One man’s passage through Wahhabism and the beef with pigs

[Reposted because I'd left out the link to the article in question.]

There’s a another interesting article in the Washington Post series on Wahhabism in America.  It looks at the ups and downs of Wahhabism among American Muslims through the spiritual journey of one person, fellow blogger Khaleel Moore. [HT: Koonj]

In case you’re wondering, I’m not obsessed with the W-word.  It just keeps coming up in my surfing these days.

Just noticed that Br. Khaleel’s legal name is "Christopher".  That’s rich.   Keep it no matter how much Muslims object, I say.  A name like that is better dawah than a thousand Ahmed Deedat tapes.  And so much more entertaining.

Since I’m commenting on amusing names and am at UGA I guess I must point out the ironic connotations of the last name of one of UGA’s best known professors of religion (not to mention scholars of Sufism), Alan Godlas.  Yes, it’s pretty much pronounced "God-less".  Dr. Godlas has maintained a huge, highly informative website on Islam and Sufism forever–as in since the prehistoric days of Lynx and Mosaic in the early 1990s–and I’ve been haunting Islam-related Internet fora for over a decade so the joke was an old one for me when I arrived on campus this summer, but every semester it inspires an irruption of chuckles and quips among new students in the department. 

I highly recommend Godlas’s site, btw.  It’s an amazing resource with which you can happily  (and unlike most websites profitably) while away hour upon hour.

Speaking of unpopular animals, I’m reminded of the beautiful Sufi tradition of praising dogs, which Darvish pithily sums up as follows:

This book [Dogs from a Sufi Point of View by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh --Svend] presents the image of the dog as portrayed in Sufi literature, and is illustrated with Persian miniatures. In contrast to the prevailing Islamic view of the dog as a foul, vicious and unclean animal, the Sufis held the poverty and wretchedness of the dog in special esteem, considering themselves to be dogs — or less than dogs — in the lane of the Beloved. These stories communicate the value of humility, loyalty, and other praiseworthy qualities of the base animal nature of their own ego, and emphasize the value of training that tames wildness and makes even the dog useful to society.

Interesting.  I haven’t heard of Sufis praising the real underdogs and objects of worldly derision, swine.  Not even the Malamatiyya.

I suppose there is considerably less about a pig that lends to poetic portrayals of love and loyalty–The image of wallowing and snorting in the mud of adoration for the beloved doesn’t really warm one’s heart, does it?–but given the scorn heaped on him our snouted friend would at least seem a pretty compelling symbol of humility, self-abasement and rejection of worldly norms. 

While I’m riffing on pigs, as I’ve mentioned before ("Is Swinophobia Islamic?") I’m not convinced we’re required to hate pigs.  Just pass them over at dinner time and use another critter to make our footballs.  The ban for food applies to many animals (dogs, bears, …) yet we do not harbor comparable animus towards them. 

A question to my esteemed readers and serendipitous visitors:  Is the violent reaction against pigs commonly seen among Muslims today truly rooted in Islam, or is it more the result of the way Islamic cultures have come to demonize the beast in connection with the traditional ban on pork and pig-derived products (which I’m not questioning btw)?  For example, are there ahadith that necessitate rancor towards this much maligned creature? Or should we be updating and nuancing our attitudes towards pigs as we update our views on the environment and nature in general in light of the scientific knowledge we possess today?   

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Yusuf Smith

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,
    Remember that there is actually a tribe among the Arabs called Kalb (dog), although the name is obviously discouraged.
    As for Muslims and pigs, there is actually a custom among Pakistani Muslims not to say the word pig, but to spell it out or render it backwards. Shaikh Riyadh ul-Haq said in one of his lectures that Allah ta’ala says the word pig in the Qur’an, so what makes any of us so pure that we cannot say it?
    Still, I think Muslims have this attitude towards pigs because they are haraam and because there is no permissible use for any of their bodily products; they are also impure according to at least one of the four madhhabs. And in the west and in south Asia, people do actually eat pork, unlike dogs and bears (yes, I know people eat dogs in east Asia). So contamination of food with pork products is a real concern, while it isn’t with dogs.

  • http://abusinan.blogspot.com Abu Sinan

    I think it is a bit silly. Why hate dogs or pigs? I dont find pigs cute, they smell, but I dont think they are really any different than cows, except I cannot eat them.
    The dog thing is interesting. My wife has the typical Middle Eastern fear of dogs that I give her a hard time for. Doesnt matter if they are the size of a tea cup or a huge pit bull, she is scared.
    To the name thing, I never changed my name official, although I do have other names I am more widely known by, either Malik or Abu Sinan. My first name, Marc, comes from the Latin word “Marcus” meaning “war-like” and I think goes back to the Roman God Mars. My wife said it is a good fit for my personality, but anyway.
    I dont think the name thing is too important for us converts, it was what we were born with. Now if we named ourt children unIslamic names, that might be a different matter.

