Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Slavery & Polygamy

About a week ago I went to a lecture by Margot Badran, a prominent Islamic scholar who teaches at Georgetown.  The lecture was about the future of Islamic feminism, and she brought up a really interesting point.  She pointed out that before, scholars would try and tackle polygamy in the Qur'an using linguistic tools to prove that the Qur'an was saying polygamy is not allowed. Now there has been a shift, with many scholars instead arguing that yes, the Qur'an does permit polygamy - but does that mean we should practice it?

Fazlur Rahman points out that slavery is also permitted in the Qur'an, yet most Muslims today do not accept slavery and wouldn't dream of allowing it again. He says we should be applying this same logic to polygamy: yes, it existed then, and yes, the Qur'an permitted it (after severely limiting it), but it is an outdated practice that needs to be abolished, like slavery.

Now I know many Muslims will make the argument that in certain situations polygamy benefits society: but is that the case for the majority of Muslims today? No. And what about the countless women who get abused through this system? Some men have good intentions when they take another wife - for example, if the woman is destitute. But many have bad intentions.  Should we allow a system like this to continue if so many women are getting negatively affected, even if it does benefit some?

So far Tunisia is the only country to ban polygamy.  Whenever the prospect of banning it is brought up in Islamic countries/communities, there is always an outcry - usually from the men. The argument is that you can't ban something that God has allowed. But then what about slavery?

What do you think of this argument? Is it convincing?
And what do you think about Tunisia banning it?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dress Codes

Do you think there is ever a legitimate reason for a man to harass a woman? Here in Cairo where women often get sexually harassed, the first question they are asked afterwards is usually "what were you wearing?" I can't tell you how much this annoys me. Why does it matter what she was wearing? Why isn't the first question "what has happened to our men for them to harass women like that?" or "did you report him" or even "are you okay"?

In my opinion, even a woman wearing a bikini or walking naked should not be blamed for getting harassed. We all have to wear long, shapeless clothing now apparently, and if we don't then we are "asking for it".  I remember a cab driver in Cairo once saying that any girl who is not veiled deserves to get raped. When we have opinions like that, we're in trouble.

Why is it always the woman who gets blamed? It's always about what she was wearing or how she was walking. It's never about how so many Muslim men now think it's okay to harass women. I should think THAT would be a bigger issue.  I completely agree with Asma Barlas when she writes,

"By defining women's morality and safety in terms of their own dress codes, conservatives are legitimizing the kind of pathologies that are leading men to murder unveiled women in the name of Islam. How can Muslim men, if they are living by the Qur'an's injunctions, feel free to kill or assault women; and how can we reconcile religious vigilantism with the irreducibly voluntary nature of faith and of moral responsibility in Islam?"

This is such an important question: how do Muslim men legitimize sexual harassment? By blaming the woman. But still, does that really convince them? It seems like an absurd argument to me. Also, does that give women the right to harass men who don't cover? I mean, the Qur'an enjoins modesty on BOTH genders. But I'm pretty sure if woman started killing men who didn't dress modestly we would hear a huge outcry.

A few years ago this poster came out:

It translates as "you can't stop them, but you can protect yourself." I don't even know where to start with this ridiculous message. It reminds me of that Australian sheikh who said that unveiled women are like raw meat that will inevitably attract flies.

As Muslims we should focus less on what the woman is wearing and more on the lack of morals and decency found among a growing number of Muslim men.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Asma Barlas & Believing Women in Islam

Asma Barlas is one of the most prominent "Islamic feminists" today. I just began reading her book "Believing Women in Islam" and so far it is amazing! I wanted to quote the following:

"I read the Qur'an as a "believing woman", to borrow the term from the Qur'an itself.  This means that I do not question its ontological status as Divine Speech or the claim that God speaks, both of which Muslims hold to be true.

"I do, however, question the legitimacy of its patriarchal readings, and I do this on the basis of a distinction in Muslim theology between what God says and what we understand God to be saying. In the latter context, I am especially interested in querying the claim, implicit in confusing the Qur'an with its patriarchal exegesis, that only males, and conservative males at that, know what God really means. It is this claim that I believe underwrites sexual oppression in Muslim societies and therefore needs to be contested."

Do you think that a general belief exists among Muslims that only men can know what God means? Do you believe this?

If not, then why have so few women interpreters existed?

Do you think people often confuse the Qur'an itself with it's tafsir/interpretation?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moderates Vs. Puritans

I recently read "The Great Theft" by Khaled Abou El-Fadl, and I have to say it is the best book I have ever read. He is amazing. Fabulous. Revolutionary. I can't believe I didn't read him before.

His main argument in the book is that puritans have stolen Islam and that moderates are losing the battle. He gives various arguments for this, all of which I agree with. The book is depressing on the one hand because it shows how Islam is slowly becoming more and more puritanical, and that less and less Muslims are thinking about inner spirituality. It's uplifting on the other hand, because there are so few moderate sheikhs out there that it's always inspirational to find one.

"It is believed by moderates that God rewards those who search for the Divine Will, even if they ultimately reach the wrong conclusions. It would make little sense for God to reward the effort if all God expects of us on most matters is blind obedience."

What do you guys think of this?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Back Home!

So last week I got back to Cairo for a holiday. I was looking forward to it so much that I was sure I would be disappointed. But I've been having the time of my life! It was so nice seeing family, friends, and my cats. I missed my house, my room, my Starbucks, and my gym. All I can think about right now is that I don't want to go back to Holland.

When I left Cairo 6 months ago, I was 100% sure I would love Holland and never come back to Egypt. Egypt was frustrating to the point of it being unbearable. But once I left, I realized that there are so many good things about Egypt too. The people are warm, friendly, talkative. The adaan. The weather. The fact that I had a really nice life here. Holland is nice, but more in terms of material things. The people are very polite but not warm. It takes a while to make friends, and even then, there are strong walls between people.

I know I have to go back, but I'm dreading that day :(

I spent the last 3 days in Dahab, a small city in Sinai by the sea, with some friends. It was very relaxing and I loved it! We saw St. Katherine's, the monastery with the burning bush that is one of Egypt's main tourist attractions.  Some pics:



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Female Circumcision & Islam (Part 2)

I started out the last post by asking whether female circumcision is Islamic. The responses I got leaned mostly towards "no". However, there were some interesting points that were brought up.

1. There are different types of FC, and some people believe that "Islamic" FC is not harmful and can actually be beneficial, whereas the types of FC practiced today are harmful.

2. The hadith seem to contradict each other and contradict reports from the time of the Prophet. What to do in a case like this, when it is not mentioned in the Qur'an?

3. The Prophet did not circumcise his daughters.

4. Where is the line between judging other cultures from our own ethnocentric point of view, and condemning human rights violations? What constitute human rights violations?

