Archive for the Books/Magazines Category

The End of America’s Moment? Obama and the Middle East – A Book Review

Posted in Books/Magazines, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2012 by irydhan

Recently I read Fawaz A. Gerges’ latest book, “Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment?” (2012). Gerges is a professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics & Political Science. I must admit, that I was skeptical at first, and did not think there would be anything new, but after reading it, I was shocked to learn some of the insights on US foreign policy over the past almost 70 years since World War II.
Gerges, who also serves as the director of the Middle East Centre at the LSEP, gives valuable historical context from his very detailed research and interviews with top officials in government as well as in the media. He also includes public statements and important behind the scenes information taken from the memoirs of world leaders such as Kissinger, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Netanyahu and many others.
Some items in Gerges book, such as Israel’s influence on US Foreign Policy may be well known to Arabs and Muslims – especially those who live overseas, but many Americans probably do not understand the full breadth of Israel’s strangle hold on the US Congress and the President of the United States.

Read the Rest of the Review Here on Patheos.


“The Qur’an: With or Against the Bible?” – A Book Review

Posted in Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by irydhan

Islam and Muslims have been in the news often over the past 11 years. Ever since the tragic events of Sept. 11th, 2001, the US Media has been fascinated to know what the Qur’an – the holy scriptures of Islam, actually teaches and instructs it’s followers to do. Many Muslims, as well as Non-Muslims, unfairly take quotes from the Qur’an out of context and use them to justify acts of violence, ill treatment of people of other faiths, and oppression of women in Muslim countries. Moreover, many practices by Muslims are viewed as Islamic-only.

For example, many people believe that only the Qur’an requires women to cover their head, but how many people know that the Bible instructs women to cover their heads as well, at least when they are praying?

Read the Rest of the Post Here on Patheos

Zaki Hasan: The Grandmaster of Geekdom

Posted in Activism, Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2011 by irydhan

Originally Posted on ILLUME Magazine.

Zaki Hasan has been a geek all his life, though he’s never felt comfortable admitting it until now. From a childhood steeped in Superman comics and STAR TREK reruns to his current role as a professor of communication & media studies, Zaki has spent much of the last two decades analyzing and evaluating the role of popular culture in shaping and defining our cultural, societal, and spiritual discourse. It’s this realm of ideas that’s central to GEEK WISDOM, the new book he co-authored.

How did you get involved in this project for co-authoring the Geek Wisdom book?

I’ve had an online friendship with the editor, Stephen Segal, for several years through various message boards and common interests, and through that he became a reader of my blog, I think what Stephen glommed onto is that I give equal coverage to society, politics, and pop culture in my writing, and my interests tend to lie where all three intersect. As a matter of fact, two summers ago, at the height of the manufactured “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy that ate up so much media bandwidth and which I had been spending a great deal of time covering and refuting on my site, Stephen sent me a very nice note thanking me for my fortitude in dealing with this story — and the hate it was eliciting — day after day. It wasn’t too long afterwards that he contacted me about working on the book. I feel like, in some small way, it was my coverage of the Park51 story that, directly or indirectly, led to my being included in the lineup for GEEK WISDOM.

What are some of your favorite quotes featured in the book?

There are so many great quotes in this book that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. You can literally just pick it up, flip through it, and find something interesting to ponder on whatever page you land on (which I’m doing right now, as a matter of fact).

Of the ones I didn’t work on, one of my favorites is probably an essay on the quote, “This is an imaginary story. Aren’t they all?” which is a line from a Superman comic from 1986 that wonderfully encompasses the textual and meta-textual knots we tend to tie ourselves in to make fictional stories “matter,” when we should really just appreciate them for the enjoyment they give us. In an age of Trekkies and Twi-hards and Potter-heads, that’s a lesson that could really stand to be learned.

Another essay I really enjoyed was a reflection on “Godwin’s Law,” which states that the longer an online conversation stretches, the greater the likelihood that someone will invoke Hitler — and thus all meaningful interaction has effectively ceased. One need only glance at the comments section under every news story to know how scarily true that is.

Which ones did you select and comment about in the book?

The way we parceled out the quotes was that we started with a pool of around fifty or so, and then the five co-authors (Stephen, myself, Eric San Juan, Genevieve Valentine, and Nora Jemisen) contributed more for the next week or so, which were then whittled down to the roughly-200 that made it in. We got to call “dibs” on whichever quotes we submitted, and the rest were assigned randomly, unless we REALLY wanted to do one.

What was both fun and challenging for me was taking lines from some of my favorite things like STAR WARS (which I did three entries on: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” “The Force will be with you.  Always.” “Fly casual!”), BACK TO THE FUTURE (“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”) and PLANET OF THE APES (“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty ape!”) and trying to find the philosophical wisdom underlying them. What is it saying? What is it trying to say? It was this ongoing process of peeling back the layers, and sometimes having to start over from scratch, that made this experience hugely frustrating and hugely rewarding all at the same time.

In a sense, each of the mini-essays presented different challenges, with the all-encompassing challenge being to say something meaningful about what we’d been given. As you can imagine, some quotes were easier than others to wax philosophic on. It wasn’t hard to find the “meat” (no pun intended) in Charlton Heston’s “Soylent Green is made out of people!” from 1973’s film SOYLENT GREEN, but figuring out what to say about “Oh, boy,” the trademark exclamation of the lead character in TV’s QUANTUM LEAP was a higher hurdle to overcome, as was divining wisdom from TRANSFORMERS’ Optimus Prime when he would say his trademark, “Transform and roll out!”

