Many in the Arab world still remember these singers but elsewhere in the world their contribution to the musical scene has been obfuscated and forgotten, often buried underneath stereotypical and prejudiced portrayals of Jewish life in the Muslim majority world.
Shira Ohayon, educational director at the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra is attempting to resurrect their legacies.:Big in Tetouan: The Jewish women who pioneered modern Arab music
They scorched the stages of Algeria and Tunis, in Casablanca and Baghdad, and also in Berlin and Paris. With bobbed hair − a daring style for the time − a thin cigarette in a holder between their fingers, they were among the leaders of the musical and cultural scene in their countries and even became international stars. They are the great Jewish female musicians and singers who were active in North Africa and the Middle East in the mid-20th century: Leila Mourad, Faiza Rushdi, Zohra El Fassia, Habiba Msika, Louisa Tounsia, Reinette L’Oranaise, Line Monty and Raymonde Abecassis. Msika, a Tunisian Jew, was an actress in the Arab world’s most prominent theater. El Fassia, a Moroccan Jew, was the first woman from that milieu to release a record album. Like many others, she too wrote the lyrics and music of the songs she performed.
Abecassis, the last of the giants of that generation, will be appearing Thursday with the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra of Ashkelon in a concert titled Ki Kolech Arev (For Your Voice is Beautiful), conducted by Tom Cohen. The concert, which will be part of the Heart at the East Festival in Tel Aviv, will be dedicated to the women who were singing stars in Arab and Maghreb countries.
Why were Jewish female singers so prominent among the pioneers of modern Arab music? And how did it come about that in Morocco and other places, they are engraved in the collective memory and remembered with esteem − yet most Israelis never heard of them?
Shira Ohayon, the education director of the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra and a prominent Mizrahi feminist researcher and activist, conceived and produced the concert. She is researching the singers’ histories, has written essays about them on the Cafe Gibraltar website and plans to publish a book containing her findings. She says she started researching their stories when she started wondering why there were no female singers in the Andalusian Orchestra in Israel. Her father, who was born in Morocco, told her about the great singers of the past. The discovery that there were quite a few Jews among them surprised her. “I asked myself, Why Jewish women, specifically? After all, I know the conservative Moroccan Jewish way of life from home,” she says.
It turns out that the picture is a complex one. “Our knowledge here about Jews in Islamic countries is nourished by Zionist stereotypes that spoke about absorption by modernization, and portrayed the Jews who came from those backgrounds as coming from the back of beyond,” says Ohayon. “But of course, they didn’t all come from the same mold. They went through profound processes of secularization starting in the 1920s. Our history doesn’t start at the moment the Zionist movement discovered that it needed ‘natural workers’ and population distribution,” she says.
Ability of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to contain crisis may hinge on events beyond his control
A recent tide of sectarian tensions that erupted into the worst violence seen in Iraq in five years is testing the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose ability to contain the crisis could hinge on a conflict raging beyond his control in Syria.
The prospect of a regional power shift driven by the bloody civil war next door, where a mostly Sunni rebel movement is struggling to topple the Shia-dominated regime, has emboldened Iraq's Sunni minority to challenge its own Shia government and amplified fears within Maliki's administration that Iraq may soon be swept up in a spillover war.
Sectarian bombings and assassinations targeting both Sunnis and Shias increased last month after government forces raided a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq, killing more than 40 people. Shootings and bombings continued last week.
Meanwhile, Iraq's embittered Sunnis say the successes of the Syrian rebels have given them the confidence to challenge what they call worsening government discrimination and abuse against the minority that once ruled the country under Saddam Hussein.
Iraq's Sunnis have been staging a growing wave of anti-government demonstrations in Sunni-majority provinces across the country for five months, raising tensions that some say could reignite the civil war that peaked in 2006. The combustible situation, underpinned by what critics call mistakes of the decade-long US occupation that enshrined sectarianism, has been aggravated by Maliki's increasingly authoritarian policies, analysts say.
The government has labelled the protest movement a project of Saddam's former Ba'ath party and of al-Qaida, an allegation denied by Sunni participants, who say they represent a cross-section of Iraqi society. They list among their key grievances laws and practices codified under US occupation that bar former Ba'athists from participating in public life and authorise the use of secret informants – many of them originally cultivated by the US military – whom human rights groups say Maliki uses to target Sunnis.
But the 23 April assault on the Sunni camp in Hawijah, coupled with increasingly antagonistic rhetoric from clerics and political leaders on both sides, has injected an ominous militant tone into what had been a largely peaceful protest movement. Last month, tribal leaders in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province announced the formation of a "tribal army" to protect demonstrators; residents say the force has drawn heavily from jihadist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq.
Meanwhile, at least two powerful Shia militia leaders have rallied followers to crush the protest movement, which they, like the government, say is dominated by terrorists.
Some government officials and Sunni tribal leaders have made conciliatory gestures to pull Iraq back from the brink of a sectarian war, the kind that destroyed families and divided neighbourhoods less than a decade ago. A parliamentary committee launched an investigation of the Hawijah raid, and several prominent Shia officials called it a mistake.
Early last month, in a bid to appease protesters, Maliki's cabinet proposed legal reforms that included amendments to weaken the laws that Sunnis say are used to discriminate against them. But the legislation has stalled in parliament amid fierce Shia opposition.
The muted state of unease, after the strife last month, may be a "false peace", said Erin Evers, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Sunni protest leaders and some officials close to Maliki said that they remain pessimistic about the prospect of a long-term solution and that the war in Syria could become the deciding factor.
Inside a dust-battered tent at a protest camp in Fallujah earlier this month, tribal leaders in white robes described the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as inescapably intertwined. Many here view Maliki as a puppet in a conspiracy by Shia-majority Iran to achieve regional domination, and they say Syria's Iran-backed regime is no different.
"Maliki's intentions for the Sunnis are the same as Iran's: They want to 'Shia-ify' the country," said Mohamed al-Bajari, a spokesman for the protest movement in Fallujah. Bajari served as an officer in Hussein's intelligence service.
At a rally on 10 May on a highway that cuts through Fallujah, where the old flag of the Hussein-led Iraq fluttered above the crowd, one banner read: "America: You gave Iraq to Iran, and then you left." Another, directed at Maliki, read: "If you don't understand it in Arabic, we'll say it in Persian: Leave."
A rebel victory in Syria could benefit Sunnis in Iraq, Bajari said.
"When Iran loses Syria, that means they'll lose influence here," he said. "The new regime in Syria will be Sunni. So in these provinces, our backs will be protected by a Sunni regime."
But as with the Syrian opposition, the credibility of Iraq's largely peaceful Sunni protest movement is being undermined by the growing participation of jihadist groups, which tribal leaders have sought to play down but do not deny.
The attack in Hawijah signalled a warning to the sheikhs of Anbar that their towns could be next, said one local journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the government or Sunni militants. That led protest leaders to "accept" jihadists as part of their tribal army, the journalist said.
Fallujah residents present at the 10 May rally said militants fanned out in the area to watch for encroaching government troops.
"All insurgent groups, including al-Qaida, have united around one thing, which is to protect the demonstrations," the journalist said.
Government officials say the emergence of the tribal army is evidence that al-Qaida – which last month exchanged pledges of allegiance with the Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra – has infiltrated or is leading the protests.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a group affiliated with al-Qaida, asserted responsibility for the killings in March of dozens of Syrian government troops who had temporarily retreated across the border into Anbar.
Despite their increasingly angry rhetoric, Sunnis are divided, analysts say.
A number of Sunni officials in Baghdad have lost credibility with the protest movement for their willingness to work with Maliki. In Anbar, tribal leaders, militants and protesters have sparred over the path forward.
Even as Khaled Hamoud al-Jumeili, the tribal leader organising the weekly protests in Fallujah, called for a continuation of peaceful demonstrations last week, the Iraqi Islamic party distributed surveys at local mosques to poll residents on what form of action – war or secession – they preferred, residents who participated in the protest said.
