Ramadan an ever-varied feast
2013 will mark my 26th Ramadan. If there is one thing I have come to understand
over the years, it is that no Ramadan is quite like another. Each fast has given me new insights, while at the same time deepening and strengthening my appreciation for the endless bounties of God, from the vastness of the natural world to the most intimate of family bonds.
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White, Muslim and Privileged
Tim Wise writes about the Boston Marathon Bombing, racism and white privilege
saying that evidence of white privilege is rampant in the wake of the bombings. I can't agree more.
As a Muslim, I dread the notion that the bomber may turn out to be a Muslim, and that all Muslims will be tarred and feathered as a result. I worry that innocent people may experience violence, harassment, prejudice, hatred and bigotry against them on the basis of the actions of a single individual or a small group. Even more, I worry that Muslims will be blamed (as they already have been by many tv and radio hosts) and that even if a Muslim didn't do it, fellow Muslims will suffer rude remarks and perhaps harassment because of the irresponsible speech of people out to make a buck.
I worry about the impact on my kids, who are growing up as a member of a minority which right wing talk hosts jump to declare guilty at the drop of a hat, and about whom they have no compunction to say outrageous things like, "kill them all
."I worry that elected officials who ought to uphold the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution are trying to make our religious practice illegal via anti-shariah laws
and express the need for tough immigration laws in terms of keeping out Arabs or Pakistanis or Muslims
in general . I worry that this atmosphere of hostility will warp their self-image and damage their self-confidence, ruin the carefree surety of safety which all children need to thrive, and destroy their sense of the goodness of humankind and of America. And I worry how constantly being on the defensive affects not only my kids, but the entire Muslim community. How it changes the dialogue about what it means to be a Muslim. How it pollutes our ability to grieve over terrible events like 9-11 or the Boston Marathon Bombing. How it hampers us from being able to challenge extremists from within the religion.
As a white person, I do not have those fears... I know that if a white person or group carried out the bombings, I don't have to worry that I or other white people will face bigotry, discrimination, hatred, harassment or violence as a person similar in some way to the person who committed this act of terrorism. I do not worry that all white people will be viewed with suspicion, that police will stop white people driving through Boston or traveling through airports at higher rates in the near future, or that my country of origin may face drone strikes as a result of the actions of extremists and the inability (or unwillingness) of the government to do anything about those extremists. (Unwillingness demonstrated by things like the recent failure to expand background checks for those who wish to purchase guns...think how we would react to such a failure in Pakistan or Afghanistan...). I do not worry that talk show hosts will rant about the evilness of white people and/or our beliefs. If I were Christian or Jewish, I wouldn't worry that the acts of a single extremist group or individual would be attributed to everyone in my religion.
Even more, as a white Muslim I know that I am largely immune to the discrimination and potential violence that looms over my co-coreligionists who "look Muslim" (ie have brown skin, especially those who "dress Muslim"). I know that when I go through the airport, with or without a scarf on my head, the security people will not look at me with extra attention. Unlike my brown brothers and sisters I am never selected for additional screening, and have never faced questioning when returning from abroad for Muslim conferences and events, even though my co-workers and friends have regularly faced such things. During the 25 years that I wore a headscarf, people mostly assumed I was Amish or Mennonite or a nun (even when I was 9 months pregnant I had people coming up and asking me what order I belonged to!). If they recognized me as Muslim, they assumed I was a "different" sort of Muslim. They engaged me with curiosity and respect. I can count the times people were gratuitously rude to me in the grocery store or other public spaces because of my Muslim identity on one hand, indeed on one finger. Perhaps most telling, as a white Muslim, my fears around the Boston bombing are not for myself or even my mixed-race children, who easily pass as white, but for my friends who have darker skin, or who speak with an accent.
This more than anything hammers home the racial nature of the prejudice Muslims face in this country.
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and joyfully celebrated Patriot's Day, retracing the steps of Acton's minutemen as they marched to confront the British in Concord. I went to grad school in Boston, living a few blocks from where the blasts tore apart the finish line of the Marathon. My first child was born in Boston. My politics are decidedly in the best of the liberal Boston tradition. It's a place I call home, despite having lived in the Midwest for the better part of two decades. The part of me that recognizes Boston as foundational to my being is grieving over the heinous bombing of the Boston Marathon. As a mother, I grieve for the young boy who lost his life and his sister who has lost her limb, and for the others injured or killed.