  • http://umarlee.wordpress.com Umar Lee

    I hate dogs and always have and down the street from my house someone was killed by a dog unleashed a few months ago. I remember another case a few years ago when a boy was killed by a pack of wild dogs in St. Louis. I also find that a lot of people with pet dogs end up smelling like dogs and when I go to their home the filthy dog jumps on me. Then you have the fact that politicians send you flyers with pictures of their pet dogs on them, dog clothes, dog specialty stores, and you find that in America dogs get treated better than a lot of humans.
    As far as named are concerned my attitude is that it seems as if everyone changes their name to reflect their Islam, and embracing being a part of the ummah, except white Muslims who think they are too good to change their names in my opinion and that they are doing Muslims a favor by merely gracing the dark masses with their magnificent presence. The WP may have set him up as a Muslim role model, and he is not a bad role model by any means; but if you are a Muslim your name can be Rockefeller and they will hate you.

  • Tazkiyya

    Names ,without doubt have a symbolic importance.
    There are innocent names that western people surely don’t need to change- despite cultural pressure.
    But I wouldn’t go to the other extreme in the name of sufism- which can be used by many of its proponents to blatantly go against the shariah.
    Afterall- the Messenger of God (alayhis salaam)- the greatest sufi ever, changed peoples names that had bad meanings…

  • TAzkiyyah

    With regards to pigs…remember when sayyidina Eesa(alayhi salaam) will come- who shall be another great sufi- he will break the cross and kill the pigs.
    I wouldn’t wanna be called shwein and be in his army…
    Happy ramadaan :)

  • http://darvish.wordpress.com Irving

    Thank you for mentioning my post on Darvish, although the quote was not mine. It was from the Nimatullahi website about the book Dogs from a Sufi Point of View, by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh.
    I have added you to my blogroll for your interesting and always informative blog :)

  • http://profile.typekey.com/quickgm28/ Ginny Quick

    “As far as named are concerned my attitude is that it seems as if everyone changes their name to reflect their Islam, and embracing being a part of the ummah,”
    Assalamu alaikum, when I became Muslim, I didn’t change my name because I didn’t feel it necessary. My name was Ginny, nothing un-Islamic in that name. And what would I change it too anyway? I don’t think that *not* having a Muslim name makes me any less of a Muslim than if I had a “Muslim” name. What is a Muslim name anyway? No matter what I change my name to, or not, I’m still a part of the Ummah, and changing my name isn’t going to make me any more or less accepted by the wider “ummah”.
    “except white Muslims who think they are too good to change their names in my opinion and that they are doing Muslims a favor by merely gracing the dark
    masses with their magnificent presence.”
    Hmmm, so does this statement apply to *all* white people? Because I think you’re being a bit generalistic here. Most white Muslims I know, who are, for the most part women, have at least taken on a Muslim name to be used among Muslims, though I’m not sure how many of them went and changed their name legally. But I’ve not come across any white Muslims that I can think of, that have not adopted some Muslim name. And even if I did, I don’t think I’d remember it. I tend to live and let live, and if white people, or any other people, are going to think they’re better than everyone else, then that’s on them, not me. And my reasons for *not* changing my name have more to do with the fact that as I stated before, I didn’t think it was necessary, and I felt as though it would be a slap in the face to my parents, who gave me that name. I was named after my grandmother, who died before I was even born, so I don’t think that changing my name would be a good idea. In fact, I think it would have been counterproductive, as my family may have taken it as a slap in the face against them or something. I think that Ginny Quick is just fine. And I guess if you think I’m some white Muslim who thinks they’re too good to change their name, and that because I didn’t change my name, I’m somehow less of a Muslim than you are because you “changed your name to reflect your Muslimness” or whatever, then well, that’s on you. Last I, or anyone else, checked we don’t have to answer to Umar Lee. And if you don’t want people judging you or how you practice your Islam, perhaps you should stop judging everyone else and how they practice their Islam. If someone decides to change thier name or not, become a “sufi” or not, it’s really none of your business, I don’t think. And I really don’t think it’s a good idea to question others’ intentions because they’re a certain color!
    “The WP may have set him up as a Muslim role model, and he is not a bad role model by any means; but if you are a Muslim your name can be Rockefeller and they will hate you.”
    Then what’s the point in changing your name? But at least your opinion of this guy has softened somewhat as you seemed to be questioning this man’s very Islam and manhood on your own blog, all because he apparently started using the name “Christopher” again. So what? I cant’ say whether he should have dropped that name completely, but taking on a name, or not, doesn’t equal to apostasy, or at least, not to my knowledge. Now, it woudl be different if he openly reounced Islam altogehter, then maybe we coudl be upset. But if he didn’t, then so what if he starts using his “legal” name again? Aren’t there more important things to be worried about than whether ornot Christopher “Khalil” Moore uses “Chris” or “Khalil”, or something else?