Meanwhile, tribal leaders say the government has created a new "Awakening" movement, modelled after the Sunni tribal alliance that the US military recruited and paid to help pacify Anbar and defeat insurgents in 2007.
Maliki "formed the new Awakening to foment strife and to make it look like the sheikhs here are with the government", Bajari said. Ali al-Moussawi, a Maliki spokesman, said that no new movement had been formed but that the existing Awakening has been expanded and is under new leadership.
Ramzy Mardini, of the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the Sunni minority are facing a much stronger adversary in today's Iraqi government than they did at the height of the country's civil war and that the odds are against them.
Sami al-Askari, a member of parliament from Maliki's Dawa party, said the protests derive from an unwillingness by some Sunnis to accept the political reality of a post-Hussein Iraq, where demography ensures that the prime minister's post, the parliament and the security forces are likely to be dominated by Shias for a long time.
"The Sunnis in Iraq were the rulers for centuries. And, suddenly, the situation has changed," Askari said. "The Sunnis know very well they cannot win this war."
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington PostAbigail Hauslohner
Ennahda's crackdown could be smarter, integrating moderates and reserving tough stuff for those who back domestic terror
Critics of Tunisia's moderate Islamist government, led by the Ennahda party, have in the past chided it for being a soft touch with followers of the ultra-conservative Salafi movement, treating them like wide-eyed, wayward children with a well-intentioned but simplistic view of religion. But times have changed.
As a journalist based in Tunisia, I have watched relations between Salafists and Ennahda spectacularly crumple in recent weeks. This weekend was a turning point. Police clashed with the Salafi group Ansar al-Sharia in the central city of Kairouan and the Tunis suburb of Ettadhamen. The Salafists were trying to hold an annual conference without legal permission.
The damage was severe: one protester shot dead and 15 police injured. Tunisia's prime minister, Ali Larayedh, has, for the first time, linked Ansar al-Sharia to terrorism. There have now been confrontations three weekends running – first police dispersed Salafists who were trying to pitch preaching tents across Tunisia, and violence followed on the following weekends.
Ennahda's dramatically hardened attitude towards Salafists could be an attempt to claw back security credentials. Tunisia's army has failed to capture a spattering of jihadists, with links to al-Qaida, lurking on Tunisia's border with Algeria. A tough stance on Salafists, who many Tunisians suspect of dabbling in terrorism, is a tempting political strategy for Ennahda, now thirsty to prove to sceptics that it can be tough on terrorism.
But Ennahda's crackdown is missing a trick. Salafists have highly varying views and not all are dangerous. That includes Ansar al-Sharia members. Banning an annual conference and obstructing preachers could make Salafists who are against violence more tempted to use it out of frustration.
Ennahda should instead adopt a shrewder policy, making the distinction between three types of Salafists – scripturalist Salafists who are apolitical and only interested in proselytising; jihadist Salafists who are against using violence domestically (a group that includes some Ansar al-Sharia members); and jihadist Salafists who champion domestic terrorism. Ennahda should tolerate the first lot; pull the second lot into mainstream politics; and come down hard on the third group through targeted anti-terrorism operations.
Allowing scripturalist Salafists to preach on the streets is a no-brainer. Denying them the right is undemocratic and dangerously provocative. Dealing with jihadist Salafists is a stickier issue. There are many things about Ansar al-Sharia, for example, that are nauseating: members openly praise al-Qaida, and its leader has threatened to wage war on the government. Elements of the group have been blamed for an attack on the US embassy in Tunis last September.
And yet the organisation has nuances. Most members are injected with globules of jihadism. But a large strain are staunchly against waging jihad within Tunisia. Instead they favour militancy abroad – in Syria and Afghanistan.
The organisation peddles highly religious policies that leave a bitter taste in the mouths of westerners and secular Tunisians. But surprisingly thoughtful, if at times fanciful, theories underlie them. Take halal tourism. Ansar al-Sharia wants Tunisia to focus less on the traditional western tourist market and target a Muslim market, especially from Europe. Such a policy wouldn't be stupid: global interest in halal tourism is growing, with Muslim countries like Malaysia and Turkey already showing interest in developing models in their own countries. Ansar al-Sharia also supports Islamic trade unionism, financial reforms and tackling education inequality.
Many members of Ansar al-Sharia are enthusiastic about improving public services in their local neighbourhoods too. They run local services that the government isn't delivering in poor areas – like cleaning the streets, teaching, and resolving local disputes.
Ansar al-Sharia is thus partly made up of campaigners who instinctively want to craft policies and improve the lot of Tunisia's poor. That gives Ennahda something to work with. It should integrate these Salafists into mainstream politics. With a real stake in politics and a taste of what it means to negotiate for change, jihadist Salafists are more likely to moderate their views.
At the same time, the government should show no tolerance for jihadist Salafists that are involved in unprovoked violence. They must investigate Salafists suspected of terrorist links. Authorities need to clamp down on groups that use mosques as havens for arms and drugs smuggling too. And punish Salafists who target Tunisians they deem "un-Islamic" – like artists, liquor sellers and unveiled women.
Tunisian Salafism is a thick, murky soup of contrasting ideas and protagonists. But Ennahda must wade through it to decide who it can reason with and who it can't. If Ennahda simply turns up the heat, it will only scald itself.Sherelle Jacobs
Hikers risk being attacked if they come close to Israeli settlements.
Abu Khaled’s village is just 15 kilometers from Gaza, yet he may never see it again.
(h/t: JD)Stakelbeck Condemns Obama for Defending Right to Build Mosques; Fears Muslim ‘Infiltration’ of the Bible Belt
SUBMITTED BY Brian Tashman on Wednesday, 5/15/2013 1:50 pm
Next time Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent Erick Stakelbeck talks about religious liberty, just remember that he doesn’t seem to extend that freedom to Muslims. During a conference call with the group Tea Party Unity, Stakelbeck attacked the Obama administration for having “literally” intervened in cases to defend the construction of mosques.
Stakelbeck said he is outraged that the Obama administration is trying to stop residents from blocking the construction of mosques because how dare the Justice Department defend the First Amendment!
He was also livid that Muslims may want to build “a $5 million mega-mosque,” just as we are sure he is angry that a Southern Baptist congregation in Dallas constructed a $130 million megachurch.
Caller: How is it we can get these facilities, because I’m not going to call it a church or a religion, how can we get them shut down?
Stakelbeck: Well look under this administration, good luck, because I’m just working on a chapter in my new book about how this administration when locals, in places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee, when local residents are up in arms about a mosque being built, the Obama Department of Justice literally intervenes, files amicus briefs in support of the mosque, we’ve seen this time and time again. Here’s a statistic for you, folks, in the year 2001 there were 1,200 mosques in America; now, just twelve years later after 9/11, that number has doubled to over 2,000 mosques, that’s a 74 percent increase since 9/11 alone, that is astounding and it is not a coincidence. Under the Obama administration the floodgates are open even more; they are literally intervening in these mosque cases around the country, in small towns with very small Muslim populations. I’m sorry, if you have a 200-strong Muslim population, why do you need a $5 million mega-mosque? And where is the money coming from? Look no further than Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. So getting mosques shut down in this era, in the age of Obama? Good luck. What you’re going to see is more mosques built.
Stakelbeck told another caller that “there is a concerted effort by Islamists to infiltrate the very heartland of American society,” particularly the Bible Belt.
Just to be clear, Muslims represent just 1% of the population of Tennessee and less than 0.5% in other Bible Belt states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Arkansas.
But maybe they’re all just hiding in national parks….
Caller: We are seeing so much Saudi in middle Tennessee, I mean they have the best health care in the Saudi embassy, we have classes at the university, so we are just seeing a major, major influx of Saudi nationals here in middle Tennessee.
