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Archive for February, 2011

Women, Weddings, War and Me – BBC3

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A brilliant and inspirational speech by Usama Hasan

After the thoroughly depressing read of the chauvinist attitudes at CallToIslam, this is a refreshing and inspirational speech given by Usama Hasan at the Inspire conference, “Muslim Women: Pioneering Change in 21st Century Britain”

In addressing women’s issues in today’s society, Hasan firstly points out how with the constant obsession (but not debate) over the obligation of the hijab and level of covering, we have managed to reduce Muslim women merely to what we wear on our heads. Later on in the speech it is pointed out that regarding covering up, the need is to “dress modestly, that’s the holistic reading of it…I put it to you that in this society and in most societies, most women do dress modestly..especially in this cold weather!”  This is the kind of language and understanding we expect from Muslims who know and live in our society. This idea that Western women all go out near-naked is so wrong and offensive, it makes you wonder what planet the other so-called scholars are living on, and is no different to the stereotyping of Muslim women by other people who lack knowledge. With his own understanding of extremism, himself declaring he had been down a radical path before, he attributes “hardline teaching, that women with their hair uncovered are naked according to shariah” to the odd views of young men who go out thinking “this is all haram, it’s all kufr, it’s all fitna, with all these naked women everywhere”. Hasan rightly blasts this as “just nonsense!”, from people stuck in the past.

He also raises the issue of restrictions placed on women in mosques, highlighting the fact that there were no physical barriers or separate entrances for men and women in the Prophet’s mosque in his time, something that is commonly found in mosques in Britain today. Although, he states, the women prayed towards the back, they were still fully able to see and be seen by the imam, and he narrated an amusing story about some companions of the Prophet who would pray near the back rows so that they could steal glances at some of the pretty women in the front row. That’s probably something you wouldn’t hear from many of those who claim to follow the Prophet and his companions so rigidly today, yet it shows that even the best of people can appreciate the beauty of women without trying to abuse or control it.

The subjects of women leaders and female warriors were also brought up, in contrast to the many teachings we seem to hear today telling women our place is in the home and that we have no place in public life, let alone in politics. Despite the outrage found in many circles over the novel “Jewel of Medina” (many of whom never bothered to read it before commenting) Hasan describes how he actually found some parts of the novel very moving, yet also calmly criticised the passages he found highly offensive. He laments how the debate within Islam has been stifled, whereas it was much more open in the past. He uses the example of Ibn Hazm, in his discussion on prophethood, who believed that Mary was a prophet /prophetess, saying “It just shows, the fact that he could say that and feel empowered to say that says a lot about Islamic tradition and discourse throughout the centuries. It used to be at a much higher level than it is now”.

In addressing the traditional teachings that are still found in most mosques, Islamic centres, and universities, where women are “restricted largely to the home, their role, must cover from head to toe in public”, he asserts that we “desperately need to raise our level of discussion of shariah” instead of sticking to these restrictions that have been unjustly placed on women in modern times. There is no obligation for women to stay in their homes, he states, giving the example of Aisha (ra) leading her army miles outside of Medina to deal with a pressing political issue. This is a woman who knew these Koranic verses more than anybody else!

Hasan goes on to say that the word shariah is misunderstood by Muslims and others. After discussing what the shariah is really about, he states that “we, Western Muslims, are actually so comfortable in the West because we connect to a shared legacy…or a tradition of these universal values about law and civilised behaviour”. How nice to listen to somebody who refuses to buy into the ‘clash of civilisations’ rubbish!

Whereas many people assume the shariah is a set of unchanging rules and laws, Hasan insists that one of the fundamental principles of shariah is that “fatwas and legal rulings not only can, but must change according to time, place and context”. He quotes Ibn al Qayyim, who believed ‘a jurist must know the context. If they are ignorant of the reality of society and the environment etc. they are prohibited from passing fatwas, giving rulings’…and states that “it is because so many fatwas are given out of context that we have so many problems”

“…a magnificent quote again from Ibn al Qayyim”, relates Hasan, “He said ‘What is Islamic law all about? It is about wisdom and welfare; it is about justice, mercy, wisdom and goodness…therefore anything which replaces those four with their opposites…is nothing to do with Islamic law, with shariah…It doesn’t matter how many verses or hadith you quote in favour of nonsense”

Hasan endorses the view that “[Traditional teachings of women] should be seen as the beginning of a process of liberation of women, not of a fixed standpoint“, and compares it to the process of freeing slaves. The Koran does not explicitly prohibit slavery, but starts off the process by encouraging people to and in cases demanding people free slaves. The end result being the abolition of slavery. The same principle should be followed regarding the emancipation of women.  

