Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Riffat Hassan on Women in the Quran and Women in Muslim Societies

So, as I must've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I love, love, LOVE Riffat Hassan's views on Islam, Muslims, and women. I've a tonnn of questions to ask her, and I wish she'd reply to my congratulatory e-mail already (yeah, I told her how much I admire her and how HAPPY I am that we have Muslim women like her existing), but those will wait until I get a better hold of her, ka khairee.

In the mean time, lemme just share an excerpt from one of her writings I found online. It's from "Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam?" and cover women's rights as well (of course :D). She said it all so well that I don't need to revise it or put it in my own words. I'll paste here only certain parts of the essay, though, the parts that, in this blog post, start with ** and end with **. Interested individuals should visit the link provided to read the rest.

Note: I'm particularly interested in women's rights, under Islam, in terms of divorce and child custody. Consider what Dr. Riffat has to say about these two.

Pasting from the link

** Muslim men never tire of repeating that Islam has given more rights to women than has any other religion. Certainly, if by "Islam" is meant "Qur'anic Islam" the rights that it has given to women are, indeed, impressive....**

I LOVE this part:

**[T]he Qur'an[,] because of its protective attitude toward all downtrodden and oppressed classes of people, appears to be weighted in many ways in favor of women, many of its women-related teachings have been used in patriarchal Muslim societies against, rather than for, women. Muslim societies, in general, appear to be far more concerned with trying to control women's bodies and sexuality than with their human rights. Many Muslims when they speak of human rights, either do not speak of women's rights at all,[52] or are mainly concerned with how a women's chastity may be protected[53]. (They are apparently not worried about protecting men's chastity). **

Then she gives examples of Muslim women's oppression and discrimination in Muslim societies. (I did NOT know that "one of the most common crimes in a number of Muslim countries (e.g., in Pakistan) is the murder of women by their husbands."!!!)

**Even though so much Qur'anic legislation is aimed at protecting the rights of women in the context of marriage[54] women cannot claim equality with their husbands. The husband, in fact, is regarded as his wife's gateway to heaven or hell and the arbiter of her final destiny. That such an idea can exist within the framework of Islam - which, in theory, rejects the idea of there being any intermediary between a believer and God - represents both a profound irony and a great tragedy.**

On Divorce:

**Although the Qur'an presents the idea of what we today call a "no-fault" divorce and does not make any adverse judgements about divorce [55], Muslim societies have made divorce extremely difficult for women, both legally and through social penalties. **

See, I always wondered why the hell it is that we have this pathetic form of divorce called "triple divorce" (you know, the god-husband/husband-god goes, "Talaq, talaq, talaq" and the woman is divorced). Gosh. Only to finally discover that it was during the reign of Umar did it become acceptable. This was a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia, and it's pitiful that just because Umar legalized it during his reign (and hence afterwards), it became an "Islamic" thing! Talk about Arab influence on the entire Muslim world.

On Child Custody:

**Although the Qur'an states clearly that the divorced parents of a minor child must decide by mutual consultation how the child is to be raised and that they must not use the child to hurt or exploit each other[56], in most Muslim societies, women are deprived both of their sons (generally at age 7) and their daughters (generally at age 12). It is difficult to imagine an act of greater cruelty than depriving a mother of her children simply because she is divorced.**

Unfortunately, though, that's what our Four Sunni scholars tell us to do during divorce. (I'll explain this in detail in another post, ka khairee, no worries. I've a lot to say on the subject.)

On Polygamy:

**Although polygamy was intended by the Qur'an to be for the protection of orphans and widows[57], in practice Muslims have made it the Sword of Damocles which keeps women under constant threat.**

YESSS!!! I long to write on polygamy in the Quran (I've found some seriously shocking things that our classical scholars have said about polygamy ... and a constant reading of the verse on polygamy has also made me realize something that I absolutely long to share in a blog entry some time, but heck, if I could only find some time to do that!

On Niqab/Hijab/Modesty (my personal favorite ... k, one of them):

**Although the purpose of the Qur'anic legislation dealing with women's dress and conduct[58], was to make it safe for women to go about their daily business (since they have the right to engage in gainful activity as witnessed by Surah 4: An-Nisa' :32 without fear of sexual harassment or molestation, Muslim societies have put many of them behind veils and shrouds and locked doors on the pretext of protecting their chastity, forgetting that according to the Qur'an[59], confinement to their homes was not a normal way of life for chaste women but a punishment for "unchastity".**

On Husband-Wife Relationships:

**The Qur'anic description of man and woman in marriage: "They are your garments/ And you are their garments" (Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 187) implies closeness, mutuality, and equality. However, Muslim culture has reduced many, if not most, women to the position of puppets on a string, to slave-like creatures whose only purpose in life is to cater to the needs and pleasures of men. Not only this, it has also had the audacity and the arrogance to deny women direct access to God. It is one of Islam's cardinal beliefs that each person -man or woman- is responsible and accountable for his or her individual actions. How, then, can the husband become the wife's gateway to heaven or hell?**

Gosh, TELL me about it. :S

But then again, if (authentic) hadiths tell us that women can go to heaven only if their husbands were "pleased" with them at the time of their death or if they obeyed their husbands, then who are we to argue?

Oh, no, we'll argue all right. I recently read the MOST AMMMMMMMMMMMMMAYZING book on Islam and women EVER: Speaking in God's Name by Khaled Abu el-Fadl. OMGOMGOMGOMG!! In my letter to him, I told him how I've pretty much highlighted EVERY other sentence in the book 'cause it was just THAT important and worth-remembering. Ahhhhhhhh... every Muslim, especially female, should read that book.

Yeah, so in this book, he discusses all those hadith that are SO demeaning to women that they pretty much dehumanize us beautiful women. And this hadith of wife's prostration to her husband is one of them, another being her spending her life to please her husband, especially sexually. Gosh, it's sick.
But more on that later, ka khairee :) (I know, I know, I keep promising all these things and then you don't get to see them till perhaps years later, but hey, give me time, man. I'm getting busier and busier by day. Ka khair wee, soon!)

k, lemme end this here for now. Will continue it, though, for sure.

In peace!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Apogee of My Being

When will I reach the apogee of my being?
When will I feel myself welcome in the circle of sages,
Environed by ambrosial perspectives,
Unencumbered with asinine notions of forbidden and permitted,
When, ultimately, everything is forbidden and everything permitted,
It must be in someone’s Book.
But these thoughts confound my mind
And deny me my right to my own psyche—
And I ache to know,
When will I reach the apogee of my being?
So that I may spurn these frivolous discourses held among the
Unlettered masses inside me and around me?
When will I reach the apogee of my being?
So that I can recline on the cushions of contentment,
Far, far away from this masquerade
That obliges me to dissemble my very being,
But I wait to reach the apogee of my being
So that I may embrace myself
And make it known to the worlds,
The world of the forbidden and the world of the permitted,
This is me—no more facades.
My once-thirsty anima has unearthed its roots,
And found its companions.
But rapt in these moments of respite,
I have arrived yet again in a desert.
Alas, when will I reach the apogee of my being?

