Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Note on Interpretations and Scholarship (among Muslims)

This is the first note in my series about interpretations of Islam.

We cannot attempt to interpret religious texts unless we have a perfectly solid background about the material and have studied contemporary as well as previous interpretations of what is in front of us. But as an ordinary person, I must use my brain when reading something. I have to ask myself, "I wonder what this means." And then once I find what others have said about it, should it really be wrong of me to say, "Wait, where did he get this from?"? I think not. And then I may have to spend decades trying to understand that. Well, instead of trying to figure out what a long-dead Muslim icon meant by something, why can’t we suggest our own understanding? We shouldn’t enforce it, since we don’t like it when others do that to us, but we should be allowed to suggest it -- provided we have enough reasoning, evidence, and knowledge.

That aside, we need to understand who should be considered a scholar. All these scholars we have today, how educated are they about Islam? Who were their teachers, and what are their sources? How do they earn their reputation? I honestly think that all a Muslim has to do in order to be accepted as a scholar by other Muslims is 1) be a man, 2) have a beard, 3) memorize the Quran and preferably some ahadith, 3) use as many Arabic terms and phrases (even if his Arabic accent is totally South Asian, and it is obvious that he doesn’t know even the basics of tajweed) in his lectures and sermons as possible, and 4) be as conservative, especially when it comes to the behavior of women, as possible.

Of course this is wrong – in that these should NOT be the criteria of a scholar. The gender should not matter, whether or not the scholar has memorized the Quran should not matter, whether she/he uses Arabic phrases in daily language should not matter, etc. But then, how many women scholars exist today, or have ever existed in Muslim history? It does not mean women CAN'T be scholars, but it's still important to note, and it says a lot about scholarship in Islam *in practice.* What are the differing opinions of present or past scholars on issues that relate to women? Who lies in the majority, and with whom does today's ordinary Muslim "agree"? If I gave you a list of female Muslim scholars of the 21st century, I guarantee that majority of the Muslims that I know will not accept at least 95% of those women as scholars because of what they think, or were taught, Islam is.

According to my understanding on scholarship, one should not be accepted as a scholar unless one has earned a PhD in the field, or related fields, that one wants to be seen as a scholar in. I say this because when a person is getting a PhD, she studies and studies and studies, the past and the present and all that in between. She studies not just one perspective but many of what have ever existed (related to her field, that is). (Of course, there will always be those PhD holders who have absolutely no common sense or who seem to be less smarter than the most average person we might know, but they still went through much study to finally receive (not "earn”) this title.) In the recent past, when someone wanted to be a doctor, all he had to do was read Ibni Sina's manual on medicine, and, lo, he was a doctor. But things have changed now; medicine has evolved, as has technology, and we cannot do that anymore. We have to go to medical school and then study beyond that, depending on our specialization. Similarly, we cannot just study Islam today and claim we are scholars, or take advantage of the fact that some people consider us scholars. The sources we use to support our views and teachings are also critical to our calling ourselves scholars. Scholarship today should not come as easy as it did back in the day. It should be a result of one's hard years of studying until one receives a PhD in it. And, no, our disagreeing with someone does not deny him/her the status of a scholar. Believe it or not, there exist people today who have received PhDs in Islamic Studies and utter the most inhumane things against non-Muslims and the most debasing comments about women! One such PhD-holder has been Al-Sadiq Abdal Rahman al-Ghiryani.

I guess that calls for my own re-evaluation of my whole thought on scholarship, eh. I don't know what defines a scholar after all.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Listening and Observing without Judging

~*~ Pre-pre-post: I'll continue the series of my favorite classes in a couple of days, ka khairee. ~*~

~*~ Pre-post: A very informal post, but I'll work on it when I'm in a writing mood -- AND will make it longer and more Qrratugai-like too. ;) I just had to let this out desperately. You understand. ~*~

