Friday, December 29, 2006
  When it rains it pours...
Nothing like a hard drive going south to mess up your life... Yup, Sunday night my hard drive just quit working. Don't as me why; I was just working on my computer as usual and off it went.

Of course, we were leaving for Muslim Family Camp the next morning, so we ended up taking it a Best Buy halfway between home and camp in the hopes that they would be able to locate a missing driver and reload it and voila my work would be back. And my computer would be functional for the camp where I am in charge of the newletter, and supposed to use my computer to facilitate that.

Of course, that wasn't the case. The hard drive was toast. So the geek squad in Dayton put in a new one, and set it up for me using the recovery disks that I just happened to think to bring along. (Score one for me!)

But... now, several days later, I have a new hard drive, most of my software is reinstalled, except for the serial numbers, and passwords that are sitting at home in the Toshiba box. (erase that point...) I, of course, am not at home, and so will have to wait several days to get my computer back up and running at full speed. It wouldn't be a big problem except that one of the programs I can't use right now is my Office program - the very program that I need to use at camp.

The other problem is that after our move to Cincinnati, I haven't kept up my usual routine of backing up every night. The last back up was a good three weeks earlier. Ugh. Most of the lost work can be emailed back to me, but some of it is gone for good. :( Of course, the most important stuff is the stuff that had not been emailed to anyone. Of course.

Sigh. So now I have to start all over from the beginning of the editing job I was working on. Not good. It's hard enough to concentrate the first time around, the second time around is going to require a lot of methodical plodding if I don't want to miss a bunch of typos or comma errors that my eyes like to slide over.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
  Merry Christmas
Here's a game I would not like to see under the tree (if I had one) and which I hope doesn't sell well. It's the Left Behind game. Basic plot -- those who have been saved are raptured away to Heaven and the remaining people -- non-believers and the forces of Satan -- indulge in a free-for-all orgy of violence and destruction. It's based upon the hugely popular Left Behind book series.

Clive Thompson from Wired neatly sums up my feelings about this game and the Left Behind series, "the ultimate, and gorgeous, irony of this game is that fans of the Left Behind franchise are apparently more worried about simulated violence in video games than about believing an actual prophecy of the future — endorsed by their spiritual leaders — in which their friendly Jewish, Islamic and atheist neighbors have their tongues dissolved in screaming agony by a fire-eyed Jesus." Or worse.

The game's creators are defending it by pointing out that you can win the game without killing anyone. Of course, if you read the promo material, that's not the impression you'd get: "Wage a war of apocalyptic proportions in LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces. (...) Join the ultimate fight of Good against Evil, commanding Tribulation Forces or the Global Community Peacekeepers, and uncover the truth about the worldwide disappearances!" and "Conduct physical & spiritual warfare : using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world." and yet again, " Command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking, authentic depiction of New York City ."

Doesn't sound very peaceful to me. Clearly the emphasis is on fighting -- Christians fighting and killing non-Christians.

Can you imagine the reaction if a Muslim company came up with something similar -- a game glorifying Muslims killing non-Muslims? The Final Jihad. Join the ulitmate fight of Good and Evil, commanding the Armies of Allah against the forces of the Great Satan... conduct physical and spiritual jihad, use the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry against the disbelievers..." Uh-huh, I can almost hear the outraged

And rightfully so. Glorying in warfare is not part of any religion. In Islam, war is seen as a distasteful burden which at times may be necessary, when the global community is confronted with excessive injustice and oppression. In Christianity, at least according to many of my Christian friends, warfare is simply not an option. Turn the other cheek, and all.

Worse, glorying in killing images of people who are our neighbors, our co-workers, who go to school with our children (whether it be Christians or Muslims who glory in it) is dangerous and wrong. It teaches us to hate, to value people less based on their religion (or lack there of), fracturing our communities, or world, along faith lines. For most of us, our communities are no longer inuslar -- we cannot depend upon interacting only with people who look, think, and feel exactly as we do. Under that circumstance, we'd do well to foster mutual respect and tolerance, rather than bloodshed and hatred that all too closely resembles various hot spots around the globe.
Friday, December 22, 2006
  A different kind of sacrifice...
One of the rites of the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) is the sacrifice of an animal, often a goat, sometimes a sheep, or even a cow, and the distribution of the meat. This ritual, obviously, encourages us to loosen our attachments to our worldly possessions, and to consider the needs of those who have less than we do.