~ Qrratugai
~ March 28th 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Gender, Feminism, and Muslim Scholars

I'm thinking I should start posting my journal responses here. See, I'm taking a class called Modern Islam, which is a continuation of Early and Medieval Islam. It's SO thought-provoking, and I'm SO, SO happy I decided to take it.

k, so, we have to read all these interesting articles and excerpts/chapters from books, often contested perspectives, and then respond to them, posting those responses in a page online set up for discussions. I REALLY have to share this particular one because we had to read an article by Maududi (the guy whom I respect as much as I do Zakir Naik) -- what with his thinking of women and all! My GOD, he's seen as a SCHOLAR??! Bloody heavens, we SERIOUSLY need to define scholarship, man.
Anyway, I love how each reading assigned to us is so different yet, each author uses the Quran to justify their views. All of them do this, and this is what I love about the Quran and Islam so much. There are Quranic grounds for the most liberal, most progressive thinking, AND their are Quranic grounds for the most backward, most strictest, most conservative thinking as well. No wonder our scholars never agree on anything.

k, so, here's what my professor wrote:

This coming Monday we will continue on the topic of different Muslim views on the status of women in Islam. Last week we read the essay by Fatima Mernissi in Charles Kurzman's text [Liberal Islam] and viewed Ahmed's film, "Paradise Lies at the Feet of the Mother." This week for a different, more traditional view, read Maududi's "Purdah and the Status of Women." [...] Then read two of the following authors: Nazira Zein ed-Din (Turkish secularist feminist), Benazir Bhuto (Pakistani nationalist feminist), Amina Wadud (Qur'an and Woman), or Muhammad Shahrour (Westernized Syrian male commentator on the 1995 World Conference on Women).

In your journal essay, describe, compare, and discuss Mernissi, Ahmed's film, Maududi and the two essayists you have chosen. Do they fall within any of the categories that Voll or Kurzman have developed to talk about modern Islam? How much sense do such titles and topics as "the role or status of women in Islam" make?

My response (I apologize for my prolixity! But I REALLY think it was called for -- this time :D):

Fatima Mernissi in her article “Women’s Rights in Islam” suggests that because the Quran and hadith have been interpreted by males who lived in a particular society and a particular time, it is not just to eternalize and universalize their interpretations. She seems to believe that “because” men have been the ones to interpret women’s position in Islam, and those interpretations have often been misogynistic (and they really have been), much of the mistreatment of women in the Muslim world can be attributed to these interpretations and justified as “Islamic.” Hence, she is calling for a re-interpretation of the Texts (Quran/Sunnah), a re-defining of women’s roles and rights within Islam, since new questions have arisen that need to be explored and new concepts have evolved that need to be addressed extensively. She gives examples of hadith transmitters, such as Abu Hurairah, who widely narrated as many hadiths as their lifetime would allow them, and Mernissi challenges their thinking of women, stating that they “saturate the daily life of every modern Muslim woman” (p.124). She also provides the views of others who, like Caliph Umar, were afraid of narrating hadiths because of the fear of being wrong; they preferred to rely on their judgment rather than their memory (p.125).

Akbar Ahmed deserves much esteem for having included many different women’s perspectives in his film. For instance, on the one hand, he has Amina Wadud (a female interpreter of the Quran who has earned the label of “feminist” by many Muslims; author of the book “Quran and Woman: Re-reading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective”; and someone currently under threat by orthodox Muslims who believe that she is trying to “westernize” Islam); on the other hand, he shows many women who seem likely to disagree with Amina Wadud’s perspectives of women in Islam. In the film, Faiza tells us that although she’d never allow her husband to bring another wife home, he has the right to beat her if she upsets him – and that he has beaten her. A Muslim Sheikh confirms this by saying, “The husband can beat up his wife in two instances. One, if she brings home a male stranger. Why should she? And two, if she refuses to have sex wit him when he wants her to.” There’s a hadith narrated several times by Abu Hurairah that says that any woman who refuses sex to her husband is cursed all night long by angels (see for example, al-Bukhari, volume 7, Book 62, hadiths 1201-122).  Hence, in Ahmed’s film, we note the implication of the hadiths narrated by Abu Hurairah, the controversial transmitter who has narrated more hadiths that even the Prophet’s wives.

Maududi first explains why the idea of women in Islam is a problematic one, for women as mothers have different rights and are to be respected highly, while women as wives seem don’t seem to be regarded as much. He later explains why Muslims have come to conclude that Islam liberates women, as it allows them many rights that include going to the Mosque for teaching and learning and participating in battles, rights that some Muslims even today ignore. It is important to note that he disagrees with the idea of reformation, saying, “When our so-called reformers saw with dazed eyes the European ladies in their full make-up moving freely and participating actively in social life, they could not help longing to see their own womenfolk also tread the same path of freedom and progress” (p.21). He also considers “equality” propaganda and asserts that the reason these “reformers” in the early 19th century felt the need to “reform” Islam was that they felt humiliated by seeing their women wearing too much clothing; in his view, “they were in fact laboring under self-deception” (p.22). Maududi also believes that the limited and conditional freedom that women are allowed in Islam (e.g., they cannot leave their homes unless absolutely necessary) has been abused as an argument for freedom for women to “abandon home life” (p.24). Hence, Maududi would unarguably disagree with Amina Wadud and especially with Fatima Mernissi. How can Maududi be considered a “scholar of Islam,” what with the sort of attitude that he holds towards women (that God has created them inferior to men naturally, and women shouldn’t try to excel men because they will not succeed)? I find it shocking and unbelievable that he is not only considered a scholar of Islam but a reformist as well. He is no better than the Salafis, Wahabis, and other orthodox Muslims who are intimidated by the mobility of women and are somehow convinced that the only way a society can achieve morality is by limiting all sorts of freedom to women, which it bestows on men practically limitlessly.

Nazira Zaid-ed-Din offers her views broadly on the veiling (“niqab” in Arabic). She doesn’t understand why many have neglected to discuss the disadvantages and benefits of the veiling. In her view, when we as Muslim women wear the veil in our Muslim homeland but not in the west and are not reprimanded by our male family members for doing this, it is because we have more faith in the conduct of the “unveiled” westerners than in our own. She argues that the veil is an insult to the woman who wears it because her wearing it implies that she cannot protect herself without it. In other words, if a society is filled with men who cannot respect women unless they are entirely covered up, the problem is not in the conduct of the woman; it is in the way that the society brings up its male members; thus, society should focus more on teaching men how to behave properly and respectfully rather than by compelling its women to wear the veil. Zaid-ed-Din also explains the Quranic verses that are used to conclude that God favors men over women and that is the major reason for women to cover up (hence implying that the covering of women is a form of their subjugation). She argues against them, and supports her own arguments, by using the overall message of the Quran – justice (which entails goodness and equality).