There’s so much we can learn from others, even if we don’t understand them at all, if we only try to listen to them without judging them, if we only try to observe what they do without deciding if it’s wrong or right. When we judge someone else’s actions, views, or thoughts as bad, we’re giving ourselves the right to decide that our views and actions are better than theirs and that we are the rightly-guided ones and they aren’t. I’m over 100% sure that everyone does this – I’m sure I’m not generalizing. There’s always something we think we know that other people don’t know, and often, we feel the need to “correct” those who aren't "rightly-guided." It may be your typical Muslim who is SO sure that because he’s on the right path, he is obligated and honored to guide everyone else, or your typical outsider who comes to your land and decides that you’re oppressed and he is liberated enough to liberate you as well and put you in the exact same spot that he’s in – though you live in two extremely different environments – or just you yourself when you are perfectly sure that your opinions are actually facts, that what you have to say is more important than what someone eels has to say, or that because you know certain secrets of religion/culture/etc. and someone eels doesn’t know it, that other person is worth less than you.

It seems to me as though the moment we see someone who’s different from us, we feel like this world is in danger because, oh my God, we’re so dissimilar! But is it really? I’m learning that perhaps we need to pause more often when we meet new people, or even if we’re with old friends or acquaintances whose thoughts don’t parallel ours, maybe even contradict ours. Perhaps we need to utilize some of our spare time and reflect on our own thinking style. Is it possible that we are not the only right people on earth? Is it possible that we are probably even wrong in certain things? Is it possible that what works for us may not work for other people? Is it possible that we can befriend people from all spheres of life and not just from those of our own?

I’m going to try this, observing and listening without judging. Maybe I’ll learn something that can benefit me and/or people I care about; maybe if I take my time and try to understand other people’s thinking, they may reciprocate and try to understand mine as well. Maybe all the religions and cultures and those "weird" rituals people cherish in every part of the world will start making enough sense to me for me to appreciate them as much as I appreciate my own. If others did the same, maybe none of us would claim the right to decide who is on the “correct path” path, whose rituals are “barbaric” or “stupid,” or why a certain religious system or way of life is better than another one. My start is going to be communicating with people in such a way that they do not feel the need to *defend* themselves but will only make sincere attempts in helping me understand their thinking, behavior, and practices. There’s nothing wrong with our explaining ourselves to others, but the moment we feel as if we have to defend ourselves, then something’s wrong – with either or both parties involved.

So! Let’s try to listen without judging, acknowledging and appreciating the fact that everyone has reasons for why they are the way they are, and whether we agree with those reasons or not, they are just as legitimate as the reasons you and I have for our own beliefs/actions. Who knows, we might discover we have some important things in common.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stimulating Classes - Part 5: Sociology of Sex and Gender

This class was just what the title indicates: the difference between “sex” and “gender” (which are NOT the same thing, as commonly believed) from a sociological perspective. Ever since I’ve been finished with the course, I’ve been scrutinizing everything humans do :S I notice and find faults in how everything is so gendered and how women AND men are represented everywhere and in every culture; this includes the implementation of the concept of gender in the books I read, the movies and tv shows I watch, the roles that the families I know have designated for their members, and so on. One of the conclusions I made from this class was that women in both the west and the east are *equally* oppressed but in different ways. Of course, that’s not to even slightly indicate that men are always treated perfectly in every society, since the way each society deals with its men isn’t always the most just, either.

I also realized that there’s a difference between *rights* and *roles*. It seems like whenever we say, “Women and men should have equal rights,” those who don’t agree start saying things like, “But women and men are NOT the same! They have different bodies, in case you haven’t noticed! They don’t look the same, so why should they have the same rights?” Yeah, well, let’s first define what “rights” means because obviously, they’re confusing “rights” with “roles.” Besides, it’s not about how we’re *born* with anything; it’s about how society, which is built on religious and traditional norms and values, raises you to think what your “roles” and “rights” are.

I’ll elaborate on this in some future post if I need to, provided someone reminds me. I’ve a short piece called “Gender is Socially Constructed,” so I’ll just post that then ;)

Oh, we had to write blog posts every week, and this is how one of mine started off:

So today, Monday, June 22nd, we talked about women in the media. I must admit, this class has opened my eyes far wider than I ever imagined possible. Who would have thought that I would ever study a commercial, an ad, a movie, or anything else related to the media and castigate it for its representation of men and women, particularly for the roles played by them?