Another one of the quotes I wrote about is a line said by the character Sayid Jarrah on the TV show LOST, which I happened to have covered extensively in my Master’s Thesis for San Jose State University, which was about the portrayal of Muslims in media post-9/11. In that instance, the struggle was in figuring out how best to encompass the gist of my thesis while somehow boiling 80 pages down to 150 words.

There were some references to religious scriptures such as the Bible, Quran and the Bhagda vita in Geek Wisdom – Does this mean that “Geekdom” is universal and open to people of all faiths and religions (and no religion) even though most of the movies/comics/books featured in the book come from a Judeo-Christian (i.e. Mainstream American) perspective ?

I absolutely believe Geekdom is universal. I’ve long subscribed to the idea that you take your wisdom wherever you find it, and I think we do ourselves a huge disservice by dismissing these cultural artifacts out of hand as inherently devoid of merit simply because they have the word “pop” affixed in front of them. The fact is that our responses to these artifacts — be they film, television books, what-have-you — the resonance we find in them bespeaks their potential worth as, if not sources of wisdom themselves, then certainly as signposts to something bigger and deeper than us.

What do you think of people who put down “Jedi” or “Matrixism”, etc. as their religion on Census forms (Australia, etc.) ?  Is that taking their love of movies/comics too far?  Is there a line one crosses when people are over-zealous fans, etc.?

Well, just on a personal level, stuff like that tends to strike me as a little nutty, and maybe taking things a bit far. On the other hand, the mere fact that people take these fictional worlds/realms/universes seriously enough to do stuff like that highlights not only the important role these fictions have come to play in our societal tapestry, but also the religious/spiritual void that exists in people’s lives, such that they’re seeking answers from a George Lucas or a JK Rowling or whoever.

Do you consider yourself a Geek or a Nerd?  And Why?

Well, as someone who wears an Indiana Jones fedora as a regular part of his ensemble, and who knows far more about the various intricacies of the PLANET OF THE APES film series than I feel comfortable admitting in a public forum, the reflexive answer is yes. As to the why, that’s a harder one to puzzle out. In his book SUPERGODS, author Grant Morrison makes the point that, given the human capacity to weave myths that continue to spin long after their creators have shuffled off this coil — highlighting the immortal nature of the stories and the temporal nature of their creators — one starts to wonder what is the real and what is the imaginary. To some extent, I think that explains why we’re ALL geeks of some stripe or another. Whether that geekery be in service of the many iterations of the STAR TREK franchise, or the latest technological wizardry from Apple — we all have an innate desire to be a part of something that’s bigger than us, something to let us put our own small stamp of ownership on the great, unending stream of human myth-making.

Star Wars: An Islamic Perspective

Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2011 by irydhan

As most “Star Wars” fans know, director George Lucas took spiritual elements, which are common in most major world religions to create his epic saga of good vs. evil.  As a Muslim, I always thought of the “Jedi” as what a true follower of Islam should be like.  Never mind the fact Jedi masters with their North African style cloaks and scruffy beards look like Sufi Sheikhs, but they way they are taught to respect a greater power, fight for the defense of the innocent and honor a code of morals and ethics in order to bring about peace and justice to their society, is basically what Islam teaches all Muslims to strive for.  So what really is the connection between these similar Islamic principles and the fictional “Jedi Order” of the Star Wars saga?

I decided to look into this question more deeply.  What I came across from my research off the internet and talking to other Muslim “Star Wars” fans was not only surprising, but also a bit scary.  For example it was reported in a National Australian magazine that more than 70,000 Australians identified their religion as Jedi, Jedi-Knight, or Jedi-related in the country’s 2001 national census!  Don’t these people realize that the “Jedi” are make-believe?  There may be some truth in fiction, but instead of looking for the truth, people get caught up with the fiction.  In this paper I hope to reveal where some of the truth of the “Jedi” and “Star Wars” comes from: Islam.

Back when “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” first came out, “The Muslim Magazine”  had some interesting pieces on the connections between Islam and the content of the Star Wars films. One was an interview with Dhul-Nun Owen who talks about how George Lucas had contacted members of the “Habibiyyah Sufi Order” in Berkeley, CA in order to do research for “Star Wars.” There was also a piece by Mahmoud Shelton about how Sufi ideas of spiritual chivalry (“futuwwat”) have parallels in the Jedi teachings.

Surfing the internet, I came across an interesting article entitled “Eternal Jihad: The Way of the Mystic-Warrior” from a Sufi website:

“We are at the core a Movement of Jedi; masters of Futuwwat (“the Way of the mystic-warrior”). We encourage adherents to train both physically AND spiritually, for their own personal edification and to enhance their knowledge and abilities in the STRUGGLE. The Real does not lie alone in contemplation, prayer and meditation; nor does it lie alone in action and revolution. Both of these are notions of “one or the other” and Allah is not “one or the other.” “Allah” literally means “the One[ness] which manifests from Nothing.” As we have stressed before, this “Nothing” is not the “lack” of all, but rather, it is Nothing in the sense of Totality of Being, which is symbolized by the numeral zero – this number itself originated with Sufis. Allah is neither the positive alone, nor the negative. Allah is the perfect balance between the two. The direct center of two polarities is always zero, Pure Nothing, from which the Totality, the Tawhid (Unity), the Oneness of ALL becomes manifest. For it is out of zero that all subsequent positive and negative numbers reel. That is Allah.”