Amina Wadud’s stance is that no method of interpreting the Quran is impartial, that particular details in their interpretations reflect their own perceptions and beliefs. She describes the various interpretations of the Quran, such as those that are traditional in thinking and those that are responses to those traditional thinking that seems to demean women. She argues that while the Quran does not deny the differences between men and women, it does not define roles for men and women, the possible rationale being that the Quran is, in Muslims’ beliefs, for all people of all times of all societies. And for the Quran to define these roles would be unwise in  that each society might have different roles for its men and women; would they then be required to change their social structure solely to become Islamic? Wadud reminds her readers that the Quran was sent at a particular time in history and a particular place, when and where people held almost entirely different conceptions and misconceptions about women. The many questions that the Quran answers were endemic in the society and time the Quran was revealed in. It was inevitable, therefore, that the classical scholars/interpreters/commentators of Islam defined women’s roles in a certain way and attributed them to Islam, for it was moral in their societies; it is just as inevitable today when Muslim scholars are rising to call for re-interpretations because, they believe, since women’s roles have not specifically been defined in the Quran, we cannot deny them their roles of today. She explains this by stating the example of why women were to wear the veil in Arabia during the time of the Prophet: “Women of wealthy and powerful tribes were veiled and secluded as an indication of protection. The Quran acknowledges the virtue of modesty and demonstrates it through the prevailing practices. The principle of modesty is important – not the veiling and seclusion which were manifestations particular to that context” (p.132). Her argument is a rather compelling one, one with which Mernissi and Zaid ed-Din would agree but Maududi would disagree.

I abhor titles like “women’s roles in Islam” or even “women in Islam.”  They are too broad, too general. “Islam” is a concept, and when someone says “women in Islam,” she/he is making that concept rather practical and is even defining it. There are many problems with this, the most important one being that have yet to have Muslim scholars agree on what the roles and rights of women in Islam are. So, when I see such titles, I am compelled to ask, “Women’s roles according to whom? As interpreted by whom? Which Quranic verses and hadiths did these people use to come to this conclusion? What kinds of hadiths were they? Who narrated them and when? Are there any discussions held on them even today, or are they dispositive? How supportive is the Quran of those hadiths that debase women?” etc. There’s a plethora of writing on women’s roles and rights in Islam, but there is almost none on men’s roles and rights. Surely, the whole “women” topic has attracted much attention in every society, possibly since women have been (and still are) mistreated in many, if not all, cultures/religions – but often in different ways. For instance, Maududi and most other Muslims find nothing wrong with the idea of having women cover up their bodies “because it liberates them, and they should not be disrespected like the women of the west”; other Muslims find this problematic because to them, the more a woman covers up, the more she is agreeing with society that she’s a sexual commodity who, if she shows any skin, will be molested and insulted by certain males who are searching for a prey to attack. Although some women feel more liberated when they are covered up (though I strongly believe it is because they are programmed to believe this), others feel more liberated when they do not cover up as much. Who is to say what liberation really is?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cracks of Resistance

**This is for an ethnographic study I'm currently executing with a professor.** I'm still working on this, so expect more in the future.

There are certain traits in human personality that are least explored but are exhibited in human actions. One of them is what is resistance. Let us define the phrase cracks of resistance as one’s conscious and unconscious behavior to prove one's identity and existence. I consider them unconscious because often, we might know we are resisting, or what it is that we are resisting, but it can be apparent in our experiences, thoughts, actions, attitudes, and behavior. While they are often latent, they are not always veiled, and the subject knows that she/he is resisting. For instance, many Egyptian Muslim women in the early 20th century started wearing the veil (face-covering) in an attempt to resist western imperialism and western ideas; they were resisting concepts that did not coincide with their religious and cultural thoughts and practices, and they did it openly.

Importantly, these are “cracks” of resistance. It should be remembered that, in general, a crack:
- is a result of some form of pressure
- develops as a result of an evolutionary process (it does not form overnight)
- shows intrinsic weakness of a substance, a subject, or a system of values
- is a destructive process (it destroys pre-existing elements that led to its formation)

These points show us that cracks do not occur suddenly; they are the product of an intricate process that involves pressure and are engendered by a plethora of individual and personal as well as collective and social factors. In our study, these cracks are a product of certain beliefs, rituals, norms, etc. that might be destructive to a certain or many groups of people in one or more societies, and the more these aspects of life continue, the wider the cracks become and the stronger the resistance grows.

In our ethnographic study, these cracks include:

- constant shopping
- buying jewelry, clothing, other accessories for pleasure
- extreme cooking (mostly for income, possibly to get one’s mind off of commercial issues)
- narrating a past, sharing stories, telling jokes
- giving children more liberty and independence (e.g., allowing them to have a marriage of choice instead of one that is forced or at least arranged by parents/elders)
- educating children, including daughters
- ultra sensitivity towards washing hands, face, other body parts, possibly along with worship rituals
- being actively involved in debates and discussions to get one’s views heard
- expressing too much engrossment in the recitation of the Quran
- offering prayers for the oppressed, subjugated members of society – and/or for oneself
- performing as many rakats of extra, voluntary prayers as possible
- establishing/heading organizations that aim to solve social problems
- joining social organizations, communities, clubs, etc.
- developing friendships with those who have different perspectives
- reading, writing
- over-perfectionism
- learning/studying Islam, Arabic, women’s rights in Islam, and/or similar topics
- incessant talking
- incessant quietness (e.g., “This doesn’t concern me”; “I’m not interested in this”; “Even if I do offer my opinion, it won’t matter,” etc.)
- indifference towards serious matters
- drugs, alcohol
- working (too much)
- oversleeping

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stereotypes, Double Standards, Judgments

~ If I were to write a novel and have one of my Pashtun characters a beast who abused his wife/sisters/daughters, I expect to be slain for having done so, since it’ll make many Pashtuns think that I’m letting this ONE character be the representative of ALL Pashtuns.

~ If I were to write a novel and had one Pashtun character in it who was a nationalist and agreed that Pashtuns need independence from Pakistan or need to re-unite with Afghanistan, the non-nationalist and the anti-nationalist Pashtuns WILL insult the hell out of me because, they’d claim, “Pashtuns are NOT nationalists! We love Pakistan! This is our home!”

In their minds, I’d be representing ALL Pashtuns with just *one* character. In their minds, that ONE character and her/his experiences, beliefs, behavior, etc. will be an expression of the beliefs/experiences/behavior of ALL Pukhtuns. It might not cross their minds that each individual has her/his OWN story to tell. I have a million to tell, many from experiences, some from observations, and others from imagination. Why should I be condemned for telling ANY story at all?

~ If I decided to make one of my characters a Quran teacher, or a mullah, who molests little children (girls and/or boys), the entire MUSLIM World will rise up against me upon reading them. Why? Because they’ll see it as my attempt to bash Islam, to show that “*All* Mullahs molest boys and girls, that all Quran teachers are disgusting people,” etc. And I may not have that intention: I may only be trying to show parents that, look, folks, don’t trust your mullah too much; just because he’s SUPPOSED to be pious and good doesn’t mean he’s any more trustworthy than any other man.

