Eid-ul-Adha Mubarak!

Salaam everyone!

Just wanted to wish you all a very happy Eid-ul-Adha!  May this be a blessed time for you and your Loved ones.  May Allah’s infinite blessings fill your hearts on this special day and always bring you happiness!

Eid-ul-Adha, commonly translated as “Festival of the Sacrifice,” is an important Islamic holiday that commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) upon God’s command. As Ibrahim was about to cut his son’s neck, God intervened to replace Ismail with a sheep to sacrifice instead.  Muslims around the world remember Ibrahim’s act of Faith by sacrificing an animal and distributing the meat to family, neighbors, and those in need.  Eid-ul-Adha also marks the completion of the Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

I remember watching the horribly racist, anti-Iranian propaganda movie “Not Without My Daughter” in my high school “world history” class (the genius teacher apparently thought that showing us a film that demonized Iranians and Muslims would give us an accurate understanding of Islam, Muslims, and Iran). One in scene particular involved a group of Iranians sacrificing a lamb and the reaction from the non-Muslim characters is disgust and horror. The Iranian husband/father (race-bent and played by Alfred Molina), who goes from friendly, “integrated” Iranian Muslim American to abusive, misogynistic, Iranian Muslim villain (because, you know, he’s getting in touch with his roots when he goes back to Iran), explains to his white wife (played by Sally Field) and daughter that the sacrifice is tradition, but the way in which the scene is shot and edited (along with the gloomy music), Iranian/Muslim bodies are clearly marked with Otherness. I remember feeling very uncomfortable in the room because all of my classmates knew I was Muslim and I could feel their eyes darting to me during this scene (and by the end of the movie, they looked at me like I had a raging Alfred Molina waiting to be unleashed from deep within).

The scene sets up the demonization of Iranians and Muslims that permeates throughout the rest of the film.  The point is to characterize Iranians/Muslims as backwards and uncivilized peoples with a savage culture. I remember being self-conscious of this whenever I’d have to explain to non-Muslim friends and peers about Eid-ul-Adha. Because it’s not about savagery, bloodshed, or scaring off children. As Sumbul Ali-Karamali explains in her book, “The Muslim Next Door,” meat becomes halal (permissible) when the animal is killed by “cutting the jugular vein, outside the presence of other animals, and after saying a prayer over (the animal), which evinces the intention of eating it and not killing it for any other purpose.”  All of the blood must be drained from the animal’s body as well.  According to Islamic law (Sharia), the point of sacrificing an animal in this manner is to minimize pain. As Ali-Karamali adds, “Torturing an animal renders it no longer halal.”

The holiday is about sacrifice, but also about Divine Love and Faith.  Ibrahim’s Faith in God is what leads him to make the decision to sacrifice his son, no matter how much it troubled him.  The spiritual message of Eid-ul-Adha, particularly about the relationship between Reason and Revelation, is quite significant. That is, Ibrahim was requested by God to defy his intellect, to defy reason and take the life of his own son.  It does not make sense to kill your own son and furthermore, murder is prohibited in Islam.  Yet Ibrahim made the sacrifice to express his Love for God, and in turn, God intervened to save Ismail.

There is a common Sufi theme that joy comes after sorrow.  I always saw this as a reference to the Qur’anic verses, “After hardship, there is ease.” This is evident in Ibrahim’s story.  Today, there is so much struggle in the world and it’s important to recognize all of the different experiences people have based upon the oppressive forces that exist in our societies.  By no means do I ever want to appropriate the experiences of people who have or are enduring pain and suffering that I cannot even begin to imagine. I think understanding our privileges and building social justice movements based on mutual accountability and reciprocity are not just important, but also very integral to the message of Islam. The Qur’an’s message of diversity, for example, emphasizes on getting to know one another, which includes understanding our differences.  As the verse reads: “People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another.” (49:13)

It’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed by the injustices in the world.  For a while now, I have been turned off by privileged people constantly saying, “Come on, think positively!” or “Why do you have to be so negative?!” as if you’ve committed a heinous crime in being human.  I don’t believe in silencing voices or making judgment calls on people who are sharing real and serious experiences with injustice.  Because we are human, we need to be there for each other. We need to be supportive, we need to make efforts to understand, we need to let go our egos and practice humility.  This is a Love that is conscious, compassionate, reciprocal and non-judgmental.  And this kind of Love is needed because to Love others is to Love God.  When Ibrahim was commanded to sacrifice his son, he consulted his son for consent first.  This act alone shows how much Ibrahim Loved his son, and in turn, Ismail shows his Love for Ibrahim and God by agreeing to it.  What we see here is the relationship between Ishq-e-Majazi (earthly Love, or Love for creation) and Ishq-e-Haqiqi (Divine Love, or Love for God).  As many Sufis have taught, one of the ways in which Love is expressed for God is through Love of others. Within the context of Ibrahim and Ismail, their Love for each other was also tied to their Love for God, which led them to witnessing the beauty and blessings of Divine Love.