Yep. :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stimulating Classes - Part 4: Intro to Women’s Studies

The class focused on women’s issues, with emphasis in the beginning of the course on women in the U.S. and later changing to women globally. Of course, it wasn’t just about women’s issues. It was everything concerning women: society, religion, gender and sex, feminism, globalization, economy, politics, oppression, etc., etc. It was in this class that I developed my concept of feminism and understood that feminists don’t focus on helping and serving women only, but they also tend to all other oppressed groups of people (since women know what it’s like to be oppressed) – including but not limited to the disabled, transgender, intersex, the internally displaced persons as well as war victims, and other minority groups.

I formed a million questions and discovered answers to thousands of questions that had previously been bothering me. I’ll always be grateful to the class for being offered with such useful and important material and information; the university for promoting the class; and the teacher for being so intelligent, tolerant, and respectful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stimulating Classes - Part 3: Philosophy of Religion

k, back to the series of my favorite classes :D

Philosophy of Religion

OMG! Most DEFINITELY one of THE best classes ever offered ANYWHERE! I totally recommend it to every human on earth -- whether theist or atheist, Muslim or otherwise. Believe me, I actually came THIS close to changing my major to Philosophy with an emphasis on religions and then go on to study it further. (But no worries, I didn't.)

So, basically, much of the class was about God’s existence – or the lack of it – from a philosophical perspective. We read these intensely fascinating, thought-provoking, and erudite articles written by scholars from almost the beginning of Time till the 21st century. The class was entirely discussion-based, and I started learning how to be involved in fruitful discussions without degrading anyone. I can now explain God’s existence as WELL as His lack of existence from a philosophical point of view. It’s one of the best, most fulfilling feeling in the world. And even better and greater than that? I get to choose *myself* which side to go with, and I tell you ... the feeling is Divine; no feeling in the world can compare to that mental liberation. My definition of God is now completely based on what I learned in this class. Remember, though: I *chose* to leave the class with the information I left it with.

Oooh, the funniest moment in this class was once when we read this article that was against the existence of God and a student, a “good Christian,” said, “But, Professor, I don’t understand. How can anyone questioning God’s existence? He’s obviously there!” The professor was like, “Really? How is God so obviously there?” And the student responded, “I feel His love in my heart, Professor. I really do.” My teacher was like, “Only in a philosophy of religion class – only in a philosophy of religion class – would someone say this!” Everyone, including the girl who’d made the statement, laughed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Virtual World and Privacy Concerns

I'll continue my series of "some of the most stimulating classes I've ever taken" in some time. For now, I've something more important to share; it has to do with protecting ourselves from virtual predators.

The Virtual World and Privacy Concerns

Facebook is a socializing means used widely nowadays by much of the educated youth. Unfortunately, during the last few months, several very unhappy and disturbed Pukhtun females from Facebook have expressed complaints about the unethical behavior of those persons who have been misusing their pictures on Youtube, which is another internet tool used for broadcasting small movie clips. This ignoble and heinous practice by such irresponsible persons with malicious intentions is a serious violation of someone’s privacy as well as an immoral act against another individual. One wonders how far we have strayed from our instincts and how narrow, how musty our souls have become! It is due to misfortunes like this that Pukhtun girls should take extra precautionary measures in safeguarding their privacy by not sharing their pictures or videos online.

The people who upload these videos purely for subversive measures need to ponder how they would react if anyone did the same despicable thing to their sisters or daughters. In that similar tone, the girls whose pictures are being shared with the world, without their knowledge and inevitably without their consent are somebody’s sisters and somebody’s daughters.

We all know that Pukhtuns regard the virtues of chastity and modesty characterized by a sense of self respect and high self-esteem. Publicizing herself in a negative manner is against the self respect of a Pukhtun woman, and it is not appreciated but is instead considered an affront to the Pakhtun society at large. It is also an established fact that Pukhtun cultural standards do not appreciate those women who publicize themselves except when involved in a public office, political status, government portfolio, or humanitarian situations. Hence, it is highly condemnable to disrespect the dignity and female-hood of Pukhtun women in particular and other women in general.