Notice the Arabic term “al-Jeddi” (master of the mystic-warrior way) along with another Islamic term not mentioned, “Palawan” (similar to Lucas’ “Padwan” for Jedi apprentice) which were actual titles used by Muslim Knights!

The Force

“The Force” is the common thread between all six movies and is defined as an energy field, which binds all living things together  (i.e. Allah, God, a Supreme Being or Power that most religion’s adherents worship, follow and/or yearn to become a part of).  According to Star Wars mythology, the Jedi “are a noble order of protectors unified by their belief and observance of the Force.”

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars films, has attributed the origins of “The Force” to the film 21-87 (dir. Arthur Lipsett) which used samples from many sources.”One of the audio sources Lipsett sampled for 21-87 [a film that had a great influence on Lucas] was a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and Roman Kroitor , a cinematographer who went on to develop IMAX. In the face of McCulloch’s arguments that living beings are nothing but highly complex machines, Kroitor insists that there is something more: ‘Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”

In Islam, Allah has no image, body or form that humans can imagine or even comprehend.  Allah is a supreme being of positive energy and goodness which was there before time (in the understanding of human beings), and will be there at the end of time.  According to the teachings of Islam, Allah blows his spirit into all living things and thus, we humans are inherently good in nature.  Because human beings have free will to do good or bad, we have the potential to be a medium of positive energy and goodness, or we can succumb to our animal desires (“Nafs” in Arabic) and suppress this inherent goodness we all have inside of us, to do evil instead. This is similar to the description of the Force given by Yoda in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, where he says: “It’s [The Force] energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we…(Yoda pinches Luke’s shoulder)…not this crude matter [Flesh]. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere!”


The “Jedi” study and train under the apprentice-master relationship similar to how many religious students study under a priest or religious scholar until they have learned enough to teach and train the next generation of students. From a Muslim perspective, the similarities between the Jedi and the Islamic traditions of instruction are strikingly similar.  For example a Muslim scholar usually trains under a Sheikh for a number of years before they are given the right or permission (“Ijazah” in Arabic) to professionally teach others about Islam.  “In Islamic Sufism Sheikhs will have “silsilas” that list the chain of teachers going back to the Prophet Muhammad (S). A “silisia” indicates a Sheikh’s lineage of mystical learning from which he draws his spiritual authority.”

Similarly in the “Jedi” tradition of Star Wars, each “Padwan” (apprentice) is taught the same tradition and skills their Jedi masters were taught by their previous masters.  “Star Wars” fans know the lineage of Jedi instruction starting from “Yoda” to “Count Dooku” to “Qui-Gon Jinn” to “Obi Wan Kenobi” to “Anakin Skywalker.”
In the first Star Wars movie, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” Luke Skywalker, like his father, Anakin, live in the desert (The desert planet of “Tatooine” was actually filmed near the real desert town of “Tataouine” in Tunisia).  From among this remote desert area with no roots of a civilized urban society, a “Chosen One” (i.e. a Prophet) arises who brings a hope of peace and justice to their society.  Anakin is the “chosen one” in the latest Star Wars films, and Luke can be considered the “chosen one” from the original Star Wars trilogy.

Similarly, the Prophet of Islam, lived in the desert where there was no true rule of law or justice and people followed the tribal system of blood vengeance.  Prophet Muhammad (S) brought Islam to the Arabs, which completely changed their way of thinking and the way they lived their lives.  Instead of living for the present and for themselves, as Muslims they live for the hereafter and are taught to take care of the poor, orphans, those less fortunate than themselves and to fight for social justice and well being for the whole community.

Thus the Jedi too is taught to be selfless and not selfish like the “Sith” (An ancient order of Force-practitioners devoted to the dark side and determined to destroy the Jedi).  Just as “Yoda” taught young “padwans” not to give into fear and be tempted by the “Dark Side” (i.e. temptations of the devil or “Shaytaan” in Arabic), Muslims are taught not to be attached to the “Dunya” (life in this world) nor to fall prey to the diseases of the heart (jealousy, envy, fear, hatred, etc.) as they lead to evil and sin.

As well known American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf states: “Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. If hearts were sound, these actions would no longer be a reality. So if you want to change our world, do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, change the condition of the inward. Everything we see happening outside of us is in reality coming from the unseen world within. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring.”

The Green One

There is an interesting connection between the Jedi master “Yoda” (a short, green skinned creature first seen in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”) and Islamic traditions.  “Al-Khidr” means “the Green One” in Arabic. Qur’ânic commentators say that al-Khidr is one of the prophets; others refer to him simply as an angel who functions as a guide to those who seek God. And there are yet others who argue for his being a perfect wali meaning the one whom God has taken as a friend.

So in other words “Yoda” (which means “Wise One” in Hebrew) is like an angel or spiritual mentor who guides the young Jedi in the ways of the force and to be strong enough to resist the temptations and evil inclinations of the Sith and other Dark Forces.

