Tag Archives: Islam

On the Table, 8/8

The US economy is in shambles, people are starving in Somalia, the European economy is diving as well…but here’s a little slice of the bright side of life.

These are some recent articles from Good Magazine – an online and print medium devoted to social change, and the NY Times:

“Summer is the season for awareness-raising road trips. The latest one we’re excited about is the Food and Freedom Rides, which is spreading the word about our broken food system in communities across the South and Midwest. Kicking off in Birmingham, Alabama with meetings with civil rights leaders today and yesterday, the movement pays tribute to the 50th anniversaryof the anti-segregation Freedom Rides that roiled the South and galvanized the civil rights movement…Along the way, the 12 traveling activists hope to “expose injustice in the food system, and reveal real solutions in both urban and rural communities” by putting a spotlight on local food activism [Read on]….”

Read more:

  • Check out their itinerary here.
  • Learn more about the Freedom Riders by watching this PBS documentary.

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August 6th marked the beginning of Ramadan for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. “Alas, many Americans are still completely ignorant to Islam’s holiest month of observance. For the next four weeks, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq are out to change that.

Ali and Tariq are the two young Muslims behind the project 30 Mosques in 30 Days. Since August 1, when Ramadan started this year, the duo have been traveling to a new state each day and meeting with a new Muslim community. They then document their experiences with multimedia presentations on their blog. The goal is to hit 30 states and 30 mosques in 30 days, thereby introducing the world to the wide breadth of wonderful people composing Islam, a religion and culture still considered by many to be foreign and scary….” [Read on]

Read more:

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A protest in Santiago, Chile, last month. Students have held rallies of up to 100,000 people and taken control of dozens of schools around the country

“…If the Arab Spring has lost its bloom halfway across the world, people here are living what some have come to call a Chilean Winter. Segments of society that had been seen as politically apathetic only a few years ago, particularly the youth, have taken an unusually confrontational stance toward the government and business elite, demanding wholesale changes in education, transportation and energy policy, sometimes violently.

…The education protests have become ever more creative. There are at least two or three people jogging at all times around La Moneda, the presidential palace, trying to complete 1,800 laps to symbolize the $1.8 billion a year that protesters are demanding for Chile’s public education system. They carry flags that say “Free Education Now.”  Others have held a mass kiss-in, dressed like superheroes, danced as zombies to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and even staged fake group suicides where they fall in a heap of bodies….” [Read on]

Read more:

  • Check out more photos of the protests here.
  • Learn about the leader of the university student group, Camila Vallejo Dowling.  Her blog (in Spanish) is here.  The translated version is here.
  • Learn more about their list of demands here.  The Wiki site is actually pretty informative as well.

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You aren’t responsible for Quran burners. Don’t hold Muslims responsible for 9/11.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  I hope you find this essay thought-provoking and informative during this day of remembrance.  Let’s hope we can finally learn from 9/11  and work toward resolution and peace.

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William Saletan for Slate, link to article here.  Embedded links from original article.

Two days ago, hundreds of Afghans gathered in Kabul to denounce the United States for burning the Quran. They torched American flags, chanted “Death to America,” and carried signs calling for the death of President Obama. Some of them hurled rocks at U.S. troops. A student in the crowd said of the planned Quran burning: “We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States.”

He’s wrong, of course. The Quran burning is the brainchild of a Florida minister and his tiny fundamentalist church. It has been condemned by the White House, the State Department, the commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan, Christian organizations, and countless Americans. But when clerics in Egypt denounce the incendiary plan, we feel the heat. When thousands of Muslims rally against it in Indonesia, they do so outside our embassy. When an imam in Kabul threatens retaliation, he casts a shadow on all of us: “If they decide to burn the holy Quran, I will announce jihad against these Christians and infidels.”

This is how it feels to be judged by the sins of others who destroy in the name of your faith. You’re no more responsible for 30 Christian extremists in Florida than Muslims are for the 19 hijackers of 9/11. Yet most of us, when polled, say that no Muslim house of worship should be built near the site of the 9/11 attacks. In saying this, we implicitly hold all Muslims accountable for the crime of those 19 people.

Now you know how it feels to be judged that way. It’s inaccurate, and it’s wrong.