Although no one should stoop to the level of disrespecting others’ privacy on the web, it is imperative for females to be careful when being involved in online communities, such as Facebook, Orkut, and MySpace. It is a bitter and appalling reality that females have to put so much effort into protecting their privacy, as they cannot express their individualities in virtual communities without being misrepresented and defiled by certain men – or possibly even women – who have no respect for themselves or for other human beings. Obsession blinds people, and blind emotions are checked by humanist values. One sometimes falls into the deep and fathomless abyss of one’s instinctual desires that disqualify the person from the high ethical and moral ground, which is the salient feature of humanity.

In an attempt to put an end to this frustrating and burdensome phenomenon, I wish to present the following suggestions.
  • Avoid joining networks that are public – and if you join them, then do not give viewers the benefit of any personal information about yourself, including your real name, location, and contact information.
  • On private networks (e.g., Facebook), do not add people unless you know them very well; this means avoid accepting friend requests from random people, especially from those with whom you have many friends in common. You never know – perhaps your friends accept friend requests from people they do not know well or should not trust.
  • It is best not to upload your pictures on online sites at all. But if you absolutely must put them up, make sure to adjust your album settings in such a way that only your intimate friends can access them. This also means that your profile picture should not be available to the public. If you are unfamiliar with the site and don’t know how to work the settings, ask someone who does.
  • I have observed that some people have hundreds of friends. Who has this many “friends” – except for celebrities, politicians, etc.? How often do you talk to them, and how many of them do you actually know? Go through your list every now and then and clean it up.
These suggestions should not be taken in a negative manner. I strongly believe that too many people do not realize how harmful the net can be to us not just as individuals but as a community as well, and one can never be too careful about delicate matters such as privacy.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stimulating Classes - Part 2: The Quran

I took a class called The Quran just this last semester. AMMMMMMMMMAYYYZING!!!! I couldn’t help but compare the Quran classes I take at the mosques to this one I was taking at a university – a class offered by someone who received his Masters as well as his PhD in Islamic Studies and Arabic; has translated numerous Arabic texts, articles, theses, and books from Arabic to English and vice versa; speaks English, Arabic, French, Farsi, Italian, Spanish, and … two other languages that I can’t remember right now (8 total, blessed be his brain!); has presented papers during several international conferences on various topics on Islam and the Quran; and is absolutely amazing, brilliant, hilarious, and SO fun to hold conversations with about ANYTHING in the world. (Get this: It was actually his idea that we ask the university to start offering Pashto classes – the moment I let him know I’m Pashtun and we talked about Pashtuns for three hours or so. See how awesome he is?)

Anyway, so in this class, the professor allowed us to do what we Muslims are told is haraam: He listened to, accepted, AND appreciated our questions regarding anything about religions/God/Islam but most specifically, the Quran. What’s best, he allowed us to answer our own questions many times, especially when he didn’t know the answer and told us that either the question hasn’t crossed his mind before or it hasn’t been answered by anyone else as of yet or then he doesn’t know if anyone has answered it. Of course, he acknowledged the fact that we were reading the *translation* of the Quran, but we had to study the context of the Scripture, even if from the translation. For instance, he’d have us define a certain term (including kitab, Quran, Surah, nushooz, zauj) based on the context it was used in. He’d give us all, or most, of the places where the Arabic word appears in the Quran and then ask us what it means – and to figure it out, we had to put a blank in its place when reading its translation. Ahhhhhhhh, the privilege to be able to tell HIM what WE think what something means!!! My God!! How pleasuresome! He allowed us to disagree with the translators and scholars, provided we presented enough evidence and reasoning for our own arguments and against theirs.

I will continue doing that. I don’t have to be in class with him to do that, now, do I?

Oh, what’s really sad and pitiful is that I once told an entirely typical-Muslim acquaintance of mine that I was taking The Quran class and suggested that she look into it as well some time in case she’s interested in Islamic Studies, and she said, “You know, I was once registered for that class, but my mother saw the syllabus for it, and she said I should just take classes for my own major instead. I mean, classes on Quran? Come on! I can learn the Quran any time; they’re always being offered at the mosque, you know?”

