Saturday, June 25, 2005

Women in Mosques -- Episode II

Over the last couple of days has come the announcement by first CAIR, and then ISNA on an intitiative towards "Women-Friendly Mosques". My first reaction yesterday was to say positive things about the initiative being taken. I did this because I was sure I or someone else would much to critique in it when we read it through. And Shahed Amanullah (editor of Alt.Muslim, and one of the leaders in the AMILA community) has the needful in a way that means anything I would write would be reinventing the wheel:
"Women-Friendly Mosques" Document Leaves Unanswered Questions
The "women-friendly mosques" document allows male-run mosques to obey the letter of the law without significantly improving the situation of women in US mosques today....
By Shahed Amanullah, June 24, 2005
And this is becoming quite a dialog. The Progressive Muslim Union, an organization whose advocacy has no doubt been a large part of what set off this whole chain of events, has put out a statement. They welcome the step while expressing the opinion that this is a first step in a longer journey:

And from Dr. Muqtedar Khan comes his own interesting analysis:
"CAIR has announced that it will distribute a “Women Friendly Mosques” Brochure. This document is perhaps the most enlightened statement that CAIR has ever issued in its eleven-year history. This is a good beginning for their new Chairman, Dr. Parvez Ahmad. I hope that this document is a promise of more progressive thinking to come from CAIR. The document is meekly titled as a brochure when in fact it is a document that clearly lays down a new mosque policy for American Muslims. To read more click here..."
A couple comments on specific things in his piece:
  • Dr Khan observes that "Now even CAIR is a progressive Muslim voice..." I wonder; does that then make them Neo-Con dupes, too, like the other groups carrying the "progressive" message have been accused of being (not by Dr. Khan, of course) ? Sorry; I couldn't resist that joke. Or is it a joke?
  • And he makes another very interesting observatino: "It is a bit disturbing that more Muslims organizations endorsed John Kerry than this brochure." Food for thought.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Security Situation in Iraq

This speech seems to have much to commend it:

C-SPAN: Anthony Cordesman, CSIS, on "Iraq: Security & Development"
Anthony Cordesman, CSIS Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy talks about "Iraq: Security and Development."

His assessment has the sound of reality. For his conclusions and analysis, you'll have to listen to the speech, but to give you a minor example, he makes a distinction between "Wahaabi" and "Neo-Salafi"--but not in the way that it is usually done; he actually says that even the Saudis aren't really ideologically Wahabi, but Neo-Salafi.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Women in Mosques--CAIR Takes Up the Issue

The following came over the wires yesterday. Today, ISNA has announced a parallel initiative:

> In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
> Publication designed to educate U.S. Muslim leaders on women's rights
> (WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/22/05) - A prominent national Islamic civil
> rights and advocacy group said today it plans to distribute a
> brochure supporting the religious rights of Muslim women to mosques
> throughout the United States.
More at:

Without going into some of the nuances and before we start picking nits, let me see if I can say this right:

This is a good thing to have happened. Kudos to CAIR and the authors of the report for doing this. If results is what one cares about, this a step in the right direction for the community--and I am referring to Muslims in North America in particular and the Ummah in general.

Whatever we say about each other, an opinion leaders (like ISNA, CAIR, et al) has taken what I think can safely be characterized as a progressive step. From where I sit, the Progressive side of the community has played at least the role of a catalyst. Congratulations are in order, I think, to the whole community.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Madrassas in Pakistan and Elsewhere -- Myth and Reality

A New York Times article was making the rounds late last week:

OPINION | June 14, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor: The Madrassa Myth
There is little or no evidence that the Muslim religious schools produce terrorists capable of attacking the West.
(The full article might no longer be available online without paying a fee.)

Here's my reaction. To quote the article itself:

"While madrassas are an important issue in education and development in the Muslim world, they are not and should not be considered a threat to the United States."

Translation: To the West, they are just a bugbear and the West should shut up about them. But the issue of how well the institutions that we refer to as "madarassas" today--there was a time when the word was used for a very different type of institution; the Sindh Madarassa, for example--prepare Muslim youth for the 21st Century is an internal issue for the Ummah, one that we MUST analyse and engage with--on our own terms and in our own way; but very urgently.

As a postscript, the #1 Most Emailed Story at the NY Times the same week was another story on Pakistan that promises to be around with us for a while. Here's the list quoted from the same mails that sent the above article:

> 1. Op-Ed Columnist: Raped, Kidnapped and Silenced
> 2. Next Generation of Conservatives (By the Dormful)
> 3. Snake Phobias, Moodiness and a Battle in Psychiatry
> 4. Finding Nirvana on Two Wheels
> 5. Op-Ed Columnist: One Nation, Uninsured

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hijab; Another Minor Rant

I haven't posted anything here in a little while, and thought I would catch up some. The following is actually a little repetitive of other entries on this blog, but I just can not say it enough.

The word hijab, for anyone with any understanding of the "Islamic" meaning of it, refers to a whole scheme of modesty; of modest dress, speech, behaviour and, if I may use a popular concept, attitude. At a lot of times following the activism and rhetoric around the issue, it really becomes difficult to believe that some of the people so passionate about it have this in mind. Very often Muslims themselves act like it is just a synonym for "headscarf" and the whole discussion of proper dress and behaviour for Muslims--which should not just be a matter for the ladies to bear the whole burden of in the first place--boils down to wearing a headscarf; a very particular kind of headscarf.