5. If something potentially harmful is advocated by the hadith and was practiced by the companions (but not mentioned in the Qur'an) should we accept it without any reservations?

Thanks to everyone that commented, I loved reading your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Female Circumcision - is it Islamic?

Around 2-3 million girls are circumcised each year, especially in Northern Africa. 

The WHO distinguishes among four types of genital mutilation:

    * Type I, or "clitorectomy": Excision of the skin surrounding the clitoris with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris
    * Type II, or "excision": Removal of the entire clitoris and part or all of the labia minora
    * Type III, or "infibulation": Removal of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching together of the vaginal orifice, leaving only a small opening
    * Type IV: Various other practices, including pricking, piercing, incision and tearing of the clitoris.

One out of every three girls dies as a result of infibulation, also known as pharaonic mutilation.

Many families circumcise their daughters because they believe it to be an Islamic requirement. But is it?

The Hadith related to female circumcision (that I could find):

"When two circumcised parts unite then bathing becomes obligatory." (Sahih, Reported by Ahmad and Al-Baihaqee)

The saying of the Messenger (SAW) in the Hadith of Umm ‘Atiyyah to a female circumcision:

"When you circumcise then do not cut severely, since that is better for her and more pleasing to the husband." (Reported by Abu Dawud and Al-Baihaqee and declared Hasan by Shaikh Al-Albani).

"Circumcision is Sunnah for men, a noble action for women" (Related by Ahmad & al-Bayhaq).

Scholars who approve of these Hadith claim that they are simply recommending circumcision, not saying it is required.

At a conference in Cairo in 2006 both Sheikh Tantawi and al-Qaradawi confirmed that the practice was un-Islamic. Every doctor at the conference agreed that there is no medical justification for female circumcision. The Grand Mufti of Egypt signed the resolution condemning the practice the next day.

One argument is that God has created us and thus we do not have the right to mutilate our bodies. Another is that in Islam husband and wife are supposed to fulfill each other sexually, almost impossible for a man to do if the woman has been circumcised.

In 2007 a debate was aired on al-Arabiyya between Egyptian Al-Azhar University scholars Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mussayar and Sheikh Mahmoud Ashur. 

Ashur said: “Female circumcision is a traditional custom, and not a religious act. All the hadiths dealing with female circumcision are unreliable. Moreover, the hadith cited by those who support circumcision calls to refrain from it more than it calls to perform it.”

Al-Mussayar said: "All the jurisprudents, since the advent of Islam and for 14 centuries or more, are in consensus that female circumcision is permitted by Islam. But they were divided with regard to its status in shari'a. Some said that female circumcision is required by shari'a, just like male circumcision. Some said this is the mainstream practice, while others said it is a noble act. But throughout the history of Islam, nobody has ever said that performing female circumcision is a crime. There has been a religious ruling on this for 14 centuries."

Interesting! I didn’t know about this. If this is the case, what does it mean? That as Muslims we can’t condemn the practice?
Ashur responded with: "In the days of Jahiliya [i.e. the pre-Islamic period] and in the early days of Islam, a man whose mother carried out this custom was scorned by people who called him 'you son of a clitoris cutter.' This proves that it was never part of the religion of Islam.”

Al-Mussayar responded with: “"First of all, there are reliable hadiths in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim which support female circumcision. The Prophet Muhammad said: 'If a circumcised woman and man have intercourse, they must undergo ablution.' Unreliable hadiths do not cancel out the reliable ones. People would curse one another by saying: 'You son of a clit woman' - the son of a non-circumcised woman. ”

So they have different versions - one says a woman who wasn’t circumcised was an embarrassment, the other says a circumcised woman was an embarrassment.

Al-Mussayar then argues: "Some sources said: 'Reduce, but do not remove.' In other words, it is neither about removing the organ, nor about leaving it. It is a trustworthy Muslim doctor who makes the decision. She decides whether the girl needs it or not. We do not obligate every girl to undergo circumcision. We say it should be left up to the doctor, and she can evaluate the case and determine whether the girl needs circumcision or not."

Ashur responds with: "If it is left up to the doctor, then it is a custom and not part of the religion."

I found this debate very interesting. If al-Mussayar is right and there are reliable hadith about this, what does it mean in terms of the campaign against FC? Do we have the right to demand that the practice ends? I did find his notion that a doctor should decide strange: like Ashur said, if it is up to the doctor, then it isn’t really Islamic. I think al-Mussayar’s point in the end is that although FC is not required, it is either recommended or allowed. This negates the argument of many Muslims (and Westerners) that FC is not an Islamic practice.

Once again a controversial issue comes down to whether or not the hadith relating to it are reliable.

What do you all think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Feminism's Bad Rep?

"I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."  Rebecca West

I have a question for anyone reading: why does feminism have such a negative reputation, especially in Islamic cirlces?

When someone says "feminism", what do you think? What is your gut reaction?

When someone says they are a feminist, what do you then think of them?

Do you think it is possible to be a feminist and be Muslim?

I have lots of opinions on this but I really want to hear what other people think, because I find it interesting that "feminism" has become such a negative thing these days, and I really want to understand why.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ramblings about an Islamic State & Nostalgia about the Cairo of the 50s...

For one of my classes, the Sociology of Religion, we had to choose an article about religious movements for the class to read, and I chose the preface of Gilles Kepel's book "Muslim Extremism in Egypt". It gives an overview of when, how and why the trend of Islamic extremism began. During the class discussion, I began thinking about whether having an Islamic state is viable.

Personally, I'm definitely against it. Who gets to interpret Islam in an Islamic state? What if they are very orthodox or fundamentalist (like the Muslim Brotherhood)? What does that mean for moderate and liberal Muslims, for non-Muslims, and for foreign policy?

Also, what do you think of Iran? Is it a success or a failure, or in between? Or is it too soon to tell? Iran after all is an Islamic state.

Then again, so is Saudi, and I would definitely call that a failure.

In terms of Egypt, I just don't see it as viable at all. The Muslim Brotherhood have so far been pretty vague about their specific plans for what to do if they get power. The only things they have explictly said is that the president will have to be a Muslim man.  I wonder what will happen to the large Christian population. Will they become a protected minority, like at the time of the Prophet (pbuh), and does this conform with modern ideas of complete equality between citizens, since they will have to pay jizya (a tax for protection)? Will this status even be respected, since we all know that laws are one thing and their application another? Will they in reality be pressured to convert or leave, or suffer even more abuse and discrimination than they already do?

All of this is making me nostalgic for the Egypt of 50 years ago, when (so I've heard and read) diversity was celebrated, when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side, when Egyptians were more concerned with a balance between inner and outward forms of piety, as opposed to the modern obsession of outward signs of religiosity.

Cairo sounded like the most beautiful city back then. It still is beautiful, but it is also stressful, unbearable, and full of tension and anxiety.

I know this post is a bit all over the place, but I just wanted to get some thoughts out there...

