Thursday, April 28, 2011

You're Oppressed!

I have never been a fan of this silly thinking that other people are oppressed and I'm not. I absolutely refuse to define the word/concept "oppression" such that other people are oppressed while I am not (... ffffine - there MAY be a few exceptions :p). One day, I'll explain why. For the time being, though, I wanna discuss some questions and thoughts that've been bothering me since this last week regarding the whole "you're oppressed" and "that's oppression" crap.

First off, I have never read a good, convincing definition of "oppression." Never. I am sure that whatever my readers might have to offer, I will find flaws in it and not accept it as my own. Currently, however, I think the closest signs of detecting oppression may be when someone does something that cause them any sort of damage (e.g., psychological, emotional, physical), whether consciously or subconsciously, while wishing it was not the case. (hah. Do you realize that childbirth, which many (or all?!) women don't enjoy going through but must in order to enjoy its fruits may actually fall under "oppression" then? I didn't realize that earlier.) And this is precisely why I don't believe that all women who ear the veil (the head-covering alone, or the face-covering too) are oppressed. Employing this definition in my own life, I am quite sure that I am "oppressed" in certain people's views, just as certain folks may be oppressed in my view if I were to apply this definition to them.

For example, a friend of mine posted a picture of her favorite high heels and said they hurt her feet/back but she loves them. I decided that that was oppression, that she willingly chooses to be oppressed. (I would love to write a piece on high heels and how they are most certainly a form of oppression, a "beautiful" form of oppression at that. One day, ka khairee.) But, yeah, I wonder what my friend thinks, or what women who wear high heels-- so high that they result in physical problems for them, but just because they look beautiful or make them taller or whatever, they continue wearing them ... by choice. But I wonder, is this really a choice, their choice? And if it's not, so what? What business is it of mine?

Here's a conversation between two young females who openly and proudly declare themselves feminists.

Female 1: I freaking need to stop by here to get some make-up! I look horrible! This face, this face is so not presentable, damnit!
Female 2: My God, could you hate yourself more?
1: I knoooow! I hate my face! Just look at me!
2: Your face is far more beautiful than mine can ever be. And I love mine. What do you not like about yours?
1. You don't get it - I hate my face! It doesn't look good at all!
2: I think women who wear make-up because they don't like their faces without it are oppressed.
1: I disagree. I am not oppressed - and don't you dare tell me I'm oppressed!
2: But think about it! You're intelligent enough to know why make-up was created in the first place, you understand why women are pressured to put it on, you realize that men never have to do it. And despite all this, you continue wearing it and hating yourself without it?
1: If this is oppression, then I choose to be oppressed -- and I'm happy this way.
2: And yet, you think women who cover their faces are oppressed.
1: That's a different story.
2: Oh, I don't think so - even the women who want to do it, to whom it is the utmost level of piety and closeness to God?
1: Imagine all the things they can't do because of the face-covering!
2: But what if they don't want to do those things? What if they're perfectly happy not being able to do those things in the process of getting closer to God? Besides, must we assume that every woman, every human being wants the same things we want, wants to be able to do the same things you and I want?
1: You can't compare face-covering to make-up, c'mon!
2: Why not? Okay, more on face-covering another time. For now, let's try to convince you you look beautiful without make-up!... but you know, I wonder what that means. I wonder if I actually had the right to say that in the first place, that make-up is a form of oppression.
1: I don't think it's oppression as long as I am happy with it.
2: But are you really happy about it? Look at you - you're going crazy. You complain about having to remove hair from your face, from your leg, from anywhere else; you hate that you have to wear make-up in order to look attractive. But you claim you're happy?

The conversation (a wee bit altered but you understand!) lasted for a while, but I think the idea in it is pretty clear: When exactly does it become acceptable to tell someone else she/he is oppressed? Does, or can, a person ever choose to be oppressed? What is the relationship between oppression and choice? If the person chooses to do something because everyone else does it and the person isn't necessarily directly pressured to do it, is she/he not oppressed--as opposed to someone who is directly pressured to do it and does it?  If so, would it be fair to discuss the factors, social or otherwise, that compelled (not just led) to the person's choosing to behave this particular way in order to determine whether the person is oppressed?

So, yeah, before you dare to tell someone else next time that they're oppressed, look at your own selves--beliefs, practices, behavior--first. It can do wonders, and then you no longer will feel godly enough to tell another group of people that they're oppressed while you're liberated ... damnit. (In case y'all haven't noticed yet, I love, love, LOVE saying "damnit"! It makes me feel . . . liberated.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maryam, Mother of Jesus, and Patience

My favorite Qur'anic character is Maryam (or Mary), mother of 'Isa (Jesus) (peace be upon them). I love her. I have two main reasons. One of those reasons has to do with a dream I had about her when I was a child. (I will narrate the dream in another blog post; it's special and significant and deserves an entry of its own.) The other reason is her response to God when she discovered she was to give birth to Jesus. Allow me to explain.

