by going to killing people, being killed and going to prison. Many Muslim families have already been destroyed because of things of this nature and it is important that when we have a chance that we confront this. Not talking about it will not make the problem go away.

Liberia Documentary and DR. KA Paul
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to see the documentary film Liberia: An Uncivil War I highly recommend it. It shows frontline, of there are lines, footage of the fighting in Liberia which includes acts of looting, torture and cannibalism. The film also addresses the historic kinship between Liberians and Americans and the process that led to then President Charles Taylor leaving the country for Nigeria where he was arrested this year to stand trial for crimes against humanity. The US prosecutor handling the case said that Taylor had links to al-Qadea , Hamas and Hezbollah and there is very little evidence to support that although it is well known that Arabs are prominent in the illegal West African diamond industry and that they sell their diamonds to Jewish diamond dealers more often than not. What the American prosecutor did not mention, perhaps for political reasons, is that the biggest supporters for the born-again Taylor is the Christian-right in America and most notably Pat Robertson who was intimately connected to Taylor. As Taylor left the county he was accompanied by DR. KA Paul an India Christian minister who is said to be the “Billy Graham of Africa” and who is featured regularly on American Evangelical programming. I first came to know Paul when he was bilking Evander Holyfield out of money and campaigned to have Holyfields boxing license reinstated after Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission Ron Scott Stevens revoked his license after a humiliating defeat to Larry Donald. How a man of the cloth could put the life on the boxing legend on the line by prolonging his career is unconscionable. This story from the Dallas Observer sheds some light on Paul.

Karl Rove Talking Tough
Karl Rove is talking tough on Iraq, big deal! He is talking tough just like David Brooks, William Kristal, Richard Perle, Rich Lowry and the rest of these guys; but can you imagine any of them actually fighting? I mean not even in the military but could you picture any of these guys in a fistfight? Can you think of any group of men that is softer? At least Kerry can windsurf, Rove and Lowry are too soft to play even a wimpy sport like lacrosse. Could you imagine them walking the streets of New York or DC late at night, much less Baghdad or Tikrit? Then again maybe these guys could have been in the army choir or something.

PS You Have to Play D
For all the English football fans; what a poor way to end that match. Talk about giving a win away.

Al-Maghrib, Alshareef and Depression

Over the weekend I was able to attend some ( but not all) of the class on Rizq Management taught by Muhammad alshareef of the Al-Maghrib Institute. Alshareef and al-Maghrib represent a new generation of Islamic dawah in America. He comes from a Salafi background and from a fiqh and aqeedah standpoint teaches from that perspective; but he does this in a very contemporary way and his talks are full of a kind of Canadian sense of humor and real life examples. This is important because most Islamic classes are taught in the abstract but are not related to the lives of the believers but alshareef teaches you the knowledge and then relates it to the present time and our daily lives.

The attendees also represent a new generation of American-Islam. The majority of those attending are second-generation Muslims with origins in India and Pakistan with a sprinkling of Arabs and American converts. As the crowd is very American the presentation is very American and geared to a modern and educated crowd and unlike most Muslim gatherings in America there are very few sounds of heavily accented English in the room. Rules are also strictly enforced and anyone late to class will have to sit out the session ( so it is not running on CPT or Middle-eastern time).

This type of dawah, represented by Muhammad alshareef and Yasir Qadhi, is very important for the educated and middle to upper-class Muslims who have often felt alienated by the unprofessionalism and backwardness of the community. Another example of this perhaps is the al-Zaytuna Institute which basically teaches the same kind of courses but comes from a different fiqh perspective ( madhabist).

However, I do not believe al-Maghrib is for everyone, and nor does it have to be to be ( it is already a huge success). It caters to a specific group and that is young professionals and college students and some older professionals who are interested in knowing more about the deen. It is not for the entire community because of the fact that it has such steep fees for the courses. To the attendees of the courses, most all coming from financially stable and prosperous homes, the fees are insignificant; but to many in the community they represent a barrier.