Stakelbeck: Folks, it’s not a coincidence. Middle Tennessee is the buckle of the Bible Belt. This is not just in New York City, Boston, Chicago, LA, traditional gateway cities for immigrants, anymore; there is a concerted effort by Islamists to infiltrate the very heartland of American society. I write about this in my book “The Terrorist Next Door,” I call it “Southern Inhospitality,” and that’s what we’re seeing, and you’re seeing it in a major way in that Nashville area where you have tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville.
A bit of the beauty of Istanbul is coming to the United States.‘A Symbol of Friendship’ : Turkish PM Lays Stone for $100M Masjid Complex In Maryland
On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan placed a ceremonial stone on a 15-acre construction site in Lanham, Maryland that will likely become the largest and most striking examples of Islamic architecture in the western hemisphere.
The Turkish American Culture and Civilization Center (TACC) is a project of the government of Turkey and is meant to”serve as a social, cultural, and religious center for all visitors, including activities for the promotion and introduction of the values of the Turkish Civilization” according to an information packet distributed by TACC at the invitation only ground breaking ceremony.
The project is well underway, and two industrial cranes tower over the skyline along Good Luck Road. Concrete and steel pillars are up, and even two small domes are already visible. TACC leaders estimate the complex will be completed by October 2014.
The cost of the 5-buidling complex is estimated to be around $100 million according to sources familiar with the engineering aspects of the project. The entire complex will be serviced by an underground garage.
The Muslim Link covered the ceremony and presents these images to capture the event as well as the monumental construction project for our readers.
Greek neo-Nazis threaten to mobilize against mosque
AFP, Athens -
Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has threatened to mobilize 100,000 people against plans to build a mosque in Athens, state television reported on Monday.
“If a mosque is constructed for Islamist criminals in Greece, a front of 100,000 Greeks headed by Golden Dawn will be created,” party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris told supporters at a rally late on Sunday, in footage broadcast by state television.
The threat came after the Muslim Association of Greece over the weekend said it had received a crude note littered with profanities, warning its members to leave the country or face “slaughter like chickens.”
Police said they were examining the note, which had as its backdrop the symbol of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which blames migrants for Greece’s economic woes and has pledged to throw them out of the country.
Golden Dawn, which has 18 seats in parliament and is suspected by rights groups of encouraging supporters to beat up migrants, denied sending the note.
Greece is home to around 500,000 Muslims — many of them undocumented migrants — including a community of over 100,000 Greek citizens of Turkish origin in the country’s northeast.
A staunchly Orthodox state with bitter memories of nearly four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule, Greece currently offers sanctioned Muslim religious sites only near its northeastern border with Turkey.
Despite years of promises, successive Greek governments have failed to provide a mosque for Muslims in Athens.
Images from Muslima, an online exhibition that gives voice to the varied experiences of Muslin women across the globe
Muslima is an online exhibition showcasing the voices, stories and work of diverse Muslim women across the world. Veronique Mistiaen reports
"The only woman it seems permissible to judge and even ridicule today is the Muslim woman," says Samina Ali. "What other woman faces as much scrutiny or is the target of random violence from both her own community and others?" An Indian-born Muslim who lives in San Francisco, Ali is the curator of Muslima: Muslim Women's Art & Voices, a new global online exhibition.
"The impression many have of Muslim women is that they have no voice, no freedom – not even a face because they move around behind burqas! Even if a woman chooses just a headscarf, there's fear and misunderstanding about the veil," says Ali, a novelist and co-founder of Daughters of Hajar, an American-Muslim feminist organisation. "We wanted to help reverse the stereotypes and the best way to do that seemed to present Muslim women speaking to the complex realities of their own lives, through interviews and art."
The exhibition, launched by the International Museum of Women – an online social action museum promoting women's issues globally – brings together the voices, stories and work of hundreds of very different Muslim women from all over the world. The name "Muslima" can refer to an ultra-religious woman as well as those who choose to stress women's role in the religion.
"There's a great diversity in the way Muslim women express themselves, whether through their art, clothing, values, attitudes or their understanding of their faith," says Ali. "It was important to capture that diversity: not only does it counter stereotypes many in the west have, but it also counters the dominant narrative that some Muslims hold about their own communities: that all women must behave and look a certain way. It benefits both communities to see the reality."
The exhibition features exclusive interviews with female Muslim leaders, such as Dr Shirin Ebadi from Iran, the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel peace prize; Fahima Hashim, a women's rights advocate in Sudan; and Fawzia Koofi, who will be running for president of Afghanistan in 2014. And there are wonderful "Muslima Stories", multimedia mini-memoirs in which ordinary women depict what it is to be a Muslim today. Niati says: "I wanted to participate in Muslima because it is full of hope. It brings all our diversities together, so we can join forces and fight for equality and freedom from wherever we are."
Shawa says: "I usually prefer not to be associated with gender or religion or anything else in my career, but anything to help alter the perception of Muslim women is good. And art can cross borders." Rajae El Mouhandiz, a Dutch-Moroccan/Algerian singer, wanted to take part to share her experience as a young, female, Muslim artist in Europe: facing racism in the Netherlands for being a Muslim, but also discrimination from within the Muslim community for being a singer who doesn't wear the hijab and is "too sexy".
Like El Mouhandiz, many women featured in Muslima believe that change has to come from the outside world but also from within the Islamic framework, says Ali. "The refrain I hear again and again from the contributors is that Islam is not the problem. Islam grants women rights that are then taken away from them by politics, power, patriarchy, tradition and even fanatical readings of the religion. In fact, the irony seems to be that women living in the seventh century, when Islam was founded, had more rights than some women living in a few select Muslim countries today.
"And outside of the law, people's own ways of thinking need to change. Some Muslims seem unable to live and embrace the rich diversity within the Muslim communities. Instead, Sunnis kill Shias and vice versa. Or Muslims from the Middle East think they're more authentic than Muslims from India and vice versa. This issue of authenticity makes it so that many Muslims feel unwelcome in their own Muslim communities. 'Maybe I'm too Americanised to be considered Muslim?' 'If I don't cover, they'll say I'm not Muslim.' That needs to change."
To the outside world, to those who "still think a Muslima is a sad, oppressed woman who is part of a harem, has no opinion or rights and basically is a house slave," El Mouhandiz has this last word: "Turn off your TVs and go online to see the Muslima exhibition and meet all these amazing women and their work. They will blow your mind with their leadership, grace and talent."
• Muslima: Muslim Women's Art & Voices (muslima.imow.org) is live now until December 2013.
’Tis the season of apologies – specifically, grovelling apologies by some of our finest academic brains for homophobic remarks they’ve made in public. The Cambridge University theologian Dr Tim Winter, one of the UK’s leading Islamic scholars, apologised on 2 May after footage emerged showing him calling homosexuality the “ultimate inversion” and an “inexplicable aberration”. “The YouTube clip is at least 15 years old, and does not in any way represent my present views . . . we all have our youthful enthusiasms, and we all move on.”
The Harvard historian Professor Niall Ferguson apologised “unreservedly” on 4 May for “stupid” and “insensitive” comments in which he claimed that the economist John Maynard Keynes hadn’t cared about “the long run” because he was gay and had no intention of having any children.
Dare I add my non-academic, non-intellectual voice to the mix? I want to issue my own apology. Because I’ve made some pretty inappropriate comments in the past, too.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that, as a teenager, I was one of those wannabe-macho kids who crudely deployed “gay” as a mark of abuse; you will probably be shocked to discover that shamefully, even in my twenties, I was still making the odd disparaging remark about homosexuality.
It’s now 2013 and I’m 33 years old. My own “youthful enthusiasm” is thankfully, if belatedly, behind me.
What happened? Well, for a start, I grew up. Bigotry and demonisation of difference are usually the hallmark of immature and childish minds. But, if I’m honest, something else happened, too: I acquired a more nuanced understanding of my Islamic faith, a better appreciation of its morals, values and capacity for tolerance.
