Chris Stedman was the very first atheist I’d ever met who was actively engaged in interfaith work. When I became aware of him a couple years ago on Twitter, he’d just been offered a position at Harvard as the Humanist Chaplain and he stood out from the thousands of people I followed because of his positive attitude and sense of humor. I found myself wanting to engage with him because he seemed to genuinely like other people. Back then, Stedman regularly drew fire from both the religious and atheist communities for daring to put forth the idea that people really ought to be able to live together peacefully, even agreeably, while maintaining vastly different opinions about life’s biggest questions.
When he announced he was going to publish a book, I knew it was going to be a game-changer. I watched him online over the past couple years as he went through is writing and editing process, and I’ve followed with what felt like a vested interest over the past few months as he’s Tweeted through his book tour. (Still no book tour dates in Austin, though! *hint, hint*) He’s still getting those same criticisms from both atheists and religious conservatives, but what is heartening is that I’ve watched as an ever-growing crowd of people who are on “Team Human” rally to him– people who are genuinely happy to share space with others they don’t always agree with. People who are like me–who see diversity of thought and belief as a benefit to humanity, not a liability.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of “meeting” Chris Stedman on Twitter. He quickly became one of those non-believers with whom I enjoy discussing topics that tend to make everyone else a little crazy. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to find someone who you can disagree with heartily and still adore for his or her personality, intellect and ability to challenge you.
Chris recently announced that he’s working on a book based on his own transition from an Evangelical Christian to an openly gay atheist: (F)a(i)theist: How One Atheist Learned to Overcome the Religious-Secular Divide, and Why Atheists and the Religious Must Work Together (working title, Beacon Press 2012). I am honored to be able to share a short excerpt with you here:
“You coming to youth group tonight?” Her voice sounded distorted coming through the phone’s speaker.
“Maybe,” I said in a kind of drawl. “I might just stay home tonight and do my own Bible study.”
“But you’ve done that the last few weeks,” she said, groaning. I could picture her on the other end – decked out in her favorite Jesus fish t-shirt, four “WWJD?” bracelets on each wrist, and a Bible by her side – running her hands through her thin brown hair, closing her eyes tight and pinching her forehead. She sounded anxious. “Are you okay, Tiffer? I feel like I never see you anymore. We all miss you at church!”
“I’m great!” I replied, too quickly. “Of course, I’m just fine!” I said, scrambling to reassure her, practically yelling.
“Well, we’re going to be talking about what makes a Christly man this week,” she said, “so I just thought you’d be interested.”
I was, of course, but it was too late for me. I knew what being a Christly man meant, and I wasn’t it. Instead of answering, I reached under my bed and pulled out a collection of childhood artifacts that my mom had assembled for me, retrieving a worksheet I’d filled out in first grade. When I grow up, it said in a passable attempt at cursive, I want to be: A dad. Because: I want a family.
by: Amanda Quraishi on August 7th, 2011 | Comments Off
In 1982, a seemingly ordinary 17-year-old girl challenged both the violent secular Syrian government and the conservative Muslim elements in her society and founded a Qur’an school for girls in Damascus. Twenty-five years later, filmmakers Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix have traveled to Syria to make a documentary about Houda al-Habash and her school. “The Light in Her Eyes” is an unprecedented look into the rarely seen, independently defined world of Middle Eastern women.
Muslim women, particularly those from the Middle East, are rarely seen in western media as competent, educated and capable–yet Houda al-Habash is all this and more. As Laura Nix explained, “Huda is such a woman who is a very interesting mixture of conservative values and progressive values. Not only had I not seen images like mosques of Huda’s, but I think that as a woman leader she’s a really interesting character because she does not typify a lot of western versions of feminism.”
Julia Meltzer agreed, adding that her reason for making the film was to tell a story that is rarely told in the U.S. “I had never seen any images of women studying Qur’an in a mosque. It struck me that Huda’s school was really organized. She definitely had a mission and agenda, and things function in her space in a way that they don’t usually function in the outside world of Syria.”
Chris Stedman is an Interfaith and Community Service Fellow, Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and Managing Director, State of Formation at Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is also a columnist for Huffington Post Religion and blogs at NonProphet Status. He tweets from@ChrisDStedman. The following has been reprinted by permission:
This year, two notable controversies have been brewing in Tennessee: a proposed bill that would forbid educators from using the word “gay” in the classroom, and a court battle to determine whether or not Islam is a religion. (The verdict? Islam is in fact a religion – for now, anyway.)
These two issues may seem unrelated, but I believe they’re actually symptoms of the same problem – our nation’s historical difficulty with those who are seen as disrupting the status quo. Intolerance against Muslims and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) individuals isn’t exclusive to Tennessee; with a fever-pitched debate over Park51 (or the “Ground Zero Mosque”) and headline-grabbing concerns about anti-LGBTQ bullying, these issues are a national concern.
Last month, I went to Tennessee for the first time. I spoke at Vanderbilt about the need for the religious and the nonreligious to find better ways of engaging with one another and identifying action-oriented shared values, sharing some of the experiences I write about in my forthcoming memoir, (F)a(i)theist: How One Atheist Learned to Challenge the Religious-Secular Divide, and Why Atheists and the Religious Must Work Together (working title, Beacon Press 2012).
by: Amanda Quraishi on June 12th, 2011 | Comments Off
Asma T. Uddin is a contributor to Tikkun Daily, but she’s more widely known as the founder of Altmuslimah.com. Since 2009, Altmuslimah.com has been fostering online dialogue on the highly emotional and difficult to define subject of gender roles in Islam. This online magazine-style blog “looks at the intersection of female and male sexuality and gender identity with society, politics, economics, and culture” and uses personal, individual narratives from contributors to do so.
