Category Archives: religion
Every day, a new piece pops up on my radar screen describing positive steps towards women’s rights in an Arab or Islamic context. (Here’s the most recent as I’m starting this article, from Brian Whitaker on Tunisia.) At the same time, the Islamophobes keep spouting the same tired rhetoric about how Muslim women are oppressed, using this oppression as a justification for Americans to fear and hate Muslim men. Recently, I wrote at Gender Across Borders about how shari’a is perverted by the Islamophobes to argue for draconian laws and treatment of Muslims in the US, and why that’s ridiculous. This fuzzy logic goes far beyond the creeping shari’a argument, however.
Islamophobic pundits have been in the news a lot lately, after the Center for American Progress released its Fear, Inc. report. These right-wing commentators are doing a lot of harm in a lot of ways, but I’d like to focus today on how they use the idea of a Muslim “Other” to obscure the appalling US record on human rights for women.
If you’re a white middle-class person who was raised in the US, there’s a good chance that a soft form of this Othering rhetoric made it to your ears at some point while you were in school. We see it all the time in visual depictions of Muslim women for NGO ads as veiled, sad, and repressed. The veil is used as a powerful rhetorical tool to equalize Muslim women, nevermind the many women who wear the hijab by choice, nevermind the variety of traditions, schools of thought, and types of covering that exist under the broad umbrella of Islam. Islam is portrayed as an anti-woman monolith, and Muslim women are portrayed as being in great need of benevolent Western help.
Let’s get a few things straight:
- Islam is not a monolith. There are several main schools of thought, and many, many interpretations of specific points within those schools. Islamic jurisprudence and study is a vast body of work that you can’t even begin to crack with a casual glance. The interplay of faith, law, and policy is also not identical to the way these things work together in the West. Nor can you assume that the relationship between Islam and the state, or between the state and the people, is the same in every country.
- Islam is not inherently oppressive of women. Islamophobes do a great disservice to living, breathing women when they make broad claims about how women are being oppressed in the Muslim world without digging deeper. There are Muslim women who are scholars of Islam and of shari’a. There are Muslim women in government and politics. In fact, in some cases, women have more involvement in the public sphere in an Arab country than they do in the US. Muslim women are doing great things while holding a tremendous faith in the face of difficult challenges. Many Muslim women who do live in oppressive situations are using Islam as a tool to fight against their oppressors. This, by the way, includes Muslim women fighting oppression right here in the United States.1
- He who lives in a glass house should be really fucking careful about throwing stones. I could go on for days about how dangerous it is for fundamentalist Protestant Christians to speak on the oppression women face under another religious system. Instead, I’m just going to link one of many examples, and also recommend the book Quiverfull and the blog Are Women Human? An Us vs. Them mentality on women’s rights, where fundamentalists in the US claim the high ground, is frankly ridiculous. It’s also important to note that the US has typically lagged behind when it comes to support for international human rights, including women’s rights. Instead of trying to be the world’s savior through our imperialism, perhaps we should turn inward and look at how women are being oppressed right here at home.
It’s always a good idea to be suspicious when a pundit paints an “Other” with a broad brush, whether that’s Muslim women, black mothers, immigrants, “LGBTs,” or any other group. It’s convenient to use “do you know how they treat their women over there?” so-called humanitarian statements to pull the spotlight off abuses at home. As activists, we need to be alert for these claims and quick to provide examples of how they harm rather than help.
1It would be impossible to list all the amazing Muslim women and organizations that are doing work in the US and in the Arab world. However, I thought it would be helpful for this post to crowdsource a list. Here are just a few people and groups, some picked by me, some suggested by others, to illustrate the points made above (alphabetical by country):
Dr. Sima Samar, chair of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, founder and director of Shuhada Organization in Pakistan.
