Tuesday, February 28, 2006
  Darfur Crisis Deepening
Just when it seems like things couldn't get worse.... news from Darfur is that the Jangaweed militias are no longer limiting their raids to the Darfur area, but have intruded into Chad as well. I know the US is trying to get the UN to act on this -- to send forces to stop the violence, since the Sudanese government not only won't stop it, but appears to be fueling it and providing arms to the militias. I hope to God they do take action -- how long are we going to sit around and watch a group of armed thugs kill people! It's not as fast as Rwanda was, but it is getting to be just as deadly.

The whole thing is sickening. Especially in light of yesterday's post about deattachment and controlling one's greed, lust and anger... Prophet Muhammad taught us that controlling one's anger is the greatest jihad (gee that seems to have been forgotten in the upheaval over the cartoons). And he taught us not to kill, maim, plunder, lie, etc. He said that even in conditions of war (which this isn't, this is just rampaging) not to destroy crops, building, women, children and old men. Clearly these jangaweed are not heeding anything in their religion.

I read a report about a man who was killed as he tried to keep the militia from burning his millet and sorghum field. His wife, just 20 years old, was left with her three children, and nothing else. It just breaks my heart to read about this man -- trying to save his crops to feed his family. How can you kill someone like that?
Monday, February 27, 2006
  Jain ritual
I don't know a whole lot about Jainism, but these pictures from one of their rituals/holy days which took place Feb 19 are absolutely gorgeous.


From what I've gathered visiting various websites, Jainism shares concepts with Hinduism and Buddhism. The idea of the world being a circle of birth and rebirth and that attachment to the mundane causes sufferring. Thus the average person strives to remove greed, lust, anger, etc. from his/her heart and strives to treat all with loving kindness. Sort of the same thing that all religions teach with varying emphasis. :)
Sunday, February 26, 2006
  Octavia Butler
I just recieved the sad news that Octavia Butler, noted African-American science fiction author, has suddenly passed away from an apparent stroke. Octavia was a ground breaker in science fiction. She will be missed greatly by those of us who never got to know her personally for her thought-provoking writings and for the leadership role she played for minorities writing science fiction.

Saturday, February 25, 2006
  House of Abraham
On Wednesday I'm going to be participating in a prayer breakfast to launch the Habitat for Humanity Indianapolis House of Abraham project. Depending on how much funding can be raised, Muslim, Jewish, and Christians of various denominations are getting together this summer to build 1 or 2 houses for people in need. I'm very excited about this project -- we need any and every thing that can bring people together working for good. One) because good needs to be done, Two) because there are too many people who need help in this world, and Three) because we need to establish real contacts and relationships with one another.

I'm sure similar projects are going on around the country. Too bad it's so hard to find out the good news.

One really cool interfaith group I did find out about is an interfaith baking circle in Atlanta. I absolutely adore the idea of women coming together to cook, and break bread together, and share their faith and their lives.

It reminds me of the Triptee slogan -- changing the world one bakesale at a time.
Friday, February 24, 2006
  Are Muslims so unique?
Ok, given the nice comment I received yesterday about the "great horror" of Islam and Muslims, I'd like to take a moment to reflect. Are the Muslims who have been rampaging for the past few weeks so unique in their violence and destruction?

I seem to remember the murder of 6 million European Jews, and countless Catholics, Poles, Slavs, and homosexuals, at the hands of... was it Muslims? Oh no, it was Europeans.

And how about the deaths of some 2 million Cambodean people. Gosh, that wasn't Muslims either. That was at the hands of the communist Cambodean government under Pol Pot.

And lets see, 1 million dead in Rwanda... that must have been the Muslims. Oh, no, that was the Hutu, one of the three ethnic groups living in Rwanda.

How about the rape of Nanking, the genocide in Bosnia, Pinochet's reign of terror in Chile, Sabra and Shatilla, etc, etc, etc.

These all took place in the past 60-70 years --within the memory of people alive today. It's not ancient history.

And how about terror tactics -- again just in the recent past, within the memories of people living today -- kamikazis, the IRA, Basque sepratists, the Irgun gang, drug lords... yeah, there are plenty of instances of people using terror to try and get their way.

Clearly, no race or nationality can claim innocence.

One might argue that the most violent peoples have been the white Europeans who are now so condescending to their brown Muslim neighbors. Starting with the Crusades and the slaughter of the entire population of Jeruselem (a massacre of 60,000 souls carried out by hand), moving to the slow decimation of Native populations in North and South America, continuing on to the genocide of the extremely well integrated European Jewish community, from the IRA mailbox bombers to the ETA carbombers, it is clear, we are a people who should call for tolerance, justice, and an end to violence not with haughty arrogance and condesending pretentions of superiority, but with the humilty of knowing our own history.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
  On Agency
Nzingha has an excellent post on questioning and legitimacy that reflects many of my feelings about apologetics and the unintentional empowerment of repulsive ideologies that we nearly all fall into from time to time. I highly recommend it:


I suppose it is to be expected that calling a spade a spade is sometimes so complicated by other considerations -- countering islamophobia, practicing tolerance for multiple religious opinions, respecting other women's right to agency, etc, etc, etc. -- but there are times when I just feel like shouting -- this is despicable, stop it NOW!!