In “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”, the Emperor tries to influence Luke Skywalker to give into his feelings of Anger and Hatred (As we all know Luke’s father Anakin, did fall prey to the Emperor’s whispers and joined the Dark Side). Because the Jedi (as Muslim warriors) are taught that one’s intentions in battle must be pure and that it’s wrong to kill out of anger, even when is outwardly justified.

‘Ali (RA) the nephew of the Prophet Muhammad (S), was faced with this situation at the Battle of the Ditch, the noble Imam ‘Ali had knocked an enemy soldier to the ground and was raising his sword to kill him, when the unbeliever spat in his face. Imam ‘Ali at once stood still and refrained from killing his enemy. Hardly able to believe his own eyes, the unbeliever asked: “Why have you spared me, O gracious one?”

To this, the noble ‘Ali replied: “Your property and your life have become sacrosanct to me. I am not authorized to slay you. I can receive permission to kill only in holy combat, in fighting commanded by Allah. Just a few moments ago, I had overcome you in battle, knocked you to the ground and was on the point of slaying you. But when you spat in my face, my selfish anger was aroused against you. If I had killed you, I would have slain you not for Allah’s sake but for my own selfish reason; they would then have called me not a champion warrior, but a murderer. When you spat in my face, my selfish passion threatened to overwhelm me, so instead of striking you with the sword for my own sake I struck my passion for the sake of Allah, Exalted is He. There you have the reason for your escape.” The unbeliever was of course in awe by Ali’s noble character, and immediately accepted Islam and became Muslim.


The Jedi could be considered “Holy Warriors” (or “Mujahideen” in Arabic) as they fight for truth, justice and peace.  They meditate (i.e. “Dhikr” – remembrance of Allah) as much as they can, to become “one with the force”, even in the midst of battle.  Just as in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, the Jedi master, Qui-Gon Jinn (The term “Jinn” in Islam is one of the forces of the “unseen”) begins to meditate in the middle of his battle with “Darth Maul”, while he waits for a force field to go down.

Islamic History is filled with stories of Muslim Warriors who also stop in the heat of the moment of battle to give their prayers to Allah.  Hussein (RA) the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (S) stopped to do his Asr (mid-day prayers) at Karbala.  There is even an account of ‘Ali (RA), known as the “Sword of Light” (light-saber?),  who completed his “Salat” (Arabic for prayers) while he had an arrow stuck in his leg or foot!

“The lack of fear for death exhibited by Jedi Knights Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker (particularly in Episode VI: “Return of the Jedi”) resembles the Muslim warrior’s creed that states that the Muslim loves death more than the un-believer loves life.”

Just as Jedi’s who fight and die in battle are still alive in spirit form, as evidenced with Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: A New Hope and the Phantom Menace, respectively, Muslim warriors who become Shaheed (Martyrs) are not considered dead.  As stated in the Holy Quran:

“And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead.’  Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.  (The Noble Quran, 2:154)”

There are even accounts in Islamic history where noble and pious Muslims, speak to the living from the grave, similar to how Obi Wan Kenobi guides Luke Skywalker from the spirit world after his death.

Hafiz Ibn Kathir writes:

“Zaid ibn Kharjah was one of the pious that talked after his death. When he died and was placed in his coffin, he started to talk and said: ‘I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah and his name Ahmad was mentioned in the previous scriptures (Old Testament and New Testament); and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were two caliphs and now it is Usman’s Government. Four years have passed and there are two years to go and conflicts will come and Muslims will become weak.’ A lot of scholars verify this narration including Imam Bukhari and Imam al-Bayhaqi.3
There is another saying in Islam, which is “Life in this world is Paradise for the Un-believer and a Prison for the Believer.”  Some reasoning behind this saying is that if one puts all their faith in this world (the “Dunya”), then it is very easy to fall off the straight path and be tempted by Satan (i.e. fall prey to the “Dark Side”).
This is shown very clearly in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which is all about the Chosen One’s (Anakin) fall into the dark side.  Lucas, himself stated in an interview that the he chose the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan to be on a planet with flowing molten lava and fire, which represents the fires of Hell.  The ultimate showdown between good and evil.

Anakin falls victim to the dark side because he loves power and the Dunya (as he wanted to have the power to live forever and save his loved ones from death – i.e. his wife from dying during childbirth).  He has excessive anger and arrogance (as he felt he was the most powerful Jedi and no other Jedi was better or stronger than him) and distrust for those who are his righteous guides (as he felt Obi-Wan was jealous of him and thought the Jedi Council was against him, which lead him to follow other sinister forces for guidance).  Lastly he had hatred in his heart (he admitted to hating the “sand people”)!9 Everything that Islam teaches the Muslim to avoid!

The Sand People

The “sand people” or the “Tusken Raiders” could be considered a metaphor of the Arabs and other people of the Middle East, since they live similarly to nomadic Arabs in the desert.  In “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”, the Tusken Raiders kidnap and torture Anakin’s mother, Shimi, which eventually leads to her death.  Anakin then proceeds to kill all the “sand people” in vengeance, and as he told “Padme,” that he “killed all of them [sand people], including the women and children.”  But this did not relieve him of his anger and hatred.