Before we go any further, a bit of background – I was attacked heavily a few weeks ago by some of my co-religionists for suggesting in these pages that too many Muslims in this country have a “Jewish problem” and that we blithely “ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard”.
I hope I won’t provoke the same shrieks of outrage and denial when I say that many Muslims also have a problem, if not with homosexuals, then with homosexuality. In fact, a 2009 poll by Gallup found that British Muslims have zero tolerance towards homosexuality. “None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable,” the Guardian reported in May that year.
Some more background. Orthodox Islam, like orthodox interpretations of the other Abrahamic faiths, views homosexuality as sinful and usually defines marriage as only ever a heterosexual union.
This isn’t to say that there is no debate on the subject. In April, the Washington Post profiled Daayiee Abdullah, who is believed to be the only publicly gay imam in the west. “[I]f you have any same-sex marriages,” the Post quotes him as saying, “I’m available.” Meanwhile, the gay Muslim scholar Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, who teaches Islamic studies at Emory University in the United States, says that notions such as “gay” or “lesbian” are not mentioned in the Quran. He blames Islam’s hostility towards homosexuality on a misreading of the texts by ultra-conservative mullahs.
And, in his 2011 book Reading the Quran, the British Muslim intellectual and writer Ziauddin Sardar argues that “there is absolutely no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality”. Sardar says “the demonisation of homosexuality in Muslim history is based largely on fabricated traditions and the unreconstituted prejudice harboured by most Muslim societies”. He highlights verse 31 of chapter 24 of the Quran, in which “we come across ‘men who have no sexual desire’ who can witness the ‘charms’ of women”. I must add here that Abdullah, Kugle and Sardar are in a tiny minority, as are the members of gay Muslim groups such as Imaan. Most mainstream Muslim scholars – even self-identified progressives and moderates such as Imam Hamza Yusuf in the United States and Professor Tariq Ramadan in the UK – consider homosexuality to be a grave sin. The Quran, after all, explicitly condemns the people of Lot for “approach[ing] males” (26:165) and for “lust[ing] on men in preference to women” (7:81), and describes marriage as an institution that is gender-based and procreative.
What about me? Where do I stand on this? For years I’ve been reluctant to answer questions on the subject. I was afraid of the “homophobe” tag. I didn’t want my gay friends and colleagues to look at me with horror, suspicion or disdain.
So let me be clear: yes, I’m a progressive who supports a secular society in which you don’t impose your faith on others – and in which the government, no matter how big or small, must always stay out of the bedroom. But I am also (to Richard Dawkins’s continuing disappointment) a believing Muslim. And, as a result, I really do struggle with this issue of homosexuality. As a supporter of secularism, I am willing to accept same-sex weddings in a state-sanctioned register office, on grounds of equity. As a believer in Islam, however, I insist that no mosque be forced to hold one against its wishes.
If you’re gay, that doesn’t mean I want to discriminate against you, belittle or bully you, abuse or offend you. Not at all. I don’t want to go back to the dark days of criminalisation and the imprisonment of gay men and women; of Section 28 and legalised discrimination. I’m disgusted by the violent repression and persecution of gay people across the Muslim-majority world.
I cringe as I watch footage of the buffoonish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals . . . we do not have this phenomenon.” I feel sick to my stomach when I read accounts of how, in the late 1990s, the Taliban in Afghanistan buried gay men alive and then toppled brick walls on top of them.
Nor is this an issue only in the Middle East and south Asia. In March, a Muslim caller to a radio station in New York stunned the host after suggesting, live on air, that gay Americans should be beheaded in line with “sharia law”. Here in the UK, in February, Muslim MPs who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage bill – such as the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan – faced death threats and accusations of apostasy from a handful of Muslim extremists. And last year, a homophobic campaign launched by puffed-up Islamist gangs in east London featured ludicrous and offensive stickers declaring the area a “gay-free zone”.
I know it might be hard to believe, but Islam is not a religion of violence, hate or intolerance – despite the best efforts of a minority of reactionaries and radicals to argue (and behave) otherwise. Out of the 114 chapters of the Quran, 113 begin by introducing the God of Islam as a God of mercy and compassion. The Prophet Muhammad himself is referred to as “a mercy for all creation”. This mercy applies to everyone, whether heterosexual or homosexual. As Tariq Ramadan has put it: “I may disagree with what you are doing because it’s not in accordance with my belief but I respect who are you are.” He rightly notes that this is “a question of respect and mutual understanding”.
I should also point out here that most British Muslims oppose the persecution of homosexuals. A 2011 poll for the think tank Demos found that fewer than one in four British Muslims disagreed with the statement “I am proud of how Britain treats gay people”.
There is much to be proud of, but still much to be done. Homophobic bullying is rife in our schools. Nine out of ten gay or lesbian teenagers report being bullied at school over their sexual orientation. LGBT teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.
Despite the recent slight fall in “sexual orientation hate crimes”, in 2012 there were still 4,252 such crimes in England and Wales, four out of every five of which involved “violence against the person”. In March, for instance, a man was jailed for killing a gay teenager by setting him on fire; the killer scrawled homophobic insults across 18-year-old Steven Simpson’s face, forearm and stomach.
Regular readers will know that I spend much of my time speaking out against Islamophobic bigotry: from the crude stereotyping of Muslims in the media and discrimination against Muslims in the workplace to attacks on Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship.
The truth is that Islamophobia and homophobia have much in common: they are both, in the words of the (gay) journalist Patrick Strudwick, “at least partly fuelled by fear. Fear of the unknown . . .” Muslims and gay people alike are victims of this fear – especially when it translates into hate speech or physical attacks. We need to stand side by side against the bigots and hate-mongers, whether of the Islamist or the far-right variety, rather than turn on one another or allow ourselves to be pitted against each other, “Muslims v gays”.
We must avoid stereotyping and demonising each other at all costs. “The biggest question we have as a society,” says a Muslim MP who prefers to remain anonymous, “is how we accommodate difference.”
Remember also that negative attitudes to homosexuality are not the exclusive preserve of Muslims. In 2010, the British Social Attitudes survey showed that 36 per cent of the public regarded same-sex relations as “always” or “mostly wrong”.
A Muslim MP who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage bill tells me that most of the letters of protest that they received in response were from evangelical Christians, not Muslims. And, of course, it wasn’t a Muslim who took the life of poor Steven Simpson.
Yet ultimately I didn’t set out to write this piece to try to bridge the gap between Islam and homosexuality. I am not a theologian. Nor am I writing this in response to the ongoing parliamentary debate about the pros and cons of same-sex marriage. I am not a politician.
I am writing this because I want to live in a society in which all minorities – Jews, Muslims, gay people and others – are protected from violence and abuse, from demonisation and discrimination. And because I want to apologise for any hurt or offence that I may have caused to my gay brothers and lesbian sisters.
And yes, whatever our differences – straight or gay, religious or atheist, male or female – we are all brothers and sisters. As the great Muslim leader of the 7th century and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib, once declared: “Remember that people are of two kinds; they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.”
Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this article is crossposted
We've spent the last few articles describing the apartheid policies implemented by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The obvious question which follows is: so what, what am I to do about it and why?
Apart from the obvious moral incumbency of acting to eliminate injustice, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deserves special attention for a number of reasons. Most importantly, we Westerners, Americans especially, have an obligation to act because it's our governments that are fueling the occupation in the first place. Without the political backing of the West, Israel won't be able to continue usurping Palestinian land. In addition to the vital political support of the world's superpower, America also supplies over $3 billion in military aid to Israel every year. That's tax payer's money going directly to fund the occupation.
Unlike many other conflicts, the average person can in fact do something about this issue. Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) is a global movement of concerned citizens spanning across the globe. From campus clubs to community groups to corporations; people from all facets of life participate in it with the objective of bringing the conflict to and end.