I find myself in quandries like this all the time -- I hate niqab (the covering of the face), and view it as a dangerous and extreme interpretation, which has severe negative repercussions for women as individuals and as a group, and for society as a whole. Yet, feel like I should tolerate women who believe it is their duty and choose to wear a face veil; indeed since it is their choice, I should support them in making their own decisions -- I wouldn't want others imposing their interpretations on me, so why should I impose my interpretations on them. And then, yet again, I worry that by tolerating them, it appears as though I'm accepting the notion that this interpretation has a validity in Islam that I do not believe it has. And worse, my silence on the matter, or even support of women who want to wear it, may result in a society where people feel coerced or pressured to adopt it!! I suppose the balance to achieve is a clear rejection and condemnation of the practice while not condemning or rejecting the women who choose to observe niqab. Easier said than done.

This meshes with another one of the Carnival of Feminist posts which questions whether we should hold women responsible for their actions which support patriarchy -- are they victims or accomplices. For myself, one way to answer this question is that we must hold them responsible when they are in positions of authority -- thus, the wife who does not stand up to her abuser, I absolve, even if her actions perpetuate patriarchical notions among her children -- she is clearly the victim in this case. But the mother who perpetuates fgm because she wants her daughters to be able to find a good marriage partner... she I would hold responsible.

Worst of the lot... all too often, we see well-educated (often white, middle class convert) women voicing interpretations of Islam that 1) would result in untold sufferring and oppression for women and that 2) they do not live themselves. A prime example of this is the female scholar who teaches at a university and travels from conference to conference, leaving behind hubby and children while lecturing on the delights of being a stay at home mom, devoting one's life to house, husband and offspring. The sheer hypocricy of it stuns me; and the irresponsible perpetuation of patriarchy on other women's backs has got to be called out and repudiated.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
  Sectarian violence
I've just read about the bombing and partial destruction of the Al-Askari mosque in Iraq. Needless to say, the news saddens and angers me. Muslims have enough problems without blowing up each others cultural heritage and/or killing each other over sectarian differences. Of course, the mosque incident is not isolated. I regularly hear of attacks upon Shi’ites, Ismailis, or Ahmedis in Pakistan. In Iran there are pogroms against the Bahai's who are viewed as heretical Muslims. And the Shi'a-Sunni tension in Iraq is certainly not new.

While we may disagree about certain tenets of Islam -- and some of those differences are significant -- the proper response is to leave the matter to Allah. It says in the Qur’an, (32:25) “Verily, it is God alone who will decide between people on Resurrection Day with regard to all on which they were wont to differ.” And the Qur’an repeatedly counsels tolerance for disagreements on matters of faith:

2:256 Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.

10:99 And had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: do you, then, think that you could compel people to believe?

18:29: “And say: ‘The truth has come from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.’"

109:6 To you your way, to me mine.

How can anyone justify killing, looting, burning and bombing, then, in response to differences in theology??? In no case can violence against people of differing beliefs be justified, simply on the basis of their belief.

This goes for interfaith violence, such as the recent arson of churches in Nigeria and Pakistan as well. There is no justification for burning or destruction of the sacred buildings of other faiths. The same verses which apply to Muslim on Muslim violence apply to violence against Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or members of other religious group. Tolerance and acceptance is the Islamic response to diversity. Political motivations, outrage over cartoons, religious bigotry, and fear of diversity are not acceptable excuses for murder, arson, and rampaging.

This intolerance is, of course, also manifested in the whole blasphemy/apostate mess. The favorite tool of so many Islamists and oppressive "Muslim" governments is to label an outspoken critic as a blasphemer or, God forbid, an apostate. A "crime" which earns a death sentence, or long-term incarceration. Something like 11 Arab journalists and editors have been imprisoned because they criticized Muslims for their reactions to the cartoons, or reprinted the cartoons in their newspapers.

What an unholy mess this world is in!

Of course... there are times when I can sympathize with these crazies -- times when I'd rather like to line them all up against a wall and open fire and then let the rest of us sane folks get with life... thankfully, that's just a momentary flash of fanciful wish-gratification, and then I return to my sanity.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
  Back from Toronto...
...and with so many thoughts -- from the trivial, God I love kilometers, when you're driving they pass by so quickly, to the excitement about the potential significance of the weekend's events, to amazement at the speech the mufti gave, to distress over news that journalists are being arrested in various Muslim countries for "insulting" Islam, etc, etc, etc.

To start -- the prayers were awesome. A crowd of about 50 people turned out (I was pleased that so many came out for the event given the short notice, the fact that they were held in a restaurant rather than a masjid, the fact that they were combined with a press conference, the concurrent demonstration against the cartoons, and the incredibly cold weather.)

The press conference was first (more on this later). Then one of my daughters, Saara, gave the adhan. I cannot begin to tell you how I felt at that --the pride in the strength of her sweet, young voice; the joy that she's able to do this as a young woman and that she was able to experience it as completely natural, not some rebellious, sinful act, the empowerment of that act! and at such a young age; the sadness of knowing that so many other girls must surely know the adhan as Saara and Ameera do, but most likely will never have the opportunity to call their community to prayer; the surety that God could not possibly see anything wrong with one of his believers calling the rest of his believers to prayer; the sheer joy at seeing a young woman able to live up to the notion that a woman can do anything she puts her mind to.