I still don't have an internet connection at my new place, so sorry that I haven't been commenting on all your blogs/my blog as much...soon i'A!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

"I Love You with Two Loves"

 Hey everyone! I just moved to my new apartment, so things have been pretty hectic! I love it here though, so it's all good.

Anyways, I just wanted to post this piece of writing about God, which I found beautiful. It is from Rabi'ah al-Adawiyah, one of the most famous Sufis in history. She says,

"I love You with two loves, a love of passion
And a love prompted by your worthiness of that.
As for the love of passion,
It consists in occupying myself with remembering You and no one else.
And as for the love of which You are worthy,
It consists in Your lifting the veils, so that I may see You.
However, mine is not the merit in this or that,
But Yours is the merit in this and that."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Prophet and the Sacred Earth

So, my amazingly talented friend Omnia recently started a website to try and promote environmentalism in Egypt (and we all know how Egypt needs it!). Sure she used to annoy all of us with the constant talk about "saving the earth" and "buying organic" and blah blah blah, and we all incessantly complain about it, but I'm actually very impressed with her drive, determination, and skill, especially towards this website. The site is called eco-options Egypt and you can check it out here: ecooptionsegypt.

I just wrote an article for it about the Prophet and the environment. Would love to hear what you all think! Here it is:

“And remember how He made you inheritors after the ‘Ad people and gave you habitations in the land: you build for yourselves palaces and castles in open plains, and carve out homes in mountains; so bring to remembrance the benefits you have received from Allah, and refrain from evil and mischief on the Earth.”
Al-Qur’an 7:741

There is no doubt that the Prophet Muhammad was a man ahead of his time.  He believed that men and women deserved the same value and respect; that animals should be treated kindly and not abused; that children should be loved and taken care of; and that the elderly deserved great respect and reverence.
Just as importantly, he believed in the sanctity and importance of the environment, and saw the immense power and beauty that can be found in nature. “The Prophet was a staunch advocate of environmental protection. One could say he was an “environmentalist avant la lettre”, a pioneer in the domain of conservation, sustainable development and resource management, one who constantly sought to maintain a harmonious balance between man and nature”2.  There is also no doubt that the Qur’an places great emphasis on the earth and nature. The earth is mentioned more than 450 times in the Qur’an3, and God has instructed humans that we are to take care of it.

The Prophet believed that all of God’s creations are equal, and to abuse any of them is a sin. This includes abusing the environment.  The Arabs at the time already knew of the importance of treating the environment well: they knew that if they abused it, they would in turn suffer. Man wasn’t trying to overpower nature, but rather understood that benefit came from working together with nature. Prophet Muhammad managed to add an extra dimension to this attitude, by focusing on how the beauty of nature is proof of God’s existence, and how every living thing deserves respect.

One well-known saying of the Prophet is the following: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it”.  This eloquent reminder clearly shows how important the environment is to God. Even if doomsday is upon us, we should stop and plant a tree if we are holding a shoot. Another saying goes “If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation.” This shows the Prophet’s concern towards animals. Similarly, his saying “If someone plants a tree, he will receive merit as long as the tree bears fruit” shows how beneficial taking care of our surrounding can be to us in terms of religious benefits.

During battle, the Prophet used to remind his men not to cut down any trees unnecessarily, and to limit any damage to the environment. He also admonished the killing of animals and the burning of crops. This was something new to 7th century Arabia, and even modern warfare is wholly unconcerned with environmental damages.

The concept of “dry wudu” also shows the sacred side of the earth. If one is unable to perform wudu (cleaning before prayer) due to lack of water, one can use dry dirt instead.  The Prophet was alleged to have said, “The earth has been created for me as a mosque and as a means of purification.

“The Prophet gave the necessary importance to cleanliness in the environment and he stated that it should begin with body cleanliness; that houses, streets, and public places like mosques should be kept clean; that water sources should not be polluted; that not only people, but animals should not be bothered by pollution”4.  If Egyptians followed these guidelines, we would be living in a much cleaner environment. Having clean streets, pure water sources and unpolluted air would benefit all of God’s creatures, and both God and the Prophet encouraged this.

Water in particular is given special importance in the Qur’an and Hadith. “We made from water every living thing,” (21:30).  One way the Prophet saved water was by creating haram zones near water sources. Another way was by advocating careful use of water, even if there was enough of it.  For example, he recommended that people do wudu no more than three times, even if near a source of water. A final way was by forbidding urination in water2.

I will conclude with the following Hadith, cited by Bukhari, to remind us all the benefits of taking care of and cultivating the environment: “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense].”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Abortion in Islam

I just finished reading an interesting article that gives an overview of the different Islamic viewpoints on abortion.  The Qur'an details seven stages a baby goes through while in the womb: clay; a drop of sperm; sperm turns into a clot of congealed blood; then a fetus; then bones and flesh; and finally another creature (23:12-14).

In the debates about abortion, the idea of ensoulment is key: once the fetus has a soul, it can no longer be aborted (unless for therapeutic reasons, which I will talk about later). Before ensoulment, there are varying opinions as to whether the baby can be aborted: some say it is fine, some say it is allowed but reprehensible, and some say it is not allowed.  The Qur'an does not give a time frame for when the soul enters the fetus, so scholars look to the hadith. However, there are conflicting hadiths: some say it happens after 40 days, some 45, some 120.

Therapeutic abortion means abortion in the case of danger to the mother. If the pregnancy will kill the mother, an abortion is allowed. However, some add other reasons as well, such as a danger to the physical/mental health of the mother; if the mother is suckling another infant and the new pregnancy may cause her milk to dry up (this was later disproved by science); and if the woman was raped.

The Malikite school has historically been the most open to abortion, claiming abortion is allowed before ensoulment, with or without a valid reason. Some scholars within the school, however, say that is is reprehensible but becomes lawful if there is a valid reason.

The Shafi'is allow abortion before 40 or 42 days, but see it as makruh, or reprehensible. Al-Ghazzali believed that even an abortion before ensoulment was taking the life of a being. However, as the fetus passes through the 7 stages mentioned in the Qur'an, the crime becomes more serious. Thus aborting the fetus after ensoulment, for example, is worse than aborting it at the time of conception.

The Hanbalis allow abortion before 40 or 120 days, and the Hanbalis, who are the strictest school when it comes to abortion, do not even allow it in the first 40 days.

Interestingly, if a woman has an abortion to save her honour (e.g. if she has been raped), then her punishment will be decreased in most countries.

Most scholars allow abortion in the case of rape or incest, but only before ensoulment.

I personally agree with the Hanafi school - abortion before ensoulment is fine, especially with a valid reason, whereas afterward it should only be allowed for therapeutic reasons. However, I would include rape/incest as a reason for therapeutic abortion, as some scholars have done. I think if a woman is pregnant because of rape or incest, she should have the right to abort. I hate the fact that many women have no choice but to marry their rapists to avoid stigma. Seriously, a woman gets raped AND also suffers after that. Sigh.