Regarding the issue of female witnesses, we hear that we should actually be concerned with whether a witness is trustworthy or not, not about whether they are male or female. This is a subject that is quite important to me, given the negative response by some Muslim organisations towards the new ‘Muslim Marriage Contract’ (although not related to this discussion, something I will blog in the near future) as it does not require the witnesses to be either male or Muslim.

Hasan then touches on the topic of women as inheritors, commenting that “the inheritance share is related to the patriarchal societies where the men were the breadwinners all the time, and it made sense. That is the usual apologetic defence you get. But remember in Arabia when that verse was revealed women were actually inherited… They were being inherited, with the verse of the Koran there [quotes 4:19], which forbade that. It was a revolutionary step to stop women being inherited as possessions and property and actually make them inheritors.”

Ending the speech, we are told that we need to encourage our women and our men to fulfill their potential in any field, “especially in societies like Britain where we have tremendous opportunities.”


CallToIslam? More like RunFromIslam!

Going by the name of ‘CallToIslam’, you would expect this group of people to be a leading example for Muslims in Britain, showing the beauty of the religion rather than using it as a tool to slander people and attempt to discredit them. CallToIslam is the website of “Masjid Ghuraba Islamic Centre”, not to be confused with Call2Islam, the group behind the Belgian embassy protests.  On their website they making the following claim:

“This website by the permission of Allaah, is a humble response to our realisation of a great responsibility:

to help produce for the Muslim and non-Muslim public, materials that convey the pure message of Islam in the way that it was understood and practiced by its early righteous pioneers – the sahaabah (Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam)) and their true followers.”

All I can say to that is if they really do convey the true message of Islam, I’d be the first to walk away! Following Saira Khan’s article describing her views on the niqab, CallToIslam wrote their response.  While CallToIslam and Saira Khan are both within their rights to have their own different views, that CallToIslam describe themselves as pioneers of the “pure message of Islam” means we, as Muslims, have every right to speak out and say they absolutely do not represent any form of Islam that we recognise and love.

Most people in this country would be pretty disgusted with their reply to the so-called ‘disturbing’ article. They share some extremely worrying views and although I myself don’t particularly agree with the original article, I fully support Saira Khan’s right to speak her own mind. Instead of writing a balanced reply, explaining fairly the parts they disagreed with, they chose to resort to attacks on Western society and promote their awfully sexist views, going out on the attack against a woman with the audacity to speak her own mind.

I first take issue with this comment:

“What could cause a Muslim to stand in the trenches of a people who have declared war on the core values of our beautiful religion?”

There is absolutely no need for the war-talk or use of such hyperbolic language. As a Muslim I don’t feel under attack, and I don’t feel my religion is under attack. The only people I do see constantly attack anybody brave enough to have a different opinion and share it are the likes of extremists such as CallToIslam, as their response proves. Yes, the media doesn’t help in trying to see Islam and Muslims represented fairly, but newspapers have no duty to do this; they are merely there to be sold and to make money. 

I also take issue with the following comment:

“Do the words ‘As a British Muslim woman’ provide us with an initial clue to where some of Khan’s loyalties lie?”