Never mind that those scenarios/stories will be based on FACTS, direct observations – I HAVE been a witness to molestation/rape crimes committed by Quran teachers. But how dare I say this out loud in a Muslim community, right?[B]

~ If I decide to narrate the events of the recent war in Swat – and the Taliban were BEYOND brutal, mind you; it won’t be exaggeration at all – I BET you Pashtuns will get angry that “Pashtuns don’t do this!” or those who support the Taliban still (if any at all) will say, “She exaggerated; the Taliban aren’t THIS bad.”

~ If I describe what the Pakistani army did to our women – including elderly women – in Swat and base it ENTIRELY on the circumstances that flooded on my relatives and other people I know/knew, the Pakistan-lovers (whether Pashtuns or not) and many Muslims in general will say, “OMG! How DARE she! Pakistanis are MUSLIMS, and Islam doesn't ALLOW for that! They RESPECT women! The army was in Swat to HELP Pukhtuns, not to humiliate their women! Eff this author; she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She just wants to give a bad name to Muslims and Pakistanis!”

And my response will be: “Say that to the Pukhtuns whose families have been demoralized by the PK army.”

And the readers will say, “But not ALL of the soldiers were bad! Only SOME!”

And I’ll say, “I didn’t say ALL of the soldiers were bad; I only showed the reality that there were disrespectful soldiers with no sense of humanity, pretty much just as bad as the Taliban.”

Yet, when we go around bashing American soldiers for what they’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, we get all happy and say, “YES! They’re HORRIBLE people! Kill them all!” Do we not realize that there actually DO exist some who are decent humans, who REALLY care about humanity?

~ If, in my novel, I included a Punjabi character who had no respect for, say, his mother, I BET you none of us here will stand up and say, “Hey, that’s not true! Some Punjabis DO respect their mothers, okay? In fact, they respect them so much that they’re willing to divorce their wives if their mothers say so!”

It might not cross the readers’ minds that I have NO attempt of allowing this character to be the representative of all Punjabis.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On Writing a Novel & Telling a Story

So, there's this  discussion going on on PF, and I thought I should share in here what my last post there says. (The discussion is on The Kite Runner and its portrayal of Pashtuns.)

It is commonly known that the average reader will take each character as a *representative* of an entire group of people – a race, possibly; a people belonging to one same faith, maybe – and so when the author is writing, she/he should be careful. But what about when they’re telling the story of a particular people? Should authors still be careful? Sure. Are they obligated to? Not at all.

You see, there are ways to be careful when you’re telling a story. For instance, you could make your focal character whoever you want, but try to make sure that you have another character of *the same race and/or creed* so that your readers don’t end up making generalizations about your characters, so that your readers don’t go, “Ohhh! Since Character A, the main character, was an Egyptian and he disrespected his wife, all Egyptian men must be like that.” Or “Ohhh! Since Character A was Muslim and he was an alcoholic EVEN THOUGH he prayed 5 times a day, all Muslims are hypocrites.”

What you can do (I won’t say “should”) is, construct your story in a way that you will have more than one character who belong to the same race/belief system. So, you have this one Egyptian character who’s Muslim, give another Egyptian Muslim who’s not a hypocrite; give a Muslim of another background who’s also an alcoholic; give a non-Muslim who’s also an alcoholic (or a hypocrite in other ways).

BUT! Doing that will mean stuffing your stories with so many characters that your readers can’t keep up with it and constantly have to go back to remember who’s who. But why feel obligated to have that many characters just because you’re afraid of the response you will receive from people? What if your novel is based on a true story (or true stories) and you want to tell only that, while embellishing it with some fictitious characters, thoughts, scenarios, etc. Remember: This is *your* novel; no one else gets a say in it.

Anyway, so, you could also make sure that you tell your story in such a way that the reader will never be able to make any assumptions about you, the story teller. Give only one character of each faith/race, as you wish, but don’t make any judgments yourself; don’t allow your characters to make judgment – no, wait, that’s inevitable; you have to do that … but you can do it by having one character say A and another character saying – A. Your doing this won’t expose your judgmental side to your reader.

But again! Why do you have to do that? Why is it that you feel like you have to provide a “perfectly accurate representation” of the races and religions of all the characters you include in your book? Sure, it’s great for English assignments when your readers have to read your book for a class and then write some analysis paper on it.
For instance, if one of your character rapes another character of the same gender in your story, why does the whole world have to assume that all of the people who belong the race of the former are like that?

I will post more later. Can't at the moment.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Divorce Rates in the West and the East

Some days ago, I promised that my next blog post was gonna be on the divorce rate in the west -- and I totally (like, TOTALLY!) forgot to post it. So! Here.

Regarding the claim that the *reason* marriages in the west don't last long is that they're not arranged ...
... actually, that's not (necessarily) true.

Reasons for why divorce rates are extremely high in the west compared to those in our culture are many, actually. The lack of divorce in OUR areas is mostly because of forced arranged marriages. I mean, think about it -- if a couple isn't really given a choice to be with each other for the rest of their lives (i.e., their opinion in THEIR marriage isn't considered), then do you really think they will be allowed to end the marriage? I mean, their voice isn't usually appreciated.

Then there's the fact that we're allergic to divorce. It's the worst thing a woman can go through. Divorced (and widowed) women have no respect in our society. So women generally try their hardest to make sure their husbands don't divorce them. I know of some women who tell their husbands, "Marry other women if you have to, but don't leave me!!"
Re-marriage for women isn't very convenient, but it is VERY convenient for men. It's not a problem for a man to find another woman to marry right after he becomes a divorcee or a widow.

Our men prefer women who have never been "touched," and even if their husbands have died, men are less likely to marry them! IFFF they ever do get to re-marry, it's to men who have another wife already and has kids ... and his children need to be taken care of, something the man doesn't seem able to do (or can't do for whatever reasons).

As for the west, their whole understanding of marriage and family is different. And they don't believe in "settling for less." So, during their dating period, which starts at the age of 11 for many, if not lower, they start looking for "the perfect man/woman." And instead of trying to compromise, most of these people leave the person right after the first couple of fights or the first few misunderstandings, saying, "We just didn't get along well" or "We both wanted different things from life."

Yeah, well, you can still have a safe, stable, and happy marriage without both of you expecting the SAME things from life.

Most also don’t bother to discuss important things BEFORE they decide to marry. Whatever is important to you, make sure your mate-to-be knows about it and respects it; and you do the same in return. But too many of them seem to be focused on lesser important things, I guess, because some actually date for years but still fail in a marriage. So, clearly, it's not a matter of how LONG you get to know the person, but it's more a matter of what it IS that you talk about / discuss before marriage to get to KNOW each other better.

And in the back of their minds, many of them always have this: "I can always divorce him/her if I want. I'm not obligated to stay in this relationship." So divorce is, I wanna say, just about their first or second resort when it shouldn't be.