What does everyone think about these opinions? What is your opinion? Which school/scholars do you agree with?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Finally, a positive Muslim-Jewish story

This story made me smile:

Virginia synagogue doubles as mosque for Ramadan

"The building is a synagogue on a tree-lined street in suburban Virginia, but for the past few weeks – during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – it has also been doubling daily as a mosque. Synagogue members suggested their building after hearing the Muslim congregation was looking to rent a place for overflow crowds."

I read it on this site.

Finally a positive story of cooperation between Muslims and Jews. After living in Cairo for 5 years, I've heard the weirdest conspiracy theories against Jews. They literally get blamed for every single problem (even though most Egyptians have never met a Jew). I think it's about time people start seeing the difference between Jews and Zionists. Anyway, this story really made me happy!

Also, a Starbucks is opening near me! YAY!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Intimate Connection to God

 One of my classes this semester is Religion & Spirituality in Europe. Are Europeans becoming less religious? Does the fact that fewer and fewer people go to church mean anything? How many people still believe in God? So far, we've found that actually the majority of Dutch people do believe in God, but are simply detaching themselves from religious institutions like the Church. A new type of religiosity is forming, that includes aspects of new-age spirituality for example. Religion now seems to be much more personal & private.

A comment during one class struck me. Someone mentioned that for many Dutch people (and probably other Europeans too), God is not something they think about a lot. Maybe once a while one may spend some time thinking about life, God, death, etc, but it is not a conscious every-day experience. This made me realize how it is the opposite for me, as a Muslim. A large part of my day is spent either thinking about God, or worshiping him - consciously and unconsciously.

There is, of course, prayer. But aside from that, I find that God is always on my mind, or at least somewhere in the back of my mind.  Every decision I take involves thinking about what God would think, whether it was right, whether it is sunnah, etc. So in effect, God-related thoughts are often in my head.

This is truly one of my favourite things about Islam. There is a constant connection between you & God. And this connection is very beneficial for society in general. If I'm in a rush and all I want to do is push the slow-walking people in front of me but I refrain from doing so because I know it's wrong and God wouldn't be very happy about it, I'm doing something good. Of course we should all we doing these things anyway - if something is wrong I shouldn't do it, without having to use God's displeasure as another reason. But realistically, there are many small things I'm tempted to do every day (even though I know they're wrong) and I usually refrain because I know God wouldn't be happy.

This personal relationship is amazing. It strikes me as being so much better (for us humans) than a relationship with a distant deity that I only stop and think about once in a while, or during the "big moments". These small moments make up life, and by thinking of God during them, I'm ensuring that God is a constant part of my life. It also means that I'm constantly realizing things that I'm not sure of the Islamic position on, and this encourages me to find them out and thus acquire more knowledge.

"But we are nearer to him than his jugular vein." 50:16

Friday, October 23, 2009


I just read this amazing hadith over at Marzuki's blog:

“O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from incapacity, from sloth, from cowardice, from miserliness, decrepitude and from torment of the grave. O Allah, grant to my soul the sense of righteousness and purify it, for Thou art the Best Purifier thereof. Thou art the Protecting friend thereof, and Guardian thereof. O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from the knowledge which does not benefit, from the heart that does not entertain the fear (of Allah), from the soul that does not feel contented and the supplication that is not responded.”
Source: Sahih Muslim

 Tears came to my eyes. Masha'Allah.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Watershed Post

So this is one of those “watershed” posts that took me a while to write, and that really comes from deep down. I hope that everyone can spare some time to read it, and I would love comments, advice, criticism, and discussion. Insha’Allah. And I hope you like the new layout! It was designed by one of the most amazing people I know. Thanks AC.

I just began reading “On Being a Muslim” by Farid Esack, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Islam, particularly post-modern Islam. It is such an inspiring book! Not only did it make me get emotional several times, but it changed the way I saw this blog. I realized that more often than not, I blog about the negatives in Islam, because those are the things that occupy me the most. To me, Islam is such a perfect religion and the Qur’an is such a perfect text, that it really bothers me when people twist what is in it. But what’s the point? What am I changing or accomplishing by only writing about the negative aspects of Muslims and Islam? Wouldn’t it be better for others, and for me, to blog about the multitude of beautiful and inspirational things to be found in Islam?

Yes! So i’A from now on, there will be more positive thoughts. Of course I’ll still vent and rant every now and then (let’s face it, we Muslims are facing a lot of problems) but I also want to write about things in Islam that make me happy and inspire me.

Since this is my last post before I start “blogging-positively”, I have one final rant.

Farid Esack is definitely a feminist, and I love this the most about him. In 1997 he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to be head of the Gender Commission in South Africa. His chapter “on being with the gendered other” is phenomenal, despite the fact that it was very hard for me to swallow. This part in particular: “How do women seeking gender justice really derive support and inspiration from a tradition whose icons are either all men or isolated women who inevitably draw their “legitimacy” from their relationship to males: wife, daughter, narrator of traditions, mother of a prophet. Is there really any place for gender justice within a theology rooted in a seemingly ahistorical and stable text such as the Qur’an, which is inescapably patriarchal?” Esack also points out that the Qur’an for the most part, appears to address men.

There are times when I wonder whether there is a “women problem” in Islam at all, or whether I am blowing it out of proportion. Most of the time, though, I know there is a huge problem, and that we need to deal with it.

“There are many sensitive women who simply cannot, with any self-respect, live alongside the idea of a God who reduces them to half of men. For them, and for the men who identify with them, it thus is very much a question of faith, and a very personal and deeply held one too.”

He managed to sum up, in one paragraph, what I have been trying to say on this blog since I started it. He also points out that we cannot go on pretending that the only injustice done to women is by Muslim men. Rather, there are also problems with the Shari’ah. “While in a few areas of life Islamic legal thinking has kept up with human progress and produced new insights, in many others, including gender justice, it hasn’t. The religious landlords among us - all male - have aborted the process set in motion by the Prophet: we have betrayed the prophetic injunction of justice and equality for all of Allah’s people.”

On women preaching in mosques (a la Amina Wadud), he quoted this Christian minister:

“I refuse to preach in a church which does not allow women to preach there. In effect, they are telling me that I am OK because of something between my legs which women do not have and, frankly, I do not think that that is enough reason for me to qualify to preach!”

The day I hear a sheikh (especially an Arab one) say this, is the day I know that we are going somewhere. Esack writes,

“We need to ask what exactly it is that we are afraid of; is it really women speaking in mosques? Is it the loss of our own faith at the hands of “modernists”, the uncertainty as to where all of these “new ideas” will lead? Is it the loss of power that we as males exercise over women? Is it the loss of authority that we as religious leaders exercise over people? Is it our own sense of masculinity that is being threatened? If it is, then is it not more rewarding to look deep into ourselves and personal histories and study this hunger for power, this desire for authority and our own deep-seated sexual insecurity?”