Of course the two situations are different. The hijackers killed 3,000 people; the Quran burners would destroy only their own property. The hijackers were organized by a global terrorist network; the Quran burners are acting alone. But the Quran burners claim to speak for Christianity, just as the hijackers claimed to speak for Islam. And the Quran burners have many open supporters on Facebook in addition to others who are quietly cheering them on.

You, your country, and your faith are being held accountable for the deeds of these people. A widely viewed YouTube video combines “International Burn-the-Quran Day” shirts proclaiming “ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL” (marketed by the same Florida church), satirical cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed, European criticism of Islamic veils, and myths about U.S. troops flushing a Quran down a toilet. The video says these “attacks on Muslims,” including U.S. invasions of Muslim countries, expose the “hatred of the disbelievers.” It calls on Muslims to “rise up and do something.”

The video also features a sign at a rally: “No More Mosques.” Our indiscriminate, collective-responsibility campaign against mosques is being used in an indiscriminate, collective-responsibility campaign against us and our troops.

A pastor who preaches at a nearby Florida church is aghast at the global outrage the Quran-burning minister has provoked. “He represents only 30 people in this town,” the pastor tells the New York Times. “It needs to get out somehow to the rest of the world that this isn’t the face of Christianity.”

It will, Reverend. Right after it gets out to the rest of the world that we don’t think the 9/11 hijackers are the face of Islam.

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Bikini or headscarf — which offers more freedom?

I’m the kind of person who could care less what the general public wears.  I don’t care if your shirt is low-cut, if your pants are saggy, if your swimsuit is too revealing, if your shoes are from Gucci, if your skirt is so tight I can see your cellulite – I could care less.

I care about comfort, creative expression, and reasonable prices.  I would be a nudist if it weren’t for everyone else.  So why would I care if you wear a headscarf?

This is a beautiful story about a mom trying to understand the motivations behind her daughter’s choice to wear a Muslim headscarf.  Although many women in other countries don’t have this choice, in making this decision her daughter chooses to be seen for more than a pubescent teenager, a self-conscious girl, or a shallow consumer of designer clothing – which is pretty remarkable.  There is hope yet!

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Krista Bremer holds her daughter Aliya in the scarf the child decided she wanted to wear. CNN

Nine years ago, I danced my newborn daughter around my North Carolina living room to the music of “Free to Be…You and Me”, the ’70s children’s classic whose every lyric about tolerance and gender equality I had memorized as a girl growing up in California.

My Libyan-born husband, Ismail, sat with her for hours on our screened porch, swaying back and forth on a creaky metal rocker and singing old Arabic folk songs, and took her to a Muslim sheikh who chanted a prayer for long life into her tiny, velvety ear.

She had espresso eyes and lush black lashes like her father’s, and her milky-brown skin darkened quickly in the summer sun. We named her Aliya, which means “exalted” in Arabic, and agreed we would raise her to choose what she identified with most from our dramatically different backgrounds.

I secretly felt smug about this agreement — confident that she would favor my comfortable American lifestyle over his modest Muslim upbringing. Ismail’s parents live in a squat stone house down a winding dirt alley outside Tripoli. Its walls are bare except for passages from the Quran engraved onto wood, its floors empty but for thin cushions that double as bedding at night.

My parents live in a sprawling home in Santa Fe with a three-car garage, hundreds of channels on the flat-screen TV, organic food in the refrigerator, and a closetful of toys for the grandchildren.

I imagined Aliya embracing shopping trips to Whole Foods and the stack of presents under the Christmas tree, while still fully appreciating the melodic sound of Arabic, the honey-soaked baklava Ismail makes from scratch, the intricate henna tattoos her aunt drew on her feet when we visited Libya. Not once did I imagine her falling for the head covering worn by Muslim girls as an expression of modesty.

Last summer we were celebrating the end of Ramadan with our Muslim community at a festival in the parking lot behind our local mosque. Children bounced in inflatable fun houses while their parents sat beneath a plastic tarp nearby, shooing flies from plates of curried chicken, golden rice, and baklava.

Aliya and I wandered past rows of vendors selling prayer mats, henna tattoos, and Muslim clothing. When we reached a table displaying head coverings, Aliya turned to me and pleaded, “Please, Mom — can I have one?”

She riffled through neatly folded stacks of headscarves while the vendor, an African-American woman shrouded in black, beamed at her. I had recently seen Aliya cast admiring glances at Muslim girls her age.