As for the prayers themselves... I was much less nervous and distracted than I was the first time around. The mufti was directly behind me, but he was such a down to earth person I didn't feel nervous at all. The energy in the room was spectacular again -- so many different sorts of people coming together to pray together -- comrades of spirit. I recited the same surah (Surah Tin) I did in the first prayers, and did not mess it up. And also one of my favorites, Surah Nas -- which asks for protection from the evil ones who whisper in our hearts. I love this surah because it has so many different meanings -- ones who whisper temptations into our hearts, or doubts, or fears, or vain desires. Every time I recite it, it means something a bit different to me. I hope that it holds such a richness of meaning for an entire congregation -- that it can reach out and touch each individual in its own way, while still uniting us all in seeking the embrace of our Lord.

I was asked to make a du'a at the end, and explained to those gathered that some people considered it sunnah for group supplication to be made, and we would do that. I swear, I don't know whether I'm a total imbecil at offerring spontaneous public dua, or absolutely brilliant. My friend, El-Farouk seems to think the latter, but somehow I feel the former. I certainly can understand why so many imam's seek refuge in stock dua's -- it's far safer than allowing your brain to take off in its own direction.

At any rate, parts of the dua I made were very much near and dear to my soul -- I asked for God's blessing on the people in the congregation and those who couldn't be with us, for His protection for the cartoonists from the extremists who threatened their lives, for His blessings on the Danes -- muslim and non-muslim -- whose livelihood's had suffered although they had nothing to do with the cartoons or their publication, for His blessing on those in Nigeria and Pakistan who had lost their loved ones to this madness, for the young, and the old, for men and women and the transgendered, for all humanity.

That last bit is what I mean about letting one's brain go of on its own tangets... Now, I do pray for God's blessing on transgendered folks -- they are as much God's creation as anyone, and a part of creation that has to suffer far greater trial than many of us. But it was definately a bit odd to have put it in the dua in this manner. I just suddenly thought of Michaela who I met at WisCon (a feminist science fiction conference) a couple years ago, and how she might feel excluded by a dua asking for blessings on men and women, and decided to include transgenered people in my prayers. So there it was. Last time around, things went a bit off the deep-end in a similar way. But as the duas were both well received, with strong "ameens" throughout, so I suppose I should look upon it as God guiding my tongue in unorthodox directions.

Indeed, the amazing thing is that no one batted an eye, the "ameens" were just as strong for that one as for the other parts of the supplication. What an incredible congregation, eh!

As for the mufti, he gave a truly inspiring speech during the press conference. Some of the most salient points... the violence over the cartoons stem from an ignorance of Islam and of freedom of speech. Violence over drawings is just not according to the precepts of Islam, and the Prophet's way was lenient and forgiving. Nothing groundbreaking there, but something that bears repeating time and time again.

One of the points that I found most exciting was the idea of sunnah. Is it, he asked, sunnah to do precisely what the Prophet did -- or is it sunnah to follow the way of the Prophet in a deeper, more methodological manner? So, for instance, does the fact that the Prophet wore a beard and a turban mean people today should? No. The Prophet's companions wore turbans and beards. And the Prophet's enemies wore turbans and beards. That's what men did in that society. The Prophet followed the traditions of his people -- he wore what they wore, kept his hair as they did, not distinguishing or marginalizing himself by making himself look different from his peers. So, if we want to follow the sunnah, we should, in fact, keep to the conventions of the culture we are in - not separate ourselves out and marginalize ourselves. This is, of course, what I've believed for a long time -- that we should follow the methodology of the Prophet, not the details of his culture.

Another excellent point was about evolution and staticism within Islam. A lot of folks would like to see a return to an Islamic ideal based upon the Prophet's life back in the early 600s. But, the mufti said, the Qur'an shows evidence of evolution even during the Prophet's lifetime -- the legislation changed, the focus changed, etc. Can we then say that Islam is never supposed to evolve as society evolves? No, the precedent set is that religion continues to evolve along with society. A profound and empowering concept if ever there were one, especially given the current climate where so many Muslims seem to believe that the highest expression of piety is to follow the Prophet in the minutest way. This position has been accepted with regards to slavery; the Qur'an clearly works towards ending slavery, but it does not outright outlaw it, and yet most people would agree that slavery is totally un-Islamic. One can hope that it gains popularity with regards to women's issues -- the Qur'an clearly points to strict egalitarianism, while still being pragmatic about the cultural background of the Prophet's society.

He also pointed out that the Prophet didn't exclude anyone - the preached to the poor, the slave, the outcast, to women and children, to prostitutes and wealthy merchants alike. In many mosques, people are not welcome if they don't fit a certain mold -- but the mufti said he wanted to be the imam for those people -- the outcast, the homosexuals, the women who were pushed into back rooms and balconies elsewhere, drinkers and drug addicts, and so on -- the people who others shunned -- he wanted to encourage them all to seek the face of their Lord.

Anyway, the event was a great success. It was wonderful to see my new/old friends again. Hopefully we will be able to leverage the statement the mufti made by praying behind a woman, and the status that he can wield as a male, arab, scholar educated at Al-Azhar, to move the gender jihad a few more miles down the road.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
  The beautiful ballet flight of geese
Today I was driving along when I noticed a large vee of geese, small black birds silohuetted against the luminous grey clouds. While I sat at a red light, I noticed a band of ten other geese joining them, blending into the vee seamlessly, like ballerinas weaving two lines together. Another small band wove their way in, and then the whole conglomeration swirled into a circle, and began to spin lazily. In a few moments, a second vee joined the spiral, and then a third. A minute later, two more vees appeared on the horizon and merged with the bigger group. Soon several smaller groups split off, all of them spinning, spinning in the sky. By now I had pulled over to watch this graceful display. Without warning, a group broke away, effortlessly forming a new vee, heading northward. They were followed closely by a second and then a third, leaving two smaller groups still wheeling above me.