Amidst the struggles all of us have here, there are efforts being made for justice, for healing,  for peace.  For Love. These efforts will always be there, no matter what the odds are.  It is the reminder of the Divine promise that, yes, “after hardship, there is ease,” that keeps the spirit of resistance strong.

Eid Mubarak. 🙂

Update: Be sure to read The Fatal Feminist’s post on “Eid al-Adha: Commemorating a Dismantling of Patriarchy.”  I especially like the point she makes about Ibrahim asking Ismail for consent and how that was an anti-patriarchal act.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

prince of persia

This post has been cross-posted on Racialicious.

If you’re having trouble trying to figure out what’s wrong with this newly revealed poster for Disney’s upcoming film, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” it may help if I pointed out that the title character is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. In other words, the prince of Persia is not played by a Persian/Iranian. Big surprise, huh?

Why is this a big deal? Well, considering that negative perceptions of Middle-Easterners and/or Muslims have increased since 9/11 (and haven’t gotten better according to statistics and civil rights incidents reported by CAIR), a relatively anticipated film like “Prince of Persia” would seem like the perfect opportunity to help break stereotypes and misconceptions about Middle-Easterners. The film is based on a very popular video game of the same title, which allows you to play the role of a Persian prince who has to save his kingdom (or world) from a time-altered reality. I remember playing the game when it was released in 2003 and even though it’s filled with Orientalist stereotypes, I always felt the story and character depictions could be tweaked into a mainstream film with serious potential (and by that, I mean a film with an actual story, real character development, and appreciation for the culture it intends to represent).

Unfortunately, Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t the only White actor playing a Middle-Eastern character. Gemma Arterton, who plays Tamina, the film’s version of Farah, an Indian character from the video game, is also White. Ben Kingsley is also cast as a Persian character, and while he is of half-Indian descent, many Iranians recall how poorly he played an Iranian father in “House of Sand and Fog.” The best part (sarcasm) is that Alfred Molina will play a Persian again after his abusive and oppressive Iranian husband role in the 1991 propaganda film, “Not Without My Daughter”! As a user on IMDB commented: “Tamina = Indian / Gemma Arterton= White; What the hell is going on?”

Yeah, so what is going on? It’s not like Iranian actors and actresses are non-existent. A simple explanation may come from the fact that the film is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the Hollywood producer of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and other successful mega-hit blockbusters. It seems like he wanted to play it “safe” since casting real Persians/Iranians would supposedly jeopardize the film’s box office success. In other words, Bruckheimer is more concerned about raking in the dough than conveying important messages about a community that he’s representing (read: exploiting) in his latest B-movie.

It’s important to note that this has happened before. Remember the animated film, “Sinbad and the Seven Seas” released by Dreamworks in 2003? The legend of Sinbad, an Arab sailor, is a classic Arabian Nights tale which the animated film distanced itself from in the most direct way possible. In his article, “Why Hollywood Drew a Veil Over Sinbad’s Arab Roots,” Sean Clarke writes:

…[I]n this version, Sinbad is from Syracuse (in Sicily, as opposed to New York State). The love of his life, Marina, is a noblewoman of Thebes. His estranged best friend is Proteus, the son of King Daimas, and his most dangerous enemy is Eris, the goddess of chaos. Every Arab reference has been removed, and replaced with something vaguely Greek.

Jack G. Shaheen, the author of “Reel Bad Arabs,” added:

This was an ideal opportunity to shatter some stereotypes about Arab and Muslim villains. When I spoke to Jeffrey Katzenberg – a visionary producer – I asked him to include some reference to Arabs or Arab culture. He didn’t seem surprised that I mentioned it, which presumably means that it was discussed early on in the development of the film.

I think maybe they decided to play it safe, not to ruffle any feathers by having neither Arab heroes nor Arab villains. Basically they’re out to make as much money as possible, and I think they were worried that if they took a risk on an Arab hero they might have suffered at the box office…”

The same argument can be made about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” where a Middle-Eastern man, Jesus (peace be upon him), was played by a White American actor, Jim Caviezel. As William Rivers Pitt wrote in his article, “‘The Passion’ of the Americans,” putting a “white Jesus Christ to the cross on film will generate a far more emotional response from the American viewing public than the crucifixion of a savior who actually looks like he is from the Middle East.”  Similarly, it seems that Hollywood filmmakers don’t believe an American audience can connect with “Prince of Persia” if the main character, God forbid, was actually played by an Iranian/Persian actor!

There isn’t any doubt in my mind that concerns were raised about “Prince of Persia” among many Hollywood producers since Iran is (wrongly) labeled an “existential” and “nuclear threat” to Israel. As with the Sinbad animated film, it seems that authentic Persian history, facts, and roots are going to be ignored in favor of Hollywood’s own Orientalized and exocitized version of the Middle-East — one in which brown people are played by White actors. It’s an extremely offensive and insulting modern form of Blackface which says only White people can play central Middle-Eastern characters.

Hollywood’s ethnocentrism shines shamelessly again.