Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque

There's a list of women's rights in the Mosque, called "The Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque" by Asra Nomani. I found it on someone else's blog and then Wiki'ed it.

She wrote it after her visit to Meccca, where she noticed that:
"I was a fully realized human being. There were no back doors for me. There was no back entrance. There was no back row where I had to pray. I prayed alongside my father. I walked in through the front door with him. When I dared to try to do the same at my mosque in Morgantown, I was screamed at and yelled at and I was told to take the back door. I was told to sit in the balcony. And so for almost two years now, we've been fighting and we walked in through the front door and into the main hall. And I now sit on trial because 35 men at the mosque have signed a petition to have me banned for being a troublemaker. So on March 1st, the start of Women's History Month, I launched what we're so proud to call the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour. And what I did was I posted on the door of my mosque 99 precepts for opening hearts, minds and doors in our Muslim world. And with it I attached a bill of rights for women in the mosque and a bill of rights for women in the bedroom, so that we can assert and reclaim all that Islam created for women."

This is really sad; I don't agree with this whole idea of women's entrance into the Mosque through the "back" door -- again, it makes the woman nothing but an evil seductive and a dangerously sexy being who's gonna create "fitnah" in the mosque. A man might get turned on by seeing her, even if she's covered from head to toe, and then God will punish HER for having created such feelings in the man.

I myself have had some horrible experiences with the mosques here, and I've read stories of women who defy the idea of being subjugated to the extent of not even being ALLOWED in the mosque (even in the west, mind you!) or of praying in a suffocatingly small area of the mosque -- simply because it's assumed that women won't come to the mosque or don't NEED to come. Well, maybe they would if you didn't make their stay in the mosque this miserable, damnit. One of the ones I regularly attend has more women than men coming to it on weekends, and yet ... the area for women is a small room. And it gets so musty in there at times it's impossible to breathe. But how big is the area for men? It's at least six times as big as the women's area! And they always close the door so that we won't see the men and they won't see us, and because the mic system is pathetic there, we can't even hear what the imam says! For Friday prayers, they have the women go to a house near the mosque (bought by a former imam of the mosque, I was told) to pray there.

Just three weeks ago, I watched a documentary/film called "Me & the Mosque" presented by this Pakistani-Canadian lady named Zarqa Nawaz. She made the film because she noted the huge barrier that Muslims have created between men and women in the mosque; she also found it interesting yet depressing that each mosque (in the west) seems to go through these phases when during one phase, the leader of the mosque will be a misogynist loser who thinks that women don't belong in the mosque and so he'll do everything he can to PREVENT them from coming (including making the space for women SO tiny AND adds BARS to it such that it's literally too suffocating for women to stay in there for more than a minute or so), and in another phase, the leader will be someone more reasonable and human -- and someone more knowledgeable about Islam -- and will therefore not have these solid bars and glass between the men's and women's sections. It's definitely worth watching. For once, some Muslims are standing up and recognizing the problems that we Muslims OURSELVES are creating in our communities. (I mean, you know how we love to point out all the problems that non-Muslims have created for us, yeah? Well, we, TOO, have created many, many problems for ourselves, and when exactly do we plan to solve those?)

Anyway, I'll be giving a conference presentation on Muslim women in the mosque in a few months, ka khairee, so I'll try to post something on that later on. But for NOW, let's take a look at the notorious and controversial (but absolutely great) Asra Nomani's bill of rights. (lol @ notorious and controversial. Sadly, just about EVERY Muslim woman who speaks up about Muslim women's issues is considered this. But then again, why NOT! She was the lead organizer of the woman-led Muslim prayer, led by Dr. Amina Wadud.)

k, more on that another day, ka khairee.