It was truly an amazing sight. Like a ballet of birds. I assume they had found an nice updraft and were circling higher to find a more favorable wind for their flight north, although I've never heard of geese doing this. Most amazing of all was how the geese congregated -- smaller groups joining in, larger groups coming to the same spot. How did they know where to find the updraft? How far can the voice of a goose carry? The later vees were beyond sight when I first stopped. They must have come from a considerable distance to join this dance.

However they found this same spot, it was truly a wondrous sight.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I received a call yesterday. The former Mufti of Marseilles, Soheib Bencheikh, who is currently the Director of the Institut Supérieur des Sciences Islamiques (ISSI) is going to be visiting Toronto this weekend... and he specifically requested that he be able to meet with Raheel Raza and I, and to be led by one of us in prayers as a sign of his solidarity with the movement for gender equity in muslim societies.

So I'm off to Toronto this weekend, with the intention of leading the former Mufti of Marseilles and God knows how many other folks in prayer. Given that it is to be held in conjunction with a press conference about the Danish cartoons, I expect we may have a good sized congregation.

I doubt that a year ago, when Amina Wadud gave her historical friday sermon and led the prayers for a mixed gender congregation, anyone would have predicted the progression of events -- first Amina's prayer, then a few local gatherings, then the first friday services in a mosque officiated by a woman, and now the backing of a man who has impeccable credentials as a scholar. All in the space of one short year! Alhamdulillah!

Mr. Bencheikh is a graduate from one of the most prestigious universities in the world of Sunni Islam -- Al Azhar. He has been certified by this university as competant to make religious rulings -- that is, he has been authorized by one of the most respected Islamic institutions to issue fatwas. For ten years, he was the mufti (a legal scholar and religious leader) of Marseilles, and he's now the Director of a Institute of Islamic Sciences. Needless to say, his support puts a big hole in the argument of those who say that no "real" scholars support women leading prayers.

Of course, there will be people who try to discredit Mr. Bencheikh, just as they tried to discredit the scholarship of Amina herself, or the various people who presented Islamic legal justification for the prayers. But many will see Mr. Bencheikh a voice of genuine authority, a person who has gone through the orthodox training programs, a person with whom one may disagree, but who cannot be ignored or relegated to the realms of "ignorant" lay people.

Obviously, this development is incredibly important for Islamic feminists everywhere. That I have been so blessed as to be able to witness the events of the past year is incredible; to have the honor to have been a part of it... it's beyond words.


For those who are interested in attending:

Date: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Location: The Host Restaurant,
14 Prince Arthur Blvd
(North-West corner of Avenue and Bloor in Yorkvillearea of Toronto)

Times: 11 am: Chat and mingle with the Mufti
12 Noon: Press Conference
1 PM: Prayer
1: 30 Lunch

Looking forward to seeing all of you at this event.The event is taking place with the help of the Montreal-based organization, " Rights & Democracy."
Sunday, February 12, 2006
  Happy Darwin Day!
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin! Across the world people are celebrating the life of this scientist who changed the way we view the world, humanity, and how things came to be. I have to admit, I find it astonishing that vast numbers of people don't accept evolution, but cling to the idea that the Heaven and Earth were created in seven days (or some other variation thereof). I can only assume that this is due to an irrational fear that accepting evolution will somehow destroy their faith.

On the one hand, as a writer and avid reader of poetry and fiction, I believe that the power of stories lies not in their empirical truth, but in their ability to speak to the human condition. Whether it be in myths or in fables, novels or fairy tales, the essence of the story is the insight it gives into being human. Whether Adam and Eve ever existed in flesh or not, their story speaks to us of what it means to be human, the nature of forgiveness, the nature of consciousness, and conscience.

On the other hand, to me at least, scientific knowledge only deepens faith. It is only when you try to reject what is empirically evident in order to cling to an explanation that is clearly untrue that faith wavers. For obvious reasons! But when you learn about the incredible complexity of the world as demonstrated by physics and biology and chemistry, your sense of awe and delight in this incredible universe only increases.

This, of course, accords with the Qur'an, which repeatedly tells us to study the world, for it deepens faith, and which tells us that it teaches us through parables and metaphor. (One of the very important things for me in my faith journey was that the Qur'an accorded with what I already believed with the exception of there actually being a God.)

It seems to me that right now many believers (Muslim and non-Muslim) are in a crisis of rationality that includes the Creationism/Evolution dichotmony, but also extends far beyond into morality and ethics, and personal responsibility. That is, the notion that true faith can only be expressed by blind following has become a norm in many circles. This has a devastating effect on moral behavior (which I'll have to go into on another post cause this one is already getting too long!)

Suffice it to say that when blind obedience becomes the standard, there is no room left for human authenticity and agency. I do not believe God wants humankind coming to Her/Him/It like carbon copies, cookie cutter identi-robots without independent thought, understanding or commitment, but rather God made us each as individuals with our own personalities and motivations so that we could come to Him/Her/It as individuals, with the sweet uniqueness of our our soul. I believe firmly that God wants each person to naviagate her/his relationship with the Divine on his/her own terms. It/She/He offerrs guidance if we need and/or want it, but is looking for that devotion from each one of us that is particular to our individuality and which expresses the essence of who we are as individuals. That to me, is truer devotion, truer taqwa (faith and righteousness rolled into one) than blind obedience.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
  On bodies
I've been reading through some of the fascinating posts on the gendergeek Carnival of Feminists and saw that the next Carnival is going to be dedicated to body issues. Which got me thinking...