I quietly pitied them, covered in floor-length skirts and long sleeves on even the hottest summer days, as my best childhood memories were of my skin laid bare to the sun: feeling the grass between my toes as I ran through the sprinkler on my front lawn; wading into an icy river in Idaho, my shorts hitched up my thighs, to catch my first rainbow trout; surfing a rolling emerald wave off the coast of Hawaii. But Aliya envied these girls and had asked me to buy her clothes like theirs. And now a headscarf.

n the past, my excuse was that they were hard to find at our local mall, but here she was, offering to spend ten dollars from her own allowance to buy the forest green rayon one she clutched in her hand. I started to shake my head emphatically “no,” but caught myself, remembering my commitment to Ismail. So I gritted my teeth and bought it, assuming it would soon be forgotten.

That afternoon, as I was leaving for the grocery store, Aliya called out from her room that she wanted to come.

A moment later she appeared at the top of the stairs — or more accurately, half of her did. From the waist down, she was my daughter: sneakers, bright socks, jeans a little threadbare at the knees. But from the waist up, this girl was a stranger. Her bright, round face was suspended in a tent of dark cloth like a moon in a starless sky.

“Are you going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said slowly, in that tone she had recently begun to use with me when I state the obvious.

On the way to the store, I stole glances at her in my rearview mirror. She stared out the window in silence, appearing as aloof and unconcerned as a Muslim dignitary visiting our small Southern town — I, merely her chauffeur.

I bit my lip. I wanted to ask her to remove her head covering before she got out of the car, but I couldn’t think of a single logical reason why, except that the sight of it made my blood pressure rise. I’d always encouraged her to express her individuality and to resist peer pressure, but now I felt as self-conscious and claustrophobic as if I were wearing that headscarf myself.

In the Food Lion parking lot, the heavy summer air smothered my skin. I gathered the damp hair on my neck into a ponytail, but Aliya seemed unfazed by the heat. We must have looked like an odd pair: a tall blonde woman in a tank top and jeans cupping the hand of a four-foot-tall Muslim. I drew my daughter closer and the skin on my bare arms prickled — as much from protective instinct as from the blast of refrigerated air that hit me as I entered the store.

As we maneuvered our cart down the aisles, shoppers glanced at us like we were a riddle they couldn’t quite solve, quickly dropping their gaze when I caught their eye.

In the produce aisle, a woman reaching for an apple fixed me with an overly bright, solicitous smile that said “I embrace diversity and I am perfectly fine with your child.” She looked so earnest, so painfully eager to put me at ease, that I suddenly understood how it must feel to have a child with an obvious disability, and all the curiosity or unwelcome sympathies from strangers it evokes.

At the checkout line, an elderly Southern woman clasped her bony hands together and bent slowly down toward Aliya. “My, my,” she drawled, wobbling her head in disbelief. “Don’t you look absolutely precious!” My daughter smiled politely, then turned to ask me for a pack of gum.

In the following days, Aliya wore her headscarf to the breakfast table over her pajamas, to a Muslim gathering where she was showered with compliments, and to the park, where the moms with whom I chatted on the bench studiously avoided mentioning it altogether.

Later that week, at our local pool, I watched a girl only a few years older than Aliya play Ping-Pong with a boy her age. She was caught in that awkward territory between childhood and adolescence — narrow hips, skinny legs, the slightest swelling of new breasts — and she wore a string bikini.

Her opponent wore an oversize T-shirt and baggy trunks that fell below his knees, and when he slammed the ball at her, she lunged for it while trying with one hand to keep the slippery strips of spandex in place. I wanted to offer her a towel to wrap around her hips, so she could lose herself in the contest and feel the exhilaration of making a perfect shot.

It was easy to see why she was getting demolished at this game: Her near-naked body was consuming her focus. And in her pained expression I recognized the familiar mix of shame and excitement I felt when I first wore a bikini.

At 14, I skittered down the halls of high school like a squirrel in traffic: hugging the walls, changing direction in midstream, darting for cover. Then I went to Los Angeles to visit my aunt Mary during winter break. Mary collected mermaids, kept a black-and-white photo of her long-haired Indian guru on her dresser, and shopped at a tiny health food store that smelled of patchouli and peanut butter. She took me to Venice Beach, where I bought a cheap bikini from a street vendor.