What is BDS, and what it isn't?
The call for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel was made in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian community groups. They called on the global community to take these measures against Israel until it complies with international law. BDS is a non-violent coalition which demands an end to the occupation of the OPT, respect and protection for the Palestinian right-of-return and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Consumer boycotts involves us making an effort to eliminate consumption of conflict goods in our local communities. This would involve boycotting goods that are produced on settlements which are built on land stolen from Palestinians. It would also include boycotting corporations which aid the Israeli military. For example, Caterpillar is a good example as it provides the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
Some people might be sighing with disillusionment after reading about 'boycotts'. They are probably thinking of the infamous 'Boycott Starbucks' campaign which was awfully poplar in the Muslim community; though based on complete falsehood. Just to be clear, boycotting StarBucks had nothing to do with the BDS campaign. In fact, it's the perfect example of 'boycotts-gone-wrong'.
Boycott campaigns for BDS are usually organized by social justice groups in local communities. There isn't a central control structure and each group decides independently the route it wants to take. It's important to boycott smart, rather than boycott blindly. For starters, having clear evidence of a corporation's complicity in supporting occupation is a must. It's important to set a clear criterion too. For example, it's ineffective to simply boycott a company because it does business in Israel; it makes more sense to do so if the corporation directly supports the illegal settlements. In addition, it's important to write letters to the company letting them know your group is boycotting them; or else they'll never know. Peaceful protests such as these are another way to make your voice heard. It's also important to focus your campaign on a handful of companies; making an endless list is a waste of time.
Listed below are some of the main social justice groups whose campaigns/chapters you can sign up for. If you're a student, your best bet are the clubs on campus. Just a heads up: within solidarity activists, there are over zealous groups whose harsh rhetoric verges on vilification and hate-mongering. Stick with the mainstream, well-organized groups run by level headed individuals. (Canada: CJPME US: End the Occupation, Stop the Blank Check Ireland: IPSC Australia: Palestine Action Group UK: Check the Label International: BDS)
The second pillar of the movement, divestments, is aimed at corporations and institutions. It involves these groups reevaluating their investment portfolios and withdrawing any investments from corporations which support the Israeli occupation. Most active amongst this category have been churches, trade unions and student groups. Some recent examples are the United Church of Canada and the Mennonite Church US. Student groups across the globe are lobbying universities to review their investment portfolios. Many corporations have ethical investment policies and if you feel these are being violated by the company you work for; you could try to lobby to get them to comply with these standards. The Methodist Church has prepared a report outlining some of these companies; there might be better reports out there, so do you'll have to do some research.
The last pillar of BDS is Sanctions. This is something that is primarily to be implemented at the state level. For the most part, the movement hasn't gotten that far yet as most Western government's still support Israel. However, an EU report recently urged member states to withdraw funding to the settlements and disallow conflict goods to benefit from trade agreements with Israel. This is a step in the right direction and indicates the increasing international pressure on Israel.
Chomsky and Finkelstein on BDS
Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, two of the most well-known academics in the solidarity movement, have both been critical of BDS. Given the remarkable roles they've played in advancing the Palestinian cause, their opinion carries a great deal of weight and has led to hesitancy to adopt BDS in come circles. Right wing commentators and Zionists frequently quote their stance with the objective of dismissing BDS as nothing but a group of anti-Semitic hate mongers.
However, a detailed look at their position would reveal that they actually support boycotts, divestments and sanctions as a strategy. For example, Chomsky believes we should boycott companies such as Caterpillar and Motorola that support the Israeli military, and should lobby for an arms embargo. Finkelstein also holds the same position. Their criticism is not aimed at the principles itself. Rather it's aimed at some of the official stances of BDS and specifics about how to implement the strategies (e.g. academic and cultural boycotts). It appears their conflict is more with the leadership of BDS, many of whom advocate for a one-state solution; a position that doesn't sit well with either of them.
The reason of elaborating on this issue is because many have turned away from BDS because it hasn't gotten the Chomskian stamp of approval. However, the reality is both Chomsky and Finkelstein generally support the strategies of BDS; their disagreements are with specifics and some individuals within the leadership. Given the grass roots nature of the movement, social justice groups work independently and carve out their own methodologies of how to implement BDS. You might disagree with elements of BDS, I do so myself, but that doesn't mean you can't participate in it.
One of the classical strategies of diverting attention from this issue is by changing the subject. As Finkelstein puts it: You talk about occupation, they talk about the holocaust. You talk about occupation, they talk anti-Semitism. Similarly, when you talk about apartheid, they will talk about flaws in your argument and how you've really not understood apartheid. Next thing you know, you've spent an hour in a theoretical discussion about the nature of apartheid and its application to this conflict.
It is thus vital to not get hung up on terms and simply go back to the root of the problem: the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Reiterate that the occupation is illegal by international consensus (including US policy) and needs to come to and end. Our goal is not to convince people about the type of oppression taking place; it's to end the oppression.
The other day I learned that a former Muslim blogger, Umar Lee, with whom I was involved in a number of debates during the Muslim blogging era about six years ago, had converted to Christianity and had begun a new blog titled “Myth of Malcolm” (i.e. Malcolm X), claiming that “we” were lied to and that many of the things Islam had apparently promised (such as universal brotherhood across races) were untrue. This was really staggering news, because although Umar had crossed a number of lines as a Muslim (most notably from the “salafis” to the Sufi-based movement led by Pir Gilani in Pakistan, which has some communities in the USA, although he subsequently left that movement as well. A lot of Islamophobic bloggers have jumped for joy over this, most reposting Robert Spencer’s announcement, but there have been two Muslim blog responses that I can see, both at Patheos: this one at “The Muslimah Next Door” and this one at al-Mihrab.
I don’t think it’s ever acceptable for a Muslim to say “good riddance to bad rubbish” when someone leaves Islam, but Umar Lee was more of a blight on the community than many others. He was a bully and a blowhard, someone fond of telling everyone what a “real man” was (and to give you an idea, his blog was full of posts about boxing and wrestling when he wasn’t pontificating about Islam). He was an ex-convict who, by his own account, was released from prison at the start of the Bush (junior) presidency; he has since been making his living as a cab driver in St Louis. In January 2009, he made a post attacking so-called “Rand Institute Muslims” (the Rand Corporation being a think-tank which published a report on how to divide and conquer Muslims), accusing them of allying with secularists and feminists, of peddling an Islam which requires no “testicular fortitude”, of reciting “homo-erotic” poetry about the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), and naming Shaikh Hamza Yusuf as the foremost among them. He seems to have had a particular grudge against that shaikh, because he mentions him (though not by name) in his de-conversion video. Lee called the Companions “robbers” and “straight-up killers” in the same entry, which was his idea of praise but most Muslims’ idea of an insult.
I think this apostasy should remind Muslims of the hadeeth qudsi in which Allah ta’ala says, “whoever is hostile to a friend of Mine, I make war on him”. Umar Lee showed open contempt for people who were better than him. He clearly displayed envy at others’ achievements, particularly if they were intellectual achievements. He hated the thought that people would think a ‘soft’ man like Hamza Yusuf better than a tough guy like himself, although it takes a different kind of fortitude to go and study in a place like the Mauritanian desert which is where Hamza Yusuf undertook at least part of his studies. It’s a difficult place to live with very basic conditions. Just because he hasn’t been to prison, it doesn’t make him a weed or a half man.