1. Women have an Islamic right to enter a mosque.
2. Women have an Islamic right to enter through the main door.
3. Women have an Islamic right to visual and auditory access to the musalla (main sanctuary).
4. Women have an Islamic right to pray in the musalla without being separated by a barrier, including in the front and in mixed-gender congregational lines.
5. Women have an Islamic right to address any and all members of the congregation.
6. Women have an Islamic right to hold leadership positions, including positions as prayer leaders, or imams, and as members of the board of directors and management committees.
7. Women have an Islamic right to be full participants in all congregational activities.
8. Women have an Islamic right to lead and participate in meetings, study sessions, and other community activities without being separated by a barrier.
9. Women have an Islamic right to be greeted and addressed cordially.
10. Women have an Islamic right to respectful treatment and exemption from gossip and slander.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Interpretations of Islam ... part 2?

Gosh, it's been THIRTEEN days since my last post?!?! My, where have I been!

Well, actually, I'm really busy these days. Everything seems to be going in a million different directions, and it's becoming SO difficult to keep up!

As you all hopefully know by now, Qrratugai is a freak about interpretations, particularly the interpretations of Islam. And so, I was on this group on FB just a minute ago where someone called Amina Wadud a kafir. Now, this is the beautiful, intelligent, and honorable woman scholar of Islam who chose to lead a mixed congregational prayer and has been receiving death threats ever since because, DUH, women are FORBIDDEN to lead men in prayer. Imagine what that could mean! I mean, a WOMAN leading MEN in prayer?! What a blasphemous deed, and what a shameless woman would do something as indecent as that?! God forgive our misguided world!

Anyway, let's not let Qrratugai get all sarcastic and stuff right now. I just wanna share what this one girl said. So, she was calling Amina Wadud kafir (non-Muslim, infidel, etc.) and that she's "only spreading kufr"! So, of course, I had to reply. And I wrote:

Mind elaborating how this is spreading kufr? A lot of Muslims agree with you, but *none* of them can justify on an intellectual level why or how this is kufr or leads to kufr.

It's amusing when (typical) Muslims refer to Dr. Wadud as a kafir or whatever when they don't have the same level of knowledge and understanding as Dr. Wadud. Forget that this lady has studied Islam and women's status in Islam in depth, received a PhD in it, is widely respected(but NOT by the weak and insecure Muslims, of course), is universally read, leads scholarly events and conferences, and is no DOUBT an expert on women in Islam. Yet, OTHERS, who know nothing but what their local imams have taught them, are telling her how Islam views women. LOL. Amusing indeed. Not to mention, Wadud can VERY WELL justify what she has done and what she continues doing. Can anyone else do that? I don't think so. Their ONLY reasoning is: "God says so" -- yet without evidence or support.

Then she replied: "my knowladge might not be same as her but all i know woman can't lead prayers like imam does."
Oh geez :| But she fails to tell us *how* she knows.

One person replied to her saying
, "Please follow Allah (and Rasool), not the manmade fatwas and books of sharia written by imams. They are not part of religion in anycase."

And so I said: "Exactly. And not just that, but also, Islam is nothing without its interpretation, and it's interpreted differently depending on who is doing the interpretation. Who said that the interpretations of the men of the 12th century or so should be used even in our time? And how many women scholars have ever been "allowed" to interpret the Quran/hadith without being threatened? Let women speak for once, yo, will y'all! It's silly to make rules ABOUT us and FOR us without knowing us at all or without taking our views on them."

The person disagreed that gender has anything to do with interpretations: "The rules are already made by God. About women and about men. The silly part is not to make rules about women without knowing women, but to add and make rules that override the rules of God.
It doesn't matter if the Imam is a man or a woman, whoever he/she is, he/she is obliged to uphold the rules of God, not the rules of men."

My reply:
Well, their gender/sex starts to matter when interpretations come into play, you see. Yes, the rules have already been provided by God, but who interprets those rules? It's not like they're all that simple all the time. And that's where the problem begins: we're taught that a certain side's interpretation of God's message and rules and guidelines is *the correct one* while another side's is nothing but blasphemy, heresy, aberration, kufr, etc., etc. And so that's when we have to ask, "Really? How so? Why's A's interpretation any better than B's?" And they often say, "Because the majority supports A's interpretation." And you ask, "Why?" And they go, "What do you mean why? That's just how things are you. You can't change it -- you feminist." And you go, "Umm... okay, but just remember that majority, too, can be wrong and isn't always -- in fact, is RARELY! -- right."