Body issues are actually one of the big reasons I wear hijab. A long time ago, as a young woman, I saw hijab as the ultimate "up yours" to the cult of sexuality, the abusiveness of the beauty industry, and the objectification of women by hollywood and advertisers that had spawned an epidemic of anorexia and bullemia among young women and its flip side, an epidemic of obesity, and which left practically no women happy with her body. Hijab (and by hijab I mean not only the headscarf, but also the long, loose clothing) was delightfully freeing, a way of stepping outside that game and rejecting it utterly. I knew that this interpretation of hijab was something quite unique to Muslims in the Western world, but I also knew there were plenty of other women -- both converts and those who were born into a Muslim family -- who saw it in much the same light.

Since then, I've grown more and more aware of how, for most of the Muslim world (including many who are living here in the west), the hijab is the mirror image of the cult of objectification of women's bodies. Cover up because women are too tempting and men cannot control themselves -- once again it's the sexualization of women to the exclusion of their personalities, their hopes and dreams, their essential humanity even. That's not a Qur'anic notion -- indeed it is a bastardization of Islam's understandings of gender -- but it certainly is widespread in the Muslim world.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't, as the old saying goes. I wonder if we'll ever get to a society where women are no longer objectified!

The other issue which I've been dealing with for the years since my last child was born was a crisis in my own self-image. The "baby weight" of my last child stubbornly refuses to come off, indeed I've gained a few extra pounds since then, and my willpower to gym and diet has been non-existant. Which puts me in the unusual (for me) position of being unhappy with my body. Of course, many middle aged women have to deal with this issue, not only in terms of weight, but also in terms of wrinkles, age spots, grey hair, etc. I have always been decided that I would not care about these things, that I would age into those one of those wonderful women whose faces proudly bear the years of experience and joy. Of course, saying that and living that are two different things. I don't mind the age spots and the wrinkles, and grey hasn't been an issue yet, but I definately mind the softness of my body. Anyway, I've written a poem about some of these ideas, and I thought I'd post it here.

I stare at myself in the mirror
And see a Renoir nude
Ponderous, pendulous bosoms
Soft slouch of stomach
Dimpled round mounds of buttocks and thigh
I loathe this pale, flabby flesh
Covering my true body
Which lays beneath
Svelte, slim, sexy

I scroll through Renoir’s paintings on my computer screen
Bathers, Seated Girl, Nude in the Sunlight
Diana the Huntress, After the Bath, the Nymphs
Trying to see myself through Renoir’s eyes
Such adulation he stroked upon these women
You can see it in the golds, the browns
The creamy sweetness of their skin
The lush pink of their mouths and nipples
I imagine him lavishing his adoration on my flesh
Painting me in tones of peach and admiration

But the image fractures
My mind won’t compass it
I need a painter’s hands
To hold my flesh
In his brush
A lover’s hands
To hold my flesh
In his fingers
Perhaps then I’ll believe
In voluptuous beauty

Since when, I wonder
Do I need a man to tell me who I am
Or who I am not
Since when do I need someone else
To love this body of mine
In order for me to love it myself
Once, I lived beauty
Once, my flesh knew its own splendor
Without anyone speaking it into being

Why does that sure knowledge now fail
Just when the flesh has filled in
Why does my heart believe
Those who judge me overly abundant
When the clear evidence before my eyes
Ample bodies are glorious, glorious
Allure lies not in thick or thin
But in exultation in God’s bounty
Why do I believe the critics, the judges
And not Renoir
Friday, February 10, 2006
  Yes, but...
Whenever you write something, especially whenever you get something in print, it's easy to re-read it and cringe. Sometimes justifiably and sometimes not. My recent column (in the Pioneer Press, or a slightly different version in the: Indy Star) is just such a column. I've gotten a lot of nice comments about the column, and in a lot of ways I'm proud of it, but in a lot ways it's making me cringe. And justifiably so.

Why? Because I open with a question -- which would make the Prophet sadder, the libelous cartoons or the violent reactions of his followers. Even though I answer that the actions of his followers is a betrayal of the Prophet and a bigger insult to him than the cartoons, I'm still uncomfortable with the fact that I pretty much equated nasty words/pictures with violence. Duh. Obviously, killing and burning on the part of his supposed followers is way worse! There is simply no comparison -- drawings vs murder and mayhem. It's like comparing gnats to killer bees. As I said... duh!

Which brings me to the issue of apologetics (otherwise known as the "yes, but..." syndrome). Looking at the column objectively, it probably wouldn't be perceived by most people as apologetic -- I didn't excuse the violence, or try to explain it, I condemned it roundly and showed how it was totally unIslamic. And yet, isn't placing the offense of the cartoons on a level with burning embassies in a way apologetic? Isn't that saying your pictures are as bad as violence, when in reality they are no where near as bad? Doesn't it minimize the significance of that violence, by saying it's no more important than a handful of offensive drawings? Is that not, in itself, apologetic in some ways?

This is, I believe, a huge issue for moderate, liberal, and progressive Muslims. We feel so shamed by the actions of our radical brethren that we are driven to explain why they do what they do. We rush to make their evil deeds seem less evil, so that we are not stained quite so badly by their actions. I believe this is a fatal mistake. I believe we need to stop explaining and go on the offensive.