As a moral, political person, I believe that terrorism is not only evil, but also ineffective and stupid. Killing innocent people who have nothing to do with the cause you are supporting is wrong. Not to mention that it doesn't work; it only creates animosity and diminishes the possibility of negotiation. Killing in the name of politics, ideology, and for the sake of gaining power (whether done by individuals or states) is wrong. I grieve that there are people in the world who believe it is better to kill than to settle disagreements through negotiation, who believe that taxes are so evil, or a piece of land so precious, or God so narrow-minded, that we should kill one another over it.
As a Muslim, I worry that the young Saudi man who was running from the scene (a sensible thing to do when another bomb might explode at any moment) has faced unwarranted scrutiny, if not outright discrimination, on the basis of his nationality and his religion. I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to the talk radio shows, the commentators on TV, and their coverage, knowing how Muslims in general are no doubt being tarred and feathered with the supposed guilt of this young man. So far, he hasn't been charged with any crime, and in this country you are innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, we long ago rejected the notion that entire families, clans, ethnicities, nationalities, or religious groups, are responsible for the actions of isolated members of that group. Even if it turns out this young man was involved in the attack, that is no justification for attacking all Muslims.
I see my fellow Muslims admitting that their first thought when they heard about the bombings was, "please don't let the perpetrator be a Muslim." This saddens me in so many ways. It speaks to the intolerance that has come to mark certain segments of American culture. To the fact that our country has permitted a hostile atmosphere to be built up around people who not only are innocent of any crime, but who are as horrified by it as the next person. It speaks of the inability of the people who are victimized by that hostility to express their solidarity with the victims of a crime they deplore... they are proscribed from the free expression of the grief they feel because they feel they must
address the collective scapegoating and potential backlash that may affect them. This is a sad way for our country to treat people.
Most sad of all, I do not see it as a particularly unique form of discrimination. For far too many Americans, all Latinos are viewed as probable illegal immigrants, and likely involved with the drug trade. All blacks are viewed as down and out, prone to violence, misogyny and fits of temper. All people of oriental background are smart and studious; even Asian jocks, like uber basketballer Jeremy Lin, graduate from Ivies. And, of course, white people are just people.
Finally, I am saddened by the lack of historicity in our analyses. People are carrying on over how violent Islam supposedly is, ignoring centuries of Christian military adventurism and ongoing intolerance on the part of many who call themselves Christian or Catholic. They overlook the violence between Tamils and Hindus, between people of different African animist traditions, between Jews and their neighbors of other faiths in Israel and the occupied territories, and pogroms carried out in the name of communism, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot.
Most important, they overlook the violence of our own country. America was founded through a war, one that I celebrated regularly as a child, one whose "terrorists" are glorified as heroes, one whose success is marked in part by the Boston Marathon. Until we accept where we came from, and how we continue to employ violence to achieve our political, economic and social aims, we are not likely to be able to break the cycle of violence or to stem the loss of innocent life.
"Law enforcement sources told CBS News a Saudi Arabian man who was being
questioned by investigators is not considered a suspect at this time,
and it appears he was a spectator who was injured in the attack." (source: http://www.local12.com/news/local/story/CNN-Boston-Marathon-Bombing-Suspect-Identified/PJFSyYjreESeP1rPphm62w.cspx ) So yes, the Saudi student who was tackled by a fellow race viewer was an innocent bystander, whose terror could only have been multiplied by the racial, ethnic and religious profiling he experienced. While it might be appropriate, I doubt the Muslim community will get an apology from those who are busy whipping up anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. People like Senator King who said we need to reexamine how we issue student visas, referring to this Saudi student in particular. (http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/345691/after-boston-congressman-urges-caution-immigration) Will Senator King extend an apology to this student? I doubt it. Will the pundits who have been raving about the Muslim threat admit they rushed to judgement. I doubt that too. How sad that a sad day in American history is made so much worse by our own actions.
