Muhammad Ali: watch and learn

In today’s lesson where students had to decide who is the biggest hero, Mother Teresa or Muhammad Ali, the latter was a clear winner. Below are some documentaries and films which will provide you with a heaps of information and inspiration from the great man himself.

  • Muhammad Ali – The Whole Story (1996): This is a six hour series which covers the whole of Muhammad Ali’s life.
  • When We Were Kings (1996): I watched this for the first time at University as part of  a film festival and the documentary transfixes you with the heat and passion of boxing. It covers the infamous 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. The focus is, naturally enough, the aging Ali, who was thought at the time to have little chance of beating Foreman yet his ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy –pretending to be in more trouble than you actually are, and cunningly wearing your opponent down in the process – proves devastating.
  • Ali (2001): Will Smith who is most famous for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Men in Black stars in this biopic that chronicles ten years in the life of Cassius Clay, from 1964, when he took the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, to 1974 and the Rumble In The Jungle with George Foreman. In between, there are the wider issues of Ali’s controversial opposition to the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, his conversion to Islam, his banishment from boxing and his initial return against Joe Frazier.
  • The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013): This is an American PBS documentary which focuses on Ali’s life outside the ring. A lot of times is given of course to his refusal of the Vietnam draft and the legal and professional problems it caused him (he faced prison, was stripped of his heavyweight title and had his boxing licence suspended for four years).
  • I am Ali (2013): This documentary is just about Ali as a man. There isn’t the focus on Ali as a boxer like other films or documentaries. It shows him as a warm-hearted family man through lots of  audio recordings Ali himself  in the ‘70s.

muhammad ali

Other short clips about Ali are worth watching to learn more about this hero:

  1. BBC News reporting on his death
  2. Inside Story by Al-Jazeera
  3. Muhammad Ali Obituary by the New York Times
  4. The last US President Obama gives a tribute to Ali 
  5. BBC Sports Personality of the Century

muh quote

Why we need to know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims for a GCSE

A few weeks back you heard the President of the USA criticise Iran for supporting terrorism, whilst he was standing in Saudi Arabia.

Then this week after a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic State killed 17 innocent civilians in Iran, President Trump’s sent both his condolences: “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” and these additional comments: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” You can imagine how Iran felt about this latter comment.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted: “Repugnant WH (White House) statement … as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients.”

This is where what we learn in GCSE Religious Studies comes in handy in making sense of all this. It is so important that when you read about world politics you are aware of the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam.  The Sunni jihadis of Isis (Islamic State) consider Shia Iran to be apostates (a defection or revolt against the true Islam), and Iran is deeply involved in fighting the group in both Syria and Iraq. To make things trickier for Iran they have a sizeable Sunni population along their restive borders with Iraq and Pakistan, and it is from here that Isis is hoping to recruit. Understanding the Syrian Civil War also needs you to know about Sunni and Shia Muslims, as Newsround tried to explain.

sunni and shia

Ramadan – a time of fasting as well as devotion through prayer and giving to the needy

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan, when Muslims over the age of puberty fast during daylight hours, is a time for people of the Islamic faith to show gratitude to Allah, devote time to prayer, ask Allah for forgiveness and read the Qur’an as well as help those people in needy.

If you don’t know much about Ramadan perhaps you should start with the absolute basics on PBS; moving on to the Daily Telegraph’s summary of Ramadan (though strangely they have extra information about the Eid Ul Adha festival which is after Hajj rather than Eid Ul Fitr which is after Ramadan); and then perhaps ending with the iWonder review of Ramadan from 2016 or the BBC schools page.

I really like this highway code from Australia about Ramadan:

Ramadhaan-highway-Code-Dos-And-Donts

Dhikr is saying Allah’s divine names, verses from the Qur’an, or sayings of the Prophet in order to glorify Allah.

Duda is calling out and conversing with God, so in everyday English we might say it is prayer.

Today an Imam from London travelled to London Bridge and Borough Market where the terrorist attack had taken place on Saturday evening to “show solidarity” to Londoners who suffered and lost their lives in the attack. Imam Abdul Arif, 27, from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said “I’m a Londoner, I came here because it happened to my home city and it happened in the name of my religion. I came to show solidarity and to show it’s not in my name.” He was breaking fast and finishing his evening prayer as part of Ramadan when he heard the news of the attack.

“Ramadan is a time when you should be worshiping and serving humanity more than ever and these people perpetrated such a crime. My hope is that everybody is united and show the individuals who want to divide us they won’t be successful.”

Pogba performs Umrah in Makkah to say ‘thank you’

Paul Pogba the French footballer who plays for Manchester United posted the following photo to his 15 million Instagram followers with the caption: “Most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life 🕋🙏🏾

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He is wearing the ihram – a simple set of clothing consisting of two un-stitched sheets, with the Ka’bah behind him. The Ihram demonstrates that we are all equal before God no matter how rich or famous one may be.