Nonetheless, there has been much debate in the Muslim world over this -- is it an extravagant waste, or a ritual that benefits the most needy in society? Should we observe this ritual, or abandon it as something that no longer makes sense in a society full of Muslims.

People on the pro side are quick to point out that in many Muslim countries, extreme poverty is a huge problem; the sacrifices made and then distributed as charity during Hajj season provide what for some is a once a year taste of meat.

On the anti side, the argument runs that as it is much meat goes to waste as far too many animals are slaughtered at the same time. If every adult Muslim sacrificed an animal (or had one slaughtered) the streets would be stacked with rotting meat a few days later.

While many Muslims in the US follow the tradition of having an animal slaughtered, many do not. Many of those who do, don't actually go out and perform a sacrificial rite, but pay for an animal to be slaughtered overseas, and the meat distributed for charity.

For those of us who don't participate in this rite, and even those of us who do, perhaps a different sort of sacrifice is in order. Sacrificing an animal costs money -- the price of the animal, the cost of the butcher to sacrifice it. Perhaps it would be better to take that same money (or to set it aside if you weren't planing to spend it) and use it to sponsor a live animal for a family in need. That way, your sacrifice won't just provide a meal once a year, but will provide milk, or eggs; kids, or calves or chicks to sell, or raise and eat. It can be the first step to self-sufficiency for a whole family.

Giving a live animal may not be the letter of the ritual, but it sure seems appropriate to the spirit of it. That and the true spirit of charity -- while food is needed when someone is starving, how much better to help them never go hungry again?
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
No, I'm not talking about the anti-Arab book, The Haj, by Leon Uris, nor the derogatory name that American soldiers use to refer to Iraqi (Hajjis), I'm talking about the real deal -- the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which looks set to begin this Friday.

Some over-the-top pundits have in the past year or so resorted to calls to nuke Mecca under various conditions -- if Iran attacks Israel (highly unlikely as they have to go through several countries to get there...), if Hamas doesn't step out of power, if Al-Qaida pulls off another major terrorist attack on American soil. These calls are clearly hyperbole designed to create outrage (doesn't matter whether you agree with the notion or not, so long as it makes you angry, after all outraged listeners and viewers stay tuned longer than disinterested ones, which translates into greater market share and greater advertising revenues.).

As a society, we need to think about the harm done by this kind of rhetoric, and start demanding better of our "news" stations.

1) it makes the unthinkable not only thinkable, but even turns it something that we ought to seriously consider, since all these pundits present themselves as the voice of reason while purposefully being as unreasonable as possible.

2) it alienates and divides us. Muslims feel acute pain when someone say Nuke Mecca -- Mecca is a holy place for us, and why should the anger of Americans be turned on the 1.6 billions Muslims who are innocent of any crimes? Think how a Christian would feel at someone suggesting we Nuke Bethlehem or a Jew would be distressed if someone said, Nuke the Wailing Wall. Hateful talk only serves to divide, it may feel good for some to vent, but it does nothing to solve the problems we are facing.

3) it actually creates hatred. People who are undecided or unclear about what it means to be a Muslim will find it easier to distrust, or feel scared because the far, far right position is not, never trust a Muslim, but rather, kill them all. When the extreme position is hyper-extreme, then the "moderate" position is what we would under other circumstances see as extreme. In that atmosphere, a person feels much more comfortable hating Muslims, because, hey, that's the moderate stance.

As we go into Hajj season -- a time of year for renewal, rebirth, rededication and revitalization on an intensely personal level, it would be well for us all to take a breath and think about how much we all have in common -- dreams, aspirations, basic human desires and needs for a decent life, people we love and who love us, something to be proud of. Rather than seeing the Hajj as some exotic ritual, it would be good to see the things in it that speak to religious people of all faiths -- the lessons it teaches us, that all of us could stand to learn.