His explanation in the video for why he left Islam had no real rational or theological basis, just a lot of talk about “love” and about how he no longer had to worry about going to Hell for not having a beard long enough or trousers too long or short. This reasoning is really quite flimsy, but it’s obvious that he saw Christian congregations who were not burdened by religious laws of any kind and for whom being religious is easy — it’s just an hour or so on a Sunday and that’s pretty much it, besides the various non-obligatory events during the week. The Southern Baptists, the church he was raised in and to which he has returned, is a powerful institution and the biggest single denomination across the South; its members do not have to look over their shoulders. He claims that Muslims complain too much about Islamophobia and that this is a minor problem; surely he knows from having come across so much anti-Muslim hate speech, and open attempts to infiltrate mosques, and Muslims being set up in terrorist stings by the FBI, and so much else over the past 12 years, that it’s not minor. I know women who have suffered harassment because of their hijab, and have witnessed the long campaign against the niqab in the UK triggered by Jack Straw’s comments during Ramadan in 2006. Only a man (and a white man at that) could say Islamophobia is minor. Men are not being targeted by anti-hijab laws in many countries.
It appears Lee could not deal with being part of a community that is going through hard times and is in a vulnerable position, at least in his country. Being a Muslim is a struggle, and there are hadeeths that say that hanging onto faith is going to be like holding hot coals in one’s hand, and the inadequacy and division of the community is one aspect of this, much as external persecution has been at other times. As for his claim that Islam falsely promised racial harmony, Islam itself does not endorse any race dominating or oppressing another (unlike the Southern Baptists, who endorsed slavery and segregation throughout the history of both). The same cannot really be said of the Muslim community itself, except for the fact that building racial harmony has been an ideal of the indigenous Muslim community, even if not the immigrant one. He also attacks Malcolm X for praising the racial equality of the hajj while Blacks were still slaves in Saudi Arabia: however, the hajj does not represent Saudi Arabia but Islam itself, and that crowd would have contained Muslims from every socio-economic group, including princes, farmers, traders and perhaps a few of those slaves (and slavery was abolished there a few years later, by the same ruler who was on the throne, namely king Faisal), all dressed in the same simple two-piece outfit and all mingling with each other. It was this that impressed Malcolm X, not Saudi Arabia.
This event should be a lesson to Muslims who are given to backbiting, especially against scholars and those who work for the good of the community, but also this should be a lesson for braggarts and bullies and people who think they are better than others. Umar Lee thought he was a real man and thought he could tell everyone else what that meant; he no doubt did not think for a minute that he would fail the test, yet there are people (men and women) who have to deal with far worse trials than anything Umar has in the past ten years — those dealing with the legacy of traumatic childhoods, people who have survived abusive marriages, people with disabilities or disabled children, or both, people who have had to live far from any Muslim community — who are still “holding on to God’s rope” rather than doing the easy thing and letting go. In doing the latter, Umar has proven himself to be much weaker than those he would have pitied or despised five years ago, and perhaps might still do.
There are more than a billion Muslims in the world, each with an individual view of life. So why are they viewed as a unified group, asks Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
In 2007, six years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, I was travelling through Europe and North America. I had just published a novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and as I travelled I was struck by the large number of interviewers and of audience members at Q&As who spoke of Islam as a monolithic thing, as if Islam referred to a self-contained and clearly defined world, a sort of Microsoft Windows, obviously different from, and considerably incompatible with, the Apple OS X-like operating system of "the west".
I recall one reading in Germany in particular. Again and again, people posed queries relating to how "we Europeans" see things, in contrast to how "you Muslims" do. Eventually I was so exasperated that I pulled my British passport out of my jacket and started waving it around my head. "While it's true the UK hasn't yet joined the eurozone," I said, " I hope we can all agree the country is in fact in Europe."
Six years on, a film inspired by the novel is in the process of appearing on screens around the world, and I am pleased to report that those sorts of questions are a little rarer now than they were in 2007. This represents progress. But it is modest progress, for the sense of Islam as a monolith lingers, in places both expected and unexpected.
Recently I was told by a well-travelled acquaintance in London that while Muslims can be aggressive, they are united by a sense of deep hospitality. I replied that I remembered being in Riyadh airport, standing in line, when a Saudi immigration officer threw the passport of a Pakistani labourer right into his face. If that was hospitality, I wasn't sure we had the same definition.
Islam is not a race, yet Islamophobia partakes of racist characteristics. Most Muslims do not "choose" Islam in the way that they choose to become doctors or lawyers, nor even in the way that they choose to become fans of Coldplay or Radiohead. Most Muslims, like people of any faith, are born into their religion. They then evolve their own relationship with it, their own, individual, view of life, their own micro-religion, so to speak.
There are more than a billion variations of lived belief among people who define themselves as Muslim – one for each human being, just as there are among those who describe themselves as Christian, or Buddhist, or Hindu. Islamophobia represents a refusal to acknowledge these variations, to acknowledge individual humanities, a desire to paint members of a perceived group with the same brush. In that sense, it is indeed like racism. It simultaneously credits Muslims with too much and too little agency: too much agency in choosing their religion, and too little in choosing what to make of it.
Islamophobia can be found proudly raising its head in militaristic American thinktanks, xenophobic European political parties, and even in atheistic discourse, where somehow "Islam" can be characterised as "more bad" than religion generally, in the way one might say that a mugger is bad, but a black mugger is worse, because black people are held to be more innately violent.
Islamophobia crops up repeatedly in public debate, such as over the proposed Islamic cultural centre in downtown Manhattan (the so-called "Ground Zero mosque") or the ban on minarets in Switzerland. And it crops up in private interactions as well.
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In my early 20s, I remember being seated next to a pretty Frenchwoman at a friend's birthday dinner in Manila. Shortly after we were introduced, and seemingly unconnected with any pre-existing strand of conversation, she proclaimed to the table: "I'd never marry a Muslim man." "It's a little soon for us to be discussing marriage," I joked. But I was annoyed. (Perhaps even disappointed, it occurs to me now, since I still recall the incident almost two decades later.) In the cosmopolitan bit of pre-9/11 America where I then lived, local norms of politeness meant that I'd never before heard such a remark, however widely held the woman's sentiments might have been.
Islamophobia, in all its guises, seeks to minimise the importance of the individual and maximise the importance of the group. Yet our instinctive stance ought to be one of suspicion towards such endeavours. For individuals are undeniably real. Groups, on the other hand, are assertions of opinion.
We ought therefore to look more closely at the supposed monolith to which we apply the word Islam. It is said that Muslims believe in female genital mutilation, the surgical removal of all or part of a girl's clitoris. Yet I have never, in my 41 years, had a conversation with someone who described themselves as Muslim and believed this practice to be anything other than a despicably inhuman abomination. Until I first read about it in a newspaper, probably in my 20s, I would have thought it impossible that such a ritual could even exist.
Similarly, many millions of Muslims apparently believe that women should have no role in politics. But many millions more have had no qualms electing women prime ministers in Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Indeed, this month's Pakistani elections witnessed a record 448 women running for seats in the national and provincial assemblies.
Two of my great-grandparents sent all of their daughters to university. One of them, my grandmother, was the chairperson of the All Pakistan Women's Association and dedicated her life to the advancement of women's rights in the country. But among those descended from the same line are women who do not work and who refuse to meet men who are not their blood relatives. I have female relatives my age who cover their heads, others who wear mini-skirts, some who are university professors or run businesses, others who choose rarely to leave their homes. I suspect if you were to ask them their religion, all would say "Islam". But if you were to use that term to define their politics, careers, or social values, you would struggle to come up with a coherent, unified view.
Lived religion is a very different thing from strict textual analysis. Very few people of any faith live their lives as literalist interpretations of scripture. Many people have little or no knowledge of scripture at all. Many others who have more knowledge choose to interpret what they know in ways that are convenient, or that fit their own moral sense of what is good. Still others view their religion as a kind of self-accepted ethnicity, but live lives utterly divorced from any sense of faith.
When the Pakistani Taliban were filmed flogging a young woman in Swat as punishment for her allegedly "amoral" behaviour, there was such popular revulsion in Pakistan that the army launched a military campaign to retake the region. As my parents' driver told me, "They say they beat her because of Islam. This isn't Islam. Islam says to do good things. So how can this be Islam?" He offered no complex hermeneutics in support of his position. His Islamic moral compass was not textual; it was internal, his own notion of right and wrong.