Dizzy with the promise of an impossibly bright afternoon, I thought I could be someone else — glistening and proud like the greased-up bodybuilders on the lawn, relaxed and unself-conscious as the hippies who lounged on the pavement with lit incense tucked behind their ears. In a beachside bathroom with gritty cement floors, I changed into my new two-piece suit.

Goose bumps spread across my chubby white tummy and the downy white hairs on my thighs stood on end — I felt as raw and exposed as a turtle stripped of its shell. And when I left the bathroom, the stares of men seemed to pin me in one spot even as I walked by.

In spite of a strange and mounting sense of shame, I was riveted by their smirking faces; in their suggestive expressions I thought I glimpsed some vital clue to the mystery of myself. What did these men see in me — what was this strange power surging between us, this rapidly shifting current that one moment made me feel powerful and the next unspeakably vulnerable?

I imagined Aliya in a string bikini in a few years. Then I imagined her draped in Muslim attire. It was hard to say which image was more unsettling. I thought then of something a Sufi Muslim friend had told me: that Sufis believe our essence radiates beyond our physical bodies — that we have a sort of energetic second skin, which is extremely sensitive and permeable to everyone we encounter. Muslim men and women wear modest clothing, she said, to protect this charged space between them and the world.

Growing up in the ’70s in Southern California, I had learned that freedom for women meant, among other things, fewer clothes, and that women could be anything — and still look good in a bikini. Exploring my physical freedom had been an important part of my process of self-discovery, but the exposure had come at a price.

Since that day in Venice Beach, I’d spent years learning to swim in the turbulent currents of attraction — wanting to be desired, resisting others’ unwelcome advances, plumbing the mysterious depths of my own longing.

I’d spent countless hours studying my reflection in the mirror — admiring it, hating it, wondering what others thought of it — and it sometimes seemed to me that if I had applied the same relentless scrutiny to another subject I could have become enlightened, written a novel, or at least figured out how to grow an organic vegetable garden.

On a recent Saturday morning, in the crowded dressing room of a large department store, I tried on designer jeans alongside college girls in stiletto heels, young mothers with babies fussing in their strollers, and middle-aged women with glossed lips pursed into frowns. One by one we filed into changing rooms, then lined up to take our turn on a brightly lit pedestal surrounded by mirrors, cocking our hips and sucking in our tummies and craning our necks to stare at our rear ends.

When it was my turn, my heart felt as tight in my chest as my legs did in the jeans. My face looked drawn under the fluorescent lights, and suddenly I was exhausted by all the years I’d spent doggedly chasing the carrot of self-improvement, while dragging behind me a heavy cart of self-criticism.

At this stage in her life, Aliya is captivated by the world around her — not by what she sees in the mirror. Last summer she stood at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, stared at the blue-black outline of the mountains in the distance, their tips swaddled by cottony clouds, and gasped. “This is the most beautiful thing I ever saw,” she whispered. Her wide-open eyes were a mirror of all that beauty, and she stood so still that she blended into the lush landscape, until finally we broke her reverie by tugging at her arm and pulling her back to the car.

At school it’s different. In her fourth-grade class, girls already draw a connection between clothing and popularity. A few weeks ago, her voice rose in anger as she told me about a classmate who had ranked all the girls in class according to how stylish they were.

I understood then that while physical exposure had liberated me in some ways, Aliya could discover an entirely different type of freedom by choosing to cover herself.

I have no idea how long Aliya’s interest in Muslim clothing will last. If she chooses to embrace Islam, I trust the faith will bring her tolerance, humility, and a sense of justice — the way it has done for her father. And because I have a strong desire to protect her, I will also worry that her choice could make life in her own country difficult. She has recently memorized the fatiha, the opening verse of the Quran, and she is pressing her father to teach her Arabic. She’s also becoming an agile mountain biker who rides with me on wooded trails, mud spraying her calves as she navigates the swollen creek.

The other day, when I dropped her off at school, instead of driving away from the curb in a rush as I usually do, I watched her walk into a crowd of kids, bent forward under the weight of her backpack as if she were bracing against a storm. She moved purposefully, in such a solitary way — so different from the way I was at her age, and I realized once again how mysterious she is to me.

It’s not just her head covering that makes her so: It’s her lack of concern for what others think about her. It’s finding her stash of Halloween candy untouched in her drawer, while I was a child obsessed with sweets. It’s the fact that she would rather dive into a book than into the ocean — that she gets so consumed with her reading that she can’t hear me calling her from the next room.