I believe Lucas was trying to make a point about the continuous spewing of hate and evil against the Arab and Muslim people, which has been continuing to get worse and worse in mainstream Television and Films out of Hollywood (i.e. “Executive Decision”, “True Lies”, “The Siege”, etc.) and of course after the attacks of September 11th, 2001 – the cat came out of the bag and many more films, television programs and radio shows started to generalize, stereotype and attack Arabs, Muslims and the religion of Islam. This lead to a lot of hate crimes against anyone that even looks like an Arab or Middle Eastern (including some Non-Muslim Hispanic and Latinos).  Many innocent people, specifically women and children, have been harassed, attacked and sometimes even killed, because of this hate.  CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) received 1,717 complaints of hate crimes and attacks on the civil rights of American Muslims within the first 6 months after Sept. 11th.

This wasn’t the only example of Lucas getting political, since after Episode III debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, many Europeans were saying that Anakin represents Bush and his Neo-Con cohorts currently in power.  One couldn’t help but notice the very overt examples in the last and final installment of the “Star Wars” series.

An example that sticks in my mind is when the Emperor was taking control of the Senate.  Senate Palpatine (aka the Emperor) was calling for war against the “separatists” (i.e. read as “insurgents”, “terrorists”, etc.) and the Jedi, all the while the whole Senate erupted in agreement.  Padme (aka Queen Amadala) then says “..So this is how Liberty ends, with thunderous applause”!

Of course the most obvious example was when Anakin tells Obi-Wan before their final duel, “Either you’re with me, or against me”, which is basically straight out of Bush’s mouth when he said “Either you’re with us [i.e. America], or you’re with the terrorists” immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11.

This reminds me of a very funny take on the whole Bush Inspired U.S. “War on Terror” transposed into “Star Wars” mythology I came across on the web.  Here is an excerpt:

It’s believed that Skywalker [Luke] was specifically trained by infamous terrorist O bin Wankanobi. Wankanobi, occasionally called “Ben” and easily recognized by his bearded visage and long, flowing robes, achieved near-martyr status among the Rebels after his death last year during a spy mission. His more fervent followers believe that Wankanobi lives on within them today, some even claiming to hear his voice during times of duress.

The attack on the Death Star came shortly after the Empire’s destruction of Alderstaan, a planet whose government was known to harbor terrorists. Responding to criticism over the total annihilation of the planet, [Darth] Vader stated, “There is no middle ground in the War on Terror. Those who harbor terrorists are terrorists themselves. Alderaan was issued ample warning. The fight for continuing Freedom is often burdened by terrible cost.”

In other words, the Emperor, Darth Vader and the Empire are equivalent to Bush and Company and Luke Skywalker, the Jedi and the Rebel Alliance are referred to as “terrorists” (or “separatists”, “insurgents”, etc.).

The Jedi Arts

The most popular aspects of the “Star Wars” films are the exciting light-saber duels and swordsmanship (Lucas is an admitted fan of old Samurai films) and martial arts style fighting (which of course originates from the East).  As a former student of “Eskrima Serrada” (Stick and Blade fighting developed by Muslims of the Philippines) myself, I see a lot of similarities in the fast-moving and short-range fighting I studied for about two years, and the “invented” art of the Jedi masters.
When Anakin fights Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) at the beginning of the last “Star Wars” film, at end of the fight, Anakin applies a disarm and cut that is a technique from Eskrima to Count Dooku’s arm. Going back into history, the technical differences between the Japanese/Chinese arts and the Muslim arts of Southeast Asia regions of Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia:  The Muslim arts of “Pentjak Silat” and Eskrima are based on paying attention to the Limb of the attacker and not an immediate strike to the attacker’s head or torso.

Ray Park, who plays “Darth Maul” in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, studied Kung Fu (very similar to the empty hand techniques of Serrada) and Wushu and frequently traveled to Malaysia (a Muslim country) to refine and develop his skills.
The spiritual basis of the Muslim arts of Southeast Asia is very immense. This is the
local Sufi expression of Islam, through martial arts practice, rather than through poetry or music as otherwise done in India and Turkey, etc. Traditional Indonesian/Malay folklore attributes initial design of these arts to Muslim saints in the region of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in the 7th Century. The Silat system is attributed to nine main Wali or saints, also called the Wali Songo in Indonesian language.

Here another example of the Sufi and Jedi connection.  As Jedi’s study the force and train in the “Jedi Arts” under the apprentice-master relationship, so do the Sufis.

“What I term the more Sufi exercises include breathing exercises, means of meditative contemplation, and physical exercises. This last activity is practiced within the Qadiri-Rifai Sufi order through the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat Gerakan Suci. Here is a prime example of the Order’s growth. Extending beyond its originally Turkish character, the Order has adopted a Muslim practice from a far corner of the Islamic world.”


From my brief amount of research and study into the “Star Wars” saga, I found many examples connecting the ideals and principles of Islam to that of the fictional Jedi Order.  Some of the similarities were clearly visible (as with the relations between the Jedi master, apprentice and the Force to that of the Sufi Sheikhs, students and worshipping of Allah), while others were a bit more hidden and surprising finds (such as the term “Jeddi” and “Palawan” for Muslim knights and the story of “al-Khidr” – the green spiritual guru which has an uncanny resemblance to the Jedi Spiritual master “Yoda”)!