I often hear it said, at readings or talks ranging from Lahore to Louisiana, that The Reluctant Fundamentalist is about a man who becomes an Islamic fundamentalist. I'm not sure what that term means, exactly, but I have a reasonable idea about the sentences and paragraphs that are actually present in the book. Changez, the main character, is a Pakistani student at Princeton. When he gets his dream job at a high-paying valuation firm in New York, he exclaims, "Thank you, God!"
That's it. Other than that exclamation (a common figure of speech), there's no real evidence that Changez is religious. He doesn't quote from scripture. He never asks himself about heaven or hell or the divine. He drinks. He has sex out of marriage. His beliefs could quite plausibly be those of a secular humanist. And yet he calls himself a Muslim, and is angry with US foreign policy, and grows a beard – and that seems to be enough. Changez may well be an agnostic, or even an atheist. Nonetheless he is somehow, and seemingly quite naturally, read by many people as a character who is an Islamic fundamentalist.
Why? The novel carefully separates the politics of self-identification from any underlying religious faith or spirituality. It sets out to show that the former can exist in the absence of the latter. Yet we tend to read the world otherwise, to imagine computer-software-like religious operating systems where perhaps none exist.
And in so doing, it is we who create the monolith. If we look at religion as practised in the world outside, we see multiplicity. It is from inside us that the urge to unify arises. A dozen years after 2001, we are perhaps getting better at resisting this impulse. But we still have a long, long way to go.Mohsin Hamid
What does it mean to be a Muslim? The video below shows what being a Muslim means for three girls who live in Indiana. From sharing to making others feel better, Sabriya, Laila, and Anisha show that a Muslim's character is very important.
Enjoy the video!
You can also click HERE to see the video.
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(Attention, writers! Muslim Kids Matter is a regular feature at Muslim Matters. New articles for kids are posted every other Sunday. You're welcome to send in your entries to email@example.com.)
Last week seven men from Oxford were found guilty of various sexual offences, including rape, for ‘grooming’ young girls and ultimately raping and allowing other men to rape them. Many of them were in local authority care and others (as in Rochdale) were placed in care by their parents in an attempt to stop the abuse that they were complaining about, but carers refused to listen to the girls’ and their parents’ complaints, in one case telling one of the victims that it was ‘inappropriate’ to talk about the issue at that time. On Wednesday’s Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, he had two guests: John Brown of the NSPCC’s sexual abuse programme, and Taj Hargey, an “imam” that the media commonly wheels out to issue sweeping negative generalisations about Muslims. The programme can be listened to here until next Wednesday and is the first feature (which starts after Michael Jackson’s Thriller ends).
I’ve written about my problems with Jeremy Vine’s type of “journalism” here before, and then as now it was a Muslim issue: the supposed “no-go areas” in east London that Muslims were trying to establish; this came after the then (thuggish New Labour) Home Secretary Charles Clarke was heckled by Muslims during a speech there for coming to a “Muslim area” with threatening talk. Then, Vine pitted Anjum Choudhary of al-Muhajiroun with Sara Khan, someone who had been on “The Apprentice”. Apparently just being a famous Muslim gave her the authority to talk about any issue related to Islam. The encounter became a slanging match with Choudhary speculating on whether she prayed or did the ritual ablutions. The purpose of the exercise was to give the impression of a “robust debate”, but was really just a good barney for entertainment’s sake.
In this encounter, John Brown made the point that the crime was about abuse of power and particularly male power, rather than anything to do with the perpetrators’ religion, and he also made the point that when sex crimes in general, the most common type of perpetrator was a white man, not an Asian one, and that there were currently cases under investigation of sexual abuse by groups of white men. This is one particular sex crime among many and the fact that “all” the perpetrators are of a given race or religious background is statistically less significant if the actual numbers are tiny. There were seven men convicted here. We are not talking percentages of the Asian community. The same statistical trick was played in reports of Muslim men’s involvement in rape in Norway, in which it was alleged that all rape in Oslo was perpetrated by Muslims. In fact, it was one category of rape, and the total number of perpetrators over the period referred to was six.
During Brown’s contributions, Vine persistently interrupted him, such as when he mentioned “the economy” as a possible reason for why Pakistani men were disproportionately involved in this particular type of crime (he explained that he meant their involvement in the “night-time economy” such as cab driving and take-away restaurants). I could tell that Brown was talking faster to try and fit things in before Vine interrupted him. By contrast, Vine did not interrupt Hargey, who was telling him what he wanted to hear, namely that the gangs do this because Muslim society and Muslim imams condition them to believe that white women are immodest, are pieces of meat and are there for the taking. Vine then suggested that they believe that “white women, and by extension the host society, are trash” and Hargey readily agreed with him.
Vine then presented Hargey’s claims to Brown and emphasised the fact that Hargey was an imam, clearly playing on Brown’s ignorance of Hargey’s position, or lack thereof. Hargey is a self-appointed imam in a self-established organisation and has no standing in the Muslim community whatsoever. He is known only for publicity stunts consisting of acts of fake worship calculated to embarrass the Muslims by making them look backward, such as prayers led by women, ‘religious’ marriages of women to non-Muslim men, and most recently, a Friday sermon given by a Christian bishop, and his take on the sources of Islamic law make his claim to be a Muslim, let alone an imam, extremely dubious. There were plenty of Muslims who could have given a more constructive answer to Vine’s questions, but would not have delivered the answers Vine wanted and suspected his audience wanted. Brown did not have any answer to Vine’s “but he’s an imam” line, and Vine persistently played the card that he had no explanation for why Asian men were responsible. Asking this is a bit like asking why Italians are disproportionately involved in the mafia.
These were criminal gangs. The majority of Muslims are not criminals and religious Muslims, as is well-known, are not supposed to drink alcohol, take other drugs to get high, or sleep with prostitutes or otherwise have sex outside marriage. What it is against Islam to consume, it is against Islam to sell, although some Muslims do indeed run shops that sell alcohol. You can find all of this on any Islamic website, and particularly on the fatwa websites that the media like to attack and mock every so often. It is all so well-known that there would not have been a need for any imam to tell his congregation that it was also haraam to ply teenage or pre-teenage girls with alcohol, to rape them and to offer them to other men to rape them, to take them away from their homes and parents to other towns for several days to do all this to them. It was probably completely beyond their imagination until the facts were revealed in the media recently, much as was the case with many other people. If these men had been to mosques and read any books on Islam, they would have known that everything they did was against Islam, but did it anyway.
There is a common argument that “Muslims regard white women as easy meat / trash”, besides being a huge slur which has very little truth in it, is entirely irrelevant when we take into account that several of the girls abused by the Oxford gang were only about 11 when first targeted. These rapes would likely have been their first sexual encounters. These were not young men casually taking advantage of young women of the same sage; this was calculated sexual abuse of children by a criminal gang of adults. Melanie Phillips made the same mistake in her article in the Mail in January 2011:
Who can be surprised that young white girls willingly go with these sexual predators who pick them up when so many stagger in and out of pubs and nightclubs in a drunken haze wearing clothes that leave little to the imagination and boasting of ‘blow jobs’ or how many guys they have ‘shagged’?
Who can be surprised when even sex education materials in schools advise on oral sex and other sexual practices; teen-targeted magazines, clothing and popular culture are saturated by sexuality; and family life has often disintegrated into a procession of mum’s casual pick-ups and gross parental indifference, leaving young girls desperate for affection from any quarter?
The disgust felt by some Muslim youths at such sexually promiscuous girls can then feed into a more general hatred and hostility towards Britain and the West. Such youths form themselves into gangs bound by a common feeling of being outsiders united by a profound hostility to the society into which they were born.