One of the most important lessons of Hajj is that we are all the same in the eyes of God. If we wouldn't want our holy city nuked, then we should not talk of nuking other people's holy cities. If we want them to undersatnd us, then we should try to understand them -- and I aim this not only at non-Muslim Americans, but also at Muslims. We should go to interfaith groups, eager not only to share our thoughts and feelings about Islam, but also to listen and learn about other's thoughts about their faiths.
Monday, December 18, 2006
  Christmas Tree Controversy, once again
It seems like at least once each winter holiday season there has to be a controversy over a Christmas tree somewhere. This year it's in Seattle, where a Jewish group had asked for a menorah to be added to the holiday display of 14 Christmas trees in the airport. The airport authorities didn't feel they could accommodate the menorah and the potential requests from other religions to include their symbols at a time of year when airports are notoriously busy, so they took down the trees. Which, of course, has resulted in a huge outcry.

Personally, I don't have much problem with Christmas trees in airports. But at the same time, I don't think people should object to an airport deciding to go treeless. I mean, it's not like we aren't bombarded with Christmas from all sides -- every store playing slushy carols, Santas on street corners holding sale placards, malls decorated to the hilt, office holiday parties, entire radio stations devoted to nothing but Christmas music, not to mention the barrage of Christmas specials and Christmas ads on tv. One airport without trees really isn't going to spoil the spirit of the season!

And, in an atmosphere already heavily saturated with Christmas cheer, it would behoove us to consider the implications of government institutions participating in the Christmas panoply. I believe that Christmas displays in public schools, courtrooms, and other government properties probably violates the spirit of the first amendment which prohibits the government from the establishment any given religion. By catering to and participating in the holidays of one religion over others, or even of a handful of religions over others, the government is by default promoting those religions.

Since the estimates are that some 30,000 faiths exist in today's world, it is impractical to be inclusive of all religions. Clearly, it is better for the government to steer clear of recognizing (and thereby privileging) any single religion.

Further, as a white woman, I am very conscious in the way race intersects with normative understandings of what it means to be American. Religion intersects in many of the same ways. When American is white, Anglo-Saxon protestant, then black, brown, yellow, Jewish, Muslim, native spiritualist, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai, Wiccan, Shinto, Woo Doo, Buddhist, Jain, etc, etc, etc end up being "the other." And more often than not a marginalized other, whose identity is neither recognized nor valued as being fully American.

In recent years we've seen a surge in religious sensitivity. But putting up a tree, a menorah, and a star and crescent really isn't much better that just putting up the tree. It maintains a hegemony of Abrahamic religions over other faiths. Even if the circle is expanded to include Kwanza and Divali, there is a hegemony of large faith groups over smaller faith groups, some of which have substantial numbers of American born adherents. It privileges all faith groups over atheists who have no symbols that could be placed alongside the tree.

All in all, it's far better for the government to stay out of the religious celebration business.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
We went to see Eragon this evening. Aside from the fact that they changed major parts of the story, it was a decent movie. If you've read and enjoyed the book, you'll no doubt be
sitting there saying, wait a minute, that's not the way it goes. That's not what a razac looks like, or an elf. And at the end, you'll be wondering how they are going to manage a sequel that remains at all close to Book Two. It certainly appears that they have no intention of remaining at all true to the events in Eldest.

Further, some of the coolest parts of Eragon were deleted. Naturally, when you've got a honking, fat book that's being made into a movie, you know parts are going to be deleted. Unfortunately, some of what was deleted was stuff I was looking forward to seeing on screen. One suspects that Christopher Paolini simply didn't have the clout as a twenty year old that JK Rowling had when Harry Potter was turned into a movie. It's a shame too, because some of what was left out would have made for great special effects. Probably they would have added to the cost of the movie, but I'm thinking they would have been worth it in extra ticket sales and dvd rentals.

Anyway, the movie has been panned by the critics and the movie goers alike, but I didn't think it was so bad. I've certainly seen far worse movies that the critics and movie goers gave a thumbs up.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
  Short Stories: Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood
I am usually not too thrilled with short stories. They don't get into as much depth as I like. They're over too soon. The content and the characters are too slight.

An exception to this rule is Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood, which I'm currently reading. The stories are truly masterful. She manages to describe her characters so completely that they are like old friends. You know them. I haven't figured out if this is because she draws on archetypal characters that we all instinctively relate to (or at least I relate to), or if it is accomplished through an extremely precise choice of details. The descriptions are definitely not long, nor are they wordy.