Cherifa Kheddar, outspoken president and founder of Djazairouna Association, which provides support to victims of the Algerian civil war, and 2009 winner of the International Service Human Rights Award for the Defense of Human Rights of Women
Waris Dirie, Somali-Austrian women’s rights activist and former international supermodel, best-selling author, appointed UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, founded several organizations including the Waris Dirie Foundation to raise FGM awareness, builds awareness around the fact that Islam does not require FGM
Amira Al Hussaini, journalist and Regional Editor for the Middle East and North Africa at Global Voices Online
Sheikha Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and president of the Awami League, focused on poverty reduction, daughter of the first president of Bangladesh
Mahinur Ozdemir, Europe’s first hijab-wearing minister of Parliament, member of Christian Democrat party
Rebiya Kadeer, de factor leader of the Uighur social justice movement, formerly a successful businesswoman, now in exile in the US and publicizes the plight of the Uighurs in the US and Europe
Jihan Al Halafawi, first female political candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood (ran for Egyptian Parliament in 2000 and 2002—the Muslim Brotherhood has long accepted women as members, but more recently has made gender equality a major concern)
Ethar El-Katatney, award-winning journalist and author, former staff writer for Egypt Today, promotes dialogue between religions and cultures
Dr. Tuti Alawiyaah, former Minister of Women’s Empowerment, current dean of As Syafi’iyah University, one of Indonesia’s oldest and most prominent Islamic educational institutions, prolific preacher who appears on almost all TV channels in Indonesia
Siti Musdah Mulia, chair of the women’s branch of the enormous Indonesian Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama, Muslimat Nahdlatul Uluma, first female professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (1999), helped produce the Counter Legal Draft, which would have revised the Islamic legal code to ban polygamy and child marriage
Lily Zakiyah Munir, founder and director of Centre for Pesantren and Democracy Studies, which educates Islamic boarding schools about human rights and political participation, only woman and only Muslim to serve on Monitoring Commission for the Afghan elections
Hajjah Maria Ulfah, internationally acclaimed reciter of the Qur’an and first woman to win an international Qur’an recitation competition, popularized Egyptian style of recitation, director of women’s department at the Institute for Qur’an Study in Indonesia
Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, founder of Children’s Rights Support Association, supports rights of women and children and lectures on human rights in Iran, has a liberal view of Islam that many Muslim feminists appreciate
Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, first female Vice President of Iran, founding member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and has been at the center of the revolutionary movement in Iran since 1979
Faezeh Hashemi, Iranian politician and social activist, Majlis representative, advocate of relaxing the dress code in Iran (though she wears the chador herself), and younger daughter of powerful politician and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Zahra Rahnavard, author, political advisor under Khatami, first female chancellor of Alzahra University, staunch critic of Ahmadinejad, and first woman to campaign in Iran (with her husband Mir-Hossein Mousavi in 2009)
Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri, artist and curator who incorporates Chinese brush style with Arabic calligraphy, also outspoken social activist who founded Sisters in Islam to focus on gender issues and increase respect for women
Zaynah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam, journalist, and author of a book about Islam in Malaysia
Aminetou El Mokhtar, human rights lawyer, president of L’Association des Femmes Chefs de Famillie, and chair of the African Democracy Forum
Fatema Mernissi, feminist writer and sociologist; has done sociological research for UNESCO, the ILO, and Moroccan authorities; currently lecturer and research scholar at Mohammed V University of Rabat, her work is lauded by Muslim feminists
Nadia Yassine, head of the women’s branch of Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane (the most powerful Islamist movement in Morocco), has promoted the movement in Europe, recently prosecuted for criticizing the monarchy in a weekly newspaper