One, because we are never going to successfully combat extremism if we are busy explaining why it isn't so bad, really. After all, radicals are going to take that as a sign that we actually agree with them, but that we're just not brave enough to say so. What they need to hear is other Muslims saying, this is wrong. It's un-Islamic. Period. No justifications, no explaining away.

Two, because while we are telling our neighbors it isn't so bad, we water down our own resistance to these things. We start to believe well maybe they are justified, maybe allowances should be made. Baloney. We know better.

Three, because anyone with half a brain sees through apologetics for what they are. Trying to cover the stench of militant actions by covering it with perfume doesn't work -- we just smell like skunks in the lilac bush. The only way to really stop stinking by association, is to wash ourselves of it completely.

Four, it's good for the soul. Truth sets our hearts at ease. Truth is Divine, and when we speak truth, we are blessed with peace.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
  A much needed breath of fresh air
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
  Hard Times Ahead
"With President Bush's signature (on the budget) today, Medicaid recipients can expect higher copayments and deductibles. College students may face higher interest rates on student loans, as lenders are squeezed. Work requirements for women on welfare are likely to be tightened. Federal aid to states for child-support enforcement will be curtailed," says a Christian Science Monitor report in today's edition.

They add that Bush's budget proposal for 2007 would boost Pentagon spending by almost 7 percent, and increase the budgets for the Departments of State, Veterans' Affairs, and
Homeland Security, while asking for budget savings from Medicare, education, transportation, and agriculture. Oh, and of coure, there's a tax cut that will benefit mostly the rich, yet again.

Some of the targeted programs:

Get the picture? If you're old, young, or sick, you're out of luck. And this at a time when hunger is rising, when people with disabilities find it nearly impossible to get and keep benefits that they need to survive, when our elderly population is growing, with the likelyhood that they will be less and less able to take care of themselves, as they take hits in Social Security, Medicaire, and other programs.

Even some Republicans are squeamish about such a plan, according to the CMS.

Bush, of course, touts faith-based organizations as the back up. I'm sorry but that's just not good enough. We should not be taking help away from those who need it to give tax cuts to those who don't, and to spend even more money killing people overseas.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
  Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan passed away Saturday. While she is famous for her book, and for being one of the founders of NOW, it is not for her fame nor even for the achievements of the feminist movement that I wish to remember her. It is for her impact on the psyches of millions American women.

When Friedan started writing, "the problem with no name" was as denied as PMS, morning sickness, and the severity of migraines. Friedan brought it under spot light, examined it, probed it, and changed the way women think about themselves. The feminist movement has made huge gains in the workplace, in politics, in the treatment of girls and women in education, from elementary school to graduate programs, in the understanding of what it means to be a woman. This impacts us all. And many of those gains rest upon owning and acknowledging the fact that the life of a modern housewife is not enough for the vast multitude of women. We need other things than taking care of a house and kids to find fulfillment in life, and that's not only ok, it's normal, it's even good.

For many women of my mother's generation, reading "The Feminine Mystique" was the first time they realized other women felt the same way they did -- trapped and bored at home, and silently desperate. It freed them to talk about the problem, and to do something about it.

For those of us who read the books as teenagers or young women, they planted seeds of understanding that led us to take steps to prevent ourselves from falling into the same trap. Whether we ended up choosing to pursue a career or to stay home to raise our children, the books forever changed the way we lived our lives, and perhaps more importantly, they changed the way we felt about how we lived our lives. It removed the guilt over finding house cleaning deadly dull, at feeling that raising kids was an important task but not the end all and be all of one's existence, at thinking that serving your husband is still being a servant.

Friedan's books have not solved the problem confronting most American women today -- that having it all in today's corporate climate often means not having enough of any one thing. Not enough time with the kids. Silent loss of potential at work due to the "mommy factor." Nor has it solved the conundrums facing women who stay at home -- the difficulties trying to find one's way into the workforce once your kids are older, the nagging sense that you have betrayed your potential to contribute to greater society, the need to be able to do meaningful things while spending the bulk of your time at home.

Even though we have not solved these problems, the mere fact that we can acknowledge them and work on them makes them easier to bear, removes the guilt and tendency to blame oneself, and gives me hope that someday, perhaps we will see our way to a society where raising children is as valued as other work, and the corporate culture is such that parents -- men and women -- will have more time at home, without it impacting their careers negatively, but instead raising their value as employees because it means they are responsible people, who take their role in raising the next generation seriously.

As a Muslim woman, I see that we need a Muslim Betty Friedan. Too many in the Muslim world still buy into the concept that a woman's place is in the home, and that homelife should be estatically fulfilling, that she should have no goals outside of raising her children and supporting her husband, indeed that her goals for life are expressed through her children and husband, rather than through her own actions, despite the ample evidence in the early history of Islam that Islam teaches no such thing.

The Qur'an makes no declarations that the role of women is to be in the home. In fact, it says, to men a portion of what they earn and to women a portion of what they earn -- clearly the Qur'an assumes that women are out earning. It provides a rigorous equality of spiritual and practical involvement - addressing itself consciously to :men who believe and women who believe, men who fast and women who fast, men who give charity and women who give charity." Even in discussing martial relationships -- it says good women are those devoutly dedicated to God, who guard what Allah would have them gaurd, not those who are obedient to the husband, or fulfilled in his actions, not those who keep exclusively to child rearing. It shows the same rigorous equality when discussing practical concerns as well -- using the exact same word for wife and husband, saying he is a protecting garment for her and she is a protecting garment for him, counselling both on what to do in the case of the spouse being guilty of "nushuz" or gross rebellion, giving both the right to initiate divorce if worst comes to worst.