Even though Lucas himself is not a follower of any specific religion, he has used elements of Islam (as well as other world religions) to convey the universal understandings of good and evil.  Combining that common thread of humanity with a futuristic space-age setting and exciting martial arts swordsmanship, came a creation that has inspired many, no matter their race, religion or culture.  There is something about the “Star Wars” saga that everyone can relate to and enjoy.  And I hope that those people who are searching for a “truth” within the mythology of “Star Wars”, will look a little deeper behind the fiction and find Al-Islam: A true way of life which emphasizes peace, justice and brotherhood for all humanity.

Irfan Rydhan

Note:  I Originally wrote this in 2005.  It has been published in Q-News (UK), and an updated version was published on ILLUME magazine’s website  in 2008.  Here is the direct link:

Pakistani-American Playhouse Breaks New Ground

Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by irydhan



Imran S. Javaid and Imran W. Sheikh, two young Pakistani-American Muslims, started “Parwaz Playhouse” – the first major Pakistani Theatre Company in the Fall of 2009.  ILLUME caught up with them as they prepare for their latest production – an adaption of Eugene O’Neill’s “Beyond the Horizon”, which will begin performing to audiences on Feb. 25, 2011 in New York City

How did you come up with the idea to start a Pakistani-American Theatre company, and how did you come up with the name “Parwaz Playhouse”?

We both were working on the play “The Domestic Crusaders” by Wajahat Ali, when it was running in New York in Sept of 2009.  While we were doing the rehearsals, I looked around and realized that we are all enjoying what we are doing and why can’t we keep this going and do more productions that focus on brown people like us.  I discussed it with Imran Javaid, who is also a playwright, and he agreed it was a good idea.  We also discussed it with Wajahat, who said we should go for it.  So while working on the Domestic Crusaders, every night we started planning out how to start a theater company, what type of plays we would do, etc.

In terms of the name, I have always been of fan of Rod Serling’s “Playhouse 90”, so I knew I wanted Playhouse in the name of our theater company.  Although we are both Pakistani and wanted to do stories on Pakistan and Pakistani-Americans, we didn’t want to limit ourselves with a name like “Pakistani Playhouse.”  My mother suggested the Urdu word “Parwaz” (meaning “a bird’s first flight”), because it was used a lot by Alama Iqbal (famous Pakistani poet) in many of his ghazzals (urdu poetry).

What was the reaction of your family and friends when you started a Theatre Company for Pakistani-Americans?

IWS: There was a mixed reaction, but majority was positive.  We received many wishes well in support.  Everyone knows that there is a lot of negative images of Pakistanis and Muslims out there, so we feel it is our job to try to get through the negativity and show us as human beings.  Theater is the study of the human condition.  It’s a visual media and that is a key to be able to show American society who we are.  We are giving a voice to our community and people understand that and are supporting us.

Usually there is a negative reaction when someone from our community (Pakistani) goes into a non-traditional field, something outside of medicine, engineering, etc.  But if you study most civilizations, you will see that they start off with agriculture and then once they are settled in, they start getting into the arts.  When our parents came here to this country, it was an alien landscape for them.  They had to sacrifice and basically just work, sleep and take care of the kids.  They stayed in traditional and conservative fields just to survive.  But now it is up to our generation to go into the arts – acting and also politics and other different fields.  We have the luxury to do that now, after our parents sacrificed for us.
Tell us a little about your first production called “Glass”

ISJ: Glass is a 30 minute play I wrote and directed.  We performed it at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in November 2009.  It takes place in a newsroom in a country very similar to Pakistan.  A bombing happens outside and the play is basically about the role of the newspaper during a time of violence and how an editor and star reporter work together to cover the story.  A government minister also visits the newsroom and we see the interaction between government and media.

IWS: The play was also selected for the Downtown Urban Theater Festival in April of 2010 and was one of only 3 performances to sell out to the point where people were turned away during the festival’s  two week run.

Tell us about your latest production, “Beyond the Horizon” and how you adapted it for Pakistanis

ISJ: We chose to do an adaption of “Beyond the Horizon” because it is considered to be one of the first major American tragedies and we thought it would be great as our first full length play for the first Pakistani-American Theatre company.  The original play was written in the 1910’s about a family of Irish descent that lives on a farm.  A farmer has two sons – one who wants to leave the farm and see what’s out in the world and the other who wants to stay on the farm.  And they are also both in love with the same girl.  It’s a 3 act play that shows different time periods in the family’s life and how things don’t go as planned.  It’s a tragedy, and won the Pulitzer in 1920.

Our adaption of the story takes place in 1960’s Pakistan.  We set the play in a village near Karachi.  It also deals with a family that is struggling with how to deal with some members wanting to leave the country and others wanting to stay – basically it is the story of our parent’s generation and how they left Pakistan, leaving many of their family and friends behind.  The love story is still there.  We stayed pretty close to O’Neill’s original story, though we did end up cutting out four of the ten characters so we could pare it down to about 90 minutes from 2 hours and 45 minutes.

What are some of your goals with this play and ultimately with your theatre company?

IWS: We wanted to show our parent’s experience with this story.  Give a window to the public, both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis, so people can see who we are.  Give a voice to our community.  One of our goals is to encourage more Pakistanis to enter the arts.

ISJ: There are a lot of talented people in our community and we want to create a forum to allow all that talent to flourish.  There are set designers, costume designers, actors, etc.  Art is a great unifier which can bring all these talented people together.  We also want to make bridges to other communities.