Are they suggesting there is a problem with having loyalty to one’s country? Are they suggesting it’s not possible to be British and Muslim at the same time? Their later comment would suggest so: “How can any Muslim declare “I’m totally English, more English than the English” and not expect to find themselves standing in opposition to the teachings of Islam”. Now that declaration that it is impossible to be both English and Muslim sounds just like something the BNP would come out with. It just goes to show how simliar all extremists really are! Who on earth are they to decide she cannot be classified as a Muslim? Equally ridiculous is their claim that Khan has “taken up verbal arms against Islam”. Khan identifies herself as Muslim, it is not their job to decide whether she is one or not purely because her views differ from theirs. Neither is it their job to tell the rest of us if we are to be Muslims we cannot identify or hold any loyalty towards our country. If they don’t want to be part of this country and this society they are most welcome to leave.

As self-appointed experts on Islam, I would question why they seem to equate being white with being non-Muslim, as in their stating Khan is a woman “who has been divorced (as it were) from Muslims who live by Islam and has entrenched herself within the white non-Muslim arena”. As a white Muslim, I’d like to know where they think I fit in. Perhaps they have forgotten that Islam is a religion that has no colour or race, it belongs to each and every person.

They seem to be yet another group of people who have objections to women making their own decisions, as they show when expressing their dislike of Khan’s mother’s own decision to ‘fit into’ British society after making their decision to move here:

“The first baffling thought that comes to mind is how she considers her mother’s voluntary assimilation as a virtuous, admirable trait, despite it being at odds with a sharia’ based principle. So is there really no “fuss” in going out of one’s way to adapt ones dress to resemble the Kuffar? “

I would hazard a guess that the ‘voluntary’ part annoyed them slightly! I cannot see how it is at odds with Islam to mix in with the community you choose to live amongst. To stereotype all non-Muslims in such a way is distasteful and disrespectful, and ignores the fact that there is no ‘one’ type of clothing that non-Muslims wear. In fact was the headscarf not worn by Jewish women prior to Islam coming about?! The robes that these men most probably wear were worn by all Arabs, not solely Muslims, as they are still today. If they have such a dislike for non-Muslims, I strongly suggest they move to a Muslim-majority country. Though they may find their right to speak out and have their own views heard slightly stifled, freedom of speech not being a respected right in many of those countries as it is here! Quite how they manage to equate a woman’s choice to choose how she dresses as siding with enemies in a time of war, I don’t know. To quote “… And if any amongst you takes them [Jews and Christians] as Awliya’ [friends, helpers]), then surely, he is one of them…”” is a desperate attempt to twist Islamic teachings to fit their oppressive views.   

It’s clear from the sources they provide that they believe a woman should be completely covered, as shown in their link to “An Essay on the Hijab by Shaykh Muhammad bin Salih al-‘Uthaymeen – The Obligation of the Veiling the Hands and Face”.  Though they are entitled to their views, they should also have the decency to let other people make up their own minds, and should have the humility to realise that theirs is not the only authentic view.

Weirdly enough, for a group of people living in Britain they seem to have no difficulty in sourcing ‘proofs’ that have such animosity towards the West. Here they are again picking up on the use of the words ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’ together:

“We are  given the impression here that Khan has a problem with the ‘burkha’ because ‘it is an imported Saudia Arabian tradition’. This leads us to believe that she just hates it because it is an imported item and not a native custom or tradition. However, when we skip back to the start of her sentence, she tells us that she doesn’t mind her ‘British’ (that word again!) “Muslim friends covering…”

In an attempt to patronise and humiliate Khan for daring to speak her mind and expect to be treated as an equal to men, they go on to accuse of her having issues with her gender!

“Khan tells us in her own words: “I think I am a strong person and I am equal to any man out there.” Which translates psychologically as: “I have a gender complexity.”

I would suggest men who are afraid of women speaking their own minds and making their own decisions are the ones with gender inferiority issues. They go on to prove their point that to be British and support and uphold British values of gender equality and free-mixing are at odds with being Muslim:

“If you are a zealous supporter of unconditional gender equality, free-mixing and other concepts and ideals which are at odds with the teachings of Islam, then of course the niqab, and many other aspects of Islam, will become direct obstacles in your pursuit to attain what your heart yearns and longs for.”

