Thursday, November 30, 2006
  Men and Women in Islam: Complementary or Equal?
Since the election of Ingrid Mattson to the presidency of the Islamic Society of North America there has been a lot of discussion in some Muslim circles about her contention that men and women are seen as completmentary in Islam, not equal. While she draws a mild line between the two, her basic contention is that men and women aren't alike, they have different roles to play in society, the family, etc.

This is fine as far as biology goes -- yup, the women birth the babies, the men hold their hands through it. Yup, men have greater upper body strength, while women have greater lower body strength.

But once you get past reproductive and muscular systems and into the intellectual, the emotional, spheres of operation (inside or outside the home) we rapidly plunge into a abyss where biology is far from determinative and nurture plays as much a role as nature, where women and men,, from my observations, really aren't that different. Where the differences within each gender are far greater than the differences between the genders.

Anyway, here are some of my thoughts about gender equality and gender complemntariness within Islam:

I see the Qur'an as aiming towards equality, much as it aimed toward the abolishing of slavery without getting there. (Note: the latter is generally accepted by the Muslim masses while the former is not, but I see them as being the same.)

We have the famous verse 33:35 (to believing men and believeing women, to devout men and devout women, to men who pray and women who pray, to men who fast and women who fast, etc. Allah has prepared a goodly reward.) which sets up spiritual and mundane religious equality between men and women. Same duties, same values/ethics, same rewards.

We have verses which say, "to men a share of what they earn, and to women a share of what they earn" (referring to the fact that men and women both need to pay charity out of their money.)

We have verses which describe muslim men and women as protecting friends of one another.

We have verses which describe muslim spouses as protecting garments for one another.

Those verses are balanced by others which show a lack of equality - the inheritance regulations, the modesty regulations, the one about getting two women witnesses, and so on.

I see a qualitative difference between these verses. The first set speaks to theory, to the ideal of what men and women are supposed to be. The latter one speaks to the conditions on the ground in 7th century Arabia and practical solutions to problems facing that community in particular.

I think that it makes sense that Islam is pragmatic and acknowledges on the ground realities, but it is clear to me that in God's eyes we are all the same.

The question is, as societies change, shouldn't the details of that pragmatic approach also change? If women can no longer expect to have a right over their brother's inheritance should they need it, then should they still get a smaller portion? If women as a group are now as sexually aggressive as men, should men start being a bit more modest in how they dress (say on the sporting ground or at the beach)?

I think so. The ideal does not change, but the consessions to practicality may.

As far as complementary roles go - I think we go way overboard in this, turning what might have some potential benefits in certain circumstances (division of labor within the family for instance) into a downright evil.

People like to see things in black and white, but reality is always, always gray. Thus we like to divide humanity into men and women, rational and emotional, intellectual and instinctive, dealing with the outer world and dealing with the inner world.

Of course, the reality is far, far more complex than that. Men and women both are emotional creatures. We are both rational creatures as well. We all have intellectual, artistic, inner and outer interests. To say that men are one and women are the other is simply to do injustice to both men and women, and to say something that is patently false. We can all observe with our own eyes, extremely intellectual women and extremely non-intellectual men. We can see men expressing deep emotions (whether it be rage, or sadness at the loss of a parent, love and joy at the shenanigans of a child, etc, etc, etc) and women being icy cold (like that NC woman who drowned her boys because her boyfriend didn't want to be bothered by them!) Claims that women aren't interested in certain topics are clearly wrong, as women, when given the chance, have shown they are interested in everything, whether it be politics, business, science, art, etc, etc, etc.

Generally speaking, I believe that the full spectrum of personality, interests, and capabilities is present in both genders and (as said above) that the differences between the genders are far smaller than the differences within the genders.

In order to prop up false oppositions in their depiction of men and women and the roles that they would like to assign men and women in greater society and the family, people say all sorts of ridiculous things like when a woman's pregnant she can't work. Poppycock! Women have forever been working up till the moment they go into labor, (mostly in backbreaking field work or home chores like hand washing laundry...). Similarly we hear ridiculous claims about women not being able to function normally during their periods. Again, poppycock! The vast majority of women in the work force have demonstrated that women can and do function perfectly well during their periods.

So, as you can probably see, I don't buy into a priori complementarity between men and women.

At the same time, I believe that division of labor can at times be useful.
Especially within the family. By this I do not mean, women cook and men sit around waiting to be served. (I was appalled at a family camp I recently attended where one of the women was bragging how she had taught her daughter to serve her son - to heat him up food and bring it to him when he got home from school. What's wrong with him that he can't heat up his own plate of food in the microwave!!) Nor do I mean that men do the repairs and the women pretend not to be able to do things. (I once was advised by someone well-intentioned not to be so competent around the house, because if I did, my husband would end up doing nothing. Ha ha, fat chance that! I may fix the wiring and replace the ceiling fans, etc as needed, but he did his fair share of the diaper changing, dish washing, etc.)

By this I mean that it is a good idea to have a family set up where one parent is home with young children and the other is the primary breadwinner.
I do not think it has to necessarily be women who are at home, although I acknowledge that in certain aspects it is easier (such as nursing, which can be accomplished even if the woman is not home during the day, but that takes a lot of dedication).

But when people take that and turn it into the women's role is only to be a mother and a wife, and to observe the pillars of Islam (praying, fasting, etc), I think we have gone way too far. Women are not exempted from social responsibility - we have a duty to stand up for justice, to help those in need, to be involved politically, socially, and so on. We cannot do so if we are exclusively focused on our family.