Of course, it helps that the stories are a bit longer than some. They range between 20-30 pages (and the print is small, the margins fairly narrow). That allows for a longer time span, several encompass decades.

For now I'm just enjoying the stories, I'll go back later to try and analyze how she does what she does so well.

Anyway, it's certainly worth picking up.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
  I'm still alive...
...which is somewhat of a miracle!

My oldest got her learner's permit today.

As we were driving back from the BMV, I told her we'd go to a big parking lot, learn the basics, and practice where there was nothing she could hit. She then said she already knew how to drive as her father would let her drive home from the neighbors back in Indianapolis. That drive wasn't very long, but it involved threading down a fairly narrow street that often had cars parked along one or both sides, making a ninety degree turn, and crossing a small bridge before turning into our driveway.

Ok, I thought, she's figured out steering and how to manage the gas and brake. She can handle the drive down our wide, not very curvy street.


In the half mile the mosque and our house, she nearly ran over a mailbox and then almost crashed into a street light, and pissed off at least three other drivers for driving erratically. Thankfully, she pulled into the driveway without running down the mailbox or hitting our old van which was parked there.

Ironically, after she told me she had been driving home from the neighbors, she also said that she wasn't very good. I thought she was being modest, as she usually is very self-effacing about her abilities and talents... she claims not to be very smart, even though she has excellent grades and is in all honors classes. She says she's not so great at karate, even though every one of her instructors says she is excellent, and she has placed in national competitions. She says she's not that good at flute, though she was first chair of the junior band as a sophmore, and one of only two flutes to make it into the swing band. Naturally, I assumed she was being modest about her driving skills too.

Hah! Turns out to be sort of a reverse crying wolf situation... the boy kept crying out that a wolf was coming, but it wasn't, and then when the wolf finally did come, none of the villagers believed him. Tasneem keeps assuring me that she's NOT so talented, but she is, and then I didn't believe her when her assessment that she wasn't so hot was actually right.

Ah well, lesson learned. Next time we're heading to the parking lot.
Monday, December 11, 2006
  Killing Children for Political Ends
The latest news out of Palestine is the drive-by shooting of three children, ages 3, 6 and 9. Their father was a supporter of Fatah, and speculation is that his children were killed because rivals in the Hamas group could not get to him. Hamas, however, has denied any involvement in the murders, and denounced the violence.

Whether Hamas was reponsible, or it was an inside job by Fatah made to look like Hamas did it so as to gain political ground in their rivalry with Hamas, or a strike carried out by Israeli black-ops agents in order to pit Palestinians against themselves (all theories curfently flying around the internet), it was a despicable act.

Children must never become pawns in political maneuvering. Murder in the name of politics is disgusting in and of itself; the murder of innocent children is twice as disgusting.

Many pundits are blaming Islam for this vicious crime. This is a huge mistake -- Islam condemns the murder of innocents, including children, at all times. Prophet Muhammad specifically forbade killing children during times of war. If it is forbidden to kill children during a battle, how much more so is it when no conflict is taking place?

Muslims need to be clear -- this hideous crime has no place in Islamic theology. We need to say this loudly and clearly -- not only to the pundits and the public, to make clear what Islamic positions are, but also to any co-religionist we might hear making excuses for such barbarism.
Friday, December 08, 2006
  Carnival of Feminists
I've been participating from time to time in the Carnival of Feminists, and one of my recent posts is included in the selections for this fortnight, the 28th Carnival.

You can find links to all the posts at:

I particularly enjoyed this one:

and this one:

And this one address a subject near and dear to my heart:

Lots of other good ones too, so check 'em out.
  Science Fair
Crystals, and windmills, and plasma, oh my!

I have a feeling we're going to be up in our elbows in science projects the next few weeks as the kids have picked some intensive projects to work on. Should be fun though, helping them figure out how to build the things they want to build and then executing the experiments on them.

I'm also afraid they've caught a bit of mommy's bug. Quite a few projects were rejected because big sister had done something similar in science class two years ago, or when she was in jr. high. Always wanting to be an original.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
  Baker-Hamilton on Iraq and the need to change course
Today's headlines:

Panel: Bush's Iraq policies have failed ... uh, duh...
Gates says U.S. isn't winning Iraq war ... no kidding?
Panel Urges Basic Shift in U.S. Policy in Iraq ... haven't we been saying this for months?