  • Aaysha

    Salaam and Hi
    I just wanted to say that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “On the day of Qiyamah you will be called by your (own) names and the names of your fathers. Therefore keep good names.” (Abu Dawud)
    I myself have seen that names can affect people in different ways. Often when a name is too “heavy” for a person to take even though it may have a good meaning, the person can end up leading a burdensome life.
    One thing I think is interesting is the fashion for ‘trendy’ names. Some of them have a really weird meanings which is not good for the person bearing them. Names are also attributed to certain prophets/their wives etc, which can result in their qualities being conferred to the person named for them, so its worth looking at these too. For example, I understand that Sarah was a really stubborn woman…

  • Why-Why Wicki
  • Tazkiyyah

    The irony of this is..that whilst we are attacking wahhabis…we ourselves are engaging in pseudo-ijtihaad(which is the hallmark of the wahhabi malady)
    Ask a faqeeh you trust who follows a madhab.
    Period

  • http://profile.typekey.com/dbrutus/ TM Lutas

    Yusuf Smith – A factual addition, try googling up bear recipe. People do eat bear. In the expansionist period in the US it was one of the more prized meats because it had a high fat content (there was a time in history when americans had a tough time getting enough fat in their diets to be healthy). As a large predator with large territories, there simply isn’t enough bear meat to go around so perhaps that is why there isn’t much attention to it.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Umar,AA
    That’s an interesting take. I have no doubt that such prejudices rear their ugly head at times.
    I’ll concede that Christian is problematic, even if you view it primarily from a cultural perspective.
    At the same time, I think there are legitimate issues here, especially given how modern Muslims are increasingly discovering (and revelling in) the way Islamic civilization adapts to local cultures around the world.
    While I certainly see the value and beauty in Muslims everywhere sharing numerous aspects of a specific cultural tradition (i.e., that of the Arabs), I don’t accept the widespread unspoken assumption that to truly convert one must symbolicly cut ties to one’s ethnic background. I see that attitude as quite unhealthy, as it turns some new Muslims into cultural and social misfits who are unable to function in or contribute effectively to their own societies. It also causes some to apostacize, I believe, when they tire of fitting in *nowhere*.
    Finally, Western Muslims are in a quite different cultural environment from other non-Arab Muslim peoples historically. Many Western names are no less religious or poetic in meaning than Islamic names, but they are perceived as being un-Islamic by virtue of their geographical associations. Non-Arab Muslims in the past had the advantage of choosing between explicitly Islamic (i.e., Arabic or Arabicized) and names drawn from an already Islamic culture. How is it any less pious for a French Muslim to choose a traditional French name than an Iranian to choose a traditional Persian one?
    Finally, this is a slippery slope. I’ve seen Wahhabi arguments that a host of seemingly very Islamic but non-Arabic names are illegitimate (e.g., Shamsuddin).
    As to the brother who warned about us implicitly doing ijtihad, I think he’s misapplying the label of ijtihad. I haven’t issued a fatwah and if anything, I’m lamenting people’s selective application of fiqh. Voicing one’s concerns about ethical problems in the community that involve fiqh is not the same thing as doing ijtihad.

  • http://www.reflectonthis.com Khalil Moore

    Bismillah.
    As-salamu alaykum!
    Subhanallah, it is so amusing what Googling yourself can lead you to! ;-)
    Yes, my legal name is Christopher—is, has been, and always will be. I only took the name “Khalil” as a nickname which I use amongst Muslims (and whoever else might happen to know me by that name). It wasn’t really even my idea either. It just happened one day at the mosque. I like the name suggested, and it stuck ever since (we are talking 1994 here!). I never really made a big fuss about it. I am Khalil, and I am Chris. Whatever works for you works for me (although I do introduce myself as Khalil to Muslims and prefer to go by that in those settings)…

  • Farisfareez

    Assalamualaikum
    I know I’m late in the game but for what’s it’s worth, everything in creation including pigs and dogs do tasbih to Allah. Aversion shown towards the pig by certain Muslims would, in my opinion, does not have any basis in Islam. Certainly, we are not allowed to harm or abuse them.
    Pigs are creations of Allah and they praise Him in their own way. As you’ve said, we just eat them but we are not supposed to hate them.

  • Farisfareez

    Assalamualaikum
    I know I’m late in the game but for what’s it’s worth, everything in creation including pigs and dogs do tasbih to Allah. Aversion shown towards the pig by certain Muslims would, in my opinion, does not have any basis in Islam. Certainly, we are not allowed to harm or abuse them – the Prophet had made it clear that we will be held accountable if we killed any living thing killed without justification.
    Pigs are creations of Allah and they praise Him in their own way. As you’ve said, we just don’t eat them but we are not supposed to hate them.