Further, if women were only to stay at home, they why would there be verses about us earning money (and why would the Prophet's wives have earned money and then used their earnings for charity?) If women weren't out in society and involved with people, how could Hafsa have advised the Prophet regarding the pilgrimage that was cancelled midway and how to mollify his followers who he was afraid would rebel and go ahead with the Pilgrimage even though he had just made an agreement not to? If women were only to be interested in the home and family, how could a quarter of our hadith have come through Aishah? How could Nusaiba have defended the Prophet so brilliantly if she hadn't been out practicing with a sword? How could Aisah have led an army against Ali if she had no knowledge of warfare, tactics, military organization, etc. Why would the Prophet have said, do not prevent the handmaids of Allah from coming to the masjid, and allowed them to make itikaf in his masjid (like a hermitage in the mosque), leaving their homes for days and days during Ramadan? Why would he have ordered a woman to lead prayers, if our prayers in public spaces really are optional, and we are always to follow the men?

It's pretty clear to me that Islam does not intend vast gender separation or differentiation. It acknowledges some on the ground practicalities, without, I believe, insisting upon one set solution to those issues, especially as societies morph.

Islam, Feminism
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
  Another Funny Christmas Story
I was driving past a local nursery, taking one of my daughters to the dentist yesterday, when I spied two Muslim women on the porch of the nursery. The nursery is in an old house, and the plants are lined up all around the house (and probably inside, I'm not sure as I've never been to the shop).

Anyway, these two women were on the porch, one standing, the other sitting next to her, presumably on some of the garden furniture for sale at the shop. They caught my eye as they were wearing long, draped scarves, and looked quite foreign, and were staring down the road, as though waiting for someone. It passed through my mind that they must be waiting for a husband or a son or daughter to pick them up from the shop, and that maybe they'd been waiting for some time, as their posture seemed to indicate anticipation or even anxiety. I thought the one sitting must have been an older woman, tired out, ready to go home and wishing whoever was driving her would hurry up and get them.

As I was bringing my daughter home from the dentist, I noticed that the women were still there, still looking down the road, forty-five minutes later. I was thinking maybe to pull in and offer them the use of my cell phone to call their tardy ride when I realized, they weren't women at all, they were Joseph and Mary. Life-sized Joseph and Mary mannequins.

Boy, did I get a good laugh out of that one! Talk about an over-active imagination! Here I had a whole backstory written for two statues!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
  Bush loses a battle in the war on terror
From AP:

A federal judge struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutionally vague, according to a ruling released Tuesday.

The Humanitarian Law Project had challenged Bush's order, which blocked all the assets of groups or individuals he named as "specially designated global terrorists" after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists," said David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Rights that represented the group. "It was reminiscent of the McCarthy era."


She also struck down the provision in which Bush had authorized the secretary of the treasury to designate anyone who "assists, sponsors or provides services to" or is "otherwise associated with" a designated group.


"Even in fighting terrorism the president cannot be given a blank check to blacklist anyone he considers a bad guy or a bad group and you can't imply guilt by association," Cole said.

I agree with Cole wholeheartedly. The President should not ever have the power to create blacklists on just his say so, unchecked by any need to provide evidence to a judge, -- there needs to be a system by which his claims that a group is terrorists are substantiated before that person faces siezures of assets, jail, or other penalties.

Not just this President, who has 0 credibility with most of the world after his declarations about weapons of mass destruction. All Presidents, even the good ones should not have that kind of power to simply blacklist groups and/or individuals and freeze their assets.

Especially troubling what the prhase "associated with." I mean, thousands of Muslims subscribe to an email newsletter sent out by the Council on American Islamic Relations. Subscribing to the newsletter could be construed as "associated" with them, one supposes. But certainly there are many who subscribe to the newsletter who vehemently oppose many of CAIR's stands on various issues. Some find the newsletter a convenient clearing house of information (although it is increasingly becoming only CAIR news, not all national Muslim news at it once was), or perhaps they want to keep tabs on what the organization is doing (or not doing). There could be any number of reasons why some subscribed to the list, not all of them having to do with support or association with the org.

Anyway, gan bei, for a judge with some sense.

Monday, November 27, 2006
  Quirky Conversations
As a writer, I've always got my ears open for interesting bits of quirky conversation that just might fit a story I'm writing. This evening, I had one myself!

I was in a Chinese restaurant picking up an order of noodles for my youngest who would eat Chinese noodles every day if we let her. The clerk behind the cash register was a cute young woman, with a bright smile and long black hair. As we waited for the food to cook, she asked, "Have you started on your Christmas shopping?"

"Oh, no, we don't celebrate Christmas," I explained, and then, returning her friendliness, I asked, "How about you? Have you got your shopping started?"

"We don't celebrate Christmas either," she said with an even bigger smile.

Sounds like it belongs in a John Irving novel if you ask me...

Friday, November 24, 2006
  Happy Thanksgiving
We celebrate Thanksgiving in our home -- turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, the whole nine yards. (Ok, we don't watch the football, but we can still use football imagery! :D )

But we celebrate with some misgivings. Not because it's not Islamic -- a day to thank God for the kindness of others, for survival during a brutal winter, for the countless blessings we experience each and every second of our lives, is about as Islamic as it gets. Of course, devout Muslims aim for that attitude way more often than once a year, but there's nothing wrong with an entire nation coming together to celebrate our blessings. In fact, it's recommended for people to praise God together, and we are promised that when we remember the bounties of Allah in a group, then God is remembering us in a better gathering (the gathering of angels).

No, our misgivings have to do with the shameful history of the creation of our country. We arrived, the native population welcomed us, taught us to farm their lands successfully, shared their harvests with us so we wouldn't die, and how did we repay their kindness over the next three hundred years... not so nicely, to put it mildly. Heck, the very people who were saved by the were engaging in battles not long after.

I teach my children that reparations to the Native Americans are due. As are reparations to black Americans (I don't like hyphenated terms -- a what point does a person simply become American? Many, many, many "African Americans" have been in America way longer than us "plain" Americans of white skin. And when does a person stop being an Asian American, or a Latino, and start being American? Hypenated identities seem to me to be just another way to reinforce the normative nature of white Americans.)