The fact of the matter is, having made a huge mess in a country we should have left alone, we are now stuck. If we pull out, Iraq seems sure to descend into a really nasty civil war. If we stay, we get dragged into the really nasty civil war, and lose a lot more American lives. Either way, it seems pretty much inevitable that large numbers of Iraqis are going to lose theirs.

So what can we do?

It's pretty clear to me that the longer we stay, the worse it is going to be. Violence against people perceived as collaborators is at an all time high. That's what much of reported sectarian violence is about -- it's more the ones cooperating with the US vs the ones resisting what they perceive as an occupation -- more than sunni vs shi'a. Existing political tensions between the former ruling Sunni minority and the Shia majority, as well as religious differences only exacerbate the situation, but the underlying cause is the continued presence of American combat troops in Iraq.

The longer we stay, the greater the attempts to get us to leave, and to pressure our collaborators, will become. If we leave in three years, it will be worse than if we leave in two years. If we leave in two years, it will be worse than if we leave in one. The sooner we can begin to withdraw the sooner Iraq can begin to heal.

It is probably not a good idea to simply leave a vacuum. The Arab states, or the UN should probably send peace keeping forces to the country in an attempt to minimize the bloodshed, but what really needs to happen is something along the lines of Truth and Reconcilliation a la South Africa. Iraq has lived for decades under a ruthless military dictator and the wounds from that time are still festering. Two wars with America and one occupation later, and the wounds are becoming life-threatening. Only by a national reconciliation process will the country be able to heal and put the past behind it. Otherwise, simmering tensions will surely erupt in ten, twenty, thirty years as they did in the former Yugoslavia.

As much as I think the US ought to make feasible this sort of effort with monetary contributions, I also think that we need to stay out of the process. It must be 100% genuine and 100% Iraqi, with no possibility of a perception of outside interference.

As and after we have withdrawn we need to make reparations to the Iraqi people. I'm not talking throwing some money at American contractors... money that never gets translated into project that improve the quality of life for Iraqi people. I mean rebuilding the country's infrastructure, providing scholarships for Iraqis who want to study in American universities, especially Iraqis who want to study medicine, engineering, chemistry, business administration, etc. We owe Iraq a lot after supporting Hussein, the first Iraq war, ten years of sanctions, and the second Iraq war. Rather than trying to dominate them with force and threats, we should win their trust with generosity.

And we shouldn't expect to be met with smiling faces, rather we can expect to be greeted with suspicion and mistrust for many, many years to come. The Iraqis aren't going to forget what we did to them any more than the Iranians forget the Mossadegh and the Shah. If we take the steps to atone for our treatment of their country, they and other people's who rightfully view the US as a self-interested bully, will slowly rediscover respect for us.

There is an awful lot that is good about America -- from our Constitution with its freedoms, particuarly freedom of speech and religion, to an insistence on due process in the courts and checks and balances in federal and states governments, and a individualism that has historically resulted in the most class fluid society in the world. But that beauty and moral high ground has been crowded out by our unconscionable foreign policy since WWII, both in countering the spread of communism and in ensuring access to the world's oil reserves and other natural resources.

I know the deplorable conditions in many countries with rich natural resources cannot be laid solely at the feet of multi-national corporations and the countries that back them up -- indigenous mismanagement and corruption has played a vital role. And I know that people will say that only developed nations had the expertise, wealth, and technology to be able to develop those resources, which may well be true. But it remains the case that we have developed natural resources without at the same time developing the countries where those natural resources are located, we have protected our own access and ability to continue developing those resources at the cost of human dignity and at the price of huge amounts of human sufferring. It would have been better to help those countries build the infrastructure, manufacturing base, techonology sector, etc, to exploit their own resources themselves. Would we have been less wealthy -- in terms of dollars, yes. In terms of our contribution to human welfare, no. In terms of friends and allies -- definately not.