Alshareef said that if people had the choice to get a free CD and one that costs one-hundred dollars, and both CD’s contained the same thing, then most people would choose the pricey one. I am not saying he is wrong on this, but we move in different crowds and have a different perspective, because my friends and family would choose the free one 100% of the time. Yet when he says something like that in a room full of children of doctors and engineers it makes sense. The better argument is this; if you are going to expect prosessional full-time Islamic workers should they not be paid a professional salary and this salary comes from the fees from courses and the sales of merhcandise.

Over all I have to recommend this classes to anyone who can afford them. Some of the exercises are corny; but the knowledge you get from the brothers more than make up for any of the shortcomings.

Two gems from Muhammad al-Sharieff;

“Those who have a negative attitude towards wealth will find a way to sabotage their wealth” and I have seen this happen many times.

“Many Muslims are depressed because they live two lives. One life when they are in here with Muslims and the other life they lead when they walk out of the door.” This is something we can all relate to but is seldom talked about.

On the depression issue I went a long time thinking it was just me who led that double life of being with the Muslims and then when I am separated from the community I don’t know how to act or am forced to act and speak in a different manner. That is why many of us tried to inbed ourselves deep into the Muslim community so that we did not have to interact with that many non-Muslims.

Over the long-haul this is impossible since we are a tiny-minority in this country and many of us come from non-Muslim families. Therefore, we are forced to deal with people in a different manner then what we believe is right, because it is the only way we feel we can survive. After years, and especially due to the current political climate, many Muslims living this double life have become depressed and many have left the Muslim community or become fanaticized within the community ( a case against reverse-hijrah?). It has driven others to drug and alcohol addiction, and yes those are real issues in the community especially amongst alienated and isolated converts.

A brother recently told me that he drives around all night in his car by himself because he feels he has no home anywhere and no one he can talk to that will relate to him and I know the feeling. Over the years I have found that unless you are wiling to get down with someones program in the Muslim community and be an absolute flunkie then you will be ostracized and since Muslims have no one to run to but the community isolation in our own community can be painful and lead to depression.

Other Weekend Notes;
-Whats up with all the bleached-blonde Korean and Japanesse soccer players at the World Cup? Maybe they can make friends with all the Iranians, including emasculated males, who are getting nose jobs because they dont like the way they were created and want to look more Western.

-You cannot get a good donut in NYC and I am a donut lover. Eating Dunkin Donuts is like chewing on plastic and those who donot know anything but Dunkin Donuts, have never had a good donut.

-I scored the Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright fight 115-113 for Taylor and it was a draw on the judges scorecards. It was a great fight, maybe the fight of the year, and there needs to be a rematch.

Religous Policeman on Saudi Racism

I am linking to an excellent piece from an excellent blog about the mistreatment of workers and racism in Saudi Arabia and this is from 10-05. Because the brother is so thorough on the topic and lives in Saudi Arabia there is very little that I can add to the topic but I will relate a few stories about Saudi Arabia.

A good friend of mine was a student at the Islamic University of Medina and left the school to go and do some things in Riyadh and he decided to do an experiment. Because he is a Latino he has a look that could pass for a lot of things in the Middle-east and one day he went out dressed as a Pakistani and gave the greetings to Saudis and they didn’t’t return his greeting. He went on to do this with a few different styles of clothing and still got no greeting from the Saudis until he put on the traditional Saudi garb at which point he got the greeting from everyone.

Another friend of mine, a Palestinian, told me that at his school in the KSA non-Saudi boys were raped and that they were beaten by Saudi boys and if they tried to fight back they would be punished by the schools who would take the side of the Saudi.

The brother in his article also mentions the aspect of house cleaning that many Saudi do not even know how to do simple household chores anymore because they are entirely dependent on their maids ( maybe slaves is a better term). I can attest to this because in the 1990’s I interacted with many Saudi students in the US and most of their homes were absolutely filthy and the brothers explained to me that their wives were used to having maids cook and clean for them and were not used to having to do the work themselves so they lived in squalor in suburban condos. On a seperate note in my opinion most people who have maids are just too damn lazy to clean up after their own mess and no matter how much money I get I will never hire a maid.

