Posts Tagged self-righteousness

Here comes everyone—yes, everyone

Nowadays, it seems that converts can’t stay out of the limelight.

The latest dust-up about Umar Lee’s video announcing that he has left Islam (and returned to Christianity) is unfolding along the usual lines: Some are questioning why, and mocking his stated reasons for leaving. Others are lamenting that Muslims drove him away “with our bad behavior” and urging that the problems he mentions be decisively addressed. Yet others complain that his criticisms are one-sided and that he doesn’t seem to have noticed all the positive changes that are happening in some Muslim communities in North America. Some claim that he can’t have been a real Muslim in the first place, or that he is being “paid” by “the enemies of Islam” to go through the theatrics of leaving Islam, or that he is really just doing it for money, or media attention. And of course, some are smugly pontificating that the problem is that Lee never really understood Islam “properly,” because he was a Salafi and not a neo-traditionalist (as though no neo-traditionalists have ever left Islam…  lol). And yet another claim: his “real problem” is that “he has issues.” That he is “unbalanced.”

In other words, it’s the same tired old lines that are trotted out every time something like this happens.

I didn’t read much of what he wrote, back when he was blogging. And most of what I read, I didn’t agree with. His misogyny and his attacks on people he didn’t agree with were certainly disturbing to me—not because he was too far outside of “the norm” of conservative, Salafi-ish discourse that I was used to, but because he seemed to reflect its most disturbing aspects far too well.

I didn’t know him. I didn’t have any dealings with him. So, I can’t speak to “what really happened.” And my focus here is not to try to diagnose Umar Lee, but to look at these tired claims that are made whenever anyone leaves Islam (or seems to be about to leave Islam, in the view of some Muslims). Especially, the claim that the person “has issues” or is “unbalanced.”

But if people “have issues” or are “unbalanced,” so what??

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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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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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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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Musings on Muslim identity (I)

As God says, “Fa-aina tadhhabun?” (Where are you going?)

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In the beginning, it seemed quite simple: belief that God is one (as opposed to belief in a trinity), belief in the prophets with Muhammad as the last, reading quranic passages in my personal prayers more frequently than Bible verses… I couldn’t even pretend to fit into any Christian church any more. My religious beliefs, my ritual language, were undeniably becoming more and more Muslim.

But that was before I had encountered a Muslim community. I had met individual Muslims—most of whom were students who weren’t very practicing, although a few nonetheless plied me with dawah literature. But they were not an organized conservative community, with clear ideas of who was “in” and who was “out,” or an interest in policing what people believed or did. So at that point, gradually becoming a Muslim was primarily about my own individual, private spiritual practice.

Once I married my ex, however, the specter of community slowly began to rear its head now and again.

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Looking back on my homeschooling experience

In the last post, I talked about how and why I started homeschooling my eldest child.

Looking back, I can see both positives and negatives.

On the positive side: I and a good friend of mine (also a conservative Muslim homeschooling mother) did our best to provide our kids varied and interesting learning experiences, despite our poverty, lack of access to a car, very limited support even in our own insular, conservative religious community, and the pregnancies/responsibility to care for our infants that tended to limit our mobility. We dealt with these considerable challenges with a can-do attitude and lots of ingenuity. Since God (we sincerely believed) wanted us to homeschool our kids, then it must be possible for us to somehow make it work.

We took our kids outside as much as possible, so that they could experience nature and learn about it in a “hands-on” way. (We lived in a city, so nature wasn’t going to come to us—we had to go out and seek it.) We wanted them to learn the names of different animals and birds, to be able to identify animal tracks, to know that some wild plants are edible and others poisonous, to recognize different kinds of trees… so, we took them out to parks as much as we could. We would take long bus rides in order to get to reasonably “wild” parks, pushing strollers and laden with diaper bags and packed lunches and whatever art or other supplies we thought we would need.

We took them to museums, the zoo, a kids’ farm and historic sites as much as we could. Entrance fees were a problem, given our poverty, but we took advantage of discount coupons, family passes and free or reduced-admission days.

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How we were sold on patriarchal religion: reason #97

In a word: adab.