You know how people, Muslims especially, will often dare to suppress our "heretic" thoughts, such as, "God, why are you so unfair!" or "I wish I were dead!" or "I hate my life," etc., etc.? Yeah, well, this happened to a friend of mine recently on her Facebook status. If only I could paste all the comments here that Muslims posted under her status. It was ridiculous. But here's what I said.

It's perfectly natural and human to feel that God is being unfair every now and then. Remember: Even Mary, Mother of Jesus (God be pleased with them both), complained about her situation! In her own words, "Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten" (Quran, 19:23). In another verse (or was it a hadith?), I recall, she said something along the lines of, "I wish I were this leaf." No? I can't find this verse/hadith now, so never mind.

One wonders why that complaint of hers appears in the Qur'an. I think it's because it show that she was as much a human as anyone else, that her having given birth to a Prophet without human intervention did not make her any more or less of a human than the rest of us, that she was NOT afraid of expressing her complaints to God out loud, and, most importantly, that God didn't think what she'd done was wrong.

Muslims who think that we shouldn't complain about God or this and that clearly don't know what God's most beloved woman on of all times said to God herself! Sure, one could argue that what she went through was/is utterly incomparable to what anyone else might ever go through, but that's preposterous. How so? Who determines the intensity of anyone's pain? No one but the one going through it. Who determines what's unfair and what's not? No one but the one who believes she/he is being treated unjustly.
Surely, we must be patient -- but that's not by any means to imply that you can't complain to/about God -- or that you can't complain at all.
So, next time you try to lecture Qrratugai about patience, I will simply say, "I wish I were dead," said Maryam when she was giving birth to Jesus. And that should shut you up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Thoughts on Both Parents Working

I don't know what is good parenting and what's bad parenting (rather, I don't think I have the right to decide that) because I'm not a parent myself. But as I watch my friends and acquaintances, male and female, become new parents and as I watch them grow in the process, I make certain promises to myself every now and then that consist of things I swear never to do with my own kids and others that I swear to do with them. I realize, yeah, that these ideas may/will change with time, and I understand that I might change my mind completely once the time comes for me to practice parenthood. I'll add to the list with time, but for now, the one that's been bothering me a lot lately about many, many parents I know, I'd like to discuss it here. What instigated this, you might ask? Oh simple: The fact that some parents abandon their children, or send them over to other people (be they close family) to raise them instead of taking the responsibilities themselves, just because they're working! And this particular case I know of, their jobs are such that I tell you one of them earning money is good enough for the other not to work. But good lord, freaking don't have kids if others have to raise them for you, damnit!!!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gender Differences in Public Speech

I've noticed something interesting lately -- lately here means since March 2010, but, yeah. And this is by no means a conclusion. It is based solely on my observations in a few classes and my interactions with male and female students.

When female students talk, they tend to say "I think" or "I feel" or "I may be wrong, but ..." or "In my opinion" quite frequently throughout their speech. The males rarely do this. It's as though the former are unsure of their statements or knowledge, while the latter display more confidence. Why do you think this is?

Reminds me of the lovely advice that many graduate student friends gave me when I was writing my grad school proposals: "Why be afraid of what you've accomplished? Write like you've already been accepted there, but it's just a matter of their realizing it! Make it appear to mean, 'You've already accepted me, but I'm just reminding you why.'" It helped a lot, I have to admit, and it's the advice I'd give to every other student as well -- but, of course, that requires knowing well the difference between being arrogant and being confident.

Anyway, so, yeah. Next time there are presentations in your class(es), compare the way the men carry themselves to the way women do. Fascinating stuff, no? ('Course, I'll be pleased, if surprised, to hear that this is generally not the case according to another person's observations.)

Pashtunwali as an Orientalist Category?

Someone on my FormSpring made a very interesting comment. It reads: "I feel like this whole Pashtunwali thing is a orientalist category."

I find this idea very interesting, and I think it has some potential. However, I don't know what the questioner meant by it! ('Cause Pashtunwali, according to us Pashtuns, is a thousands-year-old honor code, whereas the concept of (and the term) "orientalism" is hardly a few decades old.) I'd like the questioner to elaborate on it so I can respond to it accordingly or look into its potential merit. 

Thank you in advance! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

From Life without Limbs to Life without Limits

And we dare to complain that we don't have something we want? Like my dad says, if you can't be happy with what you have, you'll never be happy with what you want, either.

Thesis Defense Preparation Notes


April 12, 2011, 11am.