  • Farisfareez

    Assalamualaikum
    I know I’m late in the game but for what’s it’s worth, everything in creation including pigs and dogs do tasbih to Allah. Aversion shown towards the pig by certain Muslims would, in my opinion, does not have any basis in Islam. Certainly, we are not allowed to harm or abuse them – the Prophet had made it clear that we will be held accountable in the court of Allah if we killed any living thing without justification.
    Pigs are creations of Allah and they praise Him in their own way. As you’ve said, we just don’t eat them but we are not supposed to hate them.

  • Muhammad

    Have you read this new anti-Wahhabi blog?
    It is called “Yasir Qadhi Unveiled”.
    The blogger destroys Yasir Qadhi, Muslim Matters, and al-Maghrib institute:
    http://sunni1.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/al-maghrib-institute-exposed/
    Muhammad

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com svend

    My abject apologies for not replying properly long ago to all these great comments.
    @YS: You make an intriguing anthropological observation about the differing practical concerns about pigs given the danger of contamination. Not sure it can explain the sometimes almost neurotic reactions against them, but there probably is something to it.
    @AS: Shabana’s the same way–terrified of dogs thanks to a growing up in a setting where the only ones she ever saw were strays on the street.
    @UL: I was almost killed by a German Shepherd at the age of 7. A passing truck driver saved my life. So I used to really hate dogs, but don’t now (though I don’t like having them in the house).
    I too lament how paradoxically Americans’ treatment of pets compares to our treatment of human beings who are low on the totem pole. And in the context of Third World poverty and health problems, the money and energy we put into our pets can really seem decadent and immoral.
    White Muslims do occaisonally get too big for their britches, but I don’t think *legally* changing names really accomplishes much today, and I would like to see “Kweisi” and “Ling” no less than “Bjorn” or “Jean-Pierre” within the community.
    @Taz: True true, but the question is whether the meaning of Christopher has a “bad” meaning in our cultural context.
    @Irving: Thanks for the info. Come to think of it, I remember reading an excerpt of Dr. Nurbaksh’s book in the Sufi magazine published by the Nimatullahis 10-15 years ago.
    @Aaysha: You raise a very interesting point. There are a variety of traditional beliefs that Muslims (and often non-Muslims) subscribed to in premodern times, some of which I think are being revised in light of modern scientific and sociological knowledge. Before you tsk tsk me, ponder how what we’d know call racist notions of and essentialism (e.g., the assumption that the various races has intrinsic qualities and social standing) were woven into the writings of premodern Islamic scholars. We filter those out now because we instictively understand that those ideas arose inevitably out of scientific ignorance of the time. The question I ask–and for me it is an open question–is whether the “Lamarkian” notions of spiritual qualities being inherited are also in need of revision in light of the findings of modern psychology and brain research. Do we still 1) really believe that names by virtue of mere etymology (as opposed to cultural associations) confer specific characteristics, not unlike stars in Astrology, and 2) does questioning these beliefs call into question any core doctrines of our aqida?
    @TM: Interesting point. I’ve always wondered how bear meat tastes, but unfortunately I think it is unanimously considered haram by Muslims scholars. I’ll occasionally bend the rules a bit where I feel there is “darura” (necessity, a principle of Islamic jurisprudence), but I obviously don’t lack for other culinary options living in AMerica.
    I’ve heard of “game dinners” in the South where people cook up all sorts of more exotic rural critters (deer, racoon, bear, fox), but have never been able to attend one.
    @Chris/Khaleel: Thanks for dropping by. I like your approach. I too have long dealt with 2 competing names, having been raised Muslim and having grown up being simultaneously called “Svend” by schoolmates and “mainstream” folks but “Akram” (middle name) by Muslims (mostly friends of the family since I didn’t have many Muslim peers as a kid). Then after college I moved to DC and, for the first time, the two worlds began to overlap (before then, only Muslims knew me as Akram, and for non-Muslims I was always Svend). Used to prefer going by Akram among Muslims, but these days I like reminding people that Islam isn’t an Arab/Arabified-only club. However, I’ve always gone by both, so both are equally valid and dear to me, both describing cherished parts of my identity and background.
    @FF: Well said.
    @Muhammad: Thanks for the link. As I’ve noted a number of times on this blog, I’m anything but a fan of Wahhabism or its thinly veiled contemporary off-shoots. And must say that I worry that Al-Maghrib functions as a Trojan horse, re-injecting (under false pretenses) a discredited paradigm into the spiritual and intellectual bloodstream of North American Islam just we people are finally waking up to how harmful it was.
    I neither know YQ personally nor know much about his work, so I’ll have to leave it at that.

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