And that worries me. Very much.

That's where I am coming from.

As we Muslims say, Wallahu Aalam; o
nly a Supreme All-Encompassing Deity can have full, or real, knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the Cosmic Elephant.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Sunil Dutt's Faith

The recent death of Bollywood screen icon, politician and activist Sunil Dutt reminded me of an article about his "faith community", a group of people who, though Hindus, were, as we say "Maula kay naam-laiwa"--of those who remember the lord (Ali). Here's a link to the article on a website run by the author (worth exploring in itself):

Or here's a better-looking of the same article:

And here's an article from after his death that talks about Sunil Dutt himself and why his funeral, though not an international affair, was one of those rare occasions when common people, politicians and superstars turn out to put their shoulders together--literally:

What is Islam? Episode I

For non-Muslim friends who really want to understand what makes Muslims and Islam tick, here's a really good one; in fact, one I have been strongly recommending that Muslims also sit down and really listen to, as well. There is a lot Hamza Yousuf says/reminds us that we often don't live up--or even remember.

What I am talking about is an interview of Hamza Yusuf Hanson, who one of the most respected (by people like me) Muslim Scholars in North America of ANY background or stripe. The good thing about him is that he is really well-read and -informed about both the Islamic and Western body of knowledge, culture and history and makes it a point to draw parallels and point out similiarities that help in understanding world history as the one whole (mess?) that it is:

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Islam and Constitutional Republics - Episode I

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, First Prime Minister of Pakistan, gave a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California on May 16, 1950. The audio is at:

The following is a part of this speech I love to quote:
"... we have proved it to the world more than once. We established Pakistan because of our passion for what we call the Islamic way of life. This is no narrow sectarian, or medieval, or theocratic or intolerant conception. It means no more and no less than this: that we believe in God and atheistic doctrines cannot flourish amongst us. That we believe in the equality of men and the equality of civic rights and opportunities for all, irrespective of their religious belief. That we believe in social justice, ... that we believe in democracy, not as a political creed; but as a part of our religious faith ... the way of life that we have chosen for ourselves, [is] not a new concoction, but one that is based on a body of belief and tradition that have been handed down to us by our forefathers"
The speech the Nawabzada gave to Congress was part of our High School English curriculum. (I think it was Congress; thought I have faint recollection of it having been the very University Churchll gave his "Iron Curtain" speech)

Dr Adil Najam recently mentioned to me a speech by the Nawabzada to the Constituent Assembly about the Pakistani flag; a speech that mentions what the Pakistani attitude to minorities should be. I have requested him for information on how and where to get a transcript or recording.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Islam is the Religion of Peace -- Episode I

Not to pick on the man or the organization because a million "community leaders" have done it before him, but when Nihad Awad gets on CSPAN and says "Islam is a religion of peace" without much qualifification or explanation, the oversimplification does not do anybody service. It doesn't help us Muslims convey what we are about to the rest of the world; and it doesn't not help the rest of the world understand what we are about, either, when what they are seeing is buildings being blown up and suicide bombers and people protesting at not being allowed to wear a headscarf.

What I wish Nihad Awad had said was that Islam is a religion of Justice and Compassion. (Sorry for sounding like I have been drinking the Omid Safi Kool-Aid, as some well-informed readers will no doubt be quick to point out, but I seriously and sincerely believe this.) Islam puts a very high priority on achieving said Justice and Compassion by peaceful means if at all possible, even making compromises where necessary. But not to the extent of sacrificing Justice or Compassion completely. And when one is forced to the point of "No Justice No Peace", as the old slogan goes, Islam prescribes very clear and strong rules that make it mandatory to not let go of Compassion while you pursue Justice by "other means", as the political scientists call war.

I wish Nihad Awad and the others that get the chance to get on NPR and CSPAN, and heck, even Fox News, would "read into the record", so to speak, the rules of engagement that The Prophet, and Hazrat Abu Bakar and Hazrat Umar and Maula Ali have laid down and repeatedly reiterated; so people would clearly know the basis of people like us saying that terrorism is unIslamic--as, the way I see it, are all WMDs. The thing that goes unmentioned being that Iran did not pursue nuclear weapons (at least as far as he knew) while Khomeini was live--for exactly that reason.

That's what I wish Nihad Awad had said. Sara E's saying it to O'Reilly might have been a little more difficult because of the way he drives conversations. I wish someone would say it on Bill Maher's show, too.

But I am just a cubcile-dweller in Silicon Valley. And, as we Muslims say, WAllahu Aalam; Only a Supreme All-Encompassing Deity can have real knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the Cosmic Elephant.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Monty Python on the European Constitution

Someone on NPR mentioned the Monty Python sketch about the dead parrot in relation to the recently ... er ... wounded European Constitution. Here's a more full treatment of the matter:

Thursday, June 02, 2005

On Moderates and Majorities

I have been tracking Christine Todd-Whitman's current book tour, where she also promotes her new PAC for Republican moderates: During a lot of lectures, she quotes Ronald Reagan on something that the "Moderates" and others in other communities and places--like Muslims--would be wise to heed:
" do not get to be a majority party by constantly looking for groups with whom you will not associate or work."
You can hear, for example, her Commonwealth Club Speech, May 13, 2005.