IWS: But, at the end of the day, we’re out to produce good and entertaining theatre.  Our ultimate goal is to have an actual brick and mortar building.  But we know that is way down the road.  Right now we are honored to put our play on at Theater for the New City in New York.  They liked our work and they have supported many famous playwrights and actors over the years, so we are very honored to be able to work there.

Rizwan Manji: Taking Jobs From White America

Posted in Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by irydhan

I interviewed actor Rizwan Manji from NBC’s “Outsourced” for ILLUME Magazine (
He talked about what its like to be Muslim in Hollywood and the importance of  ‘good Muslim’ roles.

How did you get the part of Rajiv Gidwani on NBC’s “Outsourced” ?

I was sent the script for the Pilot and thought it was hilarious.  As an Indian, I could relate to some of the characters who share the same culture as me, and this was the first time that I have heard of a major TV sitcom about South Asian culture.  I initially was called in to audition for the role of Gupta (played by Parvesh Cheena) and did not get the role, but after the producers could not find a suitable actor for the role of Rajiv, they called me in again and I got the part.

Many people who watched the pilot episode, felt the show was filled with too many stereotypes and was not really a funny show.  How do you respond?

The pilot episode was basically a quick introduction to all the eight main characters.  We basically have 22 minutes to introduce each person and you don’t really have much time to go into that much detail of each character.  It is a pretty standard set-up as most TV sitcoms and if you have seen other shows such as Friends, etc. you will see that in the beginning they quickly introduce each character and you see how each character is on the surface (i.e. so and so is the dumb character, etc.).  The main goal of any sitcom is to entertain and establish an audience who is willing to come back to watch again.

Will the TV show go into the different religions of the characters or stay focused on the culture of India?

Currently there is one call center worker, Samina, who is a Muslim women who wears Hijab (played by a Non-Muslim) and she does interact with my character (my character is Hindu) in a future episode, but at this point in time the TV series is not focusing on religion and when references are made it is mostly the Hindu religion.

As a Muslim of South Asian descent, you are familiar with the tradition of parents limiting their children’s field of study to medicine or engineering.  How did your parents react to your decision to get into acting and were they supportive of you?

I was pretty lucky, because my family was very supportive of me.  At first my parents did not really understand why I wanted to be an actor and also how I would be able to make a living out of it, since they came from a background, like most South Asian parents, of leaving their homeland (Tanzania), going to another country (Canada) and working hard to allow their children to go to a good university so they can become a doctor or lawyer, etc.  My parents never told me no for acting, but they did encourage me to go to school and get a degree as a back-up plan.  I did go to school in Alberta for one year, but afterwards decided that I want to study acting at the “American Musical and Dramatic Academy” in the United States.  It was difficult to get in and also I didn’t have any money to pay for tuition, so I obviously had to ask my parents for help.  I thank my sister, who really was able to sit down with my parents and convince them that this is what I really wanted to do.  Now, my father is really excited about the whole acting thing and whenever he spots an opportunity for a South Asian role, he tells me to apply for it and kinda acts like my manager!

As a Muslim, do you think it is important for more Muslims to get involved with acting in TV and Films?

Definitely.  Muslims need to be involved and active.  TV is watched all over the world, especially TV which is produced here in America.  It is the most visible platform we have now.  If majority of the world sees only evil Muslim characters and roles on TV, that is detrimental to everyone, not just Muslims.  There needs to be a greater presence of Muslims on TV.

Were you offered any negative roles in terms of portrayal of Muslims and how did you respond?

Yes, I received many offers which portrayed Muslims in the stereotypical manner of just killing someone and yelling something in Arabic.  I turned down many of these roles.   But some of them I did debate whether to take them or not.  For example, I was offered several roles to be a terrorist  on the series “24”, which I turned down, but in the last season, they had several characters who were “good guy” Muslims (such as Anil Kapoor’s character).  So when I was offered a job to play a small role of a bad guy, I accepted it, since I saw that a major character was portraying a “good brown Muslim person”, so it wasn’t a one sided thing, where all the muslim characters are bad.  But I do struggle with these roles and turn down something if it makes me feel uncomfortable.

What advice do you have for young Muslims who are interested in becoming actors?

If it’s your passion, then go for it.  But don’t think that you will become rich quick.  It’s a struggle and is not easy work.  I have been working in this business for 15 years now, and had to do a lot of side jobs along the way.  There is very little money in the beginning.  But if you like it and have a passion for it, then do it!

ILLUME Media Seminar: Digital Journalism in the Age of Multi-Media Story Telling

Posted in Activism, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2010 by irydhan

ILLUME magazine in assocation with the South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA) Media Committee, CAIR-SFBA, and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (ICCNC) present a special 2 -day In-Depth workshop for students of Media and Journalism as well as others who are interested in learning the art and techniques of professional story telling in the Digital Age.  The weekend seminar will take place on April 17th and 18th, 2010 in the S.F. Bay Area.  There is also a FREE panel discussion on the Importance of Local Media Activism with Several Muslim Media Professionals (see below for details) which will be held at SBIA Downtown Center on Friday April 16th from 7pm to 9pm.