Naima Zitan, playwright and drama teacher in the Faculty of Education and Professor of Animation at the National Museum of Science and Archaeological Heritage, president of Theatre Aquarium (organization that publicizes role of Muslim women in Moroccan society), and advisor to the Global Fund for Women
Dodo Aichatou Mindaoudou, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, and African Integrity, has written extensively about economic development and women’s issues, one of the most senior women politicians in West Africa
Mukhtaran Bibi, aka Mukhtar Mai, founded the Mukhtaran Mai Women’s Welfare Organization to educate young girls about women’s rights and honor killings after her own publicized sexual assault, which brought media focus to the issue of women’s rights; author of a best-selling memoir; featured in a documentary on sexual violence
Dr. Maleeha Lodi, journalist and diplomat, previously served on the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Affairs and as ambassador to the US and Britain, received President’s Award of Hilal-e-Imtiaz for public service
Tanveer Kausar Naim, director of Science, Technology Research and Training Institute of the OIC standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH), member of UNESCO Gender Advisory Board and UNESCO International Advisory Board for Reform of Higher Education and Science and Technology in Nigeria
Khouloud El Faqeeh, first female judge in Palestine and one of the first female judges in the Islamic world for a shari’a-based court
Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, advocate for women and children’s rights, was the driving force behind Education City and Al Jazeera Children Channel, wife of the ruler of Qatar
Muna Abu-Sulayman, executive director of Alwaleed bin Talal Foundation, founding co-host of a popular TV show, and first Saudi woman appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador (2005)
Norah Abdallah Al Faiz, deputy minister for women’s education and first woman to serve on the Saudi Council of Ministers, former principal of a girls’ school and director of the women’s section at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh
Wajeha Al Huwaider, feminist author, poet, and journalist who is a staunch critic of Saudi policies on women and was banned from Saudi media in 2003; she has led high-profile human rights protests including against the driving ban
Lubna Olayan, Saudi Arabia’s top businesswoman, leading investor in the Saudi economy, and CEO of Olayan Financing Company; one of the most influential businesswomen in the world
Hibaaq Osman, Muslim and women’s rights activist, Special Representative to Africa for V-Day, founder of Karama, founding CEO of the Arab Women’s Fund, and founder of the Center for Strategic Initiatives for Women (CISW)
Houda al-Habash, subject of an upcoming documentary, founded an operates a women’s Qur’anic school in Syria that empowers women intellectually and socially
Hayrünnisa Gül, first Turkish First Lady to wear the hijab, appealed to the ECHR in the 1990s to overturn Turkey’s hijab ban, most visible headscarf-wearing person in Turkey
United Arab Emirates
Princess Haya bint al Hussain, wife of the Prime Minister, has developed initiatives in humanitarianism, sports, health science, culture, and business and advanced the Millennium Development Goals on hunger and poverty
Dalia Mogahed, director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center and Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think
Nimco Ali, co-founder of Daughters of Eve, a campaign and support charity dedicated to ending gender-based violence and female genital mutilation
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, British writer and commentator acclaimed for her blog spirit21, influential in British media as a commentator on religion and gender, author of popular book Love in a Headscarf, which demystified Muslim life to a non-Muslim audience as well as being very popular among Muslims
Irene Zubaida Khan, first woman and first Muslim to serve as Secretary General of Amnesty International, initiated a campaign against gender-based violence, also served in high positions for the UNHCR in Macedonia and India
Ruwayda Mustafah, British-Kurdish feminist freelance writer and contributor to the Huffington Post, writes on Kurdish rights as well as women’s rights and religion
Assilmi Amina, president of the International Union of Muslim Women, was involved in a custody case that resulted in a change in Colorado state law to keep individuals from being denied custody based on religion, lobbied for an Eid US stamp in 1996
Sabina England, Deaf punk Muslim playwright and performer
Mona Eltahawy, award-winning columnist and international speaker on Arab and Muslim issues (website)
Suheir Hammad, Palestinian-American poet and performer (described by the person who recommended her to me as “Kick. Ass.” Clearly you should check her out!)
