Archive for October, 2014

Guess ISNA doesn’t do Spirit Day

I’m still on ISNA’s email list, and last Friday—which happened to be the day before National Coming Out Day, and a mere six days before Spirit Day—I got the following upbeat email:

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How does it happen that an organization that says it wants to combat bullying in schools writes an anti-bullying guide that completely ignores LGBTQ students? As in, does not even mention them once? Could the authors of the guide really be so oblivious that they don’t realize that (1) there are Muslim LGBTQ students, as well as Muslim students with LGBTQ family members and/or friends, and (2) that some Muslim students engage in homophobic and transphobic bullying? (Illustration: http://www.glaad.org/spiritday)

“October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

Up to 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. For Muslim students, the rate is at least 1 in 2 depending on the region. In recognition of this growing problem, since 9/11 ING has worked with the U.S. Department of Education, school districts, educators, and Muslim partners like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to address bullying prevention on two fronts: Training sessions for Muslim students and their parents on prevention and response, seminars for public school educators on working with Muslim students to ensure an inclusive environment at school. But much more needs to be done…. ING and ISNA believe that bullying is a preventable problem, especially when young people and their parents are well-informed and empowered…. [W]e are pleased to provide supplement to our INGYouth program, a new Bullying Prevention Guide for parents, educators, and community members. This Guide helps define bullying and describes bullying prevention tips for home and schools.”

I downloaded and read the Guide.

I am a parent. For one of my kids in particular,  bullying at school has been an ongoing issue. There has been Islamophobic bullying, with kids calling her “terrorist”  and so forth, because she doesn’t hide that she’s a Muslim, or where her father’s from. And also, homophobic bullying, because when she heard other students saying things such as “that’s so gay” she would object, and tell them, “My mother’s gay.”

The Guide provided some pointers for dealing with Islamophobic bullying… but nothing at all about homophobic bullying.

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Oh no, KM’s post is gone: thoughts on “apostasy”, shunning and conditioned reflexes

About a month ago (?), someone posting at A Woman’s Country under the initials K.M. put up a post about some aspects of life after leaving Islam. Particularly about the longlasting impact that certain mundane practices can have even once you no longer believe the theological reasons why you are supposed to do them, as well as the problem of how to meet one’s needs for de-stressing when religious rituals are no longer an option.

While she identifies as someone who has left Islam altogether and I don’t, I liked that post, and thought that it raised some important issues that can face anyone who leaves an insular, high demand religious group and whose beliefs shift significantly.

It is spooky to say to the least when you find yourself continuing to act and react in preprogrammed “sunna” ways that way back when, you learned (it isn’t as if you were born doing them!), but now you can’t seem to unlearn. After all, we put so much pious effort in the aftermath of our conversions into learning all the rules, in training our bodies and our automatic responses: Don’t shake hands with men, walk, sit and move modestly, lower your gaze, don’t laugh loudly in public or where non-mahram men might hear you, because modesty should be second nature and is a barometer of your faith as a Muslim woman. Always wash away all traces of urine and feces, avoid dogs (and especially, contact with dog spit), carefully read all food labels and avoid all hints of pork and alcohol byproducts, because believers are pure and God only accepts what is pure and if you really believe you should find anything impure intrinsically disgusting.

Avoid music (except nasheeds or possibly classical), don’t dance or whistle, careful of what you sing (and who might be able to overhear your voice), prefer reciting the Quran and reading the stories of the Companions and making dhikr to reading fiction or poetry or watching movies or plays or going to fairs, because a believer takes life seriously and is forever wary of being seduced by dunyawi attractions. The sincere believers should opt to follow the sunna in preference to the ways of the world or one’s own comfort, so one should put on the right shoe before the left (and take them off in reverse order), sleep on one’s side facing qibla (too bad for us restless sleepers), step into a washroom left foot first (and saying the appropriate du’a)… and so on.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: some reflections

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I am conscious that I am reading it with what I would call doubled vision. Meaning, as I read it I am constantly aware of how I would likely have received it if I had read it back in the day when I was a hyper-conservative Muslim, as well as how it comes across to me now. So, I am all too aware that aspects of it that I now regard as insightful wouldn’t have seemed that way to me then.

"I think about pearls. Pearls are congealed oyster spit." (The Handmaid's Tale, p. 131)

“I think about pearls. Pearls are congealed oyster spit.” (The Handmaid’s Tale, p. 131)

The primary target is evangelical Christian political activism aimed at limiting women’s rights to control their own bodies and lives, in the name of supposedly “biblical” values (with some biting critique also of certain strains of ’80’s feminism). The “biblical values” being promoted by groups such as Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority back when this book was written were usually spun as good old-fashioned wholesome warm-n-fuzzy all-American values that for some strange reason had only recently been questioned by a few misguided feminists and liberals. However, Atwood is having none of that eye-wash—the “biblical values” described in The Handmaid’s Tale are absolutely nightmarish—yet, they can arguably be justified from biblical passages that speak of women desperately desiring to bear children, men having sex with female slaves in order to sire offspring (whether said female slaves consented was irrelevant), arranged marriages of daughters, commands addressed to wives to obey their husbands, and so forth.

This makes the point that “biblical values” are ultimately less about whatever the Bible says (or doesn’t say), and more about  what parts of the Bible one wants to highlight, as well as about who has the power to define what “biblical values” are in a given context. “Biblical values” might sound as though they come with some sort of guarantee of fairness or compassion, at least as far as “good Christian women” are concerned… but they do not. Even those women like Serena Joy, who had devoted their lives to promoting such values, did not have the power to define what “biblical values” would mean. It was powerful men hell-bent on control and feeling entitled to it who had that power.

Back in the day, I wouldn’t have wanted to read any further, because this obviously raises questions about any religious movement claiming that its allegedly divinely given values should govern followers’ lives (much less religious movements with political ambitions). I would have seen this as unfair, as foreclosing the possibility of religious women seeking liberation within their religious tradition. I would have also taken offense at the Orientalism of comparing the handmaids’ boredom to a painting of harem women, and dismissed the entire book as therefore irrelevant to Muslim women.

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