1.       Thank You / Acknowledgment 
2.       Background – Spring 2010. Courses on Islam (particularly Islam in South Asia) at the institution
a.       I’ve noticed that the role of preachers has been under-studied in academia. More focus instead on those who have formal training in Islamic sciences.
3.       Importance
a.       Preachers play a major role in the practice and understanding of Islam. They are not shackled by the restraints placed on muftis and other traditional scholars of Islam because preachers give direct/simple answers to all sorts of questions posed at them.
b.      In order to understand a society, we should study the kinds of preachers of that society to get a stronger sense of how they practice a certain religion.
4.       My contribution: Introducing Zakir Naik, an Indian medical doctor turned preacher, to academia; contributing to the larger debate on religious authority, particularly that of preachers' and in the South Asian Muslim society 
5.       Questions I wanted to address
a.       How is religious authority constructed in contemporary times? Different pathways; what is the one Zakir Naik has pursued?
b.      Who is Zakir Naik, and how has he been able to not only gain but also maintain his authority?
c.       What role do new media play in the construction and interpretation of religious authority in a globalized world?
6.       Theoretical framework
a.       I draw on available material on notions of religious authority in Islam and Muslim societies and the competition among the various groups of authorities, the reconstruction of authority in the modern world as a result of modernization and new media, and the role of preachers in Muslim societies.
7.       Main point
a.       My study combines the three points above to show that, while modern Muslim preachers exemplify many of the same elements of medieval Muslim preachers, their modus operandi has evolved noticeably in the last two centuries in part due to Western colonialism and the development of modern science and technology.
b.      I show this by conducting a case study on Zakir Naik.

8.       Focus: Zakir Naik (although I also briefly discuss Amr Khaled (Egypt) and Ahmed Deedat (South Africa))
                                                               i.      Zakir Naik: an Indian medical doctor in his 40s. Began preaching – or proselytizing, as he puts it – in 1991. Defines his specialty as “comparative religion”; is often introduced as a scholar of comparative religions.
                                                             ii.      Makes frequent references to non-Islamic scriptures, including the Bible and Vedas, and has memorized all of them
                                                            iii.      Speaks with deep confidence on political, social, religious, ethical, medical, and scientific issues
                                                           iv.      Has institutionalized the Islamic Research Foundation, the objective of which, according to him, is to present true Islam and remove misconceptions about the religion by relying on logic, reason, and science
9.       Why I chose Ahmed Deedat and Amr Khaled (for comparison)
a.       Deedat (d. 2005) = Naik’s predecessor; influenced Naik’s decision to enter preaching
b.      Amr Khaled = similar to Naik’s case: a phenomenon in the Arab world. Shows how Zakir Naik’s style is unique since he (Naik) refers to science, logic, etc. while Khaled doesn’t.
10.   Methodology
a.       Primary sources: Naik’s lectures, books, articles; Muslims’ opinions of / responses to Naik
b.      Secondary sources
                                                               i.      Struggles for religious authority: Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Devin Stewart,  Vincent Cornell, Scott Kugle
                                                             ii.      Preachers: Richard Antoun and Jonathan Berkey
                                                            iii.      Islam and new media: Gary Bunt, Dale F. Eickelman & Jon W. Anderson (Islam and media), Mandaville Peter
11.   Why Naik appeals
a.       “Modern” = difficult to define. Some Muslims equate with un-Islamicness, while others with “educated,” or “living in the present.”  
b.      The modern style of these preachers adds prestige to their authority.
                                                               i.      They have the modern resources necessary for attracting a large number of audiences
                                                             ii.      After all, they, like their audiences, are participants of and in the modern world where modern tools and ideas make the transmission of knowledge more efficient. 
c.       Modern concepts
                                                               i.      First: gender equality and women’s rights (women and men are equal in Islam, Naik teaches, although he qualifies this statement by arguing that being equal does not mean having the same rights and roles)
                                                             ii.      Second: reliance on scientific knowledge to confirm the relevance of the Qur’an  
1.       Concludes that science and the Qur’an are congruent
                                                            iii.      Third: reliance on analyses based on statistical observations
1.       e.g. justifying polygamy
d.      Naik’s case is different, however, in that he is also a doctor, a man of the sciences
                                                               i.      His medical knowledge about the human body is used as verification for his views on women’s rights and roles
12.   Other reasons that contribute to Naik’s appeal:
a.       Technique: comportment, dressing style (beard, wearing pants above the ankles, wears a traditional hat). Importantly: His suit and a tie make him appear “modern” and therefore attracts “modern” people
b.      Memorization of the various religious scriptures of different religions (e.g, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity) – including hadiths (which volume, book, hadith number)
c.       Never saying “I don’t know.”
13.   Findings / Conclusions
a.       I set out to address questions on the construction of religious authority in the modern world
                                                               i.      Discovered that Muslim preachers have generally always been popular in societies, at least more popular than the ‘ulama with the masses
b.      The competition for authority has always existed, among different groups of the ‘ulama.
                                                               i.      Naik’s case is another participant in this competition
c.       Wanted to know how Naik was able to claim authority
                                                               i.      He’s unique due to his
1.       effective use of modern technological tools
2.       familiarity with contemporary science
3.       frequent references to modern concepts (women’s rights, etc.)
4.       use of logic and reason
14.   Limitations of the study
a.       No academic material on Zakir Naik. Only a couple of anthropological articles on why people follow him. None on his role as an authority
b.      I had to learn to distance myself from him on a personal level, having been a fan of his for a year and then questioning his grasp on the issues that he so easily discusses in public.
15.   Future direction
a.       A comparative study of Muslim and non-Muslim preachers.
                                                               i.      I briefly discuss the influence that Christian televangelists have had on Zakir Naik and Ahmed Deedat, but I do not make it a point to be emphasized because of lack of time and space.
b.      Naik’s impact on how people actually practice Islam. We see the people’s reactions and responses as they are shown on TV, but what happens after the lectures? 
c.       There are clearly some non-Muslims who attend his lectures. Why?
d.      How people attend his lectures – open to public? Fee?
e.   How much, if any, of his lectures are staged? How's he able to give answers to every single question the audience asks? Do people actually really convert after questioning/challenging/listening to him?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Thesis Title