Doma, Prop 8 and Muslims
The Supreme Court yesterday and today is hearing arguments about marriage equality for glbt individuals. A lot of Muslims are squeamish about this issue. They follow traditional interpretations that rule homosexuality or at least homosexual acts to be sinful. How then, they ask, can we accept gay marriage? As a progressive Muslim, I reject those interpretations of the Qur'an (more on that later) and support gay marriage for various reasons:
1) The Qur'an is quite clear that love, long-term companionship, and sexual relations are a blessing from God, an integral part of what it means to be human. It is also clear that sex should only occur in the context of a committed, publicly acknowledged relationship. To deny marriage to gay people is to condemn them to choose between celibacy -- which is unnatural and perhaps even impossible for all but a few -- and living in sin. I cannot believe that a merciful, loving God would make an entire class of people with the capacity for love and attraction, only to present them with such a onerous, and tragic, choice.
2) The story of Lot, as I and many who share a progressive approach to the Qur'an read it, is not about the glbt community. It is not about loving, mutually desired relationships. It is about a community who, like all communities, was predominantly straight (thus the Qur'an tells us that they have wives who were made for them) and who went out robbing and raping travelers. The Qur'an is quite clear that Lot's visitors were not interested in sexual relations, and that Lot was despairing because he had no way to protect them from the mob that came out from the city to have their way regardless of what the visitors or Lot thought about the matter. This is not a description of a committed, loving relationship. It's a description of violation and violence. The story of Lot has nothing to say about gay marriage; it has everything to say about people's individual right to life, safety, personal property, and freedom to travel in the land, and about going against the innate drives God has given to us.
This last is a theme that Prophet Muhammad often addressed, telling us not to go to extremes in our religion -- don't pray or fast excessively, don't become a hermit, don't take up celibacy, don't impoverish yourself through charity, but also don't be a miser, don't wear ostentatious clothes but also don't wear rags, etc, etc because our bodies have a right over us. That is, they have innate needs and desires and we should not deny them, but indulge them within reason and the limits set down by God. Which brings us back to point one. Lot's people broke the bounds by forcing sexual relations, gay or not, on people who did not want it. Gay people are fully within the bounds when they are engaged in mutually desired, loving relationships.
3) I believe in secular democracy, and I believe that secular democracy is the best expression of the political values the Qur'an promotes -- to conduct affairs through consultation, individual participation in political allegiance, and no compulsion in religion. Not only is there the famous, "lo ikraha fi deen" verse in the Qur'an that commands there to be no compulsion in faith, the Prophet gave us the example in the Compact of Madinah which stipulated that the Christians and Jews who lived under the Prophet's rule would continue to practice and live by their own religions teachings and laws, as would the Muslims who were emigrating to Madinah. Thus, the Prophet set up a secular state... when Jews came to him for rulings, he judged by their law, not the teachings of the Qur'an.
In the US, our secular democracy stipulates that the government cannot make laws establishing religion. Those who argue that gay marriage is against the Bible or the Qur'an have the right to believe this and to practice according to this belief. The government does not have the right to enshrine this religious belief into law. They are required to protect the rights of those of us who do not believe the Bible or Qur'an ban gay marriage, but rather support it. And the rights of those who don't give a hoot about what the Bible or Qur'an has to say. It is not the government's business to make moral decisions about who we choose to live our lives with (so long as it is a mutually agreed upon relationship by consenting adults) or to discriminate against certain types of relationships by giving tax and other benefits to some committed relationships and not others. We long ago realized that the government could not dictate to us that we were not free to marry people of our choice in terms of race; so too with gender.
As a minority religious group who wants to maintain our civil rights to follow our beliefs as we see fit; we must support the civil rights of other groups to follow their beliefs as they see fit, even if we disagree with their beliefs. Thus, even Muslims who disagree with progressive interpretations of the story of Lot, should support gay marriage.
4) For most of us who believe in a religion, marriage is not just about civil rights and tax benefits. It is a social compact -- in which society celebrates with a couple the joy of loving and being loved, of being a family. It is a social embrace of that couple that honors their commitment to one another. And it is a recognition that their love reflects God's love, is an embodiment of God's love for all Her Creation. How can we declare that any love -- whether it be between spouses, parent and child, friends, colleagues -- is anything other than God expressing Her love for us through us? Love is wondrous blessing, and the Qur'an asks over and over, "Which of the blessings of God will you deny?" How dare we deny the blessing of love between two individuals, how dare we deny them the joy of that love? Even worse, how dare we suggest that God withholds Her love from two people who wish to commit to one another in marriage? Rather we should celebrate love in all its forms!