Our foreign policy has concentrated on material wealth over human dignity and the importance of building allies through generosity for too long. Iraq would be a good place to start changing course.
Monday, December 04, 2006
I've been playing around with making categories on my blog... something I wish blogger would just automatically support. The first fix, which was to add code that would use blogger's own search capacity didn't seem to work at all... not because the code was wrong, but because blogger's search engine seems to be very, very odd.

So, I did some more research and discovered how to us delicious ( to create list of categorized posts. So, if you've tried clicking on my category links in the past week, you will know they weren't working very well. If you try clicking on them now, they will be.

I'm still deciding whether I should categorize every post, or only posts I think are particularly interesting. As of right now, I'm thinking every post, but I may delete a bunch if that turns out to create an unwieldly list.

I have decided that it's important to annotate the list -- so each entry in the category list will have a bit of a descriptor beyond the title of the post... hopefully to help people in searching for a particular topic they might be interested in.

Have fun.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
  Women in the mosque according to the Qur'an and Hadith
I've been a long-time advocate of women praying the same space as men. This is the way the Prophet did it, but increasingly masjids in America are putting up curtains between men and women or putting women on a balcony or in a totally different room.

I can see at least two problematical issues involved in segregation. One is the problems it creates for social interations (more on this tomorrow). The second is the wholesale abandonment of the Prophet's way.

Now, anyone who has read this blog for very long will know that I'm not a hard and fast stick to the letter of the shariah and sunnah kind of person, but I do believe when you are going to deviate from the Sunnah, or the Shariah, you better have a darn good reason -- like your deviation implements the spirit behind the letter of the sunnah or shariah when sticking to the letter of the sunnah or shariah results in a contradiction of that spirit.

Shari'ah, for my non-Muslim readers, is Islamic law, and it has two competeing meanings -- one being the law of God, the other being the code of law Islamic scholars and jurists have devised in their best attempt to approximate that law of God. These two meanings are often conflated and tangled together, so that the code devised by men is seen by many as the Divine Law -- which has lead to myriad problems as evinced in place like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. The Sunnah is one source of Shariah-- it consists of the things the Prophet did, so when we say something is according to the Prophet's sunnah, it means we are doing something the way we know he did it. There are a lot of sources for this knowledge -- the Qur'an itself (which Muslims believe is the revealed word of God ala the Ten Commandments -- God speaking to human directly -- and collections of hadith, which are the narrations of the Prophet's companions telling us about him (sort of like the Gospels). The most accepted collections of hadith among Sunni Muslims are Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Daud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Nisai.

Strangely enough, most of the folks who are deviating from the Prophet's sunnah in segregating our mosques do not share that belief that the letter of the sunnah is flexible and needs to be revisited from time to time; they believe in revisiting the law to deal with new situations as they arise, but not to come up with new rulings within the context of existing law. This becomes important later, so hold onto that thought.

So, let's start decontructing...

First, do we know the Prophet's sunnah in his masjid? Yes.

We know that, as today, the Muslims prayed in rows. The Prophet's companion, Abu Huraira, was of the opinion that men should be in front and women in the back. We read in Muslim (book 4, #881): Abu Huraira said: The best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst ones the last ones, and the best rows for women are the last ones and the worst ones for them are the first ones. So clearly men and women were all praying in the masjid, and there wasn't any segregation, as the men and women could pick which rows to be in. (Note: nowadays it is deriguer that the women be in the back rows and the men be in the front rows, but evidently that wasn't the case in the prophet's masjid as they could obviously choose which row to pray in or else there would be no need for advice about which row they ought to pray in.)

Supporting this notion that there was no segregation, even among rows is a hadith I read years ago in which a woman asked the man next to her what the Prophet had just said during his Khutbah (source coming as soon as I can track it down). And this one: "Maimuna, the wife of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him), reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said prayer while I was by his side, and at times when he prostrated his clothing touched me, and he prayed on a small mat. (Muslim Book 4, Number 1392)

Now, to be honest, there are hadith which suggest that at least the majority of women followed that advice and prayed in the back. This one for instance: "Once the Prophet came out (for the 'Id prayer) and it is as if I were just observing him waving to the people to sit down. He, then accompanied by Bilal, came crossing the rows till he reached the women." There are numerous variations on this hadith in Bukhari and Muslims, with this particular version coming from Bukhari: Volume 6, Book 60, Number 418. (Note: again, no mention of curtains or the women being in a separate room.) And there are several in which the Prophet went to a person's home and they prayed with the men in front, the children in the middle, and the women behind. (See Muslim Book 4, 1387-90 for instance.)