I am not a big Saudi basher, even though I know that there is rampant racism in the kingdom, insane tribalism, wild government corruption, and a sexual abuse epidemic, and I should be a big Saudi critic. Perhaps the reason for me not wanting to attack the situation in the KSA is due to the fact that I have known so many pious Saudi brothers over the years, was educated by Saudis, admired many of the ulema of the KSA, and have friends of mine who have made hijrah there and love it ( and there are many Muslim attackers of the KSA who are admirers of the corrupt and incompetent Uthmani Khilafah that drove the ummah into the ground). But, there are very serious issues in the KSA that need to be addressed and this brother does a good job of exposing them.

Night at the Fights

Madison Square Garden is known as the Mecca of Boxing. This title does not come from the modern era but from the decades between the thirties and eighties when it was the home to regular shows to sellout crowds featuring many ethnic fighters and ethnic rivalries of course it was home to the fight of the 20th Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (the first fight in which Smokin Joe won).

Over the last two decades as the sport of boxing has declined the state of things at MSG has declined; but last Saturday night I witnessed some of that old Garden magic as I saw the most exciting night at the fights in my life. Let me first state that I have been to many fights in my life, and have seen many exciting crowds, and in America the two fighters that have had the most exciting fan base are Felix Trinidad of Puerto Rico and the Mexican-American Oscar De La Hoya and when they fought I was not there. I did see Trinidad fight at the Garden in front of an electric Puerto Rican crowd and that was something special. With Trinidad out of the game there are only three fighters that can bring that sort of excitement and that is De La Hoya, whose next fight is his retirement fight, Fernando Vargas (whose fight with DLH featured a wild and divided crowd) and the Englishman Ricky Hatton. Insha’Allah it is a dream of mine to get to travel to England to see Hatton fight and maybe even see the DLH finale.

The card at the Garden maybe didn’t feature any stars that big; but it did feature some up and coming fan favorites with strong ethnic followings. The fight was on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade on 5th Avenue in Manhattan which brings millions of people to the city (mostly men there to check out the women and women to floss for the men) and hundreds of wild parties through the city). New York becomes a sea of Puerto Rican flags and it is kind of like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for people of color. The main event featured a young and rising Puerto Rican star named Miguel Cotto against an undefeated Italian-American from Brooklyn named Paulie Malignaggi.

The fight was pretty good but what made it so exciting was the amount of enthusiasm from the crowd. Loud cheers and chats echoed for Cotto and thousands of Puerto Rican flags were waived all over the Garden. After being dropped in the second –round a spirited Paulie got up and rallied to win many rounds in front of a hostile crowd but lost the decision after 12 to the delight of the Puerto Rican crowd (I had the fight scored 115-112 for Cotto).

On the undercard Irishman John Duddy provided excitement as thousands of Irish fans and chanted and cheered his entrance to the ring and he was accompanied by the traditional Irish piper. Every blow he landed on Freddie Cuevas brought wild cheers from the Irish and every responding blow from Cuevas brought jeers until Cuevas sat on his stool after the 7th round. I asked my landlord, who is from Ireland, if he knew about the Duddy fight and he told me he didn’t think there was an Irishman in New York who wasn’t either at the fight or watching it on TV.

If that wasn’t enough excitement a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player Tommy Zbilkowski thrilled the crowd in his professional debut with a knockout in 49 seconds of the 1st round. He entered the ring to the ND fight song and there wee hundreds of people who had driven in from the Chicago area and Indiana to see him play.

The night also included knockout wins by Julio Caesar Chavez, Jr. the son of the great Mexican fighting legend and Bobby Pacquiao (the brother of Manny) over New Yorker Kevin Kelley.

More on World Cup
American soccer fans do not worry even if we all know that the US will not make it to the second-round this time around even after being so cocky coming in. I have no doubt that there will be a day when the US will dominate world football. I am rooting for the English anyway and I think they have a shot if Wayne Rooney is healthy especially since the Brazilians did not look that good in their opening match with Croatia; but the best and most exciting game I have seen so far in the Cup was the 2-2 tie between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Those brothers really left it all o the pitch and their fans should be proud. By the way, is this politically incorrect, or did you also notice that almost all the Saudi players are black? I remember there being a lot of black players in 1994 and 2002 but not this many.