Not so much how we were sold on patriarchal religion initially, but definitely an important reason why we couldn’t ask critical questions about it for the longest time.

Knowing your “proper place” and staying quietly in it is the best way to avoid being told to watch your adab. Even if your “proper place” is small, cramped and doesn’t allow you to see or hear properly….

Adab. Good behavior, refinement of character. It sounded like a much-needed antidote to the harsh angry black-and-white take no prisoners Salafi-influenced rhetoric that we had had way too much of. As in, let’s have a civilized Muslim discourse in which the speaker doesn’t accuse those he doesn’t agree with of being kafirs, and different perspectives can receive a hearing. Nice idea, in theory. But in practice?

Too often, adab became a handy way to shut people down. And up. Especially women. Most especially young, convert women. Because in the end, adab was all about power, not civility or respect for others. So those with more power  (or aspirations to cozy up to those with more power) played the “careful of your adab” card on others.

There was such a long list of things that were bad adab, in a conservative, insular and cultish community I was involved in:

-Asking most kinds of critical questions, whether about the Qur’an, the hadith, fiqh, the life of the Prophet… and so on.

-Not unquestioningly following what we were taught is the sunna. Even if it didn’t make sense, or seemed absurd or unnecessary.

-Any kind of parody, joking, satire, etc about scholars or religious leaders who were deemed worthy of respect.

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“Purity” as a myth

In the last two posts, I have been trying to disentangle why I (and some of my convert friends) bought into the notion that a girl’s or woman’s worth is essentially dependent on her “purity”—her virginity at marriage, and her chaste and modest behavior forever after. Supposedly, all this concern about what girls and women were or weren’t doing sexually was all about morality. Supposedly, it was (sexual) morality that made Islam and Muslims morally superior to “the West”, as well as to all other religions and cultures in the world. Or so we were given to understand.

But the reality as I experienced it was something quite different, now that I look back on it.

I remember various evangelical Christian sex scandals making the news, and the responses of the immigrant or convert Muslims that I knew: We aren’t like this. Because Islam has given us a superior way of life, that protects us from such things. Unlike Christianity, with its guilt about sex and its so-called monogamy, we have a realistic way of life that is in accordance with human nature (fitra), which doesn’t leave anyone any excuse to fornicate or to commit adultery….

To be sure, we didn’t really have sex scandals in the communities I was involved in or had ties with. At least, we didn’t think of them in that way. Because what this “realistic way of life” gave us was the illusion that everyone (or nearly everyone) was being sexually moral—and the means to make most infractions disappear. Men’s infractions, anyway. While girls and women bore the brunt.

An important consequence of this was that we didn’t question the teachings on sexuality that we were given:

  • A total ban on dating, or even on male-female platonic friendships
  • A ban on anything thought to facilitate or tempt people to commit fornication or adultery
  • Gender segregation in most situations, wherever possible
  • The requirement that women wear hijab, and dress modestly even in their own homes or in female-only spaces
  • The belief that fornication and adultery are very serious sins, that are to be punished by flogging and stoning in an “Islamic” state
  • The belief that even same-sex sexual thoughts or feelings are extremely sinful, and probably mean that the person having them is going to hell

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This does seem to be the core… oh no

I seem to have arrived at the core. Or, at the foundations of it all. However you want to phrase it.

Some of the feedback I have received about the previous post is along the lines of: Aren’t I still being really judgmental about women who didn’t or couldn’t live up to my standards of “purity”? Why do I appear to continue to buy into patriarchal standards of women’s sexual “morality”? Why don’t I just tell those nosy immigrant Muslims that my sexual history is none of their business? etc.

I am just being honest here. This is not a recovery blog for nothing. Yes, I know that I am still way, way too judgmental, and that patriarchal attitudes to sexuality continue to have a lot of unconscious influence on the way that I see the world. That is where I am at right now, unfortunately.

Part of the reason is that over two decades worth of social and religious conditioning can’t be undone in a day. And, as the previous post explains, the pressure to internalize these kinds of attitudes was intense. But part of it is that—as I am now realizing—this was in fact the core of our faith.

No, not tawhid. Female “purity.”

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