One thing that has been bugging me of late is how people interpret hadith to mean something completely different than what they actually mean.
I talked about this a bit in regards to the famous hadith which, regarding prayer arrangements, says, "The better lines for the men are the front ones and the worse lines are the back ones; and the worse lines for the women are the front lines and the better ones are the front lines."
The clear implication is that men and women can pray in any line, and indeed were praying in any line (if not why would there be a hadith addressing the topic). Yet, this hadith is used as proof that it is haram (forbidden) for women to pray in the front rows and men to pray in the back rows; or conversely, that women must pray in the back rows.
As a general principle, in Islam when there are better or worse choices, the better choice may be ok, but the worse choices are still available to people. For instance, the Qur'an talks about women who are older not having to wear as modest a dress. It is better for them if they do, it says, but it is ok if they don't.
It would seem the same principle would apply to prayer rows mentioned in the above hadith.
Another hadith which has been interpreted oddly is the one which says that Paradise is at the feet of the mother. Many people have understood this to be praise of motherhood; that is, to mean that being a mother is exalted, and gets one paradise. But if you look at the hadith in its entirety, it's pretty obvious that it means that serving one's mother is a way into paradise.
Mu`wiyah Ibn Jahimah (may Allah be pleased with him) reports that he once came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: "O Messenger of Allah! I intend to go into Jihad. I have come to you seeking your good counsel." He (the Prophet) asked him: "Is your mother alive?" "Yes," he (Jahimah) replied. The Prophet then said: "Hold fast onto her as paradise lies near her foot." (An-Nasa'i)
Given that modern, conservative Muslims have turned motherhood into near sainthood and have used these kinds of hadiths almost like shackles to insist that motherhood is the highest aim of a woman, this kind of misinterpretation has severe repercussions to the life choices of Muslim women all over the world.
Contrast the claims that motherhood is the highest aspiration of the Muslim women to the classical position that carrying out the duties of motherhood is a right that cannot be taken away from women, but it is not a duty which they must carry out. Compare that to the Qur'anic verses which talk about sending your child to a wet nurse (a practice which the Prophet followed with his own son), vs the euphoria over the mother child bonding that we have today.
Now, I happen to be a big proponent of mother-child bonding, but I also recognize that it doesn't have the holy status that some Muslims would like to ascribe to it. The upshot of such ascription is that women's agency, their ability to choose career over intense involvement with family, are circumscribed.
Proper interpretation is sooo important!
My long weekend in NY was an awesome experience. I cannot say what an incredible group of people came together for the first/founding conference of Muslims for Progressive Values. Such a pool of intelligent, articulate, caring, committed, fun-loving people! It made for an exhilarating weekend that exceeded my hopes and expectations.
We also have elected our first board of directors, who have jumped into the process with gusto! Yippee!!
It has taken a couple of days to recover, and of course, whenever I am away for a few days, my kids demand face time (and I want to give it to them! I always miss them when I am gone.)
Anyway, the official press release is below:
PROGRESSIVE MUSLIMS CONVENE; STRUCTURE NEW ORGANIZATION
Founding conference attracts diverse gathering resolved to create physical spaces for progressive Muslims
Bronxville, NY/Los Angeles, CA: The progressive Muslim movement in the United States took a significant step forward as a diverse collection of activists, organizers, and academics gathered at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, June 15-17, for the first conference of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV, website: www.mpvusa.org). Coming together in fellowship, they joined in communal devotion, shared the various personal, intellectual, and spiritual journeys that brought them there, discussed how to formulate their positions on political, social, and cultural issues and how to interact with other progressives and other Muslims. They also elected an Executive Board to lead them for the next two years.
The progressive Muslim movement in the United States has been a work in progress for a few years now. The first prominent, tangible manifestation was probably the publication of a collection of essays seeking to challenge the visions of Islam held by both xenophobic Westerners and conservative, or radical right-wing Muslims. Online communities, mailing lists and Meet-Ups also built a community of people who self-identify as progressive Muslims, or just consider themselves progressives who happen to be Muslims--or vice versa. Various organizations, including the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU), were later formed. Then, in 2006, Muslims for Progressive Values was founded by former PMU board members Pamela Taylor and Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld.
MPV's first conference brought together a diverse gathering of people from the local area and across the nation, as well as friends and allies from north of the border in Canada. From Boston to Los Angeles, and Miami to the San Francisco Bay Area, people who had developed deep friendships online met each other for the first time. The conference was themed "Finding our Voice", and its agenda ranged from the very personal--discussing participants' personal spiritual paths, views, and experiences--to passionate debates on human rights and political issues. The conference also included organization-building items such as board elections and the planning of future MPV activities.