My reason for making this blog post was that last comment of mine, that whole conversation starting with, "And so that's when we have to ask, "Really? How so? Why's A's interpretation any better than B's?"

No, we're not scholars, so, yes, we don't have any right to interpret the Quran. BUT!! We don't have to be scholars to use our brain and question what others have said. I don't agree with a lotta the stuff that Imam al-Ghazali said in the 12th century, but I can tell you that what he said made PERFECT sense for his own time (and society). If I lived in his time, I wouldn't be disagreeing with it. But I don't, so what's to stop me? Same thing with Imams Hanifa and the other three. Who said that what they wrote and interpreted was necessarily the "real" Islam? And why in this cruel, sad world are we STILL using their interpretation when almost much of what they've said can't even apply? Besides, didn't Imam Hanifa himself write in his books that "This is MY interpretation; it must NOT be universalized."? It's interesting what the scholars of the past used to say and do in their books. See, they'd tell you what Person or Side A's interpretation of a certain Quranic/hadith text was, what Person/Side B's was, what Person/Side C's was, etc., etc. and only THEN tell you their own. Often, this goes like, "As for me, I believe this...." or "As for MY interpretation, such and such is the case." Or "I, however, understand it to be ...." When they'd agree with a certain person or side, they'd say, "As for me, I agree with so-and-so's interpretation."

Unfortunately, today, it seems like what our favorite scholars agree with is what WE need to agree with, too :S Or what our local imam says, we MUST do :S

I could go on and on about this, especially by bringing up the great Zakir Naik into it. But I'll not burden my readers with that much -- not yet, anyway. :p I will in a matter of a couple of months or so, though, so sneak a peak in about a month or so, ka khairee.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Negating the Notion of "Culture vs Religion"

I constantly come across Muslims who think that culture and religion are two different things, very much assured that culture serves as the culprit for every single thing that goes wrong in Muslim societies. At a friend's bridal shower recently, for instance, I heard two girls talking to each other, one of whom was saying to the other, "Yeah, in my family, it's only Islam, alhamdulillah. There's no culture whatsoever." And the other responded in awe, "Wow! Lucky you! And that's how it should be, you know." I smiled in response to this interesting conversation.

We make it seem like culture has absolutely nothing to do with our religion (in our case, Islam) or how it is implemented in our society. However, in terms of how Islam is practiced (not necessarily how it should be), our cultures have everything to do with the practice of Islam. Let’s wonder for a moment why Islam is practiced so differently in Indonesia than in Iran or Egypt or Saudi Arabia; let’s wonder why it’s practiced far more differently in the U.S., Canada, and Europe than in Pakistan, India, or Malaysia; let’s wonder why the practices of the Muslims in China and Japan are not the same as those in Iraq, Syria, or Bangladesh.

Many consider this the "beauty" of Islam: it can be integrated into any belief system, interpreted in a million different ways (even if they're opposite – though this is not unique only to Islam), and practiced in any society and time and culture. Throughout Islamic history, we can spot any point in time and ask what Islam meant for that specific period of time and for that specific region. Today is no exception, and if this breaks our hearts and makes us go, "OMG OMG OMG!! This is not good! We must do something about it!" we're fooling ourselves and wasting our time on something that we don’t have any power over.

So, really, who are we fooling when we lie to ourselves that Islam and culture are two different things? No one but our own selves.