Students who take the weekend seminar (April 17th-18th, 2010) will learn:

  • Understanding the different mediums: print vs broadcast vs web
  • Effective news writing & storytelling
  • Pre-production and script writing
  • Interview techniques
  • The different styles and approaches
  • The “Five Elements of News Production”
  • Basic Camera operation
  • How to Light the Perfect Interview
  • Getting the right Coverage
  • Understanding Audio
  • Selecting the correct mics
  • Hands-on DV & HDV Camera use and tips
  • How to shoot an Interview
  • DV Editing with Final Cut Pro
  • Editing techniques and styles
  • Understanding rendering and nesting using FCP
  • Exporting out of Final Cut Pro
  • How to make DVDs, Overview of DVD studio Pro Basics and iDVD
  • Entitled: “Digital Journalism in the Age of Multi-Media Story Telling” the seminar will be taught by

    Farzad W, Executive Producer of 14th Road Productions. Farzad is an Emmy award-winning director with more than 10 years of production and teaching experience.He has directed and edited more than a dozen independent videos & documentaries, and produced more than 400 interactive media applications for publishers and businesses. His scholarly works have been published internationally while his films have been screened locally and overseas. Marquis Who’s Who in America of 2010 selected Farzad Wafapoor as one of 95,000 of America’s “most noteworthy people”.Farzad earned his Master’s degree in Mass Media from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Additional Instruction will also be provided by:

    Muhammad Sajid, Editor-in-Chief of ILLUME 
    Muhammad Sajid is an award-winning journalist and graphic designer. He received an Edward R. Murrow award and has been named the Society of Professional Journalist 2004 Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year. He worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years before switching to broadcast. Muhammad Sajid received a BA in Journalism and a second BA in Graphic Design from San Francisco State University. He is currently pursuing a JD.

    Anser Hassan, Executive Producer of ILLUME 
    Anser has worked both on-air and behind the scenes at several news stations across the country, including ABC, CBS, and CNN. His career began at CTV30, an award-winning cable station in the San Francisco Bay Area. There he was a reporter and news anchor, plus hosted two of his own shows. He also reported for the New York Times broadcast division at WQAD-TV. He has also reported at KRON4-TV/Channel 4 in San Francisco. Currently, he is an assignment editor at CBS5/Channel 5 in San Francisco. He was recognized as an up and coming reporter from the national branch of the Asian American Journalist Association, being featured on the “Men of AAJA DVD.” He was also the recipient of the national New York Times Reporter Trainee award and selected into the prestigious New York Times L.E.A.P. program, a company wide leadership program. Anser is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of San Francisco State University, with degrees in TV/Radio News and International Relations, with a Middle East regional concentration and an emphasis on Islamic political movements and Islamic feminism.

    The costs for the seminar is $25.00 for Students (ID Required) and $75 for Professionals before April 16th and $50 Students/$100 Professionals afterwards.

    For more information and/or to register for the class click here.

    Media Panel (FREE Admittance on Friday April 16th, 2010) Topic: “The Importance of Local Media Activism

    Panel Speakers:

    Wajahat Ali is a playwright, journalist, attorney, humorist and consultant. His play, “The Domestic Crusaders”, is one of the first major plays about the American Muslim experience originally premiering at the Thrust Stage of the Tony award winning Berkeley Repertory Theater to universal acclaim in 2005 and making its New York premiere on 9-11-09 at the world famous Nuyorican Theater.  He is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Counterpunch and Chowk.

    Farzad W is an Emmy award-winning director with more than 10 years of production and teaching experience. He has directed and edited more than a dozen independent videos & documentaries, and produced more than 400 interactive media applications for publishers and businesses. His scholarly works have been published internationally while his films have been screened locally and overseas. Marquis Who’s Who in America of 2010 selected Farzad Wafapoor as one of 95,000 of America’s “most noteworthy people”. Farzad earned his Master’s degree in Mass Media from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Carma Hassan is a journalist and story planning editor with a KTVU Ch. 2 News in Oakland, CA.  She is actively working to bring a stronger Muslim presence to mainstream media. 

    Javed Ali is the founder and publisher of the world-class, award-winning media organization, ILLUME. He is a seasoned technology expert and entrepreneur, who previously founded Digital Pad in 2003, a technology consulting company. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Network and Communications Management and consults with non-profits in the areas of media and technology.

    Anser Hassan has worked both on-air and behind the scenes at several news stations across the country, including ABC, CBS, and CNN. His career began at CTV30, an award-winning cable station in the San Francisco Bay Area. There he was a reporter and news anchor, plus hosted two of his own shows. He also reported for the New York Times broadcast division at WQAD-TV. He has also reported at KRON4-TV/Channel 4 in San Francisco. Currently, he is an assignment editor at CBS5/Channel 5 in San Francisco.

    Panel Moderator:
    Irfan Rydhan is a “Multi-Media” Activist who lives in the Bay Area. His background includes non-profit management, film/video production and graphic art/design. He is co-founder of “Jam-Productions: An International Video/Film Company” and Executive Producer of “The Muslim Round Table Television Show” which currently airs on Comcast Ch. 15 in San Jose and streams live on Sundays at 12:30pm on  He is one of the founding members of the SBIA Media Committee, which conducts training programs and classes on how to effectively interact with the media in it’s coverage of issues relating to Islam and Muslims. Read his blog about Architecture, Islamic Art and Media Activism: Al Mihrab: The Place of War