Another subject he wrote about was the idea that Muslims should not befriend Jews or Christians, or non-Muslims in general. He gave this touching example:

“In South Africa there are a number of Muslims who have spent various periods in prison with Nelson Mandela, who comes from a Methodist background. Can these Muslims simply ignore the Qur’anic text that says “Do not take the Jews and the Christians as your friends; they are friends unto each other” (5:51)? If they want to remain Muslims and at the same time remain true to the experience of a shared comradeship in the jails of apartheid then they have seriously to rethink many things connected to this text. What is the context of this verse within the rest of the text? What is the context of its revelation? Who were the specific Jews and Christians referred to in this verse? Under what historical circumstances was this revealed? What are the different meanings of awliya (allies)? What is the sense of this verse in the light of other such verses and how do they qualify or amplify each other? What does this verse mean in the light of the basic spirit of the Qur’an which is one of justice and compassion?"

To me, believing that we cannot interact with non-Muslims means that we are reducing our complex identities to just being “Muslim” and nothing else. What about my identity as a woman, as a student, as Egyptian, as Dutch, as Zambian, as a sister, as a daughter? Should I cut all of that out if it involves interacting with non-Muslims? My mother is not Muslim, some of my best friends are not Muslim, many of my professors are not Muslim, and about 95% of Holland is not Muslim. What does that mean for me? I’m sorry, but I cannot and will not reduce myself to such a narrow interpretation of the Qur’an, because it does not seem logical to me that God would want me to reduce my identity to being only one thing. Like Tariq Ramadan said in his debate with Hirsi, “don’t reduce me to being only a Muslim.”

The questions above that are in bold are key for me. I think if we use them to understand the Qur’an in general, then we can probably reach a better and more enlightened understanding of the text than if we just believe whatever the ulama say. The ulama have a role, but so do we. And I think those questions will especially help me tackle the gender aspects of the Qur’an, especially those regarding polygamy, “beating”, inheritance, and bearing witness.

“You should really visit our area the next time you come. You’d be delighted to know how alive Islam is there; you won’t find a single woman on our streets!” Esack’s guide in Uzbekistan.

“We are terrified of our own weakness. Most of us feel so terribly inadequate as persons that we require another species to feel superior to. It is, of course, unfashionable, at least in public, to feel superior to the Blacks, the Berbers, the Bushies, the Pathans, the Miabhais or the Kashmiris. Thank heavens, women will always be around! (If not, we’ll always have the Jews to fall back on of course.) Unable to assume responsibility for our vulnerabilities, we blame women and they end up carrying the burden of both their own fall - after being pushed by us - and our fall.

And then we say that women are the weaker sex?” Farid Esack (my new hero!)

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Few Thoughts...

  • I'm still missing Cairo and wondering if this will ever end. Was it really arrogant of me to assume that even after I built my life there I could leave and build a new one somewhere else? Obviously it's not that easy. Family can't be replaced, who knows if I'll ever find amazing friends like I had in Cairo again, and there is no Starbucks near me. It gets really depressing at times, and at other times it's more bearable. I hope I made the right decision by coming here, and that it's just taking some time to settle in. Does anyone have any experience with this? And any advice?

  • I found the most amazing book today, "The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures". I think I might spend the next few weeks locked up in my apartment reading the 6 volumes. Wow! Everything I could ever want to know in one title. The volume I borrowed today is called "Practices, Interpretations, and Representations", and each section is written by a different author. The encyclopedia is edited by Suad Joseph (whom I love) and every single prominent Islamic scholar who writes on women is in there. Yay!

  • A lot of people have been talking about Sheikh al-Azhar claiming that niqab is un-Islamic. Whether this is the case or not, this is yet another example of women being told what they can and can't wear. This argument has been put forward by many pro-niqab Muslims, and I agree with it. I wonder, however, whether these Muslims would also defend a woman's right to wear a mini-skirt? If a law banning mini-skirts was proposed, would these people also get upset about it, since it would also be infringing on a woman's right to choose what to wear? When one uses that argument, it should apply to all cases, not only to cases that one agrees with.

  • Why exactly did Obama win a Nobel? What has he done?

  • I was very impressed and inspired by this post. Thank God there are other Muslims who see Islam the way I do. I think I agree with every single thing he writes!

  • My friend Aynur blogged about this book. "Questioning the Veil" by Marnia Lazreg. I read the introduction and ordered the book right away. The veil is definitely one of the aspects of Islam & Women that I'm most interested in, and unfortunately no one has really written much about it lately. I'A this book will be amazing.

  • Isn't this an adorable picture? I love it!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fazlur Rahman and his Ideas about Islam

I recently finished a paper comparing Fazlur Rahman's book "Islam" to Malise Ruthven's book "Islam in the World", and I became fascinated by Rahman's writings. When I first began reading about Islam, I was really turned off by traditionalist and literalist scholars. It has taken me more than two years, but I've finally found an Islamic scholar whose work is really inspiring, and seems to embody the kind of Islam I find in the Qur'an.
"Rahman set himself free from traditional Qur'anic interpretation in his effort to render the Message accessible to his contemporaries. Rahman "lamented the loss of this resource to most Muslims for whom it is lost beneath benign neglect, taboolike reverence, or traditional commentary which focuses on the intricacies of grammatical and rhetorical points and views each verse atomistically."

"Rahman considered the Qur'an a major source of Islamic law but NOT the lawbook of Islam. There is a big difference - regarding the Qur'an as a lawbook limits its scope and application and overlooks its flexibility and its dynamism."

"Rahman's critique focuses on how the Qur'an and Hadith were misconstrued by Muslim scholars in medieval times, made into rigid and inflexible guides - for all time, as it were - and not recognized as the products of their own times and circumstances."

This is it people! This is my main belief when it comes to Islam - the context mattered! Why so few scholars/ulama/Muslims are willing to believe this baffles me.

"Rahman shows how the Qur'an and Hadith became embedded in a rigid, static system of interpretation and jurisprudence. This led to the challenge for Muslims in modern times either to turn away from those sources if they would prosper or to acquiesce to an essentially medieval worldview with an archaic, unworkable religious-legal system that thwarts progress and full participation in the modern world."

Could this be the central problem for Muslim societies today? Why are almost all Islamic countries lagging behind in science, technology, education, the arts? Why are so many Muslims being forced to choose between being modern and being a "Muslim"? Why on earth do we have some ulama actually saying TV, science, and critical thought are "haram"? Honestly, how will Islamic societies EVER regain any kind of dignity in the world of science, the arts, and literature unless we Muslims begin to be more critical? How did Muslims go from being the leaders in science and intellectualism to being the main proponents of anti-modernism? Why does modernity conflict with Islam anyway?