Uddin is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and an international law attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C. But it was her own experience growing up as an American Muslim, and her own evolution as a Muslim woman which inspired her to create an online space for free expression and intelligent debate which welcomes Muslims, non-Muslims, men and women to participate.
In a recent interview, I spoke with Uddin about the impetus for founding Altmuslimah.com. “In many ways, Altmuslimah is a playing out of a lot of internal issues and struggles–spiritually and otherwise–I experienced back when I was in college,” she told me.
Up until she went to college Uddin had had a warm and fuzzy view of religion. Growing up as a Muslim in Miami, Florida she was fascinated by comparative religion at a young age and engaged enthusiastically with people about Islam. But after arriving on campus she found a great deal of conflict between American-born Muslims and those who were from other cultures who had vastly different ideas about Islam and women’s roles in the community.
Do you want to know more about Islam, but feel too shy to approach the stern-looking Muslims you see in Costco?
Are you tired of hearing about the world’s second-largest religion from hysterical media personalities who themselves have little or no firsthand experience on the subject?
Do you wish you could learn about Muslims without spending too much time or money on it?
There’s an app for that!
The new smartphone app called 365muslim was created specifically for a non-Muslim audience. It provides an interesting (and often entertaining) fact about Islam and Muslims each day for one year.
It’s purpose is to reach across the social barriers that still seem to be separating Muslims from mainstream American society and give simple, easy-to-verify information without proselytizing.
Currently 365muslim is available only for the iPhone, although an Android version is in the works. And yes, it’s FREE.
When I received my copy of Arab & Arab American Feminisms I wasn’t quite prepared for the expanse of thought and emotion contained within its unassuming cover. My expectation was that it would be a collection of ‘get to know us’ stories written by Arab American women, designed to appeal to a paranoid American audience. What I found instead was a collection of some of the most heartfelt stories, persuasive arguments and bold declarations of individuality that I’ve read in any other collected volume.
Arab & Arab American Feminisms brings together writers, poets, scholars, and activists and provides them a space to define themselves individually and collectively as women, Arabs, Muslims, and feminists as well as an infinite combination of other facets each of these contributors embodies.
Writing frankly on topics ranging from politics to domestic violence to homosexuality, Arab & Arab American Feminisms puts to rest any doubt that Arab women are an intellectual force to be reckoned with. This is not an attempt to promote any “kumbaya” interfaith/intercultural dialogue, or to extend an olive branch to those who might view Arabs and Arab women with anything but respect. It is a declarative statement made with multiple voices that the Arab woman’s soul is above and beyond simplistic definitions – and that they do not need anyone’s assistance to claim what is theirs.
Despite the incredible public outreach by the Muslim community since 9/11 it seems that misconceptions about Muslims – and especially Muslim women – are as prolific as ever; which is why I was thrilled to see a copy of I Speak For Myself – American Women on Being Muslim arrive in my mailbox for me to read and review.
Conceived and edited by Maria Ebrahimji, an executive producer at CNN and Zahra Suratwala, the founder of a writing firm called Zahra Ink, I Speak for Myself attempts to let Muslim American women define themselves on their own terms.
Each essay gives a snapshot into the contributors’ lives, offering a simple but meaningful look into what its like to be a Muslim woman in America without trying to speak for all Muslim American women. It seemed to me as I read the book that the editors kept their submission requirements very minimal, allowing for some lovely individualized story-telling. I was inspired to read the story of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s 2008 Campaign; touched by Fatemeh Fakhraie’s beautiful angst over her relationship with her Iranian-immigrant parents; and humbled by Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s ability to address racism within the Muslim community without being bitter or victimized.
My favorite essay, however, was the honest and touching account of Asma Uddin’s struggle to evolve as both Muslim and as a woman. Her words could very well be my own:
This is the first post in an exclusive Tikkun Daily series highlighting Muslim activists, entrepreneurs and artists who are making waves online.
Fatemeh Fakhraie is the founder and editor-in-chief of Muslimah Media Watch, the premiere website for Muslim women to discuss media images of themselves since 2007. In 2009, Fakhraie published her first book, Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Hijab Styles in Urban Iranian Women, a textbook version of her master’s thesis. In addition to blogging at Muslimah Media Watch, she also contributes to Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, AltMuslimah, and her own eponymous blog.
In an interview this month, I asked Fakhraie about Muslimah Media Watch and what motivated her to launch a site which is truly peerless.
“I hated everything I saw about Muslim women in mainstream media, and didn’t see myself in traditional feminist media,” she explained. “So I made a place for myself and women like me. In U.S. media, Muslim women are much more visible and even welcomed than we were when I started. But I think that there are still huge problems with that visibility: a lot of books and movies about Muslim women still fall into one stereotype or another, and a fair amount of news articles that feature Muslim women are reductive or coddling – I see so many articles that simply just pat Muslim women on the head for doing stuff that isn’t in itself exceptional, but seems like such a big deal for a Muslim woman to do.”
The past few months I had the opportunity to participate in a short documentary project about Muslim women. Yasmin Diallo Turk, a graduate student at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas invited me to be featured along with a couple other women from Austin’s diverse Muslim community. It was an honor to work with her and to have my family involved. I hope you’ll enjoy our efforts:
Muslim Women Do That
If you are interested in supporting a full length feature based on this short film please see the Kickstarter page.