Posts Tagged self-righteousness

The way we were: Lists of stuff not to buy

What do Skittles (the candy) and Ivory soap have in common?

Pigs. Pretty much everywhere we looked, hiding behind apparently benign words like "gelatin" or unfamiliar chemical compound-ish words like "diglycerides." Ugh.

Pigs. Pretty much everywhere we looked, hiding behind apparently benign words like “gelatin” or unfamiliar chemical compound-ish words like “diglycerides.” Ugh.

If you answered that both of these items were included in photocopied lists of grocery items with haraam ingredients that were passed out by earnest bearded brothers after Friday prayers back in the ’80’s… you get ten points. Add another ten points if you read those lists carefully, and refused to buy or use any of those items forever after (add only five points if you tried, but weren’t always consistent). Add another ten points if you then used the “principles” underlying the list and further extended them to screening every single purchase you made. And, add another five points if you still find yourself automatically avoiding items on the list when you buy groceries today, or you buy them sometimes but feel guilty about it.

Interpreting your score:

Ten points = You were there. Maybe you lived in my community. Did I know you?

Fifteen points = Back in the day, I would have thought you didn’t take your deen seriously enough. Nowadays, I suspect that actually, you just have a more balanced and sane outlook on life than I did.

Twenty to thirty points = You probably have a lot of the same memories as I do—like busing to a health food store miles away to buy overpriced cheese that didn’t have any forbidden ingredients in it, back before the local halaal meat store had started selling cheese.  Looking high and low for vanilla extract that didn’t have some kind of alcohol/propylene glycol/anything ending in -ol in it. Standing in the drugstore looking at all the soap and toothpaste and trying to find the one or two brands that weren’t on the avoid-list… and trying not to think about the fact that these were more expensive than the other brands, and they never seemed to go on sale.

Over thirty points = Hard core. Props. Can’t say anything more than that.

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Hijab and the objectification of women

Today, I tripped over a modern neo-traditionalist Muslim scholar’s discussion of reasons why hijab is a Good Thing when I was looking for something else.

Advantages-of-Wearing-the-Hijab

Translation: Wearing hijab makes you pious, protected, dignified, noble… and unlike those slutty women who don’t wear it. Which is really the point.

According to him, there are three main benefits to wearing hijab. First, because women supposedly always dress with the idea of whether or not men will find them attractive (even when they are supposedly dressing in order to impress other women…), hijab protects women from being constantly concerned about the male sexual gaze. Second, because wearing hijab trains the wearer to behave in a chaste and self-disciplined way. And third, because it marks gender difference, allowing women to look like women while not also being sexually alluring to men.

This type of pro-hijab rhetoric was all too typical in the conservative community that I used to belong to. Back then, I used to say similar things when I was asked why I wore hijab. While the argument that it marks gender difference always made me uneasy—after all, if gender differences are so “natural,” why do they have to be highlighted through clothing?—I was very happy to go on about hijab as a shield against the male gaze. As a young woman who experienced street harassment (which had sometimes turned quite threatening…), the idea that I could wear what amounted to a magical harass-repellent suit was appealing. (Even though in my experience, hijab didn’t really repel harassment so much as change its tune—instead of receiving frankly sexual comments, I routinely got told to “go back to where you came from” and worse.)

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Entitlement… and identity blues, and persecution complexes

In the last post, I talked about how “The Thaw” reminds me so much of similar North American Muslim discourses that I encountered when I converted. In particular, “The Thaw” reminds me of a particular Muslim rap song by Native Deen that I encountered well after I converted, but when my kids were young and thirsting for all the worldly things that we were trying to censor or prevent their access to.

For us, worried about keeping our kids Muslim (meaning, very conservative and inward-looking Muslim), the cassette tapes of “Muslim rap” and nasheed boy-bands and folk-y stuff that were slowly becoming available in the place we were living in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s seemed like a godsend. At least, Muslim songs with English words for a change that went beyond kindergartener-sounding stuff like “A is for Allah.” Music that sounded cool enough that it could engage our increasingly restless preteens and teenagers. We were perennially short of money, true, but we bought those tapes whenever we could get them, and played them for the kids (and to be honest, also for our own musically-starved selves…) at home and in the car.

Some of the lyrics of these songs disturbed me to varying degrees, but I tried to shove my reservations to the back of my mind. Here we were, after having endured years of music drought, making do with a few Arabic and Urdu nasheeds that we either didn’t completely understand or understood too well (and didn’t like their message…). We now had something half-way decent in English, that the kids would actually listen to. Far be it from me to start raising picky questions about lyrics. I’d better just be grateful, and hope that they’d keep on writing and performing, and that the writing would get better.

We didn’t have that many tapes, so as we played them, the same songs would come up over and over. I soon unwillingly learned the words to Native Deen’s “M.U.S.L.I.M,” and tried to suppress a twinge of… I wasn’t quite sure what… whenever it came on:

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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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Jumpers

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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