Dr. Merve Kavakçi, barred from Turkish Parliament in 1999 for refusing to remove the hijab, is a symbolic figure for the headscarf issue in Turkey and an adovcate for Muslim women’s rights, lecturer on culture and international affairs at GW, has memorized the Qur’an
Irshad Manji, founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, creator of the Emmy-nominated film Faith Without Fear, and an advocate for reform within Islam
Ingrid Mattson, first woman and first convert to be president of ISNA, the largest Muslim organization in North America, also director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program and professor at Hartford Seminary
Dalia Mogahed, executive director and senior analyst at Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, director of the Muslim-West Facts Initiative, appointed by Obama to serve on the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think
Robina Niaz, executive director of Turning Point for Women & Families, active participant in interfaith and women’s rights events in New York
Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, charged with executing Secretary Clinton’s vision for engagement with Muslims worldwide
Asifa Quraishi, legal scholar specializing in comparative Islamic and U.S. constitutional law, writes on shari’a and feminism, former Public Delegate on the US delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women
Nadia Roumani, co-founder and director of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI) at USC
Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, Advocacy and Civic Engagement Coordinator for the National Network of Arab American Communities (NNAAC), and community activist on issues including immigration, women’s issues, domestic policy, and the Middle East
Ilyasah Al Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, president and trustee of the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational, and Cultural Center, involved in New York community service and has a position of authority among black Muslims
Amina Waudud, an imam (Muslim scholar) who led an assembly of mixed-gender Muslims in prayer at an historical service and has done extensive work on gender studies in Islam (Wiki)
Welcome to the First Blog Carnival on Privilege! First, thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to this first round of the carnival. I was excited to see all the different takes on privilege represented here, and the diversity of those who submitted. You can see all the entries below the cut, and follow links through to read the complete posts. I also want to announce that we will be having a second carnival, since this first round was so successful. To give everyone plenty of time to think about submissions, the second carnival entries will be due Sunday, May 23rd. The topic for the second carnival will be White Privilege, so start thinking about race and racism for your posts. I would also accept posts for the second carnival that deal with other sorts of racial privilege, for example if you want to write about a community where one group is privileged based on the color of their skin, but that group isn’t “white,” that’s perfectly fine. Submissions again can be e-mailed to judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com. If we get a lot of submissions again, then I’ll probably switch over to a monthly format, and perhaps ask for other hosts for future carnivals. Also, because this came up a couple of times in this round, I do prefer new posts, but if you want to submit an older post for a carnival and not rehash an issue, that’s also fine.
And now, on with the carnival!
Although the current interrogation manual used by the Army does, I am happy to say, specifically prohibit the use of sexual or religious interrogation techniques, I was rather disturbed to read about the previous approach to interrogation, based almost entirely on the degree of physical force used to determine whether inappropriate techniques were being used. This approach is flawed from the general standpoint of how the armed forces should look at lawful interrogation versus torture in the first place, but I was specifically bothered by the use of sexual and religious methods designed to humiliate a detainee because they represent a complete failure to understand why these methods are inappropriate. In conducting interrogation, the question should not simply be, “are we torturing the detainee in violation of international law?” Certainly, that should be a threshhold question, but beyond that there is another question I want the interrogators to be asking. “Are we using techniques that (1) are actually designed with the sole purpose of obtaining information and (2) conform with our social expectations of dignity and respect for human beings?” The whole point of having laws of war is that there are certain expectations that apply, even when dealing with the enemy (putting aside for the moment the question of whether some of these detainees even are legitimately “the enemy.”)