Religion and culture are very much embedded into each other and have a strong and indelible influence on one another. Islam – rather, religion in general – is a theory, a theory that can be put into practice in many, many different ways, often being mingled with the original practices of the society that eventually embraces that religion. One of those ways is by interpreting it in a way that it fits our social norms that existed long before the religion ever invaded our land. The reason for this does not require a genius or a scholar to figure out: Religion needs to be practical, and whichever of its laws and routines are not practical for a certain society, that society will not hesitate to reject them. To ask a people to completely rid themselves of their previous customs, no matter how much they may be "clashing" with the religion they are compelled to accept, is silly and impractical. Looking into Islamic history and the beliefs of the people we call the pagans of Arabia, we notice that a lot of the rituals we have to perform during Hajj are actually derived from pre-Arab customs but were simply incorporated into Islam once they were re-interpreted to fit the standards of the Islamic/monotheistic concept of God and divinity and worship. (The concept of dowry is another example. It was simply made by claiming that it is to help the woman, though it can also mean other things … including some bad things, that is, such as: A man is paying a certain amount of money to the bride so that he can sexually own her for the rest of her life, or so that he can expect her obedience. This is how Muslim scholars in medieval and classical times interpreted the dowry. But today, how many Muslim women, especially in the west, are willing to see it this way?)

So we cannot expect people to give up every single one of their custom that they so cherished before they had to accept Islam, even if those practices clash with our understanding of Islam. It is only natural for them to keep some things from their past and accept new ones from the religion they have been introduced to, or to just mix both or re-interpret their older beliefs and practices so they can be explained from their new perspectives.

As far as the treatment of women is concerned, the thing is that there are teachings in the Quran that, if interpreted from a misogynistic perspective, do in fact support the mistreatment of women in Muslim cultures. The “Quranic” concept of divorce is one (if interpreted literally, the woman has to go through hell to get a divorce; so why bother divorcing at all? And look at what the four Sunni legal schools have to say about divorce, both regarding men and women. Tell me how much of it is in favor of women or their mental and physical security. Hanafi school doesn’t even allow it in case of the woman’s being brutally abused or even when her husband abandons her! Shafi’s law is more women-friendly when it comes to divorce: She can divorce her husband if he fails to provide for her and her kids financially, if he beats her, or even if she’s just unhappy.)

So, no, I don’t agree that the mistreatment of women in Muslim cultures is always the original culture’s fault. Many, many hadith do seem to think that education for a woman is just not a good idea. And the hadith that “education is compulsory upon every Muslim person” can mean so many things. We have to ask what education is, do there have to be differences in the types of education (e.g., should women’s education be limited to domestic education and basic education and man’s education far and beyond that?). So when people don’t support education for women, they DO have Islamic basis. Who are we to say that that understanding of Islam is wrong?

Is this to mean that it's Islam's fault? Not necessarily, because, as aforementioned, Islam is a theory; it becomes practice only once it is interpreted AND then implemented. So it's not necessarily Islam's fault but the fault of the interpretations, though often inexorably stemming from the literal text of the Quran itself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Thoughts on the Niqab

**Edit:  I wrote this a long time ago and the views I have expressed here may or may not still be my views. I will write an update on my views on the niqab soon, ka khaire.** - Qrratugai, May 2011.

An interesting question was posted ... about the niqab (face-covering, or the equivalent of "paruney" in Pukhto) on Chai Khana. I thought I'd paste my response here as well, just for future reference. I'd been meaning to write these thoughts anyway, so here they are finally :D

Niqab, paruney, face-covering ... Not for me at all. I would never wear it unless I'm in an area where wearing it is gonna save my coward behind. Like Swat. I mean, to not wear a paruney (face-covering) there basically puts you in the category of a slut, you know.

The niqab is bound to prevent me (and most women who wear it) from being actively and directly involved in their community, particularly when your activity involves being around both male and female members of the society. For instance, I can't imagine myself being a professor and wearing the niqab. I can't imagine myself giving some lectures or presenting at a conference with a niqab on. I think women need to help build communities, shape our future, and play a role in the society OTHER than by just giving birth and raising kids (don't get me wrong, though -- I think that's a crucial job that society has given the woman, and I have no doubt that most women cherish it, but that shouldn't be our only job ... and it doesn't have to be. I onno ... maybe it's just me 'cause I can't imagine thinking I'm being used only for giving birth and nothing else). Besides, how many niqabis out there prove otherwise -- as in, they actually are directly involved in their community? What percentage of women wear the niqab, and what percentage of those women do anything other than just having babies and all?