Oh how I pitied that girl! To think that this class can in ANY way be compared to classes in a mosque?! That this professor can be compared to the Quran teachers at a mosque? To compare someone who challenges you to challenge him, challenges YOU and your theories, pushes you into the world of scholarship … to someone who thinks you’re going to hell just because you choose not to pray 5 times a day or don’t wanna cover your hair or just simply don’t believe the exact same way he does? One “teacher” whose first response to many of my questions is, “What do you think?” and if my answer doesn’t make sense to him, then he’ll give me other people’s answers and only THEN his own; the other “teacher” whose answers to many, MANY questions he/she can’t answer is, “Allah knows best.” Or “There’s definitely wisdom behind it.” Or, my most favorite, “We should not ask such questions; Allah doesn’t like it because it creates doubts in our hearts and weakens our faith.” :S (but alas, my faith strengthens only when I ask more questions!) The latter never reminds me that I have been blessed with brain, intellect, intelligence, reason – a mind of my own – that I can use to gather an answer entirely on my own, and if he/she doesn’t like it, so what? It’s still a *possible* answer, and I’ll have it whether anyone likes it or not, and the former constantly makes me think.

So, yeah. These two extremely different types of people don’t even fall under the same species. It should be considered a grave sin to even THINK about comparing them, I say :D

Here’s a link to the syllabus for the class. It has been altered since a professor from another university borrowed it, and so it’s not the exact same thing – still approximately 98% the same, though. You’ll get the idea.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stimulating Classes – Part I: Intro to World Music

Most people seem to have a favorite subject in school/college. Mine has always wavered. In high school, I couldn’t decide if it was mathematics or history or science. Then when I entered college in Spring 2006, my major was biology. Some of my friends know that almost each time they talk to me, I’ve a different (unofficial) major. I started with Biology, but this blog post isn’t for what I’m studying and why. I promise to discuss that in another one, though, ka khairee.

For now, I wanna share the names, themes, and importance of some of the most stimulating classes I’ve taken during my last four years in college. They’re not listed in order of importance or anything – only in order of which one comes to my mind first.

Kha, so I’ll start with Intro to World Music. No, no, it’s not that I love music so desperately (well, I do, actually, but this isn’t why I loved and appreciated this class. Patience, please.). It was in this class that I realized how stupid I was for not appreciating Pukhtuns, my beloved people. Until I took this class, I absolutely HATED Pukhtuns. I’ll explain this story in another post as well one day, ka khairee. Intro to music literally changed my life, made me a re-born Pukhtun, and taught me to appreciate my own being. The reason for all this? Well, the class focused on music of different peoples all over the world. The first day of class, the teacher asked us to define the word “music.” And it hit me right there: I didn’t know what music really was; the word has no fixed definition or understanding! Here’s how the question/answer went in class, kha.

Professor: So what is music?
<< Class goes completely quiet, and everyone starts looking at each other. No one knows what to say. Until…>>
Student 1: Any sort of sound.
Professor: ~starts banging on the desk~ Does this count as music, then, based on your definition?
Me: Well, no. The sound must be pleasant to the ears, of course.
Professor: Ahh, of course. In that case, tell me if this is music.
<< He plays a song, entirely vocal, that is generally not liked by the average western student.>>
Me, smiling and kinda quietly: Ummm… I didn’t like it.
Professor: But it’s still sound, right? And it must be pleasant to SOMEONE’S ears, like those who are singing it and were involved otherwise in the making of it. No?
Me: Yes, I see where you’re getting with this.
Student 2: Well, I can’t really define music, but if you played something to me, I’ll know if it’s music or not.
Professor: … ahh, which means it depends on the listener, correct?

<< Students are kinda hesitant to agree because, duh, we all know what music is.>>

Professor, laughing: Tell me if this is music.
<< He plays a rap song. Some students like it, some don’t. I don’t, and I say it’s not music according to me.>>
Professor: So then I was right. Only the listener determines whether it’s music or not.

<< Class finally agrees. And then the professor plays a clip of some birds singing and other natural sounds in some forest, including a waterfall.>>
Professor: What about this?
Class: Yes, that’s music.
Professor: What makes it music? There are not man-made instruments involved, no human vocals, none of that. Then?
Student 3: It’s pleasant to our ears. Some of us, anyway.
Professor: Good. Then can we conclude that music is some sort of sound – any sort of sound – that is pleasant to the listener’s ears? Or then music scholars can’t agree on a fixed definition that’s not open to obvious questions.
Class: Yes.