And then we enjoy our turkey. :)

Thursday, November 23, 2006
  More on the WISE Conference
As I mentioned earlier, a wide range of opinions and practices were represented at the WISE Conference, which was absolutely wonderful -- having all of us together in the same room.

One of the main focuses of the conference was the development of guidelines for an eventual shura council of women. Needless to say, with such a diversity of women in the room, there would be, necessarily, some very different ideas about what such a shura council might look like.

It was heartening that everyone agreed it is important for the eventual council to be as diverse as the attendees of the conference. People from different races, nationalities, schools of thought or branches of Islam -- all should be represented.

At the same time, it was fairly clear that Daisy Khan, the conference organizer, and others were expecting to include only women who had gone through traditional training in an Islamic university, or under the supervision of a cleric, mufti, etc. I find this very problematical for many reasons.

1)It essentially confirms that, despite all claims to the contrary, we do have an ordained clergy in Sunni Islam. Of course, Shi'i Islam has always had an ordained clergy, but Sunnis will tell you most vehemently that we don't have a clergy in Islam. Reality is, we do have a defacto clergy, as demonstrated by requirements that people offering opinions have to receive a certain type of training and/or recieve endorsement from particular people who have had that training. That is the definition of a clergy.

If we truly are not going to have a clergy then authority should be determined in a variety of ways -- popular support being top among them. If an individual's reasoning/opinions resonate with a large group, then they should be considered a valid interpreter, as far as I'm concerned. Similarly, education in a Western institution should not be discounted. Many scholars educated in the West have an excellent grasp of Islamic legal procedure and should not be rejected simply because their schooling came from a university that is not run by Muslims.

This is particularly important if you want to include the diversity that everyone insited was necessary. Many extremely knowledgable community leaders have not and will not be able to take two or three years from their lives to attend universities overseas. When I was studying, most of those universities wouldn't take women for degrees in Islamic law anyway.

2) Insisting upon one criteria for scholarship threatens to reinforce the hegemony of traditionalist, conservative Islam. Sufis, for instance, may well not have attended traditionalist universities, as they are often not welcome, but that does not mean their leadership should be discounted.

This is doubly problematic because traditionalist Islam tends to be less than ideal when it comes to women's rights. There is an awful lot of apologetic discourse coming from women who adhere to conservative Islamic practice. That's not a problem if their opinions are balanced by scholars/leaders from other sides of Islam, but if everyone has to have authorization by a handful of universities or scholars, then those opinions are likely to go unchallenged.

3) Where does it leave the Shi'a, who have different institutions and a defined clergy? If Shi'i women are not being ordained at the higher levels, will they be able to make significant contributions to the shura council that are seen as valid by the clerical heirarchy? Do we need a council for Sunnis and another for Shi'i because the participation of Sunnis on a council talking to Shi'a will automatically result in their opinions being discounted, and vice versa -- will Shi'as participating in a shura council whose opinions are aimed at Sunnis render that council's opinions invalid for a large group of people?

Along these lines, another issue that was raised was whether the notion of an all-female shura council was a good idea at all. Would men simply pooh-pooh an all women's shura council as tainted by feminism? (Not my way of thinking, but the way some conservative clerics might see it, just to make that clear.) Might they simply ignore it as the unempowered are often ignored? Would it be better to start the council with all women and then invite selected men so as to have the greatest impact?

Obviously, the whole point to forming this kind of shura council is not just to talk to ourselves, but to make a difference in the world. These kinds of questions need to be answered. If we do challenge the hegemony of tradtional, conservative educational institutions, will we be shooting ourselves in the foot, as we will be dismissed as amatuers, acting without knowledge or authority? If so, is it better to send progressives and sufis to these universities so they can be "qualified"?

I know of one progressive Imam who did just that, PMU Board member Imam Daayiee. Now he has official imam training, so his credentials are solid, no one can discount his opinion because he is "just" self-taught. Maybe this is the answer, rather than trying to challenge the hegemony from without (at least at this juncture).

Much to think about!

Islam, Feminism
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Total words: 22,924

With a real push, might be doable. Unfortunately, a lot of other stuff in the pipeline -- books to edit, camp to attend, may not make it, but still, it's a good start on a novel I can finish quickly hereafter.

Monday, November 20, 2006
  WISE Conference
The WISE conference that I attended this weekend was a tremendous experience. It was humbling to be siting next to women who had done so much, spoken out so fearlessly, put up with so much. It was inspiring and uplifting as well, and motivating. There is so much to be done for women's rights.

I will, God willing, be posting over the next few days about the conference, but one thing that sruck me was the breadth of people invited. There were conservatives, even people I might call hyper-conservative, the moderates, the liberals, the progressives, the sufis, the sunnis, the shiis, immigrant Muslims, convert Muslims (from the african american, white american and latino communities), and so on.

One thing became evident to me over the weekend -- there was a lot of tension between these groups. Duh. Right? Everyone knows there is tension between progressives and conservatives, with the former being labeled as lesser Muslims or even apostates by conservatives, and the latter feeling that progressives feed all too easily into Islamophobic stereotypes of them. Everyone knows there is tension between immigrant Muslims and the indigenous Muslim community. Everyone knows that the Sufis are often slighted as not being real Muslims at all, or at least as being a bit flaky and heterodox.

But I've never felt those tensions quite so palapably as I did in that room. It was clear that the women were not totally comfortable with each other. The most notable was that the conservative women were obviously feeling pressure, censure even. Other discussions made it clear that some groups worried about being marginalized -- progessives, or sufis, or african americans.

It struck me that the Muslim commmunity has put a lot of effort into interfaith dialogue in the past twenty years, maybe we need to start putting a similar effort into intra-faith dialogue.

When the Christians started interfaith dialogue, it meant Baptists sitting down with Methodists. Or Protestants sitting down with Catholics. I think the Muslim community really needs similar dialogue.