So, yeah, the niqab would certainly be a major obstacle in my achieving goals that are this important to me, and I don't think wearing a niqab is worth giving up these goals for. But that's just me -- and the lots of other Muslim girls I know.

Sure, some women wear it because they claim it's their choice, or they "choose" to wear it. Those who supposedly “choose” to wear the veil wear it because they believe it brings them closer to God, it makes them feel modest, and it is a moment of piety for them; many will also say, "I feel free in this. This is my OWN free will." But Qrratugai MUST ask her: "Is this really freedom, sister, considering it is something else’s will – the will of YOUR understanding of modesty – that you wear this veil?

Other questions I wanna ask, and would appreciate answers to, are:

1. Is it really a "choice" if your NOT wearing the veil means, in your opinion, your being molested or raped or disrespected in other ways? Where's the choice? Is this “choice” to wear the veil then really based on the women’s own will, or is it a consequence of external factors? I'll say: That's not choice; that's compulsion. Force doesn't have to come from another human being, you know; it can be a result of your own beliefs. So your belief is such that you are *required* to wear the niqab in order to feel closer to God, to feel modest, to feel secure, and so on... doesn't look like a choice to me.

2. If it's a "choice" like they tell us it is, then will you "choose" to wear the Niqab in some parts of the world, and in certain situations, but not in all? Why not? Especially when they're doing it only because they feel modest that way. If it's for purpose of modesty, then why wear it only at certain times and not all? Or is it based on when you think you look pretty and may attract attention?... If that's so, then how do you define beauty or prettiness? (Funny it may sound, but the billions of women who DO show their faces, why don't they seem to attract any men?...)

3. Most importantly, what makes Niqabi women think that in order to be modest, they must wear the veil? In other words, why is the level of modesty defined simply in terms of how much skin is covered?

4. If they're wearing the niqab because they don't wanna be molested or raped, I want to know ... what makes them believe that their veiling themselves solves the society’s problem of having its men molest women whose face are not covered? If a man is gonna be hungry enough to rape or molest a woman whose face (or even hair) isn't covered, something's not wrong with the woman's belief: something's wrong with the society for allowing this man to think that he CAN do this and for telling women that they MUST cover if they don't wanna be raped.

5. What are men’s ways of being modest? How many Muslims do we know who focus on the idea of teaching their male children and other male family members how to respect women, not to give unwanted attention to women, when these same families focus SO much on how modest their FEMALES should be? Everyone talks about whether a woman is required to cover her hair or face, but how many people talk about how to teach a man some values of respect for women? Can we for once try to remind Muslims that, yo, yo, the Quran tells both men AND women to be modest; it tells both men AND women to lower their gazes; it doesn't focus on women's modesty all that any more than it does on men's. So what's the fuss over?

And ... I'm sure each Muslim has her/his own ways of submitting to God. For some women, for instance, it may be by wearing the niqab (though I continue believing that they're not exactly submitting to God by covering their faces; they're submitting to society just as much). It's certainly not for me; I have my ways of submitting to God and expressing that submission. And so, I can't imagine believing in a God who thinks that I should cover my face to please Him or get extra blessings of His. But, of course, what works for one individual doesn't necessarily work for another, so if the only way some women think they can attain piety is by covering their faces, great. But I also think that they're sort of conditioned to believing that. I mean, I've friends who say, "I respect women who wear the niqab; it's the best form of modesty there is, and it takes a lotta guts." And I more than strongly disagree with these opinions.

So That's what I think. Oh, and as for women who wear the veil in the west ... they seem to get far more attention than they do when they don't wear the niqab. Now, let's ask ourselves. Why do we think the niqab is necessary again? Because it won't attract men our way? So that we don't get attract attention and are left alone? Well, if that's one of our reasons, let's re-evaluate that reasoning 'cause I don't think that works in this case.