The fact is that girls seen around nightclubs are mostly adults, and regardless of what one may think of their dress and behaviour, they are not easy marks for these gangs because they are a bit older and wiser, they often have college courses or jobs to go back to, and the things offered by the gangs, such as alcohol or drugs, are no longer novel or exciting to them. The young girls exploited by these gangs were vulnerable; many of them were in care (and clearly not adequately supervised), but clearly it seems that they were easily led by the promise of ‘adult’ pleasures such as alcohol and the promise of ‘love’. These gangs not only know they cannot exploit Muslim girls; they also cannot exploit adult women of any cultural background either.
Hargey, in his Mail article published last Tuesday, blames pretty much every aspect of Muslim culture, generalising that Muslims in general regard women as second-class citizens and that mosques, including in Oxford, preach that women are “little more than chattels or possessions over whom they have absolute authority”. This is something that mosque committees in Oxford should take notice of, as if no such sermon has been delivered recently, Hargey’s claim is libellous. To claim that a sermon endorsing women obeying their husbands or wearing the hijab or even more than that amounts to a green light for criminal gangs to rape young girls is an enormous leap of logic. He then spuriously connects this to the “growing, reprehensible fashion for segregation at Islamic events on university campuses, with female Muslim students pushed to the back of lecture halls”. The fact is that separation of men and women at Islamic events, public and private, has always been standard practice and they are either in a separate room or on a different side of the hall from the men, not at the back. (In the recent event that caused so much fuss, there was actually a mixed seating area in the middle, with separate men’s and women’s areas in the wings.) It has become a matter of controversy only recently, due to agitation from secularist groups.
The media should not be blaming the generality of the Muslim community or “Muslim attitudes” when there were very real failings by the people who were meant to be looking after the girls, but there is also evidence that they are not empowered to protect the girls and prevent their abuse, by restricting their liberty if necessary. In the past, children (and particularly young girls) were not allowed out at night, and often not even in the daytime unless supervised or with trusted friends. These days, care homes are powerless to prevent them leaving if they want to, unless the home is a designated secure facility, and such places have been closing one after the other for years, mostly for economic reasons. This should change, and the police should return children to their homes or a place of safety if found hanging around at night or with strange men or ‘undesirables’. The fact of adults hanging around with young girls they are not related to should, in itself, be a cause for investigation, and should be prevented if there is not a very good explanation; supplying minors with alcohol is illegal, and if this had been stopped at that stage, the rape and trafficking could have been prevented. Finally, when the girls complained that they were actually being abused, they were told to go away, as were parents when they complained to both police and social services. There is ample evidence that care workers, social workers and the police knew that this was going on (they even took the girls to a sexual health clinic in Reading), but did nothing until the abuse had been going on for years.
There are attitudes to women among whites that match anything found in the Muslim community. There is a casuality about rape nowadays in some quarters; there are rape jokes told in theatres and on TV and people talk about a sports team getting “raped” rather than beaten. This translates into actual rape when a bunch of juvenile sportsmen get together and a drunk 16-year-old girl stumbles into their midst, and come within a hair’s breadth of getting away with raping and publicly humiliating her until international outrage force the authorities to take action. There have been plenty of surveys carried out that show that many white people, not only Pakistanis, think a woman who wears a short skirt is “asking for it” if she gets raped. So, it is not unsurprising that the same negative attitudes may have influenced the actions of the social services and police when told that young girls on council estates in Oxford, Rochdale and elsewhere were being abused — oh, they were in care (nuff said), they were from broken homes and/or council estates, they were hanging around with older men, they were half-dressed, they were drinking and having sex … no better than they should be. It’s not imams’ job to police Asian criminals or to look after girls in care. It’s the state’s job, and the people whose job it was didn’t do it.
A huge number of Imams and Muslim community figures have written a letter published in the right-wing Sunday Telegraph today expressing ‘serious misgivings’ about the Gay Marriage Bill. Here is the letter in full:
SIR – We have serious misgivings about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which seeks to legalise gay marriage.
As imams and Muslim leaders we have a responsibility to fulfil our sacred trust to God and present our view on these proposals on behalf of the Muslim communities we serve.
Marriage is a sacred contract between a man and a woman that cannot be redefined. We believe that marriage between a man and a woman is the cornerstone of family life and the only institution within which to raise children.
We are concerned that this radical change to the institution of marriage will impact on what is taught in schools. Muslim teachers will be forced into the contradictory position of holding private beliefs, while teaching a new legal definition of marriage. Muslim parents will be robbed of their right to raise their children according to their beliefs, as gay relationships are taught as something normal to their primary-aged children.
We support the numerous calls from other faith leaders and communities who have stood firmly against gay marriage and instead support marriage as it should be, between a man and a woman.
The letter should not come as any great surprise. Most religious groups tend to be very conservative in their outlook. In a democratic society, they should have every right to air their religious views. That does not mean that their views should not be scrutinised though.
The signatories say:
“Muslim teachers will be forced into the contradictory position of holding private beliefs, while teaching a new legal definition of marriage. Muslim parents will be robbed of their right to raise their children according to their beliefs, as gay relationships are taught as something normal to their primary-aged children.”
I am not convinced that this is actually true. Muslim teachers can still preach that they believe that gay sex is sinful as is gay marriage – if they wish to do so. Even though abortion and sex before marriage between adults is lawful, those whose religious beliefs instruct them otherwise can still entertain those beliefs and teach them to their children in the privacy of their own homes.
I am pretty sure that many of the very same religious figures would also like to deny the right of a woman to have an abortion, for unmarried adults to have any type of physical relationship, for authors to publish books that they deem blasphemous or ‘deviant’, for movie makers to include scenes which they regard as being ‘lewd’ or ‘unacceptable’, the right of biology teachers to teach kids about evolution etc.
In short, they would prefer to impose on the rest of us a far more restrictive society. I am not at all convinced that it would lead to a better society. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Karl Popper famously wrote about the virtues of an ‘Open Society’ and the differences with other types of societies. His arguments are still every bit as valid today.
In January Ilisha posted about Valentino’s Ghost: A documentary that explores the way in which Muslims have been portrayed over many years and how US political interests and events in the Muslim majority world have shaped our perceptions of the Muslim ‘other.’ It is now set to be shown across the country. (h/t: Camille)Review: ‘Valentino’s Ghost’ hits media’s portrayal of Arabs, Muslims
by Gary Goldstein (LA Times)
Writer-director Michael Singh‘s documentary “Valentino’s Ghost” connects the United States’ Middle East foreign policy agenda to the American media’s often negative portrayals of Arabs and Muslims. It’s a provocative, absorbing — and at times dicey — study.
Using film and TV clips plus archival news footage, the India-born Singh ambitiously tracks the on-screen depiction of Arabs starting in the 1920s when Rudolph Valentino melted hearts as “The Sheik” and Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckled his way through “The Thief of Bagdad.” But, he notes, those warm, fanciful portrayals shrank over the years as America’s economic and political interests in the Middle East grew.
According to Singh, specific events accelerated the shift: The formation of Israel in 1948, the 1972 attack on the Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists, the launch of the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and, perhaps most indelibly, the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The filmmaker contends that the U.S. news media has failed to provide sufficient historical, religious or social context for such geopolitical events, thus fostering overwhelmingly harsh attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims.
Interviews with historian Niall Ferguson, author John Mearsheimer, British war correspondent Robert Fisk, the late Gore Vidal and others offer credible support for Singh’s argument that Arabs and Muslims have been excessively portrayed as adversaries and extremists. Several Muslim American comics here provide sharp irony.
Singh also takes to task a wide range of movies, including “Exodus,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and Disney’s “Aladdin” for historical half-truths and skewed storytelling, with intriguing results. But Singh’s critical views on Israel and Washington’s staunch protection of that country’s image will likely set some viewers’ teeth on edge.
“Valentino’s Ghost.” No MPAA Rating. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.