I watched her kneel at the entryway to her school and pull a neatly folded cloth from the front of her pack, where other kids stash bubble gum or lip gloss. Then she slipped it over her head, and her shoulders disappeared beneath it like the cape her younger brother wears when he pretends to be a superhero.

As I pulled away from the curb, I imagined that headscarf having magical powers to protect her boundless imagination, her keen perception, and her unself-conscious goodness. I imagined it shielding her as she journeys through that house of mirrors where so many young women get trapped in adolescence, buffering her from the dissatisfaction that clings in spite of the growing number of choices at our fingertips, providing safe cover as she takes flight into a future I can only imagine.

Krista Bremer is the winner of a 2008 Pushcart Prize and a 2009 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. She is associate publisher of the literary magazine The Sun, and she is writing a memoir about her bicultural marriage

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Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims – NPR

I thought this story was really fascinating, having just been to China and having studied women’s history.  Normally religion has excluded women from the higher ranks (Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.), but this story shows how women are making a space for themselves in religion, Islam, and in China.

by Louisa Lim

July 21, 2010

Third of five parts

Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women's Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers. Ariana Lindquist for NPR

It is 5:50 in the morning, and dark shadows scurry through narrow alleys to the mosque, as the call to prayer echoes from a minaret in Kaifeng. This city in central China’s Henan province has an Islamic enclave, where Muslims have lived for more than 1,000 years.

In an alleyway called Wangjia hutong, women go to their own mosque, where Yao Baoxia leads prayers. For 14 years, Yao has been a female imam, or ahong as they are called here, a word derived from Persian.

As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam.

“The status is the same,” Yao says confidently. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.”

“I didn’t go to school when I was small,” she chuckles. “We were all too poor; none of us girls studied. But I came here to play and study. The old imam was very, very old — she was 80-something, and she had bound feet.”

Tang is sitting in the mosque’s washroom as she talks. This is where women conduct ritual ablutions before prayer. This space — and the mosque itself — doubles as a social center for these women, the heart of a community.

In Kaifeng, there are 16 women’s mosques, one-third the number of mosques for males.

Ariana Lindquist for NPR For Bai Yanlian becoming a female imam took seven years of study, including three years of Arabic-language training. She then had to take an exam to get a license from the state.

A Unique Chinese Tradition

Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of a book on the phenomenon, says that so far there are no women’s mosques in other countries. In most of the Muslim world, women pray behind a partition or in a separate room, but in the same mosque as men.

Shui points out that the women’s mosques in China are administered independently, by women for women, in addition to being legally separate entities in some cases.

“After reform and opening up [in 1979], some female mosques registered independently, which shows the equality of male and female mosques,” she explains.

Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders.

China is the only country to have such a long history of female imams. However, there are things that, according to the customary practices of Chinese Muslims, female imams can’t do.

They can’t, for instance, lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses.

Forty miles away in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, white-sashed mourners wail as they process through the streets carrying the coffin from a mosque. No female imams are participating.

Ariana Lindquist for NPR Women pray at a the Wangjia mosque in Kaifeng. There are 16 women's mosques in the city, one-third the number of mosques serving male Muslims.

Opposition Still Exists To Women’s Roles

In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences.

“Historically in northwestern China, there were no female mosques,” says Shui, the researcher. “There was resistance because people thought that building female mosques was against the rules of religion. But in central China and most provinces, people think it’s a good innovation for Islam.”

In the past decade, some women’s mosques have been established in northwest China. The phenomenon appears to be spreading, helped politically by the Islamic Association of China, a state-controlled body that regulates Islam and issues licenses to practice to male and female imams alike.

Greatest Challenge Is Economic

In the women’s mosques, most of the faithful are elderly. Young women with families often don’t have the time to worship, especially given the lengthy purification rituals several times a day.

Third-generation imam Sun Chengying, who has been practicing for 21 years, worries about the future.

“I haven’t had any students since 1996,” she says, shaking her head. “Women don’t want be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it.”

Female imams sometimes earn as little as $40 a month, one-third of what can be earned in other jobs. Younger women need to earn more to support their families.

And so it appears the future of female imams in China is threatened — not by the state, not by resistance from inside Islam, but by the forces of market economics.

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