Furthermore, the example of the women surrounding the Prophet is remarkable. Khadija, who was a wealthy business woman -- a widow operating her business alone for many years. Aishah who single-handedly narrated a quarter of the hadith and who rode at the head of an army. Nusaiba who defended the Prophet left and right with her sword. Umm Waraqa who the Prophet appointed to lead prayers for her community. Saffiya, his wife, who was known for her skill in craftsmanship and for her charitable works.

There is a rich history in Islam of women who had goals and dreams and lives outside of the home, husband and family. Yet the Feminine Mystique lives strong in many Muslim hearts. There, of course, have been many combatting that, Fatima Mernisi for one. But so far, none have suceeded in the same way Betty Friedan did. Perhaps the timing just isn't right. Certainly there were women who wrote about the problem before Friedan -- The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gillman comes to mind. But maybe the timing is right. Maybe I need to add another genre to my writing...
Monday, February 06, 2006
  Unreliable Narrators
Ok, one last word on this whole Danish thing (or at least one more word).

One of the things I find problematical in dealing with this situation, as with many situations where we are dependent upon the mass media for our information about what is going on, is that the violence is presented as though vast numbers of people in these countries agree with it. We rarely get to hear the other side -- or, even, to know if the reaction is typical or if it's just an isolated mob whipped up by a fringe cleric. I know for a fact that there are plenty of Muslims around the world who are outraged at the violence just as badly as they are outraged at the cartoons. What I can't accurrately gague is how much of the population agrees with that perspective, and how many agree with the fellows chanting "death to the cartoonists." We just simply don't get that information from the news, and it's easy to assume that large segments of the population agree with irrational militant responses.

I think about the race riots that happened in the Boston area when I was growing up and wonder if the coverage of those riots in distant lands made it look like everyone in Boston were violent racists. I wonder if people in Malyasia reading those accounts wondered, why don't the moderates and the liberals speak up, when in fact they were, but moderation just doesn't make news.

The most problematical part of it is that at a time when we are at war with Iraqis and the "war on terror" has our government infringing on civil rights that we consider fundamental (things like due process and freedom from unwarranted search), it is convenient and typical to demonize the "enemy." Reading the reports coming out of Iraq, you'd think the vast majority of Iraqis are sympathetic to the insurgency. Reading reports about Muslims in general, you'd think my God, we'd better the government whatever powers it needs to deal with 1.6 billion fanatics. Historically we have demonized our "enemies" -- communists, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, etc. Now Muslims are being demonized by some (and giving them plenty of ammo to do it with, I have to say), and it calls into question a lot of the reporting -- what's the whole story?

In fiction, it's called having an unreliable narrator. These days, I feel like the mass media are an unreliable narrator.

And in being unreliable, they are contributing to the problem. Newspapers in Muslim countries whip up hatred and fear, and newspapers in the West do the same, perhaps not intentionally, but by printing only the most sensation items, rather than trying to present the whole picture, the effect is the same.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
  Who was Muhammad?
Given that we now have cartoons of Muhammad as a bomber, as a devil, as a blindfolded man bristling with knives, flanked by wide-eyed burqa'd women, I thought it might be a good time to talk a little bit about who Muhammad really was.

Muhammad was a man, just like other men. He recieved revelation from God in the form of the Qur'an, but he remained a man. His character was loving, warm, and forgiving. He was modest and painstakingly just. Although he had many opportunities for self-aggrandizement, for taking advantage of his position as a prophet-ruler, he did not, living a very humble life of poverty. He was known to love horses, the color green, and to be fond of women and children.

As a young man, he was known among his people as, "al-Amin," the trustworthy. He proved to be so responsible and competant that the woman he worked for, Khadija, proposed to him. Though she was some 2o years older than him, a widow with children of her own, he agreed. He came to cherishe her so greatly that after her death he would turn pale at the mention of her name, and her memory evoked such powerful emotions that Aishah, often regarded as the Prophet's favorite wife, was jealous of their relationship.

Muhammad was a spiritual man; he did not follow the pagan traditions of his people, but would retreat to a cave to meditate for long hours. During one of these sessions, when he was 40, he began receiving revelations. Soon thereafter he began to teach what he was receiving. There were many who believed he was indeed a prophet of God and accepted his teachings. Others were less receptive. Some were down right nasty -- insulting him, dumping camel intestines on his back while he prayed, setting their children to throw stones at him, and eventually boycotting the community, murdering its most vulnerable members and attempting to murder the Prophet himself.

As his following grew, so too did the opposition. Finally, he and the believers of Mecca were invited to come to Madinah to escape the persecution. They fled, leaving behind their their homes and all their possessions other than what they could carry on their backs. From that time forward, Muhammad was the judge/ruler of Madinah. He continued to live in poverty, taking only that which he needed. He was known to be so just that members of other faiths would come to him for rulings. Hostilites with the Meccans continued and several battles were fought. In the end, the Muslims returned to Mecca triumphant.