They act as if they are defending women’s choice to veil, but they in no way actually support women’s rights. They only ‘support’ women who conform to their own ways- that is not what I call support.  Their patronising attitude towards Muslim women and their warped idea of the Western lifestyle is exemplified by them suggesting a Muslim woman can be “deceived into believing her potential life is obstructed because she lacks the freedoms of western women”

Their response is littered with derogatory stereotyping, insults and anti-Western views, including:

“So we say to Sarkozy and his ilk: We do not take advice from those whose own kith and kin consist of infected AIDS victims, prostitutes and those who sell their bodies for money and fashion”

 “…let us provide Khan with the honour of good suspicion and move on the premise that she sincerely believes that Islam and western ideals are synonymous.”

“It means the man is in charge of the woman; he is her leader, the ruler over her who disciplines her if she goes astray.”  “Because Allah has made one of them to excel the other” means, because men are superior to woman, and a man is better than a woman.”

Perhaps the women who are involved with people like CallToIslam should have a little think about their disgusting views towards women. Despite the numerous Koranic quotes showing the equal status of men and women in God’s eyes, these chauvinist pigs think they know better. If they espoused the same views against black people as they do against women, they would be rightly condemned. Try swapping the word ‘woman’ for any other group and see how acceptable it looks. That some women stand side by side with them is really quite shameful, and extremely worrying. CallToIslam go on about how Islam liberates and honours women, quite how they think their views are liberating is beyond me!

“Here we should note that there are some people who speak of ‘equality’ instead of ‘justice’, and this is a mistake. We should not say equality, because “equality” implies no differentiation between the two”

Nobody believes there is no difference between men and women, but we all believe men and women should be treated equally as human beings, something CallToIslam cannot seem to get their heads around.

“Let us get this straight: we must ban a practise which stems back over 1400 years because it violates human-rights dictated by a people who are the leaders in shirk, kufr, pornography, interest, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality and every other illicit evil” 

Since when was what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms anything to do with anybody else? To be concerned with the so-called ‘evil’ of homosexuality when this group of people (CallToIslam) espouse truly abhorrent and hateful views towards so many sections of our society is ridiculous.

For people living in a majority non-Muslim society they yet again show their dislike of anything non-Muslim, and seem frustrated that Muslim women are looking outside of the Muslim community for help in getting our voices heard. That a woman has the “sheer audacity to use a non-Muslim newspaper” seriously seems to bother them. Tough.

CallToIslam have also got their knickers in a twist over Khan’s so-called “desperation for Muslims to integrate and incorporate the ways of a people, which contradict the ethos of Islam”.  If they don’t want to integrate, they can, and should, leave.

I think this little gem really sums up the total idiocy of CallToIslam:

“… obedience of the Muslim woman to the Muslim man is in fact obedience to Allah and His Messenger…”

Since when were men Gods??


Inspire

A quick advert for anybody who hasn’t already heard of the fantastic organisation ‘Inspire’,

http://www.wewillinspire.com/

and their facebook page,

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inspire/170603769634499?v=info

“Ultra-conservative theological interpretations of a Muslim woman’s role have become a barrier to many Muslim women today. Inspire challenges these interpretations with a progressive and contemporary interpretation of Islam within the context of 21st Century Britain.”

This is a great article from their website and had to re-post it here!

Sometimes the truth hurts

Monday 27 December 2010, 11:00

I, like many other Muslim women in Great Britain have had to struggle with limitations placed upon me by less enlightened members of society.  My parents were brave enough to stand up against cultural restrictions to enable their daughter to have the opportunities they were denied, but I find even now, as I am reaching my half century, young men and women are increasingly adopting far more restrictive and intolerant interpretations of scripture.

My father has always maintained that the best protection for daughters is an education; empowering daughters with the knowledge to improve their understanding of faith and the world so that they are able to analyse, think critically and apply logical reasoning to the choices they make. It’s only when they have this knowledge that they will be able to stand alongside men as equals and have confidence in their individual strengths, support others in their weaknesses and challenge negative practices and regressive interpretations of faith.  Until we learn to respect the breadth of opinion within Islam, and not just adopt one inflexible interpretation, we will be constantly judged and misjudged from those within our communities.