It's such a simple and obvious idea, I'm ashamed to admit I haven't thought of it before. Sad thing is, no one else seems to have thought of it either.

Islam, Feminism
Saturday, November 18, 2006
  Foreign Thougts in Star*Line
My poem Foriegn Thoughts is in the November/December edition of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. ( You can purchase sample issues on the website, though they are showing the current issue as the July issue, so you may have to make a special request or something.

Science Fiction, Writing
Thursday, November 16, 2006
  Muslim Women Taking Matters into their Own Hands
This weekend in New York, 100 Muslim women activists, artists, and scholars, including myself, will be meeting with the express purpose of developing forums and structures to empower Muslim women to play a greater role in their societies worldwide.

Called WISE: The Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity, the conference is intended to be a forum for Muslim women leaders to discuss global Muslim women’s issues, assert our rights through the use of and in accordance with Islamic law, and build a coherent movement that empowers and connects Muslim women everywhere.

On the agenda is the formation of an International Shura Council of Muslim Women. A Shura Council is an advisory council that interprets Islamic law for the political and religious leaders in its region of authority. Also under discussion will be the creation of a global fund to provide scholarships for Muslim women to be educated in Islamic jurisprudence thereby qualifying them to serve on the Shura Council of Women.

I have some concerns about this council -- the current plan is for it to be made up of six women. That's not very many. I would have gone for 10 at least, and preferrably 12. With only six, it is more difficult to ensure a diversity of opinions, which, as far as I'm concerned is essential to the operation of any such body.

Also, when they speak of being educated in Islamic jurisprudence and qualified to serve on the Shura council, that raises alarm bells for me. Will a degree in theology from a Western university count, or does the woman have to go to a Middle Eastern country for her education (making it virtually impossible for most of us - on a few can just drop family, career, etc for two or three years to study overseas, even with scholarships)? Will self educated women be seen as qualified as self educated men are -- men like Jamal Badawi who is internationally recognized as a scholar despite having no degrees.

And if you have to be qualified at an accepted Islamic university, then what is the likelihood that this Shura council will not provide enough of a challenge to standing interpretations that are terribly prejudicial against women? Amazingly, thousands of women demonstrated in support of the sheikh that compared women to uncovered meat, hundreds of women are protesting Pakistan's attempt to remove rape from the legal code surrounding pre-marital sex (supposedly voluntary premarital sex) insisting that rape deserves the same punishment as fornication! As if rape weren't a punshiment to begin with!! If the council works to maintain male hegemony and traditional interpretations, then it could quite possibly do more harm than good.

However, I am hopefully that all of these concerns will prove fruitless (especially as they are shared by quite a few other women who I know and who are attending). The very fact that progressive Muslim women who buck traditional interpretations have been invited is a good sign indeed!

Other discussion items will be the major obstacles facing Muslim women and the creation of strategies to address them; how to increase women’s religious & political leadership via faith fueled activism; challenging local customs that impinge on women’s rights; and developing effective methods to change negative perceptions about muslim women.

I'm more hopeful on these fronts, though I don't expect there to be any overnight changes. Still, organizations such as this can be very empowering to Muslim women all, and by focusing the community's attention on some very basic issues which plague many parts of the Muslim world, hopefully can be agents for positive change. At the very least, it's absolutely essential for Muslim women to stand up and say, "Enough is enough. Women deserve better, and I will not stand by idly while my sisters are harmed."

Islam, Feminism
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Words today: 1806

Grand total: 20,731

Still some 5000 short of the mark, but creeping up slowly in incremements of 200 and 300 words. If I write 2000 words each day, I'll still make it to 50,000 on time. And, hopefully, I'll have a few bumper crop days that make it easier to get there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006
  Sexism is alive and kicking
Or at least slapping and squeezing.

In an odd seredipity of timing, the controversy over Sheikh Hilali's remarks saying that just as you wouldn't blame the cat if it ate meat you left out, so too don't blame men if they ogle, fondle, or whatever, women who go out uncovered, coincides with a discussion on my feminist sci fi writers group about sexism and harrassment at science fiction conventions, of all places.

I always expect science fiction fans to be relatively intelligent (for the most part they are) and liberal (again for the most part they are) which would seem to be inconsistent with sexism and especially with sexual harrassment. Yet, there are reports of sexual harrassment taking place and being ignored or winked at during sci fi conventions -- reports that I find credible given what happened to Connie Willis at this years Hugo Awards.

That science fiction conventions and Egyptian-born imams should share this problem strikes me as clear proof of why we still need a feminist movement. (For those like many in my daughter's generation who think that the feminist movement has succeeded 100% and is no longer relevant or needed.)

I suppose many of the men doing this stuff in sf circles come from an older generation -- one where men could still expect to get away with stuff like this. The circles that spawned Star Trek, where every woman succumbed to the charms James T. Kirk, and the female "officers" wore miniskirts, and distracted miners with exotic fan dances. (Yeah, right, when I'm exploring new planets, give me a practical set of pants please, and no dancing at all!)

Similarly, the mindset of many in the Muslim world is still in the day and age which believed a menstruating woman suddenly becomes less capable than she is when she doesn't have her period (I can't tell you how many books I've read with that claim!), and which accepted as dictum that boys will be boys, even if they are fifty years old.

These two communities -- one that would claim to uphold the purest values, and the other which would claim to uphold the most modern -- make strange bedfellows indeed, and the fact that they are both falling down with regards to women and harrassment points to the need for more work to be done across the board.

Islam, Feminism, Science Fiction
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Total words: 18,947

Words today: 2267

Slowly catching up...

Monday, November 13, 2006
  Not the way to make a good impression...
Ever read a book where the first line made you think, "No way, no thanks"?

That's sort of how my job interview went... I got lost and then ended up at the wrong office, an office 20 some minutes away from the one I was supposed to be at. Just the way to make a stellar impression.