"Muslims have a choice between secularism or an outmoded system, unless and until they return to the Qur'an and interpret it by understanding much of its content as general moral-ethical guidance and prescription and not rigid law. The Qur'an can and must be liberated from its prison of commentary and law and applied in fresh ways and with flexible principles to new realities."

It does annoy me when non-Muslims make negative and Islamophobic judgments about Islam and Muslims. However, sometimes I ask myself whether we can really blame them completely. Not all Muslim men marry girls younger than 10, but some do. Not all Muslim women believe men are better than them, but many do. Not all Islamic scholars are against science, debate, or ijtihad - but TOO many are. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists and literalists, but the Taliban, the Wahhabis, and many others, are. For every Muslim that is genitally mutilated, for every Muslim who marries an 8-year old girl, and for every Muslim that claims all non-Muslims must be killed, we can find a sheikh, scholar or member of the ulama who endorses that view. This is a problem. And I really don't feel enough Muslims are standing up to it.

I'm tired of feeling like I have to choose between being a Muslim or being modern, or between being a Muslim and being happy. And I am definitely tired of feeling like I have to defend Islam to non-Muslims AND defend my Islam to Muslims.

"Without the believers' intellectual exertion (ijtihad) to comprehend and apply it within the often confusing and contradictory circumstances of historical process, it will languish as a prisoner of dead tradition instead of being permitted to shed its full illumination and regenerating power in the Umma and the world."

Okay rant over :D

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is It Worth It?

Deciding to study Islam was a pretty easy decision for me to make when I began applying for Masters programs. I applied to programs in development, gender, sexuality, Islam, sociology - and in the end very easily chose the one about Islam. Since becoming religious, I feel like more moderate Muslims need to speak out and I wanted to be part of that. Tariq Ramadan, Reza Aslan, Leila Ahmed, Fatima Mernissi - all these authors had the guts to challenge mainstream conservative Islam that takes the Qur'an and Hadith very literally. They had the guts to say "no, we need to re-interpret Islam because we live in a different context." Something that would seem quite logical but actually offends many Muslims, who are probably worried that doing this will change the religion. Before these we had Muhammad Abduh and Al-Afghani, who also argued that Islam needs to change in order to apply to modern times. And the barrier they saw to this process was, of course, the ulama.

The history of the ulama in Islam is definitely something I would love to study. It seems to me that at some point they got very powerful and began to misuse this power. They also became very rigid and conservative, not allowing ANY form of Islam except theirs - hence they would often persecute Sufis, Shia's, liberal Muslims. I think a big point was when the doors of ijtihad were closed. I mean doesn't anyone find that troubling?! Why did that happen and WHO decided it should happen? Couldn't power have played a role in that? Al-Afghani writes:

"What does it mean that the door of ijtihad is closed? By what text was it closed? Which imam said that, after him, no Muslim should use his personal judgment to understand religion, be guided by the Qur'an and the true prophetic traditions and endeavor to widen his understanding of them and deduce, through analogy what applies to the modern sciences and the needs and requirements of the present?"

It's also interesting that Shi'as never closed the door to ijtihad. I've also read that they believe in an uncreated Qur'an, meaning that it is okay to reinterpret it according to the modern situation. This seems to me a much more progressive viewpoint than that of the Sunni ulama (and therefore most Sunnis).

Back to Al-Afghani's quote: it's funny how if a writer said something like that today, he/she would probably get attacked relentlessly, whereas Al-Afghani was one of the foremost Islamic scholars of his time. And that brings me to my point: is studying Islam and going into the field worth it? Will people listen? Or will I just get attacked and labeled an infidel, as we have seen happen countless times, especially with women scholars? It just seems to me that Islam today is dominated by conservative elements who do not want to listen to any views other than their own. Considering that I want to study gender and Islam, a topic that's already pretty controversial, is it worth even putting my view out there?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tax on Headscarves...Yes, Really

I'm sure a lot of you have heard about Geert Wilders, an infamous far-right Dutch politician who made the film "Fitna" and is responsible for a lot of anti-Islamic sentiment in Holland. He has compared the Qur'an to Mein Kampf by Hitler, and has also suggested it be banned in Holland. His latest bright idea is to introduce a tax on headscarves.

When I first heard about this my gut reaction was laughter, followed closely by shock. I mean seriously?! Tax women who wear headscarves?! His suggestion was a 1000 euro tax (!!) because he sees headscarves as something that "pollute" the streets. He also speicifed that it would ONLY apply to Muslim women who cover their hair, and not Christian women who do the same. So it's obviously blatantly discriminatory.

To make things worse, he said all money from this tax would go to women's emancipation programmes. It's pretty clear then, what he thinks the headscarf means. In the past he has pushed for an outright ban on headscarves, because he sees them as the ultimate form of oppression for women.

Some quotes from the eloquent politician:

"It is time 'to clean up our streets. This is pollution of public spaces. Let us do something about this symbol of oppression."

"We have had enough of headscarves."

"If the tax is introduced we are finally going to earn some money back from the Islam."

he mosques, headscarves and Muslim men with beards and long dresses pollute the cityscape."

So yeah, you can see what kind of man we're dealing with here. The sad thing is that he's very popular. His party has the most support in Holland, and elections are coming up in 2012, where he's likely to win the majority of seats. If that isn't dangerous I don't know what is.

The only silver lining is that his proposal was met with ridicule and intense opposition in parliament. But what about on the Dutch street?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eid Mubarak!

Ramadan is over, and I just want to say Eid Mubarak to everyone! I feel spiritually refreshed, and hope that I continue reading Qur'an and praying as much as I can, insha'Allah. I am really going to miss Ramadan, but it'll definitely be nice to have my morning tea again :) I hope everyone has an amazing Eid!

I'll leave you with this passage that brought tears to my eyes:

"For beyond the admonitions to the faithful to create a good society by observing the Law, there is a message addressed to the whole of humanity. It is a message that proclaims the Eternal Transcendent, and man's special responsibility as guardian of this planet. It is a message which calls on men and women to show gratitude for the world's bounty, to use it wisely and distribute it equitably.

It is a message phrased in the language and imagery of a pastoral people who understood that survival depended upon submission to the natural laws governing their environment, and upon rules of hospitality demanding an even sharing of limited resources.

In a world increasingly riven by the gap between rich and poor nations, and in growing danger of environmental catastrophe, this message has an urgent relevance. It is one we ignore at our peril."

Friday, September 18, 2009


After the last two posts on Hadith and Polygamy I thought I'd lighten things up a bit :D I went shopping today and bought the cutest tea mugs & cups ever!! I LOVE them!!

I can add them to the my growing tea-things collection :D Some of my favs...