Yay! I finally got the title of my thesis! 
Woooohooo!!!! I'm so relieved! 'Course, the more difficult and more painful part is yet to come -- the freaking defense! I suggested to my committee that we not call it "defense" because it scares the poor student to death. I mean, they make it seem like that 1 hour or so is really a moment for your committee to GRILL you. The honors program at our uni calls the defense the "Grilling Moment" too :S Like, what's up with that, damnit.

Anyway, I gotta get back to watching the last few lectures of my guy (Naik). OMG, I sooo can't wait to talk about what all I've gotten out of this study! Wednesday, ka khairee, Wednesday, k? That's when the "grilling" shall be taking place, and hopefully I'll pass. I no longer expect a high or highest honors; I think I'm willing to settle for just a plain "Pass" :( Not even honors anymore. Though it's contributed significantly to my personal and intellectual growth, I've lost far more confidence during this study than I thought I had in me. ~sighs~ 'S okay. I'll live. At least now I know how to handle and approach my PhD thesis. Lessons learnt, Beloved God, lessons learnt, I swear.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Taking off the Hijab is the Biggest Sin, Biggest Sin, Biggest Sin!"

Ahhh! I just came across something really interesting (and very untrue) by another preacher I have to study for my thesis on Muslim preachers. My Arab readers might know him, as he is for Arabs/Mid Easterners, it seems, what Zakir Naik is for the South Asians: Amr Khaled.

Here's an article of his I absolutely had to share here. The statement that really attracted me to it is: "Taking off the Hijab is the biggest sin, biggest sin, biggest sin!" Really? Then what is shirk, the belief/practice of joining partners with God? I never appreciated such exaggerations.

The article is titled "Hijab Excuses."

We have preachers like him (and Zakir Naik) making such outlandish comments, and you wonder why I need to study preachers and the notion of religious authority in Islam? Well, now you know. 'Course, on a personal level, I'd choose Amr Khaled over Zakir Naik any day... though my thesis has taught me something extremely important about myself, about research, about studies like this, and about Muslims. I will write on that as soon as I submit or at least defend the thesis, which will, inshaAllah, be on Wed. April 13th! k? Till then, hang tight!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Call for Papers: Muslim Women and the Challenge of Authority

*From Laury Silvers.*

Dear Friends,

Kecia Ali, Julianne Hammer, and I would like to call your attention to a conference we are organizing on female-authority in Islam at Boston University in 2012. The call is in the body of the email and attached as a pdf document. Please distribute widely.

Best, Laury Silvers

Call for Papers: Muslim Women and the Challenge of Authority

March 31, 2012 – Boston University

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Applying to Graduate Schools

Another Formspring Question! Yay!
The question is edited for grammar.
Hi, since u got into a PhD program without a masters, can u plz give some advice on how that was possible? I'm a sophomore in college now, but I was told a masters is required before PhD. Also what about personal statements? how can we make it strong? Thankx.
Thank you for the question, seeker-of-important-information! Good thing I'd written on this elsewhere, and so, much of what I'm saying here is being pasted from there. But parts, I'm adding now.

Before anything, I'm no one to be giving anyone any guidance or advice on this. I myself am new at it, and I don't know why or how I got admission into the program I got into. But thank you for trusting me to give you some tips :) Those who know better than I do are requested to correct me where I may be wrong.

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