Both sides (our society as well as the western society) are wrong, if I may say so openly. One side never seems to consider divorce as an option, and the other side considers it the first/second option. We should give our everything we have and we can in our marriage, and we should consult as many people as we can who can help us to keep our marriage alive, but if all fails, we SHOULD keep divorce in mind.

By the way, have you noticed that because we Pukhtuns look down upon divorce SO much that even if our husband is being SO abusive and SO disrespectful of our rights and feelings and utter existence, we will STILL stay with him -- just because we don't wanna be divorced. It's great to respect society, but if you have to disrespect yourself to respect others, that respect is not worth it, k? And then when we have kids?! OMG, divorce is not even an option then! The husband might be the worst creature on earth, the worst beast allowed to live, but just because we have kids, we wouldn't even THINK about divorcing him. We need to remember that marriage is a two-way road, not one-way; so BOTH partners, NOT just the wife, need to give their best shots at making it work.

Now, THAT, I completely disagree with. What the heck kind of a message are we giving our kids, for God's sake, when we stay with such a beast? (No, I'm not saying all men are beasts, or that all marriages are abusive.) Our kids watch us suffer and live a miserable life (and many men so don't see anything wrong with beating their wives in front of their kids :S), and our sons grow to think that it's OKAY for the man to beat his wife to pieces and our daughters grow to think they must accept these abuses as a part of life.

And these children miss out on the whole idea and the whole sacredness of marriage.

** One thing I must add... while I'm a strong supporter of marriage, and I think it's a great deal and all, I DON’T think it's the only thing we should worry about the way many people do. Girls at age 27 or 28 or 30 or beyond worry to death about not being married, and I know a few who've rushed into it because they feel too old and "unsettled," so they marry the next guy that comes along just to be "married" :S THAT, I'm entirely against.
BUT then again, I might have to get in their shoes in order to understand why they do that; otherwise, who am I to say anything about their decisions?

However, marriage should be something that the person getting married WANTS; one shouldn't get into it just because one is expected to, feels pressured to do so, or just feels incomplete or unsettled without marriage. Me, if I never get married, I looooooooove kids and one of the things I want badly is to adopt an orphan (whether I have my own or not) :) Some people get married just because they're lonely, and for them, that marriage is an attempt to kill their loneliness. I would most likely just adopt a child if I don't wanna get married and am lonely or something :D
But, anyway, so yeah, we have to create our OWN happiness when our surroundings fail to give it to us. You have to find your own ways of feeling alive, happy, settled, etc., and whatever your ways may be, just be sure they're something they make YOU happy as a person, whether married or not.**

One of my *upcoming* blog entries (I won't say "next"!) is gonna be on the process of divorce for women and men in Islam -- how/why the processes are different and what current/contemporary debates about them are. And custody of children for divorced women ... ahhh, I long to talk about that!! Coming up in some future posts, ka khairee. :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dear Lord of the Oppressed

Dear Lord of the Oppressed:
Lend me Your All-Hearing Ears,
And hear my silenced cries
Lift from me these heavy burdens
Of constant, heaving sighs
Which I have been hauling
Since the dawn of my demise

Instill back into me the breath of existence
The privilege of which I have been denied
For a time untold
Raise me high so that I may pray to reach You
And permit me to wail to You the anguish
Of a people I uphold
Allow me to beseech You to have mercy on us
So that we may be redeemed
Of this bottomless well of miseries
Lend me just a moment of Your infinite Time today
As I weep to You the terrifying circumstances
Thrown upon a people who have been cunningly led astray

The realities of a destroyed future and a forbidden today
Have forced us to abandon our land and kiss our soil away
We’ve become foreigners in a country that claims us its own
In a distant soil where we’re drowning in oceans of dismay

We are told it’s a sin to shed tears of pity, it’s a sin to complain
But we’ve suffered beyond what the mind can think
And tolerated more than what our experiences can explain
There are unmentioned thoughts that must be suppressed
For they are far worse than small complaints can express
But we’ve lost our senses, our path to success
And we have turned into a sad, pitiful breed
We’ve seen chopped limbs and beheaded loved ones
And our wells flood with the tears we bleed

Dear Lord of the oppressed:
Lead us into gardens where serenity will reign
Where our infinite sorrows might start to wane
Guide us back to the land that gave birth to us,
Now blown away by vicious storms of oppression,
Storms that were sent by the demons of tyranny
That left my people in chains of depression
Grant us permission
To embrace our soil’s fragrance once more
And, once more, taste the gentle gush of its breeze
So that we may be intoxicated in its motherly scent
And at last be cured of this gruesome disease
Pour upon us a much-needed rain of mercy and peace
And wipe away from my wretched people
These sweats of subjugation caused by centuries of unease

Dear Lord of the Oppressed:
Let stand strong our shattering mountains
That were once our major source of strength
Let flow the calm, crystal rivers of our mighty land
So that they may wash away our tears of pain
Tears that have been buried in specks of sands
Let, also, bloom the flowers of our fertile land
So that we may plant a future of stability,
One that has been long over-due,
And ignite for ourselves flames of security

Our prayers go unanswered, our screams go unheard,
But as our strong faith compels us to be patient and pray,
We ask You to kindly confer upon us, once again,
Our crowns of honor upon which we once used to sway

~ Me
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Also in Sahar.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Objectification of Women: Women in the Media

The topic of women in the media is a widely-discussed one now, and I’m thrilled to know that it is being given so much attention. Unfortunately, though, women don’t seem to realize that they’re being used as commercial commodities. In my English class in Spring 2007, my teacher showed us a documentary that had done an in-depth analysis of this issue; it was done during a section of the semester on the syllabus when we had to learn to analyze events and circumstances in order to respond to them more wisely and critically. It was then that I started paying attention to how negatively women are portrayed in the media. We don’t realize that we are being used to satisfy men’s (sexual) fantasies. And however we are portrayed as, it is only and only to attract men and is hence something that will give men intense pleasure. For instance, how often do we see women giving child birth in movies or music videos? Rarely, if ever! Because that’s not something men are likely to gain pleasure from. Rape, oh yes, some men actually find pleasure in seeing women being raped! How sickening!

What’s even worse is that, in the ads and commercials entertained by women, most of the goods being sold are not even for women! Most car commercials objectify women when they use a woman to advertise for the car – a woman who’s barely dressed, that is. Of course, it is just to get men’s attention, and the car sellers know their targets too well; the target’s desires are not just acknowledged but accepted and obviously even appreciated as well: Men will be more likely to pay attention to ads if they contain naked women, and not enough people seem to mind this.

How should we approach solving this, one would ask. Well, I think it’s important to first let females know how they are being objectified and abused in such a cunning way that it’s almost deniable. Making observations and then providing information is always a great way to begin making way for change to occur. That way, females can hopefully see how they are being misused – rather, abused – and stand up against it. Not all might agree, and not all might be willing to fight it, but I am also sure that not all know what they are doing and how much they are being taken advantage of, either.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bacha Khan Trust Awards for Pukhtun Women; Deadline March 30, 2010

I received this in an e-mail from a Pukhtun Googlegroup. Zahid Bunery had mentioned it to me some days ago, but I didn't think it'd be this great a deal, to be honest. And now I see it is! So, please sSpread the word, guys! Encourage as many girls and women as you can to apply. Nothing to lose; lots to gain.

