Archive for November, 2012

In which a commenter writes a post for me: the moral bankruptcy of neo-traditionalism

Now and again, I receive a comment that really should be a post in itself. Such as this one, for example:

“Oh, and xcwn- can you please explain as clearly as possible why I, as an adult, heterosexual Muslim male, should have the slightest problem with an institution (slave concubinage) that allows me to have as much sex as I can pay for, without incurring any sin? Hey- if it was good enough for everybody from the Sahaba to Tom Jefferson who am I to complain?”

When our beliefs cause us to justify the buying and selling of human beings, then we have a problem.
(Ad for a slave auction in Charleston, SC: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slave_Auction_Ad.jpg

This comment, courtesy of “Anonymous//”, was in response to this recent post about Eid al-Adha, in which I pointed out (among other things) that in the stories we were told about Abraham, whether or not Hajar consented to sex or childbearing was simply ignored—both in the stories themselves, as well as in the conservative Muslim communities I used to have dealings with. Even the question of whether Abraham consulted with or informed the mother of the boy he was all set to sacrifice was never raised. The post also observed that in the communities I was involved with, the patriarchal dominance portrayed in such stories was seen as an ideal that we should live up to. Women were supposed to be self-sacrificing to the point of self-abnegation.

This comment by “Anonymous//” illustrates the moral bankruptcy of certain conservative approaches to Islam, that I have seen from neo-traditionalists in particular (though some Salafis also have much the same views). According to them, if the Qur’an/the hadith/the views of Muslim jurists allows something, then God allows it. Therefore, it is forever allowable. It does not matter how many states’ laws or UN resolutions outlaw something, or whether the majority of Muslims decide that something is unacceptable, or even if human experience or medical advances indicate that something is harmful, it is still permissible, and no one has the right to forbid it because God has allowed it.

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Eid al-Adha aftermath: maybe there’s hope

For a number of reason, many of which I outlined in my last post, Eid al-Adha was far from being my favorite holiday back when I was a conservative Muslim. In the insular, very conservative community that I belonged for a number of years, Eid was really a celebration of patriarchal power and privilege.

This year, I learned that Eid al-Adha doesn’t have to be a celebration of patriarchal power and privilege. It can become a way for justice-seeking individuals to begin to recognize their own complicities within structures of power, and to resist these.
This photo is of the Eid prayer space of El-Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto, Canada: <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2012/10/mmw-eid-roundtable-part-2/#more-12005&gt;

While I and my convert friends did our best not to acknowledge this, and tried so hard to get into the spirit of things, to find some spiritual nourishment in the whole thing—or failing this, to at least make it memorable and fun for our kids, it was practically impossible for us not to notice that its overwhelmingly patriarchal focus left barely any room for us or our children. It was a celebration of a particular type of hyper-masculinity that all but erases every way of being that doesn’t fit into that mold, and damns to hellfire all those of us who can’t help but protest the injustice of being negated and shoved to the margins.

But as this year’s Eid al-Adha approached, I began to hear things that made me wonder if perhaps I hadn’t written off this holiday too quickly. One mosque had invited a woman to give the sermon at the Eid prayers. And another was having a woman lead the Eid prayer. History was being made, apparently—and on this day of all days, when the story told in innumerable sermons around the globe studiedly ignores female subjectivities, and real live women are most typically relegated to the kitchen. I could hardly believe it.

But I was skeptical. The holiday is what it is, I thought. How could a few women giving sermons or leading prayers make any difference? Wouldn’t it be the ritual equivalent of… I don’t know, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

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Eid al-Adha: working through the aftermath

I’m still recovering from Eid. Rather odd, I know. Eid was on October 26, which is what—three weeks ago, now?

But Eid al-Adha (Korban Bairami, Eid l-Kbir, Hari Raya Haji, Baqar Eid, Eid-e Qorban…) was a transformative experience for me this year. Which was completely unexpected, because even when I was a very conservative Muslim, Eid al-Adha was my least favorite holiday.

Abraham and his son, on their way to perform the sacrifice… but who is missing from this story?
(Ferdinand von Olivier, “Abraham and Isaac” http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Olivier-abraham-isaac.jpg)

Why that was so, I never really knew, because I could never allow myself the freedom to be honest about what I was thinking or feeling, especially if that threatened to take me into any kind of doctrinally or socially questionable territory. Early on after converting, I quickly learned that openly expressing discomfort with any ritual practices would lead to me being classified as someone that other sisters would be warned to stay far away from. And I and my convert friends were trying so hard to be model Muslimas, so rather than ask ourselves why we weren’t really feeling the Eid spirit, we threw our energies into trying to make it something we could somehow connect to—or at least, that our kids would enjoy.

As we tried to connect to Eid, we retold the story of Hajar as a model of a pious woman who suffered adversity, but relied on God alone, and in the end, her faith was abundantly rewarded. By focusing on her actions, her faith, and the hajj ritual that required every pilgrim to retrace her steps between the two hills, we could avoid dealing with the many troubling questions that the story raised for us that we couldn’t quite suppress.

After all, here was an African female slave who had been forced to bear children on behalf of an infertile free woman, Sara. There was no suggestion in any retelling of the story we were aware of that Hajar’s consent to either sex with her mistress’s husband or child-bearing was thought to matter in the least. Meaning, it hadn’t mattered to Abraham, nor to Sara, nor even to later audiences down through the centuries. Including the communities that we belonged to.

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