I’m bothered by any interrogation technique that is designed to humiliate the prisoner because it’s disrespectful and it doesn’t work. First of all, from everything I’ve seen and read, the most effective interrogators are those who are patient and develop a rapport for the detainee. Respect is a very powerful tool, as is cultural understanding. Ideally, interrogators should be those who speak the subject’s language and whenever possible either come from or are very familiar with the subject’s culture and religion to whatever extent possible. Even inadvertant cultural faux pas can diminish respect for the interrogator and make a subject defiant. Intentional humiliation techniques in many cases are only going to harden the subject against revealing anything, and at the same time they compromise the interrogator. If the army uses these techniques, it’s going to develop self-hatred and psychological damage among its interrogators as well as the detainees. It will also further damage our already pretty shitty international reputation. And finally, using these techniques is evidence of a purpose that has little to do with information – desire to humiliate, to dehumanize, to make one’s self greater than the subject. Use the Golden Rule, folks. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Unrelated note: Please note that discussion is open on Patience & Sarah, as is the Round Four suggestions thread. To encourage more discussion in the future, I’ll be posting specific discussion questions within each round’s discussion forum on the boards to get the juices flowing. Of course, anyone is welcome to simply post their thoughts or start a thread with a question of their own, but I’m hoping that more directed discussion will encourage more participation. Of course, as always, this is an entirely guilt-free group, and if I’m the only one reading in a round I’m just happy to have read the book! Feel free to comment on a discussion post well after the round has started if you read the book late. I myself haven’t read P&S yet, which is why discussion questions aren’t up yet 😉
1) Fascinating interview up at Salon today with Richard Rodriguez, a gay Catholic Mexican-American author, on Proposition 8 and the role of religion. He focuses on the relationship between the feminist movement and women gaining ground and the difficulties for churches founded on a male hierarchy, the reasons why religion has focused so much on Prop 8, and the cultural treatment of gay men in Mexican-American communities. I highly recommend you give it a read. I think I’m going to try to get a hand on his books soon.
2) The discussion board for Round Two of the lesbian book club, focusing on Irene Gonzalez-Frei’s Your Name Written on Water, is up now. If you read the book, please pop in and give us your thoughts!
When I was a kid, I believed (and still do to some extent, though now I just admit that I know nothing about the afterlife but am looking forward to finding out what it’s like) that when we die we all go to heaven and it’s simultaneously the perfect place for every individual. So like my mom could be in a beautiful garden with my Daddy and I and yet somehow simultaneously Daddy could be with us in a perfectly green, energy-efficient house that he designed. Or whatever. But I just remembered that belief and thought, “hmm, I wonder if when I die I’ll go to Valinor.”
And apparently Eid Mubarak as well, I learned in two classes today. We talked about Eid in Law in the Muslim World and my Turkish teacher also mentioned Bayram (same thing). No one knew that it was Rosh Hashannah, though. Strange.
I meant to talk a bit about homosexuality in Judaism today, but I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off! Two ACs this week, several deadlines next week and the week after, and I’m going to be gone Friday through Sunday working to get the word out to voters about the possible abortion ban in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’m looking forward to it, but I may crash and burn before I get there. Ugh. Last night I couldn’t sleep till one am and apparently slept walked because I woke up shivering and found my blanket, perfectly folded, in a living room chair. Weird.
I still have a great big pile of blog posts and news clips to blog about, which I’ve finally organized into posts based on topic, but since my week is a little crazy, I’d just like to make a little off-the-cuff comment about what’s going on in Turkey. For those of you who don’t know, the highest court in Turkey ruled today not to allow a ban on the ruling party but instead to cut its state funding in half for trying to impose Islam on the secular nation.
When the news was first coming out about the headscarf issue, I found it very interesting to hear the perspective of my Turkish teacher, Bahar, who like many women in Turkey is Muslim but believes strongly in the secular state. The way she described it, secularism is the most fundamental principal of the Turkish state and thus allowing women to wear headscarves in school would be a threat to the state’s historical foundations and its values. In other words, there is a huge fear of the slippery slope.
I have trouble deciding where I stand on this – not that it really matters, as I’m not Turkish, but I still tend to have an opinion on foreign politics. On the one hand, I see her arguments, especially in light of what has happened in neighboring states and considering Turkey’s position and reputation as a unique secular, modern, democratic state whose population is mostly Muslim. On the other hand, I grew up in the US where freedom of religion is heavily valued, and it seems strange to me that someone would ban a political party based on its religious ties – not all that democratic, I would think. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out, in any event.