Any questions should be directed to Zahid Buneray. Phone: +9291-2246851; e-mail:

I'm not sure if it's someone else who's to nominate you, or you nominate yourself. I'll ask. But in the meantime, take a look.


Baacha Khan Trust is going to present tribute to women of this region who have done their outstanding work in their fields even in worse situation but our brave women have proved that they can do and can face the challenges.

We would like to invite applications from following fields; preference will be given to young applicants.

1. Literature
2. politics
3. social work
4. sports
5. journalism and media
6. special women
7. music
8. aviation
9. arts
10. medicine
11. law
12. economy
13. and others which you feel that your work is very special

Please send us
* Your detailed profile of your background, education, experience and your achievements in your field,
* Your photograph,
* Contact number and present address,
* Any suggestions for the improvement of this program.

Last date for applications: March 30, 2010

Address, Coordinator of women award,

Baacha Khan Research Center, Baacha Khan Markaz,

Pajagi Road Peshawar,
For further inquiry, please call Zahid Buneray at 10-4 PM on +9291-2246851


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Abu Hanifa's Golden Words: "I MAY be wrong."

Imam Abu Hanifa (r.) is known to have said, "I believe that my opinions are correct, but I'm cognizant of the fact that my opinions MAY be wrong. I also believe that the opinions of my opponents are wrong, but I am cognizant of the fact that they may be correct."

So, having read this about him, who among us can HONESTLY say that we have scholars today like Abu Hanifa who will *admit* that they MAY be wrong? That there's at least a slight chance that they may be wrong and their opponents, whoever those might be, MAY be right? How many "scholars" today are willing to accept the *fact* that their views are just that -- views! Not necessarily FACTS, as much as they might want them to be facts?

Then there's that hadith I heard about some years ago that went something like:
"Every mujtahid (a person who applies ijtihad, which is  independent judgment to legal issues, using reason and knowledge) is correct. If the mujtahid is correct in her/his ijtihad, she/he receives two bounties; if wrong, then only one bounty." (Narrated by al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Hanbal, and some otheres -- but I can't find the exact hadith; if anyone else does, please lemme know. Thanks in advance.)

((The preconception and expectation is, of course, that the mujtahid will have studied for an ample amount of time and ample classical and contemporary texts to arrive at the conclusion she/he ultimately does. And so if they err, there's nothing wrong with it, for they will be rewarded either way for their studying and trying.))

Then there are other classical jurists and interpreters who, when citing the views of other scholars, they'd say, "According to A, this verse means ...; according to B's interpretation, this is the case; C, on the other hand, believes that such and such is the case; ... ; as for ME, I interpret it this way."

HOW many Quran/hadith interpreters -- or scholars of Islam in general -- are this way? THIS is the sign of a true scholar. When they tell you only THEIR views, THEIR answers to questions, or then the answers of only those with whom they agree, then you should know that this person isn't a real scholar and is afraid of having someone disagree with him.

Supposedly, most Muslims worldwide belong to the Hanafi School of Thought. (And I'm starting to think that it's because Hanifa was, for the most part, the most reasonable of all the classical jurists and scholars. It's such a relief to see that humans DO possess the ability to distinguish reason from ... what's the opposite of reason? stupidity? k, maybe not.)
Now, if this is really the case, HOW MUCH do we know about Abu Hanifa? How many Hanfi followers REALLY know what Hanifa really said? How many can claim to have any knowledge about his words of wisdom at all? Why don't we ever, EVER hear anyone reminding us that he said this and that we should learn something from him? ...

(Note: I understand that many of us don't believe in any madhhabs or schools of thought, but realistically speaking, they're there, and there's just no point in denying that. So! Hanafi law is the most ecumenical among Muslims today.)

Then there's also the hadith that "the disagreement of the ummah is a source of mercy." (Well, it MIGHT not be a hadith; we're not sure because it might just be a word of wisdom instead .... but I read it in a book about Quran and authority, and the author said it's accepted as a hadith among many scholars but as simply words of wisdom among others.)
Anyway, so, one of the first books that Islamic Law students are assigned to read is The Disagreement of the Scholars is a Mercy for the Nation. Does anyone wanna guess why? Obviously because that gives us more leeway: we might agree with one scholar on one thing and disagree with her/him on other things WHILE agreeing with another on something else.

So what *I* wanna know is ... why do we hate disagreeing with each other? Why do we FEAR disagreements among ourselves? Sure, it's unhealthy when we are not taught how to *handle* those disagreements, and we end up abusing each other and declaring that those who disagree with us are heretics and such; it gets even worse when violence is used BECAUSE of those disagreements.

But why don't we try to read different views instead of accepting only ONE view as "correct" to realize that we JUST MIGHT not be right? that our favorite scholars JUST might not be the ONLY "correct" people on earth?

Is it really far more convenient to just fight and fight and kill each other than it is to listen to the other side's views and understanding?

Arranged Marriage 101

The question, "Awww, how cute! Did you guys have an arranged marriage or a love one?" always bugs me. Why does it have to be either one or the other? 

So here are some lessons for those who think those are the only two types possible, at least for Pashtuns ... okay, at least for me.

1. Arranged marriages are NOT the opposite of love marriages. Is it fair to put the two against each other?  I mean, people will sometimes ask, "Oh, cool. So was the marriage arranged or love?" But what if the parents chose for the partners to be together but the two fell in love before their wedding day? Or what if they were in love long before their parents ever arranged for them to be married? What do you call the type of marriage that is arranged by elders/parents but the couple had a strong say in it and even fell in love before their wedding day?)

2. Arranged marriages are NOT synonymous to forced marriages. (Some people don't wanna have an "arranged" marriage 'cause "I wanna have a say in my marriage!" What? What does this mean?)
Arranged Marriage 101 
There are different types of arranged marriages. There are forced ones in which the couples don't see each other before marriage and in some cases have no idea who they're gonna be spending the ENTIRE rest of their life with; they are forced in that at least one partner's permission is not sought.

Then there are arranged marriages in which the parents or other elders select a partner for their children/grand-children and let them know about it. In rare cases, the couple might be allowed to meet before marriage, though never alone -- meaning, their meeting is always supervised (or it should be, anyway) with people around, though not necessarily in the exact same spot as where the couple might be talking or sitting or standing.

The concept of arranged marriages over all
See, arranged marriages are supposed to be good for humanity -- because so much effort is supposed to be put into making sure that the guy will take perfect care of the girl, and the girl will be a perfect daughter-in-law for the in-laws and wife for the husband; so much effort is supposed to be put into ensuring that she will not bring shame to the family, she will take care of her parents-in-law as the grow old, while her husband will love and respect her parents just as he does his own and never shame her family, just as she never does his. And just overall, she's supposed to be an excellent match for the guy's family and her husband is supposed to be an excellent match for her family.