Either way, behind or beside, there was no curtain, no women on the balcony or a different room.

The best proof of all is this hadith:

"Narrated Sahl: The men used to pray with the Prophet with their Izars (a long cloth) tied around their necks as boys used to do; therefore the Prophet told the women not to raise their heads till the men sat down straight. (This is reported in at least three hadith in sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 8, Number 358; Volume 1, Book 12, Number 778; Volume 2, Book 22, Number 306; as well as Muslim Book 4, number 883.)

For those who don't understand what is going on here -- the men's garments were too short to cover them properly when they bent down in prostration, and the women are being asked to keep their heads down a bit longer, until the men sit up, so they won't acidentally see some gentlemen's privates! Clearly there were no curtains, nor were the women in a different space!

So, to sum up, it appears pretty well documented that men and women did pray in the same place, with no curtains, no balconies, no separate rooms. They were either mingled in or in separate rows, but the bulk of women chose to pray at the back. (The fact that they could choose back then, means we could choose now, but the topic of this article isn't how we pray in the masjid together, but rather do we pray in the masjid together at all, which is still an issue in something like 80% of american mosques and an even greater percentage of overseas mosques.)

So why would we leave this sunnah?

Many claim that women may have been allowed to come, but they didn't often as it was recommended to pray at home. Well, the hadith as we've seen show they were in the mosque.

Further, we know they were regular in coming to the moque. In Sahih Muslim (Book 4, 1892 and 1893) we read about the sister of Amra daughter of Abd al-Rahman , and the dauther of Harith bint Numan, that they "memorised Surah Qaf:" By the glorious Qur'an," from the mouth of the Messenger of Allah for he recited it on the pulpit on-every Friday."

We also know that they went through some difficulty in order to be able to come to the mosque.

There are several hadith that talk about the Prophet cutting his prayers short because he heard babies crying, for instance, Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 11, Number 677: "Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, "When I start the prayer I intend to prolong it, but on hearing the cries of a child, I cut short the prayer because I know that the cries of the child will incite its mother's passions." So they did not let children stop them from coming.

Nor were nasty conditions on the road an excuse: In Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 0384:
we read that a woman of the Banu AbdulAshhal asked the Apostle of Allah, "our road to the mosque has an unpleasant stench; what should we do when it is raining? He asked: Is there not a cleaner part after the filthy part of the road? She replied: Indeed! He said: It makes up for the other. "

Even inadequate clothing wasn't a reason not to come. Narrated Um 'Atiya:
We were ordered to bring out our menstruating women and veiled women in the religious gatherings and invocation of Muslims on the two 'Id festivals. These menstruating women were to keep away from their Musalla. A woman asked, "O Allah's Apostle ' What about one who does not have a veil?" He said, "Let her share the veil of her companion." (Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 347)

And we know that women were habitually around the masjid because the mosque was a plaza in the middle of the houses, but also from hadiths such as Muslim, Book 4 Nubmers 1977-1981 where Amsa describes women praying with the Prophet during an eclipse of the sun.

Women even participated in itikaf -- a kind of seclusion in the mosque for several days of medition and prayer (some narrations put it up to twenty days in the mosque). There are several hadith in which the Prophet gave permission for his wives to perform itikaf and in Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 33, Number 253: we read about how they would do so even in difficulty, "Narrated 'Aisha: One of the wives of Allah's Apostle practiced Itikaf with him while she had bleeding in between her periods and she would see red (blood) or yellowish traces, and sometimes we put a tray beneath her when she offered the prayer." Also, Imam Malik opines that a woman in itikaf may be betrothed, and that if her itikaf is interupted by her menses, she should resume her itifak after they are over. (See the Mutawwa of Imam Malik).

Obviously that claim is based on something other than fact.

Another oftecited claim is that we are, as a society, so much worse than they were during the time of the Prophet, that we can no longer handle the responsiblity of praying together. Too much flirting, too much talking inappropriately would go on, so we have to segreagate our societies and our mosques.