Pogba also sent a tweet wishing everyone a “happy Ramadan”.  Out in Makkah he is attending Umrah, a non-compulsary Muslim pilgrimage. During Umrah, pilgrims do not go to Mina, Arafaat and Muzdalifah or throw pebbles on the Jamrahs (stone pillars representing devils) or offer animal sacrifice which we would know from Hajj. These rites are only performed during Hajj. Pogba is reported to have visited Makkah at least once before, when he performed the Hajj, a journey every healthy adult Muslim who can afford it is supposed to make at least once in their lives. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam:

five pillarsThe 24-year-old became the most expensive footballer in history last summer, after Manchester United paid Juventus a reported £89m fee. Last Wednesday, he lifted the Europa League cup after Manchester United beat Ajax in the final in Stockholm. Here he is on the right with his team-mate Fellaini a Belgian international.

pogba

It is no surprise that Pogba was in awe of the Ka’bah behind him.

The Ka’bah is a huge black stone structure that sits at the heart of the Grand Mosque, Islam’s most sacred place of worship. When Muslims pray as part of Salat they face the Ka’bah from wherever they are in the world. Some of its parts are connected to important episodes in Islamic tradition. On the eastern corner of the Ka’bah, to the left of the door, is the Black Stone, which according to Muslim tradition fell from heaven at the time of Adam and Eve. During Hajj pilgrims try to kiss the stone, emulating the kiss the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have placed on it.

kabah

The cube-shaped structure is roughly 15 metres high, and it is about 10 by 14 metres at its base. Constructed of gray stone and marble, it is oriented so that its corners roughly correspond to the points of the compass. The interior contains nothing but the three pillars supporting the roof and a number of suspended silver and gold lamps.The Ka’bah is covered with the Kiswa which is a black brocade cloth. The Muslim declaration of faith, as well as Qu’ranic verses, are embroidered on it. A new Kiswa is made every year.

Why wear a black headscarf to visit the Pope but not a hijab when visiting Saudi royalty?

At first glance it seems odd that Melania Trump (a Christian) and Ivanka Trump (converted to Judaism) would both wear black and also have black lace headscarves to visit the Catholic Pope in the Vatican Rome, but would a few days previously not wear any headscarves in Muslim Saudi Arabia. It might appear that they are going out of their way to be incredibly respectful to the religious beliefs of Catholicism and less so to Islam.

wearing black

But first appearances are not always completely what they seem. Female foreign dignitaries such as politicians or royalty are not required to cover their heads when they visit the Saudi Arabia- only Saudi nationals are. Meanwhile the Vatican (where the Pope lives) did speak of a dress protocol to Mrs Trump’s office at the White House, but no such requests had been made by Saudi Arabia. The Vatican website lays out some of the rules: modest dress, with your shoulders covered, for those attending a Papal Audience – especially if indoors. In fact women visiting sometimes wear deep lace mantillas to just a black veil. When the Queen went to see the Pope when as a young woman, she dressed up like the Spanish infanta, even though she is a Protestant Head of State.

Apparently Melania Trump, President Trump of the USA’s wife, asked the Pope to bless her rosary beads.

How_to_Pray_the_Rosary  praying-beads

 

The Sunni-Shia Divide

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In the new AQA GCSE Religious Studies our students have to know more than just ‘Muslims believe…’ or ‘Muslims do…’ for their exam paper about Islam and instead need to be specific about the different types of Muslims and their specific beliefs. So in class we often refer to Sunni and Shia Muslims, and we try to specify when their beliefs and practises are different.

the roots

sunni-shiite

The Council on Foreign Relations has a really interesting set of articles about the Sunni-Shia Divide which outlines the origins of the schism; modern tensions; practising the faith; sectarian militants and flash points.

Looking at the articles though I was left wondering who the Council on Foreign Relations were; we all need to check where our facts and knowledge are coming from, especially in 2017, when the media is so full of bias and fake news.

Interestingly the Council started in 1921 in the USA and has had all sorts of members from past presidents, media owners, Federal Judges and ambassadors. Below are its founding members:

about_cfr_founders

 

On its website it says it is ‘an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher’.

Council_on_Foreign_Relations

We always need to check our source of information especially when there is so much politics involved in Religion.

sunnis shia Iraq

Tariq Ramadan, Oxford academic, says Muslims should reform their minds

An extended interview in the Guardian with Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan provides fresh debate about the state of Islam and whether it should adapt to modern society.

o-tariq-ramadan-facebook

Ten Things You Thought You Knew about Islam is the catchy name of the appendix of Ramadan’s new books where he states his beliefs about Islam’s need to change…

Ramadan explains that Sharia is a guide to ethics, not simply a legal code. Corporal and capital punishments are the result of a “brutal and literalist” application of it and should be suspended. His approach to gay people seems to be love the sinner, hate the sin – a conservative one in the context of very recent progress in the west, but hardly incompatible with life here, as millions of traditional Christians demonstrate. Islam considers modest dress for men and women an obligation, although not an essential one. Ramadan wants Muslims, particularly western ones, to think of themselves as absolutely part of modern society, and to push it in the direction of human rights and equality of opportunity. He is clearly frustrated by the reduction of his faith into questions of hijab or homosexuality by non-Muslims.

Let’s just clarify what Sharia Law is. It comes from a combination of sources including the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book), the Hadith (sayings and conduct of the prophet Muhammad) and fatwas (the rulings of Islamic scholars). People often hear of the gory elements of Shar’iah when severe punishments like having your hand chopped off for stealing are spoken about. Students doing about crime and punishment for the RS GCSE will need to know something about Shar’iah.