Ah well, perhaps things will still work out. We did have a good conversation. And, even if I don't get the job, they said they are always looking for freelancers, so there's hope in that department as well.

Personal, Writing
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Words to date: 16,640

Still playing catch up!

Friday, November 10, 2006
  Story UP!
I've got a satire up on MuslimWakeUp about niqab and Saudi Arabia. Sort of in the vein of the Onion.

I've also got a serious piece on Australian sheikh Hilali's comments comparing women to meat up on

Forgot to share those here!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
  Job Interview
Last week I saw that a local paper conglomerate (they publish eight papers) is hiring three reporters. So I applied.

I've been thinking about moving from free-lance into a straight job for a variety of reasons. I'm getting to an age where if I don't get a "real job" it will get increasingly difficult to do so, and I'd really like to have a career. It's intellectually stimulating. I'm going to have a kid in college soon and extra income will be needed at that point. I do want to retire with a decent standard of living some day. My youngest is now in school full time, so I have a lot more time on my hands. The prospect of being a full-time reporter at a decent sized daily paper is just cool. I've come to realize that despite the fact that I'm quite a loner, I find people extremely interesting, especially their motivations and what makes them tick. That's a good trait for a writer, especially a journalist.

The drawbacks are obvious -- reduced time for writing fiction/poetry/commentary and the problem of being "written out" at the end of the day. Not being home right after school, which means it'll be all the more important for my oldest to get her driver's license. And, of course, the impact on vacation time, especially during the summer.

Anyway, the editors called back and they want to interview me on Monday! I'm completely thrilled, and twice as nervous. My wardrobe, while really nice for conducting interviews and being my hippie self, has NOTHING appropriate for a job interview. I'm going to have to go shopping. And I've got to get some more clips prepared for them. (My resume has three online clips in it, but they'd like to see more.) And I need to do a bunch of research on the company/various papers it publishes. I get one of the weeklies they publish at my doorstep, and I subscribed to one other so we could get the Sunday paper (my youngest LOVES the comic pages). But I need to read a lot more copies of them, and in particular the paper I'd be working for.


I usually think of myself as a high energy person, but I feel like I'm running at double speed at the moment.

Anyway, here's hoping and praying I get the job. It seems like a perfect match -- a local paper covering the next town over from where I live so it's close to home. It's the sort of reporing I like best -- local flavor, interesting characters, local politics -- real people stuff. It's not exactly an entry level job, for which I'd be overqualified, but it's not so big a newspaper that they wouldn't consider my freelancing as insignificant work experience -- sort of a middle ground which is perfect for me at my age and my experience level. What I've read of the papers this company publish, I really like. High quality, interesting stories. I hope they feel as good about me as I am feeling about them!

Personal, Writing
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Ok, a day at the polls wiped me out for two days of writing, but I'm trying to play catch up. Hopefully won't be a problem. Got in about 2000 today which still leaves me behind, but it was several hundred words over the daily minimum to keep pace.

Words to date: 13,441

Wednesday, November 08, 2006
  Celebrating the Democratic Win, We Hope...
So the Democrats have swept into a significant majority in the House of Representatives, and while we won’t know if they have an actual majority or not in the Senate, they have at least tied it up. Not to mention the 28 governorships that now are in Democratic hands.

Majorly great news!!

But only if the Democrats don’t blow it. For the past six years, there has been far too much rubberstamping. Whether it was fear of being labeled soft on terror, or lack of imagination about how else to tackle the problems posed by Al-Qaeda and its sympathizers, many Democrats could hardly be distinguished from Republicans when it comes to foreign policy.

It should be obvious that the American populace has voted for change – big time – in Iraq and in the way we are conducting ourselves in the war on terror. If the Democrats do not deliver, they will be in for an election fiasco not so different than the one the Republicans are coping with today.

Even if they are not successful (after all they don’t have enough votes to override a Presidential veto unless a good number of Republicans defect), Democrats need to be visible and aggressive in pushing for change.

In that vein, here are some items the Dems need to demonstrate leadership on:

1) We need a steady and resolute call to get our troops out of Iraq as soon as humanely possible.

2) Repeal of the Military Commissions Act

3) Define and Narrow the scope of Executive Powers during a state of war, and define and narrow the concept of war – President Bush has defined “the war on terror” as a real war with a resulting increase in autonomy and power for the President. We need clarify that there can be no real war on a tactic. Enemies will come and go; some will use terror as one weapon in their arsenal as has always been the case; you can’t fight a war of weapons against a tactic – at least not a war with a beginning, and end, and a clear goal – eradicate terror? How can you assure no one will ever use that tactic ever again, you can’t, so we’re going to be at war, with all the expanded Presidential powers, forever?? The War on Terror should legitimately have been declared a war on Al-Qaeda and its supporters, and the Executive’s power, even in a time of war, need to be limited by the Constitution and American law.

4) Don’t forget the economy. We need to see Democrats making some bold, progressive plans that would lead to a redistribution of wealth, so that the radical imbalance of wealth and power in this country evens out again.

5) Don’t forget the environment – Most Americans do care about the environment, and the potential for runaway greenhouse problems, devastation of ocean stocks, issues in clean water, etc, etc, etc.

6) Close Guantanamo, or at least put a ton of pressure on the Pentagon to close it. And while you’re at it, end the extraordinary rendition program and revisit the Patriot Act to get rid of the most egregious civil rights infringements

7) Healthcare for the poor and seniors

8) Boost social security

9) Do something about education funding so that we no longer have an uneven and unjust educational system where the suburban schools are funded at much higher levels than urban or rural schools. Change funding requirements from the focus on test scores and have pushed our educational system into test teaching. Reaffirm the need for and properness of affirmative action. Bolster the college financial aid system that Bush gutted, so that college is not increasingly the province of the rich.