Last night, I was listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on repeat for a few hours, singing along, and I started thinking about the character of Jesus, and my own sort of relationship with Christianity. I remember when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen, around the time I decided that Jesus really did die for our sins (wait, wait, don’t go away, there’s more!) I started feeling very guilty about things like saying “God damnit,” or negative/joking portrayals of Jesus in pop culture. I still do have a teeny bit of good old fashioned Christian guilt, and whenever I sing along with certain characters in the musical, there’s a bit of a “hmm” moment. You have to wonder where on earth that comes from, as I don’t actually believe God cares if we mock him, portray him negatively, etc. I think that our creative spirit should be used in whatever way we find for it, whatever’s right for us, and if we’re not hurting anyone, then why not? There’s something spiritual, I think, in very enthusiastic mockery of religion – you’re asking questions about faith and truth, and I’d like to think God would encourage that in any form.
My own religious identity tends to raise eyebrows. I’m not a fan of organised religion, but my beliefs do share elements with a few established religions, so I incorporate those terms when someone asks what I am. I used to say that I was a Judeo-Christian Daoist Buddhist, and that’s more or less the best term I can come up with. I identify strongly with elements of Eastern philosophy and spirituality, especially in terms of harmony in nature and the value of detachment and doing good deeds. I don’t think Eastern religions are in any way mutually exclusive from Christianity in that regard. My mother, who considers herself “spiritual,” used to read to me from the Book of Dao under the Christmas tree, and I think her sort of “do good, don’t harm others” syncretic religion is a great way to be. As for the Judeo-Christian part, I really don’t mesh all that well with any existing form of Christianity, but I retain it because it’s the easiest way to incorporate that whole believing in Jesus bit. My mother’s father was the rector of a very old, very large Episcopalian church, and so I still feel most comfortable in Episcopalian services. However, I was never confirmed, because I don’t really believe in Anglican doctrine. I’m deeply saddened by the schism in the church, and still feel connected to that tradition in some way, but my form of Christianity doesn’t really involve any sort of practice, so I rarely attend services. My brand of Christianity is highly faith-based, and I don’t believe in any sort of Hell (I do believe in heaven). My spin on it is that Jesus died for all of our sins, and no matter what we do in this life, we’ll be forgiven. I think we should continue to do good in order to benefit humanity, not because of benefit in the afterlife. I also don’t believe that any one religion is “right.” I believe that God is so big, so awesome, so complicated, that he can be one and more than one God at the same time, or be no God, or be nature, or be anything. I think trying to understand God is a bit futile. I don’t really think we’re supposed to understand him, but any religious or non-religious practice that brings us closer to good, to inner comfort and peace, and to spreading good things to other people is just fine by me. When it comes to practice, that’s where my Jewish-ness comes in. In college I called myself the “pseudo-Jew,” because I have no family connection to the religion, and I don’t attend services, but I do practice in terms of fasting at Yom Kippur, celebrating Rosh Hashanah, and keeping kosher for Passover (and attending a Seder when I can). I find that these practices bring me closer to God in that they raise awareness and make me think about my spiritual life at least three times a year. I hardly pray at all anymore, nor do I have time to meditate, so I like this opportunity to remind myself of my own faith.
So despite my little society-induced cringes of guilt from time to time, I think I’m not doing a bad job of living my life the way I believe God wants me to live it. One thing is certain – I’ve never felt guilty about loving women, about how I have sex, or about any of my other so-called “moral shortcomings.” When we look at the big picture, these things aren’t that big a deal, anyway. If I feel happy, fulfilled, and at peace with myself, I believe that I’m doing the right thing. When I do pray, I pray that God help me find the right path for me, because I may not know it or be able to find it. And despite what some Christians may think, I believe that he has.
That’s all for now, folks. Remember: Coexist.