Archive for October, 2013

Idols, and breaking them

The story of Abraham is central to Muslim belief. Abraham the unbending monotheist. Abraham who broke the idols. Abraham who left his family and everything he had ever known for the sake of God. Abraham who was even willing to sacrifice his own son when he thought that God wanted it.

The Qur’an speaks about Abraham and other prophets in very positive terms, and holds them up as examples of faith. But the Qur’an does not say that they (much less their wives or other family members) as sinless, perfect, or beyond all criticism.

Centuries ago, Muslim scholars debated the question of whether prophets can doubt God’s promises, whether they can make small mistakes and errors of judgment or even major ones, whether they can commit minor or even major sins, whether their pronouncements are only error-free when it comes to the divine revelations that they proclaim or if everything on every subject that they said is unquestionably true.

But listening to most Muslims today (especially those who are neo-traditionalists, but certainly not only them), you’d never know it.

Islam as I was taught it, whether by Salafi-influenced Muslims or neo-traditionalists, had absolutely no room for questioning prophets, much less criticizing anything they did. You were supposed to hold them in reverence, take them as examples, and never, ever express any doubts about the wisdom or justice of any of their actions whatsoever. No critical questions could be asked. You didn’t question them any more than you questioned God.

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The ice is breaking

When I read Amina Wadud’s post today on the blog, Feminism and Religion, I thought: The ice is breaking.

Her post is about the Hajar story. It was wrenchingly honest.

She points out that when Hajar was left in the valley, she was left in a situation where she was a hair’s breadth away from death. She discusses several ways that this story is whitewashed in the usual ways that it is told, with Hajar’s slave status and Africanness all but bleached out.

She calls Abraham a dead-beat dad, and Sarah a selfish bitch.

Being the well-trained former neo-traditionalist that I am, I reflexively cringed at that… and then, it was as if the ice was breaking.

As if those figures from all those stories we were told and that we read and believed about the prophets and their wives and the Companions and the awliya and shaykhs and other pious believers… began to move from beneath the ice where we had entombed them—and where we had entombed ourselves. As if I myself felt the layer of ice that I hadn’t realized was encasing me begin to crack.

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Of converts, headlines, and albino (poisonous) spiders

I’d have to have been living under a rock not to have noticed that yet another female convert is in the headlines again. Yes, Samantha Lewthwaite, aka the “white widow,” as the tabloids have dubbed her.

Samantha Lewthwaite, courtesy of Interpol. I'm still trying to understand where this is all coming from....

Samantha Lewthwaite, courtesy of Interpol.
I’m still trying to understand where this is all coming from….

It’s all a bit surreal, in a way. Back when I and my friends converted, hardly anyone had even heard of white North American or Western European women converting to Islam. Even in Muslim communities, it was a novelty, and we’d often meet born Muslims who were astounded at the very idea that we had converted. As for the wider society—we had no visibility to speak of. On the very rare occasions that a female convert would receive any media attention at all, we’d call one another and tell them to turn on the tv or make sure to take a look at page whatever of the paper. (Yes, that was long before the internet.)

We’d get all excited, that here was one of us. For once, we could see someone like ourselves reflected in the media. We’d make sure our kids (especially our daughters) saw it too, because they needed to know that there were other women out there like their mothers.

So, to think that now, there are actually female converts who are so well known—or notorious would be a better word—to make headlines around the world, and to even have wikipedia pages put up about them… the mind boggles. This is just so weird.

And so very, very sad.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before, unfortunately. About converts getting drawn into Islamist politics and becoming radicalized. About the way that some converts end up making conservative “Islamic” decisions about their lives that send them on a downward spiral, which ultimately puts them in situations where they are vulnerable to getting involved in extremism. And the community dynamics that can foster such tragedies.

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Of religion-related ptsd

Some of the comments that have been coming on the last few posts seem to be referring to what I am calling religion-related ptsd. As in, people who have had traumatic experiences with religion being triggered by certain religious buzz-words, stock phrases, ritual practices, or other things.

I didn’t used to know that this existed, either. Until I experienced it. Because it was one of the many things that supposedly didn’t exist, in the various insular, conservative Muslim communities that I have been part of or otherwise associated with.

We vaguely knew of it, in the sense that we had heard stories of supposedly hard-heartedly secular Muslims who for no discernible reason would get very upset by things such as seeing a relative pray. People would tell such stories for various reasons—sometimes, as a way of expressing just how misunderstood or persecuted they felt when dealing with non-supportive Muslim family. And people would listen to such stories, and shake their heads… we’re living in the end times—those times when holding onto faith will be like holding a burning coal in your hand. But hey, give good tidings to the strangers!

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