10) Take the lead from Progressive spiritual people as to how to articulate the fact that Republicans do NOT own family values or religiosity, that progressives find inspiration in their faith for liberal positions and that deeply held Democratic values such as a high minimum wage ARE family values – when families don’t have to scrimp and save, when the economic pressure relaxes there are fewer divorces, kids have better lives, etc.

I could go on and on, but I think it’s pretty clear what I’m getting at. I was sorely disappointed that Kerry did not hammer home key Democratic values and positions. If he had, he probably would have won. The unwillingness to take a strong stand for traditional Democratic values was deadly, and if Democrats do the same now, it will be even more fatal come 2008.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Working the polls that is. 5:30 am to 8:00 pm, with an hour break for lunch, is a long day.

Fortunately the voting went extremely smoothly. We had a steady flow all day, with only a couple minor back ups during lunch hour and right after work. Got a voter turnout of over 65%. Pretty remarkable, considering this was not a Presidential race.

Everyone, every single voter, had ID. (This was the first election in which voters had to bring id.) I don't know if that means that folks without ID just didn't come, or if the election commission had gotten the message across loud and clear -- I suspect the latter as several people turned up with several forms of ID just to be sure at least one of them would be acceptable. Also, a couple people were obviously waiting to see if we were going to ask, and pleased when we did. One person kind of shook her head about the sad fact that it was needed, and other than that, people were pretty much matter of fact about it.

It was, all in all a good day. The people I was working with were interesting and affable. The voters were friendly and pleasant, even when they had to wait a bit to vote.

There were a couple minor glitches -- one of our cards stopped working reliably and we had to retire it. But that didn't impact anyone's ability to vote -- though a couple people had to come back and get it reloaded with the ballow, and one person had to get a new card.

Personal, Politics
Monday, November 06, 2006
I think every American who does not vote tomorrow ought to have to live five years under a dictator. I'm sure when they return they will never miss an election ever again. The biggest shame of our country is the exceedingly low turnout at the polls.

Obviously, I'm rooting for the Democrats, but more specifically lefty Democrats. Progressive Democrats. I was pleased to be able to vote for a higher minimum wage in Ohio. We need it on a federal level. We need a health care system that is not wildly askew, as ours is now. Heck, we need an economy that is not wildly askew, as ours is now. There is no way a Republican run government is going to fix the economy, and return the notion that America is a land of opportunity for all, not just for the rich to get richer and the poor to get two jobs, or three. Democrats probably won't have the spine to fix it either. We need a serious socialist party to at least move the discourse further left.

I saw a cartoon the other day which really hit home. Bush was standing in line at a retail store, complaining that people weren't happy that the economy added 92,000 jobs last month. The woman behind the counter says, "That's cause we have to get two of them, just to make ends meet."

And that's a sad fact for many people in this country. One job won't support a family. Heck, a lot of jobs won't even support an individual.

Yep, a lot of change is needed. Repeal the torture bill, let the executive branch know it can't willy nilly spy on the whole American populace and get away with it, a resounding NO to indefinate detention without charge, trial, or even access to the "evidence" against you.

Get America back on track. Back to the values I learned were American as a kid. Values I believe most Americans still hold to, even if the government isn't acting that way.

  NaNoWriMo Running Total

Words today: 1931 Total Words to Date: 11394

Tomorrow is going to be a problem... I'm working the polls from 5:30 am till at least 7:30 pm and most likely later. Fortunately I'm enough ahead that I only need to write a couple hundred words to keep up. Whew!

Sunday, November 05, 2006
  PMU Statement on the Niqab
Part of my writing time today was spent revising this statement. Some of it I wrote from scratch, some was borrowed (with permission) from the MCC statement that will be issued soon. I think it addresses the issues pretty well, and expresses my own feelings quite well.

A lot of people in both the Progressive Muslim Union and the Muslim Canadian Congress are for a total ban on niqab. I'm not at all comfortable with that. It seems like way too much interference with an individual's (a woman's) religious freedom. At the same time, I'm not at all supporter of the face veil, and really believe it has no place in Islam, despite what some scholars may have said. Aside from the reasons mentioned in the article, Islam advocates for moderation in every sphere of life. Some folks are arguing that if covering part of your body is pious, then covering more is more pious. But I disagree; when your religion teaches you that moderation is the best path, then doing more is not necessarily doing better, in fact, the Prophet explicity said not to overdo prayers or fasting. So too, we shouldn't overdo clothing.

Anyway, here's the statement:

PMUNA urges Muslim women to reject the Niqab

“It’s neither required by Islam nor is it a mark of civil society”

The Progressive Muslim Union acknowledges the right of a woman to dress as she sees fit, but we maintain that the use of the face veil as an expression religious identity or as a symbol of political defiance is neither in the best interests of Muslim women and the Muslim community at large, nor is it a requirement of the Islamic faith. We also remind the Muslim community that the religious rights and freedoms of an individual have to be balanced with the rights of the wider society and measured by the impact it may have on Muslims in North America.

Religious grounds

For Muslims, what is prescribed in the Quran is obligatory, with the proviso, also from the Quran, that “there is no compulsion in matters of faith.”

The following verse prescribes modesty of dress, demeanor, and conduct:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their
modesty; that would make for greater purity for them and God is well acquainted
with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower
their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty
and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) thereof, that they should draw their
veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands,
their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons or their husbands and sons or
their sisters sons or their women or their slaves whom their right hands possess
or male servants free of physical needs or small children who’ve no sense of the
shame of sex and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw
attention to their hidden ornaments and O ye who believe turn ye altogether
towards God that ye may attain bliss.”
- (Quran 24:30,31)

The Quran, we see, is explicit in asking women to cover their chests, but nowhere does God ask women to cover their faces.