I also bought a huge red teapot that holds 10 cups of tea. Can't imagine ever drinking 10 cups of tea at one time but I know my best friend Reem and I could do it together :D She's the only other person I know who loves tea as much as I do!
I think I'm going to go have some now :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The concept of polygamy is something I've never been able to come to terms with. Despite the many arguments put forward for it, I just have never been comfortable with the idea that a man can marry more than one woman, whereas a woman can't. I simply can't imagine being in love with a man and having him marry another woman, or even just knowing that he could if he wanted to.

"And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course."

Many scholars have put forward the argument that it was only for that specific time and context: there had just been a war, and many women were without husbands (and therefore protection), and thus polygamy was a good solution. In today's context, however, it no longer makes any sense.

Other scholars have put forward the idea that the Qur'an is in effect disallowing polygamy because of the following verse:

"You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try." (4:129)

In effect it seems to say that man cannot treat all his wives equally, and thus shouldn't try. However, another argument was put forward that says that God only meant legal and financial equality. Unsurprisingly many fundamentalist Muslims hold this view, and I never bought it until a few days ago when I read this in a book by an author I respect:

"It is clear, from both the Qur'anic rules of marriage and the Prophet's own example, that equality of treatment refers strictly to legally enforcable matters such as a woman's right to her own household."

He (Malise Ruthven) doesn't elaborate on the "Qur'anic rules of marriage" that he brings up, but he is right about the Prophet's example - the Prophet did have a favoruite, Aisha. Thus his example may mean that the Qur'an is only referring to legal and financial matters, and not emotional/sexual/other matters. Is this a widespread view? I would not be surprised if many conservative ulama hold this view, but what about other Islamic scholars, and what about Muslims in general?

This finding has gotten me all bothered about polygamy again. I just can't bring myself to be 100% okay with it, which of course makes me feel guilty since it's in the Qur'an. A big part of me thinks there must be an explanation for it, but I'm not sure what it is. I was sure about the above-mentioned argument about the Qur'an in effect saying men cannot treat 4 women equally, but if this author is right then the argument is no longer valid.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The issue of the Hadith interests me both on the level of being a Muslim, and on the sociological & historical level. I haven't studied the issue enough to make up my mind about it, but I do know that a lot of questionable practices in Islamic communities are rooted in the Hadith, often with no support from the Qur'an. Another point is that often I come across Hadith that contradict the general spirit and message of the Qur'an. An example of these are the sexist Hadith one finds pretty often. It seems strange to me that the Qur'an gives women so many rights, and then there are Hadith that take them away; or that the Qur'an affirms that women are conscious beings, and then there are Hadith that treat us like objects.

I guess my main question is this: what role are Hadith supposed to play in the life of a Muslim? I definitely don't think they should be on the same level at the Qur'an, since after all, they were transmitted by human beings. I also don't think we should reject all Hadith, especially since we wouldn't know how to pray if it weren't for Hadith.

But is it okay to just focus on Hadith we like, and ignore ones we don't? How do we know if they are authentic? I also have a problem with the whole authenticating thing, because: the Hadith were compiled more than 200 years after the death of the Prophet (pbuh); they were transmitted by human beings, who are bound to make mistakes; who decided whether a transmitter was "pious, honest, etc"? Furthermore, most of the transmitters and collectors of Hadith were men, who lived in a very patriarchal society (so patriarchal that God had to constantly remind them of how to treat women). So how do we know that they didn't pick and choose certain Hadith?

Another point is that the Prophet (pbuh) is said to have told people not to record his sayings (ironically we know this from a Hadith), and all four caliphs that came after him were against Hadith being recorded or collected. A final point is that the Qur'an says that it is complete. What does this mean in terms of how we see Hadith and the role they play in our lives?

I recently read two pieces on Hadith that I found interesting. One is an article called "Does the Hadith have a solid historical basis?" by Abdur Rab. The other is an excerpt from "Islam" by Fazlur Rahman, who is an amazing scholar. He writes:

"Unless the problem of the Hadith is critically, historically and constructively treated, there seems little prospect of distinguishing the essential from the purely historical."


"What is necessary is to know the genesis and evolution of a given Hadith in order to reveal what function it did or was supposed to perform and whether Islamic needs do still demand such function or not."

I agree more with Rahman than Abdur Rab. I think we need to be very critical when approaching Hadith, and we also need to realize that most Hadith responded to the social context of that period, and may not make sense today.

I posted this about an hour ago, then had second thoughts and took it down, but then realized that I shouldn't censor myself. I really want to hear what everyone thinks, and if anyone has any advice.
Ooo and I also wrote a post below today, so don't forget to read that one too :D

Islamic Femininity

I am currently reading "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam" by Tariq Ramadan (maybe I should just start a blog about him, haha) and I thought I'd post some interesting points:

"The issue of women is a sensitive one in almost all Western Islamic communities, and it sometimes appears that the whole question of faithfulness to Islam centers on it. Moreover, the repeated allusions and questions of our fellow-citizens, intellectuals, and the media about "women in Islam" cause a sort of psychological pressure that drives Muslims to adopt a defensive and often apologetic stance, which is not always objective."

"We are far from the ideal of equality before God, complementarity in family and social relations, and financial independence, behind which many ulama and intellectuals hide behind by quoting verses and Prophetic traditions."

"One also finds all sorts of restrictions to do with women, such as the "Islamic" prohibition against their working, having social involvements, speaking in public, and engaging in politics. And what have we not heard about the impossibility of "mixing"! One can certainly find ulama in the traditionalist and literalist schools who declare that these are Islamic teachings, but it is essential we go back to the scriptural sources to evaluate these practices, and to draw a clear distinction between customs that are culturally based and Islamic principles.

AMEN! I couldn't have said it better. And he finally labeled what I've been wondering what to call - the traditionalists and literalists (commonly known as fundamentalists in the media).

He goes on to mention how Muslim women who work at grassroots level do not judge each other re. hijab, but rather see it as a personal choice, and accept each other's choices. That sounds strange to me, since it's definitely not what I see in blog world. In fact I think the issue of hijab has very severely split Muslims into opposing camps, with a lot of bitterness, judgment, and negativity being exchanged between the 2 "sides".

Great book, I recommend it to everyone. I actually found out yesterday that Tariq Ramadan was supposed to be the person supervising my thesis, if he had ended up coming to my university (which he didn't, even though he accepted the job. Not sure what happened after that). I'm sure you guys can imagine how annoying that was for me!

By the way here are the videos of the debate I posted about earlier (there is more but it wasn't posted):

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So Apparently Summer Isn't Over...

After a week of rain and cold I was pretty sure summer was over, but today was really hot and sunny, so I guess it isn't. Here are some pictures of the oldest botanical garden in Holland, where my friend & I went today. It's in the city of Leiden and is amazingly beautiful.