As a mother who is trying to do the best for her children and their future, I have to speak out and say that sadly, Muslim faith leadership in this country is not equipped nor understands my children and the support they need in applying the principles of Islam to their everyday lives.  Those that run our mosques have not provided an environment in our places of worship where young people can explore being ‘themselves’ or to discuss the challenges that they are faced with in everyday life.  Recently, in my city when an Imam was asked to give a sermon on women’s rights the reply was ‘brother, if women are told their rights, who will cook and clean for us?’  Is this a place I should send my children to for guidance in creating a just society?  The sad thing is, for many years I did just that!

I sent my children to an environment where they were taught that mixing with ‘non Muslims’ was forbidden other than when was absolutely necessary, as was chess, the arts, and speaking to any member of the opposite sex that they weren’t related to.  Men and women could only be in a room together if there was a screen separating them.  In fact other than on a Sunday morning, when they were in an ‘Islamic environment’ they were walking bags of sin.  We complain about over-sexualisation of children in the media and within fashion but surely we are doing the same?  I am not a psychologist, but I shudder to think of the effects on the minds of my growing children.  Sadly in my day to day work I see the consequences of such unrealistic demands on our young people.  Faith leaders however, when confronted with these issues seem only too keen to brush these sensitive topics under the prayer mat.  ‘Sister make dua (supplication)!’ I am told.

I took my children out of this environment when I reflected upon what it was that had brought me closer to Allah.  It was not actually any Islamic school or mosque (far from it), but the stories of Jesus that I had heard in my formative years in school and the Christian family friends that I had been exposed to as a child.  I envied my friends going to Christian Sunday school and the activities that they did.  Faith was taught in a beautiful and meaningful way-it was a verb that had to be actioned everyday in real life.  There is so much that we can learn from our Christian friends and together help address common problems.  They too struggle with the same challenges that I face as a parent; a society that places increasingly little emphasis on the worship of God, spiralling use of drugs, alcohol and underage sex.

My son I am pleased to say, come to a closer understanding of what Islam is recently, with the help ironically of a Catholic school friend and a reading of Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Prophet Muhammed.  He was visibly taken aback at how her objective portrayal of a beautiful man that slaved to bring about peace in a corrupt society was so different to what he had been taught and what he sees portrayed as Islamic by local Muslim leaders who preach downright intolerance and suspicion of other faiths and cultures.  He is only twenty, but he is searching for spirituality in his life.  He should be encouraged to question and challenge rather than follow blindly and be taught that emulating the Prophet is far more important than following blindly.

My daughters too have few role models that they can aspire to.  Muslim women are painfully underrepresented at all levels, and coupled with this are the misogynist interpretations of faith that they have to contend with.  We come across regular postings on Facebook by young men in our community; ‘pious’ young men who in the Name of Islam, condone acts of violence against young women for what they choose to wear or not wear.  These are the same young men that have been denied by families the right to have a say in their own marriage.  The consequences are that my community is in a state of crisis.

Inspire is about commitment to bringing about a deep and profound change, a change that will help women and men make informed decisions and to challenge the narrow minded self proclaimed religious leaders that undermine human rights in the name of Islam.  This is not my Islam.  I will follow my heart and I am determined not to dig a trench, refusing to engage with those around me.  My faith instructs me to have a sense of social responsibility. The Prophet of Islam said ‘God is beautiful and loves beauty’ therefore in my mind anything that is not beautiful is not from God.

I do not wish my children to live in isolation but amongst all people and our worship amounts to nothing if the people around us and our environment are not touched by our good conduct.  I want to be part of that change and Inspire is ready to meet the opposition that we will undoubtedly face.

Kalsoom Bashir


Inter-faith marriage

This piece received a lot of angry and confused responses when it was first aired  in August last year. Now that I have relocated my blog I’ve decided to unleash it again in the hope of raising a few more eyebrows. Let the battle commence!

