Archive for April, 2013

Grim memories: Sunnis calling Shias kafir in the ’80’s

Sister F. and I were chatting one day. I think that it was at some Islamic event-or-other, and her husband was the main speaker. Sister F. had converted at about the same time as I did. Her husband, also a convert, was in the process of making something of a name for himself as a da’i.

Sister F. was usually fairly quiet, and as far as I knew, got along with everybody. She was the peace-making, let’s-all-just-get-along type of woman. So, it really shocked me when I mentioned something-or-other about something that had happened recently in Iran, and she responded that “the Shias are kafir.”

I was too taken aback to respond for a minute. And then I said that this isn’t true.

“Well, it is true if what we’ve been told is true,” she answered.

I didn’t have to ask what she meant. I knew. I knew about those conservative, immigrant, often Salafi men who hung around the Friday Prayers that I attended, pulling young men aside and engaging them in intense discussions after the prayer. Some of these men carried brief-cases full of anti-Shia booklets with titles like “Do You Know the True Islam?” Those booklets made claims about “what the Shias believe” that were intended to horrify Sunnis, and lead Sunnis to see Shias as a fifth column, an internal enemy bent on subverting Islam and Muslim communities from within.

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A sermon that I wish I had heard: “We live in a rape culture”

Nobody to the best of my knowledge has preached such a sermon, but one can always dream…. Maybe if we keep dreaming good sermons, they will eventually balance out all the rotten sermons we heard.

This sermon would have been preached by Imam Hoda MacKenzie. Yes, that’s a Beatles’ reference:

Father MacKenzie writing the words of his sermon that no one will hear/ no one comes near/ look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there/what does he care?/all the lonely people, where do they all come from? all the lonely people, where do they all belong?… [“Eleanor Rigby”]

So, take it away, Imam MacKenzie!


All praise is due to God, whose help and forgiveness we seek. We seek refuge in God from the waverings in our hearts, and from our evil deeds. The one who God guides is guided, and the one who is misled will not find a patron or a guide aside from God. I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship but God, and that Muhammad is God’s messenger. I seek refuge in God from the outcast satan. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise belongs to God, the sustainer of the worlds, and peace and blessings upon Muhammad, his family and Companions. ‘Amma ba’d:

God Most High says: “Wa man yaksib khatii’atan aw ithman yarmi bihi barii’an fa-qad ihtamala buhtaanan wa ithman mubiina” –“The one who commits a wrong or a sin and puts it (i.e. the blame) on the innocent has burdened themself with falsehood and  evident sin” (Q 4:122)

Sisters, Brothers, Friends: we live in a rape culture. We here in North America live in a culture in which straight men’s sexual assaults of women, children of any gender, and trans people—while illegal and punishable by law—are still also all too often regarded as somehow excusable, even justified. A culture in which the onus is most often placed on girls and women to dress and behave in ways that supposedly will reduce their risk of being sexually harassed or assaulted—rather than on boys and men to cease harassing and assaulting. A culture in which the onus is on trans people to pass, or at least to be unobtrusive, so that they don’t get harassed, sexually or physically assaulted, or even killed. And as Muslims, what is our place within this culture of rape? How are we responding to it? Do we contribute to it, and if so, in what ways? Does our Islam challenge us to work against this culture of rape? If it doesn’t, why not?

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Measuring “Muslimness”

Sometimes, commenters write posts for me… and Jenny has now done it.