Besides, even the head-covering (what has now come to be called "hijab") isn't obligatory according to the Quran -- or so one argument goes -- let alone face-covering.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

For the Beloved: Let the Rain Keep Reigning

Let the Rain Keep Reigning

Rain, reign over my soul
Reign until my Beloved comes home to me
Tomorrow evening.
When you spray on the world a somnolent spell
And I’m all to myself,
Immersed in my Beloved’s thoughts
Riding on the wings of His Love
Rain, reign over my soul!
My Beloved’s come Home to me!
We sit hand-in-hand by the riverside,
As you remind us with each drop of yours
The infinite reasons we live
I’m his universe, he’s mine
Love belongs to us, we belong to love
God must be pleased, for
Two separate souls have become one entity
Two sane souls have fallen insanely in love
No distance, no space between our beating hearts
No boundaries observed
For the world runs on the wheels of love,
Yet love is forbidden –
But not upon us.
No fruit is forbidden, for everything belongs to us
No need to be dressed in innocence,
No need for leaves of shame to be worn,
Because we have become One
Our Love has been immortalized,
Whispered so by the sanctity of eternal night winds,
Reign over our hearts, Rain,
Cleanse it with your drops of passion
Life has awakened two dead souls,
Riveted in passionate longing for each other
Our Heart has at last found reasons to beat
Our Lips have at last found reasons to smile
Our souls have become one
All’s well with the world
For my Beloved has come to Me.
Let the rain keep reigning over Our Soul.
Let the rain keep reigning.

~ Qrratugai
~ Feb. 7th 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Stimulating Classes - Part 6: Intro to the Middle East

The class was literally an introduction to Middle East studies, starting from the most ancient of moments in history till today. Of course, my passions couldn’t be ignored in this class, so for the first paper we had to submit, I chose to write on women’s status in Hammurabi's time as concluded from The Hammurabi Code. I did this because according to many (not all) Muslims, the status of women in every culture and religion before the advent of Islam was extremely low and Islam came to change that. Well, historical findings show us a different side of the picture: Hammurabi existed in 17th century BCE, and guess what, folks! Women had FAR MORE in his laws than they do in many cultures/religions even today. It was quite heartbreaking to see how backward humans seem to have gone between now and 17th century BCE. That's not to say, however, that they had the best status and were treated most beautifully under Hammurabi's code.

I was also introduced to The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is virtually a copy of the Noah’s story – you know, the flood and all – and is the oldest written on earth as far as historian and archeologists are concerned. The Epic is about the adventures of King Gilgamesh of Uruk, who lived around 2750 and 2500 BCE.(By the way, Uruk is considered to have been the first "city," an urban area, in history.) Noah, according to Biblical records and accounts, lived around 16th century BCE – but let’s not forget that the Bible tells us that he lived for 900 years and died about 300 years after the flood.

And so I noticed how stories are passed down from generation to generation and how the theories/beliefs/myths/legends/etc. of one culture or religion can be a result of mutual influence from others.

It was also in this class that I realized (when studying the emergence of the factions within Islam) how crucial it is to study things from not just ONE perspective but from as many as possible, if we really wish to consider ourselves educated and learned. We can’t claim that we’re right while not willing to understand what the others around us, even if they believe we are wrong, have to say – both about our beliefs as well as their own. And how can we study something if it’s taught to us from the opponent’s perspective? For instance, if I wanna study Shiasm, I must not study it from Sunni or other non-Shia perspective. Sure, it’s good to look into what Sunnis have to say about the beliefs of Shias, but to STUDY them from Sunni sources is a terrible mistake and trap. Similarly, if we wanna study Christianity, or a certain faction within Christianity, we must do it from the sources of that particular group, not other groups. The same applies to all other religions and the branches/sub-branches that have developed inside them.

Believe me, people’s beliefs start to make sense to us only once we allow *them* to explain it all to us, not when we sit around asking their enemies to tell us anything about them. We can learn a lot from them this way, and it shows us how to be tolerant and respectful to all.

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