Posts Tagged abusing religious authority

Crowns… and really bad advice

Libby Anne has posted disturbing quotations from a Bible study addressed to women, that tells women in unhappy or even abusive marriages that even if their husbands don’t change, they (the wives) can take comfort in the knowledge that for their patient endurance, they will be crowned in heaven. Reading her post took me back to some “advice” that I received years ago, from a (convert) male community leader who I had approached asking for advice on how to deal with my awful and highly dysfunctional marriage, “Islamically.”

In retrospect, it was advice that should have sent me running for the hills. But it didn’t.

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Converts, wtf?—More on women leaders

Years passed. Years of being in a neo-traditionalist group (that turned into a cult). After years of that, I had undergone quite an attitude adjustment. I had long ceased to question the idea that marriage and community order had to be patriarchal. I wasn’t expecting female leaders or scholars to uncover some sort of egalitarian “hidden history” or to interpret the Qur’an or the hadith or fiqh in an egalitarian way, either. I mean, the texts say what they say, and there’s nothing that anybody can do about it.

But still, when I realized that “mainstream” Sunni conservative immigrant-dominated groups such as the MSA and ISNA were rethinking their past opposition to the idea that women can be leaders, I was intrigued, and hopeful. Maybe, some sort of change in thinking about gender roles was in the offing?

But I didn’t really move in those circles. They were middle-class and immigrant-dominated. Their events were too expensive for me to even think about attending, usually, when they weren’t too far away to begin with. So, it didn’t seem likely that I would actually encounter any of these fabled new female leaders.

But then, 9/11 happened.

Shortly after 9/11, I attended a conference put on by a large and well-funded “mainstream” conservative Sunni Muslim organization. I was in search of solace.

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Converts, wtf — Women leaders?

Continuing with the question of what exactly is up with white North American converts… in my experience, anyway….

Last post, I talked about how we convert women used to think that if only we had community leaders/imams/shaykhs from our own backgrounds—meaning, men who spoke English as their first language, had converted to Islam in North America, and who came from ethnic and geographical backgrounds like ours—then they would be able to provide the sort of preaching, religious advice, etc that was relevant to our lives. They would understand where we were coming from, what sorts of families we had grown up in, the problems that could result when women like us married born Muslim immigrant men. Their priority would be establishing Islam here, not on raising money for whatever the immigrant Muslim cause du jour on the other side of the world was. They would understand the problems involved in raising kids here. Oh, and that they wouldn’t have this “Western women = whores” kind of thing in the backs of their minds, shaping how they dealt with us and the sort of religious advice that they tended to give.

Well, things didn’t work out as we had hoped with many male convert leaders.

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Converts, wtf — leaders, opinion-makers, spokesmen

Where do (Sunni) white convert leaders and opinion-makers come from?

Once upon a time (way back in the early ’80’s), there were few converts where I lived at the time. I would actually get excited when I encountered one. Wow, someone like me!

In those days, there were a few converts who were in the process of becoming household names among conservative, mostly immigrant North American Muslims—but this was usually because they gave inspirational speeches at conferences or MSA events. They spoke on topics such as why they converted to Islam,  or on why Islam is “misunderstood.” They were trophy Muslims, because they were white and (usually) male and reasonably articulate. But few if any immigrant Muslims looked to them for leadership or religious guidance.

There were a few white male converts who spoke at less “mainstream” Muslim events, because they were political activists (or more often, politically opinionated and holding eccentric political views). They weren’t really “leaders” either in any sense. Their political views were welcomed to the extent that they agreed with those of the immigrant Muslims organizing these events.

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Creating an “entitled” generation… is all too easy

Back to our discussion of converts and downward spirals….

Recently, an evangelical Christian youth group’s video, “The Thaw,” has been making the rounds. (For the video, a transcript, and Libby Anne’s take on it, go here.) Watching it brought back so many memories.

It was fascinating to see a process in action, laid out so clearly… that I had lived through, and that we had tried to put our kids through. A key part of the downward spiral that converts can so easily get caught up in… and that can end up mentally and emotionally trapping them in what amounts to an alternate universe.

Some of “The Thaw”‘s detractors have compared the military rhetoric it uses to a jihadi video. [Which is rather absurd, btw—do the folks who made that point seriously think that hymns like “Onward, Christian Soldiers” owe their existence to jihadi or Muslim influence? Just lol. Christians have never had too much trouble being violent all on their own.] But that’s not primarily what I’m talking about here. While we were steeped in this sort of militant rhetoric as well, what I found most striking about this video is the sense of entitlement that these young people have.

Righteous entitlement. For me, the most chilling part of the video was when the girl with the turquoise and white striped shirt and braces claimed that non-Christians “have stolen our country.” What an incendiary claim.

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“As my shaykh taught me…”

On the last post, Bebe g commented:

“…We were even taught by our pakistani sheik that all white people where naturally evil and would never convert to Islam because they naturally have dark hearts. But he was quick to marry a white woman 1st chance he had. Good thing I never believed him.. To many people who are donned leaders of the community and are followed by the ignorant non reading locals….”

Hoo boy, did that part of her comment trigger memories! Things that people’s shaykhs taught them. Or, things that people claimed that their shaykhs had taught them, anyhow. Things that people we looked up to as “scholars” and “shaykhs” taught us, and that we felt that we had to believe. Things that people claimed to know because they were following the Sufi path….

My earliest memory of that sort of thing falls into the latter category. We were visiting the family of a friend of my ex. This friend (and his family) were from the same ethnic background, but that was about where the similarities ended, because the friend (unlike my ex) was a devoted Sufi who followed a shaykh from back home. (My ex told me later that this shaykh was a charlatan who was well known for his shady financial dealings and lavish person lifestyle… but anyway.) While we were at my ex’s friend’s house, we met another of that shaykh’s murids. When the murid realized that I am a convert, he immediately wanted to know what my ethnic background was.

I replied that my mother’s side of the family is originally from X, and my father’s side from Y.

The murid loudly objected, telling me: “No, you are only what your father is, not what your mother is! Your essence can only come from your father.”

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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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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?(http://www.stonewall.org.uk/media/current_releases/7756.asp)

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)….
(http://www.stonewall.org.uk/media/current_releases/7756.asp)

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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Some unhelpful things to say to survivors of religious abuse (convert edition)

Well, nobody forced you to join that group/mosque/community (or to marry that person). You chose to join it (or, to get married).

In other words: What happened is at least partly caused by you. So, stop blaming the group/mosque/community/your abusive spouse, and focus on what you did wrong.

But the thing is, sometimes religious authority is misused. And sometimes adults do get drawn into things against their better judgment. Female converts in particular have often been pressured by people who supposedly had “Islamic knowledge” into getting involved in controlling or cultish communities—“satan attacks the one who is alone,” and all that—and even into marriage with people that they hardly knew.

Saying this sort of thing handily shifts accountability for whatever happened away from the shaykh/mosque leadership/community leaders or husband—meaning, away from those who had more knowledge and power, and who the convert was led to believe that she had to listen to “Islamically”—and onto the convert herself. And what it sounds like to the survivor is something like this:  No matter how badly you may have been treated, your life just don’t count nearly as much in the greater scheme of things as the reputation of that group/mosque/community/man does.

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