Jenny’s comment is written in response to a recent drive-by commenter, who wanted to know “if I am Muslim.” Jenny writes:

to this Mak person, who asked similar questions about CharmedShiva being Muslim or not–just in case he missed my response to his horrible post on her blog, here it is:

Bismillah ArRahman ArRaheem

First of all, your sentence structure strongly suggests that English is not your first language–in fact, it speaks of a certain grammar closely associated with Islam…(just sayin’). I sense a “born-Muslim” here, shocked that one of their beloved Sisters has seen the inside of the “Ummah” and Islam as it is interpreted within, and found it rotten. I’m sorry if you feel all naked and yucky and exposed (how dare she show the world our warts!) The author’s writing here is 100% spot on. I am a Muslim, and will remain so IN SPITE of Muslims like you. I suspect, mak, that YOU are one of these “born Muslims” , who get all warm and fuzzy listening to dawa videos on youtube…you know you are a Real Muslim (which TODAY is nothing more than an ugly reflection of the worst parts of your native-cultures). The author doesn’t malign Islam…It’s the FAKE, hollow Muslim apologists, and dawa workers who cover up the truth of life within the “Ummah” who do that.

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We did not model unconditional love

In the last post, I was discussing Amina Jabbar’s awesome post over at MuslimahMediaWatch. Among other things, Jabbar’s post gave me some optimism that maybe it might some day be possible for Muslim  discussions about various types of oppression in Muslim communities to get beyond the simplistic approaches that I usually see. That it might become possible for ideas and practices to be recognized as oppressive without also simultaneously disavowing them as “cultural, not Islamic,” or “extremist, not mainstream”… or the results of “wrong interpretation” or whathaveyou.

Looking back, I wish that I paid attention to my misgivings about some of the ideas floating around in the '80's and '90's about "how to raise our children to be good Muslims." Ah well, hindsight is 20/20....

Looking back, I wish that I paid attention to my misgivings about some of the ideas floating around in the ’80’s and ’90’s about “how to raise our children to be good Muslims.” Ah well, hindsight is 20/20….

It also was really (for lack of a better word) triggering. In part because of the article she linked to, about Maryam Basir and her father’s response to her career choices. According to the article, Basir prays five times a day, fasts in Ramadan, eats halaal, is married to a Muslim man, and avoids alcohol and drugs. Nonetheless, she and her father are estranged as a result of her decision to become a model. Her father, a convert who serves as an imam for two prisons, laments, “I wanted my children to be pious and knowledgeable. But only one of my daughters still wears the hijab. In the end, you meet Allah and you are judged…. it hurts my heart to see what Maryam is doing. I fear for her.”

My first response to that was recognition. Yes, I recognized that approach to child-rearing, all right.

And I remembered a story that we read to our kids, about a girl who had been thrown out of the house by her good Muslim parents because she would not live according to their (Islamic) rules. Samira, her name was. I hadn’t thought about that story in years. What a horrible story for us to have exposed our kids to. What the hell were we thinking??

Back in the ’80’s and ’90’s where I was living at the time, so much effort went into “raising our children to be good Muslims”—which meant first and foremost, that they had to practice Islam in accordance with the conservative understanding that we were being taught. We were absolutely determined that our kids would learn how to pray, fast, read the Qur’an, eat halaal, adhere to conservative Muslim norms of behavior, and (in the case of girls) wear hijab… and as far as we were concerned, failure was not an option. Nor was partial compliance an option, because “Islam is a complete way of life.” So it would not be good enough if (say) a child prayed regularly but dated, or was a good and generous person but didn’t wear hijab.

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Of bus ads, “dirty laundry,” and moving beyond extremes

A couple of days ago, several emails alerted me to the dust-up about bus ads in San Francisco that quote homophobic statements made by six notorious Muslim leaders. The ads apparently are intended to (wrongly) imply that all or most Muslims are violently hateful to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans and other queer folks.

Why not just put this ad on every bus in North America?(

I like this bus-ad just fine. I’d like to see it as I ride the bus on my way to work (and on the bus-shelters I wait in)….

Which also implies that the categories of “Muslim” and “LGBTQ” are entirely separate. Mutually exclusive.  Which is obviously ridiculous.

And which also seems to imply that those in North America who most loudly oppose all manifestations of Islam today (aka strongly right-wing conservatives, a number of whom subscribe to particular socially conservative interpretations of Christianity) are also strong supporters of equal rights for LGBTQ people… unlike those awful Muslims.  Except that such right-wingers often aren’t.