Of course the day I end up in a botanical garden is the one day I don't have my camera with me, so these aren't the best quality since they were taken with my phone.

(The first 3 photos aren't of the garden.)

Monday, September 7, 2009


Just had carrot passion cake and a vanilla latte from Starbucks.


(Not my pics by the way. Tried to take pics with my phone cam and they didn't look as good as these haha. I had to show you how amazing the cake tasted, so I needed first-class photos :D.)

Update: why can't carrot cake be one of those negative-calorie foods, where you burn more calories than you gain when you eat them? Sigh. Imagine a world where you could eat carrot cake all day.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I Just Saw Tariq Ramadan!!!

Yes! It was amazing!

I was having iftar at a friend's house yesterday (I'm making friends! Yay!) and she mentioned that Tariq Ramadan would be speaking in a debate the next day about the fact that he got fired from Erasmus University (in Rotterdam). This was a big story here for a few weeks. Ramadan worked as a visiting professor at Erasmus and also for the local Rotterdam government on issues of citizenship and immigration. Then suddenly he was fired from both positions, apparently because a show he hosts, "Islam & Life", is funded by Iran.

Ramadan then wrote a letter about the issue, click here to read.

Anyway the debate today was between Ramadan and a representative from Erasmus, and then between Ramadan and 2 politicians, one from the far right, and another who was on Ramadan's side.

Ramadan's opening statement was basically about how he knew that the reason he got fired was because of the upcoming elections. There's a lot of anti-Islam sentiment now in Holland, and so politicians know that they need to focus on this to win, and thus firing someone with a high profile like Ramadan would surely win votes.

My favourite quote was this: "I'm leaving. Goodbye. Wilders is staying. Good luck." Wilders is a far-right politician who wants to ban the Qur'an in Holland and who was responsible for making Fitna - a very negative documentary about Islam. Polls show that were elections to take place now, Wilders would win (!).

What's happening to Holland? When and how did it go from being the most open-minded, tolerant country to being one of the least? The far right politician at the debate today said so many insulting things about Islam, including that "anyone who is Muslim cannot develop to their full potential" and that Islam contradicts the "open, Western, Christian culture in Holland". He kept bringing up the fact that Muslims could not become ex-Muslims and the bad treatment homosexuals receive from Muslims (both true and both serious issues) despite Ramadan giving clear, concise rebuttals.

Ramadan then said that power combined with a lack of understand is very dangerous, and he was referring to this politician. He said the guy had a very simplistic view of Islam, and that he was just creating an atmosphere of fear (post 9-11 America anybody?) where Dutch people don't trust their fellow Dutch Muslims. And that the reason for all this is so they can win the next elections. Ramadan kept saying he was trying to focus on bigger issues and on the future, not just on the next election.

Why are far-right politicians so obsessed with Islam?

Is there a problem with Muslims integrating into Dutch society, or is it all hype created by the media and politicians to manipulate people into voting for conservative parties?
More importantly, do these politicians see Dutch Muslims as DUTCH or immigrants? Because looking at and treating them like immigrants will obviously make these Dutch Muslims feel like they don't belong. Ramadan mentioned getting emails from Dutch Muslims saying they no longer feel like they belong in Holland, and that they don't feel safe or welcome anymore. These are people, for the most part, who speak Dutch, have jobs, have families, and on the whole are Dutch - so why is there a problem? Of course there are some who don't integrate. But is it the majority?

Anyway it was an amazing night, and I'm so happy I got to see him! It's so sad he won't be teaching at Erasmus anymore, otherwise I could have taken his classes. He was actually offered a position at the university I will be going to, and he accepted, but then something weird happened and he ended up turning the job down. What's up with Ramadan and Holland??!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women

Just read this interesting article by Nada Elia, called "Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women" (2006). Some of her main points (my thoughts in Italics):

- The impulse to save Muslim women from their male kin pervades various social and political movements in the US. Even in the 21st century, Western feminism retains its highly exploitative approach to other women.

This is true, I think Western feminism, while arguing for equal rights between sexes, is promoting a racist agenda. Just by assuming that Muslim women need to be "saved", they are saying something about the inability of Muslim women to help themselves.

- The confluence of church and state, with the presidential worldview today of embracing Christianity and Zionism, is a lethal mix for Arabs and Arab Americans, who are perceived as the quintessential enemy. As it predates 9/11, this rejection cannot be attributed to the trauma of the terrorist attacks, and is quite clearly based in religious intolerance, the assumption that Arabs are irrevocably "other" because they are Muslim, aliens in this Judeo-Christian culture.

This is definitely something I see in Holland now. The Muslim being seen as the "other", and as so different from the Dutch and Dutch culture.

- It must be emphasized that a desire to improve women's circumstances, here or abroad, has never characterized the Bush administration, Nevertheless, "women's liberation" proved a convinient excuse to attack countries with which the US was already intent on going to war. At the same time, the centuries-old Western fascination with the veil, now readily visible on American streets, behind the steering wheels of American SUVs, in American malls, and in American college classrooms, was jolted into renewed life.

I still remember that one of the MAIN reasons for going to war with Afghanistan seemed to be "saving the women". Don't you remember all the photos of women in burqa's all over the media, as if that gave some sort of legitimacy to what the government was about to do? All the books that suddenly came out about women escaping, women being freed, and how horrible the men in Afghanistan were. Yes, the Taliban WERE horrible. But don't use that as an excuse and a cover-up for war.

- The failure to identify racism and religious intolerance as a major social wrong in the US closely parallels mainstream Western feminism's failure to identify many Arab women's oppressors in their home countries. Thus many "progressive feminists" fail to acknowledge that Palestinian women's freedom of movement, their freedom to vote, to obtain an education and access to health care, and the basic right to have a roof over their heads in their own historic homeland, is denied to them not by Arab men, but by the Israeli occupier.

This is a good point. In Iraq - do you think it is more important for women to have security and be able to leave their house without risking getting killed; or to be able to have freedom of speech? Yes they shouldn't have to choose. But I feel that a lot of women would choose security for them and their families.

- And while the West favours Arab women writers over their male compatriots, even among female authors, those denouncing Islam are favoured over those denouncing the occupation of their country by Israeli and American troops.

Look at any bookshelf anywhere.

- They (Arab American women) find themselves, in the opening decades of the 21st century, following centuries of Arab presence in the US, still explaining the most basic aspects of their culture, still refuting egregious stereotypes, still on the defensive.

Something I've experienced here in Holland. I find that while I know about the basics of other religions, many people don't know or don't understand the basics of mine - not because the information is not out there, but because it seems to be easier to believe something controversial than something that makes sense.
And I think as a Muslim, you've probably experienced being on the defensive at one point or another - not a nice feeling.

Overall I liked the article, although she did make some big claims that she didn't back up well. This was written during Bush's reign so I wonder if things have changed under Obama?