International Women's Day Khutbah, part 11 -- Spiritual and Moral equality
So we have seen that men and women were created as
equals, partners to one another. Throughout
history, this partnership has been
posited as one of unequals, complementary but not the same, however, we have
seen that there is no basis for that understanding in the description of the
creation of mankind. Our natures are the
same, as are our desires, our drives, our moral and spiritual capacity.
This fundamental equality is demonstrated in the Qur’an
over and over again. First let’s look moral and spiritual potential, which is
the fundamental concern of the Qur’an. That the moral and spiritual capacity or
men and women are identical is borne out in dozens of verses in the Qur’an,
where Allah encourages women and men in the same terms to piety and good deeds.
4:124 If any do deeds of
righteousness,- be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter
Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them.
57:18 For those
who give in Charity, men and women, and loan to Allah a Beautiful Loan, it
shall be increased manifold (to their credit), and they shall have (besides) a
48:4-5 It is He Who sent down tranquility into the
hearts of the Believers, that they may add faith to their faith -- for to Allah
belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is Full of Knowledge
and Wisdom --
That He may admit the men and women who believe, to
Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein for aye, and remove their
ills from them;- and that is, in the sight of Allah, the highest achievement
40:40 He that works evil will not be requited but by
the like thereof: and he that works a righteous deed - whether man or woman -
and is a Believer- such will enter the Garden (of Bliss): Therein will they
have abundance without measure.
9:72 Allah hath promised to
Believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein,
and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss
is the good pleasure of Allah. that is the supreme felicity
16:97 Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and
has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure
and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.
And of course, the famous, 33:35:
For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women,
for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are
patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and
women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves),
for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage
much in Allah's praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great
Statements of our fundamental spiritual and moral
equality are sprinkled throughout the Qur’an, as a constant reminder. Repetition
is the principal tool that Allah uses to accentuate the most important messages
in the Qur’an, returning to important themes and mantras over and over for
emphasis. Thus the continual reminder of male-female spiritual and moral
equality denotes it as something essential.
Perhaps the most poignant statement of the theme is
in chapter 9, verses 71-72:
The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of
another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe
regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On
them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise
hath promised to Believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to
dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss. But the
greatest bliss is the good pleasure of Allah. that is the supreme felicity.
In this verse, we see not only do men and women have
the same spiritual capacities and duties, but they are placed together as friends
and protectors of one another. Thus Allah tells us that men learn from women,
and women learn from men; women prohibit men from evil and enjoy what is just
upon men and vice versa. Thus this verse goes beyond telling us that we have
the same spiritual capacities and duties, the same moral code, to putting us in
a relationship of mutual benefit, men and women together, protecting one
another from wrong doing. It is not men keeping women in line, or women keeping
men in line, but all of humankind looking out for one another.
This notion is reinforced by the fact that we are
given examples of pious women to follow – such as Sheba, Maryam, and Asiya the
wife of Pharoah. In each of these cases, it is these women’s recognition of
Divine Truth and commitment to God that makes them worthy examples. Sheba leads
her people into faith; Asiya saves Moses against the tyranny of pharaoh; and
Maryam who dedicates her life to the service of Allah.
Equally important, God responds to women in the Qur’an
as he does to men. There are various verses that begin, “They ask you about…” followed
by questions of the day –what should we spend on charity, (2:215); is it ok to
fight during Hajj season (2:217); what about wine and games of chance (2:219);
how do we deal with orphans (4:129).
In 58:1 God answers a question posted specifically
by a woman:
GOD has indeed heard the words of her who pleads with
thee concerning her husband, and complains Unto God. And God does hear what you
both have to say: verily, God is all-hearing, all-seeing.
He also addresses the situation where Ayesha was
being accused of infidelity in verses 24:4-24:24, vindicating her innocence and
condemning those who spread slander. Thus, contrary to what some have said,
that the Qur’an only addresses men, in fact it addresses all human concerns, demonstrating that God is equally accessible, equally responsive to women and their spiritual and mundane needs.