Yes, the bus ads are hypocritical and misleading. They seem designed to promote hate. They erase the existence and activism of queer Muslims and their Muslim allies.

But for every cloud, there is a silver lining… or so I’ve often been told. As I read the article I linked to above, I knew that I should feel grateful. For it indicates that there is apparently a slow sea-change taking place among some Sunni Muslims in North America. A small number of fairly prominent figures who are looked up to by conservative “mainstream” Sunnis are coming out (pun intended) and saying that gays are welcome to pray at their mosques and criticizing Muslims for taking hateful or exclusionary attitudes to LGBTQ people. Which is such an improvement over what I am used to.

Yes, I know I should be feeling grateful, happy, even hopeful. So, why am I having flashbacks instead?

Flashbacks to talk after talk after sermon after pamphlet after book after study-circle… an endless loop of just really awful ideas on a range of issues, from sexuality to family to educational policy to world politics. Ideas publicly expressed, in the name of Islam, at Muslim conferences or from the minbar or in Muslim student groups or a events organized for families (or for “the youth”), or even at da’wa events (!?). Often in the hearing of supposedly intelligent and responsible Muslims who did… absolutely nothing.

In my memory alone, I realized, I have enough shocking quotes to fit on hundreds of buses. If not thousands.

If I asked my convert friends for their memories of horrendous quotes, I wonder how many we’d come up with.

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What do… jumpers, alternative communities, religious hip-hop, incense, Malcolm X, traveling to Asia to find a religious teacher, long denim skirts, reading Rumi’s poetry, religiously-motivated home-schooling, Sufi chanting, preachy children’s videos, religiously-themed nursery rhymes and squeaky-clean boy-bands singing religious lyrics for audiences of ecstatic pre-teen girls have in common?

Not only did we design, sew and wear abominations like this for a time, but Shukr did it too... Yes, that's a Shukr design there, with the usual headless model. Fortunately, they seem to have ceased committing such fashion-crimes... thank God.

Not only did we design, sew and wear abominations like this for a time, but Shukr did it too… Yes, that’s a Shukr design there, with the usual headless model. Fortunately, they seem to have ceased committing such fashion-crimes… thank God.

They are all North American Muslim fads that I have lived through.

Man, do I feel old.

Reading a post over at Love Joy Feminism, which quotes Julie Ann asking how she as a homeschooling mother ended up getting sucked into buying an entire conservative lifestyle “package” that included wearing jumpers, I was reminded of when I and a convert friend of mine experimented with them.

Our problem in the clothing department (as we saw it, back in the ’80’s and early ’90’s) was twofold: to somehow discover a way of wearing hijab that would not look alien to North America, but would also be “modest” enough to fulfil what we were taught were the requirements for a Muslim woman’s dress in public, and to devise something similar for our young daughters to wear.  For a time, we saw jumpers as the answer. I designed and sewed jumpers for myself, out of plain broadcloth. For the first one I made, I used recycled fabric—it had originally been sewn into and used for something else. My friend had slightly more fashionable ideas (and more money to spend); she bought heavy cotton patterned cloth, and paid a woman with better sewing skills to make it into a jumper for her.

At the time, we thought pretty highly of our efforts to dress “modestly”, yet also not stick out too much. We sewed jumpers for our little daughters to wear too, over t-shirts and pants, and with matching hijabs. We thought they looked cute, yet also suitably modest, especially when compared to the “unsuitable” clothing that other girls their age were often wearing. We thought that we had managed to strike a balance between timeless “traditional” values of female “modesty” and the need to relate to the time and place in which we were living, by wearing North American clothing….

But when I looked at the photo of Christian homeschoolers wearing jumpers that Julie Ann linked to, it was unnerving. It was like looking back through time at ourselves and our daughters… and suddenly realizing that actually, we must have looked pretty… strange. Frumpy. Self-righteous. Cultish.

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