I swear, after this class, I started re-defining EVERYTHING, even if it already has a “fixed” definition according to definers. If I can have even a fingernail doubt about its generally accepted definition, I’ll question it and think about it until I define it myself. The class also showed me how powerful music is in establishing a culture’s/people’s present, determining their future, and relating their past. I’d never before looked at music this way, and it is only now that I can fully value the connection of music to politics. I’ve never respected musicians the way I do now. God bless them all.

As for how it made me a re-born Pukhtun – driving me to research my history, understand my people’s current circumstances, and support them – well, we studied the cultures and values of each (ethnic) group of people whose music we heard. (Pukhtuns weren’t among them, unfortunately. One day, they will be, though, ka khairee. Don’t you worry… though, from all of Asia, only southeastern and Indian music was covered due to a lack of time.) And I enjoyed it so much, especially when we came to the Native Americans. Almost no songs exists in their native languages. And since I hated Pukhto and Pukhtuns so much, I though to myself, “How can I be expressing such sorrow for the Native Americans’ loss of culture, heritage, language, and mere existence while hating my own language and people? How am I any different from those who contributed to the loss of these people’s language, when I myself am refusing to speak my language or constantly vow that I will never marry a Pukhtun man?”

I don’t know how to explain it, but it was something like that. And lo and behold, came forth the Qrratugai you know today!

In the next couple of blogs, I’ll add more classes, WITHOUT going in so much depth, I promise. I did in this one only because it had to do with my utmost type of identity.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Rarity of Girls Playing Rabab

The Rarity of Girls Playing Rabab

So it is known that it’s rare to find a (Pukhtun) girl playing the rabab. (This girl named Semira Azadzoi is like an exception.) But I’m wondering ... isn’t it rare to find a Pukhtun girl doing ANYTHING? I mean, how many Pukhtun women play other instruments? During performance, many male singers sing as well as play some instrument; is this the case with females as well? I’m not deciding whether or not it’s better to be able to do more than one thing while performing, but I’m making a comparison.

Forget music. Let's talk about the media/journalism/writing. It’s a huge deal that we have someone like Farhat Taj writing on Pukhtun issues in the media – because she’s one of the extremely few who does so. I wish that wasn’t so, but since it is, let’s face it and encourage other Pukhtun females to venture on similar causes.

Then how many Pukhtun women do we have who are leading professionals in their fields – doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, engineers, professors, etc.? How many are even PERMITTED, let alone encouraged, to go into the arts, and how many are given the opportunity and freedom to go into the sciences? It’s almost really sad that we get all excited and happy when we hear of a Pukhtun woman like Samar Minallah or her sister Fauzia Minallah – the former of whom is popularly identified and the latter of whom is an artist who teaches children with special needs the message of peace through art. Really, how many women, or even men, do we know who are so involved like this? It shouldn’t be a rarity, but alas, it is. We should realize that the more fields we have Pukhtun women succeeding in, the better for Pukhtuns' future.

I don't call for every single Pukhtun female on earth to go out there and do something for her people. No, not at all. I want only those who have the means and the skills to help us, especially those who are abroad and thus have more opportunities and acceptance.

My favoritest website lists several Pukhtun women who have done something praiseworthy for their people in many different ways. They are:

Dr. Amineh Ahmed Hoti
Dr. Aneela Babar
Dr. Parveen Azam Khan
Dr. Saba Gul Khattak
Dr. Salma Shaheen
Fauzia Minallah
Mahvish Rukhsana Khan
Dr. Mehnaz Afridi
Samar Minallah
Dr. Shaheen Sardar Ali

** I expect to see Farhat Taj's name on there some time soon. The name of the lady who designs and funds this website should also be included in this list. (I know her personally; a wonderful lady! SO cool, SO intelligent, SO intellectual, SO fun, SO everything good!)**

May these women be blessed with long and healthy lives so that they will continue representing what the educated Pukhtun woman is like, or what she can become if she’s given the opportunity.
But we still need women to go into rubab-playing ;)

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