The whole concept they are supposed to illustrate is that when we get married, it's not just to the person we marry but we practically marry his/her families, the entire community. When a proposal comes for a girl, her parents are supposed to say something like, "We'll think about it," (unless they just don't like the guy's family, in which case they'll make some excuse and reject it. Often, in these days, that excuse tends to be, "She's busy with school, and we want her to finish school before she gets married." Big lie in most cases.). Once the elders do this, they are supposed to do some investigations on the guy's side -- meaning, they should go into the guy's village (or city, or neighborhood) and ask people their opinion of the guy and his family. Some parents don't want their daughter to be involved in a polygamous marriage, so they might ask about the guy's personal and marital life, if any. Then the parents go to the guy's house and check his family members out, along with household matters that should be paid heed to. In my area, the most important thing the guy's family takes into consideration is, besides her white/light skin color, her cooking skills. They'll have the girl cook for the potential in-laws, at least some chai or something, and if the families are related, then a large meal with some dishes cooked by the girl. ((DISCLAIMER #1: I do not speak for, nor represent, all Pukhtuns.))

Then, if the families like each other, they'll set a date for engagement/nikaah and other ceremonies. Often, the girl isn't aware of this, or she MIGHT be aware of it, but it's understood and expected that she'll be okay with it -- for, if the elders decide something, it must not be challenged. But whether or not the girl is told of it WHILE the search is taking place depends on ... I guess families. In many unfortunate cases, the girl is told of it only after everything has been arranged and her permission is not taken.

Sometimes, even the guy doesn't know this is going on.

Some families are reasonable and kind enough to let the potential couple at least see each other's pictures before marriage; few will let them talk on the phone before marriage; extremely rare ones will let them meet before marriage. But, in any case, the marriage has already been arranged, so their meeting/talking/seeing pictures is just to let them see what they have been placed under and what to expect. ((DISCLAIMER #2: With the new media we have today, the couple may find it  very convenient to interact and "get to know each other" before marriage; but, of course, not everyone has access to that kind of technology in all parts of the world.)) The couple cannot reject the proposal after the elders have arranged it all.

And of course it's all done only to protect the youth (who obviously remain young even after reaching the age of late 20s or 30s); our elders believe they know more about marriage and life than we do, so they are sure that they can choose a good partner for us, even without our innocent say sometimes because they are convinced that they know what's best for us while we don't.
So!! The whole concept of arranged marriage is good, but the way it's practiced in most societies is unhealthy because not always is the permission or consent of at least one partner considered.

In the next blog entry, I’ll discuss the “high rate if divorce in the west” and the fear of it in the east.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees

I love the last stanza of this poem. Wow! Just Wow!

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees

Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?

If you've done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.

If you've not done this, you probably don't understand this poem,
or think it's not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day's time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.

But if you've arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you're open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.

How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.

~ by Federico Moramarco

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Arabic Class Skit - 1

Last week, we had to present some skits in our Arabic class. Now, I’ve always longed for such an opportunity, but never in the past has any gone as well as this one.
This was our second one this semester, and thankfully, there are many more left before the semester ends. I’m thinking of posting each one here on my blog, ‘cause they might be funny to some of us.

It was entirely in Arabic, but I’ll write it in English here. (It’s funnier in Arabic, but oh well.) The assignment was to use all the vocabulary, the tenses, and the phrases we’ve learned this semester so far, and that’s like 6 chapters from our text.

So here’s how it went.
I’m sitting in a restaurant, having ordered my 12th glass of mango juice, looking as depressed as I can, even crying a little.

A girl a few booths away from me has been watching me for a while and finally approaches me.

Girl: Assalamu ‘alaikum, Sister. I have been watching you for the past hour, and you look very sad. AND this is your 12th bottle! Not good, not good at all, Sister. What is wrong?

Me, bursting into loud tears: My fiancé just left for Iraq to join the army, and I feel so lonely now! I need him!

Girl: Awww, I know how you feel. My beloved did, too. I know it hurts, but it’s okay. They’ll come back to us soon, inshAllah.

Me: Yeah, but mine was handsome and kind and made me laugh a lot and helped me with my Arabic homework and with studying for exams in my Arabic class. ~sniff, sniff~ and he was such a good student all of his teachers loved him, and he was so nice all of his friends loved him. And he helped them with their homework, too.

Girl: Awww, sister, I’m so sorry. I feel for you. Mine was a very kind person, too. I think of him all the time. He was very intelligent as well and always helped me in EVERYTHING --  in housework, too.

Me, not really listening to her: And ~ sniff ~ and ~sniff~ he loved me so much and we wanted to get married next month. Ya Allah, why me! Why me! AND he loved mango juice – like the one I have here with me. ~cries~ And ~sniff, sniff~ and his favorite weather was warm weather, like me, and did not like cold weather, and I don’t like winter, either. And we liked the same sports, like basketball and football, and we ran in the mornings and evening, and we ate at our favorite restaurant often, and ~sniff~ and we both loved Pashto music ~cries harder~

Girl: Sister, don’t cry … and my name is Dua; what is yours?
Me: ~sniff~ Thank you. I am Maha. ~crying gets louder~ And I’m an American but of Iraqi descendant. And my mother is from Morocco and my father is from Iraq. My grandmother is also from Iraq. She lives with us because my mother is sick nowadays. I want to graduate soon so I can go home and live with them. My fiancĂ© ~crying a little more~ and I love Chicago. He studied there for five years.

Dua: Mine studied there too. And he worked at the UN for 8 years then.

Me: ~sniff, then crying~ Mine was such a good person. He also worked at the UN for 8 years. And he majored in Business.

Dua: Ya Allah, mine majored in business, too!

Me: Sister, do you think mine knows yours? Maybe they do!

Dua: I don’t know! Do you have his picture?

Me: Of course, of course! Here.

~ exchanging pictures~

~ both in shock; show the pictures to class: it’s the same person! ~

Me, banging on the table: Haraam!! Haraaam!!! HARAAAAAAAAMM!!!

End scene!
hahahahahahahahaha! It was SO much fun! :D:D:D Hey, it took us like 30 minutes to come with this play, k? And we had only HALF a day to prepare!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Interview with Dr. Riffat Hassan

Dr. Riffat Hassan is a scholar of human rights in Islam and is Professor of Religious Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville, Kentucky (USA). She's also "a champion of progressive Islamic thought; she has been engaged in research on the roles and rights of women in Islam for over 25 years. Dr. Hassan was a speaker at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994 and at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in China" (according to, the full link of which is given below).
And, of course, who could forget that she's the author of Equal before Allah?: Woman-man Equality in the Islamic Tradition.

I smiled when I read on Wikipedia that Riffat Hassan was one of the first to accept "the Islamic feminist label."