One thing that has always bugged me about a lot of religious people is their propensity to look down on others, and to assume that anybody failing to commit themselves to their particular religion of choice couldn’t possibly hold the same morally upright values that they hold. Having spent some time recently looking for reasons as to why historically Muslim women have been forbidden from marrying non-Muslim men, I’ve managed to come across a fair few of these self-righteous attempts at justifications, that leave me questioning the arrogance and ignorance of the rule-maker as much as the validity of their judgment. There doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence that marriage to a non-Muslim man is forbidden and the main arguments I’ve come across are weak, sketchy and make uncomfortable reading for anybody who doesn’t judge non-Muslims as inferior and immoral.

The first and perhaps least substantive reason given for the prohibition is that Muslims and non-Muslims do not share the same holy book or believe in the same prophets. However if these things were required for a successful marriage then the same rule would be applied to men marrying non-Muslim women. In a marriage where both partners are respectful of each other it shouldn’t matter what their religious views are, as faith is personal, it increases and decreases over time. When lecturing women about our limitations in marriage, perhaps people ought to bear in mind that we have a substantial number of Muslim men who believe they are within their rights to physically discipline a disobedient wife. Until our scholars start dealing with these issues, and other important issues that affect our community (especially with regards to the abuse of women) they have no right to be making restrictions on us.

Another of the reasons given is that a non-Muslim man would stop his wife from raising their child Islamically. Complete rubbish. The two parents would surely share the same values and outlook on life before making the huge decision to get married, so would continue along those lines when raising their children. Children don’t inherit or learn faith, it can’t be taught or handed down through the generations. It shouldn’t matter whether both parents are Muslim or not as long as the children are raised to be good people who may one day make the decision for themselves whether they want to label themselves Muslims or not. Even within families where both parents share the same religion there’s not necessarily agreement on all matters of religion and children’s upbringing. Many Muslims who hold liberal views would find they have a lot more in common with non-Muslim British men than a lot of Muslim men in this country who cling on to old cultural habits and expectations.

We need to stop holding on to traditions and beliefs that have no place in this country, and need to start questioning more the rulings we’ve been given and looking at the reasoning behind them to decide whether they apply here and now. For a Muslim in Britain to accept that they can’t marry a non-Muslim man because he will naturally be unreasonable, intolerant and disrespectful of his wife and her beliefs is misguided and makes me wonder whether they’re mixing at all with the wider community. If a woman meets a man who has all the personality traits a Muslim man is supposed to have, yet he doesn’t label himself a Muslim ,who is anybody to tell her she has to reject him? Why should Muslim women have to wait around for a decent Muslim man when there are plenty of good non-Muslims around, yet again being martyrs because it would seem too many of our ‘own‘ men can‘t move into the 21st century? It’s time Muslim women looked deeper into their faith and stopped being shackled by the expectations and restrictions of ‘the Muslim community’, that in reality have little to do with Islam and more to do with some men’s desire to control and subjugate women.

In a society such as we live in today there really is no reason why Muslims can’t have successful marriages with non-Muslims and raise families together, understanding and passing on the real meaning of tolerance and respect for others whose views differ from our own. Britain today promotes equality and respect for all citizens irrespective of religion; isolating ourselves from the rest of society in marriage goes against the very values we enjoy in this country.

Ideally everybody would marry somebody who they share as much as possible in common with, however faith should be just one part of it and not the be all and end all. If we really do still have people nowadays who think non-Muslims hold lower values and morals than Muslims, then that’s the biggest possible argument for exactly why we should have more mixed-faith marriages so that such false ideas and intolerance can’t be carried on generation after generation. It’s about time the Muslim community opened up a bit more and embraced all the different people living around us without making our own restrictions that really have no basis in religion.

If nothing else, just support interfaith marriages so we can get some more interesting and varied names in the Muslim community. There’s only so many Abdullahs and Aishas I can bear (apologies to my friend Aisha).


‘I took off my hijab’

Funny how many men have felt the need to get involved in this group, aimed at giving support to and sharing experiences with women who have made the decision (yes, we can make our own decisions) to take off their hijabs. This is not an anti-hijab group, it’s just pro-choice. Great group!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=119846701402568


“Up To Four? And Independent Modern Women” by Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

A good explanation from Paul about the concept of polygamy in Islam.

http://paulsarmstrong.com/articles/up-to-four-and-independent-modern-women/