This is confirmed by a narration from the Prophet’s life. Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Hadith Number 247 reads:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas:

Al-Fadl bin 'Abbas rode behind the
Prophet as his companion rider on the back portion of his she camel on the Day
of Nahr (slaughtering of sacrifice, 10th Dhul-Hijja) and Al-Fadl was a handsome
man. The Prophet stopped to give the people verdicts. In the meantime, a
beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath'am came, asking the verdict of Allah's
Apostle. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet
looked behind while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet held out his hand
backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face in order that he
should not gaze at her…

Clearly the woman’s face was uncovered, and, equally clearly, the Prophet did not ask her to cover it, not even when the young man began staring at her.

Even conservative scholars such as Dr Yousuf al-Qaradawi, agree that the niqab is not mandatory according to Islam. He recently told a Friday sermon, “it is not obligatory on Muslim women to wear the Niqab (full face veil).” He went on to tell his congregation, “The majority of Muslim scholars and I do not support the Niqab in which women cover their faces.” [1]

Social Issues


Every society has a legitimate need to know a person's identity under certain circumstances – on public transportation and in public venues such as theaters or sporting arenas. We need to be able identify an individual when he or she is voting, completing banking transactions, or being pulled over for a traffic violation. Increasingly retail outlets are requesting photo ids when customers use a credit card due to the raging epidemic of identity theft. Veiling of the face makes such identification impossible, especially when the wearer refuses to remove the veil even temporarily, or demands photos for driver's licenses and other id be taken with the face veil in place.

The needs of a society to be able to identify its citizens in some circumstances outweighs even religious rights and freedoms.

Economic Impact:

A face veil will invariably close the doors for most professions where face-to-face human interaction is absolutely essential. A man or a woman in a face mask is unlikely to find employment in North America as a police officer, a physician, a retail clerk, a nurse, a school teacher, an airline pilot, a journalist, an elected official, a taxi driver, a judge, a lawyer, a bank clerk, or even as an office receptionist. Virtually any job that requires face to face interaction will be unavailable to women who wears a face veil.

Wearing niqab thus virtually ensures that women are forced to retreat from the workforce and to remain within the home, being permanently dependent on their husbands, fathers or brothers. While raising children is a serious endeavor which should not be discounted, neither should the importance of an economically vibrant community, nor women’s needs for intellectual stimulation outside of the home, economic independence, and in many instances a job simply to feed, clothe and house their children.

The face veil adds another obstacle to the economic empowerment of the Muslim community, which already faces ethnic and religious discrimination in the workplace. Instead of trying to overcome the hurdles and fight discrimination, advocates of the niqab are creating additional obstacles in the path of progress for North American Muslim.

Social and Familial Pressures:

The PMU is aware, that like members of any minority group, Muslim women come under intense pressure to conform to certain norms of behaviour and dress, to overtly display community patriotism, and to remain silent regarding the organized, institutional disenfranchisement of Muslim women.

We are gravely concerned that although many North American women choose of their own free will to wear the veil, that their choices are effectively limited by social and/or familial pressure. The Saudi Arabian clerical establishment, with access to oil wealth and the patronage of the Saudi and American governments, has been aggressively exporting the notion that niqab is required in Islam.

This phenomenon is the product of the 20th century accession of the family of Ibn Saud to power in the states of Nejd and Hijaz where the showing of a female face was determined to be a punishable offence. Historically, from the early Arab Ummayads and Abbasides to the Persian Safavids, the Indian Moghuls and the Turkish Ottomans, at no time have Muslim women ever been required to cover their faces as an act of religiosity and piety, or national law.

In defiance of religious teachings and Muslim history and heritage, the proponents of Wahhabi Islam are today targeting young Muslim women, convincing them of their own second-class status.

The Progressive Muslim Union urges all Muslim organisations to refute the myth being spread that the Saudi sponsored face veil is a matter of piety, individual choice and religious practice.

We also remind all Muslims that the relgious freedoms we call upon so freely in supporting women who wear niqab and hijab, extends equally to Muslim women who choose not to wear the niqab or the headscarf. Women who do not wear scarves or face veils, for whatever reason, should not experience discrimination within the community, or pressure to change their practice or their point of view. It is sheer hypocricy to demand freedom of religion for the most conservative of Muslims, while declining to extend it to another subset of our community.


Islam, Feminism
  The great thing about fiction...
Is it's fiction!

Ok, that may seem obvious, but here's what I mean... I was trying to come up with just the right name for this Muslim students' club. Some things seemed too hokey. I thought of Fajr Friends, or Suhur Set, but it just sounded very PollyAnna.(Of course, I love Pollyanna, but it won't fly as a novel about modern kids.) THen I thought of some boring things. Muslim Youth of Westminster. Boring. Muslim Students Association. Taken. Muslim Youth of North American of Westminster. Agh. Even worse, Muslim Student's Group. Boring and the anacronym is MSG!

So finally I came up with the idea of making the anacronym mean something. And I came up with a great something for it to mean. Only, it didn't work with the school district name I had picked. (Senaca) So I changed the school district name to Sandburg. Voila! It works! See what I mean about the beauty of fiction! Couldn't do that with a real school district. *grin*

  NaNoWriMo Running Total

Words today: 1832 Total Wordcount: 9463

Not bad, considering I also wrote two essays today, for a grand total of some 5100 words.

Saturday, November 04, 2006
  Sheikh Hilali, Rape, Women, Men and Responsibility
Last week an imam in Australia, during his sermon, compared women to a piece of meat. If you leave the meat uncovered, he said, don't blame the cat for eating it. In other words, if women are going around without "proper" clothing, then don't blame men for ogling, fondling or even rape!

Yeah, offensive as all get out.

Rape, I suppose, can sometimes be about sexual frustration. Date rape, for instance, probably has an aspect of sexual frustration to it. But whether sexual frustration comes into play or not, all rape is about men wanting to impose their will, through force, on women. That or it is being used as a form of punishment against other men, as in a war situation where the invading army pillages the village and rapes the women. Either way, it is a crime of domination, not of uncontrollable sexual passion.