More important to me, and to many Muslims, than the history of the events in Prophet Muhammad's life are the details we know about him that endear his figure to us. That he kissed his grandsons in public, even though that was seen as being weak and soft by many in his community. He cried over his mother's grave. When the people of Taif set their children to throw stones at him, he prayed God to forgive their city, and when he reentered Mecca rather than taking vengeance, he offered forgiveness and amnesty. At times he laughed so heartily that his molars showed, and he had a playful streak that led him to tease an old woman. He ran races with his wife. He made mistakes and had fears. He gave bad advice to some farmers, and turned away from an old, blind man to teach some rich, famous men about Islam, and later admitted they were errors. After receiving the first revelation, he ran to his wife and told her to cover him up, he wasn't sure if he was possessed or crazy or the truth from God. And when he made a treaty that in the short run was disadvantageous, but good for the long run, and he was afraid his people would not follow him, he turned to his wife for advice.

The pure simple humanness of the Prophet allows the rest of us to be human as well. To love our children beyond the bounds of sanity, to make mistakes in our lives and not be devastated by it, to have doubts and worries about God and His will for us, to have faith without having to be perfect believers. These details of his life bring alive the man that was Muhammad, and inspire those of us who follow him with love and reverence.

No wonder we're angered and saddened when his character is slandered and he's portrayed as a bomber, or a devil, as misogynistic and violent. Even if people who don't think he was a Prophet can acknowledge his widsom and kindness, and the beautiful spirituality of Islam.

For anyone who is interested in knowing more about the Prophet, I reccomend the biography by Martin Lings. It is a very easy read, feeling almost like a novel, and while it is a bit romanticized, it is based on the earliest sources and considered extremely authentic.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
The past few days I have spent in a fever revamping the entire Islamic Writers Alliance website. I did the basic re-design back in November, but implementing it throughout the site, and customizing it for different sections has been quite a haul. I'm definately an amatuer Photoshop user, and my webdesign knowledge is based upon nothing more than my having visited many, many websites, a quick tutorial with the webdesigner at the place I used to work, and a lot of trial and error. In fact, my photoshopping is based on a lot of trial and error too.

I've still got to go through six hundred links to make sure they are all working (I'm pretty sure most of them are, or I wouldn't have put the site up live). Needless to say, anyone who spots a broken link or a typo and lets me know will receive my everlasting appreciation.

Meanwhile, insanity prevails in the Muslim world... more on that tomorrow...
Friday, February 03, 2006
  Happy New Year, Happy Ashura
Happy New Islamic Year! Actually this happened five days ago -- I've been so busy writing a sf story about slugs and ramping up on the redesign of the Islamic writers alliance website (almost ready to go live) that I'm late. One of the things I love about the Islamic New Year is that it doesn't start at the Prophet's birth, nor at his death, but at a significant point in the life of the Muslim community -- that is, when they left Mecca and were welcomed into Madinah. On one level, it's marks Prophet Muhammad taking on the role of Prophet-King, ala Solomon or David, the start of the Islamic rule. But on another, it marks the community leaving dangerous times and places to live with people who embraced them, welcomed them, and loved them like family. This movement from dangerous places to safe spaces is something many of us in the American Muslim community relate to and long for. Many immigrantMuslims left countries where freedom of religion, speech, and conscience, etc. are limited. Many in the African American community metaphorically left mainstream society because of experiences of racism and intolerance. Many of us are extremely worried that America is quickly becoming a hostile place, rather than a welcoming one for Muslims. In the spirit of the New Year, I hope and pray that this does not come to pass, and that the US can remain a modern day Madinah for people of all faiths.

Happy Ashura! This is actually 5 days from now, although the first ten days of Muharram are important days for the Shi'ite Muslim community. They ought to be important days for our entire community because they mark a moment in Islamic history that should make every Muslim weep -- the murder of the Prophet's grandson and his companions. The early history of Islam -- the struggles over who was to suceed Prophet Muhammad, and battles over how to implement Islam once the Prophet had passed away -- make me all the more convinced that Islam is not supposed to be a political system, The Qur'an is not a political manifesto but a guidebook for personal morality and spiritual development. Without the Prophet who has access to God, and thus is infalliable in matters of religion (and religion only), there can be very few absolute answers. Most of the Shari'ah as we know it today is a very human, and very flawed, attempt at understanding and applying God's will. What I find absolutely astounding, is that in the day of the Prophet, people questioned him, at one point his followers were on the verge of open rebellion; in the days after his death, a woman stood up and challenged the ruler, Omar, who was arguably one of the Prophet's favorite companions and extremely knoweledgable, and yet, if we challenge the ruling of a scholar from the 14th century, we are accused of being heretical. So far we have fallen. Anyway, if you'd like to know more about Muharram, I highly recommend Sr. Scorpion's blog.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
  Hamas sweep?
Everyone's talking about how Hamas had a landslide victory. Here's the actual results (from the Palestinian Election Commission website)

PFLP:.............................................................. 41,671
The Alternative:............................................... 28,779
Independent Palestine (Mustafa Barghouti):..........26,554
The Third Way (Hanan Ashrawi):.........................23,5135
smaller lists below 2 threshold:.......................53,200

Looks like the kind of "sweeping mandate" that George Bush had...

Anyway, it restores a bit of hope that perhaps Palestine is not headed for a shariah government a la Saudia, Iran, and Iraq.

It also means that Hamas will have to make policies that others approve of -- they don't have a majority, and can't railroad anything through -- either domestically or with regards to Israel. I have to say, that's a major relief.

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too.
MoveOn.org. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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