(Notice: Expect many, many more blog posts similar to this one in the future; I'll be dedicating random posts every now and then to the progressive thinkers whom I've been looking into for a research that started last year and will be ending in late April. I will also be listing my reviews/thoughts/summaries of most of the books and articles I've read on contemporary progressive Islam and influential progressive Muslims who are important icons in Islamic Studies. No worries -- I'll define the term "progressive" when I post those blogs, ka khairee.)

k, so, I think this interview with her is very well worth reading. With each answer of hers that I read, I felt like a HUGE rock had been lifted off my back. For instance, her views on the highly patriarchal (if not also misogynistic) Maududi, on ijtihad, on scholarship in Islam, on women who veil and/or wear the hijab, ... oh, that's pretty much all of it in this interview.

The interviewer says to her:
"Today the hijab is a hotly contested topic around the world. You have stated on numerous occasions that "Wearing hijab today is a sign of submission to Saudi Arabia." Don't you believe in a woman's right to veil, based on her understanding of the Quran?"

And Dr. Hassan answers:
"Did I say that? First of all, this issue needs to be studied in an objective scientific way. The practice of veiling comes before Islam. Orthodox Jewish women, to this day, wear the veil. Specifically in the context of the Quran, this issue needs to be understood historically. My unhappiness lies in the fact that the young women wearing the veil have not done research on the subject. If they did and still wore it, I would respect their right to wear it. But given the nature of the Arabic language and the general openness and universality of the Quran, I believe that the Quran offers us many options with regard to the dress code. The principles of the Quran are justice and compassion. It does not focus on outward dress. Those verses were revealed in a particular context and time. The underlying principle is modesty. The word used in the Quran is jilbab. But it is not the case that everybody in the world should wear the jilbab. If the Quran was revealed, say, to the Americans, it would have referred to American dress. What is mandatory is modesty. At the time, the jilbab enabled women to go out. It was not restrictive."

(I love how she starts off with "Did I say that?" Goes to show how anything we say can not only be misunderstood but exaggerated to such an extent that it becomes a lie. I note this happening on my own blog quite often as well, and for some reason I refuse to ponder, I am NEVER surprised.)

Anyhow, I love her response. I, too, have always believed that MOST women who wear the hijab/niqab have never actually researched the topic at all.

I'm not going in order of the questions at all, but take a look at this one. The interviewer asks:
"You state that the Quran has been interpreted over the past centuries in a very misogynistic and patriarchal context. Is your position that all the great Arabic scholars have deliberately misinterpreted the Quran?"

Hassan's answer: "You have to differentiate between the scholars."

Interviewer: "Maulana Maudoodi, for example."

Hassan: "Yes. He was very patriarchal in his thinking. We now know that the vast majority of the hadith were not authentic in the sense that they referred to Arab culture rather than what the Prophet (p.bu.h) said. Hadith became the lens through which the Quran was seen. The discipline of Tafsir, or the interpretation of the Quran, was developed afterwards. The difference between original texts and tradition has been merged. Iqbal tried to separate this."

As far as ijtihad is concerned, the interviewer asks:
"Who is capable of undertaking ijtihad today?"
Riffat Hassan: "If scholars could come together, we can do a lot better. I think there is a lot of capability. This is why we need an institution. And this is my mission."

We really have forgotten that we have the option of ijtihad available to us, and we CAN figure out HOW to apply the concept of it and WHEN (i.e., in which contexts) if our current "scholars" could actually start communicating with each other and holding dialogues instead of labeling each other as heretic or blasphemous or whatever.

The beginning of the interview may also be of interest to some of us; I found only the last part relevant to recent discussions held on my blog and chose to post it here.

P.S. On the idea of interpretations and my thoughts on which interpretations should be accepted and which ones rejected, you may check out my post called "A Note on Interpretations and Scholarship (among Muslims)."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Islamic Feminism"

The idea of "Islamic Feminism" seems to give a headache to many Muslims, and event I wasn't okay with it for a long, long time. I've been empowered, however, to start using the word feminism more proudly. (Hopefully, I don't need to explain why, but if I do, I'll define a feminist and explain why feminism lies in every single human (note: I said human. Human only.))

Anyway, so I was just introduced to this link by a friend. It's an old, old interview, but I thought I'd share it here. Seeing feminism used in the same sentence with Islam is always a pleasure, anyway.

k, so, it's an interview with three great ladies, one of whom I've never heard of before, and they discuss how "Islamic feminism" differs from "Western feminism," along with the issue of the veil (which is said to be symbolic; Leila Ahmed in the interview explains why) and other concerns that Muslim women face largely due to a highly patriarchal interpretation of Islam. These women are: the great Dr. Sardar Shaheen Ali (Professor of Law at University of Peshawar, Pakistan; visiting scholar at the University of Warwick Law School, United Kingdom; Author of Human Rights and International Law: Equal Before Allah, Unequal Before Man? Note: She's Pukhtun, AND I get to see her in a few months, ka khairee :D:D:D), the great Dr. Leila Ahmed (Professor of divinity at Harvard, Author of Women and Gender in Islam: The Historical Roots of a Modern Debate), and the great Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (Associate Professor of Women's Studies at California State University, Northridge; director of USCN's new Islamic Community Studies program; editor of Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity Within Unity).

I was told that Islamic feminism has been on the rise during the last couple of decades, but I believe it only now. We have hope as long as women like these continue speaking up. And if another woman disagrees with them, she needs to speak up as well (whether for herself or for other women).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010



I have dug inside me,
A well – a deep, infinite well.
In it lives with me My God
The God of both women and men,
The God of the oppressed and the liberated,
The God of the cursed and the blessed

There with me, my feelings dwell,
Far from the fondness of human thought,
Unwelcome elsewhere
The feelings I’m forbidden to relish,
The secrets I’m forbidden to reveal,
The questions I’m forbidden to raise,
The mistakes I’m commanded to regret,
But I don’t. For I have no regrets.
Only mistakes to learn from.

There, I speak the unspeakable
I quarrel with My God,
And My God allows me this –
And there, I think the forbidden
And My God hears me, too,
There, I demand answers,
And My God answers me, too,
My God hears the shattering of my voices
And pacifies my frustrated nerves
There, I heave sighs suppressed elsewhere,
And screams ignored elsewhere,
But I must scream,
For the forbiddance of speaking has boiled my brain,
And the ludicrousness of the ulama, the “learned,” vexes me,
And the labels of heresy and blasphemy grieve my soul
But I must tell my stories.

And I tell my God,
Why have you forbidden me these natural thoughts?
Why am I nothing but a dangerously seductive being, who
Incites sordid feelings in men?
You must forgive me, Dear God, for I mean no harm,
But you must permit me to ask –
Why do you objectify me when You created me Yourself?
They tell me You’re all-powerful;
But then why did you make me the reason men behave so despicably
When they see my face, or my hair,
Or my ankles,
Or my eyes?

And My God smiles at me
And tells me
“Don’t confuse My guidelines with the orders of men.”
Just as the well starts to flood, and I
Develop confidence and valor
And my spirit ascends the seventh heaven,
And my heart glows with peace
And my mind enfolds the universe

I have become a woman.
A woman at last.
And I’m going to tell my stories.

~ Qrratugai
~ Mon., March 1, 2010

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