To excuse rape, or other offensive behavior, because women are being too tempting, is 1) to midrepresent what rape really is and 2) to denigrate the male personality. I do not for a moment believe that men are driven to ogling, wolf whistling, grabbing buttocks or breasts, nor violence by the sight of a semi-clad woman. Western society has proven that men indeed can control themselves when it is expected and required of them. Of course, there will still be a small criminal element, just as there will always be pedophiles, murderers, and bank robbers. But the vast majority of men can and do treat women with respect, no matter what they're wearing.

The argument, then, that women have to wear a hijab or worse, a face veil such as the chador, the burqa, or the niqab, in order to be safe from men, is just plain wrong.

Not only is it empirically wrong, it is religiously wrong, at least according to Islam, whence these comments come.

What did the prophet Muhammad do when a man started staring at a woman? He turned the man's face. That bears repeating: HE TURNED THE MAN'S FACE. He did not say to the woman, you're too beautiful, cover up. He did not say to her, get thee inside a chador, or behind a niqab. He did not send her to another room, or behind a curtain. HE TURNED THE MAN'S FACE. Repeatedly. He took action to correct the situation where the responsibility lay -- with the man who was acting unacceptably, ogling a beautiful woman, not by punishing the victim.

This is the methodology Muslims should be implementing.

Islam, Feminism
  NaNoWriMo Running Total

Words today: 3729 Total Words to Date: 7631

Friday, November 03, 2006
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Argh! Falling behind already!

Words today: about 700
Total words: 3902

Not to mention that I miscalculated. Instead of 1200 words a day, I need 1667 words a day to make it to the 50,000 goal. Thank goodness tomorrow is a Saturday...and Arif and the kids have headed to Indianapolis. I should be able to get in some good writing without homework distractions, and no need to cook dinner for six. Of course, there's still unpacking, but I expect to get caught up and, hopefully, well past my goal for the fourth day.

Thursday, November 02, 2006
  Writing across cultures
My NaNoWriMo project is a young adult book about a group of Muslim highschool kids (in public high schools) who start up a club, have adventures, and do some good works. While the book is clearly aimed at Muslim middle-schoolers, I'm hoping that non-Muslim kids might find it interesting and fun as well. After all these are American Muslim kids and their culture, while definately distinct from Christian American culture, is not so very different. I'm hoping, in fact, that non-Muslim kids will see, hey these kids may have some different customs but they are just kids, while learning a bit about Islam along the way.

The biggest issue is how to handle things that Muslim kids will take for granted -- like what Assalamu alaikum, or insha Allah, means. Any Muslim kid who spends even a small amount of time at a mosque learns a whole basketful of phrases in Arabic. They need to be in the book. But, it's a bit awkward. Non-Muslim readers will have no idea what they mean, and the Muslim characters wouldn't translate them, or even comment to themselves on what they mean. After a couple chapters, I'm introducing a character who is a convert so some of the phrases could be explained to him (even though he already knows them. I swear even after twenty years as a Muslim I sometimes get very basic instructions from obviously well meaning souls.).

The question is, is chapter three too late? Will non-Muslim kids be put off by a few Arabic phrases they don't know what means, or will they, gloss over them understanding that this is how these kids say hello? How can I sneak in the meanings in ways that are realistic and don't sound like I'm just trying to be informative.

Islam, Writing
  NaNoWriMo Running Total
Daily word count: 1429 Total word count: 3280

Wednesday, November 01, 2006
  Kerry's Gaffe?
Poor John Kerry. Everyone is blaming him for a joke gone awry. Admittedly it was a joke that could be seen as being in poor taste -- get a good education or you'll end up stuck in Iraq -- implying that only dumb kids end up in the Army. No doubt, there are some kids who end up in the Army because they can't get a job anywhere else. But there are also a lot who end up there because that's the only way to pay for a college education. Or because their family has a history of military service. Or they went to the USMA.

Still, it isn't the first (nor I suspect the last time) that I've heard the comment that you'd better get good grades because the only thing you can do with a high school diploma these days is work at McDonalds or Walmart or join the Army.

The original joke which, according to Kerry, went something along the lines of "get a good education or you'll end up like Bush, sending kids to Iraq," was even worse. If anything we should be crediting Kerry for some quick thinking that turned a nasty and somewhat nonsensical jab at Bush into a humorous poke at Republicans who've sent pretty much anyone they can to war, including reservists who were sorely needed at home.

Honestly, the Republicans deserve some needling on this point.

As for the original joke... Bush's lackluster academic career has a lot less to do with him getting us into a war with Iraq than his spoiled little rich boy, oil tycoon, evangelical materialist ethics. The failure in his education seems to be not an academic failure, but a moral one.

Whether the whole thing is being blown out of proportion or not, it is certainly the case that John Kerry is getting a bum wrap. He most surely didn't write the joke himself -- some speech writer did. He probably didn't even vet the speech prior to reading it outloud, his staff members would have been responsible for that. I suspect that is one speech writer who is looking for a job right about now. Either way, it's sad to see Kerry having to take the fall.

  NanoWriMo Running Total
  Words Today:1851     Total Words to Date: 1851

I'm debating how to indicate instant messages within the text. Should I say:

Asma thought about Alia's plan. It was perfect.

"Great idea!" she typed.

"Glad you like it," replied Alia


Asma thought about Alia's plan. It was perfect.

Gr8 idea! she typed.

Glad you like it replied Alia.


Asma thought about Alia's plan. It was perfect. She quickly typed out her message.

Asma7191 says: Gr8 idea!

AliaSyed says: Glad you like it

My kids are advocating for the last one. For the most part it works pretty well, I'm just not 100% sure, becasue it is a bit odd. For now, I'm even using the different font to show the typing on the screen. I think that works pretty well, but I'm not sure. It might be distracting or confusing for those who aren't familiar with IMing. Maybe I need to check out some young adults books...

Islam, Writing

My Photo
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. 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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