So were gender relations in the Prophet's society so much better?

I don't think so.

We have hadith where men stared at beautiful women (and the prophet's solution was to turn the man's face, not to tell the woman to go away or to cover her face)(see for instance, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Number 247).

We have hadith where men and women committed adultery (seven in Bukhari alone) And the Qur'an teaches us about witnessing in cases of adultery and about lian where one spouses suspects the other of adultery and the husband and wife both take oaths that they are telling truth, so clearly it was happening.

We have hadith where a woman was raped. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, Number 4366).

We have numerous hadith about a prostitution, including one where a prostitute was forgiven her sins for feeding a dehydrated dog. (Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 538) There is even a verse in the Qur'an telling Muslims not to force their slave girls into protitution. Clearly that sin was not absent from the Prophet's society.

We even a hadith prohibiting people from circumambulating the kaba while naked (!!) (and this was the year before the Prophet's final pilgrimage, not early on when one might expect a lot of non-Muslims to be present!!!)( Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 8, Number 365)

Ironically, the very same reason was given for keeping women out of the masjid not long after the Prophet's death. S ahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 0888 reads: "Ibn 'Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Do not prevent women from going to the mosque at night. A boy said to 'Abdullah b. Umar: We would never let them go out, that they may not be caught in evil. He (the narrator) said: Ibn Umar reprimanded him and said. I am saying that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said this, but you say: We would not allow!""

Another excuse offered is that the women feel more comfortable. Generally speaking, people who offer this excuse don't care if some women want to pray in the main prayer hall with the men, but they just don't want to do so themselves. Again, because they don't feel comfortable.
This is perhaps the strangest argument of all.

After all, most of these people would say that when it comes down to sunnah and shari'ah we don't have a choice, we need to do what the Prophet said and did, even if we don't like it, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Case in point, the vast majority of them would agree that non-Arab Muslims need to say their prayers in Arabic even though this caues some hardship, and the non-Arab would no doubt be more comfortable praying in his or her native language, not to mention that they might actually not have a clue as to what they are saying when they recite it in Arabic, so there are advantages in terms of understanding and sincerity of the prayer as well.

(Here's where the point I made way back in the fourth paragraph comes in to play... )

Not only would they not bend sunnah for the comfort of the non-Arabic speaker, but they don't want to take a different look at the sunnah and shariah. After all, one could argue that the sunnah of the prophet is to pray in the language one speaks -- he spoke Arabic, he prayed in Arabic, we speak English (or Urdu, or Malay, or whatever), we pray in English (Or Ursu or Malay or whatever). No, these folks believe in sticking to the letter of how the Prophet prayed, rather than the spirit.

And yet they want to abandon the letter of how the prophet arranged his masjid, which, ironically, also runs counter to the spirit in which he arranged it.

Still, inconsistency in the one makeing an argument does not mean that the argument is worthless... so what about the women's comfort? What if women feel shy or men, or want to nurse their children in private in the prayer area?

Well, we have the hadith mentioned about about the prophet shortening his prayers due to the crying of children -- so presumably the women of his time had to deal with this issue and managed to find a way, despite the fact there wasn't a curtain and they weren't in a separate room.

We have the hadith, about women keeping their heads down longer in prostration, surely an awkward and uncomfortable situation for women -- I mean surely the women must have felt a bit uncomfortable knowing the might inadvertently look up and see some gentleman's privates! Evidently they dealt with their discomfort. Surely we can deal with ours given far less provocation. If in such a situation women were not expected to leave, or put up a curtain, or to pray in a different room, then why would we implement those solutions today?

If you've made it this far... bravo! You have stamina! I just hope all these hadith and the discussion of why some of these reasons people give for disregarding the prophet's sunnah turns out to be helpful for someone in trying to fight a curtain, or for the right to pray off the balcony, or out of the the backroom.
Friday, December 01, 2006
  NaNoWriMo Bust
Ok, so I missed the goal by a long way. Still, having gotten quite a bit done, I'm way further along in the game than I was if I hadn't tried at all. And the story is coming along nicely. So, to help motivate myself, I'm going to initiate the Post NaNoWriMo running total for my wips. :)

My Nano Novel: 25,000 and counting

Others to be added soon.

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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. 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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