IWD Khutbah, What the Qur'an says about women, Part 1
International Women’s Day I gave a khutbah at the MPV-Columbus Unity Mosque,
exploring what the Qur’an has to say about women. The next few blog posts will
explore some of these ideas, looking first at verses that promote a vision of
gender equality, and then at some of the verses that have been used to justify
many of the deplorable and oppressive conditions Muslim women live under – rampant
domestic violence, coerced and under-age marriages and sexual harassment on the
street and in the home, exclusion from education, careers, and politics,
restrictions concerning dress and travel, even legal jeopardy for reporting
rape. Sadly, the Qur’an has been used to justify many of these oppressive
conditions. Fortunately, the Qur’an can also be used to challenge them.
There are many verses in the Qur’an which directly
and indirectly express the fundamental equality of all humankind, starting with
the creation story. The first verse of the chapter entitled Women says:
“O MANKIND! Be conscious of your
Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of her created
her mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of God, in whose name
you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship.
Verily, God is ever watchful over you! 4:1
This passage describes both the creation of mankind and our fundamental
natures, that of being paired. The word for mate, “zauj” is an interesting word
because it means both one half of the pair, and the pair as a unity. Even more
interesting, the word “zauja” – denoting “wife” -- was in use across much of
the Arab world, as it still is today, but the word zauja never appears in the Qur’an.
Zauj is used for both halves of the pair, at times denoting the wife and a
times denoting the husband. What emerges is a picture of two beings united
without regard for gender; they are identical halves of the whole, bonded
together and equals and interdependent in every way. (More on this later!) This
is the mold on which humankind is created.
Unfortunately, this passage is often read and
translated with reference to and in the context of the Biblical creation story
which talks about Eve being made from Adam’s rib as his helper. The order of
creation, the description of Eve as a helpmate, and the fact that Adam is made
whole cloth by Allah, while Eve is made from a part of him is used to justify a
hierarchy between the two, with Adam firmly the leader and Eve the subservient.
With this scenario and its assumptions in mind, commentators have often inherited
the gender bias evident in the Bible and its interpretations. Translators have universally
altered the pronouns, saying, “created you from one soul and made from him his
mate,” or “made from it its mate.”
In the Qur’an the language is quite the opposite…
the first entity, this “nafsin wahidatin,” is feminine, and her mate, her “zauj,” is
masculine. Thus the passage says that
God created a female being and made her masculine mate from her, and from the
two spread a multitude of men and women. This cannot possibly have been by
accident. If God had wanted to use a masculine word, He could well have said,
we created Adam, we created a man, we created a male. Thus we have to assume those
word choices were deliberate. Muslims,
however, have been reluctant to explore the implications.
Now, in Arabic a masculine or feminine word does not
necessarily denote the gender of the object – all nouns are gendered – the sun
is feminine, as is the moon, but we wouldn’t say they are women. So it may be
that these things – the orginal nafs and its mate are like the sun and the
moon, neither male nor female, and it only their offspring that took on the
qualities of maleness and femaleness.
So what emerges is a picture is of two entities,
paired, mated, from whom mankind -- men and women -- sprang. There is no
hierarchy or supremacy of one over the other in the verse; they are a pair,
mates of like nature; nor does the verse predicate any hierarchy between the
men and women who sprang from these two, rather they are posited as having
mutual rights that they demand of one another, and ties of kinship that bind
them together. Most particularly, it does not say, from them we spread abroad a
multitude of men and women so that one may be the breadwinner and the other the
housewife, so that one can be the leader and the other the broodmother. Rather,
they are kin and they have rights over one another… without distinction by
We see this equality affirmed in other verses which
talk about the pairing of humankind.
30:21 And among His Signs is this, that He created for
you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them,
and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs
for those who reflect!
Why do we have mates? So one can cook and clean and
bear the children of the other? So that one can lead the household and earn
money? No, so we can dwell with them in tranquility, in love and tenderness and
mercy toward one another. Again, the word zauj is used to indicate both halves
of the pair as well as the pair itself – which has profound implications not
only for heterosexual but especially for glbt relationships because what is
important in the relationship is not the gender of the two participants, but
rather it’s about how the two halves relate to each other – with love and
mercy… with mutual respect. Not domination or obedience.
Similarly we read: “49:13 O
mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female and have made you nations and
tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of
Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware..”
This is another verse, that people often quote, in
this case referencing it for racial equality, but it also affirms gender
equality. Men and women, of all ethnicities, all races – all human beings are
equal in the site of God, differentiated only their piety. It does not say we
should lord over one another, or seek to dominate one another, but to know one
another, learn from one another.
(Part II tomorrow)