The event kicked off with an evening zikr, a Sufi devotional ceremony, led by the Sheikha (leader) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order based in New York. The first order of business on the following day was the discussion and adoption of a Mission Statement. MPV formally defines itself as seeking "to bring together Muslims and others who share progressive values to work for a more humane world," welcoming "all who are interested in discussing, promoting and working for the implementation of progressive valuesb�social justice, human rights, economic opportunity, separation of church and stateb�as well as tolerant and inclusive understandings of Islam."
Over the next two days, the organization discussed resources, achievements, issues, activities, and plans for the future. The group resolved to expand its online and offline community building efforts and--in collaboration with established like-minded groups--take them to the next level by creating physical spaces where the community can come together and put down roots. Los Angeles and New York were defined as the first two sites where the group will set up centers. The mandate is to provide open, welcoming, non-judgemental spaces for members of the community.
The Executive Board, elected for the 2007-2009 period, includes Pamela Taylor (Chair), Kareem Elbayar (Vice Chair), Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld (President), Nooreen Dabbish (Secretary), Vanessa Karam (Interfaith Coordinator), Raquel Evita Saraswati (Human Rights Coordinator), and Sabahat Ashraf (New Media Coordinator).
MPV's plans for the coming year include activities such as creating a curriculum for religious education that is progressive in content and spirit, putting out position papers, building membership, and working to bring a tolerant and inclusive voice to the table--both within the Muslim community, and in the progressive and wider communities.
One conference highlight was the announcement of the winners of the First Annual Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Memorial Khutbah Writing Competition. This competition is focused on excellence in sermon writing and is held in memory of one of the strongest and most respected voices of Islam in America. This year's winning entry, titled Women's Rights in Islam, was written by Dr. Lena Al-Sarraf and submitted by the Muslim Women's League.
In the immediate future, MPV is co-sponsoring God Loves Beauty, an interfaith visual and performing arts festival in Los Angeles from June 30th to July 8th, 2007. Other planned events discussed at the conference include establishing four dates for annual nationwide female-led prayers, and a family summer camp in 2008.
On my way to NY
The Muslims for Progressive Values conference is this weekend, so I'm off to New York.
I'm really excited about this conference which is going to bring together progressive Muslim activists for brainstorming and strategic planning, as well as serve as a platform for the first elections for the MPV board of directors, the adoption of bylaws.
I'm very hopeful that out of this we will come with some concrete plans for the next two years, action items, and a structure around which we can recruit greater membership and draw in other progressive organizations to form a coalition which will make our voices more audible because of their unity.
Sadly, the need for progressive Muslims, and liberal, and moderate Muslims, even non-militant conservative Muslims to be organized and to be unified is only all to evident given the terrible events in Palestine and Iraq this week. Obviously, these are societies under seige, but it is horrible to see Muslims turning on one another over political or sectarian differences. It reminds me of a picture I once saw of a snake curled back upon itself, devouring it's own tail.
Global Warming and the G8
Big Surprise. Bush is opposing any limits on greenhouse gas production by G8 nations at the G8 summit this week. This appears to be a reversal of his position from just a week ago that limits are needed.
He said at that time that he accepted the notion that we had to have concrete goals for greenhouse gas limits. Of course, he also said he wanted to give countries a year and a half to think about what those goals should be, which means he would be leaving the White House at precisely the time when he proposed meetings should be convened. Nonetheless, at least it was an agreement in principle to the notion that enforceable limits are needed.
His representative at the G8 summit, however, has made it clear that the Bush acknowledgement is not much more than lip service to appease our allies, and that the US will not accept any agreement on limits, and certainly it won't sign on to the 50% reduction in 5 years proposed by Germany.
I worry that by the time the US finds the will to do something about global warming, the process will already be beyond remedy.
I also worry that no one in America, or at least very few individuals and no politicians, are ready to make the choices that would be needed to implement this kind of change. For one, mass transit systems in all large and medium sized cities. Few politicians are going to vote for that kind of expensive public works project until gas prices are beyond the pale. Further, few suburbanite Americans are going to be willing to put up with the longer commute times, and greater hassle involved in most public transport, until gas prices are eating deeply into their budgets.
Given that situation, I doubt we have the will as a people to take decisive action on global warming and over consumption.
I recieved my copy of the 2007 Rhysling anthology (a book of all the poems nominated for the 2007 Rhysling award in both the long and short categories.) It should be available soon at sfpoetry.com, and amazon.com and probably other places as well.